India’s vast geographical range is home to a large variety of resident birds, with the number increasing manifold with the arrival of the migratory birds in winter. Besides, the national parks and sanctuaries, there are innumerable places to birding in India. Here is a list of five that you must see.
Birdwatching or birding requires a lot of discipline and patience. You have to remain quiet and may have to sit in one place for a long time. Occasionally, a watch tower or a hide may be available to watch the birds but often you have to roam in the open, through rough countryside and forest patches. Remember to dress in neutral colours. Carry a cap and sun/rain protection gear. Wear comfortable shoes. Remember to carry a bird book, a pair of binoculars and a notebook (to jot down the names or descriptions of birds you have seen). If you are an amateur, you may find it useful to join a group of experienced bird watchers. See if you can get a check-list of the birds found in the place you are visiting. That helps in identifying birds too. If you are photographer, a camera stand may come in handy. Since serious bird watching can take long, it is advisable to carry drinking water and some food.
For most designated birding spots, you have to pay an entry fee and camera fees.
Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan
Walk right into the avian world at Keoladeo National Park, popularly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, of Rajasthan. The road from the main gate goes right inside the heart of the national park and you can either walk or hire any of the available unobtrusive conveyances, such as bicycles, cycle-rickshaws, electric vans or a horse buggies. Remember to carry a pair of binoculars. Or you can hire one at the park. The rickshaw-drivers have been trained by the park office and can act as your guide. A former royal hunting zone, Keoladeo was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, as it is an important wintering ground of Palaearctic migratory waterfowl and has a large congregation of non-migratory resident breeding birds. Although situated within a populated zone, Keoladeo consists of grasslands, woodlands, woodland swamps and wetlands of just 2,873 hectare, and is home to nearly 375 bird species and other animals (such as snakes, peacocks, deer and nilgai). It was once famous as the wintering ground of the Siberian Crane.
From Bharatpur, Agra — the nearest airport — is 56 km, and Delhi is 184 km. Bharatpur railway station is about 5 km from the park.
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Karnataka
Take a boat and float down the meandering Cauvery River inside Karnataka’s Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. The boat will take you close to the bird colonies that can be seen atop the trees on the bank side or among the smaller islands. The sanctuary is home to nearly 200 species of birds and is visited by migratory ducks in winter. You may also catch a glimpse of the crocodiles living in the river. The main walking path through the sanctuary has boards with names and details of the various bird species found here. If you are into serious bird watching, then visit Ranganathittu early in the morning, especially on holidays, to avoid the picnicking crowd.
Ranganathittu is about 20km from Mysore and 130 km Bengaluru.
Mangalajodi Ecotourism, Odisha
Located on the northern bank of Odisha’s famous Chilika Lagoon, Mangalajodi Ecotourism is an example of people’s enterprise. The local villagers, who once poached upon the wetland birds, were slowly converted to protectors through the enterprise of Chilika Development Authority, Department Forest and Environment and many private agencies. Today, they patrol the bird reserve and take visitors on birding trips in their boats. The slow boats, travelling through the reed-infested waters, take visitors really close to the birds, without disturbing them. Catch a glimpse of the stilts and godwits, moorhens and lapwings, swallows and many other birds, foraging for food, indifferent to your presence. In winter, the bird population explodes with the arrival of the migratory waterfowl. It is said that the wetland hosts more than 3,00,000 of birds in the peak season. Mangalajodi is part of the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) listed by Bird Life International.
Mangalajodi is about 7 km from Bhubaneswar, the nearest airport.
Rann of Kutch, Gujarat
Although set apart from each other, the Great Rann of Kutch (GRK) and the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK)of Gujarat are places to go birding in winter. In GRK, the Banni grasslands, including a large shallow lake of 80 sq km, which is part of the Chari-Dhand Wetland Conservation Reserve, is one of the popular areas to go birding. Some of the birds found here include Common Crane, Short-eared Owl, Steppe Eagle, Laggar Falcon, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Sykes’s Lark, Indian Courser, Indian Bustard, Crab Plover, Flamingo, Painted Sandgrouse, Sirkeer Malkoha, etc. Modhva village is known for its flamingo colonies. Better known as the home to the Asiatic Wild Ass, LRK, a large salt marsh, is also a birder’s paradise. LRK is a Ramsar Site. In winter, Demoiselle and Common Crane are seen in large numbers. Flamingos, pelicans, storks, ibises, spoonbill, a variety of ducks and other waterfowl are also seen.
GRK is best reached through Bhuj, the nearest airport, while Ahmedabad is the nearest airport for LRK.
Located near the commercial town of Baramati in Maharashtra, the backwater of the Ujani Dam on the Bhima River is a little known birding paradise. Home to nearly 230 species of resident and winter migratory birds, it is a delightful place to watch the birds at close quarters. Some of the local fishermen will agree to take you across the lake in their row boats. Flamingos and bar-headed geese are some of the common visitors in winter. According to local reports, in March 2016, birders were delighted with the rare sighting of the Red Phalarope, a wader that breeds in the Arctic region.
Bhigwan is about 300km from Mumbai and 100km from Pune, the nearest airport.