Birding at Bhigwan- An awesome experience !!

Photo of Birding at Bhigwan- An awesome experience !! 1/6 by Salil Datar

I have been a wildlife enthusiast. In India have been to Corbet, Tadoba, Kabini near Mysore and overseas we have done safari trips to Masai Mara in Kenya alongwith a few National Parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite , Zion, Bryce, Arches, Sequoia, Grand Canyons in the USA. During these trips, even though I did get some glimpses of birds, however, I was yet to experience an exclusive birding trip. This week, I got lucky and went Birding with my wife (an amateur hobby photographer ) and her friend who recently opted for an early retirement from corporate hustle and bustle to get time to focus on his passion - photography. Actually he is a deadly combination of an amateur turned pro photographer and a birding enthusiast. We visited Bhigwan bird sanctuary near Baramati, about 2 hours from Pune on the Pune-Solapur highway. Bhigwan Bird sanctuary, spread over a very large area of over 18,000 sq hectors, is located on the backwaters of the Ujani dam, is known to be one of the largest water bodies in the country. The backwaters of Ujani around Kumbhargaon are shallow and resultant the flat plains provide the perfect settings for the Greater Flamingos, the pride of this bird sanctuary.To avoid the crowd and be able to make the most of it, we planned a short mid-week trip around Holi. It turned out to be the best decision. We covered the Mumbai-Bhigwan stretch by road, which normally takes 5-5:30 hours, within 4:30 hours using the FasTag for swift passthroughs at the expressway tolls. At Bhigwan, our friend ensured we got to stay on banks of the Bird sanctuary thereby making our evening sunset and morning sunrise boat rides memorable. This also gave a chance to do a night trail to get a glimpses of some sightings on land. Our tour party consisted 3 of us with Shankar, our guide-cum-boatsman for our trip. The birding season runs from Oct- Feb with the migratory birds starting to flocking in starting Dec through till Mar end /early April. Our host for the stay, Sandip Nagare was a bright young and enterprising chap, who himself is an avid hobby photographer. He has published a photo book - Birds of Kumbhargaon which lists more than 30 odd photos of birds from the sanctuary. He completed his graduation at Pune University and then realised he could build a tourism business around his passion by staying back at his village - Kumbhargaon to establish Angipankh, the name patterned after the majestic Flamingos which Bhigwan has become famous for. He has trained a team of 10-15 youngsters from his village. These youngsters have over the years gained tremendous knowledge on birding and also have become skilled in advising on where and how to get the perfect shot.

Photo of Birding at Bhigwan- An awesome experience !! 2/6 by Salil Datar
Shankar our guide and boatsman in action for the perfect shot

Shankar was a model guide- his knowledge of birding as well as photography meant, we not only ticked the boxes for almost 20 odd birds out of the 30 listed in Sandip's catalogue when it came to sightings but he also ensured we were in a position to get the perfect shots. Be it the sunset with the flamingos in the foreground, the sunrise over the lake, following the Osprey on his post hunt routine carrying his kill,

Photo of Birding at Bhigwan- An awesome experience !! 3/6 by Salil Datar
Photo of Birding at Bhigwan- An awesome experience !! 4/6 by Salil Datar
Osprey in action with a kill

the Little Tern wooing his lady by feeding her a fish or the Black Wing Stilt with its bright red eyes and slim brown legs, screaming to ward off intruders as she fiercely protected her 4 eggs while nesting.

Photo of Birding at Bhigwan- An awesome experience !! 5/6 by Salil Datar

As we had the benefit of having birding experts with us, we not only got insights on various ecology and habitat aspects such as roosting, feeding, nesting, preening, grooming and mating routines but also a low down on the seasonal migratory pattern of birds such as The Bar Headed Goose, the Little Tern and of course the Greater Flamingos. The Bar Headed Geese migrate from Tibet, Mongolia, Russia and cross the Himalayas as they fly south to be here. The bar-headed goose is one of the world's highest-flying birds, having been heard flying across Mount Makalu - the fifth highest mountain on earth at 8,481 m (27,825 ft) - and apparently also at times seen over Mount Everest - 8,848 m (29,029 ft) as well. The Greater Flamingos also arrive here during the winter season in search of flat plains. Their feathers range in colour from dark pink to bright red. They are slim (2-4 kg in wt)and tall (sometimes almost touching 60 inch) and have a longer life span ranging from 30-40 years in the wild. The Little Tern finds its way here flying all the way from Europe.We got to experience Birds like the ducks - Showler, Garganey, Shell Ducks or the Brown headed seagulls, Pratine Cole, Sand Piper who move in flocks as well as Harrier birds like the Osprey, Peregrine, Greater Spotted Eagle who have their territories demarcated with their pet perch locations which help them keep an eye on their hunt even as they distance themselves. We also got to see at close quarters the Grey Heron, Black Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Cormorant, Wolly Neck Stork and the Red wattle lapwing.Back at our base, our host Sandip made us comfortable and ensured we got to enjoy the local cuisine for breakfast - Powha and Tilapia (local sweet water fish hunted also by the Osprey) for lunch. To make the most of our stay by the lake, we also took the night trail. As we had chosen to travel on Holi, we were lucky to have a clear night sky with a full moon for company. Inspite of the full moon, it was pitch dark on the hill but we had the benefit of Shankar being our guide. His knowledge of the terrain and the search light he carried, got us sightings of the Leopard Gecko (type of Lizard), the Night Jaar (bird which prefers to roost on land instead of perching on a tree) and a Chameleon.

Photo of Birding at Bhigwan- An awesome experience !! 6/6 by Salil Datar
In search of the Leopard Gecko on the night trail

Having made the most of our 24 hours stay in which managed a sunset and sunrise boat rides and a night trail, it has vetted my appetite for birding and left me looking forward to more such short getaways . Cheers until the next one !!

Photo credits: Bhaskar Athawale; Mobile photography-Salil Datar

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