Winged beauties of Hampi

Winged beauties of Hampi
It was a cradle of prehistoric human civilisation, abode of mythological characters and the capital of the mighty Vijayanagar Empire. The rich heritage of Hampi region attracts a sea of tourists from across the world. The archaeological splendour of the World Heritage Site continues to mesmerise the tourists for more than five centuries.

Hampi is also known for its geological wonders in the form of picturesque rocks, boulders and scrub jungle. This area is a preferred destination for migratory birds from different regions of the world. The seemingly ‘cursed’ eastern plains of North Karnataka is home to rich biodiversity. Along with some endangered mammal species, more than 250 species of birds are found in this region. While the rocky caves here provide a safe shelter to many mammals and reptiles like the Indian sloth bear and leopard, the scrub jungle is a haven for birds, some of which — like the yellow-throated bulbul and painted spurfowl — are rare. Similarly, the great Indian bustard is flourishing in the black cotton soil fields in the region.

Winter visitors
Many species of migratory birds visit the famed Hampi in winter. The backwaters of Tungabhadra Dam, Almatti Dam, and many more natural and man-made water bodies of the region turn into the winter homes for migratory birds. Thousands of bar-headed geese migrate from Mongolia after crossing the Himalayas to the water bodies of North Karnataka. Thousands of northern pintails, garganey, northern shoveler, bar-tailed godwit, common redshanks, common greenshanks, brown–headed gulls, pratincoles, greater flamingos, cranes, storks etc can be seen in the waterbodies of North Karnataka in winter.

Birds thrive in different kinds of habitats in North Karnataka. Migratory and local birds spread along the canals, lakes, farmlands, paddy fields, wetlands and grasslands beckon birders. There are many birding areas — both popular and lesser-known — in the region. Among them, Ranebennur Blackbuck Sanctuary, Magadi Bird Sanctuary, Tungabhadra Reservoir and Hampi-Daroji vicinity are listed as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) by the Bombay Natural History Society and Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN). Some other important birding areas in North Karnataka are Daroji Lake, Ankasamudra Lake, Kamalapura Lake, River Tungabhadra, Almatti, Hidkal and Narayanapura reservoirs, Mansalapura Tank, Bonal Lake etc.

Society for Wildlife and Nature (SWaN)-Hosapete, an organisation founded by nature enthusiasts and birders, has been popularising the hobby of bird watching among students and general public since 2004. It has formed 20 nature clubs in the high schools of Ballari and Koppal districts and conducted training programmes for teachers and students. It has also organised birdwatching camps for the enthusiasts. In association with the Forest Department and other agencies, the organisation has identified important birding areas in North Karnataka, conducted scientific surveys, prepared reports and proposals for declaring Protected Areas (PA). It also played a crucial role in getting the IBA tag for Tungabhadra Reservoir and Ankasamudra Bird Conservation Reserve. SWaN has inspired many enthusiasts to take up birdwatching and nature conservation. As a result, the number of wildlife photographers and activists has increased substantially in North Karnataka.

Birders network
Another initiative, North Karnataka Birders Network (NKBN) initiated by J C Uttangi in 2001, has also been working towards encouraging the conservation of avifauna and their habitats in North Karnataka. It conducts workshops, awareness programmes and other such programmes with this objective. Over a period of one and a half decades, North Karnataka has become a popular place for birdwatching. Before the year 2000, birdwatching and wildlife photography were considered as the hobbies of royal families, and very few commoners pursued them. But now, the number of birdwatchers and photographers has increased and related information is shared rapidly on social media. This has led to better documentation of the region’s avifauna. That is how “not seen” or “not reported” birds are being reported more often and thus, more number of birds are added to the list.

A pocket guide that describes the birds of eastern plains of Karnataka was published in 2014 by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). I was also a part of the birdwatching and documentation done in Hampi vicinity through which details of 230 species of local and migratory birds were recorded. The book also has information about important bird habitats in the region. This work has inspired many wildlife photographers and birdwatchers in North Karnataka.

To showcase the ecological vibrancy of Hampi and surrounding regions and popularise the birding areas here, the Tourism Department in association with the Forest Department is organising Karnataka Bird Festival from January 5 to 7, 2017, at Hampi-Daroji Bear Sanctuary. Well-known ornithologists and conservationists like Bikram Grewal, Shashank Dalvi, Gobind Sagar Bharadwaj will participate in the event.

The Karnataka Bird Festival, that was initiated two years ago, is said to be the biggest bird festival in South India. It provides a platform to the coming together of birdwatchers, conservationists, officials, wildlife photographers and scientists. While bird sighting is the important activity, the event will also witness discussions, sharing of knowledge and help improve our understanding of the avian community. The first two bird carnivals were held in Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary and Dandeli. Birdwatchers from across the country are expected to attend the festival and see the rare amalgamation of archaeological and ecological heritage. For more details about the bird festival, visit www.myecotrip.com.

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