Vembanad lake and adjacent wetlands form the largest water body in Kerala. It is also one of the longest and largest lakes in India. It stretches beyond 1500 sq. km and separates the districts of Kottayam, Alapuzha and Ernakulam. The great rivers of Kochi and Travancore unite to form this unique wetland ecosystem. River Periyar, Muvatupuzhayar, Meeachil, Manimalayar, Achankovilar and Pampa drain their waters to this estuarine system that is situated at sea level.
It has been the cradle of human culture and cultivation (below sea level) for many a millennium. All the relics and reminiscences of ancient Kerala are found from the Kuttanad region that encircles lake Vembanad. Mavelikara Buddha statue, Ambalapuzha Karumadikuttan (partially demolished 8th century granite Buddha), The old Buddhist temples of Kiliroor, Nilamperur, Thakazhi etc. (Hinduized after the 10th century) are still found to the south of the lake. Place names like Thottappally and Bhuthapandy point towards the Buddhist and Tamil pasts of Kerala.
According to local oral narratives and historians the place got the name of Kuttanad (literally the land of Kuttan) from the black Buddha idol called Karumadi Kuttan that represents the true cultural tradition of Kerala and its people, especially the subaltern, that was obliterated in the Brahmanic conquest that took place after the 5th century AD.
The Kottayam Nature Society lead by Dr B Sreekumar and supported by youngsters like Ajay Nilamperur, Prasanth Narayanan and others, has been organizing the annual waterfowl count in Vembanad for more than ten years now with the support of Kerala Forest Department. They are also producing the reports in book form after each survey. Their contributions and interventions in the field of conservation are extremely valuable and commendable.
I have been part of this endeavor for the last couple of years. But this time I was not an official participant of the count for being away from Kottayam, working in the real margin of the state in Kasaragod. Still I was able to do a bit of parallel birding at the margins of the survey.
There is a drastic decline in the number of birds and number of species this year. The ducks and waders are specifically missing. So are the terns and gulls in the lake. Perhaps the changed rain pattern and climatic change in general have altered the migratory routes and frequenzy. We are all eagerly awaiting the official report and the analysis by experts.
In a few hours in the morning I could see small groups of Lesser Whistling Teals, a few Cotton Pigmy Goose, Egrets, Little Cormorants, Indian Shags, a few Whiskered Terns, Barn Swallows, Darters, Starlings and Common Mynas near Vattakayal and Thollayiram Kayal. A Snakebird was seen in breeding plumage to my surprise.
The decline in migrant population must be addressed immediately by the experts and conservationists on an emergency basis. The various implications should be studied and brought to light. The analyses are vital for the sustenance and conservation of this key Ramsar site in Kerala and the neighboring human community.