Birdwatching at Santragachi Jheel
Last weekend I had gone to visit the popular lake in Santragachi, known as the Santragachi Jheel, which is home to about 4000 to 5000 migratory birds during the winter months of December-January. Merely half an hour drive from Kolkata, birdwatching takes a new life quite surprisingly in this lake that is located in the outskirts of the city, near Howrah, West Bengal. I’d only heard about it and seen pictures before and wanted to experience it myself. So, this was my first visit to Santragachhi.
A few days ago, I came to read in the newspaper that this year some 3000 birds have flocked in the lake. The number has comparatively increased from the previous couple of years when it was reported that the pollution of the lake water was driving away the birds and there were also reports regarding bird deaths. However, the authority have taken measures since then to combat the pollution and successfully recreated the congenial environment required to attract the birds like before.
I took a train ride from Howrah and Santragachi is just 4 stations after. Santragachi railway station is a junction for the South Eastern Railway. It is fast becoming a busy railway junction after Howrah and the improved long distance train connectivity and the development of bus routes and other transportation are acting much in favour as people travelling by railways are now inclined to take trains via Santragachi to avoid the rush in Howrah.
The lake, covering an area of 13,75,000 sq. km, is located next to the railway station. As I walked out of the railway platform and arrived at the vicinity of the lake, I was amazed. There were thousands of birds and it is really surprising that despite being surrounded by residentials, locomotive units, railway goods wagon units, industries, busy roads and a busy railway station, the migratory birds make this lake their abode for three months in the midst of such chaos.
I walked into the railway colony at one side of the lake and from that compound, the visibility was good enough. About ten beds made of reeds, water hyacinth, straw and bamboo throughout the lake see hundreds of birds flocking on each. A lot of migratory birds like lesser whistling duck including the rare Fulvous Whistling Duck, Ferruginous Pochard, Swinhoe’s Snipe,Comb Duck and the more common Northern Pintail, Cormorants, Gadwall, Garganey, Northern Shovelers, Water Moorhens, Coot and others can be spotted on the lake. Resident breeders like jacanas, bitterns and egrets are also seen.
Below are some shots of birds that I could spot at Santragachi Jheel.
I walked around the entire lake stopping at points to click some pictures. Views from the opposite side of the lake that is not next to the station is more pleasant as there are more birds on that side. The road passes next to residential buildings and seating arrangements are also present at certain points. The entire lake is fenced except at a few points. I was there for half a day and time just flew by.
It’s really amazing how the local residents act responsibly towards developing a congenial environment for the birds. They take much pride in providing adequate protection to the birds and you need to experience it how freely the birds move about in the lake without getting wary of the locality.