Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Birds of the fields - A wealth of “watching” experience at Coconut Lagoon

Paddy fields, like forests and mangroves, attract a vibrant, seasonal bird life during the different stages of its cultivation. When the field is waterlogged after the harvesting, the little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and Indian coot (Fulica atra) are its visitors.

When the fields are filled with water plants such as lilies, lotus and eichornias, it has a new guest: the jacanas (both bronze-winged or Metopidius indicus and pheasant-tailed or Hydrophasianus chirurgus ). They probably have one of the most unique nicknames in the bird kingdom. Called the Jesus bird and Christbird, jacanas have elongated toes and claws that help spread its weight when moving across floating vegetation, and these water plants enable them to walk over the surface foraging their prey and offer a place to nest. The impression that they walk on water, especially when the vegetation is submerged, gives them the nickname.

Different species of ducks also like to accompany them at this time, namely the lesser whistling-duck (Dendrocygna javanica), cotton pigmy goose (Nettapus coromandelianus), garganey (Anas querquedula) and pintail duck (Anas acuta). The Whistling Duck and Cotton Pigmy Goose are residents. They like to breed on the dead coconut trees and other tree holes near the fields. It is a common sight to see the chicks swim around their parents during the post monsoon season, in the fields. The Whistling Duck or Tree Duck, as also it is known, has a wheezy, whistling “seasick, seasick”, call, uttered in flight, and roosts can be quite noisy. The migrants can be seen from October to May from different parts of the world.

They are attracted here due to the warm weather a welcome escape from the freezing European winter. All of these ducks rest and relax in the waterlogged fields in the day time and are active in the night. These summer visitors can be a bit destructive in the fields where seeds are sown. Locally, farmers of the Kuttanad area term their “attack” as “eranda veezhal”, which means the shower of ducks.

Egrets are omnipresent of the fields, but can be seen in thousands when the draining of water starts in the fields. As the fields are below water level, water has to be pumped out from the fields and this creates an easy fishing opportunity which attracts the egrets. There are various types of egrets, Large Casmerodius albu, Median Mesophoyx intermedia, Little Egretta garzetta, Western Reef Egretta gularis, and the Cattle Bubulcus ibis egrets. The sight of acres and acres of fields smeared with these white birds, and terns flying overhead can be quite awe inspiring.. Paddy fields that are a favourite haunt of the birds can provide great photo opportunities. Terns, perched on the electric lines over the fields, look like a swaying garland and make a pretty picture. All the different varieties of Terns that come to Kerala, except for the River Tern (Sterna aurantia), are migrants. Seasonal visitors include Little Tern (Sternula albifrons or Sterna albifrons), Gull billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) and Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus).

Waders are another group of birds found here. Their preference for mud flats brings them to the fields, which are a few centimeters of water deep, at the starting stage of cultivation. The Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) is particularly partial to these mud flats. Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Little Ringed Plover- (Charadrius dubius) and Red Shank (Tringa tetanus) are the other waders who visit the rice fields though the water level is high. Another member in this group, the Black winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), likes to nest on the mounds in the fields, made by the farmers with the weeds and mud.

The beginning of cultivation in the fields can be marked by the presence of mynas of various kinds. The Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) and the Jungle Myna (Acridotheres fuscus) can be seen wandering around the field at this stage of the cultivation. They eat insects, worms and larvae of many of the pests who devour the sprouts of rice. The Rosy pastor (Pastor roseus) and the Chestnut tailed starling (Sturnia malabarica), who are visitors from eastern Europe, also join the mynahs in the fields during this period. They are highly gregarious and form large flocks. The song is a typical starling mixture of squeaks and rattles, given with much wing trembling. When the rice has grown enough to develop tufts of grains, it is the turn of the parakeets to pay a visit. They convert the fields into a joyful area with their sparkling green wings and sound. There are two species, the Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) and Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala). These birds can be seen right through the cultivation time –from when the crop changes from tender grains and begin to ripen. While the parakeets along with Spotted Munia (Lonchura punctulata), White backed Munia (Lonchura striata), Black headed Munia (Lonchura atricapilla), Baya Sparrow (Ploceus philippinus) and Streaked Weaver bird (Ploceus manyar) are quite destructive to the harvest, they also do their bit to help in controlling weeds by eating their seeds during the non-cultivating time.

The vastness spaces of the fields also attract Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus), Small Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis), Blue tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) and Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis). The electric and telephone lines that crisscross over the fields are the ideal perch for these birds. From these high vantage points, they can zoom in on prey like dragonflies and other insects. Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) in the thousands decorate these lines from September to May. The birds of prey like Brahminy Kite (Haliastur Indus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) can be seen while they are doing their aerial patrolling. The dead and headless coconut trunks generally double up as a dining table for these hunters.

Illusive birds like bitterns, crakes and rails use the bushes and thickets on the banks of the paddy fields. Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis), Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) and Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) are the inhabitants of the rice fields. The Ruddy Crake (Laterallus rubber) and Baillion’s Crake (Porzana pusilla) can be seen as a flash in the thickets. If you wait on the bank silently with patience, you can see the peeping eyes of a white breasted water hen. Unfortunately in Kerala, all the paddy fields and marshes are vanishing rapidly with unscientific land reclamation and usage. People do not seem to realise that the conservation of the paddy fields, marshes and other water bodies is very necessary for the retention of water, food safety and also for the birds and millions of other creatures and hence, for our own survival. The guests enjoy the regular morning birding trip from Coconut Lagoon, due to the remaining bit of biodiversity and its conservation gives them and us a sense of joy.

Manoj P or Manu, the naturalist at Coconut Lagoon, is a good guide of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, small mammals and wildflowers. He has published articles and photographs in several prestigious nature journals

Responsible Travel - 10 years old today (of which Kerala Connections is a member) has just reached a couple of milestones - its tenth birthday and $100 million (£66 million) sales. If you would like read Simon Calder's article about it in today's Independent here is the link:

Monday, April 4, 2011


Coconut Lagoon

This is possibly the most popular hotel in Kerala (and certainly extremely popular with our customers). Accommodation is in traditional Kerala bungalows and mansions as well as spacious private pool villas. The resort is set on the side of Vembanad Lake and access is by boat only. The hotel offers a wide range of activities (including nature walks with one of their naturalists, canoe trips, cultural events, cookery demonstrations etc) and these are posted on their notice board each day. This hotel is a CGH Earth property and has a strong eco policy.

Comments from clients this season:

“Lovely hotel”

“Could not be faulted”

"Excellent with good food and nice staff”

“Nothing to fault and the food especially the dinner buffet was superb”


“Coconut Lagoon was very special”

“Loved Coconut Lagoon with lovely gardens”

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