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Birds on the wing

Kokrebellur, near Bangalore, offers an amazing sight in season



Storks abound Kokrebellur’s trees serve as favourite haunts

It is nothing short of a miracle, calculated to enchant even the most jaded of city-bred souls. Some 80 kilometres south of Bangalore on the Mysore road, you need to take a turn down what rapidly becomes a pitted track, towards Kokrebellur. Twelve ki lometres of bumping and bowling down the road and you come upon what is essentially just another pan-Indian village, the hamlet of Kokrebellur. Fittingly enough, in what could be a scene straight out of Malgudi Days, little boys clad in khaki shorts and little else play with bicycle tyres, cows low in sheds, goats bleat by the roadside, women in earth-toned, rough cotton saris tend to their everyday chores. Just another day in the life of a village.

Then, your eye travels upwards, to the handful of raintrees dotting the village. And you stand in the classic pose: mouth agape, filled with awe. There is much movement in those trees. There they are, scores of painted storks in their black/white/pink glory, clucking, tending to their young, checking their wingspan, some flying to neighbouring trees. Huge nests perch seemingly precariously in the crooks of branches, holding young and noisy storks. On the day I visit, there are at least 500 of these birds. They fish in the waters of the Cauvery nearby or in the shallow ponds that surround the village, build their nests, breed their young, socialise with some cormorants and egrets that visit them, and fly off before summer peaks. And, amazingly enough, these birds do not nest in even one tree outside the perimeter of this village!

The village leads its life, the storks lead theirs and the twain do not meet, leave alone clash. Yogesh, a village youth, proudly tells me that Kokrebellur is conscious of its status as a favourite breeding spot for the storks. The birds come in by autumn, are settled by November, breed in February-March, and are off by just before summer. How long have they been here? “Oh, before my thaatha’s thaatha’s time,” he replies airily, leaving us to deduce that his grandfather’s grandfather would have been around in Kokrebellur at the turn of the last century. Are they disturbed at all by the village sounds, these big birds? “Not in the least,” says Yogesh. Are the villagers disturbed by what seems to be the seemingly ceaseless clicking and mumbling of the birds? “Not at all,” he says again, apparently astonished that such questions need to be asked at all. At which point, I drop my next question, about whether the bird droppings (and boy, there are paths paved with it!) hassles the denizens of the hamlet.

Kokrebellur also plays host annually to spot-billed pelicans but I saw nary a one. So, what came first, the name or the birds? Did the annual migration of the kokre (storks in Kannada) to this quiet little village give it its name? No one seems to know. In a practical move to protect the birds, the government offers monetary compensation to the tree-owners, while keeping track of the birds themselves.

A stork stretches its wingspan, its white plumage tinged delightfully with pink. It looks down, catches my eye and gives me a beady look. I drive away, thankful to have seen what I saw and hoping with all my heart that the innocence and charm of Kokrebellur remains just so.

SHEILA KUMAR

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