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
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