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Tuesday, August 21, 2001

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Will floods prevent seasonal migration of 'alien' birds?

By Pramod Mellegatti

SHIMOGA, AUG. 20. It is a seasonal congregation.The fascinating birds arrive at a specified time,make a home for themselves and fly away almost at an appointed date.

This annual routine has been followed by the three kinds of eye- catching alien birds at a bird sanctuary--a tiny island in the mid-course of the Tunga at Mandagadde village, 30 km. from here on the Shimoga-Tirthahalli Road.

Yet, for how long this fascinating natural bird sanctuary will be able to sustain itself is the disturbing question that eludes a satisfactory answer.

What has made its future uncertain is the threat of submersion due to reports that the water level in the Tunga's course is likely to go up substantially once water is impounded in the reservoir at Gajnur near here from the next monsoon as part of the Upper Tunga Project.

Though officials maintain that the rise in the water level will affect the bird sanctuary only partially, and that it will not result in total submersion, however, they are not in a position to allay the apprehensions of nature lovers as they are not sure what will be the maximum level of the river during the peak monsoon period.

When contacted, the Conservator of Forest (Wildlife Protection), Mr. Shivanna said the Irrigation Department had sanctioned Rs. 20 lakhs to his department to protect the bird sanctuary. He had, in turn, asked the Irrigation Department to prepare a plan to be implemented by an independent agency.

He said one of the proposals was to raise the height of the stone wall around the island to prevent it from getting submerged. According to him, the water may rise only up to the top of the trees at its maximum, and that too only for a short period during the monsoon. The remaining portion of the island could be protected by raising its level or by covering it with a high-rise stone wall.

Mr. Shivanna said that the Irrigation Department had promised to enhance the allocation if required to protect the sanctuary, which was one of the major tourist attractions of the district.

The bird sanctuary at Mandagadde is one of two sanctuaries in the district, the other being the one at Gudvi in Sorab taluk, where the same birds arrive. It remains to be seen if the efforts by the Forest Department to save the sanctuary at Mandagadde will bear fruit.

It is a treat to watch the movements of the birds. It looks as if they have a built-in clock.They start arriving in June with the advent of the monsoons and stay on till the end of September on the island.

The three species which regularly visit the island are the Median Egret (Egretta Intermedia), the Little Cormonant (Phalacrocoorax niger), and the Darter or Snake Bird (Aninga nufa), which are widely believed to have migrated from places in the northern hemisphere.

The Darter or Snake Bird, it is said, arrives in more numbers at the start of the rainy season, but it is outnumbered by the Median Egret and the Little Cormorant as time wears on. During the peak season in August, the total number of birds in the sanctuary is estimated at 5000. The local birds are not seen anywhere near the island when these "alien" birds stay there.

The behavioural aspect of these enchanting birds makes an interesting study. Unaccustomed to bustling human activity, the birds are naturally shy to any overtures. They are always found in flocks. They take to their wings even at the slightest hint of a human approach.

The early days of their arrival are marked by the weaving of nests atop the vegetative growth in the midst of the island. Breeding begins only after the birds are fully satisfied that their nests are safe. While some of the adults stay back in the nests to keep a close watch on the freshly-laid eggs or fledglings, others hover round in the vicinity in search of the food--either corn from the nearby fields or fish from the river.

The calm, serene, and tranquil environs,climatic suitability and the copious water in the river, which ensure a perennial source of food, atract the birds to this habitat.

The arrival and stay of these birds have made their impact on the social life of the village too. Villagers, who are by and large kind and hospitable to their "regular guests," also speak proudly of them for the reason that their presence in the island has put this obscure village on the wildlife map.

The State Forest Department, realising the growing importance of the bird sanctuary though belatedly, has adopted several measures to develop the sanctuary without causing any disturbance to the birds.

It has erected a watch tower on the roadside bank of the river to ensure a clear and unobstructed view of the birds. Its other works include stabilising of the river bank to avoid erosion during floods, and planting of trees all along the roadside to minimise the noise of vehicular traffic. It even once toyed with an idea of "ringing" the birds by taming them to establish their nativity.

Mandagadde is endowed with lavish scenic splendours, and has all the potential to emerge as one of the leading natural bird sanctuaries if there is a systematic plan for its development without affecting the natural surroundings.

Mandagadde village boasts of a mythological heritage too. Legend has it that Sage Mandavya had his hermitage near this tiny village.

Also, it was here that from 1943 onwards, a jungle warfare training school was run for a few years utilising the surrounding Malnad countryside as training ground.

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