Hoskote Lake is situated to the east of the town of Hoskote, about 30 km from Bangalore. The primary occupations of the villages of the region are agriculture, fishery, apiculture and horticulture. Hoskote has undergone a lot of industrialisation in recent times though, and is increasingly being touted as an extension of Bangalore thanks to its proximity. This in turn has led to rapid urbanisation, with many homes and apartments being constructed around the lake. Historically, the area has interesting Hindu and Islamic backgrounds, and is also one of the sites of the first Anglo–Mysore war.
The actual area of Hoskote Lake has not been surveyed, but the water belt is approximately 460-540 square feet. The lake has a combination of wetland, grassland and shrub-land. Monsoon (June to September) and winter (October to January) are ideal seasons for watching birds at this lake. Among the varied species found here, waders are spotted more during the morning and evening birding sessions, while afternoon sessions abound with shrub and grassland birds.
My interest in field studies for my art led to my interest in bird-watching, and since many years now, once a week, I spend my time watching birds at Hoskote Lake. During winters, I have recorded 100+ species of birds at the lake and its surroundings. Though the bird numbers are great, excessive fishing, long-line fishing, reed harvesting, land encroachment, bird trapping, bird hunting, and stray dog menace are a few of the major concerns which need immediate attention.
Based on my sightings, I have made several field sketches and illustrations of the avian life at Hoskote Lake. Some of the sketches are also based on field studies. Pen, pencil, and watercolour are the mediums used.
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) – Little Grebes are seen at Hoskote Lake throughout the year. They breed mainly during the monsoon. This watercolour shows its dark winter plumage, with wet feathers immediately after a dive. They have been observed to dive underwater and feed on tiny fish and invertebrate prey.
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) – Eurasian Coots (aka Common Coots) are found in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa. This is a resident bird at this lake and seen throughout the year. This sketch shows its threat display, where it lowers its head and lifts its body, fluffing up its feathers to appear bigger in size. Its population has been on the decline at Hoskote Lake: netting this bird for meat has been observed and I have personally cut many such nets along the lake bed during my field visits. Local fishermen who were caught catching these birds said that it seemed to be the substitute for chicken meat at local eateries.
Indian Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha) – It is a large, non-migratory breeding duck throughout freshwater wetlands in the Indian subcontinent. These are resident here, seen throughout the year. Their name is derived from the red spot at the base of their bill.
Indian Cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis) – This bird is seen throughout the year at this lake. It dives underwater several times to capture fish, and is depicted here drying its feathers after several such dives.
Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii) – It is a small, old-world origin heron, breeding in southern Iran, the Indian subcontinent, Burma and Sri Lanka. It is an all-year resident here. It has been sketched in its breeding plumage, crouching before it caught a tiny catfish.
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea, acrylic on canvas) – This is a long-legged, predatory wader native throughout temperate Europe and Asia, and also parts of Africa. A bird of wetland areas, it can be seen around lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes and on the sea coast. It is resident in much of its range, but some populations from the more northern parts migrate southwards in autumn; at Hoskote Lake, it is a resident bird seen throughout the year. For a self-funded art project, I used to make frequent visits to the lake. While I sat sketching reeds, I saw coots splashing and rushing out of the thick reeds. It was getting dark, but I eagerly looked forward to seeing the hunter emerge too. A Grey Heron slowly made his way out, in one of those close encounters that I wished to portray. While the bird has been sketched from a free reference image, the reeds are done from my field sketches.
Elephant Grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and Common Grass Yellow Butterfly (Eurema hecabe) – Elephant Grass is a species of perennial tropical grass native to African grasslands, and is an introduced species in Asia. This grass is seen around Hoskote Lake’s boundaries, and primarily towards the south of the lake. This grass is extensively harvested for cattle feed every day, with the help of tractors and lorries. The Common Grass Yellow Butterfly was seen hovering over the grass during one of my field visits. This species is found in Asia, Africa and Australia. They are found in open grass and scrub habitats, and are seen flying close to the ground.
Gum Arabic Tree (Vachellia nilotica) – Widely known in India as Babul, it is native to Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. The tender twig of this plant is used as a toothbrush in south-east Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Seen mostly growing on Hoskote Lake’s southern banks, these trees provide great vantage points for raptors to survey the area from. I have also often seen Spot-bellied Pelicans roosting on these trees early in the morning. Due to rain water and other sources of water constantly pumped into the lake since a couple of years, these areas are now inaccessible, and many nesting grounds there might have flooded as well.
Passion Flower (Passiflora foetida) – This is a species of passion flower that was introduced to tropical regions around the world, from the USA. This plant grows around the temple area near Hoskote Lake, and near an unused well too.
Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya) – It is a nymphalid butterfly with many subspecies occurring from Africa, through southern and south-eastern Asia, Cambodia and Australia. This female Blue Pansy was seen perched on Pink Morning Glory.
Ashy Prinia (Prinia socialis) – A small warbler, it is a resident bird seen at the lake throughout the year. It is seen in this sketch on a milkweed plant, which attracts bees and wasps. Ashy Prinia is primarily an insectivore.
Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus) – It is a weaverbird found across the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Flocks of these birds are found in grasslands, cultivated areas, scrub and secondary growth, and they are best known for their hanging nests woven from strings of leaves. These nest colonies are usually found on thorny trees, and the nests are often built near water or hanging over water, where predators cannot easily reach. Here, the male is seen in his monsoon breeding plumage. It was observed that kite flying threads were used to catch these birds along their habitual flight zones around their nests, and I would cut these threads on a regular basis during my field visits.
White-cheeked Barbet (Psilopogon viridis) – This barbet species is found in South India. With many ficus trees planted around the temple near the lake, the trees attract various frugivores. White-cheeked Barbets feed on fruits and look for soft-bark trees for finding insects in and nesting. They are resident birds and can be seen throughout the year around the temple area and in the surrounding vineyards.
Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) – It is a passerine bird found in Asia. Another frugivore found around the lake area, it can be seen throughout the year. It feeds on insects as well.
Red Avadavat (Amandava amandava) – Also known as Red Munia or Strawberry Finch, this is a sparrow-sized bird found in the open fields and grasslands of tropical Asia. Typically seen around farmlands feeding on grains and other seeds, it can be seen during the monsoon at Hoskote Lake. This male Red Avadavat—initially sketched in pencil during one of my field visits—is depicted on a Jowar plant, which is mainly used as fodder for domestic animals.
Tricoloured Munia (Lonchura malacca) – It is native to Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and southern China. Seen around farmlands, feeding on grains and other seeds, this bird too is depicted on a Jowar plant. It can be seen during the monsoon season at this lake.
Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) – Observed during winters, they prefer the thorny shrub-land around the lake. They primarily feed on insects, but are occasionally seen feeding on smaller birds. This sketch is a study of a Long-tailed Shrike feeding on a Ditch Jewel Dragonfly.
With many more insects, plants, trees, and birds recorded at Hoskote Lake, it is undoubtedly a biodiversity hotspot, deserving to be protected before it is too late.