Monday, December 19, 2005

Bhigwan - A “Big One” for Ducks and Waterfowl

Hi All,

The wetlands in North (India) generally are very good spots to see huge nos. of migratory waterfowls especially ducks as compared to South (India) …….. But if you visit “Bhigwan” near Pune it is a different story……It’s definitely a “Big One” for Ducks.

Bhigwan is about 95 Kms from Pune on the Pune-Solapur highway (NH-9) and is a catchment area of the mighty Ujani Dam. It is a proposed sanctuary for migratory birds, an area of about 18000 hectares. The water catchment area is spread across around the town of Bhigwan……..This is probably the best spot in South Central India to see ducks in enormous numbers….the whole area is mesmerizing & reminiscence to the wetlands of the north.

For a long time I wished to visit this place (I had a glimpse of this spot way back in 2002 for about 2 Hrs on the way to Nannaj, Solapur) and so we (Myself, Mandar Khadilkar, Abhijeet Narvekar & Palavi Joshi) decided to birdwatch around Bhigwan on 19th Dec’05……Thanks to Abhijeet for his Zen and a long drive, we started from Mumbai on 18th Dec’05 in the evening and reached non-stop to Bhigwan town by 11.30 p.m…….There are not many hotels to stay here and it is advisable to halt for the night in Pune….we got a hotel though (If I could call it as a hotel, the electric switches of which reminded us of “Suduko” game) with unlocked bathrooms & Open windows…we somehow survived the night…..

We started early next day (19th Dec’05) for birding. Mandar had done some research (opps?) on the routes and good spots and also with some help from Mr.Gaurav Purohit (Pune) managed to cover 4 major spots around Bhigwan in a single day – Kumbhargaon, Diksal, Patas & Varwand dam ……..

Kumbhargaon: To reach this spot one has to take the highway from Bhigwan town towards Solapur, cross a bridge (about 2 kms.) and take a left “Kuccha” Road (there is a board named Kumbhargaon)….about a km from the main road, the vast expanse of the Ujani dam area spreads out in front of you…….

The morning was misty and chilly….the first thing that struck us here were huge nos. of Common Coots along the stretch of the water body……Also, we could see thousands of ducks from here that included predominantly the Beautiful Eurasian Wigeons, Gadwalls & Shovellers (Most in their eclipse plumage) other duck species were few viz. Spotbilled, Common Teals, Ruddy sheld ducks, Gargeny. Surprisingly Pochards were nowhere to be seen only one male Common Pochard and a lone female Red crested Pochard was seen mingling in the company of other birds.

There were several other interesting sightings that included, literally thousands of barn swallows, House swifts, Red Rumped swallows, Wire tailed swallows hawking for the insects above, zigzagging just above the ground, oblivious of our presence (We wondered how they do not collide with each other in such rapid flight)…4 Palla’s Gulls, All species of wagtails except White wagtails, Brown & Long tailed shrikes, River, Whiskered and Gull-Billed Terns, Great, Little & Indian Cormorants, Glossy Ibis in huge nos, Asian Openbill and Painted storks……Waders included Wood & Common Sandpipers, Black tailed Godwits, Red Shanks & Black winged stilts…….A soaring pair of Small Falcons could not be identified as they were against the sunlight (I suspect them to be Red Necked falcons from the Gizz)………………I am sure there must be those Pratincoles mixed among the swarms of Swallows, though we couldn’t see any.

There is a Pump house about 500 mts from “Kumbhargaon” village. We hired a boat from here to go close to the ducks. The Boatman was happy to take us at Rs.100 (1/2 of his daily earnings) for a ride……though we were able to go a bit closer to the ducks, they always maintained a certain distance, but it is always a treat to watch these beauties at eye level swimming/feeding/relaxing/preening/floating. The area around the water body is also very good for birding and we added plenty of other birds in our list including, Pied & Common (now Siberian) Stonechats, Golden Orioles, Lesser white throats, Paddy field pipits, Rosy & Brahminy Starlings, Small Green Bee-eaters, Grey Francolins calling and the master of camouflage Yellow wattled Lapwings………

The surrounding place is rich for cultivation of Maze, Sugarcane, Jowar……Burlp….the Corn maze and Sugarcanes were very sweet…

The roads (after the mighty monsoons) were very bumpy and the Maruti Zen's low road clearance bottom kept banging all the much that we eventually had to cristened it as "Maruti Hummer-H2" (The legendry american army vehicle)....however, a Vehicle is a must if one has to cover more spots.

Diksal : To reach this place……take a left turn from Bhigwan (Towards Solapur end) and go straight for about 8-9 kms…..there are a bit twisty turns, but on the way there are many spots to stop and bird. We did the same and were rewarded with a Twany Eagle, Cotton Pigmy Goose, Lesser Whistling Teal, Ruff, Clamorous warblers, Marsh harriers, Comb ducks, More Ruddy shelducks, Common Kestrels……once again Eurasian Wigeons, Gadwalls & Shovellers dominated the scene ……incidentally this is the spot (I learn) where the Greater Flamingos are seen in late winter.

Patas: This place is on the Pune-Solapur highway about 20 kms from Bhigwan…….apparently a good habitat for waterfowls but we saw only few Common Coots, many Purle Herons, Purple swamphens, Common & W.T.Kingfishers, Pheasant tailed Jacanas……..There is a huge heronry along the Eucalyptus trees and a big colony of fruit bats (Flying fox).

