Meera Bhardwaj @ Gadag:
Is the Bar Headed Geese shunning the Magadikere (Lake) at Gadag in the last few years? Indeed, its numbers are dropping, report residents of Magadi village, forest staff, and of course birders.
When Green Minute visited recently, the Geese numbers varied from 2000-2500 and only a portion of this man-made Lake reverberated with the sounds of typical goose honking.
It may be recalled only last month; the Karnataka government had sought “Ramsar Site” recognition for Magadikere which will symbolize its status as a Wetland of Global Importance.
A biodiversity hotspot in Shirhatti taluk of Karnataka, India, the Magadikere Bird Conservation Reserve is a winter destination for the world’s highest-flying birds. Apart from other Migratory birds, it is the Bar Headed Geese from the breeding grounds of Central Asia and Tibet that has been wintering at this lake continuously for 20 years except for 2016-17.
Green Minute visited the Magadikere Bird Conservation Reserve thrice this January during the day and evening hours.
Most of the geese were seen roosting along with painted storks and cormorants along the edges of the island in the lake. During the day, they flock together in groups in the lake for shelter. The geese were seen flying out in the evenings and mornings for feeding to the nearby fields and then returning around 10 am in the morning and 7 pm in the evenings.
As per the forest watchers on duty, less than 2500 birds have been sighted at this point of time. The main source of food for these birds are the crops grown around the lake region and they feed on tender shoots of jowar, groundnuts, various pulses, and maize.
Local bird experts add, “Their numbers have been decreasing for various reasons ranging from unseasonal, heavy rains, changing crop patterns and climatic changes. However, there is an urgent need for research studies to ascertain this matter.”
The lake is spread over 134 acres and has a catchment area of 900 hectares. Although measures have been initiated by the forest department to protect these and other migratory species, there have been cases of feral dogs attacking these birds.
In fact, the lake is situated amid the Magadi village with continual interaction with cattle, humans, and dogs but people do not resent the presence of these birds in their midst. One can see dogs walking around the periphery of the lake, maybe in search of bird species and kids playing around the lake say some geese have been killed by stray dogs.
Apart from this, with rains lashing Karnataka for three consecutive years, the lake is overflowing and has most likely affected the food chain.
Further, there seems to be a change in the cropping pattern with farmers in Shirhatti taluk eying palm oil for its commercial value (which is a productive crop with greater yields) rather than jowar, groundnut, pulses, etc.
A study of the seasonal abundance of aquatic birds, including migratory birds which has been published in Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies has focused on the population of Bar-headed geese coming from Siberia and Tibet to Magadi Kere. This study was conducted over five years spanning from March 2015 to March 2020.
The study was done by Yashpal Kshirsagar, Sonal Vrishni, Anil Kumar Ratan, and Shidramappa L Vibhuti, all from Karnataka Forest department. Owing to drought, during the year 2016-17, very few birds were sighted. Under normal circumstances, the migratory birds used to visit Shettikere but not in that large numbers, the researchers elaborate.
It is a wonder of wonders that Bar headed geese fly all the way from Tibet and Mongolia to India crossing the Himalayas (sometimes over 8000 meters) to escape the harsh winters back home.
In Karnataka, the geese have found Magadikere waterbody, a haven, and a safe feeding and roosting spot. And in the years to come, this unique wetland will be needing all protection for its high-flying visitors and global recognition as a Ramsar Site.
(ALL PHOTOGRAPHS BY MEERA BHARDWAJ)