Archive for June, 2011

Ousteri: Threatened Bird Area of Pondicherry

Thursday, 16 June, 2011

By Aju Mukhopadhyay

Born in Kolkata and settled in Pondicherry, Aju Mukhopadhyay is a bilingual poet, critic and author of fiction and essays. He has authored 28 books and received several awards for his work.

Usud-eri or Ousteri, as it is usually spelt, is the large water-body in Ossudu village, north of Kaveri River, some 10km from Pondicherry town. The tank, constructed during the Vijayanagara dynasty some 500 years ago, is connected through the Suthukanni channel to Gingee and Varaha Rivers. Once upon a time Ousteri would have some thousands of winged visitors during the full migratory season (between November and the beginning of February).

In 1995 the lake recorded some 20,000 birds and in 1998 it went up to 25,000 birds of 44 species (BNHS, 2004). In addition to residents like Little Cormorant and Common Coot, Cotton Teal, Spot-billed Pelican, Spoonbills, White Ibis; migratory species like the Eurasian Wigeon were recorded in large numbers (up to 4600 individuals!).Various species of ducks, herons, cormorants, hawks, kites, darters, terns, kingfishers, lapwings, flycatchers were abundant.

Ousteri Lake has been designated as one of the important wetlands of Asia by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Bombay Natural History Society has also nominated it as an Important Bird Area. The lake has also been declared as a bird sanctuary by Government of Pondicherry.

The lake, however, faces numerous threats. Dredging and de-silting by the authorities has caused removal of some useful weeds that the birds would nest on. Trees have been uprooted to make the spot suitable for a children’s park; only a few trees stand on the lakeside giving just a handful of tree-nesting birds the opportunity to breed here. The lake is also facing problems of poaching, fertilizer poisoning, plastic waste pollution and inflow of various other pollutants that also flow in from nearby manufactories. Motor and pedal boats regularly ply in the lake when the water level is sufficiently high and that also happens to be the bird season. A big hospital has been constructed nearby and a restaurant-cum-bar has grown ostentatiously.  Further urbanization, as has been proposed, around the lake will only add to the commotion and noise and additional pollution. Apathy and reluctance on the part of the authorities to run it as a real bird sanctuary are visible.

Although the Government declared it a bird sanctuary in 2008, no positive action was taken to match the declaration. The Government has formed a committee that will take suitable action and will look into rights of different individuals and groups around the lake. The authorities have assured us that all-out action will be taken to maintain the integrity of the lake as a bird sanctuary once all the formalities are over. We hope that the lake will see better days in the coming years.

The state of the Bahour Tank that lies north of Pennaiyar River, about 22 km south of Pondicherry is better as it has not been ‘developed’ for tourism.  As a matter of fact there is no indication anywhere to show that it is an Important Bird Area, either on the way or near the site. The water body was full when we visited it and we are told that more birds will visit it when the water levels go down. By March, however most of the water will be drained for irrigation. The field next to this tank is big and birds often congregate here. If this site is neglected it may get degraded and soon also become unsuitable for birds.

Nature and wilderness, whatever remains of it now, are being systematically destroyed in favour of commercialism, entertainment and so called tourism. If managed well these lakes could attract many keen bird-watchers and nature enthusiasts in addition to harbouring a fantastic collection of bird life.

References –

Important Bird Areas of India. 2004. BNHS, Mumbai. (pp. 833-837)


You can contact Aju Mukhopadhyay at ajum24[at]

You can view sightings from Ousteri Lake on the  MigrantWatch database.


Other related links –

Chari, S. & A. Abbasi. 2005. A study on the fish fauna of Oussudu – a rare freshwater lake of South India; International Journal of Environmental Studies; Volume 62, Issue 2, 2005, Pages 137 – 145

Chari, S. Abbasi, A. & S. Ganapathy (2003) Ecology, habitat and bird community structure at Oussudu Lake: towards a strategy for conservation and management; Aquatic Consevation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. Volume 13, Issue 5,  Pages 373–386.

The Destruction of Ousteri Lake

Where are the birds going?

Friday, 10 June, 2011

Where are the birds going? Article in OPEN Magazine, 4 June 2011 by Shubhangi Swarup. Talks about ringing and satellite tracking work by BNHS; and mentions Kunta, our heroic Grey Wagtail!

Pied Cuckoo in the news

Tuesday, 7 June, 2011

News articles about Pied Cuckoo arrival in 2011.

Tracking the cuckoo. By Marianne de Nazareth, The Hindu, 5 June 2011.
Please note this clarification. The article says that MigrantWatch data shows that the arrival of the Pied Cuckoo does not herald the onset of the monsoon. On the contrary, our conclusion (based on 2009 and 2010 sightings) was that “Pied Cuckoos often do arrive at a location before the monsoon does, but the degree to which they do so varies with location and year.”

African bugler of Indian monsoon is back. By Vikram Jit Singh, Times of India, Chandigarh, 7 June 2011.
Vikram is a keen MigrantWatcher!

Call of the cuckoo brings hope of rain. The Telegraph, Kolkata, 7 June 2011.
Note the comment from the director of IMD Bhubaneswar: “There is no confirmed scientific finding to relate the arrival of the monsoon clouds with the birds.” In fact, MigrantWatchers have contributed data to show that there is!

You can see all recent Pied Cuckoo sightings here.

How Bar-headed Geese cross the Himalayas

Wednesday, 1 June, 2011

New research (by the BNHS and others) on Bar-headed Geese based on satellite-tracking shows that the geese display amazing feats while crossing the HImalayas on migration. They can climb many thousand metres in altitude in only a few hours; and do so without the assistance of tailwinds. Wonderful studies like this add greatly our understanding of Bar-headed Goose migration!

Press coverage:
Wise geese chase sinks a myth – Telegraph (Kolkata)
High-flying geese don’t need winds – The Hindu

The original research article:
The trans-Himalayan flights of Bar-headed Geese.