Serendipity is the only word that describes how I stumbled upon Navaloor, a small village located 4 kilometres from Dharwad, with a ubiquitous village pond and a lake, both of which are integral to most rural landscapes. Navaloor also happens to be a place where the Western Ghats end and the vast rolling plains begin. When I shifted from Bengaluru to Dharwad, I was unaware of the bird-watching potential and habitat suitability of these small villages. What first attracted me to Navaloor was the lake, when I once noticed several Painted Storks flying overhead and landing in the shallows. A quick visit proved to be rewarding: Spot-billed Duck, Eurasian Spoonbill, Asian Open-bill, coots, and moorhen could be spotted. On one of my subsequent visits, I decided to take a road that seemed to lead to the town; it led to the outskirts instead. With lush fields on both sides, looking dreamy in the early morning sunshine, it beckoned the explorer in me. And so began my journey of discovery.
Navaloor comes truly alive in the monsoons. The Jacobin Cuckoo— the harbinger of the monsoon— appears on the scene. The first showers suddenly seem to jolt awake the Rain Quails that were calm until now; this is one bird that can be heard everywhere, but is rarely seen. Barred Buttonquails scurry into the undergrowth as you approach them. The not-so-common Common Quail has also been recorded this year. Painted Francolins start their frantic, guttural concert; this almost mythical, invisible francolin makes itself quite apparent in the monsoon, from atop a raised perch, calling for hours, making you marvel at its vocal prowess. Indian Coursers meander around in the fields. The Indian Thick-knee is seen in pairs, in the scrub bordering the fields. The elusive Brown Crake breeds here, and I have come across proud parents attentively leading their chicks across the road.
Baya Weavers start swarming the fields, engaging in frenzied nest-building. The Black-breasted Weaver has also been seen, but its breeding has not been recorded in this area. A volley of Malabar and Sykes’s Larks, foraging along the roadside, burst into flight as you drive along. Dainty birds like the Indian Silverbill, Red Avadavat, Scaly-breasted Munia, and Tri-coloured Munia can be seen feeding on grass seeds along the roadside or in the fields. Sometimes, they also form mixed hunting parties along with buntings and weavers.
Navaloor’s main crop, Jowar, attracts hordes of Black and Red-headed Buntings and Rosy Starlings. Early mornings, you can see small flocks taking off from their roosting place and moving in fluid, undulating clouds to their feeding grounds. The murmuration happening at twilight is a delight to watch.
Of all the wagtails in Navaloor, the White-browed Wagtail is a resident. Grey Wagtails arrive as early as August. White Wagtails are found around every small water-body and in marshy areas. You may even come across a Citrine Wagtail occasionally. But what really amazes me is the hundreds of Yellow Wagtails swarming all over Bengal-gram fields. This phenomenon occurs only for a few days, after which the birds are found in a few patches, but much lesser in number. Warblers, on the other hand, come to the scrub area and wet patches: Blyth’s, Booted, Syke’s, Clamorous and Orphean Warblers stay the entire winter, and some stay even up to April. Green Bee-eaters, though Navaloor residents, appear in very large numbers suddenly at the end of September. Hundreds roost on specific trees in the evenings.
During winter, Navaloor Lake comes alive with birds like the Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveller, Little Stint, Garganey Plover, sandpipers, wagtails, snipes and godwits. It was a delightful surprise when, one season, about 25 Demoiselle Cranes landed in the shallow waters of the almost dry lake. This year, a small flock of Bar-headed Geese was seen flying in its vicinity, though they did not land on the waters.
Amongst the winter migrants, the Siberian Stonechat is one of the first to arrive on the scene. The Eurasian Hawk Cuckoo and European Roller make a pit-stop here before embarking on their journey towards the Arabian Sea and then to Africa. The Eurasian Wryneck has been spotted often in winter. Amongst the pipits, the Paddy-field Pipit is omnipresent. Tawny Pipits too are not very rare here. This year, I have come across House Sparrows in large numbers, but restricted to human habitation.
The Greater Spotted Eagle and Steppe Eagle arrive, heralding in winter. Three species of harriers make Navaloor’s fields their wintering ground: Montagu’s, Pallid and Marsh Harriers. A single, migratory Egyptian Vulture has been spotted for the past two seasons. The ancient Neem trees that dot this agricultural land make for perfect nesting sites for resident raptors. The highlight was a pair of Tawny Eagles that bred for two seasons, one with a very rare case of two siblings.
Birders soon nicknamed Navaloor ‘Raptoor’, a clever take on village name suffixes in Kannada, to imply that it is the ‘village of raptors’. Each year, towards the first week of February, a congregation of over 150 Black Kites can be seen—most of them juvenile—perched on the ground. Raptors rule the skies post August. The resident raptors—Short-toed Snake-Eagle, Indian Spotted Eagle, and Tawny Eagle—are seen soaring high, sometimes engaging in territorial wars. The Oriental Honey Buzzard and White-eyed Buzzard are seen regularly along with kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites, perched atop poles and wires. A Laggar Falcon and Red-necked Falcon sometimes visit. The latest addition to the raptors seen here is the Peregrine Falcon.
As summer approaches, the migrants begin their return journey. Navaloor’s fields are harvested and lie barren and quiet, and temperatures can touch 40°C. There are very few birds around barring some bushchats, babblers, doves and larks. The only calls are that of the Ashy Prinia or the cooing of doves. That’s when the empty-nest syndrome sets in. However, the Lesser Adjutant Stork, listed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN, can be seen wading in the shallows during summers.
As the fiery sun begins to dip over the horizon and this utopia is engulfed in an indigo darkness, you can sometimes see a shadowy form or two slinking between the haystacks; Jackals are on the prowl.
I stop awhile to enjoy the calm and cool evening, breathing in the tangy fragrance of the Bengal-gram. I am thankful for the wealth and satisfaction that Navaloor has offered me; over a period of three years, 185 species of birds have been recorded in this area. Of late, I have been noticing some fields being marked out for residential layouts. The inevitable march of development is likely to soon catch up, and then where will the eagles and the buntings go?
Travel and accommodation:
Dharwad is the nearest railway station to access Navaloor. From Dharwad, take a car to Navaloor Lake and its surroundings. There are a few decent hotels in and around Dharwad, and the town makes for a good base to explore Navaloor.