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.
Important Bird Areas of India. 2004. BNHS, Mumbai. (pp. 833-837)
You can contact Aju Mukhopadhyay at ajum24[at]gmail.com
You can view sightings from Ousteri Lake on the MigrantWatch database.
Other related links -
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.