Mangalajodi – from a poaching village to a conservation site
After a week of driving across Odisha we were on the last leg of our trip at the lovely Swosti Chilika Resort, having decided to just relax here at the pool, spa, savoring the chef spreads and optimistically thinking of working out the extra kgs by some lazy kayaking at the Chilika Lake!
However on the last day of our stay an impulse took us to the Bird Sanctuary at the Mangalajodi Wetlands, an hour’s drive away.
This little village lies on the northern edge of Chilika Lake in Odisha, barely 70 kms southwest of Bhubaneswar. Surrounding it are vast stretches of marshlands that are home to a wide variety of resident birds and migratory ones as well. Since this is largely marshy land, it attracts mostly water birds.
The Behras whom we had spoken to over phone were waiting for us. We jumped on their boat after some quick introductions.
As Kalu steered us adeptly through the shallow marshy waters and Madhu our local guide reeled off the names of the many birds lazing around in the brackish waters, there are some things which have been as if, tattooed on our brains!
The juvenile Brahminy Kite we spotted on a tree enjoying its juicy kill, pair of stout ruddy shelducks relaxing amongst the reeds and hearing us approach leaving in a flutter of colors, the purple heron up close with its long neck straining to get closer to its prey, the purple moorhens as elegant on the water as in flight, the little egret almost struggling to down the fish through its throat taking forever, the flock of glossy ibis passing overhead, the juvenile pond heron with its striped feathers.
In a span of 2.5 hours we spotted 30 species in multiple numbers of these beautiful winged creatures as we drifted across on our flat bottomed wooden ‘Nauka’ in the waning late afternoon sun at times across almost mysterious creeks shielded by tall reeds on both sides. These Naukas are basically country boats and have been used here since ages because they can easily slide over the swampland. They are propelled by the boatman pushing against the shallow water bed by a long pole. Being manually rowed, they cut silently through the waters and hence do not disturb the birds.
The ones (besides those brain tattooed) we still remember are the black tailed godwit, blue tailed bee-eater, white throated kingfisher, yellow bittern, bronze winged jacana, common moorhen, starling, ruff, black winged stilt, northern shoveller, northern pintail, whiskered tern, common snipe, western yellow wagtail and of course the cormorants, egrets, lapwings, drongos and sandpipers.
With the orange flaring orb going down, the only sounds which flowed across our beings were the therapeutic warbling of the birds and the water lightly splashing against the sides of the boat.
As twilight casted a veil over the wetland the place turned absolutely mystical and felt even more wondrous as we spotted a Yellow Bittern bathed in the golden light! We just sat silently in our boat, reveling in the tranquility of the evening, allowing ourselves to stay lost in the spectacle a while longer!
We returned to the shore as the sun dipped over the horizon with flocks of birds flying home in their typical V formations at times!
The Story of Mangalajodi (Paraphrased from the internet)
Mangalajodi was famous as ‘poachers’ village’ because of the involvement of villagers in water bird poaching on a large, commercial scale. Even the eggs were not spared. It was no surprise therefore, when the census in the year 2000, counted a mere 5,000 birds in these waters.
Chilika Development Authority, Department Forest and Environment and many private agencies put in efforts to reverse the situation. After many battles and years of deliberation, managed to wean the poachers away from their trade by giving them hope of a sustainable and peaceful livelihood from tourism that the Mangalajodi Marshes held immense potential for. The erstwhile poachers today actively patrol and protect their marshes from bird poachers. Born naturalists, they monitor the bird population, co-ordinate with the forest department, assist in research and take tourists around on birding trips into the marshes.
Today, Mangalajodi is a pristine ecotourism destination and every birdwatcher’s paradise. Now it is home to more than 230 species of resident birds. Its vast wetlands attract thousands of migratory birds, which journey from far and different places of the world. Its wetlands now host more than 1.5 lakhs of birds during the peak season. November to March is a good time to visit for enjoying an amazing experience. We were here in mid November 2022.
We were happy not to be encumbered by our large cameras as we enjoyed unhindered pure birding though reminding ourselves to return with our equipment for capturing the images other than just storing them in our memories!
And one last sighting!
“The bird in flight gives its colors to the sky and yet leaves it as a fresh canvas, ever part of the onwards moment” ~ Angela Abraham, (Daisy)
Article Authored By: Achal Bindraban.
Page Design By: Ranjana Achal.
Pictures By: Achal and Ranjana and couple pics by our guide.
Travelled in November, 2022
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