The pastoral settings of Kokkerebellur, away from the urban cacophony, offers a vast expanse of water dotted with trees, and draped with birds. Capture the view of feathered immigrants flocked here every winter.
As you veer off from the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway and drive on pitted track, vast stretches of verdurous fields of paddy, sugarcane and maize fringed with clusters of coconut trees welcome you. A lot of activity takes place here along streams and waterways which are sprinkled with water lilies. A bunch of wading birds gracefully weave their way between the plants, hiding now behind tall blades of grass, and magically bobbing their heads up a few seconds later.
Instead, I hear the familiar rhapsody of the morning rituals – the swish of brooms in courtyards, scraping against the gravel and crackling against heaps of dried leaves, of hissing stoves brewing the morning gruel. I observe womenfolk leisurely create beautiful motifs with coarse rice flour outside their little huts and homes. Cows and buffaloes lazily amble across the muddy streets, swatting their tails to shoo away flies. I am suddenly overwhelmed by doubts. Have we mistakenly driven out to some place called Kokkerebellur which is not the Kokkerebellur Bird Sanctuary we meant to visit? Even as I stand, lost in the middle of a junction of muddy roads, and muse over what seems to be a meaningless sojourn, a wild goose chase, a kindly villager approaches us. He senses we are lost and makes the right guess. “Ah, it is the kokkare you’ve come to see!” He is forthright. He barely waits for our reply and observing the sudden glint in our eyes, launches into a very informative monologue on the birds that don’t ever fail to appear in his village, and with whom its people enjoy a special bond.
Well then, we are at the right Kokkarebellur! Except that it is not a sanctuary – neither natural, nor man-made! Nevertheless it is a haven for these plumaged creatures that fly in from far away shores for breeding, nesting and birthing.
The village and the birds
Kokkarebellur is a small hamlet in Maddur taluk of Mandya District, a deviation on the Bangalore-Mysore highway. Named for the painted storks kokkare in the Kannada language that inhabit this village, Kokkarebellur is a well-sought after destination for bird lovers.
According to the local history, the storks would flock to the banks of the Sulekere Lake. With the passage of time when a village sprung up in the neighbourhood, its inhabitants who were enchanted by the birds, forged a harmonious bond with them. For centuries now, the painted stork and spot-billed pelicans, both near-threatened avian species, descend upon this nondescript village and have made it their nesting site.
These magnificent denizens of the sky are there today, but not in hordes as we’ve heard. They are there in solitude, in pairs, in small groups – dotting water bodies, trees, especially tamarind trees, and the grassy verdure abounding in the village. Kokkerebellur and its folks, it is apparent, enjoy a long-established camaraderie with the spot-billed pelican which they have adopted as their heritage bird. The village is one of twenty one breeding sites in India for these birds. The villagers look upon them as harbingers of good luck and fortune. They use the bird’s potassium- and phosphorus-rich droppings, to fertilise their soil. The women of the village, in particular, dote upon these birds. For them it is like a daughter coming home for delivery!
Interestingly, we notice different kinds of birds swoop down on the same trees. They seem to dwell in as much harmony with each other as they do with their human hosts in Kokkerebellur. The villagers informed that several species inhabit the same set of trees, share an amiable relationship with each other. They also lay eggs, hatch and rear their offspring on the same tree without feeling threatened.
A magical drama unfolds high up on the sky as the plumaged creatures noisily flap their wings as they dive, soar, swoop and indulge in a gamut of acrobatics in gay abandon. While the cormorants dip their beaks into the water for fish, another avian species wheels in circles through the sky. The kingfishers and green bee-eater birds dart from one electric line to another as if engaged in some kind of a cat and mouse chase.
We learnt that a passage of the Shimsa River that skirts the village allures the birds with its plentiful fish. Though the migrants which begin to fly in from November, continue to inhabit the place till May, the best time to catch plenty of them, is early February through to March when the painted storks create life and celebrate nature as they descend upon the village for their annual nesting.
Best time to visit: Jan to March is the peak time when one can see plenty of birds.
Written By : Chitra Ramaswamy