Birding in Madhurekere Lake, Bangalore
Well then, time to shake off the lethargy and burrow my way out of this hole I had dug for myself. I have hibernated enough, I reckon. Time to rise and shine, my dear!
But then, don’t be fooled. While I was resting my blogging fingers in my self-imposed hiatus, I was actually running around chasing birds and wildlife, right from the coasts of Udupi to the hills of North-East India. I have been traipsing around breathtakingly beautiful locales, trudging up wild trails and sloshing through muddy tracks in search of elusive species. Such adventure, I tell you.
So, where do I start from?
Let’s start from somewhere close - my backyard in Bangalore. When I say backyard, I don’t exactly mean my backyard (I live in a bee-hive apartment, sadly) but a place that is around 20 kms away from my home. But, just because I live in North Bangalore and the place I am talking about is in the same zone, I have a soft corner and I feel very neighbourly towards it.
Madhurekere, it is then. The hidden gem in our neck of the woods.
The first time we had visited Madhurekere was in March 2016, almost at the end of season for winter migrants. The lake bed was gently beginning to recede, preparing for a hot, dry summer. There were still enough number of waders there, compared to other water bodies in the city, and we had our fill of clicking black winged stilts, little stints, wood sandpipers, common greenshanks and little ringed plovers.
And I thought we had to go to the coastal belt to see these waders.
Besides these small fellas, there were also a number of pelicans, garganeys, northern shovelers, spoonbills and painted storks. The best part of the visit was the sighting of several Egyptian vultures, comprising both adults and juveniles in the group. As we left the lake, a few red collared doves (lifers for me) fluttered by and we resolved to come back the next season.
And come back, we did – in November 2016, at the onset of the migratory season.
We parked our car near the temple by the side of the road and readied our gears. One of my pet peeves is to jumpstart a birding trip by immediately scanning the tree canopies in search of my favourite bird – a sign that (I believe) tells me I will have a fruitful day. Soon enough, there looked down upon me with those large round, inquisitive eyes - the spotted owlet, perched directly overhead. And true to my belief, that morning turned out to be wonderful, providing me with two lifers – the small pratincole, which had eluded me till then (although the husband had seen it earlier) and the beautiful pied avocet.
I had always imagined myself sighting a pied avocet by some muddy banks in Gujarat or perhaps Assam. This came as a pleasant and unexpected surprise. I thought the husband had made a mistake when he called out “Pied avocet!” but one look at that beautiful upturned beak and my day was made. The lone fellow kept its distance from us and kept itself busy in the company of other waders and ducks.
Another wonderful surprise that awaited us once was the sudden guest appearance by an European Roller, a bird we had seen previously around 3 years back in Hessarghatta grasslands. This paler cousin of our own Indian Roller never made a second appearance on our subsequent visits. One bird that actually appeared consistently on 3 occasions was the Peregrine falcon. There was even a juvenile specimen in attendance and although they always perched at great distances, their ‘scar over the eyes’ made them quite easy to spot.
And while on the topic of raptors, there were many. Right from marsh harriers to tawny eagles and booted eagles, they could be seen whirling overhead, swooping down from time to time and creating a flutter amongst the waders. At times, we would stumble upon signs of raptor feast– neatly plucked egret feathers lying on the ground. No wonder the little fellas – the stints and plovers would be in a nervous tizzy the moment one of the big guys appeared on the scene.
Indian Spotted Eagle
Indian Spotted Eagle
This past winter we must have made around 3-4 visits to Madhurekere and interestingly, each time, we found changes in the lake bed’s topography. If on one visit the water was spread towards the north, on the next visit it would be towards the south. Sometimes we had to circumvent the lake bed within a shorter radius while surprisingly on the next visit the radius would have changed to a wider frame, despite the absence of rainfall during the period. On hindsight, we would get to explore newer corners of the lake bed this way. But a word of caution, do not tread over the wet-looking areas – they are treacherous, however hardy they may look like, and may not be able to take your load.
One of the challenges of birding in this area is the light and distance factor. Light, because you turn a bend and you are in the ‘opposite light zone’ and all the birds seem to be dark spots in the horizon. Distance, because the birds here are very, very skittish and they prefer to remain as far away from you as possible. One small step in their direction and the whole flock would take flight, making it quite difficult to get a clear shot.
Little Ringed Plover
Can you spot the ruffs?
Busy foraging for food
Flight of the waders (mixed flock of plovers, sandpipers and stints)
So, the best thing we could do was to click as many photographs as possible of the wader group and await surprises while downloading them on our laptop. Most of the time we would be found squinting hard at the laptop and wondering “Wait, is that a ruff behind the marsh sandpiper?” or “Halt! I see a common teal in the garganey group!”. I am sure we would have missed out on several species in the melee, or wrongly identified a few.
Memories of birding in Madhurekere have come rushing by, now that I look up the photographs. This was also one of the few times that we had enjoyed ‘group birding’ with a few birder friends, rather than our usual solo jaunts. We had driven past the area a few weeks back and to our dismay, the lake bed was bone dry. Perhaps the lack of sufficient rains this monsoon is to be blamed. For the sake of the birds, particularly for the migratory flock, I hope the lake fills up soon. Of course, I have my own selfish agenda, too, and I just can’t wait to go back to Madhurekere this winter to witness more new bird species and revel in their presence.
List of birds sighted in Madhurekere:
Pied Avocet, Peregrine Falcon, Small Pratincole, European Roller, Indian Roller, Booted Eagle, Indian Spotted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, Shikra, Little Stint, Small Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret, Grey Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Painted Stork, Spot-billed Pelican, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal, Garganey, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Tawny Pipit, Paddyfield Pipit, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Rufous-tailed Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparowlark, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Barn Swallow, White-browed Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Indian Silverbill, Golden Oriole, Spotted Dove, Red-collared Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Egyptian Vulture, Darter, Little Cormorant, Spotted Owlet, Black Drongo, Red-wattled Lapwing