Friday, July 1, 2016

Sunday with a Phalarope - Bhigwan (March 2016)

One Saturday in March brought very interesting news – a Red Phalarope had been spotted in Bhigwan, around 250kms away from Mumbai. A vagrant to beat all rare vagrants!

The Red Phalarope (called Grey Phalarope in Europe) is a small wader in the Sandpiper family. It breeds in the Arctic and winters in the Southern Oceans, rarely seen inland unless pushed in by a storm. Maybe the rain the previous week had caused it to veer off course.

Naturally, the planned visit to Matheran to get the Indian Blue Robin was put on hold. We set out for Bhigwan on Saturday night, with a quick stop at a friend’s in Pune for a couple of hours of shut-eye. And arrived at 6:30 at Sandip Nagare’s place (Agnipankha Flamingo Point) in Kumbhargaon village near Bhigwan (On the Pune Solapur Highway) only to be told that 12 boats had already set out, all for the Phalarope.

That sinking feeling setting in was assuaged by young Mahadev, a member of Sandip’s bird-guide- cum-boatman team. He seemed pretty confident that we would see the bird, at our leisure. We weren’t quite so sure, and as we reached the waterbody, we encountered another problem – no boats. All Sandip’s boats had been engaged. Mahadev's resourcefulness came to the fore and we pinched a fisherman’s rickety old piece and set out with water slushing around our feet and a prayer playing on our lips.

A short ride away, we saw a few boats parked along the shore and Mahadev rowed us there. We got off to see quite a few people shooting a small wader in a shallow pool just off the main waterbody. We duly joined the throng, observing and clicking this amazing little bird, and wondering where he came from and why he’s here.

Feeding Non-stop
He seemed like a very obliging sort as he posed for pictures and swam quite close to the shore to where we all were lying prone. Through the half hour we were with him, he was constantly looking to feed. Probably to beef up his strength to get back on course for the long flight back home. We left him to feed in peace and rowed back, marvelling at our luck.

Back on shore and we set out to find some other lifers. Mahadev drove us hither and tither to look for Oriental Pranticole, another lifer on the much wanted list. And after a half hour of no luck, we got word of one sighting and headed there to complete one more list on the bucket list.

And that ended one of the most special mornings of my fledgling birding career. To get one of the rarest feathered visitors to the Indian subcontinent. 

About the Red Phalarope
While the Red Necked Phalarope is a (slightly) more common visitor to our shores, the Red Phalarope is seldom seen. I’ve been told that it’s only the second record in Maharashtra.The last record in India was probably at Tal Chhapar in 2012.

Here’s to this amazing little bird and many more of his ilk.

About Bhigwan
Located just off the Pune-Solapur highway (NH9), Bhigwan is  around 250 Kms from Mumbai and 100kms from Pune, the nearest Airport and Metro. It's a spectacular spot for waders in winter; it has many special winter migrants but the visitors mainly come there for its its flamingos. 

Sandip Nagare is the resident expert and bird guide based in Kumbhargaon village. He arranges boats, stay, food and guides. You can reach him on +91 9960610615. You need look no further than him.