Mumbai Birdwatchers’ Club: Uran and the Quest for the Common Shelduck

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I had just returned from Dehradun a few weeks back to find the atmosphere in Mumbai’s birding circles electric. Much of this was coming from that amazing sighting in Vasai, the red-breasted merganser, the first authentic record of this species in India. Almost every birder spread out over our metropolis (as well as people from Bengaluru, Kolkata, and several other locations) had made a beeline for this bird and it had been a very cooperative subject giving good views to all who visited including participants of the Mumbai Birdwatchers’ Club (MBC) walk the week before.

To keep the momentum going, we decided to hold another bird walk on the very first day of 2017. The location initially was the Bhandup Pumping Station (BPS). There was some excitement there about a week before this planned walk when a solitary Common Shelduck was spotted and photographed there. This might be only the 2nd record of this species (pending confirmation) from the Mumbai region. However, the bird was not seen later, even by those visiting the same day. In any case, BPS is always a happy ‘birding’ ground and with the likes of Adesh Shivkar leading the walk, any bird enthusiast would be in for a fantastic experience.

And then, just 2 days before the walk, Mayuresh Khatavkar, another well-known birder gave the big news. The common shelduck was seen again, but this time in Uran. A flurry of activity, and the destination of the walk was instantly changed, to give every birder a chance to see this rarity.

Kuldeep and I would be assisting in the co-ordination of the walk, so we headed to the meeting point early along with two more participants of the walk, Ronit Dutta and Mita Gala. Shortly, we reached the Jasai wetlands, also the meeting point on one of the earlier MBC birdwalks. This time though, they were flooded with the high tide still receding, so while waiting for the other participants to arrive, we birded from the road itself.

The flamingoes were not there this time around, but many of the waders we had seen the last time around were, including black-tailed godwits, little stints, painted storks, common greenshank, marsh sandpipers among a few others. As a few of the participants arrived, almost as if to compensate for the flamingoes, we noticed a very large congregation of pied avocets in the distance. In the early morning mist, their numbers had not been apparent, but together with the local fisherman working in the area and a lone Eurasian marsh harrier doing sorties, the flock often took flight, numbering nearly 150 by our estimate.

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Adesh arrived as well, and with a few more participants coming in, approximately 30 of us were treated to these pied avocets flying across the rising sun. After everyone had a good look at most of the species present, we decided to move on to Panje.

As always, we drove slow keeping an eye for various species. We saw some of the usual suspects, Asian openbill stork, glossy ibis, white-eared bulbul, Siberian stonechat as well as a few other species. Then as I was driving, a raptor flew across the road just a few feet ahead of our vehicle. A medium-sized body, long tail, small rounded head, and we realized we were dealing with another harrier. But with its pale grey body, whitish underparts and dark primaries, we realized this may not be the ubiquitous Eurasian marsh harrier. We instantly got down from the car, but it had made its way deeper into the grassland. Our initial impression was a Montagu’s or Pallid harrier male (the Hen harrier is not as common to the region, though also a possibility) but we were unable to conclude the ID.

Soon, we reached the designated spot at Panje and began our birding, this time focusing on the wetlands ahead which were full of waterfowl and a few waders as well. Adesh once again did his bit, setting up the scope, focusing on an individual bird, asking participants to identify it, and then going to explain specific features of the bird. One of the highlights in one such discussion was the ‘butterscotch’ rump of the common teal, a feature not many participants would likely forget anytime soon 🙂

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Ronit had brought along a scope as well so Kuldeep along with a few other participants had decided to try their luck in getting a sight of the common shelduck. As I caught up with them, they were smiling and I knew they had gotten their prize. It was well outside the usual binocular range, so I had a look through Ronit’s scope as well, my excitement barely contained to have a look at this potential lifer. Only to find it wasn’t there!

