Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Lonavala (Feb 2020) - Quest-ral?

The hill-station of Lonavala nestles within the Sahyadris, at a comfortable driving distance from both Mumbai and Pune. Usually a destination for picnics and family outings, it made its debut on the must-visit destination list for birders only in 2019. And all that was thanks to one bird - The Lesser Kestrel, a small bird of prey from the falcon family. While this bird is a regular winter visitor to the country, sightings and wintering spots are not always reliable. A small flock had apparently collected in the backwaters of a dam in Lonavala last winter, but only a select few were 'in' on the location. This year, thanks to a kindly birder friend, a lot many more people got to see this splendid bird.

One Sunday afternoon, Sriram and I drove out to record our attendance with the Kestrel. A comfortable two hour drive and we were at the dam, given precise instructions on where to find the birds by friends who'd been there earlier. We saw them at once, but hovering and flying and not anywhere close to landing on the ground. And we waited, drove around a bit trying to track different individuals, but an hour or so passed without any luck. We both had a good look at the birds through the binoculars so that was good, but the photo ops were not forthcoming.

Until a fellow birder and kindly soul, Ronit Dutta let us in on a little secret. One sub-adult bird always perches on a group of rocks at the far side of the dam at a particular time. And, thanking him profusely, we slowly headed there, and found said bird perched very kindly on a rock. He gave us some nice pictures and we waited with him for the light to get a little better. He then allowed us, crawling on our stomachs, to get reasonably close and get some decent photos. Satisfied, we left the bird in peace and drove around, trying to scout for the lone male, in the hope that he too descends for this photo session. But he proved elusive, though his cousin, a Common Kestrel proved far more amenable to having his picture taken. 

Having got our pictures, we both called it an early evening and headed back home; happy to spend some quality time with the Lesser Kestrel but awaiting the next season to come back and get the male.

Lonavala Trip Guide

Getting there
Lonavala is about 90kms from Mumbai by road and about 2 1/2 hours by train (65 kms and 1 1/2 hours by train from Pune) It's easy to reach from either city thanks to the Mumbai-Pune expressway. This particular spot is at the Tata Dam, once it dries up in winter. 

Being a hill-station, Lonavala has plenty of places to stay across budgets and forms, from large hotels to villas on hire. It's a comfortable day trip from both Mumbai and Pune so stay is a need only if you're planning to spend a weekend there.

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