Bird’s eye view
Every year, thousands of Greater Flamingos make the dusty little village of Bhigwan, their wintering ground. Early January to late February, tourists throng this place to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures. Apart from flamingos, Bhigwan also plays host to over a hundred other species from Siberia and Europe from September to March. The water bodies are fraught with Ruddy Shelducks, pochards, Northern Shovellers, Common Teals, Gadwalls, Garganeys, Asian Openbills, Glossy Ibis, Black-headed Ibis, Painted Storks, Bar-headed Geese, Eurasian Spoonbills. The mudlands near the water body are the habitat of plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits and species of Wagtails, Egrets and Sandpipers. Apart from this, Gulls and Terns are always seen over the water. Bhigwan is a small town around 100 km from Pune, along with the Pune Sholapur highway (NH 9). It is on one end of the huge Yashwant Sagar reservoir, forming the backwaters of the Ujain dam. That it is sometimes called ‘Bharatpur of Maharastra’ does not come as a surprise after visiting this place. There are four major birding spots around Bhigwan – Kumbhargaon, Diksal, Patas and Varwand Dam. However, these spots are far away from each other and can be covered in a single day only if one sets out early in the morning and the trip is properly planned (a personal vehicle would help immensely towards this cause!) Kumbhargaon is the most well known of the four spots. To reach this place, one can take the highway from Bhigwan to Solapur and take a left turn into a dusty road after around 1.5kms at a board that says ‘Kumbhargaon – Flamingo point’. Most of the families in the village depend on fishing. Cooperation of the local community towards the welfare of the migratory birds has led to an eco-tourism model of sorts in Kumbhargaon.
A boat ride that takes you right into the middle of the bird habitat costs an extremely reasonable amount and presents you with ample chances to observe and photograph the birds going about their life – swimming, preening, feeding and even territorial displays in species like godwits. The birds seem to be pretty oblivious to the presence of the fishermen, but they will take off when boats carrying tourists approach. Apart from the reservoir waters, the area around Kumbhargaon is also excellent for birding – Red Munia, Common Hoopoe, shrikes, lapwings, larks and pipits and Pied and White-breasted Kingfishers can be easily spotted. Raptors like Western Marsh Harrier, Black Eagle and Osprey can also be seen. Apart from that, different species of swallows are seen in plenty. Diksal is around 10 km from Bhigwan and the entire stretch between Diksal and the highway has several spots where one could halt for bird-watching. As we were told in Kumbhargaon, the Greater Flamingos make Diksal their home in the late winter. Like in Kumbhargaon, one can rent a boat to go into the water body for getting closer to the birds. Patas is 20 km from Bhigwan. Common Coots, Purple Herons and Pheasant-Tailed Jacanas are found in huge numbers around this area.
Realising the importance of sustainability and conservation in this landscape, Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education and Research (BVIEER), Pune, organised a two-day workshop in February 2013 aimed at the cause of sustainable management and conservation of the wetland habitat in Bhigwan. This workshop brought together local forest officials, school teachers, village leaders and members of village panchayats. BVIEER also implemented a ‘Wetland Education Project’ under United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) small grants programme that focussed on sustainable fisheries and livelihood. Local community members can be trained so that people understand the importance of the ecosystem they are a part of. There are plans of making bird-watching in Bhigwan an organised activity in order to set up a robust eco-tourism facility. Wetlands such as Bhigwan are one of the most delicate ecosystems on the planet. Draining of wetlands for commercial and agricultural motives poses a serious threat to the sustainability of these habitats. In many cases, the amount of water taken from the ecosystem far exceeds its ability to replenish. Industrial and agricultural waste lead to degradation of the habitats as well. Nesting sites of the water birds have also been destroyed largely due to anthropogenic factors. During monsoon, wetlands help to mitigate floods. Damage to wetland ecosystems, therefore, has a far-reaching impact on different components of the ecosystem. The education of locals towards sustainable management and their participation in the cause of its conservation is essential; they are the ones whose livelihoods are intricately woven with the landscape and who stand to gain or lose the most from the fate of the wetlands.
Text and images: Anurag Mishra
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