Varwand Dam : There are 2 ways to go here …..Either take a right turn just before Bhigwan (About 6 kms) or take a right turn (Kuccha Road) after Bhigwan (Solapur end or the road opp. the road that leads to Diksal) …….We took the later after bothering Mr.Gaurav Purohit for directions…..

After a sumptuous vegetarian Rice plate at a hotel at Bhigwan, we proceeded towards Varwand Dam, While getting directions, we were told by one farmer to stick along the water-pipe going parallel to this road…..we did follow his instructions, but at one point we took a wrong turn and landed up at a dead end….but this was fruitful as, when we stepped out to inspect the barren area ahead, we saw some Indian Coursers running in their peculiar gait, far on the fallow land….on close observation that region revealed more birds that included, Greater short toed larks, tawny pipits and a male Pallied Harrier….apparently a very good habitat for grassland and dry country birds including Sandgrouse (and GIBs) ….Ahh !! this was sure a bonus for us….. nearby, a water canal revealed Little Ringed Plover, R.W.Lapwings, Wood Sandpiper & Longtailed shrikes………

By the time we reached “Varwand” Dam at around 5.00pm, the light had already started to fade but a scan thro’ the Spotting Scope revealed one of the biggest congregation of Ducks …..even at a conservative estimate the Nos. would be anywhere close to 15000…….Lo….how we came late here and missed the light….everyone of us were depressed, as we were unable to identify the ducks (on the other shore) in the fast fading light and to reach the other side where all of them were concentrated, we would have to negotiate a very bad road about a Km. or so that would have taken more time and light…….A huge eagle about a size of Imperial eagle was seen mobbed by a Jungle Crow on the other far side sitting on a pole and we could just judge its size from its silhouette…. Sigh!! We decided to check this place first, in case we happen to visit again………However, the mood was somewhat regained with some clear and close sightings of Barred Button quails on the road……..

I know, there are many Duck crazy birders (err…I mean to see and observe) and Bighwan is a place for them…….Its a “Big One for” Ducks…..

Happy Birding,
Addi The Birde

PS: Thanks for the wonderful company …..It was an enjoyable experience.....Particularly Abhijeet for his vehicle and his uncomplained driving (It was very very tiring) , Palavi for keeping us smiling all the time and Mandar for his directions (Hmmm....) and passion.

Here’s a complete list of the birds seen & heard (Total 104 species):

Barred Button Quail (Clear & Close sightings on the road)
Ruddy Shelduck (few but in all 4 sightings)
Comb Duck (a Pair near Diksal)
Gadwall (Plenty)
Eurasian Wigeon (The most numerous)
Spot Billed Duck (Scattered along the edges)
Gargeney (Very few)
Northen Pintail (about c50)
Northen Shoveller (Plenty…most in eclipse plumage)
Red Crested Pochard (One female)
Lesser Whistling Duck (Only one)
Cotton Pigmy Goose (Near Diksal)
Common Hoopoe (at least 4)
Common Kingfisher
White Breasted Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher (Only 2 at Varwand)
Green Bee-eater
Asian Koel
Greater Coucal
House Swift
Rock Pigeon
Laughing Dove
Spotted Dove
White Breasted Waterhen (seen one near Patas)
Purple Swamphen (Everywhere)
Common Moorhen
Common Coot (Most numerous)
Wood Sandpiper (Along the edges)
Common Sandpiper
Black Tailed Godwit (One each near Kumbhargaon & Diksal)
Indian Courser (4 at fallow land near Varwand)
Common Red Shank
Ruff ( a Pair near Diksal)
Pheasant Tailed Jacana
Little Ring Plover
Yellow Wattled Lapwing (Many in suitable habitat)
Red Wattled Lapwing
Palla's Gull (About c4 at Kumbhargaon)
Brown Headed Gull
Black Headed Gull
River Tern
Whiskered Tern
Gull-Billed tern
Black Shouldered Kite
Black Kite
Brahminy Kite (one at Patas)
Eurasian Marsh Harrier
Pallied Harrier (one magnificent male)
Tawny Eagle (one near Diksal)
Common Kestrel
Little Grebe
Little Cormorant
Indian Cormorant
Great Cormorant (Few)
Little Egret
Great Egret
Intermediate Egret
Cattle Egret
Indian Pond Heron
Grey Heron (Plenty everywhere)
Purple Heron (Many at Patas – a very good habitat for this bird))
Glossy Ibis (Huge flocks)
Oriental White Ibis (2 at Diksal)
Painted Stork (At Diksal & Kumbhargaon)
Asian Openbill (The most common Stork)
Brown Shrike
Long Tailed Shrike
Bay Backed Shrike (One on the way near highway)
House Crow
Large Billed Crow
Small Minivet - call
White Browed Fantail
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Common Stonechat (Now called as Siberian Stonechat)
Pied Bushchat
Brahminy Starling
Rosy Starling
Common Myna
Great Tit (One on the way to Varwand)
Barn Swallow (In thousands)
Wire Tailed Swallow
Red Rumped Swallow
Red Vented Bulbul
Blyth's Reed Warbler
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat (At the Pump house-Kumbhargaon)
Common Tailorbird
Common Chiffchaff
Jungle Babbler
Large Grey Babbler
Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark
Rufous Tailed Lark
Greater Short Toed Lark (At fallow land near Varwand)
House Sparrow
White Browed Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail (Plenty)
Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Paddy field Pipit
Tawny Pipit ((At fallow land near Varwand)
Baya Weaver
Indian Silverbill