Saving the world while you wait

Mangalajodi – birds and serenity in a winter wetland

It’s never been about spotting for me. I don’t count spotting as ‘seeing’ a bird. For that, I have a separate list in my mind categorized under “spotted”. But my recent trip to Mangalajodi (near Chilika in Odisha) was not just about spotting. It was the best birding I had done in a really long time. In just two days it made up for all those years I had lost by not birding! The quality of birding defied what you would generally call ‘good sightings’.

The first thing that struck me within an hour of birding at the expansive wetland was the comfort level of the birds to our approach. The approach distance was so short that it reminded me of my birding in the US. There, the birds are generally very comfortable with humans approaching them since many people feed them and hence the birds had lost their fear of humans. But, at Mangalajodi, there there was nobody feeding these birds or interfering with their natural behaviour. On the contrary, this was a place that had been witness to rampant bird poaching. Up until about 2002, the place was a scene of massacre especially during the winter migration season when the bird population goes up by the tens of thousands. It had reached a state where the bird numbers started dwindling. Eventually, conservation NGOs and government stepped in and now the place has been transformed into a haven for birds with no reported cases of poaching. This was a result of educating local communities about the benefits of converting their excellent knowledge of birds and their habitat to a model that could both help the birds as well as sustain their livelihoods. The former poachers now work as bird guides with the community-driven tourism project. More of this success story is documented at Lost in magical Mangalajodi published in The Hindu. It was this article that inspired our decision for us to travel there.

Mangalajodi birding

We reached Mangalajodi past noon and after a simple but tasty lunch we were about to get into our room to laze for a while when our guide Srinivas called out to us to start the birding session. We were a bit astonished as it was around 2:30 in the afternoon and this was not considered the best time to bird as it would be too hot for the birds and the birders to be active! But he promised that there would be plenty of birding and that it would be pleasant weather since the wetland would have a cool breeze. Although a bit apprehensive, we decided that he would know better and decided to head out. As we made our way over the bund to the boat jetty in the car, we kept asking the driver to stop as we started spotting several species within minutes. Our guide, however, took charge to keep us focused and told us that all these birds would be visible very well while on the boat ride. We surrendered ourselves to his experience and went to the boat jetty. The boat had a shallow bottom to help it navigate the reed-filled swamp bed and a sheet propped on four stilts to serve as a roof to provide much-required shade. However, once we started the ride, as promised by our guide, the cool breeze kept us comfortable through the ride. The boatman used a single long wooden pole to power the boat ahead. This was perfect since it ensured a smooth and completely silent movement over the water. This silent and slow movement coupled with absence of poaching has made the birds feel less threatened. This allowed us to approach much closer than usual, to wetland birds which we usually observe from banks of lakes and other water bodies. The result was wonderful sightings that would remain etched in my memory for ever! For now, go ahead and take a look at the images that were etched in the memory card of my camera! 🙂

 

Black-winged Stilt at Mangalajodi
A Black-Winged Stilt takes a bath by splashing water over its feathers

 

Clamorous Reed-Warbler at Mangalajodi
The Clamorous Reed Warbler is a winter visitor and its large size makes it quite unmistakable

 

A Marsh Sandpiper, a winter migrant, at Mangalajodi
A wintering Marsh Sandpiper at Mangalajodi

 

A Red-Wattled Lapwing at Mangalajodi wetland
A Red-Wattled Lapwing at Mangalajodi wetland

 

A wintering Common Snipe forages at Mangalajodi
A wintering Common Snipe forages

 

Ruddy-Breasted Crake at Mangalajodi
A resident Ruddy-Breasted Crake made for close sightings, offering several beautiful views

 

Little Stint at Mangalajodi
A Little Stint rakes up the mud while feeding

 

Yellow Bittern at Mangalajodi
A shy Yellow Bittern peeks out of the reeds

 

Purple Swamphen aka Grey-headed Swamphen mating at Mangalajodi
A pair of Grey-headed Swamphens (aka Purple Swamphens) mating

 

Pacific Golden-Plover at Mangalajodi
A graceful Pacific Golden-Plover in the warm sunlight

 

Ruddy Shelducks at Mangalajodi
A pair of Ruddy Shelducks – the drake (L) is identified by its larger size and the dark ring around its neck

 

Whiskered Tern at Mangalajodi
A Whiskered Tern spreads its wings as it flies close to our boat

 

Marsh Sandpiper Mangalajodi
A Marsh Sandpiper at Mangalajodi

 

Bronze-Winged Jacana at Mangalajodi
A juvenile Bronze-Winged Jacana stretches its wing

 

Northern Pintail at Mangalajodi
A Northern Pintail drake prepares to land

 

Black-tailed Godwit at Mangalajodi
A Black-tailed Godwit takes off

 

Garganey Mangalajodi
A Garganey drake in the wetland

 

