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Sunday, January 30, 2011

My First Birding Expedition: Nerul and Talave

Pursuant to my earlier resolution to adopt Bird-watching (or birding, as it is called) in the beginning of this calendar year, I joined my first ever outing organised by the Bombay Natural History Society (B.N.H.S.) on the 29th of January this year. Starting from the pick-up point at Dadar T.T., the bus in which we were travelling took us to our first destination in about an hour and a half, picking up some more enthusiasts along the way at Chembur, Vashi, etc. The bus is owned by the B.N.H.S., and is adorned on its sides by pictures and activities of the society.
Our motley group consisted of about 16 people, including the tour guide Mr. Vandan Jhaveri; we were joined by a few people travelling in their own cars, one of whom, I would later discover, was Mr. Julius Rego, our birding expert, with whose help this outing turned out to be a successful one. He is a resident of Nerul, and is into marketing furniture. He told me he has been into birding for the last 10 years. But, what 10 years! He is able to identify the genus and the species of the bird by a sighting that may not even last 10 seconds! Identification of a bird, he told us, is not only on the basis of its physical characteristics or colour, but also on the behaviour of the bird while it walks the mudflats, while it feeds on the seeds on the mud, or on smaller fish or molluscs when in the water, behaviour of the bird as it moves within its community, by its bird-call, by size and also by … of course, its movement in the air and among the mangrove or other trees.
While appreciating our Oxford Field Guide written by Grimmett and the Inskipps, he 
                            strongly recommends a thorough read of Salim Ali’s classic book of Indian birds. He also told me, in particular, that I had to do a lot of birding to be able to stand comfortably with other birders. “You should,” he said, “come to the fields every week for six months.”
My co-expedionists were, as I said earlier, a motley lot. There was the Unbelievable Unmesh, with his tattoos and his fit physique, the Gangly Girish with his professional camera and an ever-present smile, the Elegant Elizabeth who kept pretty much to herself, the Ascetic Anil, the Savvy Shailesh with his hugely expensive camera and a good bit of experience, the Charismatic Cathy, the only non-Indian India-based executive working with Shell, and many more  whose names I am afraid I wasn’t able to collect, but who were no less interesting. In particular, the father daughter duo who were together most of the time, no less because the daughter doted on her father, than because the latter had some sort of infirmity. 
We started from Dadar just before 7 a.m., and reached the Nerul mudflats a little before 9 a.m. This is where Cathy and Julius joined us.Julius began with his educative dialogue by first pointing out a few trees as we marched into the marsh. He showed us a few butterflies and some other creatures of the environment too, and before long, we had familiarised ourselves with the football tree, a calotis lizard, various types of snails, molluscs, the mud skipper fish, and of course, billions of blistering barnacles – on rocks as well as on the exoskeletons of the molluscs themselves.
He started showing us a few birds,  the black-winged stilt to begin with, and as we progressed inside, the realm of birds enlarged – and soon, there were so many birds, both within the water, and off it, birds of the mangrove and the marsh. It was a pleasure, a revelation, a delight and a happy assault on the senses when we espied a huge formation of ducks taking off in the distance, a mix of terns and gulls flying in unison, and finally, a big mass of birds sitting, walking and rummaging about. Thus, we saw about 20-30 birds here. Also, in between this watch on the marsh, we saw a lot of flying Asian palm swifts and barn swallows, gazillions of house crows and rock pigeons and several other birds, such as the Asian pied starling, which the Oxford Atlas excludes from our region (!)
By the time we had left this location, we had walked over 3-4 km, seen over two dozen or more birds and were feeling great. Some of the birds were easy to see, such as the curlews, the stilts, the Little Stint, the Lesser Sand Plover (the last two were really pretty and we saw them for quite a bit), the cormorants (especially when they began to swim and dip their heads in to feed … in synchronised unison), the Caspian terns, the gulls (so many of them) and the Grey Heron. On the other hand, a few birds proved to be elusive, such as the Martin, which made a single brief appearance, the Blue throat, which was seen just once by Mr. Julius, and a few others, whose names I do not recollect.
From here on, we moved on to the second location, a village named Talave, which included dry grassland and scrub. This area is dotted with houses of fishermen and a large tract of dry grassland and scrubby land. Here, we saw a different range of birds, most notably the Black-shouldered Kite, a lot of Red Avadavats, Laughing Doves, the Indian Pond Herons, the Ashy Prinia, the Black-crowned Night Heron, and more waders and water birds.
We also saw a little of marine ecology – snails, barnacles, the mud skipper fish, the bivalves, oysters and so on. This walk had a beauty of its own, and by the time we returned to the bus, it was nearly noon, and we were getting ready to depart for our own homes. Julius left us here, and we all expressed our thanks to him. The return journey took over 1 1/2 hours, and I arrived back at my residence a little after 1:30 p.m.
All in all, a great journey.

To see the pictures of this expedition, check out Shailesh's Picasa Gallery here.

Birds we saw:

1. ? Water Rail
2. Ashy Prinia
3. Asian Palm Swift
4. Asian Pied Starling
5. Babbler ? species
6. Barn Swallow
7. Bee eater ? species
8. Black Drongo
9. Black winged Stilt
10. Black-crowned Night Heron
11. Black-shouldered Kite
12. Blue throat
13. Brown Shrike
14. Caspian Tern
15. Cattle Egret
16. Common Kingfisher
17. Common Myna
18. Common Redshank
19. Common Sandpiper
20. Common Stonechat
21. Eurasian Curlew
22. Eurasian Spoonbill
23. Fan-tailed Flycatcher
24. Great Egret
25. Grey Heron
26. House Crow
27. Indian Cormorant
28. Indian Pond Heron
29. Jungle Crow
30. Laughing Dove
31. Little Cormorant
32. Little Egret
33. Little Stint
34. Little Tern
35. Long-tailed Shrike
36. Painted Stork
37. Prinia ? species
38. Red Avadavat
39. Rock Pigeon
40. Sand Martin
41. Spotted Dove
42. Sunbirds ? species
43. Warbler ? species
44. White-eared Bulbul
45. White-throated Kingfisher
46. Wire-tailed Swallow
47. Shikra
48. Osprey

3 comments:

shailesh said...

Dear Taher,

I must say that you are a very good observer. You have posted a pretty descriptive blog. Yes, the trip was a good one and i would rate it at 4 out of 5. If other participants would have reached early we could have been able to spend more time on field.
Your list is impressive considering this as your first birding trip.
Please add the following raptors Osprey, Brahmini Kite, Black kite (different than black shouldered kite) and shikra to the list, they were seen very clearly.

I would request you get registered for the Ramdharaneshwar Raptor watch program scheduled on 20th Feb 2011. I have attended this program last year and it would be wonderful if you like Raptors.

Regards
Shailesh

drtaher said...

Dear Shai (can I call you that? The name is famous, thanks to "Dhobi Ghat" by Aamir Khan),

Thank you for a thumbs up. I don't think I can come as frequently as I might wish to, since my work prevents my being absent from the clinic too often. I was thinking of going to Sewri mudflats in Feb., but let's see. I remember seeing the Shikra, but not the other raptors that you mentioned. However, I will list the shikra and the osprey. I remember seeing a few at the Karnala Bird Sanctuary several years ago, but they were inside cages, LOL.

Ravi said...

Taher,
The Brahminy Kite is one you cannot miss. It is kind of like a American Bald Eagle but smaller. White head brown to gold body and always around a water body :-)
The American Bald eagle its staple diet is also fish.