There! Check that bright blue bird sitting on the branch overhanging the lake. That’s a common kingfisher. It sits perfectly still, waiting to swoop down on a fish in the lake below. Look at its short tail and large head, with the beautiful blue upper parts and orange under belly. Watch it dive for a fish, it’s a great fisherman!” said Dr. Subramanya, a well known scientist from the IISc and avid ornithologist to a group of bird watchers he had taken on a field trip. Immediately 25 sets of binoculars were trained on the bird, as they stood silently on a leafy pathway around the Kaikondrahalli lake on Sarjapur road.
It was a precious Sunday morning and most of the birders were techies, who have a great interest in birdlife. They lug their heavy cameras around all day, shooting wonderful images of birds which they freely share in the group. In spite of their hectic lives, many of the groups are willing to forgo a sleep in and rush out to be with the group, before sunrise, to visit a previously designated birding spot, usually on the outskirts of the city.
Legendary birdwatchers like Zafar Futehally, S Subramanya, S A Husain among a number of other names have paved the way for Karnataka becoming a popular birding destination. Several known and registered clubs like Birdwatchers’ Field Club of India, Merlin Nature Club, Mysore Amateur Naturalists, Wildlife Aware Nature Club, Whispering Wilderness Programme conducted by the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (WRRC), function on a regular basis. Plus the bngbirds@yahoogroups, is a popular online group of birders with members from across the world. The birders share pictures and sightings across Karnataka and beyond with fellow birders. No expense is spared in buying, only the best branded photographic equipment in the world, to ‘shoot’ these birds. So if you see a Canon EF 500mm lens being trained on Karnataka’s state bird, the Indian roller, don’t be surprised!
Karnataka offers a number of great birding habitats for serious birders. The Bandipur Tiger Reserve harbours birds from both the Western Ghats and from dry Eastern Karnataka. Also, around the Jog Falls in the Western Ghats is the Sharavathy Valley Wildlife Sanctuary which is another super birding hotspot. This is a great time to go across and admire the Jog falls split into the Raja, Rani, Rocket and Roarer streams, that magnificently roar down 830 ft, besides checking out the teeming birdlife in the wild and scenic area around.
The famous grasslands of Karnataka in the Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve, near Maidenahalli village, in Tumkur district’s Madhugiri taluk, are also another great birding habitat. Here a variety of birds from tiny munias to the magnificent great Indian bustard, Indian coursers, sandgrouses and other ground birds can be sighted.
For sighting of sea birds a drive down to coastal Karnataka, offers excellent opportunities to see sea birds like terns and gulls and many migratory water birds, particularly in winter. We especially drove down to view a gaggle of bar-headed geese that had flown thousands of kilometres, from Mongolia and the beaches of Uttara Kannada district, offer spectacular views of the white-bellied sea eagle. But one visit that still lingers in our minds is to Kokkrebellur village near Maddur in Mandya district, where spot-billed pelicans and painted storks peacefully co-exist with the villagers.
There is no ‘best’ season for bird watching in Karnataka, and happily it can be indulged in all the year round. But, if you are a total amateur, it’s sensible to link up with a bird group on your first trip out. Then your hobby can grow with the time you spend in educating yourself, leafing through a bird book to identify species, or surf the net where there is everything at your fingertips.
-Marianne De Nazareth
Former Assistant Editor – Deccan Herald
When a dam was built across the Kaveri river in the 18th century, six islets came into existence
in the Mandya district of Karnataka state. Renowned ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali observed that the
isles formed an important nesting ground for birds. It was then that he convinced the Wodeyar
kings of Mysore to declare the area a wildlife sanctuary in 1940. The area is popularly known as
Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary.