Winter is the best time of the year for nature lovers to spot some of the rarest and most exotic varieties of birds in India. Neha Kirpal lists five of the country’s top bird sanctuaries
India is a paradise for birdwatchers, especially during winter and spring, when migratory birds arrive, attracted by the warmer temperatures of India’s subtropical climate. These feathered friends can be spotted in large numbers in bird sanctuaries across the country. In order to spot the maximum number of birds, reach the sanctuaries early in the morning and, or around dusk.
Chilika Lake Sanctuary , Odisha
Nestled in the heart of coastal Odisha, Chilika Lake is Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon and one of the most important wetlands in the world. It extends from the Puri district in the north to the Ganjam district in the south, separated from the Bay of Bengal by a long narrow strip of marshy islands and sand-flats. The Chilika Lake Sanctuary is a paradise for bird lovers. The lake and its reed islands teem with an astonishing variety of nesting birds such as white-bellied sea eagles, ospreys, golden plovers, sand pipers, flamingos, pelicans, shovellers and gulls. The lake is also home to several types of migratory birds that fly in from Iran, Central Asia and Siberia.
For a unique experience, head to Mangalajodi, on the northern tip of the lake. Here, you can hire boats to get amazingly close to the birds!
Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan
Recognised as one of the world’s most important bird breeding and feeding grounds, the Keoladeo National Park, earlier known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, was a hunting reserve for erstwhile kings and the British during the 1850s. It is said, Lord Linlithgow, Viceroy of India from 1936 to 1943, shot thousands of ducks with his hunting party in a single day! Home to over 370 species of birds and animals such as the basking python, painted stork, deer, nilgai and more, the 30-sq-km national park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It is home to a large congregation of resident and migratory birds. For those who fancy a leisurely ride through the park, rickshaws are available on rent, whose drivers double up as guides. You can also hire bicycles or walk. Another option is to enjoy a boat ride, which lets you watch the birds from very close.
Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary Haryana
Located in Gurugram, Haryana, the compact Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary has approximately 250 species of birds that can be easily seen wading, swimming or flying. Every year, around 100 migratory bird species arrive here from distant regions like Siberia, Europe and Afghanistan in search of breeding grounds and to spend the winter. Some of the resident birds in the sanctuary include the common hoopoe, paddyfield pipit, purple sunbird, little cormorant and painted stork. To facilitate birding, there are machans (watch towers) located at different points in the park. However, the water level of the lake fluctuates a lot, so sometimes, the birds may be quite far off from the shore. Hire binoculars to get a closer look. The tourist complex within the park has all modern facilities, including a quaint restaurant.
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, Gujarat
Spread over an area of 120.82 sq km, Nalsarovar is the largest wetland bird sanctuary in Gujarat, and one of the largest in India. Declared a bird sanctuary in 1969, more than 200 types of birds annually descend on the Nalsarovar lake and the wetlands around it to escape the harsh winter in the countries they travel from. A serene marshland with shallow waters that is dotted with 36 small islands, Nalsarovar attracts a large variety of birds such as plovers, sandpipers and little stints. One can also spot rosy pelicans, lesser and greater flamingos, crakes, brahminy ducks, purple moorhen, herons, white storks, grebes and various species of bitterns in the lake. It is said that the lake, located between the plains of central Gujarat and eastern Saurashtra, was once part of the sea, a link that existed between the Little Rann in the north and the Gulf of Khambat in the south. To add to the natural experience, stay at the Gujarat tourism’s luxury tents, around 1.5 km from the lake.
Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary , Kerala
Among the most popular bird-watching spots in the country, the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, spread over 14 hectare, is located on the banks of the Vembanad Lake in Kottayam. Situated along the backwaters of Kerala, it is home to numerous rare avian species. You can spot migratory birds like the marsh harrier, garganey teal, osprey and steppe eagle between October and February. May to July is the breeding season for local species such as the Indian cormorant, herons, egrets and darters. The serene sanctuary can be explored on foot or on bicycle. The best experience, however, is to glide through it on a canoe, which can be hired from local fishermen at the entrance of the sanctuary.
The author is an avid traveller and the views expressed in the article are her own