A Darter in Distress

To nurture the Puttakere we maintain a To Do list which is like Hydra’s head. Each time we tick off one task, two appear in its place. Divya, Nupur and I met at the lake yesterday, 29th June, at 1:30 p.m. to discuss, among others, trimming trees, ground cover plants, events, share updates on new initiatives and so on. An hour later we walked past the island and saw an Oriental darter sitting on a perch on the revetment. 

Dived for fish, caught net instead!
Photo: Nithya, home guard

Though it is listed as a near threatened species by the IUCN, we have a few of them at the lake but had never seen one so close. At first glance, it seemed to have caught a fish. Instead of throwing it up into the air and swallowing it head first, this Darter shook its head and fluttered its wings. We looked closer. What it had caught was not a fish but a little mass of fine fishing net! Even as we watched, the poor bird tried to scrape it off on the wood.

Trying to scrape off the fishing net from its beak
Photo: Nithya

Our gardeners had learned to see if any bird was in trouble and had even rescued a couple of them caught in the abrasive string of a paper kite. However, given that this Darter could fly or dive away, we decided to seek expert help and telephoned the Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC). The rescue team readily agreed to come but they had to cover a distance of about 22 kms maneuvering the afternoon traffic to reach the lake. We got home guard Nithya to keep an eye on the bird so that it could be located among all the cormorants and darters. 

Cormorants Photo: Ramu, gardener

Oriental darter
Photo: Nithya
Photo: Jaishree Govind
Photo: Pramit Rao

At 4 o’clock the lake opened to the public. The increased footfall scared the bird and it flew to the island. 

Escape to the island
Photo: Nithya

That was where our gardener cum boatman Ramu took the rescue team.  Even as his coracle approached, however, the bird flew to another part of the island. Its next hiding place was below the low hanging branch of a Singapore Cherry.

Dive and Seek!
Photo: Nithya

We didn’t see it swim away but it popped up on a branch several meters away.  By now a number of walkers, young and old, had gathered to watch this game of “dive and seek” which could turn deadly if the bird wasn’t caught soon. With dusk falling, the two rescuers decided to look around just once more, this time from the pathway. 

The bird must have been exhausted by then and they managed to catch it. Wrapping a thick towel around it, they gently removed the treacherous net before releasing the Darter into the water. 

Our deepest gratitude to ARRC.

Releasing the Darter
Free at last!
Great job by the Rescuers
Photos: Nithya

Published by Usha Rajagopalan ("Lakeika")

I am a writer, translator and lake conservationist based in Bengaluru, India.

3 thoughts on “A Darter in Distress

  1. Thank you Usha for sending this as a personal mail because of my inability to respond to your mail in the South City google group. Your picturisation of the happenings is like that of the National Geographic and your narration reads like a cliff hanger in a Agatha Christie novel. Tusi great ho, Ushaji! Venkatesh


  2. Tremendous and persevering work. A matter of satisfaction and pride to Usha Rajagopalan and her team. Full credits to the ARRC Team. great yeoman service.


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