Thursday, February 20, 2014

Birding at Garhi Mandu City Forest - Review

Most birdwatchers in Delhi generally visit the Okhla Bird Sanctuary and the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary for birding, and not many people have heard of the Garhi Mandu City Forest in north-east Delhi. This weekend I had the opportunity of joining forest officials and conservationists on an amazing trek through this forest, and the sighting of many unseen-before local and migratory birds. This was my first birding watching experience, and here is my review.

Bird Watching in Delhi 

I started from home at about 7.15am and reached the Teesra Pushta red light at about 8.00am, to join the group of professional birders. While on the way, thick fog suddenly descended in the Delhi area, reducing the visibility to zero, and I became doubtful of sighting any birds. However, the team leader asked us to wait a bit for the fog to clear up, and treated us to tea and biscuits.

When the fog cleared up at about 8.45am, we went over to the pushta (mud bridge) and looked through our binoculars at the various birds in the water. We saw large comorants and little comorants perched on pillars sticking out of the water, as well as a variety of coloured ducks swimming in the water, and some smaller birds flitting about in the trash by the side of the bridge.

Trekking Through the Delhi Forest

We crossed the bridge and entered the Garhi Mendu City Forest through a gap in the fence. There was lush vegetation all around and puddles of water (as it had rained recently). We saw neelgai (blue bull – a kind of antelope) tracks in the wet mud, and vibrant butterflies flying over the wildflowers in the grass. The fresh morning air and slight cool breeze made for a heavenly walk through the forest.

Wish we had a botanist around to identify this plant.

The Garhi Mandu forest is divided into different habitats, each suitable for different types of birds. It has wetlands with ponds and shallow areas for aquatic birds like the comorants, storks and ducks. It has deciduous forests for arboreal birds like the owls, tree pies and parakeets. It has fields of long grass Savannah-like vegetation for terrestrial birds like the bulbul, as well as bushes for flycatchers and other small birds to live in.

The wooded area got thicker the deeper we went into the forest.
In total, we must have trekked about 5-6 kilometres, most of it through thick vegetation, marshy areas and pools of water. We saw about 50 species of birds, which included ducks like the pintail duck, northern shoveler, gallard and gadwal, as well as comorants, herons (white, grey and purple), egrets, kingfishers, yellow-bellied flycatchers, and various species of mynas and parakeets. The professional birders with us also kept a count of common birds like the crows, pigeons and kites, to check if their population has increased or decreased.

Reasons for Decline of Bird Numbers in Delhi

The birders and conservationists mentioned that the population of birds in such reserved wetland forests is much lower than before. I looked for reasons why this may be happening, and these are some of my thoughts on the issue:

  • Throwing of trash (mainly plastic bags) near the Yamuna area: There were some recycling sheds near the water’s edge, with stacks of trash piled outside them. While recycling may be cool, having the recycling units near the beautiful river bank certainly ain’t and spoiled the view. 
  • Less water in the ponds: The water level in the ponds was said to be much lower than before, maybe because of dams and less water being sent out to the Yamuna River.
  • Fishing: The villagers of the area had given a contract to some fishermen to do fishing near the Yamuna, and they had spread out their nets. Fishermen not only disturb the birds with their boats and casting of nets, they also take away all the fish (which is the staple diet of many aquatic birds). We even noticed fishermen fishing in a pond located inside the city forest.
  • Children playing cricket and gilly-danda: Birds would surely be frightened away by the incessant chatter of the local childen and teenagers, as they laughed, yelled and played various games. We found kids in a flat grassy area in one section of the Garhi Mendu bird sanctuary. The forest officials told them to clear off but they kept arguing back.
  • Animals grazing on saplings: Animals like the neelgai, cows and buffaloes routinely roam about the forest to graze, and eat the saplings planted by the forest department before they can grow into big trees that the birds can nest in.
  • Villagers chopping up branches of trees for firewood: Well, it gets very cold in Delhi, and poor people have to find some way of staying warm. We noticed branches chopped off from trees, as well as river grass cut from the base up. This may have been used by the locals either as firewood or for building huts.
  • Other birds and animals: Many common birds of prey were sighted in the area: mainly kites and crows. While they may have be attracted to the forest because of the rubbish dumps and trash recycling centres outside, they also prey on small birds. In fact, we actually saw a kite swooping down on a barn swallow and taking it back to its nest. In addition to this, we also found the half-eaten remains of a kite that seemed to have been killed by a small animal (maybe a dog or a jungle cat).
  • Other noises: There was a busy road going past, with large trucks and buses rumbling down it. We also heard the drum beats of a nearby celebration.  
I’m not sure how big a role air and water pollution play, but they are definitely reasons why birds may not be migrating and nesting in the Garhi Mendu Forest area, as much as they used to before. If a bird finds cleaner water and air about 20-30 kilometres further down the Yamuna in an area with less population density and industries, they would most certainly choose to live there.

After exiting the Garhi Mendu forest, we went into a special fenced trekking area set up by the government. This area was very fresh looking and there were a whole lot more birds here. There was also nobody fishing in the ponds. This area had a beaten track for walking and a generator that pumped water into the pond.

A multitude of birds in the Garhi Mendu bird sanctuary.

Well, all in all, it was a wonderful experience. We trekked a lot and were pretty tired by the time we left the forest at about 5.00pm. We saw many beautiful birds as well as animals like neelgai, wild boar, cows and buffaloes. The ponds were filled with fish, and we heard there were other animals like rabbits and wildcats in the area, as well as small reptiles like water monitors.

If you decide to visit the Garhi Mendu City Forest, remember to bring along your own snacks and lunch, as there is no restaurant or cafeteria inside. Also bring a plastic sheet for sitting on the wet grass. As there are no toilets, and you'll have to go behind the bushes and trees.

Have you been birding or bird watching in Delhi? Which is your favourite spot to sight birds and what has your experience been like?

1 comment:

  1. @Cyberkitty, thanks for sharing this insightful write with the world. People need to know the reasons that are leading to decline in wildlife. Delhi definitely must take some strong action to deal with the issue of decline of wildlife and greenery.


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