Birds Beckon: Top Places to go Birding in Mumbai
Winters in Mumbai may not be long or cold in the true sense, but they are definitely eventful. Not only does winter mean pleasant mornings with a nip in the air and an opportunity to down endless cups of hot piping “chai”, but it opens up new avenues for wildlife and nature lovers. Thanks to our feathered friends who find charm in the chaos during these few winters months, migratory birds abound in our last preserved nature-areas during winter months. Many of these birds come in search of ideal mating conditions and abundance of food. Whether you are looking for some serious studies on ornithology, or simply want to introduce your kids to the beauty of wild flight, it’s the perfect time to take a day off and visit some Bombay birding destinations bustling with birds.
Here’s where you should head:
Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali:
This is a no-brainer. With its lush green hideouts and sprawling canopies, SGNP is a city-haven for birds. Especially the relatively open trail of Shilonda is known to offer bird-enthusiasts clean views of their favourite feathered friends. Other interesting trails are the Nagla forest, to the north of the Bassein creek and the Kanheri Upper Trail that leads you through dense canopies and water-rapids. When in SGNP, make sure you momentarily take a break from peering at the canopies and look out on the trail too, lest you miss a speck of a spotted sighting- this is after all the home of our very own apex predator- the elusive and shy leopard.
Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, Thane:
Famous for its waterfall, this is a corridor that links SGNP with the Tansa wildlife sanctuary. It also houses a Shiva temple, but main attractions for nature-lovers are flitting birds like the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, the Racket-tailed Drongo, and even the large Brown-headed Barbet. A silent walk through this bird-hub is sure to rejuvenate all your senses instantly.
Karnala Bird Sanctuary, Panvel:
Head out of the city for an hour or two, and you will be surprised to find well-preserved forests in the form of the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. Home to melodious music-makers like the White-Rumped Shama and the Malabar Whistling Thrush, and Grey Drongos and Tree Pipits. A formidable fort that sits at a height of 450 meters makes for a great day-trail. Karnala is an ideal day-long escape from the concrete jungle to the real jungle, to breathe in some pure oxygen and get set for the week ahead.
Sagar Upvan Park, Colaba:
One may never imagine that financial power, navy-power, and bird power co-exist so beautifully in colonial Colaba. But thanks to this last remaining green space maintained by the Bombay Port Trust from 1873 A.D., Mumbaikars need not venture far to enjoy a dose of dainty winged veterans. Plan for a morning stroll in this garden, and look out for beauties like the Asian Koel and Golden Oriole and even the charmingly shy Tailor Bird. Or simply lose yourself in melodious birdsong as these residents noisily claim their space in chaotic Colaba.
Bhandup Pumping Station, Bhandup:
One of the best-kept secrets of urban wildlife is no longer a secret as more and more Mumbaikars flock to the Bhandup Pumping Station to observe the flocks. This mish-mash of saltpans, green fields, creeks, and further ahead mangrove habitat makes it an ideal habitat for birds. Whether you want to observe the fishing habits of a White Throated Kingfisher or the huddling together of Green Bee Eaters, it’s a great morning outing for birders.
Maharashtra Nature Park, Mahim:
It is a wonder how the right measures can create the right environment for wildlife. Maharashtra Nature Park (earlier Mahim Nature Park) is reclaimed from a garbage-fill and today stands as a hub of birds and butterflies right amidst the commercial hub of BKC. Roam about this urban jungle and search for the Greater Coucal, sunbirds or even the occasional Shikra.
Sewri Jetty or Thane Creek:
One of the most famous birding spots to witness the wealth of urban wildlife, Sewri Jetty is the hub of many a flamingo. Yet, it is not just these pink beauties that attract thousands of Mumbaikars every year, there is scope for some serious observation and “ID” ing too. Common Redshank, Eurasian Curlew, Glossy Ibis, Common Sandpiper and brown-headed gulls are commonly seen here. A better way to explore the unique mangrove ecosystem and its winged residents is to venture into their habitat itself, in a fun boat ride at Thane Creek. The knowledge of local fishermen folk and close access are sure to give you up, close and personal views and photographs of these beauties.
Naigaon and Vasai:
A relatively sparsely populated western suburb of Mumbai, Naigaon comprises of coastal villages and salt-pan settlements. The blend of fresh and brackish water serves as a rich breeding ground, attracting migratory birds in huge numbers. Some popular villages in this area for birding are Dongri (along with the coast), and Umela, with rich open green areas. It is no surprise that not only can you see flocks of flamingos, but also Painted Stork, Ruddy Shelduck, Pied Avocet, and even raptors like the Honey Buzzard. But this area proved to be true birder’s delight in winter last year when the rare Red Breasted Merganser made an appearance in Vasai creek- the first officially documented sighting of the duck in India!
The zoo is known for its botanical biodiversity, and one of the best places to know about plant-bird interactions. Yes, we are not asking you to look at caged birds, but to look for free, flying birds amidst the zoo’s unique flora. See sunbirds flitting through shrubs and tailor birds busy building their intricate nests and make a family picnic a birding outing!
Right from your balcony:
Finally, Mumbai’s famed high-rises are of some nature-use, you only need a keen eye to spot wildlife right from your balcony. Birds are super-adaptable, and many have changed their lifestyle preferences to thrive in the metro-city. If you stay in a high-rise then don’t be surprised to see peregrine falcons swooping down on unsuspecting prey right from your neighbour’s balcony. Or if you see black kites squabbling over leftovers in many of the “gullies” in the busy business districts of South Bombay. When enjoying a sleep-over, you may hear the whoo-whoo of the barn owl, do peek out the window to see a flash of white lit up against the dark sky.
Birds have fascinated man since times immemorial, mainly due to their ability to fly. The man has even gone ahead to try and imitate this skill, leading to outstanding inventions. This winter, let’s reconnect with this inspiration that man always sought, and in a manner, that’s sustainable i.e. right where we live. Because the opportunities to observe and enjoy birds are many, it is only a question of having a keen eye, and an even keener mind and heart of a birder!
Cover Pic by Vinit Bhinde
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