A Chitwan lake is teeming with Asian openbill storksThey arrive at Batuli Pokhari in the buffer zone of the Chitwan National Park at the start of summer, hatch eggs, raise chicks and leave before the winter.
Bharatpur Municipality-8 local Dharma Karki had never visited the Batuli Pokhari forest area situated in the buffer zone area of the Chitwan National Park before. He paid his first visit to the lake on Saturday and was pleasantly surprised by what greeted him.
He entered the lake area to unfamiliar sounds and sights. Dead trees around the lake were taken over by flocks of birds with nests on almost every branch.
“When I reached the lake, I heard weird noises. I looked around to see where the sounds were coming from when I noticed dead trees across the lake full of birds,” said Karki. “There were many nests too. The chirps of the birds created an idyllic environment for me to enjoy my first visit to the famed lake.”
Batuli Pokhari in Bharatpur Municipality-13 is 12kms south of Bharatpur, the district headquarters of Chitwan. The dead sal (shorea robusta) trees in the area have been taken over by the Asian openbill storks.
According to conservationist Tika Giri, these storks feed on frogs, fishes, small snakes and other creatures found in and around the lake. The availability of feed and trees to nest on has made the area a favourite among the openbill storks.
Located inside the Barandabhar forest, the lake has been conserved by the community forest users since 2000.
The locals of Ganganagar in Bharatpur-13 also use the water from the seasonal springs inside the forest for irrigation.
A tall dam was built southwards of the fount in 2007 which changed the dimension of the lake. Currently, the waterbody spreads over a minimum of 20 bigha area [13.55 hectare], said Gyanu Sunar, chairperson of the Baatuli Pokhari Intermediate Community Forest.
As the lake spread wider, wildlife flourished as animals came to drink water. However, the trees in the middle of the lake died. “The dead trees carried a forlorn look until the storks brought life back to the trees,” Sunar said.
According to forest guard Govinda Dawadi, the Asian openbill storks migrate to the lake at the start of summer. They hatch eggs, raise their chicks and leave before winter arrives.
Other winter birds that depend on water bodies for survival, migrate to the area thereafter. However, these birds do not make nests, Dawadi added.
“This has been the trend for the past five to six years. They arrive in such huge numbers that it becomes difficult to even count,” Sunar said.
The Asian openbill storks are found in and around water bodies and wetlands in the Tarai region, informed Giri, also the chairman of the Bird Education Society (BES).
The birds feed on worms and insects in the vast farmlands which also benefits the farmers. These avians also help supply oxygen to the rice husks. But the use of pesticides and other chemicals has affected the birds and reduced the amount of feed (insects) in the fields, Giri added.
“Previously, they [the storks] were abundantly found in Lami Taal, inside the Chitwan National Park. Later, they also migrated to other lakes—Chepang Taal, Kumal Taal and Tikauli Taal. These lakes witnessed openbill storks in numbers as high as 600, with as many as 20 nesting on a single tree.” Giri said.
Giri further adds that these avians are found in areas away from human settlements, with adequate feed and less danger. Recently, Batuli Pokhari has become their preferred spot.
This is a matter of pride for the locals, and hence, conservation efforts should be ramped up, Giri added.