Tag Archives: Migratory birds

Guiding their territories : Birds at Keoladeo


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I am continuing with birds and my trip to Bharatpur’s Keoladeo Ghana National Park, sometime back. This time more with just images

Shikra can be easily seen at Keoladeo. It is most common small hawk but an aggressive hunter, can be found almost everywhere in the neighbourhood.

A shikra at Keoladeo
Another Shikra

Like Shikras, marsh harriers are also found worldwide. They are raptors of medium size in the harrier family. Watching them fly is fascinating when they make a V in low flight. Look for them at KNP.

A marsh harrier on a flight at Keoladeo

You know Keoladeo is also famous for its turtles! Read them about here-

The giant turtles of Keoladeo National Park

Darters are also called as snake birds owing o their long thin neck which has a snake like appearance when they swim with their bodies submerged. There are large number of oriental darters at Keoladeo.

Darters or snake birds
An Indian darter scratching its back… while drying its wings

There might be snake birds, but nobody gives more thrill than the reptile itself and actually Keoladeo has many species of them including turtles, lizards, snakes and pythons. Sometimes scary, but always fascinating.

A reptile creates ripples!

Keoladeo national park has been popular for its Sarus cranes. Read more about Sarus at Keoladeo-

The tall, beautiful and a mate for life!

There are many type of herons found in Keoladeo and purple heron is one of them. This large, slender wing bird is migratory in Europe and north Asian regions and resident elsewhere. Looks fascinating because of its strikingly different colour and appearance. Although it is called as purple heron, but its head and neck is chestnut-red in colour.

A purple heron at KNP

Night herons are called so because they hunt at night and early morning and rest during the day.

A night heron cautious of my presence

Keoladeo has been once very popular for its huge population of painted storks. But it also has good numbers of Black stork, woolly-necked stork, European white stork and black-necked stork.

An asian open bill flying high

Planning to go to Keoladeo National Park? Here is a guide to easiest tips: Read-

Tips to Travel inside park for some serious bird watching?

Whistling ducks produce very prominent whistling sound while flying, hence commonly called as whistling ducks. Its a loud two-note wheezy call. There are big colonies of whistling ducks at Keoladeo national park.

Who’s whistling!

Indian grey hornbill is among the most common of the Indian Hornbills and also the smallest among them. It is also called as Dhanesh locally.

Indian Grey hornbill at KNP

Looking for a place to stay around Keoladeo? Read:

Perfect host for a birding trip

There are said to be more than ten types of owls in Keoladeo. And among the easily spotted are the spotted owl. Its also adapted

An eye for an eye!

Laughing doves get their name due to their particular call which sounds like a human laughter. Mauve pink in colour with white shading on the breast. Even if you don’t listen them laughing you can still feel good by looking a hem.

No more laughing!

Bored of English? Want to read in Hindi? Read more about birding

परदेसी परिंदों के नजारे

Pied Kingfisher (below) is among the five types of kingfishers found in Keoladeo. Rest four are common kingfisher, stork-billed, white throated and black-capped.

Tough to locate in dense woods

There are five types of starlings (common, rosy, purple-backed, Asian pied and Brahminy) besides common Myna and Bank Myna found at Keoladeo national park.

Brahminy Starling at KNP

Have you seen some rare birds at Keoladeo National Park? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Urban wetlands we need : Nela Taalab

Ever expanding cities have engulfed much of the natural habitat in their surrounding areas, including the wetlands, despite knowing it well that how disastrous it is. Thus it was a very pleasant surprise for me to find a haven for migratory birds just a couple of furlongs away from my home at the City of Lakes- Udaipur in Rajasthan.  Actually, I had already seen this residential area surpassing a few wetlands in the course of its ‘development’ in last couple of decades. Similar things would have definitely happened in all the surrounding areas.

Time to rest all together!

Having shifted base to Delhi almost 28 years back, my visits to my hometown are occasional. Thus it was courtesy a childhood friend that I cam to know about Nela Taalab, even though it was very close to my home. Went with him to this place for the first time couple of years back. Taalab is actually the Hindi term for small lake or a bigger pond.

An urban oasis

We went again this year few weeks back. It was a delightful experience, better than the last one. Better actually only in terms of the location we were able to access this year for sightings. I am not sure if it was better in terms of number of birds present this year. That is also because there are more colonies developed around the lake. There are more chances of disturbances to the bird habitat.

Many species right here

The area around has also been so-called ‘developed’ with a bund with lights and walkway often used by morning walkers from nearby areas.

