Atul Sathe of BNHS talks to Avril-Ann Braganza about migratory birds that you can still spot in the city.
If you live in Mumbai and haven`t yet made it to the Sewri mudflats to see the flamingoes, it`s not too late. So hop into a cab, bus or local train and make your way over to see these pink-feathered beauties. And while you`re there you might be lucky to spot a few other migratory birds.
Approximately 20,000 flamingoes are currently visiting the Sewri mudflats, out of which, a majority of them are the Lesser Flamingoes. As the Sewri mudflats are expansive and there is plenty of food available, they are seen in greater numbers here, but can also be spotted in smaller numbers at Vikhroli, Airoli and Vashi. The Lesser and Greater flamingoes are a light pink, but if you are keen to distinguish the two, the Lesser flamingoes are a darker shade of light pink and have a redish-black beak starting from the eye and including the tip, whereas the tip of the beak of the Greater flamingoes is black.
Among the waders (birds that wade in shallow water in search of food), you may be able to spot...
Herons- Grey Heron. Image by BNHS photo library
Little Ringed Plover and the Lesser Sand Plover
The lesser sand plovers are more common and are seen in larger numbers along the Navi Mumbai coast and in the Vashi-Belapur region, but are often spotted at the Sewri mudflats too. These small birds feed on insects and marine creatures like molluscs, small clams and other lesser marine fauna. Adults have a grey-brown back and wings, a white belly and breast, a brown cap, a white forehead and can be distinguished by a little black ring around their necks.
Egrets in breeding plumage. Image by BNHS photo library
Common Sandpiper and Marsh Sandpiper
While the common sandpiper has a brownish-grey back, a white belly and a white band that goes upto the base of its wing, the marsh sandpiper has a white neck. They are found in the same habitat as the plovers and hunt for the same food, as well.
At the Sewri mudflats, you can also spot different kinds of herons–the grey heron, which is a light whitish-grey and is slightly bigger than an egret; the purple heron, which is a greyish-purple and the pond heron, which has a combination of grey, brown and white specks, lines, spots in a chequered pattern during the non breeding season and turns a uniform brownish off-white during the breeding season. For the night, herons as well as egrets roost on tall trees in the inland areas (forests as well as populated areas) and fly down to the mudflats in search of food.
Spotted Redshank. Image by Siddhesh Surve
The ibis is approximately the size of an egret and has a downward curving beak. The black-headed ibis is white and has a black head all year round, while the black ibis is black and develops a red patch on the back of its head during the breeding season.
These slender-looking birds can often be seen flying over the surface of the water of the Sewri mudflats. The tern family includes–gull-billed terns, so called because they have beaks like gulls; the caspian terns with their red beaks. Terns can also be easily sighted in groups of two or three along the Mumbai and Navi Mumbai coast.
Ibis- The black-headed ibis and intermediate egret. Image by Siddhesh Surve
You might spot the little or great cormorant while you're out looking at the flamingoes. An easy way to distinguish between the two is that the little cormorant is completely black, while the great cormorant has a whitish neck. Unlike water birds, their wings get wet after every dive; so you might spot them perched atop a wooden post with their wings spread out to dry.
Black-tailed Godwit- The black-tailed godwit. Image by Noor Khan
This wader is found at depths of 1-2-feet in the mudflats at Sewri and Navi Mumbai. The black tailed godwit is a long-billed, long-legged bird, which breeds in damp surroundings.
Brown-headed Gulls. Image by BNHS photo library
Other birds you may spot
While the black-winged stilt, a bird with long pink-red legs that looks like it is walking on stilts can be easily seen at the Mumbra creek mudflats; the brown- and black-headed gulls are easily spotted on the Mumbai and Navi Mumbai coast, along the banks of the Thane creek.
The painted stork can be seen in Kharghar and Panvel wetlands while, raptors (birds of prey) such as the Brahminy kite can be found hovering over the Mumbra creek, Sewri mudflats, Panvel and Uran; you have a relatively decent chance of spotting Osprey in the coastal wetlands and near creeks where there is plenty of food available.
Sewri is also a good place to spot the Kingfisher; the white throated kingfisher (which can also be seen away from water) is more likely to be seen than the black-capped kingfisher.
The Nilje lake in Dombivali is a good place to spot the purple swamphen, the pheasant-tailed jacana and the bronze-winged jacana. These birds as well as the common redshank and common greenshank, egrets and the marsh harrier can also be spotted on the Vikhroli-Bhandup stretch, the Ghodbunder -Vasai creek stretch, the Gorai-Manori stretch of mudflats, the Navi Mumbai-Kharghar stretch, along the Panvel-Mumbra creek and at Elephanta Islands.
While these birds can generally be seen till the end of March, nature is unpredictable and there are chances that they could be around for longer or shorter periods than expected. The best time to go birdwatching these birds is two hours before and after high tide.
If you're a bird lover, but don't know where to begin, there's a flamingo festival organised by BNHS happening on the 29th of March. Perhaps you could start there...