Much to the chuckling of Ronit and Kuldeep, I threatened that I wouldn’t allow the common shelduck as part of our eBird list until I had a decent look at it 😀 Ronit was good enough to understand my desire to see this bird, so a few minor adjustments later, he said he had the bird back in sight of the scope. With some trepidation, I looked again. The scope was trained at a grass mound in the middle of the wetlands, and I couldn’t see much initially, but then I noticed some white behind the grass. And then a prominent pink bill. Slowly, this beauty of a lifer came into view.

Adesh and the rest of the participants had now caught up with us as well. After getting a quick idea of where Ronit had his scope pointed, within seconds, the bird was within the sight of Adesh’s scope as well. One by one, each of the participants had a look at the bird. Adesh once again pointed out the specific characteristics of the bird, including the upward curvature of the tip of the bill, something which wasn’t obvious even in illustrated plates of the bird in the guide book. We weren’t sure at this point of time about the records of this species in Mumbai. But noted naturalist and birdwatcher, Sunjoy Monga has pointed out to at least one prior record of a small flock of common shelducks at the Tulsi lake in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park sighted by Charles McCann (the exact year is not very clear, possibly 1916 or 1917). In any case, the bird is definitely a rarity for the region.

This turned out to be a very gracious bird too as while we were watching it, it decided to do a fly-by moving to the wetlands on the other side of the road giving some participants a fantastic view and giving the eagle-eyed photographers a chance to get a shot of it in flight which also let us know conclusively that bird is a female going by the less prominent breast band and lacking the knob on the bill seen in the male.

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Photo Credits: Viraj Khorjuwekar

With more sightings of different species such as the Caspian tern, grey heron, garganey, northern pintail, northern shoveler and even the ruddy shelduck, we were thoroughly sated as a group. A few of us who had also decided to give a quick try in the drier areas of Panje for the Caspian plover got two additional bonuses. One was the common shelduck giving us another fly-by back towards the original wetlands we saw in the morning (The few of us are indebted to one of the participants, Chirag Ahuja, as he first saw the bird take flight from a distance). The second bonus (no, we didn’t see the Caspian plover unfortunately) was another skulker, the slaty-breasted rail at rest near a reed patch close to some houses. This again was thanks to the dedication of a few of the participants such as Nayana Amin, Roozbeh Gazdar and a few others who were determined to check this small area.

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As we headed back to our vehicles, we were informed some members of the group who were birding near the road including Kuldeep and Ronit had been treated to the grand, relaxed flight of a Peregrine falcon! And even after we left the place, we were treated to sights of more raptors on the road, the common kestrel, pallid harrier (this time it flew right over our heads, perhaps the same bird from the morning who had decided to be generous with us), oriental honey buzzard as well as the Indian spotted eagle close to the Jasai stop we had made in the morning.

With MBC, the birding never ends 🙂

Birdlist at Jasai, Uran: https://goo.gl/ICIeV6
Birdlist at Panje, Uran: https://goo.gl/lF4du1

Guide to the location can be viewed in the previous blog to the same location.

Link to the Facebook group for the Mumbai Birdwatchers’ Club where details of each walk are posted: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mumbaibirdwatchersclub/

Mumbai Birdwatchers’ Club: Uran, Navi Mumbai: 6th November, 2016

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The MBC group at Jasai


I was not surprised when the location that was announced for the next bird walk on Sunday, the 6th of November, 2016 turned out to be Uran, Navi Mumbai. Why? As mentioned in the previous blog, Uran had been particularly popular  since the last couple of weeks, because of two species in particular. One was of course the Indian skimmer, an endangered tern species (usually restricted to freshwater habitats) that I had the fortune of seeing on the same day as the BPS Birdwalk. The other of course, was the bird I had gone to Uran in search of, the Caspian plover, a rare migrant which has only a handful of records in India. And it was not just these, there were reports of other rarities, the grasshopper warbler, Asian desert warbler and even bristled grassbird. No surprise then, that Uran was hot property!

This walk was co-ordinated by Adesh Shivkar, Mandar Khadilkar, Avinash Bhagat, Clara Correia, Mayuresh Khatavkar, names for which the birding community needed no introductions, their collective birding and conservation experience, staggering to say the least. A testament to this is that as soon as the notification for the next bird walk was put up, the MBC team was swamped with registrations. Initially, the plan was to restrict group size to 30. However, since this was among the first bird walks, it was decided to increase this limit, and while the number of registration requests were still higher, over 80 participants finally ended up attending the bird walk. The plan would be to meet at the Dastan Faata at Jasai to bird for a little while near the marshes there, and then break up into smaller groups, gradually make our way to Panje village, where most of the sightings reports above had happened.

Since there were going to be some political rallies near the Dadar/Sion area, I decided to drive there via the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road going through Mankhurd, Vashi and then to Navi Mumbai. Accompanying me were Vikrant Choursiya and Jyoti James. We reached Jasai at about 6:45 AM, and were surprised to already see a group of 30+ people in the marshes. With their scopes, binoculars and telephoto lenses, there was no question as to what tribe this group belonged. Parking the car close to the others, we stepped down into the boggy marshes. As we neared, we spotted Mayuresh, Adesh and several other birders with their binoculars and scopes trained to a bevy of wetland birds in the marshes. Front and centre, were a group of 200 odd Greater Flamingoes, composed mostly of immature individuals. Other numerous waders included black-tailed godwits, marsh sandpipers, glossy ibises, black-winged stilts, common redshanks and a host of waterfowl in the distance including ruddy shelducks, northern pintails, northern shovelers among many other species.

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Greater flamingoes at the Jasai marshes, with black-winged stilts in the foreground

As we watched them, more of our number joined us, and when the group had reached close to the expected size, Adesh gathered us all together, giving a quick orientation on the purpose of reviving the Mumbai Birdwatchers’ Club, stressing on building a community of like-minded people going forward. Following that were a quick round of introductions and it was interesting to give faces to the people many of us had enthusiastically discussed birding with on Whatsapp and Facebook groups. The introductions done, the birding continued. More interesting sightings took place, including raptors such as Western Marsh Harriers, and an Osprey as well.

All this while, the co-ordinators took care to not only show different species, but also elaborate on their identification characters, behavior and migration patterns. Standing in the group close to Adesh, he talked about among other things, the separating characters of black-tailed and bar-tailed Godwits, the plainer back of the former (relatively more scaly in the Bar-tailed), as well as the propensity of the Bar-tailed Godwits to be seen largely in coastal habitats rather than freshwater ones. He also talked about the migration patterns of the bee-eaters, the blue-cheeked bee-eaters more as passage migrants seen in the Mumbai region around October/November, while the blue-tailed bee-eaters are seen typically from August/September, their numbers steadily rising with the onset of winter, and continue to be seen till around April. Additionally, Adesh kept us birders on our toes by focusing the scope on a particular species, and then asking us to identify it with characters. This was an enjoyable exercise as there is no better way than this to learn from seniors in the field. The species tested on included the common sandpiper (a diagnostic character being the white shoulder patch) and the lesser sand plover (characters include the smaller bill, grayish legs, and absence of any collar or eye-ring to separate from other small plovers). Likewise, I could see Mandar, Avinash, Clara and Mayuresh engaging other budding birders.

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A little ringed plover without its distinctive dark eye-mask and breast collar, signaling this individual is in non-breeding plumage

After a good amount of birding, some of the groups decided to move to Panje. Avinash and Clara headed out with some of the smaller groups first and gradually the rest of us also got into our cars. Adesh decided we could also stop en route close to some reeds where we were likely to see some warbler activity. Unfortunately, once we reached the spot, the habitat was found to have been dried up and levelled. The Uran area has been in the eye of a storm since the past many years. With the airport coming in the vicinity and the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone, many of the wetland habitats hosting hundreds of resident and migratory species have been lost to endless construction of structures including roads and flyovers. Off and on, cases of poaching are also heard of here including of the famous flamingoes. Some dedicated birdwatchers and environmentalists have been fighting for years here for the conservation of the habitat and the avian residents, and continue to do so, in the face of ever increasing pressure on the land. Uran has been prolific in providing some amazing bird records over the years, testament to the diversity of the habitat, so documenting the avifauna here has become more important than ever before.

