Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's fowl!

Gaggles of geese and solitary cranes dot the fields and wetlands of Kheda and Anand districts in Gujarat

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Wednesday, November 03, 2010 at 12:11:01 PM

"Pariej?" The chaiwallah at Tarapur chowk sleepily shakes his head. It's 6am. Our Gujarati driver makes another attempt. "Pariyaj?". "That way," the chaiwala points to his right. In spite of excellent roads and very warm locals, getting around rural Gujarat can be difficult for everything rests on pronunciation. You may actually end up in another part of the state if you get the name wrong. And if that's not enough, adjacent districts have towns and villages bearing the same names! But then if you have to go bird-watching around Gujarat's wetlands, you have to be patient and keep searching.

Strategically located between two avian migratory routes, one from Central and North Asia to East Africa and another from the Middle East and Europe to peninsular India, Gujarat is a bottleneck for migratory birds. The monsoon rains replenish water bodies and regenerate grasslands, creating perfect habitats for avifauna. Gujarat’s wetlands are also used for irrigation and aquaculture of prawns, providing waterfowl with plenty of crustaceans, fish, algae and zooplankton for the winter months. Around 1.3 million migratory waterfowl visit Gujarat’s 1,419 wetlands every year.

Pariej (Pariyaj) Wetlands
Pariej: Bird watchers' paradise (Pics: Eisha Sarkar)

A huge gate welcomes you to the 'Pariej Wetland Bird Watchers Paradise' in Matar taluka in Kheda district. Pariej is one of the eight wetlands in Gujarat that has been declared by the Central Government as wetland of national importance. Located 80 km from Vadodara and 8 km from Tarapur on the Vadodara-Rajkot highway, Pariej boasts of around 60 species of birds. The 445 ha water storage reservoir that fulfils the drinking water requirement for 52 surrounding villages is almost dry, creating a marsh fringed with lotuses and weeds. The "Observation Post" is marked with pictures of different types of cranes, flamingoes and ducks you are likely to find here. A skein of noisy black geese flies overhead. In the distance you see white and grey spots – pelicans, storks, cranes, gulls, terns, waders, redshanks, sandpipers, spoonbills, coots, grebes, cormorants, ibises and egrets.

To serious birders, Pariej offers a great chance to see and find new feathered friends. Tents are available for camping. For better accommodation, you will have to go to Tarapur (8 km) or Nadiad (45 km)

This tiny village in Anand district is erroneously marked next to a huge reservoir on the Gujarat map. The small water-channels and pools near the village host several species of birds including Sarus Crane, statue-like egrets and pelicans, black cormorants drying their wings, gaggles of geese and solitary grebes, cranes and storks.

Black Cormorant
Kanewal Lake
The Tarapur-Khambhat Road is lined with irrigated paddy fields that host several species such as Sarus Crane, Black Ibis, egrets, kingfishers, storks, all sharing their space with terrestrial mynas, drongos, flycatchers, pigeons and woodpeckers. Post-monsoon, the 625 ha-Villa Kanewal Lake is another marsh that hosts Dalmatian Pelicans, Red-crested Pochards, Sarus cranes, storks, sandpipers and Demoiselle Cranes. There is no accommodation available at this site.

Birds are biological indicators
The presence or absence of birds tends to represent conditions pertaining to the proper functioning of an ecosystem. “There are annual variations in total number of birds counted on each wetland. I have been monitoring the annual counts since 1987. The water depth at both Pariej and Kanewal keep on varying as the water is supplied for irrigation as well as drinking purpose. This makes a lot of difference in species composition and bird abundance,” says Dr Bhavbhuti Parasharya, who is an ornithologist at the Anand Agricultural University, Anand. 

Conservation is the key
While Gujarat’s wetlands have potential to turn eco-tourism into a major industry, conservation of wetlands is important. Though both Pariej and Kanewal reservoirs host at least 20,000 birds every year that qualify for Wetlands of International Importance, as per the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 1971, neither has been identified as protected area. Dr Anika Tere of the Department of Zoology, M S University of Baroda, says, “While tourism will help people know about birds and create awareness about such ecosystems, the government and forest department should take care of their maintenance. As scientists we can only devise and demonstrate various conservation strategies, but we can't stop people from throwing plastic bags everywhere," she adds.

Sarus Crane
Getting there:
Pariej is 15 km north-west of Tarapur on the Vadodara-Rajkot highway. Kanewal is 6 km from Padra village on Tarapur-Bagodara road. Kanavad is 15 km from Jinach village on the Tarapur-Khambhat road. While you get buses to Tarapur from Vadodara, you may have to make your own arrangements or hire an auto or jeep from Tarapur to Pariej. Vadodara is well-connected to Mumbai by road and rail.

Birdwatching tips
  •   The best time for birdwatching is early morning and evening. Migratory birds are seen mainly from October to March
  • Wear clothes in earthy shades to blend with the surroundings
  • Do not get too close to the birds and disturb them
  • Carry binoculars and cameras with powerful zoom lenses
  • Carry a birdwatching guide to help identify the birds