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Birding Lake Vembanad

Listed under Birdwatching in Kerala, India.

  • Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
  • Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
  • Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
  • Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
  • Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
  • Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
  • Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
  • Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
Photo of Birding Lake Vembanad
Photo by Jenny Fowler
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In the early morning the soft grey of the sky blends imperceptibly with the silvery surface of Lake Vembanad. People start work early, poling their dugout canoes to collect clay or catch fish whilst the local birds, colourful and varied, begin their day too.

The lake is a rich environment; during a day-long survey 193 bird species were recorded there. I joined a bird-watching walk with V S Abhilash, the resident naturalist at Coconut Lagoon on the eastern shore of the lake. Before long, we found 30 bird species.

The lake is surrounded by low-lying land which used to be paddy fields, regularly flooded to grow rice creating a fascinatingly diverse environment. However, changing economic circumstances mean that many of the fields are being converted to coconut plantations. The farmers build small rows of hillocks in the water and plant a palm on each one. Although this arrangement gives a charming almost other-worldly effect, and the mix of land and water provides good feeding grounds for water birds now, these paddy fields will dry out as the trees mature.

Watercourses from the lake run through the hotel grounds. As I waited for the birding group in reception, I was startled by a loud splash, and looked up to see a Small Blue Kingfisher emerging from the water and flying away with a fish.

Our group walked along the lake shore. A cormorant like bird a with an extraordinarily long snake-like neck sat on a stump out in the lake, spreading its wings to dry. It was an Indian Darter. At the same time a Purple Heron stood elegantly on a floating island of water hyacinth, whilst a White-breasted Kingfisher took advantage of some overhead wires to perch and oversee his kingdom.

Turning towards the flooded fields of young coconut palms, I watched a Pond Heron standing on one of the hillocks. Suddenly it struck into the water and pulled out a wriggling black catfish. It stunned the catfish by hitting it on the ground and then swallowed it whole. Nature in the raw. Nearby another Purple Heron awaited the next fish. Shortly afterwards, a colourful Purple Moorhen appeared in a thicket of reeds and grass by the waterside.

Along the banks, bushes and scrub sheltered land birds including a Flowerpecker, India's smallest bird. A noise in two tall palms made us look up. Hanging in the trees were bell-shaped nests with Baya Weaver birds busily coming and going, continually adding bits of grass and twigs to their homes whilst keeping up a lively conversational twittering. The power lines above the field appeared to sag under the weight of a colony of several hundred Whiskered Terns who looked as if they had decided to roost together. Other birds hid in bushes or flew among the palm trees and our species count increased as we explored.

By nine o'clock the soft gentle warmth of the early morning was starting to give way to the heat of the day. It was time to get back to the hotel for breakfast, passing a Cattle Egret keeping company with a cow which had been tethered out to graze. This walk had been my first experience of Indian bird life and I had already seen so many species I could hardly take them in at once. So, I arranged to do it all again the following day as well!

It was great birding. Our expert guide's local knowledge enriched our experience immeasurably. With more time and a good telephoto lens, you could get some lovely images as many of the birds are comfortable with people moving around on the lake. With patience you can get quite close to much of the birdlife.

Our guide helps with the annual bird counts organised by the Forestry and Wildlife Department of the Kerala Government. Bird numbers and diversity provide an indicatoin of the health of the lake environment, vital to wildlife and to the local people who live and work around Lake Vembanad.

Written by  Jenny Fowler.

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