Continuing with our journey, we slowly made our way to Panje, birding most of the way. Where the natural habitat was still preserved, we saw among many birds, the Siberian stonechat, Indian roller, scaly-breasted munias, rosy starlings. Avinash and others spotted a greater spotted eagle en route. A birding couple even saw a tawny eagle.

On reaching Panje, once again we parked our car outside the access road, and proceeded to meet up with the others. Panje typically is a mix of woodland and wetland habitat and it was in the dried bed of the wetlands that the bird everyone was looking for, the Caspian plover had been seen. We walked along the trail, keenly scanning on our right to see the presence of any plover. I should mention here that after failing to sight the Caspian plover on my first visit, I had made another quick trip here prior to this bird walk to Uran with Saurabh, Amey and Prachi with the intention of sighting the plover. After much searching, Amey had spotted a group of three plovers facing us on his scope. He noticed the middle one was slightly larger and had buffish underparts, pointing out that this might be our elusive quarry. Taking a note of its position, we ventured closer but again couldn’t sight it, and it was only after much more intensive searching, we saw it at a closer distance and I was able to take a few record shots. Later while returning, the presence of a few fellow birders including Vinod, Mohak and Chirag close to the road indicated that the bird had come much closer and I got a second chance at photographing it.

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When birdwatchers first saw this individual, the identification was a challenge as the Caspian Plover (which is a rare migrant to the region) is not easily separable from the Oriental Plover which would be a vagrant (outside the species’ breeding and migration range) to the region. The white underwing (as opposed to dark in the oriental) which they observed in flight was a key character in helping identification.

With this background, I knew finding this solitary bird over such a huge area was never going to be easy. Teams led by Adesh, Avinash, Clara, Mayuresh and Mandar scanned different parts of the area intensely, but to no avail. It was then decided to nevertheless continue with our regular birding rather than chasing after one bird. So we headed back to the narrow Dongri road that passed through Panje, planning to culminate our walk at the spot the Indian skimmer had been seen.

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Birders at Panje

The wetlands were absolutely chock full of birds. Huge numbers of waterfowl could be seen, and we even saw flocks of smaller waders further within. Accordingly, the scope was set up, and once again, we saw each species and discussed extensively about it. For example, we were lucky to see a few Eurasian wigeons and discussed its eclipse plumage (this is the drab form adopted by the males of a species outside the breeding season), and its identification characters such as the smaller, rounder head and grayish black-tipped bill. We also observed the wader flock seeing marsh sandpipers, common redshanks, ruffs, common greenshanks when Adesh announced that there was a spotted redshank in the group as well. We could manage a few glances of its bill (the base of the lower mandible of the bill was red, as opposed to both the upper and lower base being red in the common redshank) as well as its prominent supercilium (eyebrow).

We made our way ahead to check for the skimmer as well, but again it didn’t seem to be in the vicinity. Instead we focused on the other terns, with Adesh doing another pop quiz of focusing the scope on a particular tern, and asking different birders to take turns on identifying it (it was a whiskered tern, for those who remember it 🙂 )

Finally, it was decided to call it a day. The entire group gathered where Adesh once again mentioned there would be regular bird walks in the next few weeks, the next one being planned for Bhopar in Dombivli led by Kiran Kadam and a few other birders. Almost like a parting gift, we were all treated to the dark morph of a booted eagle soaring high in the sky.

