Magadi lake - a conservation success story

(a delight to watch... Bar-headed Goose)

I was so keen on sighting the Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus), that I took few others scanning lakes around Magadi, close to Bengaluru a couple of years ago in search of them and our efforts paid fruit when I could sight them at Markonahalli reservoir but at a very far distance. It was enough for me to glee that I was able to see the prolific travelers (they visit from as afar as Mongolia flying over the Himalayas...!)

Last year having heard more than enough of another 'Magadi (tank) lake'; this one near Gadag town in North Karnataka about 350kms from Bengaluru, that hosts more than 3000+ of the Bar-headed Goose every winter when they come visiting was enough to set me packing to go and witness it live.

(early morning high key images)

Saandip Nandagudi, prolific birder and wildlife photographer, Yogananda Thandra and comedy king Avinash Kannammanavar okay'd to accompany me and we drove down to Lakshmeshwar, about 350kms away and the closest town to the lake. We had contacted Somanna, the forest department temporary guard there for directions and accommodation options and he was of great help for us and one should accolade the hard work he puts in for the protection and conservation of the species for the entire period they stay here.

I am fond of North Karnataka style and varieties of food and an roadside eatery catered to our early morning pangs so much so that it set Saandip on fire because of the spices; well... I enjoyed it :) We stayed put at the PWD IB at Lakshmeshwar that is okay, a better choice would be a hotel near the bus stand that offers decent accommodation as well as food (hotel below and lodging on top) and the food was good while we stayed there.

'Toilets' and 'use of toilets' are something non-existent even today in many places and Magadi town is no exception to this and having a lake is like an attraction where many people openly defaecate in the early hours of the day. I'm stating this to highlight not only the good things but also the practical ground realities that exist and would see if visiting there.

(Brahminy Shelducks)

(they fly in formations...)

(typical landing amidst chaos...)

Getting back to the Geese's, they are called so because of the bars on their neck and are known for their long distance flying, all the way from Mongolia and other European regions to peninsular India crossing over the mighty Himalayas. They breed in the high altitude regions of Ladakh and China and fly down south to pass the harsh winters up north. Another intriguing as well as mind blowing fact about them is that they return to the same wintering hotspot year after year, retracing their path with the help of tailwinds and are capable of covering more than 1000 miles in a single stretch!!!

Their routine is very simple: As the dawn breaks, they all take off in batches with their 'honking' sound and disperse off the fields to feed on groundnuts, corn, rice and other crops and travel long distances in search of food. Sometime between 8-9 am, they all return back to the lake and spend the rest of the day in the lake. They repeat the feeding cycle once in the evening and congregate back by nightfall and prefer to spend the night in the middle of the lake, the deepest part to avoid predators and dogs.

(long distance flyers...)

Specific to Magadi lake, the forest department has done a commendable job in ensuring its protection and declaration as a conservation reserve. Mr Vijay Mohan Raj (VMR), IFS officer is one of the pioneers who played a role in conserving this lake. Somanna, the guard has been given a field scope by the North Karnataka Birders Assocn and a 3-tier watchtower is built by the department to keep a vigil over the lake and also to keep a track of the 'ringed' birds that come in every year. Somanna is keeping a log track of all the 'ringed' birds that visit the lake every year and the information is communicated back to the originator that helps in understanding a lot about the species and their lifestyle. Somanna once rescued a goose that was injured and nursed it back to health on his own with the help of a local vet and is happy that it joined the group back in good health; but his hard work needs to be recognized by the department and sufficient grants/privileges should be released to ensure he can sustain his family while working for conserving the lake and the species that visit them. If he moves on in search of greener pastures and more income, that would be a great loss for the lake and its visitors.

(Painted Stork in flight)

(Northern Shovelers in flight)

(pair of Indian Coursers from a nearby field)

Not only the Bar-headed Goose, we also saw a plentiful of other species such as Brahminy Ducks, Painted Storks, Egrets, Cormorants, Northern Shovelers, Indian Peafowl, Bonelli's Eagle's, Caspian Terns, Hume's Whitethroat and many others, epitomizing the fact that 'you save one species, a hundred more get saved with them'. We were also lucky to sight Indian Coursers in a field where we had wandered off losing our way.

I will list typically what to do and what not to do if you are visiting there:

  • Do reach the place early, in fact before dawn and position yourself closer to the banks (empower yourself with the knowledge of east direction)
  • Do sit still without movements till they feel comfortable in your presence
  • Do not move around like crazy or keep frittering around. A little discomfort... and off they go!
  • Patience and perseverance pays
  • Afternoon is hot, ideal to end morning session by 10am and return back for evening session by 3pm. Winters will be awfully cold in the morning, tendency to dip low.
  • Be a silent visitor and leave no traces of your visit.
  • Inform and report any unusual sightings to the guard over there. Try and collect more information about any ringed birds you see.

Other Information:

  • Magadi lake is in Magadi, a small village of Shirahatti Taluka in the district of Gadag. Lakshmeshwar town is 11kms from the lake and Gadag is 26kms from the lake. Bangalore is at a distance of 350+ kms and the road is good enough for a self drive and takes about 8hours.
  • Magadi (tank) lake houses the Magadi bird sanctuary and spread over 140 acres is a biodiversity hotspot and declared as an IBA (Important Bird Area).
  • Accommodation and Food at Lakshmeshwar (PWD IB or a local hotel near bus stand)
  • Time to visit: November to February

(difficult to catch loner in a frame...)

(end of a long day...)

Also, please read these blog written on and about the same place...
Saandip Nandagudi's blog

Yashpal's blog
Dr Arun's article on JLRexplore