Glossy Ibis at Mangalajodi
A Glossy Ibis takes a break from foraging

 

Yellow Wagtail at Mangalajodi
A visiting Yellow Wagtail at Mangalajodi

 

Bluethroat at Mangalajodi
This striking Bluethroat has travelled to Mangalajodi all the way from Europe

 

Slaty-breasted Rail at Mangalajodi
A Slaty-Breasted Rail slips out of the reeds to forage

 

Asian Pied Starling at Mangalajodi
Asian Pied Starlings were numerous, and were spotted flocking at dawn and dusk
Spotted Redshank at Mangalajodi
A Spotted Redshank at Mangalajodi

 

Asian Openbill Stork at Mangalajodi
A resident Asian Openbill forages in the shallows

 

Wood sandpiper at Mangalajodi
This Wood Sandpiper is among the more common and numerous migrant waders

 

Little Ringed Plover at Mangalajodi
A Little Ringed Plover at Mangalajodi

 

Ruff and Wood Sandpiper at Mangalajodi
A Ruff (L) and a Wood Sandpiper (R) demonstrate how challenging field identification can be for inexperienced birders during the season

 

Pheasant-tailed Jacana at Mangalajodi
A Pheasant-tailed Jacana

 

Little Stint at Mangalajodi
A Little Stint forages

 

A Black-Headed Ibis swallows a snake at Mangalajodi
A Black-Headed Ibis swallows a snake

 

A Purple Heron patrols the marsh at Mangalajodi
A Purple Heron patrols the marsh

 

Little Cormorant at Mangalajodi
A Little Cormorant grapples with a slippery catch

 

Cormorant at Mangalajodi
The fish gives the cormorant the slip

 

Bronze-Winged Jacana at Mangalajodi
The striking Bronze-Winged Jacana is a resident of Mangalajodi

 

Baillon's Crake at Mangalajodi
Baillon’s Crake at Mangalajodi

 

Greater Painted-Snipe at Mangalajodi
A male Greater Painted-Snipe with chicks. Females are polyandrous and it is the male that raises the chicks.

When they were discovered, the chicks hid beneath the grass and the male flew away, landed nearby and did the broken-wing display. Broken-wing displays are performed by adult birds to divert the attention of predators from their nests or young ones. The adult bird lands close by and feigns an injury – a wing that is broken, so that the predators are lured into thinking that they can catch the injured adult that cannot fly.

Greater Painted-Snipe at Mangalajodi
The broken-wing display by the Greater Painted Snipe is an attempt at luring away the predator. Even while trying to advertise itself, the bird was well camouflaged.

 

Female Greater Painted-Snipe at Mangalajodi
The brightly coloured female Greater Painted-Snipe hides in the reeds

 

Mangalajodi Grey-headed Lapwing
A Grey-Headed Lapwing adds to the bird diversity at Mangalajodi

 

Shikra Mangalajodi
A Shikra patrols the edge of the wetland

 

Little Stint Mangalajodi
A Little Stint enjoys a bath

 

Northern Shoveller Mangalajodi
The Northern Shoveller drake is an attractive but shy presence

 

A Black-Tailed Godwit at Mangalajodi
A Black-Tailed Godwit at Mangalajodi

 

Grey Heron at Mangalajodi
A Grey Heron makes off with its catch

 

Barn Swallows at Mangalajodi
Wintering Barn Swallows awaken from the roost

 

Blue-tailed Bee-eater at Mangalajodi
Another migrant, the Blue-Tailed Bee-eater makes a winter visit to Mangalajodi

 

Booted Warbler at Mangalajodi
A Booted Warbler at Mangalajodi

 

Brown-Headed Gull at Mangalajodi
A Brown-Headed Gull at Mangalajodi

 

Little Stint Mangalajodi
At the end of winter, a Little Stint perhaps reflects on the long journey back home

 

Northern Pintails at Mangalajodi
A pair of Northern Pintails – the male is to the left

 

A Great Egret tosses a fish at Mangalajodi
A Great Egret tosses a fish

 

Northern Pintail Mangalajodi
A Northern Pintail takes off at our approach

 

Northern Pintail at Mangalajodi
In downstroke, the male Northern Pintail reveals the bright green and white colours of its wings

Finding serenity at Mangalajodi

Now, what made Mangalajodi serene? To me, it was all about sights like these:

Mornings at Mangalajodi
Lovely and fresh mornings, with a gentle mist rising from the water

 

Asian Openbill at Mangalajodi
An Asian Openbill executes a fly-by against the glorious colours thrown by the setting sun

 

Ruddy Shelducks at Mangalajodi
Ruddy Shelducks landing against a setting sun

 

Calm and beautiful Mangalajodi
Calm and beautiful

 

Astounding sunsets at Mangalajodi
Astounding sunsets