Bird-Watching on Boat Safari at Gajoldoba

Introducing Gajoldoba

Geographically Gajoldoba is located in the south-western foothills of Himalaya, environed by River Teesta and Mahananda to the east and west respectively. The place, about 12 Km yonder to Siliguri and approximately 37 Km to Jalpaiguri town along the Fulbari Canal, is the western section of the Dooars. Baikunthapur Forest Region occupies a large portion as a backdrop to the Teesta Reservoir which was made on River Teesta for irrigational purpose and both invite comely migratory birds from Ladakh and Central Asia, moreover enrich the beauty of Gajoldoba. Good many people visit the place to have leisure quality time with near and dear ones and few in search of migratory fowls, thus making the place commercial for locals.

Bird watchers can avail ferry service and enjoy birding on boat safari for hours in the trustworthy company of guide cum ferryman. After the dam on River Teesta was built and the reservoir formed the marshland full of grasses and waterbody full of free-floating water hyacinth along with the jungle has become the second home for handful number of migratory birds especially fowls. Rather than watching from the spur one is recommended to reserve ferry and explore the waterbody quietly to espy diverse fowls till the horizon.

About 10 Birds encountered on the boat safari.

At Gajoldoba, on the boat safari, one can hope for sighting Brahmini ducks, Bar-headed goose, Poachards, Pintails, Shovelers, mallards, black Ibis and many species of storks and ducks. Moreover, the waterbody is also natural habitat for Large Cormorant, Great Egret, Common Kingfisher, White Breasted Kingfisher, Common Shelduck, Falcated Duck, Garganey, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Lesser Sand Plover, Northern Lapwing, River Lapwing, Red Wattled Lapwing, Osprey, Western and Eastern Marsh Harriers, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Great Crested, Coot and Black-necked Grebes and many more.

10 Birds encountered on the boat safari

1) Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant sighted sitting at ease.

Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax carbo

Commonly known as the Large Cormorant in India, was the first bird I encountered from the spur of Teesta Barrage. The bird was seated on the topmost branch of a tree concerned a little of my movements otherwise at ease. I tiptoed on the boulders of the spur in order to get a close-up shot of the species and could manage to observe it at a 5m distance and able to capture the above picture with the Canon EF 50-200mm lens.

#Fact: Great Cormorant possesses an old relationship with humans that of a master and a slave. Natives and fishermen belong to North East Asia especially Japan and China knowing their expertise in catching fish, used to capture these birds and tie a line around their throat tightly enough so that it could prevent swallowing. When deployed in the water these birds could only enjoy fishes half swallowed after catching them and later fishermen could able to open their mouth by force to retrieve their hunts by engaging the regurgitation reflex. This is known as Cormorant fishing, a practice still exists in many countries around the globe. I wish the torture caused to these innocent beings stops soon.

2) Common Kingfisher

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The Common Kingfisher

Scientific Name: Alcedo atthis

This particular agile creature was spotted many a time flying around and hovering and diving into the water and come out carrying the kill with his beak before I could point my lens at him and shoot a picture as this. Common Kingfishers are among the most brightly coloured birds persist in the world today and as the name states King, they rightly mastered the art of catching fishes which has no match with other birds’ capability. But, Common Kingfisher possibly is the ideal form of the species I find it less common than White-Breasted Kingfisher for their excess availability everywhere.

The size of the species is around 15 cm long, is the cause I had to approach it closely to get the shot. It got spooked by my movements when I was being desperate trying to stand on the edge of the ferry to get an eye level shot and to my disappointment vanished into the bushes in no time.

3) Ruddy Shelduck

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Ruddy Shelduck, the migratory bird from east and central Asia.

Scientific Name: Tadorna ferruginea

In India, Ruddy Shelduck is commonly known as Brahminy duck possibly because of its Orange-brownish coloured plumages that upgrade their casts among other ducks. They pair a good bond, are mostly spotted in flocks comprise of both the genders.

In an hour of boating safari, the guide could take us to the inland portion of the waterbody where inhabited these Ruddy Shelducks. To my surprise, these were a bit carefree of intruders like us, although aware of our activity honked loudly a couple of times when perceived risky as we pushed their level of tolerance by an endeavour to observe them at a close range. We moved in further leaving those fowls in their natural state without bothering them much.

4) Great Egret

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The takeoff. Great Egret.

Scientific Name: Ardea alba 

It is not tough to spot a Great Egret and observe their activities as they are large, widely distributed a species in Asia, Africa, Southern Europe and American continents. Great Egret is actually Heron with white plumages all over its body. This species mostly nests in trees or colonies near to water bodies.

The above click was captured when it approached our ferry from back at the moment of overtaking us fluttering its wings. These adults have a wingspan of not less than 1.5 m.

