November 03, 2013

AGARA DIARIES - PART 3


THE SPOT BILLED PELICANS


Listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, my chest swells with pride to say the lakes of Bengaluru is the one of the last remaining strongholds of the Spot Billed Pelican - an aquatic avian species which is seeing decline in its numbers across is original habitat. You see there is more to my city which is world renowned for producing top class software solutions as much as it is for its infamous traffic jams. Here in the southern part of Namma Bengaluru, I have seen these magnificent creatures in at least three different lakes over the past two years - the Lalbagh  lake, the Madiwala lake in BTM and lastly the Agara lake near HSR. Although this part of the city is witnessing unprecedented growth, so much so that I think it will not be long before the corporation 'annexes' Bannerghata into it, the place continues to be a favorite amongst the Pelicans. The pictures posted as a part of this post were clicked over several birding visits to the Agara lake in August and September 2013.

Measuring over 50 inches, the spot bills are white in color, with a tinge of grey over most of its body and a slightly pinkish pelican-esque beak which has spots on its lower side, giving this species its name. Weighing in at about six kilograms, they spend most of the morning time doing pait pooja i.e. foraging for food; using their massive beaks to catch fish in shallow waters. In fact, they are said to be so good at this that in the past, fisher folk in eastern Bengal used them as decoy while fishing. As the day gets hotter, after all the hard work, you will find them perched on tree tops. Theses birds are social, living in medium sized groups which, on some occasions are found close to human settlements. It is common for them to establish colonies along with other aquatic avians, mainly the Painted Storks. In the wild, they are known to live for three decades, now that is quite a lot for birds. Breeding takes place one a year in the non-monsoon months with the female laying 3-4 eggs that hatch in about a months time. The young ones go their own way after three months and will reach maturity in two and half years.

The original range of the Spot Billed Pelican extended from Pakistan in the west to Indonesia and Philippines in the east, covering most of India, Sri Lanka and South-eastern Asia. However, the reckless damage caused to the highly eco-sensitive wetlands and destruction of nesting sites for logging have adversely impacted their numbers. Nowhere is this more evident than the island nation of Philippines from where they draw their scientific name - Pelecanus philippensis. While they are said to have been found here extensively in the dawn of the twentieth century, their numbers plummeted later to such an extent that they were wiped off from here in the 1960s. Reports from the time of the Raj and in the later years, talk about the presence of a mega colony along the Sittang River in Myanmar (Oates: 1877 and Stuart Barker: 1929), in Buchupalle village near Kadappa (1902) and in the Kolleru lake (Neelakantan: 1946). Unfortunately none of these exist any longer; the situation is so precarious that there are only three countries in the where you can find breeding population of these Pelicans namely Southern India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.


In recent years, there is some news to cheer about for all wildlife enthusiast. The sustained efforts of conservationists and to some extent the protection measures put in force and implemented by authorities has helped revive their population in Southern India. Famous stories of villagers pitching in to help conserve them have come from the villages of Kokkare Bellur in Karnataka, Uppalapadu in Andhra and Koonthankulam in Tamil Nadu. In 2007, IUCN changed its status from Vulnerable to Near Threatened - surely a positive sign. Considering that many of our water bodies here in Bengaluru are in 'not-so-good' condition, it is great to see the Pelicans do so well in the lakes to the south of the city. The case of Lalbagh, perhaps the most well maintained of all the lakes in Bengaluru is not so surprising; the water here is sparkling clear and the absence of weeds and water hyacinth means that the ecosystem is not disturbed. Although, contamination continues to pose a threat to both Madiwala and Agara lakes, the large variety of fauna found here, especially the water birds, indicates that food for them in the form of fish and other creatures is available in plenty. Of course, this does not mean that we drop our guard and stop fighting this long and arduous battle to save our lakes from corrupt elements. Another fact that makes all three so attractive to the Pelicans and our other avian friends is the presence of nesting sites in the center of the water. Each of these water bodies boasts of an island, right in the center which is covered by dense vegetation; the trees provide excellent nesting sites, the water surrounding them provides protection from predators and their inaccessibility limits human intervention.


For more posts on the Agara Lake, click here (Link)

For more posts on the Spot Billed Pelicans, click here (Link)