I had never been for a birding trail before this, and so the excitement to watch birds up close was palpable. Talawe, located close to the NRI Complex, Seawoods in Nerul, is one of the few remaining green spaces around Mumbai that presents a wonderful opportunity to spot birds in their natural habitat.
We, a group of amateur bird enthusiasts left early morning from Dadar, and after a one-hour drive, reached Talawe lake. The group was diverse including teenagers, a few in their 20s, and the rest, the majority, in their late 40s or 60 — doctors, engineers, a few bankers and retirees — all equipped with the finest digital SLRs and huge telephoto lenses. It was hard to believe that they had given up a late Sunday morning sleep to spot a few bird species. But that wasn’t all, as two families from the nearby housing societies joined us as well.
After an initial orientation, we headed inside the space. The lake, surrounded by tall residential complexes in one side and mangroves on the other, is a great place to spot more than 70 species of birds. The lake, however, according to our guide Julius Rego, is slowly losing its natural charm, thanks to new building complexes emerging in the neighbourhood.
Ignorance is not bliss
Birding is a lot about staying alert, patience and dedication. You have to keep your eyes and ears open to understand factors like birdcalls, flight turns, feeding behaviour and walking patterns that help in identifying birds. I was surprised with Rego’s ability. He could tell a bird’s name by hearing its call or
looking at it’s turn, or how a few fly in groups while others always fly solo. Patience helps because you may not always see a many species, and dedication because all of this requires heaps of effort. Soon it became clear that to mastery the art of bird watching can happen after paying many visits to such birding sites.
Be your own guide
Although Rego is patient with a group of ignorant birders, and one may expect a guide to tell all to stick together, he, on the contrary, advises us to do it on our own. He didn’t mind that the group had wandered off in different directions. He remarked, “Imagine you to be the one who has discovered the species. Make your own notes, and crosscheck them with a guidebook. You don’t need someone to guide you to birding.”
More than just a group activity
Birding can be best enjoyed when you are alone or with a small group not exceeding three. We realised it only after the large group had scared some of the birds away. Birding, unlike any other activity requires one spending a lot of time being idle, quietly staring at birds, a state, which is a tad difficult to achieve while travelling in groups. However, for beginners, a few trips in groups are advised, to get the basics right about birding.
You must have to have an 8x40 binocular to enjoy birding, as you will need the extra zoom to identify the birds. Aspects like the curve of neck, leg and beak colours and feathers, size help to identify birds. Without binoculars, you are bound to return unsatisfied.
Get close to nature
At Talawe, time comes to a halt, literally, as four hours passed without any of us noticing it. It was ironic to notice how in order to house one species; others are being uprooted from their natural habitat. And, the birds at Talawe seem to be aware of the situation as they cling together in the small pond. It seemed like a congregation of birds; their calls getting louder as our group approaches them. What could they have possibly been discussing? We wonder, as scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds flash through our minds. Of course, it’s just a movie, but if we don’t stop now, may turn into a reality, one day.
Popular birding destinations
> Airoli: learn about mangroves, playful waders and crabs
> Elephanta Island: Situated off the south-east shore of the city, Elephanta Island (Gharapuri) is a good birding location. One can catch Gull-Billed Tern, Indian Grey Hornbill and several others.
> Sewri Mudflats: Great place to catch flamingoes.
> Karnala Forest: A great place to know about plants and birds like Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flowerpecker, Rufous and Heart-spotted Woodpecker, among others.
> Manpada: Manpada is a small trail to the hillock on the Thane- Ghodbunder Road. Great place to catch butterflies, birds and a scenic view of the Thane Creek.
> Shilonda, Sanjay Gandhi National Park: Birds like Loten’s Sunbird, Common Iora, Grey Jungle Fowl and also to spot animals like Spotted and Sambar Deer.
How to get there
Talawe is best accessible by road and rail from Nerul, from where you can take an auto to NRI complex, Seawoods.
>> Road: If travelling from Dadar Circle, head towards Eastern Express Highway, and then to VN Purav Marg, yashvantrao Chavan Marg. Cross the Vashi Bridge and continue on Sion-Panvel Expressway taking a turn to join the Palm Beach Road. Head straight to reach NRI Complex at Seawoods.
>> Nearest railway station: Nerul