Birds for all seasons

Published: Nov 08, 2012, 11:30 IST | C Gangadharan Menon |

With the birding season well and truly underway, as winter sets in, Satara's trio of lakes could be the next best destination to camp at, if you are a birdwatcher on the lookout for a thriving new location on Maharashtra's surprisingly spectacular avian map

Summer isn’t exactly the best time to spot winter birds. But sometime back, while returning from Kolhapur, I decided to check out the lesser-known water bodies around Satara, which were begging to be explored further. There, I witnessed a sight bird-lovers seldom get to see, especially since one typically avoids visiting a water body in the peak of summer.

Black-Winged Kite in flight

Avian rescue act
The lips of Mayani Lake were parched and thirsting for rain. The last of the water birds had flown away, leaving only the resident land birds behind. Falling in the rain-shadow region of Satara, Mayani Lake gets filled only after the proper onset of monsoon. This year, the wait was prolonged because of delayed rains. The sparse clouds passing over the dry lake looked strangely like flying water birds.

But the worst of conditions brought out the best in some of the finest forest officials I have ever met. Since they couldn’t fill up the parched lake, they did the next best thing. They cut used plastic bottles, made them into glasses, filled them with water, and hung them on trees for the helpless birds to drink from. They rationed the available water and poured just enough drops to make the few thousand saplings in their nursery survive till the rains descended from the heavens.

Black Ibis and Pond Heron in a bird race

Walking with forester M Jadhav along the bund of Mayani Dam, I spotted a couple of Grey Hornbills landing on the mango tree. Meanwhile, a lone peacock kept jumping from the lower branches to the upper ones till it found a comfortable branch to roost for the night. A Marsh Harrier was making a huge nest on the nearby tamarind tree, and a Rhesus Monkey was relishing the last mango of the season. As the sun set in the West, the moon rose in the East; thus continuing the cosmic hide and seek that’s been going on for millennia.

River Tern taking off

First look
The next day, I decided to meet the remaining two of Satara’s triplets: Yeralwadi Lake and Devapur Lake. Yeralwadi was 20 kms from Mayani. En route, we got a photo op with two Francolins, sunbathing on a mound. Since it was possible to spot them after they were close, I captured them from the car, after switching off the engine. It turned out to be a good ploy, after all.

At the waterfront of Yeralwadi Dam, I discovered a bird that I had never seen before. I felt the same thrill that Salim Ali would have probably felt each time he discovered a bird species. It had big eyes, a curved beak and thick knees; and it was called, the Great Thick-Knee! Then, there were a raft of spot-billed ducks engaged in synchronised swimming and diving.

Devapur, the largest of the three lakes, was another 25 kms from Yeralwadi. We spotted the lake in the distance. There were many roads to the lake, all created by trucks carrying away the soil that was being dredged from the dried up parts of the lakebed. A lone Painted Stork and a group of Flamingos greeted us.

Lakeside rendezvous
M Jadhav, the forester who was my guide, pointed to the endless line of trucks and told me about the possible repercussions of dredging. Flamingos visit this lake in large numbers, attracted by the Otolisa plant on which they feed. With dredging, the chances of the seeds of Otolisa being taken away were high, thus wiping out this plant from this area. Sadly, the forest department has no say in the matter, as this lake comes under the irrigation department who seem unaware of this impending ecological disaster.

Great Thick-Knee has big eyes, a curved beak and thick knees

Later, while catching up with the friendly Range Officer Bodre, he revealed that Satara had received a good spell of rain, even as the first batch of migratory birds had arrived. 

Devapur Lake near Satara is ideal for bird watching. Pics courtesy/ C Gangadharan Menon

Travel takeaways
NATURE TRAVEL PHOTO CONTEST IN MATHERAN: Rainbow Adventures, an organisation for nature, education and conservation is organising a two-day Nature Trail combined with a nature photography contest at Matheran. It’s a great chance for photographers to explore and capture this hill station’s flora and fauna. The trip includes a night trail along with prizes for the best images, to round off the event.
ON November 24-25
CONTACT 9324716956
RAGASTHAN: It might not be too late to book yourself for this eclectic desert festival in Jaisalmer’s Kanoi Dunes. With three days, four stages and over 40 artistes (Parikrama, Advaita, Shiva Sound System, Mother Perera, Chalo Africa, Negra Pradera and local Rajasthani acts such the Kalbeliya, Ghoomar and Shubhraj) you can soak in the music, dune-board and sand-surf, shop at the nomad market, enjoy BBQs or camel safaris, and movie shows.
FROM November 16-18

How to get there
>> Take the road from Satara to Vaduj and further to Mayani. It’s nearly 80 kms from Satara.
>> To reach Satara, you could drive down (256 kms appx) which adds up to a 4-hour-ride or opt for several Satara-bound trains. The rail journey takes between 4.5 to 5 hours.

Where to stay
Keep Satara as your base or you could opt for the simple, basic guesthouse at Mayani. For bookings, call Range Forest Officer Bodre on 09890801325

When to go
November to January 

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