There is an ox-bow lake at Purbasthali in the Burdwan district of West Bengal. An ox-bow lake is a ‘crescent shaped lake lying across a winding river’ as mbgnet.net describes rather aptly. Every year, the swallow waters of this lake spread over an area of 3.5 km square, is home to a variety of birds, both local and migratory. And hence it is an excellent place for birdwatching .
On a certain winter weekend, after staying the night at a hotel a little distance from the lake, we reached the lake at around 7.30 am in the morning. There is a park next to the lake and also a place to put up for the night. It is advisable to spend the night there and it works out cheaper too. It is from here that the boats start.
Six of us started on our journey, 3 in a boat, with boatmen we have known from our previous trips. Both of them, from years of experience know how the behaviour of the birds and how to track them.
Foggy morning: When we started there was so much of fog that visibility was at a minimum and we knew we had to wait for the sun to be up and fog to clear before we could spot the birds. All of us, except me, were equipped with cameras, a couple of them with special lenses, so that we could capture these beauties, many of whom come to visit us from thousands of miles away. The fog would make photography difficult and less clear, but we did not give up. For my part I got glued to my pair of binoculars and spotted the birds as the boatmen took us near them. We had a simple lunch of Roti and chicken in the boat and by then time we were back it was evening and time for the drive back home.
The joy of birdwatching: Watching birds is a thrilling experience. You get to see a melange of colours and feathers and while some of the birds have generic names, most of these birds have names you can relate to. So even a novice will know that a kingfisher catches fish and that the lesser whistling duck can be known from the whistling sound it makes. However identifying birds, especially when there are species that could look the same from a distance and being patient enough to get good photographs is another thing altogether. And as we realised, more than the photographs, it is about making the birds feel at home and not scare them away.
Responsible tourism: The boatmen told us that with an ever increasing number of tourists, the number of birds have not only reduced, but the birds have also become more sensitive to human presence. We need more responsible tourism. To begin with, loudspeakers belting out songs by picknickers should be banned. There should be also a cap on number of boats on a given day. Not just people who are there to have fun, even those interested in birdwathching and bird photography should try and spread out their visits just for the sake of these birds. Such action is required, because of things go on like this, very soon these birds will stop coming here. We owe at least this much to posterity. And to these beautiful creatures who come to visit us every year.