Welcome, winter friends on wing - Bird-watchers flock to visitors? old haunt

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  • Published 8.12.04

Bird-watchers from the city are flocking to Santragachhi to catch a glimpse of the Siberian migratory birds that have started arriving in large numbers at the local jheel.

The migratory birds already number more than 2,000 and officials expect the count to soar to over 7,500 by the time winter sets in. The winged visitors have flown thousands of miles to Santragachhi every winter for the past 15 years.

?We are expecting more birds this year than ever before. Mostly, they are varieties of Pintail Duck, Gadwall, Shoveler, Gargency Teal and the Lesser Whistling Teal,? elaborated Sujon Chatterjee, secretary of Prakriti Sansad, a non-governmental organisation engaged in spreading awareness about birds.

According to Chatterjee, the birds start arriving in the second week of November and the influx continues for about a month. The birds stay till February or March.

In Calcutta, Alipore Zoological Gardens is the favourite haunt of these Siberian birds, but the number of guests has dwindled drastically over the past five to six years.

The number of highrises and the pollution levels in the areas surrounding the zoo have risen over the years due to the construction of roads and flyovers in the city.

Moreover, the waterbody in the zoo is polluted as well. These, officials believe, are the reasons why fewer birds visit the zoo now.

Santragachhi Jheel, on the other hand, provides a quiet resting place for these feathered creatures. Chatterjee says these days, over 500 bird-watchers wait patiently from early morning on the banks of the waterbody, which covers over seven acres of South Eastern Railway (SER) property.

The birds emerge from the bushes and thickets along the north-western fringes of the jheel after the mist lifts off around 7 am.

Local residents gather along the banks beforehand to witness the breathtaking spectacle of the birds taking flight.

Paddy fields surround the jheel and SER?s Midnapore line runs along its western bank. A flyover to Andul Road lies to its south, while the Government Press quarters border its eastern banks.

The birds, however, remain unperturbed by the proximity to human settlements.

Every year, post-Puja, the forest department removes water hyacinth that clogs a sizeable portion of the waterbody. Small clumps are left along the fringes, as the birds feed on insects that thrive in the plants. The roots of other plants and the paddy fields nearby also provide abundant food for the birds.

The high level of awareness among the local residents ensures minimal pollution of the water. Previously, the water was being used to wash coaches in the Santragachhi railway yard, located less than a km away. But the practice has been discontinued to preserve the bird habitat.