Monday, January 30, 2006

Flamingo Watch at Sewree, Mumbai

Flamingos are the talk of the season. An article in TOI caught my attention to the fact that these birds have been coming to the Sewree mudflats only since the 90s. Moreover, the article estimated the number of birds at 15,000. After seeing the photo in the TOI, the photographer in me decided to get a few shots of these migratory birds. Even more so because I now had the confidence provided by the 70-300 zoom lens. Probably, the career-making kind of shots, I thought. After juggling my schedules and taking time out, I finally made it to the Sewree mudflats on Saturday, the 28th of January, 2006.

Getting to Sewree is the quickest by train. I took the 3.55 CST local from Vashi and reached Sewri at 4.25. Because Sewree is an intermediate station with no major human settlement around, getting off at the station was a breeze. The only structures one can find around Sewree station are the huge petroleum refineries, automobile workshops, and the road to the harbour. I walked out of the station, crossed the railway tracks, and reached a paan-tapri. I asked the guy there, "How far is the water from here?" He replied "You want to see birds? Just go straight from here" and pointed at a dirty road ahead of me. I thanked him for providing the directions and set forth.

The road was quiet desolate, considering it is in Mumbai. There were men welding pieces of metal together on one side. On the other side, there was a man hammering a huge tank - the kinds that are mounted on trucks carrying milk, edible oil, and petroleum products. Each time the hammer struck the tank, it made a huge gong, almost to the tune of 105 dB and shook the insides of my head. Ahead of these 'work shops' was a huge wall with "prohibited area" written on it. What could possibly make this area so prohibited, I thought to myself. As I approached the end of the road, it bifurcated. In front of me was a group of buildings that looked like a residential complex. The name read "Giri Nagar” I saw a group of teenage boys wearing dark red shorts and cream shirts. I enquired again, "Which way to the mud flats?" in Marathi. One of the boys replied, "Phlemingo bhagaycha aahe ka tumhala? Ikdoon saral ja." and pointed to the right of the bifurcation. I thanked the boys and proceeded in the direction. Upon walking further, I saw an old dilapidated structure. There was a group of small kids playing cricket. An old woman sat on the steps and watched them play. Just a little ahead, there lay a signboard - "Sewri Mudflats" with an arrow pointing to my destined direction.

As I walked further, I saw two men and a woman - all wearing caps coming towards me. One of the men had a binocular in his hand and a binocular case that read Olympus. The other man had a smaller carrying case, which I presume held a miniDV handycam. By now, I could see the water and at distance of about a kilometer, I saw a faint orange-white patch that extended in all directions. These were our visitors. I felt the excitement of seeing so many big birds at once. I hastened my pace and almost ignored the cricket ball that flew past my ear. At the end of the road was the Sewree jetty. It had two massive metal boats tethered to the shore. It was a low tide and the boats lay still on the soil, devoid of any movement. Upon closer examination, I figured out that these boats had huge cranes for transporting cargo from sea to shore. A group of young women, probably on a picnic, sat by the edge of jetty, munching on chips. A lone lady stood by their side with a digital camera that had 12x imprinted on its left side. Meanwhile, I took my camera out and started clicking photos. I could see a group of juvenile flamingos close to the shore, but there were not even half as pretty as the full grown pink ones. I clicked a couple of photos with much reluctance because even the 300mm zoom didn't give me a good enough close up.

Soon enough, more people started pouring in. The edge of the jetty, which had just a few people watching and enjoying the magnificent birds, now had at least fifty people, including a group of school kids. I also saw a gentleman with binoculars. He looked like he was in his early forties and wore a dark green t-shirt, with "HSBC" and "Bird Race '06" written on it. One look at that and I knew he was a BNHS member. His binocular was the center of attention with all the school kids wanting a peek at the Flamingos that were about half a kilometer away. I struck a conversation with him and he introduced himself as Mr. Bhatt. At first, he seemed interested in my camera and asked for a view. He then gave me his binocular and told me to have a look at the birds. They were, indeed, beautiful. Hundreds of them walking in the low tide of the mudflats. All of a sudden, a group of about fifteen flamingos started, what I call the bird race, running and intermittently flying towards another group. The sight was spectacular to the say the least, and straight out of National Geographic. It was then that I realized - I should have come here with my Sony Handycam. The 20x optical zoom would have done a lot of good to my bird watching stint.

The edge of the jetty was now bustling with picnickers, bird lovers, kids, and local fisher men. Little boys threw pebbles into the mudflats, driving away the remaining of the juvenile flamingos, egrets, and gulls. The sun was setting, the light was fading. I reminded myself of the promise - I will not click another sunset. After a brief discussion with Mr.Bhatt on going 'digital' and the advantages of having a field guide on bird watching trips, I decided to call it a day. I thanked Mr.Bhatt for his inputs and also got invited to join the BNHS. Took the train back to Vashi to join Anand in his birthday celebrations.

Meanwhile, I wait for the photos. The roll is still to be developed. May be tomorrow, when I get my salary! I hope the photos of the birds shot at mini-seashore and Sagar Vihar in Vashi, along with the ones clicked at Sewree turn out to be good.


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