Game for bird watching at Vasai's Suruchi Beach?
Despite not being on the average tourist's radar, Suruchi Beach in Vasai is a haven to spot rare coastal and migratory birds in the winter, as Hassan M Kamal discovers
When you arrive at Suruchi Beach, the view is far from magnificent. The air, though slightly crisp, carries a smell of degrading waste, and the beach seems like a dumping ground for all kinds of waste, from discarded plastic bottles to cigarette packets. At some places, garbage piles act as a perch for birds watching the sea.
Every year, in April, The Jacobin Cuckoo or Pied Crested Cuckoo, flies from East Africa to India, and can be spotted at Suruchi beach. Pic/Shadab Khan
Considering that the area is hardly inhabited — except for a few hutments and villages, we enquire about the source of this garbage. “This is a gift of Mumbai,” sighs Pravin Subramaniam, a bird enthusiast, photographer and our guide for the trail. “All the garbage dumped into the Arabian Sea is accumulated along the Western coastline,” he adds.
Drongos (above a Brown Drongo) seen in Suruchi Beach are named so because of their sheer gall to challenge predators double their size. Though, its small size, it allows to make quick turns and save itself from any quick attacks. Pics/Shadab Khan
Avinash Bhagat, another bird expert, joins Subramaniam. The duo has been invited by Breakfree Journeys to introduce us to the coastal and migratory birds that can be spotted in these parts during the winter.
Two Green Bee Eaters perching on a branch
Despite the unclean shoreline, we are informed that Suruchi Beach is still a great site for backyard birding, as Rushikesh Kulkarni of Breakfree Journeys explains. This is because it offers a mix of coastal as well as inland birds. But why focus on backyard birding, we ask. “There are several sites like this beach in the city that are filled with nature’s treasures. Despite being in our backyard, these are ignored. With backyard birding, our goal is to introduce and create an awareness among Mumbaikars to preserve these sites.”
A White Throated Kingfisher seen at Suruchi Beach
Having arrived late for the trail, we missed the Egrets, Prinias and a theatrical standoff between House Crows and a Black Shouldered Kite, we are told. A tad disappointed, we hope the rest of the trail makes up. And it did. The first attraction is an Indian Roller, perched on a thin branch, bathing in the sunlight. It can be identified by its blue wings, blue crown, and brown breast. The Indian Roller can be seen in Iraq, and across the Indian subcontinent to Indochina.
Next, Subramaniam points us to several Prinias and Green Bee Eaters as they engage in mid-air acrobatics. While walking along the coast, separated by a makeshift wired trail filled with Suru trees, we spot a Common Hoopoe and a Blue Cheeked Bee Eater. Bhagat informs that the Suru trees aren’t native to the beach, and were planted by the British to aid to the beauty of the coastline.
Ahead, we spot a Red Vented Bulbul and the White-Eared Bulbul. Our prized sighting, however, was a Jacobin Cuckoo or Pied Crested Cuckoo, which flies all the way from East Africa. By 10 am, it’s warmer, and we must return. Just then, we spot a big Eurasian Marsh Harrier gliding over us, with its black-tipped wings outlining in the blue sky. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk follows the Harrier.
On our trail back to the autorickshaw stand, we see a Shikra fly past and perch on a tree branch, only to be chased away by a Brown Drongo.
We are almost near the exit, but as they say, the wild never ceases to amaze. We see a Siberian Stonechat on a branch; another prized sighting. In hindsight, Suruchi Beach is actually a great avian paradise. Now, if only the authorities clean up this treasured site to give it a picture postcard-like frame.
From Vasai Road station 7.1 km
Overview: Suruchi beach is a treasure trove for migratory birds, as we spotted 37 different species. The trail takes nearly two hours from the entry gate to the end of the trail, and back. However, for safety reasons, one is advised to travel in a group.
Birdwatchers at Suruchi Beach
How to get there:
By rickshaw: The place is around 7.1 kms from Vasai Road Railway station, and rickshaws will take you there for a fixed price of Rs 100.
>> Keep the beach clean
>> Carry cold drinking water, a pair of binoculars, sunglasses and a cap
>> If you like photography make sure you carry at least a 400mm telephoto lens
Sign up for their other birding trails
Breakfree Journeys will soon be organising trips to Uran, Palm Beach Road, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Bhandup and surrounding areas.
Log on to: breakfreejourneys.com