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There's a bird in your backyard!

Nilje is a beautiful, unassuming lake that rises from the mist every day in winter. It’s in Mumbai’s own backyard, near Dombivali in Thane district.

You’ll be surprised at the number of migratory birds who visit this area, to give company to the sizeable number of resident birds. A detour from Nilje Lake will also lead you to Kalyan Creek, from where you can trek along the Gandhari River.


The waterbody at Nilje that is home to migratory and resident birds. Pics courtesy/ C Gangadharan Menon

Keep an eye for these winged wonders, and an ear open for their songs. Here are six species that you shouldn’t miss:

How to get there
>> Nilje is just 60 kms from Mumbai.
>> Take the Mumbai-Kalyan Highway.
>> Turn at Sheel Phata towards Dombivli,
>> Nilje is 8 kms before Dombivali.
>> Nilje can be reached by train as well. Board a Central Railway-local; any Kalyan, Kasara, Karjat bound train will halt at Dombivali station. Autos will take you to Nilje.

Best time
November till February

Sign up for this
The Bombay Natural History Society conducts regular winter trails to Nilje, and other areas near Mumbai including Talawe and Elephanta Island.
Call: 9594953425 / 9594929107
Email: cecbnhs@gmail.com

SPOT THESE SUPER SIX SPECIES
Pied Kingfisher
Has a sharp, dagger-shaped bill that is put to murderous use. Its method of fishing is spectacular. First, it hovers 30 feet above water. Then, when the prey is seen coming up, it suddenly hurls itself into the water. Once the fish is caught, it is carried to a nearby rock where it is battered to death before it’s swallowed!

Purple Moorhen
It’s a purple bird with a white, conspicuous patch under its tail. The story goes that the mother hen teaches its fledglings all about hiding from predators, but forgets to tell about the white patch on their backsides. So, they run to the nearest vegetation to hide but forget that their conspicuous backsides are still jutting out!

Redwattled Lapwing
According to Dr Salim Ali, the call of this bird sounds like ‘Did-he-do-it?’ This interpretation goes very well with the suspicious nature of this bird. Since it lays its eggs in the open, among pebbles on the lakeshore, it believes that every intruder is about to steal its eggs. Hence, the 24x7 vigilance, and the constant refrain as to who did it!

Cormorant
A cormorant is a glistening black bird that thinks it is a duck when it is actually not. It’s an expert diver and can chase and capture fish underwater. The problem is, unlike ducks, its feathers get all soggy and wet, and therefore it has to keep coming out of water very often, and keep drying its wings.

Shrike
This bird is also known as the butcher bird because of its strange dining habits. First it goes on an insect-catching spree. Then it impales them on thorns, one by one, to be eaten later at leisure! It’s also a terrific mime artist. It squeaks like a frog caught by a snake, yelps like a newborn puppy, and whistles like a human being.

Bronze-winged Jacana
A stunningly beautiful and leggy bird that delicately balances and walks on floating lotus leaves. The males fight bitterly among themselves to seek the attention of the gorgeous ramp-walkers. Apart from its streamlined features, the metallic bronze colour of its wings gives it a sculpted look. 

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