With just three days left before we bid adieu to 2018, there can be no better way to end the year than to be out in the woods on a chilly winter morning among colourful birds that cohabit the city. From the onset of winter in Mumbai, migratory birds from the Middle East and Europe nestle themselves at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivali calling it their home for the next few months.
For the whole of winter the SGNP becomes a birdwatchers paradise and is a must-watch spectacle at the Tulsi Lake — a restricted area opened to public by authorities only for this season — to witness these feathery visitors in all their glory. Yogesh Patel, naturalist and wildlife photographer, who will be leading the walk at Tulsi Lake, informs us that the park has around 250 species of birds, including the resident birds.
“During winters there are species coming from various parts of the world taking different routes. They will be here for the complete winters. Then there are passage migratory birds, passing through this place, as a stopover,” he explains.
A bus will pick up the participants from the main gate of the park to Tulsi Lake and after around four hours of bird watching they will be dropped off at the same location they started from.
“The lake is in SGNP itself but it is a restricted area and a good place to bird around. This place is not disturbed by regular visitors so there are high chances of spotting more birds here than any other part of the national park,” says Yogesh. The naturalist will educate the participants on the kinds of birds expected by examining their features, habitats and sounds. He further informs that since the park is on the shore one can also encounter shore or beach birds.
“If we are walking on the shore, you will have to stand at the patch and look for the bird. But if we are inside the forested area, spotting a bird will depend on a birdcall. So we will hear the bird first, then try and look into that direction to spot the bird,” explains the wildlife photographer adding that one can spot the Western Osprey — a black and white bird almost the size of a kite — preying over the lake.
Blue capped rock Thrush
However, Yogesh advises against calling out to the birds while in the woods. While he will be making the participants familiar with the various birdcalls he refrains from using it to call out the birds. “Using a playback is not good. If a bird is calling and if you are not able to see that bird don’t gimmick the calls to get them out of their shelter. Firstly we don’t know what kind of call it was, and, secondly it will disturb their breeding pattern,” he stresses.
Apart from shore birds, the most commonly spotted birds include the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and various woodpeckers. “The Drongo is a resident bird found in mixed hunting flock with other birds. The unique thing about this bird is that it can mimic other birds so it is easily heard first then seen. It gives out metallic tones of voices and is a dark shaded bird with hues or blue and back. It has a fork like long tail with extensions and at the end of the tail there are racket like things,” explains Yogesh.
Among the variety of woodpeckers, participants can spot the heart-spotted woodpecker, a black and white coloured bird with heart shape on its wing. “Then there is Rufous woodpecker that is known to build its nest within the nest of acrobat ants. It is a brown coloured shy bird,” he adds.
Among the sheltering birds, the birdwatchers will get to witness some resident birds. “There are brown-headed barbets that keep calling through out the day. Even Jungle Owlet, a small sized crepuscular in nature owl, can be heard throughout the day. But then there is Vigors's Sunbird that is a small resident but endemic bird, found only in the northern Western Ghats,” lists Yogesh.
The bird enthusiast is of the opinion that one should come with an open mind as one can encounter the unexpected on this expedition. “In the morning one can also get hold of a group of birds called Flycatchers, they are very active in the morning. You can also spot the Eurasian Hobby, it is a small sized bird found in Europe and Asia. And if you are lucky you can catch Peregrine Falcon, the fastest flying bird,” he says.
With time, the naturalist says, bird watching as a hobby is increasing among people. “People remember carrying their camera and not the binoculars, but they do their homework and come. They click pictures, go home and identify the birds,” he concludes.