The little-known tressures of Kongur Lake

The very first time I came to know about the Kongur lake was from the Tamil book Iyarkkai Varalarru (Natural History) written by Mr Mohammed Ali. The Kongur lake is located 25 km from Palani and the lake receives water from Shanmuga Nadhi which originates from the Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu, South India. I came to know that the lake is a heavenly location for many migratory birds. So I began visiting the lake since 2009 and recorded the birds. Once I shared my experience with the writer Mr Theodore Baskaran, well-known for his wonderful essays on nature. He acknowledged my views and shared his experiences as he too comes from the nearby town of Dharapuram. This remote location without noise and light pollution has become a peaceful habitat for the avifauna which migrates from distant places.

We heard about a few poaching incidents of birds and conducted an awareness campaign among the villagers, explaining why birds are important, and how they are linked to agriculture. We also distributed cloth bags with various environmental ‘quotes’. The Acacia nilotiaca (babul) trees inside the lake provide a roosting place for many bird species. We requested the local people not to cut the trees in the summer when the water level goes down. I have visited the lake during all the seasons of the year and each time I have had a wonderful experience and new lifers. I usually go birding in the evening to see the birds return to roost on the babul trees. 

A myriad of Woolly-necked storks, Painted Storks, Asian Openbill storks, Spot-billed Pelicans, Darters, Cormorants, egrets and starlings can be seen in and around the lake. In addition, there are Spot-billed ducks, Northern Shoveler, Garganey and Pin-tailed ducks. The most common resident is the Eurasian Collar-Dove which I observed in all the seasons. Once I saw a flock of Littler Ringed Plovers rolling near a waterhole in April when the lake was almost dry. Though I have visited this lake for over 10 years I have never seen the water hyacinth. As there are no effluents that are polluting the water here, the quality of water is still good and helps both the farmers and the birds. There are palmyra trees on the lake bund which provide good shelter for the Rose-ringed parakeets, the Spotted Owlet and the Indian rollers. In October 2012, we sighted 2 Greater Flamingos in the lake. Usually, the flamingos prefer the coastal areas for their habitat. So it was a surprise to see them in the lake, and one of them was a juvenile.

The local birder, the Late Mr.Shanmugam Kalidass recorded 113 bird species in the lake alone. He spent a good amount of time around this lake and did some great documentation. The Western-reef heron and Whiskered tern are his remarkable records in the lake. As both species are mainly found in the coastal regions his records are important. The water level was too low in October as the dams were closed, storing the monsoon rain. Man made dams control the natural flow of water which impact wildlife that depend on fresh water. As the main source of water for this lake is the Palani hills, the protection of natural habitat is important in the hills too. For instance, due to the encroachment of exotic trees in the upper Palanis, the Nilgiri Pipit lost its habitat. In addition, the grasslands are unable to store the monsoon rain and the water flows down to the dam. Once the natural habitat of the Nilgiri Pipit provided water for many freshwater species in the plains.

Whiskered Tern - Late.Mr.Shanmugam Kalidass

The lake is surrounded by agricultural fields, with millets being one of the common crops. There are many bird species that feed on millet and these can be spotted here. The Indian Silverbill is one of the species common around the lake. The Green Bee-eaters can be seen commonly too and the Bay Backed Shrike, a migratory bird, can be seen between October and March. Egrets and Cormorants prefer to perch on the snags in the lake during the evening. During sunset, it is always a pleasure to see the birds coming back to the lake to roost.

The water management in Tamil Nadu was well-planned and many centuries old, and Kongur is one of the best examples. The water comes from the river through a canal and once the lake is full the discharge flows through the canal to the next lake. The connectivity between the lakes is very good in the state but, due to the loss of habitat in the hills, and new dams, natural cycles of these water bodies are being adversely affected.

Though there is not much disturbance for the birdlife here, the boom of windmills coming up in recent years need to be considered. Are they a threat to birdlife? The larger issue of climate change has made states move to renewable energy, which is understandable. But installing the windmills near the birding hotspots should be considered before taking this step.

Article Published in Leaf Litter Magazine Dec 2022. ©Satheesh Muthu Gopal

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  1. Excellent write up !! I still remember about the flamingo sighting you told me about at kongur lake. Good to know that shanmuganadhi is the water source for this lake. Good article 👏🏼👍🏽

  2. அருமையான கட்டுரை அண்ணா …கொங்கூர் ஏரிக்கு கடந்த வாரம் சென்றபொது கூட ஏரியில் நீங்கள் நட்ட மரங்களையும் அப்போது நீங்கள் பட்ட இடர்களையும் நானும் ,ரமேஷ் மற்றும் மகேஷ் அண்ணாவுடன் பேசிக்கொண்டே சென்றோம் …
    கொஞ்கூர் ஏரிக்கு உங்களின் பங்களிப்பு இன்றியமையாதது…

  3. Excellent write up , thanks for inspiring always

  4. Such a detailed article! Good to know lots of information throughout the entire write up.. Please keep writing and keep us inspired 😊❤️ Always a big fan of your articles 😊