Wednesday, February 6, 2008

BHIGWAN - A small ode to the big one

I had heard of Bhigwan way back in 1986 from my buddies in Pune, and true to my nature of prompt and timely action, I visited the place in 2008! I must thank MBC (The Mumbai Bird Club) for flushing me from my perch, and giving me a short toe-hold on the Bhigwan bus for the trip on 2nd / 3rd Feb 2008.
The long, bumpy bus ride lasted all of 7 hours, by which time, had I been indifferent to my carbon credits, I could have been in the Antarctic observing the Emperor Penguins shuffling to work! The motley group grew closer through the journey, thanks to the narrow aisle of the bus, if not anything else.
After a sumptuous meal where several domestic fowl were consumed, we oozed back into the bus to head for Diksal, our first waterbody. On a road designed for two motorcycles to pass each other with caution, we hurtled down with abandon, forcing a fair number of locals into the acacias, and occasionally into the gaggles of geese (though our final checklist didn’t record any ganders).
The expansive waterbody, the backwaters of the Ujani dam, was bristling with quills (ducks and waders, actually), and Adesh gave us ample scope to identify them – what I would have previously dismissed as “Oh, just some ducks”, metamorphosed into wigeons, garganeys and gadwalls. Plovers and sandpipers patrolled the shores, while glossy ibises ensured that their sheen doesn’t rub off. Several yellow wagtails approached us and, well, wagged their tails, while the grey and purple herons chose to put some nautical miles between us. A pipit came in close, and requested us to help find its identity, as it was confused after reading the Grimmett. A distant line of pink turned out to be a large congregation of flamingoes, each greater than the other, and only us lesser mortals vying for a glimpse. A male Brahminy Duck was seen making lascivious advances towards a female Ruddy Shelduck, and she had to remind him that she was Brahminy too.
Adesh, the MBC co-ordinator, crawled on his belly towards some wary waders, and was successful in going up to a pair of Little Pratincoles and tapping them on the shoulder. We chose more normal means of locomotion to advance on the aforementioned road, and were privy to a Brownheaded Gull snatching a huge fish the size of a whale shark (OK, maybe slightly smaller), and flying off towards the sunset.
Some of us caught a glimpse of a Common Kingfisher in the fading light, and Adesh promised to show a Bottled Kingfisher back at the hotel for those who couldn't.After photographing a pair of Great Tits hanging around (serious!), we elected to return to our roost at Baramati, and proceeded for our bird-baths.
The next morning, the sun was well up by the time we reached Kumbhargaon, as we were detained at a small waterbody enroute by a White-tailed Lapwing. Adesh and Dr. Vaibhav, the expert from Alibag, squealed with delight and did some fine displays, and we learnt that this bird has probably never been sighted here before, hence the hoopla (not as in Upupa epops).
Kumbhargaon has a large wetland on one side, and an interesting scrub patch on the other. It was in the latter that we saw a Short-toed Eagle being rudely asked to leave the area by a Falcon, evidently a redneck. Lesser Whitethroats and Ioras flitted about, and a Bay-backed Shrike looked for thorns to impale his lunch. A lark was out for an, um…. lark, and resisted attempts to be photographed. A pair of owlets was spotted, and they were Spotted.
We moved to the wetland to catch a glimpse of a Wooly-necked Stork looking sheepish, and a pair of Openbills ruing the slip between the cup and the lip. A large flock of swallows had us gulping, and we developed cervical spondylitis trying to distinguish the red rumps and the streaked ones.
Dalaj was further ahead, and we bumped along a dusty road (?) for a while before sighting open water. Painted Storks fed in a phalanx, picking fish at will. Somebody sighted a White-browed bulbul which was far enough to be in Kerala, and a large brown fruit on an Acacia on the far side turned out to be a Greater Spotted Eagle.
A juvenile Brahminy Kite waited patiently by the water’s edge to become an adult, and some adults in our flock had to be reprimanded for behaving in a juvenile fashion. Dalaj gave us the best glimpse of the Greater Flamingoes, and to our utter delight, many of them did a flypast in our honour. However, they seemed to be dogged by controversy, just as their cousins at Sewree in Mumbai.
Our last halt was for seeing the roosts of several hundred Painted Storks – our guide Maruti led us on what seemed like an hour’s trek through scorching terrain, and we had a fine bird’s eye view of the colony. A couple of Malabar Crested Larks posed for our trigger-happy mob, and soon, the mob itself posed for a mugshot. Some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations revealed that we had seen nearly 135 bird species in less than 24 hours, and a few more imaginative ones which had to be struck off the list.
This unassuming wetland had proven to be a surprise package, and I wish that human pressures will not alter its character – we did see lots of human fishing activity, and a Long-legged Lady washing clothes. Bhigwan is an unsung haven, and a Big One, and I hope it doesn’t succumb to small minds.