A Juvenile Heuglin's Gull dries its feathers before taking off for the next flight in search of an early morning meal.

Secrets from the coast

Virtually unknown to tourists and outsiders, the tiny beach town of Motwa along the Gulf of Kutch is home to a wide variety of gulls, plovers, egrets, herons and several other striking species of coastal avifauna, which flock in huge numbers to this secluded asylum.

Over the years Gujarat has earned the reputation of being one of the prominent birding hotspots of India. While the state boasts of a rich and diversified bird population, with several sites that are popular among birders, it is always a pleasure and a source of encouragement to discover a new birding haven. Approximately 11-12km from the coastal city of Mandavi lies Motwa, along with the Gulf of Kutch, home to a community of fishermen and a huge variety of birds. Being a coastal region, Motwa is the ideal place to find different species of gulls; some of the most notable ones being Pallas’s Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender Billed Gull and the Heuglin’s Gull, that arrive to enchant birdwatchers in huge numbers. The related terns, represented by the Caspian and the River Terns, are passage migrants on this coast and can only be observed during the winter months.

Apart from gulls, Motwa boasts of a healthy population of waders in the form of Crab Plovers, Great Thick-knees, and Bar-tailed Godwits. The presence of huge colonies of marine crab species like the ghost crabs and the fiddler crabs attract these waders to the beach. The Crab Plovers are unique among these waders. They nest in burrows along sandy beaches and use the warmth of the sand to incubate their eggs. It is an amusing experience to watch these agile plovers hunt for their favourite meal of crabs, nothing short of an animated cat and mouse chase. The ever-so-adaptable egrets have also made Motwa their home. The Western Reef Egret and the Great Egret are commonly found along the Motwa beach; so are the herons—most notably the Grey Heron. These patient birds, dart with a sudden yet precise strike to catch their prey. Not being picky, they will catch anything from small worms to large crabs and snakes. However, it is the presence of huge numbers of Greater and Lesser Flamingos which makes this small beach town a special birding destination. Flamingos are widespread all over the state of Gujarat but along the Motwa coastline, they can be found in huge numbers. Typically these birds can be seen in flocks or colonies, where an individual flock consists of up to a hundred or more individuals. They spend most of their time wading into the Arabian Sea where they forage in knee-deep water, but as the water level begins to rise they keep on inching closer towards the shore. Flamingoes spend most of their day burying their bills or sometimes their entire head to suck up both mud or sand and the tiny fish, plankton and shrimps, mixed in them. The filter-like structure in their beak separates food from muddy water. Apart from the huge population, the proximity of the flocks of flamingos to the beach means one can observe these birds from a close range without causing any disturbance to them.

The ever so patient Western Reef Egrets can be found in huge numbers along the coastline of Motwa.

The ever so patient Western Reef Egrets can be found in huge numbers along the coastline of Motwa.

Calling all birds!

Motwa is practically unknown and nor are there any maritime trade affairs carried out here. These two factors have contributed immensely towards the thriving population of bird species, especially the Greater Flamingos. Other than these factors, the abundance of food and the absence of no real predators play a big role too. Fishermen of Motwa usually venture out during the high tide for fishing in the sea. Once they are back, they use the late morning and afternoon sun to dry some of the fish from their day’s catch. This, in a way, means that for the most part of the day there is very little human presence on the beach or along the coastline, allowing the birds to get on with their lives in a quiet and confident manner. Also, the fact that Motwa is located along the fringes of the Gulf of Kutch means there is no real pressure from the ever-growing human population, which in turn means there is very little human activity going on in this part. As a result, the birds which have made Motwa their home do not face any stiff competition for food from their human counterparts.

A Ghost Crab carefully scans the seashore while keeping its body hidden inside its sand burrow for a potential breakfast as well as a threat in the form of the Crab Plovers.

A Ghost Crab carefully scans the seashore while keeping its body hidden inside its sand burrow for a potential breakfast as well as a threat in the form of the Crab Plovers.

Staying positive

Motwa is one such success story which has developed on its own; one of those few remaining places where human settlements and the wildlife still exist in harmony. In this age of rapid urbanisation, it is absolutely imperative to strike the right balance so that industrialisation doesn’t take place at the cost of the natural habitat of wild species. The coastline of Motwa is one such natural preserve which has been a self-sustaining model for human beings as well as countless bird species for all these years. Motwa didn’t require any help in becoming the birding haven that it is now. It is extremely heartening to see that for the time being the future does not look bleak for this place, unlike most other wildlife habitats across the globe. There are reasons to be optimistic about the future of this little haven if we allow nature to follow its own course and appreciate the incredibly efficient organic mechanism that is at work here.


Read also: Revisiting the moments in the wild 

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About the Author /

Currently working as the Editor of Photography & Design for Indian Photo Arts, a Kolkata based photography magazine, Rahul is also a freelance photojournalist. He is deeply involved with subjects related to wildlife, the natural world and the close interaction between the environment and tribal societies in India who live off the land.

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