The backwaters are the most popular tourist destinations in Kerala. The Ashtamudi Lake, so called because of its eight arms or channels, forms the gateway to the backwaters. This 16km long lake is the second largest lake in the green state of Kerala, India and is reported to be a haven for bird watchers. The historical city of Kollam can be found nestling on the banks of this great lake.
The lake is also well known for its houseboat cruises and backwaters resorts. It is surrounded by luxuriant greenery, wetlands and mangrove forests, all of which attract a variety of birds from all over the world. Birdwatchers or birders, as they are also known, both domestic as well as international, are increasingly targeting the Western Ghats and its associated backwaters as a major wilderness bird-watching destination.
A great surge of interest in wild birds watching as a hobby started from around the 1880’s onwards, with the advent of binoculars and telescopes. This hobby first became popular in Great Britain with the United States not too far behind. Other European countries soon joined in and it became popular in some of the older countries of the British Commonwealth too. Bird watching can be especially rewarding during the spring months when the birds are courting and building nests to raise their young; the autumn months are also exciting for bird watchers as birds from colder climates come visiting in search of food.
Ask a birder and they will tell you that bird watching is the greatest pursuit available to citizens of the ‘Modern World’. It’s mooted as equal parts of science as well as poetry, full of hoots of triumph, hours of quiet reflection and adventures in far-flung corners of the world as well as your own neighborhood. After a certain age, aching joints can force a person to give up various hobbies such as sporting activities, but bird watchers can still carry on as long as they can walk, stroll or look out of a window!
Ashtamudi Lake and its surroundings are a bird watchers paradise. The silent early mornings are interspersed with a medley of bird sounds as they sing an ode to the sun and flit from branch to branch, exercising their limbs after a long restful night of being still. The peaceful environment of the surrounding lake on the other hand, help the alert bird watcher to sit still during the daytime, in silent meditation, as they gaze undisturbed into the branches for the smallest rustle of movement in the hope of sighting a bird. A bird sighting and the birder becomes a mixture of emotions- alert, excited and patient as he awaits the next sighting amongst the dense greenery.
For the bird watcher, not many locations exist in this world that can equal the thrilling diversity of birds found in the Western Ghats and its surrounding backwaters and wetlands. Successful bird watching is all about being in the right place, at the right time and with the right people who know in advance what to expect.
Kerala’s amazing mix of geographical environments, including the chilly woodlands, mountains, tropical forests, inland water bodies as well as the beaches, invite a wide variety of birdlife. Out of the 1200 different species of birds found all over India, the small state of Kerala offers sightings of at least 124 species of these. The Ashtamudi Lake supports 57 species of birds, out of which six are migratory and 51 are permanent residents. Terns, cormorants, herons and plovers are some of the commonest birds found in the lake surroundings. Other interesting birds seen in the surroundings of the lake include the White-Bellied Woodpecker, the Blue Bearded Bee-eater, the Blue Rock Thrush, the Black-capped kingfisher, the Black Baza, the Red-Winged Crested Cuckoo, the Painted Bush Quail, the Thick-Billed Warbler, the Lesser Fishing Eagle, the Mountain Hawk eagle, the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon and the Wayanad Laughing Thrush. Another unique bird found here is the elusive nocturnal forest bird, the Great Eared Nightjar.
The people of Kollam have understood the needs and requirements of travelling bird watchers, both domestic and international; and accordingly, knowledgeable tour guides and experts are available throughout the year to help birders have a fruitful experience with exciting bird sightings. The hospitality industry has also expanded to accommodate the growing number of tourists visiting every year and popular hotel chains like The Raviz have set up a grand hotel very close to the lake to help the traveler have a wonderful experience. Luxury houseboats as well as local canoes are a great way to cruise through the silky backwaters as the guides show you the best spots for bird sightings. The eight tiny islets making up the Munroe Island are interlinked by narrow sun-dappled canals and a silent glide through these waters can yield many an exciting moment for the keen bird watcher. This is aside from the various other things that can be seen and enjoyed on this island.
Ashtamudi Lake beckons to the world with its beautiful greenery, silently lapping waters, delightful cultural heritage as well as its amazing birds.