Birding is thoroughly enjoyable during winters all across India. So what makes winter birding (December to March) so exciting?
By, Manjunath Gowda
During winters, birders across the country brave nippy to downright frosty mornings and seek their feathered friends. Winters are a great time to see migratory birds as they make their way from colder climes to warmer climates during this time. There are all kinds of birds that come to India in the winters. Birds visit India from Europe and Africa. There are also local migrants that move from the northern parts of the country to its southern parts. And then there are ‘altitudinal’ migrants that move from higher altitudes up in the mountains to lower altitudes- the plains across India.
Varied Visitors Land in Indian during winters
Major water bodies from lakes to ponds across India become temporary homes for birds during winters as waterfowl such as ducks and geese arrive in large numbers. Some species of migratory ducks that are seen in India during winters are the Common Teal, Common Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shoveler. These species of ducks are a common sight across many parts of the country during winters.
Geese also migrate to India during winters. The bar-headed goose is a bird that breeds in Central Asia and in the Tibetan plateaus in colonies of thousands located near mountain lakes. However, it winters in South Asia and lives as far south as peninsular India all the way to Kerala during this time. What leaves many wondering in awe, of course, is how the bar-headed goose manages to cross the mighty Himalayas that tower at altitudes of over 8,400m above sea level!
In addition to lakes and ponds, forests and gardens across the country also become home to migrating birds. Tiny warblers and bee-eaters migrate to forests and gardens across India. The European bee-eater which breeds in Europe and western Asia also makes its way to Africa and India during winters.
Where to go Birding during Winters
So where does one go to see these beautiful creatures!
Other than the local parks and forest patches in a city or state, there are other places that make for fantastic winter birding destinations in India. A few such places and the birds likely to be seen there are.
- Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur- The sheer number and variety of birds as well as easy accessibility for both birders and bird photographers make Keoladeo National Park a terrific habitat. With its endless patches of water, it is home to a large number of herons, storks, ducks, and many other water birds.
- Chilika Lake in Odisha– This largely brackish water body attracts tens of thousands of birds every year. Nalaban island and Mangalajodi, both located in Chilika Lake, are two places where one can see a variety of birds. The forest department has boats which can be boarded from various places to access these islands.
- Nalsarovar in Gujarat- Just a few hours ride from Ahmedabad, this is a pristine water body that attracts Greater Flamingoes making it a terrific place to get close to these birds. Besides Nalsarovoar, the coasts of Gujarat make great birding destinations in the winters because birds such as Sandpipers, Oystercatchers, and Crab Plovers can be seen here during this time. The stunning seabirds living here make a trip to these regions a must.
- Corbett National Park – Corbett is a haven for birds and birders. It has over 500 species many of which are resident and many that are migratory. Such birds make a visit here a truly marvelous birding experience. Corbett’s wide diversity of habitats – from riverine habitats around the Kosi and Ramganga to the grasslands of Dhikala, makes Corbett home to a great variety of birds in the winter.
- Kaziranga National Park- Kaziranga, while famous for its rhinos is also home to a great variety of birds. From the majestic Pallas Fish Eagle to the Bengal Florican, visiting this Elephant Grass filled park is a wonderful way to discover Indian bird life. Of course, the icing on the cake without question is seeing a tiger and rhino!
- Down south, Point Calimere in Tamil Nadu, Lake Pulicat in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, and Kumarakom in Kerala make great winter birding destinations. The forests of Bandipur, Kabini (Nagarhole), and Mudumalai are also great for spotting forest dwelling migratory birds like Forest Wagtails, Warblers, and Flycatchers.
Going Birding? You’ll Need These Things
While birding with the naked eye is good, a decent pair of binoculars magnifies the pleasure by a great amount. A good pair of binoculars and sometimes a camera equipped with a telephoto lens (ideal is 500mm upwards) helps a birder not only view the bird but also take photos of it. However, many birders do not enjoy photographing and enjoy just viewing and observing them.
Serious birders can equip themselves with bird guides to help them identify birds in the field. There are many books written about Indian birds. Also, in this modern era, bird lovers can also use apps because an app will provide valuable information such what kinds of birds have been sighted in a location during the past 7, 14, and 21 days. Such information is very valuable and can allow bird watchers to watch or capture on camera a bird species they are keen to see.
Birding Isn’t Responsible for Fewer Migrating Birds
It is untrue that the increase in the number of bird watchers is responsible for fewer migratory birds arriving in India. In truth, a number of other factors such as habitat erosion and pollution are responsible for the phenomenon of fewer migratory birds arriving in India. Other factors behind this phenomenon are dying lakes, the felling of trees, and polluted water which causes many birds to die.
Bird watching is a way to observe the best in nature without harming it anyway, and thankfully there are apps available today that allow bird lovers to enjoy watching a wide variety of birds in their natural habitats anywhere in the world.
The author is the CEO of WildTrails (an app that lets you plan your visits to the sanctuaries across India)