The signature winter chill of the city has been playing hide and seek with it’s citizens. However, the winter guests of our city have been flying in from all over to settle down for a few months before making their journey home. I am of course referring to a great variety of birds that migrate to the city to enjoy the pleasant winter. Therefore, this is the best time to get up early and explore the last remaining spots around the city that play host to these beautiful winged visitors. Here are our recommendations!
1. Sewri Mudflats
Located to the east of Sewri Station, (a small dot on the harbour line) this seemingly uncanny location, a vast stretch of wetland surrounded by a ship breaking yard on one side and factories with chimneys bellowing smoke on the other plays host to the long legged Flamingoes alongwith a range of other species of birds from November to March. As one approaches the mudflats during low tide, one can see a carpet of pink spread all over. Around 10,000 flamingoes flock to this mudflats and scrounge through the industrial wastes for food.
Along with them, there are the Ibis with their lossy black necks, flying about gently. There are Godwits, Terns, Herons, Gulls, Plovers and if you are lucky then a few rare raptors like the Osprey or the Imperial Eagle make an appearance and enchant you. “Apart from these winter migrants, one also gets to meet the local residents such as the White Breasted Kingfisher, Orioles, Magpie Robins, Sandpipers, Bulbuls, Egrets and Herons” says blogger and birder Anuradha Shankar. It is best visited after the tide has receded. The view from the Sewri Fort is incredible but visiting in a group is recommended.
2. Bhandup Pumping Station Just after exiting the Mulund-Airoli bridge, take the first left and turn into the small lane leading to the Bhandup Pumping Station. Cross the salt pans and walk alongside the plant. An unnamed lake teeming with a myriad variety of waterbirds awaits your arrival. There are Spoonbills, Flamingos, Sandpipers, Ibis, Redshank, Harrier, Caspian Terns and besides you will also find Spotted and Laughing doves, Sunbirds, Warblers, Babblers but the most notable this season have been Hoopoes, Red Wattled Lapwing, Common Iora and Indian Roller amongst others.
This complex houses a lot of surprises as birder Sumitra Badrinathan confirms. She was one of the few people to spot the Indian Skimmer which is extremely rare in this region on of her trips to the pumping station! She continues to return and recommends early mornings and evenings for better sightings. This spot is definitely an open secret among the bird watching community of the city and is best left undisturbed. Here’s hoping that it remains the hotspot that it is. 3. IIT Campus and Powai Lake Getting inside the campus can be tricky if you don’t have the required permissions or invitations to one of the several extra curricular activities happening on the campus. But once past the gates, head straight towards the Old Guest house and continue walking on the road that runs parallel to the lake. Once inside, a small diversion to your left will take you right to the edge of the lake. A small concrete structure with a corrugated tin roof serves as an ideal spot to seek shelter from the sun and train your binoculars on the fringes of the lake. Several beautiful species of birds can be spotted, going about their business, oblivious to the engineers and birders around them. One of the best looking waders - the Bronze winged Jacana can be spotted here. Apart from that, Common Coot, Glossy Ibis, Phesant tailed Jacana, Whiskered Tern, Ruddy Shelduck, Purple Moorhen, White breasted Waterhen, Osprey and a whole lot of other water birds are seen here. The ample green cover also play host to forest birds such as the Spotted Owlet, Golden Oriole, a variety of Babblers and Bulbuls, Flycatchers, Drongos, and the lucky Crow Phesant. Walkers along the lake can also spot the Osprey diving into the lake to catch it’s meal or watch the Cormorants dry their wings. A pair of binoculars could enable you to spot far off birds without actually having to enter the campus. 4. Aarey Milk Colony Aarey Milk Colony continues to remain one of my favourite places in the city. This green zone keeps the temperature down and sustains a crucial ecosystem within itself. Much like the neighboring Sanjay Gandhi National Park, it can be considered to be the lungs of the city. There are numerous trails inside the enclave but a simple walk by the road and a keen sense of hearing will help you spot a number of birds including barn Qwls, Drongos, Bee eaters, Woodpeckers and other raptors! There are reports suggesting the presence of over 16 mammals including Civet cats, Bengal monitor, Wild boar and the elusive Leopard! The colony is also infamous for many spooky stories and is known to be haunted. I have always tried to spot these wandering souls, clad in white (well, of course) each time I have passed through here but to no avail. The last remaining Vultures of the city can be spotted if you are lucky and the same applies for the Hornbill.
Read part 2 here to discover some other interesting places to spot birds this winter.
All Photos by Sumitra Badrinathan