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Chilika lake - Enjoying the dawn with birds

Sometime back, when I travelled to Chilika Lake (Lagoon), I got a unique chance to educate children as well as experience nature, both of which I adore. It was a nature camp and I was sent there officially to educate the children about nature and its significance. It’s always cool to teach children, especially those at elementary and secondary school level. They are charming, inventive and most importantly mischievous.

On a Hunt towards the never ending horizon
As part of the nature camping programme, we are advised to stay within the limits of any protected natural landscapes, viz-a-viz wildlife sanctuary, reserved forest or national park. We stayed in the midst of a lavish green backdrop encompassed by a variety of species, resident of Chilika. The ever-soothing early morning breeze flows alongside the twittering and chattering cries of birds and little creatures.

Chilika Lake is the biggest brackish water lake of Asia found along the Coromandel Coast of peninsular India. Being declared one of the six wetlands under the Ramsar convention, it offers a great deal of scenic beauty. Furthermore, this picturesque locale is a safe haven for diverse aquatic life forms such as birds (both waterfowl and waders), fishes, crabs, etc.

Illumination of sky
With a crack of dawn
The never ending horizon
Never to be missed

We organized a birding trip to the nearby island, Nalbana. Boats were arranged for the trip. Nalbana is a wonderful island with vast life forms situated at the heart of Chilika Lake.

The children jumped out of joy as the boat surged through brackish water and moved forward. We tried to arouse their interest by showing them some beautiful creatures like Irrawaddy Dolphins, Seagull, Gull-billed Tern, Pied Kingfisher, White-bellied Sea Eagle, etc. The children were given binoculars to observe the birds. Some of the kids were curious, questioning the open-feather stance of a bird. It was a Cormorant. Unlike other water birds, cormorants do not have wax coating around their feathers. So it stays under the sun with its feathers open to get dry. This in turn looks striking and attracts students, birders and photographers. The children were so thrilled watching the hunting behaviour of terns and kingfishers.

Hovering along the airstream
With her eyes glued
Dives and captures him in a flash

As we paddled through the lake, we saw a huge flock of Ruddy Shelducks taking off, sensing us (strangers). Northern Pintails, Shovelers and Gargeneys accompanied them shortly. It was beyond belief to spot all these wonderful creatures at the same time. Children looked absolutely thrilled.

After an hour long journey, we reached the island. The forest officials briefed us about the island and its significance. Nalbana Island was declared a bird sanctuary in 1973. It serves as a massive wintering ground for birds. One can see over thousands of birds hysterically foraging the mudflats during the season. The best part about this island is, it vanishes during the monsoon season due to heavy showers and resurfaces back once the water recedes.

The children were taken to the watch tower, where they got to watch the birds through high range spotting scopes. Watching the peculiar behaviour pattern of larger and smaller birds, the children’s curiosity piqued. The larger birds include greater and lesser Flamingos, Herons, Egrets, Pelicans, Storks, Ducks and Ibises. The smaller birds include Stilts, Terns, Sandpipers, Ruffs, Snipes, Lapwings, Coots, Teals, etc. They even saw a few raptors like Sea Eagle, Kites and Falcons.

As they were curiously screening the birds through the spotting scope, one of the children shouted out an alarm. He informed us that he has spotted a bird which has a white head with dark eyes and sharp beak pointed downwards, brownish feathers and pale yellow coloured legs with talons. It was clear that the bird he was describing about was the Brahminy Kite; we were startled by his acute observation.

Injured Brahmini Kite
He continued further that the bird had repeatedly fallen into the water while attempting to take off. He sounded very concerned about the bird and its condition. We responded quickly by taking a look at that bird through the scope and witnessed the same scene as narrated by the boy. Immediately, we informed the forest officials, who after observation told us that the bird was injured. The feathers were wounded because of which it was struggling to fly. Without wasting much time, their team rushed to the spot and rescued the bird.

The Forest Ranger and Divisional Officer appreciated the boy for his intuitive observation and quick thinking. They presented him the famous book “The book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali” and encouraged him to do bird watching regularly. It was pleasant surprise for the boy and also for the entire group.

Overall, it was an enchanting experience in Nalbana both for the children and us (educators). It was one of my most unforgettable experiences with children and nature.


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