In time to catch latecomers
A minute by minute account of a birdwatching
expedition in the mangroves of Karachi -- a refuge to the late arriving
By BCP member Ahmer Ali Rizvi
7:10 a.m. on the last Sunday of
January 2005. Expecting an extraordinary attendance of resident and
migratory birds, a bird crazy friend and I reached the south-western
bank of a large wetland adjacent to Sandspit. With temperature close to
9 degree centigrade, it was perhaps one of the
coldest birdwatching days I have ever experienced. A cloud of mist
rising from the cold water made matters murkier.
Locally known as the 'Fish Pond', it
is undoubtedly one of my favourite birdwatching spots. I have spent many
winter mornings at this marvellous site, sighting and observing various
water birds. A prolonged severity in cold weather has led to a
significant increase in migratory birds from upcountry wetlands to the
marshlands in coastal areas of Pakistan. The value of such natural
habitats along the coast has therefore multiplied manifolds since they
provide refuge to the late arriving migratory birds.
7:17 a.m. Sun rose with burnished
shades of red and purple clouds.
7:30 a.m. We stepped into mudfat and
reached the embankment of the wetland after negotiating a knee-deep
cannel of water. Initially, we chose to settle in mangrove bushes at the
eastern bank with our backs to the sun.
Setting up blinds for a good
birdwatching is a crucial task since many factors have to be considered,
mainly the sun and wind direction. Knowing the environment and the
routine flight path of birds well can make the experience more pleasant.
Also a bird watcher must use the natural environment to camouflage
himself, preferably in clothes that blend in with the surrounding.
7:45 a.m. Our optical equipment and
other gear was set accordingly.
7:52 a.m. Excitement built as we got
the first glimpse of a flock of 23 Reef Heron rising from the mangrove
forest. They were so far from our blinds that we could hardly count them
without binoculars. Reef Herons are the most common birds nesting in
mangrove plants all the year round. After this many a flock took wing
from the mangroves and moved towards the north-western bank of the sea.
8:00 a.m. A flock of five Curlews
passed overhead, glided down and landed near a large cape just about 40
metres away. Obviously we had hidden ourselves well otherwise they would
never dare to settle so close to human presence. As soon I turned my
camera towards them, they flushed away making loud melodic chirps.
8:10 a.m. We saw a flock of 26
flamingoes gracefully emerge from the bushes behind us and glide to the
left of our blinds at an altitude of 20-25 feet. At this glimpse of
astounding appearance of wild birds, I realised that we were
strategically placed in a pit-hole at the edge of the mangrove forest;
visible to the birds only from the top.
Most water birds are vigilant
creatures that never settle on spots where human presence or intrusion
is possible; they stay far from the approachable banks. No doubt then a
powerful optical equipment is essential to view a large and rare
gathering of birds.
In the meanwhile, my eye was caught by
the activity at the other end of the bank where the congregation of
birds was multiplying as the sun's intensity increased.
8:20 a.m. Still shivering, we decided
to break for a hot cup of tea. I took out the thermos from my kitbag,
poured a cup for my friend who was craving for something warm. But as
soon he took the first sip, his expression changed... I had forgotten to
add sugar to the beverage. Sugarless, it was tea nonetheless.
8:27 a.m. Refreshed, I stood up and
scanned the mangrove trees with my binoculars. To my utter surprise I
caught the glimpse of hundreds of Great Cormorants approaching us. But
they spotted us and took height in seconds. The flocks that were
following also gained altitude just short of the edge of the forest. I
was thrilled as this was the first time I watched such a large movement
of Great Cormorants.
8:33 a.m. Next we spotted a large
flock of Green-winged Teals winging through the air at the far end.
Another flock appeared and landed in open water about 150 meters away
from where we were stationed. Some sight it was... floating on the
gentle waves of shallow water. I had not finished counting that another
one joined in. I started recounting. There were seven males and thirty
four females. Suddenly, they all fluttered away to the north-west.
Thereafter, flocks of Teals and Mallard ducks appeared and disappeared
at short intervals -- most of them emerged from the mangrove area and
flew north-west to Sunhera mountains. Only a few opted to float in the
8:40 a.m. Once again, flocks of Great
Cormorant flew from east to west, over the sea across the road. This
activity continued for 30 minutes.
The turnout of wadding birds was
increasing remarkably. Now, I was tempted to identify and count the
birds clumping together at a distance. To make this happen, I decided to
move to the edge of a large peninsula. Leaving my partner behind, I
slowly waded in ankle-deep water to the closest possible spot. Setting
my spotting scope on a mound, I paused for a minute to get my bearings
9:17 a.m. Here was the most gratifying
moment of the day: I rested my eye on the spotter's eyepiece and saw a
large crowd of multi-coloured birds -- Gulls, Terns, Sandpipers, Dunlins
and Stints -- feeding, floating, resting and wadding leisurely along the
banks of the sea. I gave up counting... innumerable, but I noted down
their species and counted only the rare ones. There were 97 Godwits, 132
Black-winged Stilts, 24 Curlews, 11 Whimbrels, 16 Avocets, 21 Large
Egrets, 47 Reef Herons, 18 Gray Herons and 13 Flamingoes.
9:55 a.m. I saw a flock of Sholveller
ducks taking flight smoothly toward the sun. I couldn't watch them
through my binoculars but roughly they were 12 to 15. Almost suddenly
they took a U-turn and headed north-west, where the rest of the ducks
10:30 a.m. We packed up and drove back
to the city after a delightful birding expedition -- with plans to come
again the next Sunday.
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