Weighing around 160-200 grams and with a wingspan of 65 to 71 cm, the Amur falcon, an inter-continental migratory bird, travels almost 22,000 km to beat the cold in southeastern Siberia and northern China. And in its journey to South Africa, these birds make a pit stop in India. While their first pit stop is Nagaland, some of these birds make their next stop in parts of Uttara Kannada, especially Attiveri Bird Sanctuary near Mundgod. However, with the water bodies at the bird sanctuary going dry due to scanty rainfall, these birds halted at the thick forest of Kaiga valley this winter, sending a wave of joy among bird enthusiasts.
At the Kaiga Bird Marathon 2017 that was conducted recently at Kaiga in Uttara Kannada, Amur falcon was one of the many popular birds that participants wanted to catch a glimpse of. The marathon was conducted by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited under its Environment Stewardship programme.
The vast evergreen forest of Kaiga valley did not disappoint the bird lovers as they also saw 15 bird species that were new to the region. These birds were photographed for the first time here since the marathon began in 2010. In total, they counted 279 bird species in and around Kaiga. With this count, enthusiasts were able to see most of the birds that are found in the Western Ghats along the 43-km trekking stretch.
Not just birdwatching
What started as an enthusiastic birdwatching exercise by the employees of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station, bird marathon has now become a rage among bird lovers, who apply in advance to attend the event. “The number of participants is increasing every year,” reveals H N Bhat, the power station’s site director. This year, the participants were from a diverse background, including students and doctors.
It was in 2010 that the nuclear power plant started organising the marathon after the Union government asked The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited officials to create awareness among the people regarding the ‘non-harmful nature’ of the power plant. “The best way to create awareness among people was letting them visit the place and see for themselves that the nuclear plant has had no impact on nature,” said Suneel Barkur, a coordinator of this year’s bird marathon. The region, of late, has seen an increase in the number of animals such as leopard, black panther and the Indian bison. Suneel also says that there has been an increase in the number of bird species that come to the region every year.
Birds are considered to be one of the first species to feel any adverse environmental changes and, looking at the increase in the number of birds, one can say that the nuclear power plant has not affected the area. However, not all are impressed by this claim.
“Was there a scientific study done before the setting up of the nuclear power plant at Kaiga regarding the number of bird species found in the area? If not, how can they tell that there is an increase or decrease in the number of bird species?” asks Nagesh Hegde, a noted environment writer. He continues, “If there is an untouched habitat anywhere in India, animals and birds are bound to increase in that area.” He adds that the increase in the greenery does not mean that there is no harm from the nuclear plant.
“Nuclear power is not the green energy, which the Nuclear Power Corporation of India officials want us to believe. From its inception stage to commissioning and decommissioning, there is an impact of the nuclear power plant on the environment,” adds Nagesh Hegde. He believes that there is a need for scientific study by a neutral organisation to ascertain the impact of Kaiga power plant on the surrounding area, including on the waterbodies.
A visual treat
For Ashwinikumar Bhat, an avid birder, Kaiga is a unique place where he can see diverse bird species up and close. “While the yearly events like this give a short glimpse of the diversity around, a more thorough scientific study may throw more light into the behavioural aspects of the birds and animals of the region,” he said. Due to its geographical position, with River Kali flowing here, the valley has been attracting not just Western Ghats birds but also marine birds.
At this year’s event, bird lovers were lucky to see birds such as scaly-breasted munia, paddyfield pipit, Malabar crested lark, zitting cisticola, ashy prinia, plain prinia and spotted dove at several places across the valley. The Kaiga valley also welcomes Western Ghats forest birds such as Malabar grey hornbill, greater racket-tailed drongo, common hill myna, orange-headed thrush, crested hawk-eagle and coppersmith barbet among others. Water birds such as little cormorant, grey heron, ashy woodswallow and common sandpiper were also sighted at large waterbodies in and around Kaiga.