Winter's winged visitors

Last Updated 16 December 2013, 16:20 IST

The sun hasn’t risen yet. It is bone-chillingly cold and there is a light breeze going. I am riding with ornithologist Shivakumar Patil on a bike and we are headed 25 km from Hubli to the bird sanctuary near Magadi Lake in Shirahatti taluk, Gadag district. The day before, at dawn, I had exhausted myself trying to capture various birds through the lens of my camera. And now, I am hoping to get lucky with the geese at Magadi Lake. As soon as the sun’s golden rays begin spreading far and wide from the East, we reach the bird sanctuary at Magadi Lake.

On our arrival, we are welcomed by the sweet, low chirping of birds and the sight of egrets and white cranes foraging for food on the lake. Near the lake, a flock of birds are happily perched on the trees. Their flight, playful gestures and soothing birdsongs leave me in stunned silence; and, for a few moments, my camera stopped clicking.

In the middle of the water, a group of bar-headed geese surface. They seem to be fighting with one another affectionately. Gleefully, they flap their wings, communicating with one another in their own bird language while enjoying dipping into the water and doing summersaults.

When they aren’t doing that, they are spreading their wings in the direction of the sun or swimming from one end to the other, blissful in their own world.

Despite the day growing hotter, the birds ignore the heat and continue entertaining themselves. The sight of the young ones swimming alongside their mothers is heart-warming.

These geese are no ordinary guests. A testament to mother nature’s enchanting beauty, these geese have flown all the way from Tibet, crossing the Himalayas, before entering India and reaching Magadi Lake, which is 30 km from Gadag. The geese have a special attraction towards this particular lake. They seem to derive great joy in the hot and cold climate here. The lake is rich in food and a good place to breed, which naturally attracts them.

This 30-acre lake seems to have specifically been made for a large number of birds that visit here. Numerous birds migrate here during winter from thousands of miles. And important among them is the bar-headed goose. Several other migratory birds too can be seen adorning the surroundings of this lake.

The bar-headed geese fly over 18,000 ft and have the distinction of flying at the highest altitude.

The bar-headed goose is also known as Kadamba or Rajahamsa in Sanskrit. It goes by other local names — Geeruthale hamsa, Pattethaleya hebbathu or Sheerarekha hebbathu.

The geese are typically bigger than a duck and grey in colour. Their head is white with two prominent black stripes, and hence the name. On the neck are white stripes amidst the grey.
They have been equipped with strong and tenuous wings to make the long flight. The wings are grey in colour too with black stripes on the edges while their tail feathers are a mix of white and grey. Other distinct features are a yellow beak and small, flat webbed feet which are pink in colour.
These birds usually live in groups on big lakes. They build nests either on the land or on trees in bushes or thickets. They come towards the end of November and stay on till late March, which is the best time to visit these winged visitors.

(Published 16 December 2013, 16:20 IST)

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