5) River Lapwing

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River Lapwing grazing on the sand bed

Scientific Name: Vanellus duvaucelii

River Lapwings, unlike other bird species or animals, have similar plumage or outlook for adults of both the genders. Generally in the animal kingdom its always males who are superior in terms of their outer beauty and glamour over females. There are exceptions like Lapwings where males are larger a little than their opposite sex.

This bird was grazing alone at the edge of the sand bed of the Teesta reservoir, at the same vicinity where I also spotted three Eurasian Thick Knees at a distance. The Ferrymen skillfully receded the speed of the boat to the shore where I literally had to step down on the bank and crawl a few meters to make the eye-level capture of the River Lapwing.

6) White Browed Wagtail

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White Browed Wagtail

Scientific Name: Motacilla maderaspatensis

This species is very common one in Indian Subcontinent, like other birds of Wagtail family White Browed Wagtail or Large Pied Wagtail, is no exception as it is insectivorous. This species is the largest in the family of Wagtails. It has interesting freestyle flying with constant dipping and rising and is nature-wise agile and active.

#Fact: White-Browed Wagtail was often caged in India and acknowledged for its musical calling capacity, unlike Parakeets that has a harsh tone.

7) Pond Heron

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Pond Heron, almost hidden in the bush

Scientific Name: Ardeola grayii

Pond Heron is the chunky species with short neck, thick beak and with streak breast although transformed in flights for its white plumaged wings. This species is probably the shortest among other Herons with a wingspan of merely 1m.

The Indian Pond Heron in the picture was sighted grazing alone in the marshy wetland, full of grasses and water hyacinth. They reside in short colonies or mostly use marshy wetlands as breeding habitat.

8) Eurasian Coots

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Eurasian Coots before the flight

Scientific Name: Fulica atra

Eurasian Coot is commonly known as Common Coot do have very interesting characteristic features. They are migratory birds mostly sighted in large flocks like Pintails. The birds of Rallidae family spend time in Indian subcontinent wintering around in clean and still water bodies. As shown in the picture they take a long run on the water surface before they take off for a flight with much splashing or for a short distance movement they barely fly at all but run and splash.

All my futile attempts to approach and shot them and Pintails closely with 55-200mm lens killed a lot of time chasing to and fro had produced nothing but despair. Although, as a bird-watcher, I feel those attempts didn’t go completely in vain as we possessed a good ranging binocular to observe their behaviour which we did gladly.

9) Red Wattled Lapwing

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Red Wattled Lapwing on the sand bed

Scientific Name: Vanellus indicus

Red Wattled Lapwing also is known as Large Plover, is named as Tither in Hindi and characteristics features resemble with other birds of Charadriidae family. This species is mostly sighted around marshland or clean water bodies. This ground bird resides in small colonies on river banks or on marshlands. Like River Lapwing males of this species’ wingspan are nearly 5 cm wider than that of their female counterpart, it is hard to distinguish their sex otherwise.

On a lighter note, whenever I encounter them I recall the Hindi riddle relating to their name and a saying. As it is believed that Red Wattled Lapwing postures upside down while sleeping with their legs facing the sky and back touching the ground, people in Hindi states, “Tithiri se asman thama jayega” which literally means, “as if the lapwing support the heavens?”) that, of course, possesses sly innuendo regarding a person as he/she has undertaken any sort of doing beyond their capability. On the other hand, the Hindi riddle or tongue twister says: तीतर के दो आगे तीतर, तीतर के दो पीछे तीतर /आगे तीतर पीछे तीतर , बोलो कितने तीतर ( tither k do age tither, tither k do pichhe tither/ age tither pichhe tither, bolo kitne tither), means that, there’ are two Lapwings at the front and two at the back of a Lapwing and there are Lapwings both ways, how many Lapwings are involved now!?!  You are welcome to answer the riddle in the comment box. 

10) Red-crested Pochard

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Couples of Red-crested Pochard

Scientific Name: Netta rufina

Red-crested Pochard is migratory birds from Southern Europe and Central Asia found in Indian subcontinent wintering in the clear waterbodies or lakes. Unlike Lapwings both the sexes of adults of this family can easily be distinguished as males possess glaring red bill and eyes, black-plumaged breast, rounded orange head and white flanks which outsmarts the outlook that these females have which is in one word dull. Pochards are found in flocks that comprise of both genders and are very shy in nature.

I encountered them twice, firstly from the spur of the dam on River Teesta and lastly, while birding on the boat in the afternoon. Both times I was amazed by their gorgeous presence especially when looked through the binocular the flock did seem only a hand away, it was hard to move eyes from them.

The migratory birds are surely helping to increase the glory of the Teesta reservoir as well as the whole place of Gajoldoba. Now it is our responsibility to keep their habitat clean being environment-friendly and thoughtful so that we can enjoy more sight of nature’s amazing creations in the coming days.

See you there. . .

                                                                    |  Rick Biswas  |



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