• Aashay Bhogte

A Bird watcher's Delight- Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

Sanjay Gandhi National Park is an age old travel destination in the city of Mumbai. For the enthusiasts residing in the city, it’s a gateway to capture a glimpse of the beauty and serenity which the tropical Konkan forests behold. Sprawling with biodiversity, the SGNP is an abode to a plethora of birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles and even some mammals. The monsoons serve the best time to witness them, especially the birds. While there's a selection of trails available, the best way to start exploring is by walking along the road to Kanheri from the main gate. From my experience, I have identified four key regions that observe most of the birding activity. I have also identified the birds one can spot in each of these locations:

The Lake- This is a smaller lake formed at the junction of the park and the city limits.

Formed from the much larger Tulsi Lake, this recreational pond is a home to a wide variety of birds, especially the common kingfisher. One can find it perched on trees near the bridge, right across the lake. Or even better, while flying along the surface of the lake, looking out for small fish. What is easier to spot here is the tiny birds’ bigger counterpart, the white throated kingfisher. With its distinctive call, it is almost impossible to not cross one while walking along the lakeside. Other wading birds such as black crowned night herons, black cormorants, pond herons, egrets and the slightly elusive white breasted water-hen are spotted here. Note that the best time to catch the kingfishers in action, is a little late in the morning, close to noon.

How to reach here: Walking almost a quarter mile or so from the main gate, take the left after crossing the playground.

The Knoll- Though not a widely identified location, once atop this hillock, one can oversee a small patch of the forest which is enveloped between the two key paths to Kanheri in SGNP. Standing slightly higher (at about 30-50 feet), one gets a good photographic viewpoint from here. Besides some common birds that can be spotted even within the suburbs such as red vented bulbuls, magpie robins, coppersmith barbets and rose ringed parakeets, one can also spot some uncommon birds such as the common iora, large green barbet (brown headed barbet), red whiskered bulbul, the endemic purple and vigor’s sunbirds, and the ashy drongo in this mini-valley. If lucky, one can also spot the greater racquet tailed drongo in this patch. However, failing to spot one should not be viewed as a disappointment since it can be easily sighted at another spot (further up).

How to reach here: This point is right after the entrance to the Shilonda trail, after ascending along the short mound. It is on the way to Kanheri, after walking along a little further on the same path that leads to the lake (walk towards Navapada village from the lake).

The Bridge- After descending the knoll, one crosses the junction where the two paths to Kanheri meet. Walking less than a quarter mile after this point, one reaches a second bridge that is built across the stream which later merges into the lake. Around this bridge, one can be lucky enough to spot multiple exquisite birds. I for one, spotted the lesser golden backed woodpecker, a tickell’s blue flycatcher and an emerald dove here. This is also the spot where the greater racquet tailed drongo are clumsy no more, and can be spotted on top of their favourite palm trees, often flying elegantly across from one tree to anorher. If you’re lucky, you can also spot the Indian Pitta, singing and dancing to the fall of the monsoon showers. It is also fairly simple to spot the black drongo, the Indian golden oriole and some spotted doves along the way.

How to reach here: This point is mid-way between the junction of the two paths to Kanheri and the Kanheri checkpost. It is marked by tall trees and dense forests which barely allow the sun’s rays from reaching the road that runs in between.

The Hillside- More of a stretch of land than a spot, it is marked by its beautiful landscape- An ascending hill slope densely covered in trees on one side, and a valley that slopes down along the bank of a running spring, on the other. On dried leafless trees, one can spot the white cheeked barbet perched on one of the branches. Thrushes can be observed on the hillside. Not quite rare, but uncommonly however, small minivets can be spotted along this stretch too. One can also here the distinct call of the white throated kingfisher from a distance. As such, there’s no specific set of birds that can be guaranteed to be spotted here. However, it is also amongst the last few points where at least a few can sighted with some assurance. But don’t be dissuaded if you don’t spot any! You’ve come a long way and have at least seen some of them before reaching this point.

How to reach here: This spot lies about a 3/4th mile past the checkpoint and is marked by the patch of road that runs between ascending hillside and a descending valley.

The road to Kanheri runs a few miles even after this point. However, birds are rarely spotted after the last point. It is probably owing to the reducing density of trees, moving further and the proximity to the Kanheri village, which always observes hustle of the tourists, the vendors and the villagers. This one is a long walk. However, it gives a delightful experience of walking through the middle of the serene forest.

All the best and happy bird watching! :)

All the photographs used in this blog are a property of the author.

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