Its really close to the residential area

Urban wetlands are quite important, more so when they have developed themselves into habitat for waterfowls and other avian species.

A flock of shovelers on their morning flight

For developers urban wetlands might be a wasteland but ecologically they are the prized lands for urban areas. They control flooding, they are source of drinking water, they are also source of livelihood, they promote human well-being, they improve air quality and they also naturally filter waste from water.

Painting the sky

They also add to beauty of a neighbourhood, adding to its charm -provided they are protected and preserved as naturally as possible. We need to include them in urban lands planning, besides reducing water consumption and harmful runoff.

Flying high among the high-rise

We have tendency to encroach upon the wetlands whenever we are in need of land. This mindless construction leads to degradation, filling and build upon of the wetlands. Needless to say, if they are restored or preserved, they make urban areas more liveable.

Snipes, Black winged stilts and more

It is also essential to include local residents in the wetlands management as that can check the unsocial use of the area, as often anti-social elements find secluded area around wetlands to their liking.

Few more species..

To my pleasant surprise, I was also able to sight some Egyptian Vultures for the first time in my backyard. Egyptian vulture is one among the globally threatened vulture species found in India.

A pair of Egyptian vultures

Egyptian vultures have been included in endangered category by the IUCN Red List. These are resident birds but they have been included in endangered list due to their declining population and one reason for this rapid decline is mentioned as ‘presumably resulting from poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac.

Also read: Don’t we need these hills anymore!

A closer look
…another shot on their favourite tree
Then one of them decided to take a round
…second one was left along for some time
…and then it too decided to follow the suit and join its partner.

It is certainly delightful to capture a bird in such a relaxed manner. But it seemed that tree was favourite place for the raptors. As soon as the vultures left, a kite occupied the place.  It perhaps had the best view of the preys in the area.

This kite was first on a bush
The raptor left the bush and reached for the tree
It took the position, looked around…
…noticed something amiss (a prey or our camera clicks)…
…and flew back.

Than there was a cattle egret watching the proceedings very closely

A cattle egret contemplating its next move

Besides the pintails and shovelers the lake also had a big colony of common eurasian coot.

..running on the water!

However carefree, they might look, but they were quite aware of our moves and took no time to move away from we shutterbugs.

Fly away home

It was a contented walk back home, but also with a worry of how long will this place be able to sustain itself. Lot of efforts will be needed certainly.

P.S. Nela Taalab is just a kilometre and half off the NH 8 on Udaipur-Ahmedabad route in Hiran Magari, Sector 14, Udaipur, Rajasthan. A couple of decades earlier, it was an uninhabited area, but now it is very much the part of the city itself.

DO you have a urban wetland area close to your place? Share your views about it.

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Morning lights at Menar – the birds village!

City of Lakes Udaipur is famous for many things but rarely for its birds. Ironically village Menar, 15 kms from Udaipur’s Dabok airport is known for many things including its birds. Menar is also called as the bird village.  More than couple of lakes in close surroundings of the village are known to host a huge number of migratory birds every year. Menar also has a long history which connects it closely to the Kings of Mewar. Rich in culture, this village also has an honour to produce some of India’s finest chefs who have worked in kitchens of many celebrities- home and abroad. Residents of this village have been known as Menarias.

But my recent trip to this village, roughly around 45 kms from my hometown Udaipur, was purely to catch some morning light. Capturing birds at sunrise (for that matter also at sunsets) has been always very delightful.

The Wild Fire!

And, indeed it turned out to be so. With sun playing hide and seek in the clouds and birds, ready to start their day- it was morning worth every minute.

Lakes around Menar get good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Pintails and Shovellers in the winter months.

There are two lakes- one inside the village and another at the far end. Later one is better for spotting birds because of its calmness and undisturbed environs.

Early morning movement of the birds

Menar has always been hosting here birds but it has come to the radar of bird watchers across the world only recently.

Now a large number of bird watchers flock here in winters to capture some memorable images. The local community here has played a big role in conservation efforts and popularising this place as the bird village. Volunteers here are called as Pakshi Mitras (friends of birds). They take care of patrolling, rescue and reporting of any attempts of poaching. Many other steps are taken to maintain the ecology of this place as a safe haven for the birds. Besides regular weeding and prohibition of fishing, locals have also stopped using water from these lakes for the purpose of irrigation. These lakes have no other source of water besides the rains. Hence, it is very significant to use the water judiciously.

The water of gold!

As the light gets brighter, birds are off to their daily routine.

