Delhi

Sultanpur National Park, Gurgaon, Haryana

Where

Located around 40km from Delhi, it is a popular tourist spot.

What to see

A dizzying variety of birds: wetland, grassland, dryland birds, as well as raptors. Ideally, go in small groups and stick to the trails. “You get to see waterbirds like ducks, egrets and herons, as well as raptors like eagles and kites, including rare species like the osprey, a fish-eating raptor which is endangered," says Ghazala Shahabuddin, wildlife expert and associate professor, Ambedkar University, Delhi.

Photo: JM Garg/Wikimedia Commons

When and how

Winter is the best season. Sultanpur is around 2 hours’ drive from Delhi.

Aravalli Biodiversity Park, south-central Ridge

Where

The Aravalli Biodiversity Park, part of Delhi’s south-central Ridge area, has slowly been restored over 10 years.

What to see

“In the last 10 years, the Delhi University has been reviving native vegetation of the area. Now, a large part of it is under natural vegetation that is scrub forest and grassland," Shahabuddin says. These, in turn, attract native bird species. This is a scrub forest, so the birds are all forest birds like grey partridges, red-vented ‘bulbuls’, Indian silverbills. There is also a small water body with ducks, and there are snakes and other small animals. There are many trails for birdwatching.

Photo: Kishore Bhargava

A visit to this park, accessible through the year, requires permission from the park authorities.

Okhla Barrage Bird Sanctuary, Okhla

Where

To the city’s south-east is a 3.5 sq. km birding area along the Yamuna river. One of the easiest places to spot the waterbirds of north India, it also gets more than 10,000 migratory birds in winter.

What to see

Shahabuddin recommends going in groups of 5-10. “There is the main trail which goes along the entire road, and with the river to your right, you can see everything. You can also go off the trail on to one of the smaller trails. The highlights are the flamingo, lesser flamingo, bar-headed geese," she says. In winter, you can see rare species of ducks like wigeons, garganey and gadwall.

Photo: Anindo Dey

The best time is winter.

Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan

Where

Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur is a rich habitat for nesting as well as migratory birds. At the centre of the sanctuary is a lake which draws the birds, and the area has 375 recorded species. Water scarcity over the last few years has affected the bird pop-
ulation here. But the 2012-13 birding season is expected to be good.

What to see

The quintessential Bharatpur experience is the heronry—a kilometre-long road surrounded by trees—which is the nesting area for 10,000 birds, including painted storks, black-necked storks and egrets of all varieties.

“Imagine walking on that stretch during nesting season—10,000 birds and their offspring cackling, which could be up to 30,000 voices in all, and the cacophony it creates. You must experience that once in your lifetime," says Anand Arya of delhibird (www.delhibird.com/), a collective of birding enthusiasts in the city.

The best time to visit is from October to February. It is a 3-hour drive from Delhi.

Dadri Wetlands, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Where

Bil Akbarpur village in Uttar Pradesh is the unsung bird capital of the region, or at least it used to be until frenetic development and construction took over. The wetlands, situated in a low-lying swamp area with marsh all around, are the site for 200 species of birds—about 100 nesting and 100 migratory.

What to see

“In fact, in 2010, because of heavy rain, there were 100,000 birds," says Arya. The migratory birds like ducks, northern shoveler, wigeon, and raptors like greater spotted eagle travel from Central Asia and across China. There is also the bar-headed geese which flies over Mount Everest and comes from China.

When and how

Winter is the best time. The Dadri Wetlands cannot be accessed by walking in through a gate or buying a ticket; you just have to drive up to Dadri with someone who knows the area. Members of the delhibird group do trips to the area, and joining them is the best way to see the birds.

Shreya Ray

Mumbai

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali

Where

Photo: Atul Sathe

What to see

It primarily consists of semi-evergreen forest, interspersed with evergreen patches and mangroves along the Vasai creek. The forest has multiple tree species: teak, mango, ‘jamun’, ‘hedu’, ghost tree and bamboo. Just a few metres inside the main gate of the park, one can feel the serenity and refreshing cool breeze, in sharp contrast to the noisy honking and heat of the highway outside.

When and how

The park is open through the year and is accessible from Borivali and Thane.

Atul Sathe (Bombay Natural History Society)

Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary

Where

Tungareshwar is a forested area on the outskirts of Mumbai, near Vasai. It is a mixed forest, with deciduous and evergreen trees. “The walk is on a noisy road that leads uphill; despite the noise the place is good for birding," says Asif N. Khan, from the Bombay National History Society programme team. 

What to see

The walk from the main gate to the main temple can offer sights like the (depending on the season) black-headed and black-naped oriole, brown-headed barbet, shikra, crested serpent eagle and grey hornbill. The trail beyond the temple has birds like brown-cheeked fulvetta, greater racket-tailed drongo and verditer flycatcher.

When and how

The best way to reach is to take the local train to Vasai station and then a rickshaw to the temple gate.

Alibaug

Where

Alibaug is a coastal town, but surrounding areas like Akshi, Kankeshwar and Revdanda are good birding spots.

