Fiona Fernandez Column: Chirp on Elephanta

If you’re an avian enthusiast in Mumbai, now’s a great time to be up and about the city and its outskirts, binoculars and guidebook in tow. Nature travel planners have a field day charting new terrain for bird lovers to spot their feathered friends.

Buoyed by the continuous momentum from November to December, this night owl bit the bullet, and turned into a morning lark, by signing up for a few trails to Elephanta Island to spot birds (and the odd bat too), courtesy the Bombay Natural History Society. The amateur that we are, such trips made for great experiences, particularly as one is in the midst of serious, knowledgeable folk who take this activity as more than just a weekend hobby. En route, during our boat ride to the ancient island, made famous by its stunning rock-cut creations, the tidbits of trivia that wafted across made for the ideal tune -up for the real deal.

As soon as we hit dry ground, several kingfishers lined up along the mangroves to greet us. Sadly, the plastic and litter eyesore spoilt the moment. Undeterred, we savoured the heady celebration of woodland birds. However, as we climbed the stairs that led to the caves, it became more difficult to hear the tweets and the chirps. Luckily for the group, our team leader decided to take a detour mid-way; we were back amid avian bliss. Soon, we circled the base of the caves, and left behind the noise and din. It was a delight to spot island birds like the Indian Grey Hornbill, Black-hooded Oriole. By noon, we reached the end of our trail, and as if on autopilot, a striking White-bellied Sea Eagle gave us warm sendoff before heading on its sea borne flight path.

On our return, we made a quick dash to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Instead of being able to soak in this stone marvel, we had to jostle with crowds, and watch deafening construction work as incessant drilling was in full swing along one of the pathways to the caves. Apart from the vibration that would have caused severe damage to site, we dread the impact on the island's abundant bird life.

As we began to pen this column, we learnt that our neighbour, the island of Sri Lanka, had just become the world’s first nation to protect all its mangroves. It reiterated our point — that this delicate, precious ecosystem, in our backyard — needs stricter controls to stay protected. History books and records will tell you that it was a forested island.

Mumbai ought to pay closer attention. We need it, to stay afloat.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to

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