Come winter and the resident birds found across diverse habitats in the West Bengal are joined by a large number of migratory birds. Many of the waterbodies, which lie quiet for the greater part of the year, are full of noise of ducks, geese and other waterfowl. So get your binoculars, cameras and checklists of birds and head for these popular and lesser known birding spots.
Located in the heart of south Kolkata, a multifunctional verdant area (it has a stage for concerts, a stadium, several sports and citizens’ clubs, concrete paths, etc.) with a large waterbody, surrounded by tall buildings and traffic-heavy roads, Rabindra Sarobar is the most unlikely place to go looking for birds. Therefore many are surprised when they find bird watchers and photographers visiting the area and returning happy. Biodiversity of Rabindra Sarobar, a Facebook group, has recently published a draft list containing names of one hundred species of birds spotted here. According to the list, members have spotted birds such as eye browed thrush, yellow footed green pigeon, indian pitta, verditer flycatcher, changeable hawk eagle, ferruginous flycatcher, etc. Resident birds include little cormorant, open billed stork, stork billed kingfisher, white throated water hen, etc. According to the group there are also many varieties of butterflies and other insects here. However, nature lovers of the locality fear that sporadic attempts to beautify, concretise and illuminate select areas of Rabindra Sarobar is likely to damage the bird habitats. Although the Lake can be visited round the year, the best time is winter.
A huge ox-bow lake off the Ganga in Purba Bardhhaman district, locally known as Chupir Chor, plays host to a large number of migratory birds in winter. The over 20 square km lake and the narrow channel that connects it with the river is surrounded by farmlands and small villages. Therefore, it is possible to see both land and water birds. You may walk along the lakeside or in the orchards (with permission of course). You may also avail the country boats for a ride across the lake. Some of the boatmen are quite experienced and can guide you efficiently. Some of the common birds are cormorants, egrets, jacana, lesser whistling teals, red crested pochard, little Grebe, etc. Early morning is the best time to see the birds. A collaborative effort between Office of the Executive Officer (BDO) – Purbasthali II, members of the local Hero Club and Kasthashali Gram Panchayat has resulted in the setting up of tourist cottages (two double-bed rooms and one eight-bed dormitory) in the middle of a landscaped garden. Advance booking recommended. Purbasthali is connected to Kolkata by road (approx. 130km) and rail (local trains from Howrah and Sealdah stations). Best time to visit is December to February.
Located along the southern edge of West Bengal, the mangrove forest of Sundarbans, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a network of channels and creeks, interspersed with islands (of which only a few contain villages). Better known for its tigers and crocodiles, the Sundarbans National Park has to be largely covered by boats. You are allowed to get off the boats only at particular points. Thus bird watching can be a challenge in this region. According to veteran bird watchers, keep a strict vigil over land and water as your boat glides past the forested shores. Making the trip with fellow bird watchers may help as regular tourists are keen to see the resident tigers and crocodiles. It is said that over 200 species of birds, including migratory birds, call the Sundarbans home. Accommodation is limited with a tourist lodge (Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge) and a few private resorts located in some of the inhabited islands. There are several entry points of which Godkhali Jetty is the most convenient. All travellers need special permission to enter the tiger reserve.
Lava, about 35km from Kalimpong by road, has now come a long way from the sleepy hamlet that it was in the 1990s. But move away from the busy tourist hub into the surrounding forested areas and you are likely to come across many varieties of birds. If you have enough time in hand, you may also set off for the Neora Valley National Park from here. Veteran birders also suggest visits to nearby villages of Lolaygaon, Rishop and Sillery Gaon. According to Kolkata Birds website, some of the rare birds found in the Lava region are satyr tragopan, rusty-bellied shortwing, broad-billed warbler, blue-fronted robin, yellow-throated fulvetta, rufous-throated wren babbler, grey-sided laughing thrush, scarlet finch, etc. Government guest houses, private hotels and homestays available in Lava and other nearby villages. Kalimpong, the nearest big town, is about 75 km by road from Bagdogra airport and about 70 km from New Jalapaiguri railway station. Best time to visit is from November to March.
Tucked inside Cooch Behar district in the north-eastern part of the state, Raskibill is a lesser known birding spot. The over 170 hectare lake is surrounded by forests. During winter, the lake shelters a large number of migratory birds. Nature walks in the surrounding forests and boating in the lake are the most convenient options for watching birds here. There is also a crocodile breeding centre and a deer park here. You may also pay a visit to the Buxa Tiger Reserve from here. Accommodation is limited. West Bengal Forest Development Corporation Limited operates a tourist lodge here. The bird sanctuary is about 35 km from the New Cooch Behar railway station. Best time to visit is from December to February.