Watching out for the birds

Watching out for the birds

Bar headed goose, a popular migratory bird in North Karnataka.

In the year 2001, on the banks of Magadi Kere in Gadag district, the trio — Gurunath Desai of Hubballi, Vijay Mohan Raj, a conservation officer, and Srivasta of Raichur, witnessed a magnificent sight. It was a congregation of more than 3,000 bar-headed geese just below the sky. The visual spectacle and the experience of viewing the winged guests prompted them to establish a network of people who would help protect the spaces for migratory birds. Thus, the North Karnataka Birders’ Network (NKBN) was formed. Since its inception, this informal network of over 40 odd birders has been at the forefront of conserving the habitat of avian species in 13 districts of North Karnataka. 

The network has set itself three important goals, to scientifically document the bird species in North Karnataka, encourage and support conservation of wildlife, especially avian-fauna, and promote birdwatching among the people.

Awareness is the key 

“So far, we have scientifically recorded the presence of more than 460 species of birds in North Karnataka, including 16 endemic birds and four critically endangered species,” says Christy S Michael, secretary of NKBN.

North Karnataka has a diverse bird habitat. And, one can sight the birds of the Western Ghats in Uttara Kannada, Belagavi and some parts of Dharwad districts. On the other hand, the grassland and arid regions of Ballari, Koppal, Raichur have several endangered species, including a few critically endangered Great Indian Bustards.

“Earlier, there was hardly any record of birds that were found in the northern parts of Karnataka, as a result, it was difficult for the conservationists to get officials to declare these bio-spots as protected,” says K S Abdul Samad Kottur, president, NKBN. He adds, when we started showing them pictorial evidence, the government understood the importance of the areas and declared them as protected spaces.

The members of NBKN have played a significant role in making Magadi Kere, Attiveri, Ankasamudra, and other lakes and wetlands a sanctuary for endangered birds. The group has been instrumental in conserving a habitat for hornbills in the Dandeli forests. 

 One of the main objectives of this network is to conserve the avian habitats. One of the ways in which they undertake this activity is by sharing the pictures of birds, their habitat and the perceived threats on a WhatsApp group which they have formed. The network members, come from a spectrum of professions. There are doctors, researchers, lecturers, engineers, homemakers students, forest officials, and even deputy commissioners, who form the crux of the team.

“A majority of the members in the group are avid bird photographers, who take out time to visit birding spots within their dwelling places and record them,” says Kushal Adaki, a member. The pictures are shared on the social networking sites, where the members can identify the bird species, their habitat, migration pattern, breeding season, threats and much more.

It is at the time of an ‘emergency’ that the group gets proactive and pulls every string possible to make sure that birds’ habitats are protected. A fortnight ago, a contractor had cleared the bushes on the Mathanga hills to install lights to illuminate the hill for the ensuing Hampi Utsav. As soon as the members, Pompayya Malemath and Santosh Martin, of the group, came to know about the destruction of one of the safe havens of the highly vulnerable yellow-throated bulbul, they wrote letters and held meetings with forest officials and deputy commissioner of Ballari and made sure that by afternoon the work on the hills was stopped. 

And a few days ago, when a great hornbill, one of the endangered species, was found injured during a territorial fight, owner of the resort and member of the network, Umesh, rushed it to the Dharwad Agriculture University, where it was provided medical assistance.


Saving their spaces

Along with conserving the habitat, the members have also been creating awareness among people against superstition. Pavan Miskin, one of the members of the group, makes sure that he visits the market during the Ganesha festival and prevents the sale of the weaver bird’s nest. This nest is used by the people to decorate the mantaps. Hundreds of such nests are sold by the villagers to earn quick money. He explains to both buyers and sellers regarding the adverse impact it has on the nesting pattern of the birds. “Police is the last resort we take if the seller refuses to mend his ways,” he says.

The members have helped police arrest, several poachers and hunters, by providing the visual evidence. The group members, most of whom have undergone training in bird rescuing, extend their helping hand in rescuing birds that are injured, trapped or in danger. Once recovered, the birds are set free.

The members also volunteer for conducting bird survey, not just in North Karnataka but across India. A majority of birders during the annual Kaiga Bird Marathon are from this group. The members also participated in Bhimgad bird survey, which took place between April and May, 2016. 

“Apart from creating an e-bird documentation, the network also aims to create awareness about the birds. As they are the bio-indicators, a diverse presence of birds suggests a healthy ecosystem,” says Gurunath Desai. As part of their efforts to create awareness, NKBN has been holding special lectures at high schools, especially targeting class VII, VIII and IX students of rural and semi-urban areas.

“If we can win over them, half of our efforts of future conservation will be completed,” says Christy S Michael.

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