Monday, March 11, 2019

Mumbai-Pune-Nashik (January 2019) - The Itch to Twitch

'Twitching' - The phenomenon to describe bird watchers traveling long distances to see a rare bird that would then be ticked off, or counted on  a list. Apparently named after the nervous behaviour of Howard Medhurst, a British birdwatcher in the 1950s.  These days, it has become a word in the birder lexicon that almost everyone indulges in but no one really likes to acknowledge. In some ways, we are all part-time twitchers. And when the rare birds present themselves in the proverbial backyard, is it really possible to not indulge in the odd twitch (or six)?

Twitch 1 - The Great Bittern
January 2019 dawned with the news of this super rare migrant being sighted within Mumbai city limits! And a quick trip was planned the following weekend to the Tarzon Lake in Kandivali. It turned out that half the birdwatching population of the city had the same idea! And we all spent a good hour looking in vain for this bird that had otherwise perched in the open the previous weekend. Even sightings of the otherwise elusive Black and Yellow Bitterns provided scant comfort to the throng. And then came the good news - someone had finally spotted the Bittern, in a different set of reeds this time. They very kindly set up their spotting scope and allowed us all to take a peek at this super-rarity for our parts. The bird was too deep within the reeds to get any photos for us, but just watching it was good enough. We came back the following weekend to get some decent photos, still within the reeds. For me, this was enough!

Twitch 2 - The Water Rail
A new adversary for me. This bird first made an appearance last season in Dombivali, then in Navi Mumbai and didn't give me even a sighter after five visits. This time it materialised in another wetland in Northern Mumbai, the rather spectacularly named Godzilla Lake. And here, it gave an audience to practically every visitor who took the time to come and see it, and I dare say to some of those who didn't even care to see it. "At last", I thought, "this particular representative of the species was not like its other cousins. It would give me a sighting all right" Except it didn't. Apart from one instance where an overzealous uncle drove it away, this bird too proved it was cut from the same cloth as the others. And then another sighting happened, this time near Nashik. Sriram and the others went on a weekend when I was away and shot it to their hearts' content. And assured me that I would break my luck at last. But when I went the following week, not a bloody peep out of this. The entire Water Rail race seems to have turned against me, joining the storied ranks of the Scimitar Babblers. And so, for record purposes, I have used the only half decent image I have! 

Twitch 3 - The Little Crake
A sleepy dam on the outskirts of Pune suddenly woke up into many birders' must-do destinations because of the Little Crake, a rare winter visitor to our parts. A remote outpost for quiet family picnics and quieter pre-nuptial photoshoots suddenly turned into a buzzing Kumbh Mela of sorts for birders as cameras and lenses of every make and size jousted for space to capture this little beauty. Pravin, Sriram and I headed out in the wee hours one Sunday morning to get this one. We hit Kasarsai just after daybreak, joined the assembled gentry in viewing and photographing this little visitor and then were ready to head back home. Till Pravin pointed to some birds on a wire and I asked if some of those could be Streak-throated Swallows (a lifer for me) He answered with an emphatic 'Definitely possible' and we headed to find out. And amidst their Red-rumped and Wire-tailed cousins, a few Streak-throated Swallows sat basking in the early morning sun. And made it a completely fulfilling morning for me. Birding done, rarity and more common lifer both ticked off and back home by 11:30 am! Try and beat that, ya twitchers!

Twitch 4 - The Moustached Warbler
Nandur-Madhyameshwar Sanctuary near Nashik has been on the fringes for a while with many birder friends recommending it. But the real 'reasons' to visit popped up early this year. First, a White-tailed Eagle, a European visitor otherwise seen only in Northern or Eastern India and then the Moustached Warbler, a first record for our state. I was keen on the latter, having seen the Eagle on two separate occasions. And while I missed going with Sriram, Pravin and the indefatigable Ramesh Ganeshan, I found good company the following weekend in the form of Manjunath. We went in, found the warbler, thanks to the omnipresent and ever-helpful Ronit Dutta and managed to get a few good frames of this beauty. 

The aforementioned Water Rail refused to make an appearance, but a very co-operative Spotted Crake more than made up for it. We spent quality time with this beautiful bird and when a Brown Crake also added to proceedings, it made for a very productive twitch indeed. The possibility of a Slaty-legged Crake makes Nandur very interesting indeed and a couple of future trips have been pencilled into the birding calendar.

Four super birds, all around big, buzzing cities. Goes to show that all that these birds (and indeed nature) need to live peacefully is a little, undisturbed habitat and understanding human beings. Here's hoping (against hope) for both of these!

Mumbai-Pune-Nashik Trip Guide

Tarzon Lake is a well-hidden wetland tucked away in the Charkop area of Kandivali, one of Mumbai's North-western suburbs. It can be accessed by public transport, barely 5kms from Kandivali Railway Station on the Western Railway, connecting with buses that go to Charkop. 
Find it on Google Maps here -

Godzilla Lake is nothing like the monster the name seems to suggest. Despite being hemmed in by habitation on all sides, this medium-sized waterbody supports a staggering variety of birdlife. It is 4.5 kms from Malad, another of the stations on the Western Railway.
Find it on Google Maps here -

Kasarsai Dam is on the outskirts of Pune city, about 12 kms from the IT hub of Hinjewadi. You'll need your own transport to get to this place. 
Find it on Google Maps here -

Nandur Madhyameshwar Bird Sanctuary is located about 35 kms from Nashik (about 215kms from Mumbai), on the Nashik Aurangabad Highway. It's a beautiful birding destination and well worth a visit. Again, you'll have to arrange your own transportation.
Find it on Google Maps here -

Common Coot 
Streak-throated Swallow

Brown Crake

Red Avadavat

Spotted Crake

Baillon's Crake

Black Bittern


  1. I can't believe the sightings of these wetlands that you had. I know how difficult these can be. Kudos to your efforts.

    1. Hi Sumeet, a very late reply I know so apologies for that. Thanks a ton for your comments and hope you've had wonderful trips yourself.

  2. Hey Srikanth, how do I get in touch with you? You can write to me at admin at desicreative dot com. Am interested in wildlife and conservation, wanted to speak to you...

  3. Hi Paramvir, Apologies for the late reply. You can write to me at