Flying in tandem

Besides waterfowls, Menar is also second home to many other birds, small and big including this Bluethroat-

Among the goose family, these Bar-headed goose make a big colony here every year-

Here these common (Eurasian) coots seem to be having a morning meeting before starting day’s business-

Eurasian coots at Menar

Interestingly, Menar also gets fairly good number of Flamingos. Here greater flamingos look in small number but in another lake close by, there are good number of flamingos visiting every year.

How to reach: Little known village of Menar is 45 kms from Udaipur. It is 15 kms ahead of the Udaipur’s Dabok airport. That means while going to Menar from Udaipur, one has to first cross the airport and than move ahead towards Menar. Menar now has a few homestay options for those, who are serious in bird watching and want to spend more time around. But alternatively, you can always make Udaipur as the base and go to Menar early in the morning for bird watching. There are many young people in Menar village who can be your guide for the bird-watching tour of the village. One of them is Dharmendra Menaria who is also pursuing B.Sc. in agriculture.

P.S. Menar is also famous for some of its festivals which include a grand festival to commemorate the valour of local people. The festival is held on second day of Holi every year.

Have you been to Menar? What was your experience? You can share it here in the comments section.

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The giant turtles of Keoladeo national park

Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur has been the earliest and most popular of bird sanctuaries in India so much so that until few decades back whenever plans to visit a bird sanctuary will come in mind, name Keoladeo used to prop up almost instantly. But this park, popular for its cranes and once a critical wintering ground for endangered Siberian cranes, is also known for its giant soft shelled turtles. Park has seven species of turtles.

The number of turtles is very good, in few hundreds. There are many myths and folklores associated with these turtles, but indeed there lifespan is very good. In that sense many turtles here are said to be living here for more than couple of hundred years. Now the catch is that this park doesn’t have perennial source of water. It depends lot on monsoon rains and water sourced from near by reservoirs through canals. So when water gets dried up, turtles move towards a pond located besides a historical temple situated right at the second barrier of the park.

Watching turtles at this pons is an exhilarating experience. There is a temple complex, an ashram adjacent to the pond.

Temple complex
There are big numbers of monkeys in the complex as well

There are stairs going to the pond from the temple side. The caretakers of the temple often feed turtles with wheat flour in attempt to bring them towards the stairs for exciting tourists to see them. In return, tourists will pay them tip for their efforts.

Temple caretaker luring turtles with wheat flour

Its fun to watch this lovely creature coming up to the stairs to get some quick food. They are different in age and sizes. Often more than one will come to the stairs.

Three turtles on the stairs

For me personally, it was first time to watch these turtles so closely and it was very exciting to photograph them. Monkeys around the temple often bring a twist to the tale, when they loot the bounty meant for the turtles. Its thoroughly entertaining.

Looting the bounty
Keeping a close eye on the proceedings
Filled in both hands… still looking for more

But despite these side-artists, the main character is still the turtle. Here comes one :

Swimming towards stairs
Gets his food and pulls himself back

Getting some close shots was fascinating, like this one-

…and this one too:

Putting its neck back into the shell…

A closer look of feet and the eyes:

Here comes another turtle to give an audience and also gives a glimpse of its size-

…same way to retreat back, what a power nature has given to this creature-

Holding its food in the mouth…

Neck looks so decorated…

You can spot turtles in the national park at many other places as well. You need not essentially go to the pond to see them…

Enjoying some sun
A bigger one…

In other water bodies of the park..

So, next time you go to the Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur don’t forget to give some of your time to this lovely creature as well.

Where: Keoladeo Ghana National Park (erstwhile  Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary)  is located in Bharatpur city of Rajasthan. Park boundaries almost touch the Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh border. Park is just 20 kms from Fatehpur Sikri and 65 kms from Agra. Park gates are located right on the  Agra-Jaipur National highway. The turtle pond, as it is famously known is just a kilometre from the park gate and left of the second barrier, which actually is the entrance to the park.

 

Lot more than flamingos at Sambhar

Though flamingos were my primary interest and they were who actually pulled my all the way to Sambhar, but wintering at Sambhar is not all about flamingos. Flamingos might be very high in count and attraction but there are many other birds coming for winter migration. As I said in my last post, there are more than 70 species of birds coming here every year.

Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake
Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake

So while I was busy admiring flamingos at Sambhar lake, I couldn’t have failed to notice and try to click few other migratory birds. Pied avocet (pictured above) was the among the first one to come across and was quite attractive because of its distinctive beak and black & white appearance.

Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake
Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake

Though there were some northern pintail and pochards as well, but I could manage to get close view of only these northern shovelers and gadwalls.

Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake
Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake

Black-tailed godwits gave me some very nice shots while  flying as above and some wonderful reflections like below. It was indeed one of my favourite photos.

Black tailed godwits make a good reflection
Black tailed godwits make a good reflection

Among the pink glare of flamingos, these migratory birds also had their marked presence. Actually besides the lesser flamingos, eurasian curlew and black-tailed godwits have also among the threatened species of birds of Sambhar.

other migratory birds at Sambhar
other migratory birds at Sambhar

Among the common birds often found on backyard shorelines to be seen here were black-winged stilts (below). This thin legged bird is often considered to be cutest among the waders.

Sambhar Flamingos14
a pair of black winged stilt at Sambhar lake

And, then when I covered whole distance from ramp (where I parked my bike) to the railway track, then across the railway track on a high tension power line, I suddenly saw this crested lark (below). It looked so fascinating and keen to give me some cool poses.

Sambhar Flamingos18
Crested lark

I finished with the flamingos and was on my bike again on way back to the main city. I crossed the salt fields and deserted railway stations. Just when I though that I had finished everything at Sambhar for this trip, then suddenly few metres before the railway crossing I noticed another marshy area to my right and there were more birds and in fairly good numbers.

a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake
a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake

A flock of flying marsh sandpipers caught my notice and in a flash my bike was parked and camera was out. They looked so fascinating in their flight.

a group of Bar headed geese
a group of Bar headed geese

Also with them was a small group os bar-headed geese. I had recently seen them in Kankwari Lake in Sariska and it was easy for me to recognise them. I tried to go closer but they were quick to avoid and flew away at a distance (below). So cute! Isn’t it!

bar-headed geese in flight
bar-headed geese in flight

In the same group of bar-headed goose, I was also able to notice two Brahminy shelduck. This distinctively beautiful bird migrates from south-east Europe and central Asia and winters in Indian sub-continent. But I could see only two of them.

a pair of Brahminy Shelduck
a pair of Brahminy Shelduck

With this shot of marsh sandpipers, I reluctantly switched off my camera and was back on my bike.

marsh sandpipers
marsh sandpipers

It was indeed a great mini photo-tour. Quite satisfying for me in terms of number of birds as well as number os species, that I was able to capture in my images. The feeling made the return journey a bit less tiring.

and finally… the pink flamingos

Moving ahead from Devayani, I was asking every other guy the way to Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal. The way wasn’t far from Devayani. Just half a kilometre ahead was a railway crossing and the just before the railway line was a dusty path going inside the salt fields along side the now unused railway track. There were many structures in the area, all of them actually remnants of a very well-planned rail network meant for the salt extraction. It looked like a no-man’s land. I kept on moving ahead till there was a way. Till that time I didn’t even had an idea that how the chatri of Daadu Dayal looked like. Track wasn’t easy, but still negotiable and enjoyable. Then, I suddenly saw a man out of nowhere and asked him about the exact location of the cenotaph, and luckily also about the possibility of birds.

Chatri (canatoph) of Daadu Dayal
Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal

Thankfully enough, that man told exactly about both the things and all of a sudden I had wings in my wheels. My primary interest was in birds. Cenotaph was bit ahead in the salt fields and I needed to walk. Bird site was towards left. I unhesitatingly turned towards the lake. I was so anxiously waiting for that moment. Already had pink salt and pink sunset as prelude to this. There was a ramp being built to connect the village directly presumably to the cenotaph. Ramp actually bifurcated the water body which sheltered the birds. I parked my bike on the ramp and then walked alongside the mud-mounded wall to separate the salt fields from the normal water body. And then I was filled with joy on seeing this-

Flamingo colony close to railway track
Flamingo colony close to railway track

That was how the flamingos looked from the distance while lake water was filled with different types of waterfowls. I laughed out at the fact that this was the same railway track from where I and Sohan Singh turned left towards the salt fields last evening. We were searching for birds, hardly aware that they were just on the other side of the railway track, but were not visible from that side as track was on high earthen mound. Now, they were, right in front of me.

I kept moving closer to the colony-

Sambhar Flamingos8

closer-

Sambhar Flamingos9

and yet more-

Sambhar Flamingos11

until they decided to move away a bit farther-

Sambhar Flamingos12

I will admit that my primary objective to go to Sambhar was to see some pink flamingos. The reports of their dwindling numbers were already making rounds for past many years. So I wanted to be there at the earliest available opportunity. Had seen flamingos earlier at few places in India, including Chilika and Rameshwaram. But Sambhar was ought to be quite different from others.

I was so amused that passengers travelling from Jaipur to Jodhpur via train can always enjoy these birds next to their coaches. These images were so interesting-

Saline wetlands of Sambhar have supported large population of flamingos and more than 70 species of other wetland birds. Flamingos have been found to breed in this area. Sambhar is said to be unique ecological habitat for winter avian migrants.

But this place has many challenges which actually threaten its very existence. What can be a bigger irony than this, that though Sambhar Lake was designated as a wetland of International importance under Ramsar convention way back in 1990 and was also marked as an Important Bird Area (IBA) but this is neither a bird sanctuary, nor a wildlife sanctuary or a national park. Hence there is no protection to this site under wildlife protection act. Isn’t this disgraceful to these wonderful creatures-

Sambhar Flamingos13

After Great Rann of Kutch, Sambhar Lake is the second largest wintering and breeding ground for flamingos in India. Its an ideal habitat. Its vast spread of open waters allows most aquatic birds to land in flocks and find for themselves enough space to remain aloof and separated with no resource competition.

Sambhar Flamingos7
fall in line!

Sambhar has both-Lesser flamingos as well as Greater flamingos. But there has been considerable decline in number of Lesser Flamingos in last few years.

Flamingos were aware of my presence and they kept moving from one place to other. There were other disturbances as well- grazing cattle, dogs, trains, humans, as this part of the lake was right adjacent to the Sambhar town. What was interesting that they all moved in unison.

Fly away
Fly away

Feeling threatened they will fly together, not high enough-

Sambhar Flamingos16

and then land to a safer place-

Sambhar Flamingos17

Even while walking in shallow waters, their movements were very swift-

Sambhar Flamingos19

All together-

Sambhar Flamingos20

But what looked most fascinating was their flight. Normally they will daily take rounds of the region in afternoon and then come back in the evening-

Flying high
Flying high

But what gave me best shots of the day was a little game between dogs and the flamingos. Two young dogs first kept playing with each other in the water and then all of a sudden they thought to give the flock of flamingos a chase in shallow waters of the lake, although very aware that it was very futile. But than it was all in the game and to my delight, I was able to get some satisfying images of their flight. See for yourself (click on images to have full view and enjoy)-

These were some low moments but there was also few high and close ones-

I kept on clicking and clicking till I touched the deadline to leave for the return journey of another 350 kms. Otherwise, it was never enough for me-

Sambhar Flamingos28

Sambhar Flamingos29

… and as if saying goodbye to me-

Sambhar Flamingos31

I will surely be back, for more time perhaps. But still this isn’t all from Sambhar…

Birding in a tiger reserve

I am not a birder specifically, but being interested in wildlife I love bird watching as much as I love sighting tigers. Both give you equal chance to play with your camera. All the tiger reserves and national parks per say (other than specific bird sanctuaries) too have rivers, lakes, ponds and other water holes which are shelter for waterfowls and migratory birds. Jungle themselves are best places to see the birds. Having been to few bird sanctuaries, this was first time I specifically kept time to see birds in a tiger reserve and I was certainly not disappointed. Hence, comes this fourth post from Sariska visit.

Kankwari Lake surrounded by hills of Rajaurgarh
Kankwari Lake surrounded by hills of Rajaurgarh

Sariska is a big national park and has many perennial sources of water which in turn become good harbouring ground form birds. Hence, when you are close to a water body, it makes easy for you to locate birds, rather than when you are in jungle as then you are always moving in a safari and desperately looking for bigger animals. It is tough to locate birds while on move, unless you are an expert in movement and sounds of birds. I am neither. Hence I tried to give some time close to lakes to see birds. One is the Kankwari lake, which is right at the base of the hillock on which Kankwari fort is built. Other lake is close to Sariska gate on right side of the main road leading to Pandupole.

The lakes or the water bodies of the Sariska Tiger Reserve also have many crocodiles, as is normal with this region. Ranthambore too has man crocodiles and Sariska and Ranthambore share the same topography.

Sariska Tiger Reserve has almost 225 recorded bird species which makes it ethereal for bird watchers. Among them are many rare species as well. Few are even endangered ones. While there is a large number of resident species, it is also a good wintering ground for many migratory species of central Asia. I was delighted to see a big colony of Bar Headed Goose at Kankwari Lake. This bird migrates from Central Asia and is said to one of the world’s highest flying birds. It is distinguishable by two black bars on back of its head.

