Here is a classic example of how an obscure lake became a hotspot for nesting birds. Located on the banks of the backwaters of the Tungabhadra Dam, Ankasamudra village’s tank has been attracting many birds for nesting – hundreds of Painted Storks, Grey Herons, Night Herons, Pond Herons, Comb Ducks, egrets, grebes, cormorants and many more birds have been breeding in a small lake of 244 acres, which has thousands of trees. Yes, you read it right – the lake has thousands of fully grown trees of Acacia nilotica, locally known as Karijali, which is a tree preferred by most birds, to roost and built nests on.

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Ankasamudra Lake seen during low water levels, with Acacia nilotica trees

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Nesting cormorants

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Greater Cormorant with chicks

 

 It is interesting to know how a lake has thousands of trees instead of a brimful of water. An ancient lake at the outskirts of Ankasamudra village (Hagaribommanahalli Taluk, Bellary District) was receiving water as usual until 1980. Under the ‘Watershed Development Programme’, the government built gully plugs, check dams and soak pits across a stream that joined the dam, and subsequently, the water inflow reduced over a period of time. The lack of water and over-siltation lead to the lake remaining dry for many years. This dry lake attracted a few farmers, who encroached upon the lake for cultivation. Sensing that they would lose the lake to cultivation, the Forest Department planted Acacia nilotica trees extensively in the dried lake and protected the plantation under the ‘Foreshore Plantation Project’. 

As the trees with long thorns grew, many birds that fed throughout the day in the adjacent, large Tungabhadra Reservoir were attracted to this lake for roosting. But, the lake remained dry except during the monsoons. When the Tungabhadra Reservoir was full, water spread till Ankasamudra village; yet, the villagers faced droughts during summers, as the underground water level was reducing. The village was facing water scarcity for their crops as well as for domestic purposes. To overcome this problem, a lift-irrigation system was installed to fill the dried lake, using the backwaters of the Tungabhadra Reservoir, in 2001. This resulted in an increase in ground-water levels, and farmers began growing crops during summers also.

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Roosting Painted Storks and Spot-billed Pelican

The shallow water and the thorny trees provided an ideal roosting location for birds like storks, ibises, egrets, cormorants and herons. The birds would feed in the backwaters of Tungabhadra Dam during the day and return to Ankasamudra Lake by evening, for roosting on the trees. But, the lift-irrigation system was damaged, and the lake became dry once again, for many years. Local shepherds cut the trees’ branches to feed their goats, littering the lake with thorny branches. Thus, the entire lake bed was converted into a bed of thorns, which provided extra security to the roosting birds.  

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Pond Heron in breeding plumage

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Western Reef Egret, with other egrets

2012 onwards, the local Gram Panchayat began filling the lake using six motors, and tendered out the lake for fishing, to earn some extra income. Since then, Spot-billed Duck, Comb Duck, Little Grebe, Painted Stork, Grey Heron, Night Heron, Pond Heron, White Ibis, Oriental Darter, egrets, three species of cormorants and many more birds began nesting in this lake. It is strange to see the nesting of Painted Storks and Night Herons in this part of Karnataka, as their known places of nesting are Ranganathittu and Kokkarebellur in southern Karnataka. Gudavi and Attiveri are the other popular nesting spots for large birds like storks and ibises. Ankasamudra Lake probably succeeded as a nesting spot because it met all the important criteria birds use to choose a nesting area: tall and thorny trees, shallow water, availability of food, and being an area with less disturbance while at the same time, having some human activity which drives away predators like cats, snakes or raptors. It is the only such place for nesting birds in the entire Hyderabad-Karnataka region.  The neighbouring, vast 378 sq. kms backwaters of the Tungabhadra Dam is also a cradle for breeding birds.

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Painted Stork with chicks

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Woolly-necked Storks, listed as a threatened species by the IUCN

It is the need of the hour to protect the nesting birds from poachers and possible disturbances. As the president of North Karnataka Birders’ Network (NKBN), I have been observing birds in this lake for more than a decade, but did not make this birding area public, fearing possible disturbances. But, as fishing and other disturbances to the roosting birds become a threat, I jumped into action and conducted a series of awareness programs for village leaders, students and youth, by screening films on birds, in the village. Motivated by this, the entire community began protecting the lake, and last year, it did not invite tenders for fishing in the lake.

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Clockwise from top left: Meeting with village leaders; Film screening in the village; Awareness and tree plantation programme

Thus, fewer disturbances in the lake attracted more than 5000 cormorants to roost here last monsoon. Moreover, more than one lakh Rosy Starlings roosted here last winter. Their flight in a massive cloud formation was fascinating, and hundreds of visitors came to the lake every evening only to see the spectacular phenomenon of murmuration by these birds.

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Murmuration by Rosy Starlings

I have documented more than 140 species of birds in and around Ankasamudra Lake and have prepared a report on the diversity of the avifauna of this lake. A proposal has also been drafted and submitted to the concerned officials of the Forest Department, to declare this lake a bird sanctuary or a community conservation reserve. As a temporary arrangement until the declaration is made, I have paid and appointed a field guide through a local NGO, Society for Wildlife and Nature (SWaN), Hospet, to facilitate visitors to the lake.

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Top to bottom: Submitting a memorandum to the forest minister at Kamalapura; Submitting a proposal to Mr. Ravi Ralph in Bangalore; Submitting a proposal to Mr. Gokul, CCF, in Bellary

We have already lost vast spaces hosting wildlife, to agriculture and civil society. We need to conserve small pockets of wildlife interest like Ankasamudra Lake, to at least provide a serene cradle for newborn birds – our future flying angels.

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Glossy Ibises flying over the lake