What to see

Akshi and Revdanda: In winters, there are shorebirds and other wetland birds. The black-headed gull can be spotted on the way to Alibaug via ferry and on the beaches. The sandwich black-bellied and gull-billed tern, ruddy turnstone, sanderling, greater sand plover, and booted warbler can be seen here.

Kankeshwar: It is famous for the temple atop a forested hill, but it is also a place to spot raptors like common and white-eyed buzzard, the greater and Indian spotted eagle, and booted eagle.

When and how

Alibaug can be approached by road (it’s 100km approx. from Mumbai), or by ferry from the Gateway of India to Mandwa. For Kankeshwar, Akshi and Revdanda, take rickshaws from Alibaug.

Sewri mudflats

Where

The Sewri jetty and mudflats are about 1.5km from Sewri station, Mumbai, situated between a noisy jetty and refineries. It looks nothing like a birding location. But it is teeming with birds during the winter.

What to see

Photo: Raju Kasambe/Wikimedia Commons

When and how

The winter months are ideal. Catch a local train on the Harbour Line to Sewri station, take a taxi or walk down to the jetty (approx. 1.5km).

Gayatri Jayaraman

Kolkata

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, Howrah

Where

Photo: Manusij Mukherjee
Photo: Manusij Mukherjee

What to see

Though it is much bigger, the bird density at the botanical garden is lower than at the Chintamoni Kar Bird Sanctuary. Established in 1787, the garden’s lower bird density, veteran naturalist Subhankar Patra reasons, is because of the abundance of foreign tree varieties which don’t encourage insect growth, and consequently attract fewer birds. Yet, over 150 species of birds have been recorded here. The red-throated flycatcher, dark-sided flycatcher, brown shrike, Blyth’s reed warbler and honey buzzard are among the migratory birds flying in from places like Eurasia and Siberia, and resident varieties. Besides, the garden is home to over 70 jackals, water monitors, cobras (spectacled and monocled), rat snakes and banded krait. One of the best conserved green habitats around Kolkata, a chance to see the Indian sunbeam butterfly (among the 100-odd butterfly species here) can round off a visit on a colourful note.

When and how

There is a regular bus service to the botanical garden from Kolkata. Taxis are available too. Winters are best for the feathered display, but the monsoon also has its charms.

Nalban, Salt Lake

Where

The sprawling east Kolkata water body is the common ground for migratory birds and young lovers. Fringing Sector V of Salt Lake, an area known for its concentration of software companies, Nalban, with its acres of sparkling water and fishing boats, is often used as a breathing space.

While the winged population at Nalban is reportedly not as diverse as some other south Bengal zones, around 70 species have been recorded. While kingfishers thrive here, migratory birds like common snipe, gadwall and pintails are common too. “These days, Nalban and Central Park (also in Salt Lake) are the only two places which get migratory birds in Kolkata," says naturalist Arjan Basu Roy. “But Nalban stands out by attracting a large number of ducks and one can even expect the rare Ferruginous Pochard." Nalban has a healthy snake, dragonfly and butterfly population. At one end of the fragile East Kolkata Wetlands, wildlife enthusiast Partha De rues that increasing development is pushing out the endangered marsh mongoose, otters and fishing cats.

When and how

Nalban is well-connected by buses and other public transport headed towards Sector V. The best time to visit is from 15 December-15 February, when the weather is cool and migratory birds come visiting.

Chintamoni Kar Bird Sanctuary (CKBS), South 24 Parganas

Where

Located around 10km from the landmark Ruby Crossing, it is possibly the only instance of a state government buying land to nurture a bird sanctuary. Though a mere 17 acres in expanse, it habitually surprises birders with its avian affluence. Once popular as Kayaler Bagan, the Bengal government reportedly spent 3 crore to buy the orchard and in 2005, named it after the late Chintamoni Kar, a noted sculptor and local resident who was in favour of sanctuary status for the orchard.

Photo: Probal Das

Over 150 species of birds have been recorded at the sanctuary, including the Emerald Dove, Slaty-legged Crake, Blue-throated flycatcher, Tickell’s thrush, Grey-headed Fish Eagle and the Large-billed Reed Warbler.

“The sanctuary only has local trees, which attract insects. The birds come for the insects," explains ornithologist Sumit.K. Sen.

One of the last sanctuaries in south Bengal before the Sunderbans and the Bay of Bengal, the birds are mostly passage migrants transiting between places. With over a hundred species of butterflies and a decent amphibian and reptilian population, CKBS, says naturalist Arjan Basu Roy, is “like a pocket dictionary".

When and how

It is accessible by metro till Kavi Subhash station, and then by taxi. By bus or car, travel till Rathtala and then walk. Spring and winter are the best time to visit.

