Monday, March 22, 2010

Bird Watching at Uran

Last Saturday, 20th March 2010, I went to Uran with a couple of friends for some birding (bird watching as it is otherwise called). We three have been planning a outing for some time now but, for various reasons, were unable to actually make a trip — one of us had joined a new workplace, my alternate weekends are booked with other commitments, and add to that the usual workplace pressures. Since December last year we were contemplating visiting the Phansad Bird Sanctuary (near Kashid and Murud) and finally we realized that the plan looked unlikely to materialize with our varied schedules and responsibilities.

Then last week, two of us decided to trek the Yeoor hills that border Thane. These hills mark the boundaries of one side of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. We called the third member of our trio and asked him to join us. He agreed to a trip but suggested an alternative. At this time of the year, he reasoned, it will be tough to see any birds in Yeoor and offered Uran as an option. Uran is an old small fishing village/ town on the very fringes of what is now known as New-Mumbai (it is about 20 kms from both Panvel and Vashi, close to the JNPT). It has a small jetty and a lot of sea marshes which are a haven for birds. Uran seemed the more likely bet for catching some birds and so to Uran we went.

So early morning on Saturday I took the 05:30 AM train from my place and headed to Mulund from where we were driving to Uran. By 06:15 AM we had pointed the car's nose to New Mumbai and were on our way. Even that early in the morning — the sun had barely started coloring the sky — it was so hot and sweltering that we had to run the car's AC at full blast. Over the next 30 minutes, while we drove towards Uran, we brought each other up in recent developments — professional and personal. Our friend updated us about his new workplace and we brought him up to date with the developments in his old office. And then by mutual consent, we decided to speak no further of our offices and work — We had hit the road that turns to JNPT and Uran and we turned our eyes to the marshy flats and grasses on either side of the road. The car's speed was brought down to a crawl and the cameras readied.

Soon we spotted a flock of wading birds walking the flats. The birds were having breakfast in the receding tidewaters. We parked and jumped off the road and started approaching the birds cautiously. But all our caution was of no avail. They would fly further and further away if we moved even a limb or turned our heads. Due to the marshy mud, we couldn't follow them much. We finally stayed put and eventually some birds came close enough to be photographed. These turned out to be pond herons and black-winged stilts. After about 15 minutes we climbed back to the road and used the next few minutes to scrape the mud off our shoes and to wipe the buckets of sweat that we were producing in the extremely warm and humid weather. We then got back into the car, switched the AC on again and finished the only bottle of water that I had carried with me.

We pressed on further towards Uran. Soon we sighted some storks (probably Adjutants) and cormorants. But they were too far away to be photographed. We did try but got only blurry outlines to show for our efforts.

We then entered Uran. Uran now looks like a place which has just started transforming itself from a sleepy fishing village to a sleepy small town — narrow streets, few shops, few "tapris" selling chai and vadas and some people sitting around doing nothing. Along the way to Uran's jetty, we saw some purple moorhens — who promptly hid themselves in some tall grass when we pulled out our cameras, some more cormorants and herons, a few kingfishers, shrikes, and some lapwings. We eventually found the way to the jetty and spent a delightful hour watching the bustle of busy fisher folk and a flock of seagulls hunting fish in the shallows. From the jetty, we got a few photographs of the gulls — they were flapping around for their breakfast so much that it was tough to get any decent pictures. But we managed a few.

After about an hour, we looked around for a place to have some breakfast ourselves and found one which was willing to serve us some vada-pav and tea. We stocked ourselves with a few more bottles of water. From the jetty we drove a couple of meters (on the recommendation of a local) to the Umberdevi Mandir. The temple is in a small nook covered with some huge trees and has a huge well at one end. We saw a few red-whiskered bulbuls and magpies here. From the temple we turned the car about and started looking for a pond. Our paltry Internet research before embarking on this trip had fetched us one nugget of information — the pond behind the JNPT police station was a good place to see birds. However all our asking around didn't get us directions. One fellow directed us to a "Vimla lake" which turned out to be a decent sized lake in the middle of the town with a garden and benches around it.

Back on the road heading out of Uran towards Panvel, another local directed us to a road which curved away from the main road and headed through some more flat land. It looked promising and we turned the car off the main road and headed in the direction that was pointed out to us. The road did eventually reach a police station, but there was no pond behind it. And for most of the way, we found that the flats along the road were the result of many dumpers offloading debris and soil — clearly some major construction project was in the offing. The road eventually curved and turned and brought us back to the road that went to Panvel. By this time it was nearly 11:00 AM and the sun was making the already hot weather unbearable. The birds too had disappeared with the rising heat. We decided to head to Karjat from where two of us could board a train back to our places. After a short stop to fortify ourselves with some food and more water we eventually reached Karjat at 1:00 PM and I was home by 2:30 PM.

The trip was mixed. It was good to get out and do something different. And it was good to catch up with friends after ages. It would have been nicer if we had sighted a few more birds than we did or if we could have managed more and better pictures of the ones we did get to see. For the time and effort spent, the returns of the trip in birding terms were low. But this happens — you have some brilliant days of bird watching and sometimes you have days like these — not really disappointing but you feel it could have been better.

You will find all the pictures from the trip here: Uran - Bird Watching: Photoset | Slideshow

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