The last time I started writing a blogpost, it was raining outside, it was monsoon in Kolkata and Munias were flocking together for their breeding season in the outskirts of the joyous city.
The chill in the air made me realize that it’s winter now and I’m writing once again. (I apologize for not being a regular blogger.) I had my semester finals, went on a family vacation and got quite lazy in the meantime. So as soon as those terrifying exams came to an end, I came home and the very next day I went to a place where migratory birds come to enjoy the winter holidays.
Santragachi is famous as a railway junction to the daily railway commuters. The name carries with itself the smell of diesel engines, railway tracks, the station, and the sound of trains passing by. But Santragachi is also famous as a place where migratory birds come. This is common knowledge now but even 10-15 years ago, very few people knew, because very few people had any interest in birds.
The jheel(lake) [13,75000 square feet approximately], adjacent to the station is home to residents like lesser whistling ducks, common moorhen, cotton pygmy goose, and other water birds along with migrants like Red Crested Pochards, Gadwalls, Common Teals, Knob billed Ducks, etc. There was a time when this lake was also home to the elusive Baikal Teals. But those days are history now.
Every year, when the migratory birds are expected to arrive, the forest department cleans a portion of the water hyacinths from the lake. The remnants add to the natural environment and supply nutrition to the birds. Though Wikipedia says and local claims that Forest Department and locals try their best to keep the lake clean, the present condition begs to differ. I saw the lake blocked with dead hyacinths, trashes from the neighborhood, and even plastic plates and cups and polythene bags. In short, it’s a mess. The Lake should be cleared ASAP or Santragachi jheel might not get its international guests next year.
How to reach from Kolkata:
Santragachi can be reached via road or railway.
- ROAD: If you’re going via road, if you have GPS you are well off. Those who are dependent on public transport, come to Exide more (Rabindra Sadan Metro Station, near Nandan). Walk towards SSKM hospital. From there you can get several Santragachi bound buses or shuttle taxi.
- RAILWAYS: I prefer Howrah-Panskura Local which departs from Howrah Station at 0520 hours. It takes 15-20 minutes to reach Santragachi.
- Best time to visit: December-January. Early Morning.
- Take plenty of water or at least carry a water bottle, you can fill it up from the station.
- Carry dry foods if you are planning a whole day bird-watching trip.
- There’s no option of boat service in the lake.
- It’s a national property. Even if you see there’s garbage lying here and there, do not add to the heap.
- The lake is surrounded by net mesh, so walking along the sidewalk is the only option to get a full view.
- Be patient and do not lure birds with baits.
- It will be chilly in the morning, carry proper clothing to avoid cold. Temperature rises after the sun comes out.
- Bird activity is normal throughout the day, unless you have a bad luck and there’s an overcast sky accompanied with gusty winds.
- Carry a pair of Binoculars to examine the little islands on the lake, you might find some new species, maybe a Dodo.
- Be cautious.