Till the next bird walk, leave you with this image of all us happy birders 🙂

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Image credits: Capt. Haridas

Birding list from Jasai, Uran: https://goo.gl/GYn1if

Birding list from Panje, Uran: https://goo.gl/yyIrwU

How to get there

The birding hotspots in Uran are spread out over a large area. There are a number of different habitats, inundated marshes, reed beds, freshwater bodies and their dried beds interspersed with woodland and grassland habitats as well, and may well be one of the major reasons the area sees a particularly high diversity of avifauna. One can start near the Jasai marshes (Location of Jasai marshes: https://goo.gl/9q0F2c) to begin with. Note that once you get down from the road to go into the marshes on your left, the surface is boggy, so it is recommended to wear good shoes or sandals, and would always be better to have some company in case you get stuck somewhere.

From Jasai, when you head towards Panje, except for a short stretch on the highway, birding all along the route can be rewarding so it is recommended to drive slow here, keeping an eye out on the surrounding wetlands, grasslands and high-tension wires (We actually did see a common kestrel on our way back from Panje after the birdwalk, and the area is conducive to come across other falcon species as well from time to time).

Once you near Panje (Location of Panje: https://goo.gl/yN4V7F), there is a small road down the slope towards the Dongri road. There is a wide expanse of wetlands here, both on the left and right worth exploring. A small dirt path on your right would take you further inside the wetlands, you can also choose to follow the Dongri road. The drier parts of the wetland are good areas to come across plovers, larks, pipits while the inundated parts see huge flocks of waders and waterfowl (wader concentrations are likely to be greater close to the hours of high tide when they would fly in here from the coast). Because the typical terrain is flat and spread out, having a scope is extremely useful here to expand the range of spotting species.

Link to Mumbai Birdwatchers’ Club (Facebook group): http://goo.gl/FPnJgX

Mumbai Birdwatchers Club: Walk 1- Bhandup Pumping Station (and a quick detour): 30th October, 2016

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It was during an eBird monitoring workshop conducted at the Mahim Nature Park in September that I first heard whispers. The Mumbai Birdwatchers’ Club (MBC) was being revived. Having only started birding in the last couple of years, I was not even aware such a platform had even existed. There were of course communities of birders spread out over the expanse of Mumbai, Thane, Vasai, Dombivli and Navi Mumbai out almost every weekend (if not during the weekdays too), but an initiative that would seek to unite all of us that followed these winged beauties throughout the year (Yep, even during the monsoon) made for an exciting prospect. Like any other social activity, birdwatching is also best enjoyed in a group, like-minded people using the combined power of their observation skills to maximize sightings of both species and interesting behavior and also sharing their collective knowledge gained by experience. An initiative aimed at aiding conservation of habitats under increasing human pressure, no fees would be charged for any of the walks, the purpose being to build a community of bird lovers who could consistently document avifauna by putting their checklists on sites such as eBird along with photographs.

So, it was great to finally hear of the first birdwalk being planned on the 30th of October, a Sunday at one of Mumbai’s most popular birding hotspots, Bhandup Pumping Station (BPS). The area is part of and synonymous with the recently established ‘Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary’ declared in August last year which itself is spread out over 1,690 hectares. It has been recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Bombay Natural History Society, an initiative by Birdlife International to identify global avian diversity hotspots.  As its name suggests, BPS like its south Mumbai counterpart, Sewri serves as a congregation point for the famous flamingoes, including both the Greater and Lesser flamingoes. They can actually be sighted throughout the year, but the highest numbers are typically seen from November onwards going into the summer months. In addition to the flamingoes, BPS also supports an incredible avian diversity with more than 200 species reported from the area, including rarities for the Mumbai region such as the Pallid Scops Owl and Grasshopper Warbler.

The co-ordinators for the first birdwalk were Saurabh Sawant, Amey Ketkar and Rujuta Phadke, all respected senior birdwatchers that have spent many years documenting avifauna all over Mumbai, and over the rest of the country as well. We were meeting at 7:00 am, and I had decided to drive there, so I picked up fellow birders, Vikrant Chaurasiya and Yogesh Patel as well as Saurabh as we headed to the meeting point just near the entry point to BPS close to Airoli bridge near the salt pans.

