Come April and the village of Waghala in Gadchiroli wakes up to the sound of fluttering wings of thousands of birds. They come in multiple varieties,making the lush green canopies of over 25 tall tamarind trees their home,and stay for at least eight months,nestling and breeding and co-existing harmoniously with the villagers.
By November,the birds are out to unknown destinations,staying away for the next four months,only to return without fail at the beginning of summer.
It was only recently that this extraordinary and completely natural bird sanctuary of Waghala was discovered,when some nature lovers from Gadchiroli and Armori visited it. Its simply amazing, says Milind Umare,a wildlife enthusiast,rattling off the species he spottedOpenbill Stork,Median Egret,Cattle Egret,Little Cormorant,White Ibis and the Painted Stork.
Pointing out why that was a revelation,Umare says,For a Painted Stork to nest in the Vidarbha region is very rare. As it is,for birds to nest in such large numbers in a single village is unusual. There are about 5,000 birds,a rare sight when there seem to be fewer and fewer birds these days. It is significant that the villagers are not bothered by the noise or the bird droppings.
Gopal Thosar,a conservationist from Nagpur,also holds up the village as an inspiring native model of conservation. Explaining why he believes the birds come to Waghala each year,he says: Tamarind trees provide the ideal nesting site because of their small branches and dense canopies. In recent years,they have been vanishing. Also,the birds have an ample supply of fish and snails from the Wainganga river,which flows nearby. Most importantly,the villagers are friendly, says Thosar.
But if many generations of birds have lived happily here,it is not just because of a passive leave them alone attitude. Many years ago,I told villagers we must not harm these birds. They have as much right to live here as we have. Some villagers complained about the droppings and the smell. I asked themDont you defecate in the open too?, says Pandhari Anole,a villager.
Anole,with fellow villager Tukaram Talmale,proudly shows the different trees to visitors and call the birds by names that are part of the local vocabulary. Thowala diste na tho yektach shendyawar basla hai,tho Gogalphodya Whay (Look there,the solitary one perched on the top branch. It is a Gogalphodya), says Talmale,using the Marathi name for Openbill Stork.
Anole talks about gangs that used to frequent the village several years ago to kill birds. We drove them away and havent seen them since, he says. Some people say their meat is delicious,but we are not interested, Lingayat adds.
Speaking about other heronries he has seen in neighbouring areas,Thosar says he is not sure they still exist as a few have been destroyed. If this village has done it for 40 years,I salute the villagers and request the Forest Department to help them.
He also points out that the birds also help the farmers in return. They feed on farm pests and pluck blood-sucking insects from cows and buffaloes, he notes.
Local Forest Department officials admit they are unaware of Waghalas vital contribution to birdlife. It was only after some journalists and local bird-watchers came here that the officials followed suit, says Lingayat.
Chief Conservator of Forests C S K Reddy says,This is wonderful news. I will ensure that this village is put on the eco-tourism map. Also,we will help Waghala get special funds and help set up a joint forest management committee.
Waghala itself has no problems with its anonymity. Says sarpanch Annaji Lingayat: We have been living with the birds for over 40 years now. We never thought we were doing anything great.