Kumarakam: The Winged Visitors are Still Here!


The Green Haven

Kumarakam paddy fields

Kumarakam, a lagoon like village on the eastern banks of the Vembanad lake in central south Kerala  is a traveler’s paradise.  This picturesque land in Kuttanad is well connected by road to Kochi and Kottayam.  Its green paddy fields, meandering canals and waterways, vast stretches of water lilies, long and fading rows of coconut groves and the blue glittering waters of the backwaters  form a perfect refreshing retreat for human tourists as well as migrant birds.  Tourists and migrant birds from all over the world flock to this rustic haven in search of fresh air, water and a taste of Kuttanad.

The blues and greens of Kumarakam

The Eco Crisis

I was in Kumarakam on 16 and 17 January 2010 to participate in the annual Vembanad Waterfowl Count organized by Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department and Kottayam Nature Society.  This year I was assigned the Thanneermukkam bund to survey.   The bund or rather barrage  is a cause of a huge environmental catastrophe in Kuttanad for the last few decades.  It was designed exclusively for the doubling of paddy yield, but unfortunately it had blocked the natural flow of water into the sea and

Sunrise at the barrage in Thannirmukkam

contaminated the whole region.  Now the government has made a decision to open it for a whole year, so that the toxins accumulated could be purged.  Let us hope for the best.

Waterfowl Count 2010

Since I was given the barrage area to survey there was little birds apart from a few whiskered terns,egrets, cormorants and Brahmany kites.  We could see a pair of white-browed wagtails at the western end of the barrage.  The count done in ten locations confirmed a marginal drop in the number of birds in the winter migration season.  The survey also brings to notice the extend of pollution that is increasing day by day as a result of irresponsible tourism.  The destruction of natural habitat and contamination of water bodies are detrimentally affecting the migrant waterfowl.


Westend Lakeside Home Stay

A place to repose: Lakeside Homstay

But the day before the survey I was lucky to spend my evening at the lake side in a beautiful  home stay retreat called Westend Lakeside Home Stay.  It is a small but well designed getaway in the traditional wooden architectural style of Kerala at the edge of the backwater from where you have a great view of the Vembanad.  Here you can enjoy the sunset from your balcony or the courtyard soothing yourself in the cool gentle breeze that caresses you all the time.

As this place is so calm and close to the lake you can also watch the birds that come to the shore and the lake.  Plenty of marsh and spotted sandpipers were near the shore.  I saw plenty of whistling ducks coming to feed in the lake in the evening.  A flight of cotton teals was also seen in between.  Egrets and pond herons were plenty.  A

Vembanad Lake: A view from the balcony

huge purple heron was seen at the edge of the water.  A few black kites and an Osprey were also seen at a distance in the horizon.  The breezy and quiet sunset here is a trans experience that will linger in our mind for so long.

Purple heron at the water’s edge

Once it was dark I could here the whistling of ducks coming in large flocks to the lake.  The dark silhouette of night herons in flight was also interesting.  I spend a lot of time at the lake shore just in front of the cottage experiencing the wonderful sounds, sights, smells and touch of mother nature in all her glory and subtlety.  It was a really refreshing evening for me.  After it was dark the calls and responses of jungle owlets and barn owls were coming form the adjacent palm groves.  Paul my host informed that pond herons and little cormorants regularly nest and breed in a small heronry on the tree that is near to the cottage every year.

Sunrise Cruise in the Lake

This Lake Side Home Stay is  near the MRF training centre slightly to the west of Pallychira between Kumarakam Jetty and Kavanatinkara Tourist Complex.  They also provide simple Kumarakam delicacies including Karimeen and prawn.  They could also arrange a country boat cruise in the lake at sunrise or sunset.  If you are interested to watch birds, sunrise cruise is ideal; if you want to enjoy nature and simply unwind in the breeze set sail at sunset.  Paul can be reached at:  +91 9447569895 or +91 9249411167.

The misty sunrise in the Vembanad

Blue tailed beeeater: A wetland bird









Osprey of the Vembanad

All set to dive!
All set to dive!

As part of the Bird Race 2009 we visited Kumarakam, Kaipuzha Muttu, Thalayazham, Vaikam, Valanthakadu, Kundannur, Maradu, Mattanchery and Fort Kochi.

We, me and Jaime, began our birding from Gandhinagar in Kottayam on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 14, 2009. The first call that awakened me was that of a Black-hooded Oriole. Tree pies, Crows, Cuckoos, Drongos and Barbets soon joined the morning chore with their exquisite polyphony. It was an encouraging start for a whole day of birding.

In Kumarakam at the Chengalam – Kumarakam paddy fields we saw thousands of Egrets: Great, Median, Little and cattle. Whistling Ducks and Cotton teals were also seen in flight. On the electric lines Ashy Wood Swallows were sitting and chatting close to each other. Common, White-throated and Stork-billed Kingfishers were also seen in busy action. Later we also saw the Pied one at Attipidika.

Barn Swallows and Red-rumped swallows were flying close to the paddy hawking insects in the early morning light. Plenty of Whiskered Terns were seen sailing high above. Purple Swamp Hens and Bronzed wing Jacanas were active in their morning bouts in the fields.

The rare sight was that of a Common(?) Snipe. There was another one nearby which was seen only when it was alarmed and took to its wings. We got a few snaps! Also saw plenty of Marsh, Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers. Indian and Little Cormorants and Dab Chicks were also seen playing hide and seek in water. Palm swifts and Indian Swiftlets were also seen occasionally on the fringes of the field and near palm groves.

Wading in the mud!
Wading in the mud!

Then we encircled the Bird Sanctuary on a country boat through the mouth of the Kavanar and saw plenty of Darters and Night Herons in the thick vegetation bordering the sanctuary. In the Vembanad lake we got a unique chance to see the fishing of an awesome Osprey in its full glory, diving down from 50 or 60 metres high. Its sweeps and twistes were simply breathtaking!! Seeing this huge and agile bird in quick action is a rare delight indeed, we could really cherish this glorious sight forever.

Plenty of Taylor birds and a brown shrike was seen on the reeds by the shore. Some Pheasant-tailed Jacanas disappeared into the water hyacinths. A Brahmany Kite was seen in suffusing flight.

At Kaipuzh Muttu paddyfields we saw three Marsh Harriers in brisk business. Plenty of teals and other water fowl were around. Here we also noted a huge raptor, probably an Aquila. Blue tailed and Small Green Bee-eaters were here. Ashy and Plain Prinias were plenty. We also saw a flight of Bayas alighting onto tall grasses in blossom.

In the Vaikam lake there were plenty of Whiskered Terns and Indian Shags. As we reached Valanthakkad a group of Paddy-field Pipits welcomed us with gusto. Some Red-wattled Lapwings were also around. Plenty of Black and Brahmany Kites were seen all around the sky. Three years ago along with Dr Dilip I sighted Lesser Sand Plovers and Golden Plovers here. But it has become a ruined wetland now. Sobha Group and other ‘Developers’ are choking this unique eco system. More than five varieties of Mangroves found here are also vanishing with it.

Roosting by the field
Roosting by the field

In Mattanchery we saw plenty of Terns near the quay. At Fort Kochy we were lucky to spot one Western Reef Egret in flight. Then at around five rain began to play its spoil sport and we were stranded. We reached the meeting venue around seven in the evening. It was a meaningful and delightful day of birding and understanding the reality of our environment. Beyond the spirit of competitive racing it was a greater opportunity for involvement, intervention and dialogue.