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While mail registrations had been sought, there were still a good deal of informal confirmations of arrival so it was unclear what the participation was going to be like. We reached the spot, meeting Amey and Rujuta as well at 6:45 AM, while waiting for others. By 7, a total of 25 people had gathered together, an ideal size that Saurabh, Amey and Rujuta were looking at for the group.

We then decided to make our way in. Finally, all of us reached the designated spot in BPS which is a tarred road with the Pumping Station on the right and the creek on the left. We also met with another senior birdwatcher who had already reached the spot, Mayuresh Khatavkar who was already actively birding pointing us to a large congregation of blue-cheeked and blue-tailed bee-eaters.

Without as much as a second thought, everyone had their binoculars and cameras out, and the avian treasures of BPS revealed themselves. A Yellow-eyed babbler skulking in the long grass, Baya weaver flocks foraging away along with Red Avadavats as well. Interestingly, hidden in the long grass, we spotted some migratory buntings as well. We got a second look at them later in the day too, however from the angles visible, were unable to see the characters favouring a particular species, photographs were taken, and it was best narrowed down to an immature red-headed/black-headed bunting.

A red-headed or black-headed bunting (immature)

A red-headed or black-headed bunting (immature)

Amey had brought along the scope as well, so we made our way along the dirt trail taking us further inside the creek. We could spot grey-throated martins (plain martins) flying overhead. Gradually, as we went closer, we could see huge flocks of waterfowl (ducks among which northern pintails seemed to be the most numerous), egrets, gulls, terns and black-winged stilts on our right. The air was abuzz with the calls of warblers as well.  Amey put up the scope and one by one, we had close looks at different species such as the slender-billed gull, grey heron, little grebe among others. There was also some activity further up ahead. Some of our fellow birders could see warblers. Saurabh was with the group, and to everyone’s delight, they were treated to close views of both the paddyfield and Blyth’s reed warbler. It was a great opportunity to compare the characters that separated the two species.

Paddyfield Warbler: The white throat and pale legs help differentiate this warbler from the more widespread Blyth's reed warbler

Paddyfield Warbler: The white throat and pale legs help differentiate this warbler from the more widespread Blyth’s reed warbler (Image by Mohak Katvi)

As we made our way back, on the opposite side which were dotted with mangroves, the group spotted more new species for their list on the day. A common snipe was feeding sheltered in the mangroves, and three different species of sandpiper, common, wood and green sandpipers were also seen. Once again, Amey, Saurabh and Rujuta guided the group on the different characters that separated each species, from the prominent supercilium (eyebrow) of the wood sandpiper to the white shoulder patch of the common sandpiper.

We made our way back on the tar road and decided to explore the road up till the end. White-eared bulbuls were almost continuously seen every few metres. A spotted dove stood watch perched in the high branches. And then the delight of most birders was seen, the Indian Paradise Flycatcher. Almost everyone caught a glimpse of the bird, though photographing it was a challenge as it moved in the canopy. As we headed further, we also spotted a house crow mobbing a western marsh harrier.

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Mobbing is an anti-predator mechanism where one or more birds dive-bomb, attack,harass a bird of prey such as this Western Marsh Harrier. The purposes could range from defending young to stealing food.

It had already been an incredibly rewarding walk, when I got a call from Vikrant at around 9:15 AM. Two more our company, Varun Satose and Aditya Akerkar were planning to head to Uran to catch a sight of the Caspian Plover, a very rare migrant which has only a few records from India, and had the birding circuit abuzz during the week. I had already been planning a visit, and I latched on to the opportunity as Vikrant had been to the spot the previous day. I took leave of the group, and we were also joined by another enthusiastic birder, Arun Varghese.

