Come winter, migrant, and native birds assemble at Chilika Lake in Odisha. Presently, thousands of waterfowl and shore birds are thronging the marshy wetlands of Mangalajodi (which is on the northern shores of Chilika). It is an unbelievable sight to watch the congregation of so many birds from across India and other countries.
During the peak season, more than 2 lakh birds have been recorded at Mangalajodi which has been declared an Important Bird Area (IBA). To protect this unique ecosystem, the state High Court had directed the Odisha government to take a decision on banning the use of mechanized boats at the 8.3 sq km area of Mangalajodi.
However, till date, no ban has been imposed from the months of Oct-March. In fact, the state government had said in an affidavit there has been a rise in the number of migratory birds from 1.05 lakh in 2018 to 2.25 lakh in 2022 due to decreased poaching and protection by fishermen.
The Orissa High Court is likely to take up the ban issue soon but only after an assessment is made with the arrival of migratory birds this season. It was Debakar Behera, a local resident who had filed a PIL citing operations of the motorised fishing boats posing serious threat to migratory birds at Mangalajodi.
Green Minute decided to peek into this wonderland which sees birds in groups, in clusters or individuals hovering or feeding in the brackish waters. It was in late November that we decided to visit Chilika and drove down 62 kms on NH-16 from Bhubaneshwar to Tangi in Khurda district. One must take a right turn to enter the Mangalajodi village which is based on the banks of the great Chilika Lake.
Eco-tourism is managed by community people where locals and poachers today have turned into bird protectors and lovers. And one of them, Anand, fisherman turned bird protector accompanied us on the country boat and identified every other bird and spoke about its nesting and breeding activities.
Anand expressed his disappointment at the state government’s neglect of Mangalajodi and the need for development and regulation of mechanized fishing.
“We are doing everything to protect our heritage. We learned all birding techniques with the help of eco-volunteers and bird experts as the government run weeklong workshop did not help us much. Although not many mechanized boats are used in Mangalajodi as it drives away the birds but a few fishermen do operate them in some channels and sub-channels which disturbs the birds.”
The jetty at Mangalajodi is crammed with boats of all sizes but most of them are country boats used for fishing.
Some 100 boats are available here for tourism and birding activities says Sri Sri Mahavir Pakshi Suraksha Samithi (Committee for Birds’ Protection) which is recognized by the Chilika Development Authority and founded by Wild Odisha.
Even as our boat traversed through reed-lined channels for a three-hour session, we could hear different bird sounds – quacks, chirps, whistles, caws, trills, coos, and mimics. “We were at very close quarters with the birds. If some were happily hiding in the tall grass, others were diving into the lake for their food,” says Sagarika, a local visitor.
However, the sight of large groups and clusters of waders, geese, gulls, ducks, storks, cormorants, darters, Ibises, herons, grebes, jacanas, terns, egrets, stilts, lapwings, and others was a thrilling sight.
Other sightings included gadwall, northern shoveler, northern pintail, garganey, great cormorant, black tailed godwits, Brahminy kites, open billed stork, common coot, grey heron, spot billed ducks, etc.
However, it was the sight of whiskered terns, black tailed godwits, seagulls, northern pintails flocking in groups from one end to another at Mangalajodi – it was a heartwarming experience.
Since the 1165 km-long-Chilika Lake, a Ramsar Site is an amalgamation of marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem. So, it supports some of the largest congregation of migratory birds from Asia during the winters.
During peak season, thousands of winged visitors can be seen arriving from Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas to feed and breed in this brackish lagoon.
The sea grass meadows of the lake which is expanding despite anthropogenic pressure is a sign of healthy ecosystem, says a scientific assessment by Chilika Development Authority and Maryland University.
So, Chilika lake especially in Mangalajodi contains the most important and significant actual habitat for in situ conservation of biological diversity including rare species of birds and animals.