Saving the world while you wait

Backyard Birding Notes from Kasavanahalli Lake in winter

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018

I’ve been a bit of a lazy birder these past few months. I do most of my birding virtually, licking my lips and sighing at the abundance of posts and pictures turned out by internet birders everywhere. In early December, Anitha I began to take morning walks at Kasavanahalli Lake, a location I have written about before. These were not birding walks — they were meant to be brisk, energetic sessions intended for cardiovascular exercise and weight loss. The wife, assuming the role of coach, wouldn’t let me dawdle and waste my time birding. I struck a bargain, though. Sundays, I get to devote my morning to winter birding and suchlike pleasures.

It’s winter, I say. Which birder isn’t excited by those tidings? The past year, the monsoons — both of them — have brought abundant rain. The lake is fuller than in previous years. The marshlands retain more water. Yet, there aren’t as many migrants to be seen. Reading the newspapers have confirmed my fears — even Odisha’s Chilika Lake has seen fewer migratory birds this year.

The Blyth’s Reed-warbler, whose chek-chek announces winter, straggled in a few days behind schedule. I’ve scanned the marshes and the thickets frenetically, but I’ve seen no other reed warblers. As for the wintering wagtails, there was barely any sign until a few days ago when I saw a small number of Western Yellow Wagtails huddled on a tree in the early morning. I began to despair. In previous years, I have seen this lake and the nearby Kaikondrahalli Lake play host to a full spread of migrants — from raptors and waders and terns to ducks like Northern Pintails.

Two years ago, the swamps between Kaikondrahalli Lake and Kasavanahalli Lake hosted Common Moorhens, Black-winged Stilts, three species of sandpipers and Common Teals. Today, that entire stretch of swamp has been filled up with refuse and turned into a gigantic garbage dump. The birds are gone. Kaikondrahalli Lake is a sad ghost of itself. But it struggles and its wealth of birdlife has been dimmed but not extinguished. It’s only a matter of time, though, before all is lost.

I have a lot of pictures from two recent mornings spent at Kasavanahalli Lake. This lake, too, is hemmed in by towering buildings and raw sewage is seeping from these apartments into the southern corner of the lake. The dung-spattered walking paths are proof that once the walkers are gone, cows are allowed to graze. People walk their dogs and a licensed gang controls the fishing, but there remains a certain wilderness that I treasure about this place. I’ve seen basking Checkered Keelbacks and skulking mongooses on my cycling trips here, and I’m certain that one of these days a surprise will emerge.


Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
My favourite view of the lake. It’s possible to stand here and imagine that you’re watching a beaver’s dam

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Glossy Ibises weave a skein in the sky. These beautiful birds have been regulars at the two lakes for many years now. They are slender and more graceful than their cousins, the Red-naped Ibises.

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Black-headed Ibises, flushed by a Western Marsh Harrier, take wing in enormous strength over the lake.

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
This young Black-headed Ibis has a bad leg, which juts out as it feeds. It doesn’t seem to be a crippling disability, though, as the bird manages quite well on one leg and readily takes wing to join the flock in the air.

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
A Little Egret hunts in the swamp beside Kasavanahalli Lake. The shallow marshy wetland is a more vibrant site for birders than the lake itself.

Winter Birding 2018 Kasavanahalli Lake
A Grey Heron (background) and a Great Egret at the southern boundary of the lake. These magnificent waders don’t take well to intrusion.

Kasavanahalli Lake 2018 Winter Birding
Asian Openbill Storks patrol a mound near their favourite corner

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
This subadult Darter is a picture of serpentine poise as it meditates on its next meal

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Spotbill Ducks cut through the glassy water

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter 2018 Birding
Wood Sandpipers stipple the swamp. If this wetland is drained or “developed”, this precious habitat will be lost for the winter migrants and other resident waders

Winter 2018 Kasavanahalli Lake Birding
A solitary Pond Heron takes exception to being spied on so early in the morning.

Winter Birding Kasavanahalli Lake 2018
A Bronze-winged Jacana feeds among the water hyacinth

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
At the water’s edge, a Little Cormorant prepares for another foraging dive

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Migrants at long last! A small bare thorn tree in the swamp appears to be spattered with small, bright yellow fruit. Look again. These are wintering Western Yellow Wagtails trying to keep a low profile

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Among the gaudier residents of the swamp-beds is this Grey-headed Swamphen, with colours to rival a peacock or a monal

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
A Eurasian Coot stamps down reeds to make its nest among the reeds. We saw the coots in an amorous mood two weeks ago and I’m really excited about the possibilities of watching chicks in the next few weeks.

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
A Rose-ringed Parakeet steals a perch ahead of its flock, which is still foraging in a nearby clump of trees

Kasavanahalli Lake Birding 2018
A Green Bee-eater rests in between sorties

Kasavanahalli Lake Birding 2018
A Cattle Egret, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan birds, moves a lot locally and thrives in swamps and garbage patches

Kasavanahalli Lake Birding 2018
A White-cheeked Barbet on an open perch

Kasavanahalli Lake Birding 2018
A Laughing Dove ruffled by a gust of wind

Kasavanahalli Lake Birding 2018
A Shikra keeps watch on a high perch after causing a flutter among the swamphens on the lake

Kasavanahalli Lake Birding 2018
A White-browed Wagtail patrols the border with suburbia

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
A wintering Ashy Drongo shimmers in the sunlight

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
A Brahminy Kite in a pensive mood

It’s not just the birds that ruffle the nature-lover’s soul in this urban wilderness. Snakes can be seen basking in the mellow winter sun. The flowering of seasonal trees marks the passage of time. The ecology of water and vegetation offers plenty of grist to the curious mind. Feral dogs and pigs have the run of the place, and sometimes they pose a threat to nesting birds.

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Feral pigs root around in the marsh, foraging. I suspect a few nest eggs may be part of their diet, occasionally.

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
A wild fig tree in fruit attracts birds of all persuasions, from starlings to parakeets.

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Fruiting trees attract birds and squirrels

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Flowering climbers drape the shrubbery, creating ample cover for small animals and birds
Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
A Eucalyptus blossom is swarmed by bees and nectar-feeders like drongos, sunbirds and starlings

Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Weaver Ants, despite their ferocious temperament, have a reputation for being excellent nest builders
Kasavanahalli Lake Winter Birding 2018
Strong sunshine awakens a Grass Yellow butterfly

Winter birding is not what it used to be. Time was when a short foray outside Bangalore produced an enviable list of waders and ducks. Today, the birder must travel far, and often fruitlessly, to salvage these sights. But then again, if we do what we must as citizens to preserve our lakes, we can assure ourselves of at least one more winter birding pleasure.