Shamik Bag

Bangalore

Kokkare Bellur

Where

Located 75km from Bangalore, just off the Bangalore-Mysore highway, Kokkare Bellur is a village conserve where spotbilled pelicans and painted storks, both migratory birds, come to breed. The phenomenon, perhaps several centuries old, came into the limelight in the 1970s, when S.G. Neginhal, then 46 and an officer of the Indian Forest Service, chanced upon the village while driving. “They are birds that breed by the water, and though the village is close to the Cauvery river, there were large numbers of them even in the drier regions," recalls Neginhal. He discovered that the villagers found great value in the bird droppings, or ‘guano’, which serves as manure for their farms. “They protect the birds from harm," adds Neginhal. Given the contribution of the villagers in the protection of birds, the area is a village conserve and not a bird sanctuary.

Photo: Shashank Jain

It is named after the resident painted storks (‘kokkare’ means stork in Kannada) that are found in large number here. It also the nesting site for the pelicans.

When and how

The village is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the city. One can also take a Bangalore–Mysore bus till Maddur and then take another bus to Kokkare Bellur, 12km away. The best time to see the pelicans is between December and February. The painted storks come by January and stay until June.

Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve

Where

Located 140km from Bangalore, near Maidenahalli village in Tumkur district, the sanctuary was notified to protect the resident blackbuck in 2007. Conservation scientist Sanjay Gubbi first chanced upon the grasslands in the late 1980s. “The grassland belonged to the state revenue department and was there amid the fields," says Gubbi (then part of an informal nature group called Greenwatchers), who requested the forest department to declare the 350 hectares a sanctuary.

What to see

Home to at least 600 blackbucks as per a census conducted in 2002, the open grassland also houses a large variety of butterflies and mammals such as wolves, Indian fox, sloth bear and a larger variety of ground nesting birds. It is also a great place to spot raptors. “In 1994, I saw a pack of six wolves," says Gubbi.

When and how

It is accessible by road. Drive on the Tumkur road, take a deviation for Madhugiri town, then ask locals for directions. The sanctuary can be visited through the year. “People are welcome to visit the place, but since it is grassland and access to the place is open, we often have people driving into the grassland in their cars. This can close fox dens and even kill some ground nesting birds," warns Gubbi.

Bannerghatta National Park

Where

Located 22km from Bangalore, it is spread over 104 sq. km and will soon be expanded by another 40 sq. km. A part of the national park has been assigned for the Bannerghatta Biological Park that consists of a zoo, a butterfly park, a herbivore safari and also a safari to see lions and tigers. The biological park is accessible to the general public. Access to the rest of the forest area requires permission from the forest department.

What to see

More than 200 species of birds can be seen around the zoo. There’s a daily safari through the park zoo, during which one can see tigers, elephants and a variety of herbivores.

When and how

The Bannerghatta Biological Park is open to visitors on all days except Tuesday. Rides and entry are ticketed. The zoo is part of the reserve forest which is an elephant corridor, but access to the forest will require permission. Birders can walk through specific paths and see a wide variety of birds. It is accessible by road, and city transport buses ply.

Nandi Hills

Where

Nandi Hills is located 60km from Bangalore. The slopes are forested and have patches of moist forest dominated by coffee bushes. Bangalore-based ornithologist S. Subramanya says over 150 bird species have been recorded here. “You’ll be amazed to see that some Western Ghat species like the Nilgiri wood pigeon can be seen here... Even the Malabar whistling thrush that is otherwise only seen in the Ghats travels here post monsoon and during the winters," he says.

Photo: Divya Babu/Mint

The Black Baza and Crimson-backed sunbird, Indian blue robin and Blue-headed rock thrush have been sighted in the area. The hilltop is home to eight species of migrant warblers and a variety of flycatchers. If you choose to walk up the hill, you might also spot the endemic yellow-throated ‘bulbul’, mongoose and snakes. Raptors like the Shaheen falcon, Black eagle and honey buzzards can also be seen.

When and how

While birds can be seen throughout the year, the visiting Western Ghat species can be spotted during winter. One can drive all the way up to the top, take the stairs or walk up via trails. By car, it takes about one and a half hours from Bangalore; buses ply as well. Cycling groups ride to Nandi Hills almost every weekend.

Lalbagh Botanical Garden

Where

Built in 1760 as a private garden for Hyder Ali, it was later expanded by his son Tipu Sultan. Ornithologist M.B. Krishna says morning walks are better in this botanical garden in Bangalore, but recommends a walk in the afternoon when the birds surface because there are fewer people. “Or you should go early in the morning," he adds. Lalbagh’s trees attract a wide variety of urban birds, and the lake has waterbirds. “About 30 years ago, the lake used to attract several migratory birds, but given the city’s change in temperature, they don’t (come) any more," says Krishna.

What to see

Migratory birds like the Greenish leaf warbler, Blyth’s reed warbler and pelicans can be seen here. One can see water cormorants in the lake; Tailor birds, green barbets, and spotted owlets in the woods.

When and how

Located in south Bangalore, it is accessible by city transport. Resident owls, barbets and other small birds can be seen throughout the year, but the migratory ones can mostly be seen between October and March. Lalbagh remains open daily from 6am-7pm.

Pavitra Jayaraman

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