Winter is the best time for bird-watching. The harsh climes of the northern world, sees a variety of species come to India for some much-needed warmth. So here are the season’s top ten must-visit bird havens in the country.
A perennial favourite, this World Heritage Site, is a must-visit. The star visitors, the Siberian Cranes, have been giving the sanctuary a miss since 2002. But you can console yourself with the storks, the bitterns, the herons, the geese, the pelicans — and the 400 other species (including the rare Sociable Plover) that still show up. Bharatpur is 180 km away from Delhi, and just 30 km away from Agra.
Surprise, surprise! There are over 350 birds in Punjab other than tandoori chicken! You can see them all, including the rare Indian Skimmer at Harike, which is located at the confluence of the Ravi and Beas rivers, a mere 60 km away from Amritsar.
Asia’s largest brackish water lake is the premier wintertime vacation spot for winged visitors and perhaps offers the greatest diversity of bird life. The shallow waters with islands, mudflats, sandy shores and marshes are ideal to spot even rare species like the Goliath Heron and Baer’s Pochard. Chilika is 94 km from Bhubaneswar.
Point Calimere, Tamil Nadu
If you don’t mind roughing it out, mark Point Calimere on your bird map. Within its 25 sq km territory, there are a variety of eco-systems-water pools, mud-flats, tidal lagoons, grasslands and thorn forests, which ensure that a variety of flora and fauna, including 300 bird species, flourish here. This one is 350 km from Chennai via Tanjore.
Explore the waterways of this sanctuary close to Mysore (about 20 km away) to get up, close and personal with water fowl . This wetland is also famous for its crocodiles.
Charao Island, Goa
Yes, you can gaze at birds even in sunny Goa. Charao Island is just about five km from Panjim. Take a canoe that drifts along the labyrinth of mangrove trees that stand on stilts, to watch Lesser Adjutants, Grey Heron Kingfishers, and darters.
Barely 10 km from Srinagar, Horaksar is an important wetland. Yet it is better known more as the hunting ground of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who shot over 200 waterfowl here in 1998. Nothing equals the pleasure of boating on the waters of this lake, watching a multitude of birds, while the mountains of the magnificent Pir Pinjal range stand guard in the background.
This bird haven in Gujarat is a personal favourite. Apart from the regular waterfowl, there are humungous flocks of the Common Crane. But the sanctuary is best known as the biggest roosting ground of the Harriers, which have, in fact, inspired the nomenclature of a British fighter plane. Velavadar is about 140 km from Ahmedabad.
Sultanpur and Okhla Bird Sanctuary, New Delhi
Delhi is lucky to count in its polluted environs no less than 450 birds. In winters, you can bird spot at the Okhla barrage on the west bank of the Jamuna. The other hotspot is Sultanpur, which is barely an hour’s drive from the capital. We owe the latter to Peter Jackson, a Reuters correspondent, ornithologist and conservationist who ‘discovered’ it and Indira Gandhi, who declared it a sanctuary.
Unbelievable, but true. Just a few minutes walk from the teeming railway station of Parel, in Mumbai, lie the brackish waters of Sewri, that play host every winter to thousands and thousands of Flamingos, of both the Greater and Lesser variety. The flamingos of Sewri Bay with their shades of luminescent pink are a joy to watch set against the backdrop of the setting sun and a number of factories.
Prerna is an award winning wildlife journalist and author.