I discovered birdwatching as a child – when my grandfather would take me to the bird hospital in Old Delhi – almost every month – to feed the birds. I won’t say it became a hobby that consumed me as hobbies should, but it made me understand that it was a hobby that helped you appreciate nature and the skill of the Creator – in the way he added colours to feathers. Later on, it made me realise that it is a hobby that teaches you to be patient with birds, especially if you are taking pictures.
On World Migratory Bird Day, here are a few places in and around Delhi where you can do birdwatching and enjoy the company of these gorgeous feathered beauties – and if you are lucky, be treated to a song, or even a dance.
Grab your binoculars and get set for a trip. Tip: Early mornings are best for bird-spotting, early birds get the worm, and you can see the bird getting the worm!
While the Sultanpur National Park is technically in Haryana, it is only 15km away from Gurgaon and about 50kms away from Dhaula Kuan. Occupying an area of only about two kilometres, it may be small in expanse, but provides one of the best feeding grounds for almost a 100 species of migratory birds. Of course, you will spot a lot of nilgai and some jackal, but the area behind the sanctuary is a great place to spot wading birds all year around. Lapwings are a common sight, but so are the Indian Courser and Thicknee.
2. Surajpur Wetlands and Biodiversity Park, Noida
You will be surprised to find this birding paradise amidst the concrete jungle of Noida. Quite a popular spot among birdwatchers, a natural birding trail has also been developed by the forest authorities in a collaboration with the Greater Noida and WWF India, which makes following the birds much easier for the first-time visitor. Bengal Floricans, Painted storks, Wooly necked stork, Open-billed stork, Spoon-billed, Black-necked Stork, Grey and Purple Heron, Pond and Night Heron, Golden Oriole, Purple Moorhen, Pheasant Tailed Jacana, Egrets, Northern Pintail, Northern Shovellers, Greyleg Goose, Gargany are easily spotted here.
3. Basai Wetland, Gurgaon
The Basai Wetland region is one of Gurgaon’s best-kept secrets. Situated 50kms away from Delhi, summer is one of the best times to spot Purple Moorhen, Egrets, Pheasant Tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Darters, Sarus Cranes and many other species etc. This place is a favourite haunt of the famed bar-headed geese in winters, and is also favoured by Greyleg Geese, Spoon Bills, Marsh Harrier, Common Starling, Wagtails, and Wire-tailed Swallow. A word of advice – do wear sensible boots here – as the grass is marshy and rather tall.
4. KG Wetlands, Palwal, Haryana
This small hamlet, about 80 kms from Delhi is a haven for Flamingos and White Pelican in October. Because the wetlands are shallow, there are metal roads, and that makes a field trip very convenient. From within the confines of your vehicle, you can spot a variety of species Comb Duck, Common Teal, Rudy Shelduck, Pied Avocet, Sarus Crane, Pelican, Greater flamingo, Spot-bill Duck. The best thing about this place is that one can photograph from the vehicle (provides to be an excellent hide).
5. Aravalli Biodiversity Park, JNU-Vasant Kunj
What was a decade ago a barren piece of land is now home to several birds, mammals, reptiles, butterflies, rare medicinal plants and other beautiful species. Birders have counted close to 200 species of birds, 100 species of butterflies, two dozen species of reptiles and many hundred species of plants inside this mini biosphere. While the park is not easily accessible to the public, but educational trips are permitted occasionally.
6. Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, Tughlakabad
This is the real ‘wildlife sanctuary’ in the concrete jungle that is Delhi. The Aravalli Hill range, the oldest mountain range of India, protects this on the northern side. Just a century ago, this area was famous for leopards, chinkara and even lions. Local rulers, nawabs etc would organise shikar parties here. But over time, while the big cats have disappeared (though locals still maintain they spot the odd leopard once in a while), the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary has close to 200 bird species and several mammals such as Jackals, Nilgai, Jungle Cat, Balckbuckm Civet cat and Porcupine. Statutory warning is that it is not safe to go here alone or even in groups of less than four. I went here as part of a large group of about 25 bird watching enthusiasts. Also, it would be prudent to inform the local police station before visiting the premises.
Text and images by Aarti Kapur Singh