Apr 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Lakes - and a half

(This blog is about a trip that I undertook to visit Nalsarovar & Thol lakes near Ahmedabad for birding & photography. While the "two lakes" part of the title is obvious, a half comes from a small pond - which proved to be a surprise treasure trove for birding.)
How does one describe the experience of travelling into the vastness of water – water where all pervading silence during the day is an exception to the chattering regime of waders, ducks and birds? Though there is a limitation to the language which makes it difficult to recount one’s encounter with the bounty that nature bestows on us, effort I shall still make!

A crisp but not very cold Friday morning, early March this year, found myself & Amit Gupta travelling from Ahmedabad to Nalsarovar. For the uninitiated, or new to birding, Nalsarovar is a huge reservoir of water (about 121sq km) about 60 km away from Ahmedabad, formed naturally in a shallow depression. The lake being shallow and marshy has made it extremely attractive for the wintering migrants – especially water-birds and cranes, who come in numbers. A night train connecting Mumbai & Ahmedabad makes it convenient for a day long birding trip and that’s how we were en-route Nalsarovar early morning.

As we reached closer to our destination, dawn was breaking. The rising sun gave light to the fields on both sides, exhibiting a large numbers of peafowls and peahens looking for the proverbial worm, white breasted kingfishers & Indian rollers on the wire, a solitary grey francolin on the road making a dash to get away from the traffic, a herd of neelgais, a marsh harrier looking for an early breakfast – in all, a good omen for our birding day ahead.

Nalsarovar needs to be explored through a boat and though the water is shallow at most of the places, it is the vastness of the placid lake that is breathtaking. Despite having visited the place about 2 years ago, I was still awestruck with the everlasting wilderness of the glimmering water mingling with the sky at the horizon.

As we set out in the boat, the breeze was wild, soft and free, making the heart light. The early morning serenity of the lake was fading away as birds were waking up to their tasks. The flocks of common coots were having their own version of bird race. Also engaged in various activities were garganeys, spot billed ducks, northern shovellers, pheasant tailed jacanas, godwits, purple moorhens, black-winged stilts, Egrets, Pond herons, Glossy and black Ibis, little grebe, Citrine and yellow wagtails, barn swallows, cormorants and brown headed gulls.

We had set out on this trip however with the hope to see Sarus, Pelicans & Flamingoes from close quarters. Here, since our interest lied in the flock of Pelicans & Flamingoes chiefly, the boatman expertly steered us towards them. The mobile communication technology has helped them too as he was constantly in touch with other boatmen to get the exact location of these birds at the moment. Soon our eyes and cameras feasted on the sights of large flocks of Great White and Rosy Pelicans, followed by Greater Flamingoes.

It was very interesting to see and click pictures of these majestic birds from a different vantage point – almost at their eye level. The most interesting sight was of the greater flamingoes, submerged and floating in knee deep water and their beak giving them a snobbish uppity nose attitude – reminding me, for some reason, of British upper class as caricatured in stories and movies of Wodehouse.

The day had started warming up with the sun at a mid horizon level and having exhausted our camera batteries, we had no option but to return to the shore where rosy starlings and green bee-eaters were busy in their daily routines. Also, we could see a flock of common cranes, which soon took a flight and for sometime the sky was full of cranes and pelicans that were already patrolling in a large flock. A pied kingfisher about to make a dive for its prey, discarded the idea spoiling our chance of clicking it in action.

We left Nalsarovar behind to travel towards Thol, another lake, at about 40 Kms from Ahmedabad and about 60 Kms from Nalsarovar. The lake though much smaller in size is renowned for large variety of birds it provides shelter to. The journey, interrupted for a splendid meal, was peaceful but did not allow us to take a nap as it revealed unexpected sightings - first a male blackbuck with its harem in a field and then a flock of comb ducks – a sight that had eluded us at Nalsarovar.

While Nalsarovar is a never ending sight of water, Thol is a lake much limited and restricted with a bund, also supplying water to the fields around. It is a scenic beauty with woods encircling the lake amidst dreaming the sky. The readers of the Phantom comics could relate to this place immediately as it resembled the Eden that Phantom had developed for the variety of creatures he had saved from extinction. Though lacking in size, it made up in its variety. Birds ranging from common hoopoe, purple sunbirds, prinias, Indian robin and greater coucal to godwits, darter or snake birds, river terns, wigeons, pelicans, flamingoes, bar headed geese, common and ferruginous pochards, greater spotted eagle, marsh harrier, comb ducks, spot billed ducks, tufted ducks, northern pintails, painted storks, common cranes, – all were there. And above all, the prized catch - a few pairs of Sarus cranes lording over the place majestically.

As the sun started inclining towards the horizon, we reluctantly decided to leave the place and drove towards Ahmedabad. But as has been the case most often, the day was yet to finish with its surprises. On our way to Ahmedabad, as we took a turn on the road near a place called Gota, to the left was a small pond where we could see some bird activity. As we got down to have a look, the first sight was a berry tree full of Yellow footed Green Pigeons and a couple of koels. If these were welcome sights, what awaited at the pond was simply magnificent – common teals, river terns, sandpipers, pied avocets, spotbilled ducks, northern shovellers, black-winged stilts, glossy and black ibis and at a distance of few feet away flamingoes – all in plenty. And all of this, just at the outskirts of a city and so close yet totally oblivious to the traffic. For the first time I was engulfed with envy. However, since the setting sun was giving a perfect light condition, it was time to let shutterbugs take charge over my negative emotions and off we were to click more pictures.

Having exhausted ourselves totally by now, we called it a day and returned to Ahmedabad. On our way back, as we tallied our count of almost 100 species, lines from a poem, which I had read some time back but had not really appreciated the beauty till this trip, came back to me -
….ducks on a pond
A grass bank beyond
A blue sky of spring
White clouds on the wing
What a lovely thing
To remember for years!

For seeing more pictures of this trip, please click on the following link: