Bird watchers from Pune have noticed how, over the last few years, there have been significant changes in the bird population at Pashan Lake. According to bird watchers who have been visiting the lake for many years, some birds that were earlier sighted a lot, including the Oriental Darter/Snakebird, Comb Duck, Whiskered Tern, Citrine Wagtail, Gull-billed Tern, Ferrugenous Duck, Brown Crake, Kentish Plover and Common Snipe, among others, have not been seen recently.
Sanjeev Nalavade, a retired professor of Fergusson College who conducted a study at the lake in the early 1980s, said that many natural habitats, such as open grass and scrub patches along the banks, wetland habitats such as rooted waterline vegetation, and floating plants patches like water lily, have disappeared over the years.
In the 1980s, said Nalavade, the lake had shallow water areas, natural bank, deep water areas, floating plants and open spaces. But these don’t exist there any more.
Between 2008 and 2013, the Pune Municipal Corporation had carried out a ‘beautification’ project at Pashan Lake, in association with the Naik Environment Research Institute (NERIL) and Bharti Vidyapeeth, The project was funded by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
As part of the project, desiltation of the lake was done to build an island on it. The project also involved construction of a walkaway and embankment, in addition to planting of trees and building a retaining wall, among other changes.
“In the name of development, planting mostly exotic trees in an unnecessary and unscientific manner around the lake was a mistake. Some bank areas should have been kept open. An artificial island has been added. While these are required, they are too close to the bank. And during dry season, the birds and their eggs are under threat from stray dogs. Uncontrolled spread of aquatic weed, such as water hyacinth, is another problem.There is no system in place for its removal.”
Nalavade pointed out that while the stream Ramnadi had only a handful of colonies around it earlier, it has many more colonies now, and the sewage generated by them flows into the lake and pollutes it.
In 1981, Friends of Animals, an NGO, had carried out a study at Pashan Lake and reported the existence of 15 species of ducks. Today, hardly 50 per cent of them remain, said Nalavade.
Dharmaraj Patil, bird watcher and wildlife researcher, said, “This could be happening because these birds are not able to cope with the altered condition of the lake… the beautification project carried out at the lake has taken its toll. Many steps taken as part of that project need to be reversed, to bring the lake eco-system back to its glorious state. The typical habitat surrounding the lake is of scrub type, but it has been disturbed by tree plantations. There were scrubland-specific species reported from this area earlier.. some of which include – Indian Courser, Pallid Harrier, Montague’s Harrier, Bonelli’s Eagle, Yellow-wattled Lapwing etc.. but we don’t see them anymore. Maintaining the scrubland might bring those species back.”
Some of the bird species that are still reported but have decreased in numbers include – Gray Wagtail, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Gadwall Duck, Green Sandpiper, Pintail Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, River Tern, Marsh Harrier and Tree Pipit, among others.
On the other hand, due to the increased number of trees, the population of forest birds, including Indian Pond Heron, Little Cormorant, Common Coot, Black-winged Stilt, House Crow, Black Kite, Common Myna and Little Egret, have increased. “These birds have ample habitat throughout the city. But it is difficult for the wetland species to find a similar eco-system,” explained Patil.
Nature enthusiast Kiran Purandare, who has been visiting the lake since the past four decades, has a slightly different perspective on the issue.
“If we have lost something, we have also gained something. While some birds’ population has declined, some birds have also increased in numbers. For instance, the south-east of the lake has Babul trees, which might attract more water birds and may see nesting colonies. The eco-system is changing and it will change further in the coming years. The birds, which adapt to it, will be able to survive. Another thing that we should remember is that the primary purpose of creating the lake was to fulfil human needs. If we have got some birds in the bargain, it’s like the cherry on the cake,” said Purandare.