“My heart was brimming with the longing: to travel all those miles, sometimes nonstop, and come to your place. The urge was so strong, I couldn’t resist it. Oh! Just thinking about wallowing in the cool waters, relishing the scrumptious food aplenty, meeting friends from across the world, made me do a little jig.
But where did it all go? I thought I lost my way. Hell no! I am at the right spot, but the marshy expanse of water is no where in sight. A few early birds were hanging around. Where do we go now after having flown for so many days? I came hopping for a home away from home. You’ve destroyed it all, why? Was sparing this marshy land for us too much to ask?”
-From the unpublished diaries of Ruddy Duck
Thousands of migratory birds come to India’s marshlands and lakes every year as their native habitat becomes temporarily inhabitable. We at least put up a farce of trying to protect our wooded forests. With marshlands, we don’t even pretend we are trying because with hardly any trees around, we don’t consider it something to be protected. Just another piece of land for humans to reclaim for farming and building houses! It didn’t shock us when Adesh Shivekar explained the plight of such areas in our country, for we are known for our greed, no matter the outcome of it wipes away a species or two from this world. Do we ever stop being insensitive to nature?
We were part of the team that went birding at Bhigwan, about 100-odd km from Pune, on Pune-Solapur Road. Adesh along with Mandar Khadilkar’s Nature India has been organising birding trips across India for quite a few years. These two knowledgeable guys made the two-day trip informative as well as pleasurable. Novices in birding, we expected to enjoy the trip whether or not we spot birds; we are happy just to be out there in nature’s lap. What we didn’t bargain for was spotting more than 100 species of birds in two days. That too, in and around just two localities.
A steppe eagle hovers high above the hotel where we are waiting for lunch to be served. And we count 1, the spotting has just begun. At Bhigwan, out comes the spotting scope and we marvels at how close we can see the birds, which are not even able to spot with naked eyes. Trained eyes of Adesh and Mandar with the help of binoculars spot birds far off and they focus the spotting scope on each. Four seconds for each of us to enjoy the beauty and etch the colour and form in the mind.
The usual suspects such as red-vented bulbul, green bee-eater, sunbird, brahminy kite and common kingfisher soon gave way to red wattled lapwig, black-winged stilt, ruddy shelduck, garganey, laughing dove, common coot, Eurasian wigeon, wood sandpiper, common sandpiper, river tern, Eurasian marsh harrier, osprey, pheasant-tailed jacana in non-breeding plumage, glossy ibis, comb duck, purple heron, little cormorant, little, great and intermediate egrets, painted stork, bar-headed goose, and many more.
As the sun is getting ready to set, a cloud forms at the horizon. Alas, it turns out to be a formation of birds,doing their synchronised acrobatics before calling it a day. Being so high up in the sky, even discerning eyes looking through spotting scope could not identify those tiny ones. Satiated, we too call it a day.
The early bird catches the worm. So we get up early morning and go to Kumbhargaon, a few kilometers away from Bhigwan, to see those early birds catching the worms. Kumbhargaon combines marshlands and dry lands, so we spot birds whose habitat is small trees and shrubs. as well. Purple swamphen, northern shoveller, wooly-necked stork, barn swallow, red-throated swallow, yellow wattled lapwig, ruff, little-ringed plover, along with many from yesterday’s list greet us at Kumbhargaon.
Exploring the dry land, we feast our eyes on yellow-fronted woodpecker, brahminy starling, rosy starling, Indian robin, yellow wagtail, Siberian stonechat, crow pheasant, Indian silverbill, black drongo, common myna, hoopoe, the highlight being the tiny bluethroat.
A satiating lunch and a nap on the bus refresh us to jog our memories to recollect the birds we sighted. With amble help and prompting from Adesh, we as a group recalled all of them.
This was a trip with information overload, but we enjoyed it tremendously. Other than helping us spot so many birds and cramming us with tonnes of information, Adesh and Mandar also need to be saluted for their excellent organising skills, which left nothing to complain.