Long story short, we reached Uran by 10:30 AM and began our search for this elusive plover which has only a few records from India. It had been seen in the dried lake bed at Panje village. We soon came across the first of plovers, which were little ringed plovers in varying states of plumage. Further on, we saw Kentish plovers as well. Vikrant had seen the Caspian plover very close to the road the previous day, and the plover didn’t seem to be in the same area today. We went further in, and were also joined by some birders from our birdwalk including Mohak Katvi, Vinod Verma and Prathamesh Desai. On their arrival, we were rewarded by an osprey flying high up in the skies. As we went further in search of the plover, Prathamesh spotted larks as well which turned out to be Sykes’s short-toed larks.

Sykes's short-toed lark, a bird of typically arid habitats

Sykes’s short-toed lark, a bird of typically arid habitats

Unfortunately, despite our efforts, it seemed the plover had moved off. We were just on our way back, when Mohak got a call. His face immediately brightened, and I hoped for news of the plover. Mohak informed us it was not news of the plover but just about 100 metres from our present location, his friends Chirag and Nayana had  seen another coveted migrant. This endangered species was usually best seen in freshwater habitats with sandbanks, primarily in Madhya Pradesh. But even last year, one individual had made its way to Uran for a few days. We could not believe our luck! It would be a lifer for all of us. Which bird this was? Read on 🙂

Since we had missed on the plover, I decided to err on the side of the caution and didn’t get my hopes up high. We made our way to the location pointed out by Chirag and Nayana and soon spotted a huge flock of terns resting in the centre of a freshwater body about 70 feet away. We spotted Caspian terns, along with some smaller terns as well and not seeing the bird we expected to, again became concerned. Then, Mohak got an image on his phone from Chirag and we narrowed down the location based on the landmarks in the image.

And then, we see something. Varun and I were closest to the spot, and almost simultaneously we spotted the much darker head and body. And then it turned. And there it was, in all its glory, the Indian Skimmer.

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Easily separable from the rest of the terns, the Indian skimmer’s bright red bill is adapted for a specific feeding strategy. It flies low over the water with the longer lower mandible of its bill ‘skimming’ the surface of the water which it snaps up as soon as a fish is caught.

We took a few record shots and saw the bird in our binoculars to our heart’s content, delighted that our trip had in fact resulted in a rare sighting, even if it was not for the one we had intended. Being in a community of people who share the same passion could often result in unexpected rewards like these. My rendezvous with this Indian skimmer would never have been possible had I not joined the BPS birdwalk in the first place.

As we shared the good news with some of our friends at BPS, Saurabh also informed us of the amazing morning they had there. A total of 83 species had been spotted, and the group was treated to some amazing activity by Eurasian wrynecks!

eBird checklist for BPS birdwalk: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32291492

 

How to get there

Bhandup Pumping Station is accessed close to the intersection of the Eastern Express Highway and the Mulund Airoli road. If coming from Mumbai’s suburbs, one needs to take a u-turn under the Mulund flyover and then take a left. You will see salt pans on your left.

(https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Bhandup+pumping+station/@19.1551334,72.9570684,18z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x3be7b88e1fef5b87:0xbe0e3bfb117e8876!2sBhandup+Pumping+Station!3b1!8m2!3d19.1545709!4d72.9578194!3m4!1s0x0:0x1ca536f91dd7e347!8m2!3d19.153486!4d72.956509?hl=en)

Once you enter the road, keep following it until you reach the gate at the end manned by the forest department. Just before it, is a dirt track on your left. The condition of this road is questionable at best for the next 200-300 metres, and it is recommended to have a vehicle in good condition with high ground clearance, ideally an SUV before you once again hit the tar road further up ahead (Alternatively park your vehicle before the kachcha road). Birding is rewarding all along this road, and there is a trail opposite the pumping station which takes you further within the creek offering better viewing opportunities especially for waders and waterfowl. Close to high tide is the best time for viewing waders, but since there is a good mix of woodland and grassland habitat as well, even early mornings regardless of tide timings can be quite rewarding.

Link to Mumbai Birdwatchers’ Club (Facebook group): http://goo.gl/FPnJgX