There were also Brahminy ducks, as they are commonly known in India. This Ruddy shelduck also migrates from southeastern Europe and central Asia. This is quite distinctive due to its colour.

A Brahminy duck
A Brahminy duck

At Kankwari lake, I was also able to see a group of Black headed ibis on the other side of he lake as they probably didn’t want to get disturbed.

Black Headed Ibis
Black Headed Ibis

There were also painted storks and a black-necked stork high up on a far tree. Clicking storks in flight is very fascinating because of their size and amazing flight.

While returning from the Kankwari fort, we also got to see few spot billed ducks distinctive due to  a yellow spot on the tip of the beak and orange-red spots at the base of the beak.

Also were fortunate to locate a Golden-backed woodpecker on a tree. This bird is so agile that it is tough to click it, still I was able to. Although it is quite common but too beautiful, not to click a photograph.

Golden-backed woodpecker
Golden-backed woodpecker

At the other lake, I was also able to see Eurasian Spoonbill. This migratory birds is identified with its spoon shaped bill.

Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill

Another interesting sight was of Yellow footed green pigeon. They get so camouflaged with the colour of the trees that it is tough to spot them, but they really look beautiful. These common green pigeons are residents of Sariska.

Overall it turned out to be a good sightings in limited time and was quite enjoyable. There were few more like cattle egrets and command pond herons and others.

SO, next time you are in Sariska, keep your eyes open for birds as well. Mansarovar Dam near Tehla gate is also a big wintering ground for migratory birds. So when, you go to Neelkanth Temple, you can keep some time to visit this dam also for a bit of birding. There is a also a lake at Karnakawas.

Any question? Please write me and I will be pleased to answer to best of my knowledge.

 

Winter play for migratory birds at Chilika

Chilika is one of the milestone places in India. It is the largest brackish water lagoon. Now what is brackish water? It is the water which is saline or salty but not as salty as the sea water. It happens when the fresh water mixes with sea water. There are 52 rivers and rivulets that fall in the lake. Secondly, Chilika is also a lagoon, and it is not just largest coastal lagoon in India, it is also second largest lagoon in the world. As if it was not enough, it is the largest wintering ground for migratory water-birds anywhere in the Indian sub-continent.

A early morning boating on a local boat in Chilika lake.
A early morning boating on a local boat in Chilika lake.

Chilika is spread in three districts of Odisha- Puri, Ganjam and Khurda. Puri side is mainly popular for Dolphin tours from Satpada. Satpada is around 50 kilometres from Puri. It is on northeast of Chilika lake. Tourists can book dolphin tours from Puri itself. Once you do that you can be transported from Puri to Satpada by bus or you can go to Satpada by any public or private transport and than take boats for a ride in Chilika. OTDC organises connected tours as well. Once you reach Satpada, you can go to jetty to take up boat.

Chilika3
Tourists on Satpada jetty

Chilika lake also has biggest population of Irrawaddy Dolphins in world. Every year in February a census is done to determine the number of Dolphins in the area. In 1997 the process of counting started. Firstly it was a broad estimation than it was done systematically every year. The number has been increasing constantly and it is around 160 at this time. Environmentalists say that increase in number of dolphins is an indicator of improvement in the ecosystem and quality of water.

Chilika1
A sea gull and a Irrawaddy dolphin

Boats from Satpada will normally take tourists to a island called Rajahamsa (राजहंस). Its while going to this island and coming back that we have chance to see the dolphins. This island is 18 kms from Satpada and it is actually located at the mouth of the Chilika lagoon. Rajahamsa is actually a narrow strip of land with one side towards lagoon and another towards Bay of Bengal.

Rajahamsa island
Rajahamsa island

Island has developed into a small business hub for various tourism related activities. Locals will even try to sell ‘original’ pearls extracting them from shells live.

A cruel way to get 'pearls'
A cruel way to get ‘pearls’

But this Satpada side of Chilika is known only for dolphins. Migratory birds often don’t come here.  Migratory birds are mostly located o other side of Chilika. Their base is at Nalaban island which is located in 15.5 sq km area. Nalaban is a sanctuary area. It is estimated that among the 9 lakh waterfowls coming to Chilika every year, almost half put base in this sanctuary area.  Birds also reach to areas like Mangalajodi and Bhusandpur.

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Tourists at Nalaban island and the watch tower on the back

Most of the migratory birds coming to Chilika make their winter homes at various islands in the lake. Besides Nalaban there are Krushnaprasad, Kalijai, Somolo, Honeymoon, Breakfast and Birds island. One can see  Dolphins in this area as well.

