Mumbai Memoir 27- Avian tourists visit Mumbai’s shores!
1) Mumbai has been a popular tourist destination for world travellers. The city, inspite of being a chaotic cacophony of traffic horns and over-crowding, offers everything for everyone who visits it. I always use to wonder, is it the place that we visit that creates attraction value or is it the search within us ‘magnetically’ draws us to a place? Last weekend, as I went bird watching, my quest of understanding a place of ‘tourist attraction’ got resolved!
2) In a monsoon like ambiance it was a delight to observe the Flamingos, in the ‘pink of their health’, enjoying their stay at the Sewri-Mahul mudflats located in Central Mumbai. Sewri (pronounced as Shivdi by the locals) has a natural waterfront which is a part of the Mumbai harbour. The jetty and the dock here, surrounded by mangroves, is witness to thousands of these migratory birds. After departing from their breeding grounds located at the Rann of Kutch in Gujrat (Western India), the birds fly across 627 Km down south and land on Mumbai’s shores every year! Few thousands among them are believed to arrive all the way from Siberia!
3) Flamingos are ancient birds. Fossils of present day genera are calculated to be as old as 30 to 50 million years ago! The annual arrival of these colourful birds decorates the city’s mudflats with a dash of pink, which brings glamour to the otherwise ‘grey’ surroundings. For 4 long months (from November to March), the sight of the Flamingos positively distracts an observer from the oil and gas refineries, cement-concrete structures and industrial smoke that otherwise acts as a dull backdrop of the sight.
4) I was fortunate to have randomly visited the Sewri sight exactly on the day when the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), a pan-India wildlife research organization, had organized their annual Flamingo Festival on 28th February’ 2015. Since 1883, BNHS has been promoting the cause of nature conservation for the past 131 years. More on BNHS here- www.bnhs.org. The festival aims to create a bonding between the Flamingos and Mumbai’kars (citizens of Mumbai) by generating awareness about the gregarious birds and the facts related to its survival. It was nice to see that visitors of all ages had flocked to see the ‘avian visitors’! Two types of flamingos are seen visiting Mumbai. The ‘Greater flamingos, are about a foot taller with a more pronounced ‘S’ shaped neck than the ‘Lesser flamingos’. The later are comparatively more in numbers though. I realized that every year thousands of these birds visit in search of food. They feast on Algae, insect larvae and diatoms which are available in plenty in the coastal areas around Mumbai. The most amazing fact was to know that the pink colour of the flamingos comes from particular algae containing pigmentation proteins that gradually infuse colour into the bird as it eats! Here’s a video link of the Flamingos – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Womr05F7KyM
5) Other birds like Little Egret, Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Ibis and Caspian Tern too migrate and share space with the Flamingos. With all these birds around it seemed to me as if the mudflats were serving as huge dining tables on which the birds merrily munched their food till their heart’s content!
6) My friend Dr. Shiwani Tandel, a Veterinarian and Specialist in Conservation Medicine, quotes “the Flamingos being filter feeders control excessive algal blooms that threaten the oxygen levels in the water thus adversely affecting the population of smaller fish and molluscs found in the shallows and mangroves.” In short, the flamingos, directly or indirectly, act as a catalyst in sustaining the eco-system of the region. For Dr. Shiwani’s blog please visit: http://www.shiwanibirdvet.blogspot.in/
7) BHNS and other nature conservation activist like Dr. Shiwani have been regularly voicing their concerns regarding the diminishing mangrove plantation that is gradually disturbing the ecosystem that attracts the Flamingos to the mudflats of Sewri-Mahul and Thane region near Mumbai.
8) As I watched the beautiful birds I realized that it is the need within us that triggers an external search which actually attracts us to explore or visit a tourist destination! Some tourists visit Mumbai to connect with its colonial past, few arrive to experience its culture and busy lifestyle. On the same lines, in pursuit of procuring food, our avian guests, the Flamingos, are naturally attracted to the shores of Mumbai!
9) As I headed back from the jetty I could connect of how life is like a journey. Each day, like a tourist, we explore our surrounding in pursuit of our ‘inner search’. But do we humans, like the Flamingos, leave their ‘eco-systems’ in a better shape for other visitors to enjoy their respective journey of life? We got to think!
Photo credits/edits: Jayesh Minde, Shraddha Sankulkar/Aditya Chichkar.
*Special thanks to: Jayesh Minde (Wildlife & Avian enthusiast) Dr. Shiwani Tandel (Veterinarian and Specialist in Conservation Medicine https://www.linkedin.com/pub/shiwani-tandel/13/b47/56b ) Mr. Atul Sathe (Communications Manager- Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, India)