A pair of dolphins with fishermen boats in the background
A pair of dolphins with fishermen boats in the background

Most interesting part is that one has to go deep inside the lagoon through a boat to watch the migratory birds. There are country boats but they won’t take you much far so you need a mechanised boat. You need time to enjoy the birding at Chilika. Since islands are scattered in the lake, therefore it is not possible to see all of them in one go. One can watch birds on the way. But you need few days in hand to enjoy the birds and the beautiful ecosystem of Chilika.

Chilika lake was the first Indian wetland to be included in the Ramsar Convention in 1981. Later, due to poor conservation it was included in Montreux Record which is a list of threatened Ramsar sites, but in 2002 it was removed from the Montreux list after lake was rejuvenated and restored. Chilika is also known for its fish farming due to rich fish, shrimp resources.  Locals are lot dependent on fish produce from the  lake. It is estimated that around 1.5 lakh fisherfolk live around the lagoon.

A fisherman adjusting his net
A fisherman adjusting his net

How to reach: For watching Irrawaddy Dolphins, one has to go to Satpada, 50 kms from Puri and than take a boat ride from the jetty. For watching birds, there are three places to go inside the lagoon- Barkul, Balugaon and Rambha. All these three places are located between Bhubaneswar and Berhampur.  Hence these can be accessed by road and rail connectivity between Bhubaneswar and Berhampur. Balugaon and Rambha have railway stations on South East railway. Nearest airport is Bhubaneswar. Balugaon is 96 kms, Barkul is 105 kms and Rambha is 130 kms from Bhubaneswar.

Local people going places in Chilika
Local people going places in Chilika

Best time to visit is obviously November to February as for most of the birding sites in India. Barkul, Balugaon and Rambha have Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) guest houses for stay. Few other hotels have also come up in the area in recent years. At all these three places you can hire boats run by OTDC as well private operators. Private operators will always bargain.

Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary : A gem yet to be polished

Honestly, I had high hopes when I went to Kadalundi. It was one of the places which I had planned to visit during a very small leisure window on my visit to Kozhikode (erstwhile Calicut). It was late November and I could not have missed watching and photographing a few migratory birds. But, it was a disappointing outing.

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Spread over a cluster of islands, this sanctuary is said to be the abode for more than a hundred species of native birds and 60 species of migratory birds. The area where Kadalundi river flows into the Arabian sea  is surrounded by hillocks. These hillocks besides creating a scenic environment also give a splendid view of the sanctuary, river mouth and the sea. Even the  main railway line to Trivandrum passes through the sanctuary.

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Kadalundi also has a mangrove vegetation which is said to shelter otters and jackals. It is also known for a wide variety of fish, mussels and crabs.

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Among the migratory birds which are supposed to abode here are seagulls, terns, sandpipers, sandplovers, red and greenshanks, turnstones etc. But when I reached the sanctuary, I was the only tourist to have come there. The office there was closed. There was nobody to give any information. After a while a person supposedly from the office came and I was barely able to communicate with him because of his poor English and my poor (??) Malayalam. He told me that there were no birds at that time because they have not yet arrived because of ‘climate change’.

I was able to get  boat for ride inside the water, but it would take me only to the mangrove side as the other side with presumable some birds had very shallow water and boat couldn’t have transversed that. So, what could I manage to see were some Ibis-

Some herons- white and grey, some common egrets and few other birds-

It was also pleasing to capture some of them in their flight-

 

More pleasing for me was to capture the Brahminy Kite in its full glory-

Where: Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary is around 20 kms from Kozhikode town. You can either take buses from Kozhkode to Kadalundi (near railway station) and then walk to sanctuary near by. Otherwise you can take auto rickshaw or a taxi as well from Kozhikode to Kadalundi. Kadalundi also has a railway station where only passenger trains halt. On normal days boats should be available to take you inside the sanctuary for closer bird and mangrove watching. One might have to bargain for boat rates. It can be some 500 INR for half  hour to 45 minutes.

Nice place to be but need to check pre-hand if migratory birds are there. Best time to visit is from November to April.

No nearby places to stay and accommodation has to be managed in Kozhikode itself. There are few other things to be seen on the way from Kozhikode to Kadalundi including famous Beypore port.

Milking a lake and killing it too!

Its the story of the ‘goose that laid the golden egg’. Quite similar to my earlier post on Hills: Don’t we need them anymore. But irony is, while the earlier story was about a place some distance from Delhi, this one is right from the heart of the capital. This too is about something equally crucial or perhaps more in the immediate future. This also had a bit more of emotional connect as it relates to the place which I visit almost daily. Another fact that it is also the place, where I had some of my very memorable photographs. So this was the scene yesterday (image below), that saddened me and prompted me to write about it. And honestly, I had thought about writing on this a number of times earlier as well, but couldn’t muster the will.

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As could be made out, this image and the images below are of a lake. We can see, how the water has been covered completely by the weeds and the algae. This is Sanjay Lake in east Delhi and it is among the biggest waterbodies in the national capital besides the river Yamuna itself.

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I have been regular to this place for 16 years now. Lake and the adjoining forest area cover almost 170 acres and is often mentioned as biggest lake park in Delhi. Area is constantly shrinking and so is the natural habitat in the region. In this one and half decade, I have seen worse conditions of the lake and I often feel that there is nobody in the government establishment which actually feels about preserving it for the nature’s sake. Everybody wants to milk it for benefits.

Till some years ago the whole are seen above was good enough for paddle boating. People used to enjoy that. That boating system was managed by Delhi tourism. But later on due to poor management of the whole system and poor maintenance of the lake and the boats made the boating inoperative because of perhaps huge losses. Boat and the jetty turned into junk (see this image).

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Nobody cared for years altogether, besides uselessly demolishing the old park boundaries and constructing the new ones in most unprofessional way.

Sometime ago DTTDC (Delhi Tourism) and DDA cut off another area of the lake park and developed it as an adventure park (e-o-d) separately, by putting up an entry fees. In just three months of the opening of this ambitious project, it too seems to be going the same way as before.

That was the condition of the water puddle of the adventure park just a few days back (image below). Probably that made the officials sit up and do something to clean it.

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Now (as seen yesterday in the image below) the operators at the adventure park after cleaning a bit of their water have created a partition in the water to let not the algae and the weeds spread in their part of water (who cares for others!).

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Delhi Development Authority (DDA) created this lake in 1970. It is mostly a rainwater lake but now lot of sewage water flows into it.

Well thats, not the only part of the story. Sometime last year, DDA leased out the major part of the lake to a private operator for fish farming. Locals say that it used to happen long ago. But it was later stopped. So, after more than twenty years this lake has been leased out for fish farming. and it is a long-term lease. The big part of the lake leased out for the fish farming is the one beyond the puddle used by adventure park for paddle boating, till the end at Khichripur. So that part of the lake is now practically left to the mercy of the private fish farming operator.

The operator has been allowed to pitch tents inside the park for its employees (see image below)

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What these people do? They take care of the water in their purview, we can say fishes. This lake naturally breeds fish in huge number. Since this lake has been haven for migratory birds since many years, naturally these birds feed upon fish in the water. Now the operator who has the lease of the lake for fishing will obviously not like to have these birds come here and feed upon fishes which he plans to sell in the market for profit!

Hence, he has hired people who will roam around the lake in the boat and let not the birds come and rest at the lake (see the image below).

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So, who cares for the migratory birds and their natural habitat here! Effectively, now this lake has been divided into three parts- first one the smaller main area which is surrounded by the main parks where most of the visitors, morning walkers and joggers come. This is under the DDA and is in worst state despite of huge staff of DDA employed for the park itself. Second, smallest one is with adventure park, they occasionally clean it, but who knows till then they will be motivated. Largest one at the far end is with fish farming lease operator whose only motivation is its business.

This lake and forest has been natural habitat of some very exciting migratory birds, domestic birds, owls, reptiles, butterflies, flowers, etc. I have been capturing them in my camera for years. I have written many posts on them such as these ones recently on painted storks or this one on mallard ducks.

See some images of the natural life around here-

Last year there was a big event at the lake sponsored by big names such as The Times of India and the Hero group. There was a huge plantation drive and the Lieutenant Governor of the Delhi was himself there. It was a huge plantation drive, a big brand event. Being from media, I can understand the truth behind such brand events. Nobody, who attended that event, actually cared about the lake. None of the plants are there any more from that drive. None of the organisers ever turned back to the lake to see that what happened to all their efforts. For all of us this lake is one milking cow.

This lake already has its share of destruction because of so-called development. The site of this new metro station (image below) has been usually a shelter place in winters for migratory great egrets.

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But their number have dwindled since the construction began and they have switched to a smaller place (see the image below).

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With this huge apathy towards nature in the system, tough to say that how long will they keep coming here and how long will we be able to see the sights as beautiful as this one.

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