Bhigwan- A Big One for Birds

If you are a nature lover and want to see Flamingoes with all their grace and beauty, then a visit to Bhigwan should be on top of your list. It is a small town located in central Maharashtra and is easily accessible from Pune, Baramati and Ahmednagar. Wetlands because of the Ujani dam on Bhima river here have created a conducive habitat for both residents as well as migratory birds. Bhigwan is also referred to as the Bharatpur of Maharashtra- a bird watchers’ paradise.

There are two spots where one can see the aquatic birds- Diksal area and the Kumbhargaon area. Although state transport buses are available its best that you travel by your own vehicle as the bird watching spots are away from the main road. In fact, one needs to take the interior roads and drive some 5-6 kms to the local village. From there the local fisherman take you on a boat ride over the backwaters. The boat rides are scheduled in two shifts early morning around sunrise and in the late afternoon. These are the best times for bird watching for two reasons. Firstly, maximum bird sightings are possible and secondly is the golden hour when one gets the best lighting conditions for photography.

So, in February three years ago we set off in the afternoon from Pune to see these avian beauties. Since my husband frequently visits Bhigwan, he contacts Sandip Nagare a local from Agnipankha who organizes boat trips, and he is assured that we would get to see the flamingoes in large numbers. We take the Pune Solapur highway and with some help from the GPS and locals we reach Kumbhargoan at the designated point. Since it’s late afternoon we are hungry and decide to grab some local food for lunch. The fish thali here with fried fish, rasa/gravy, jawar bhakri and rice is simply irresistible. After the delicious meal, we just while away some time as the boats are getting ready to ferry us. Each boat can accommodate up to six people. Since my husband is a wildlife photographer, we decide to hire a private boat for our family so that we can stop as and when a photo opportunity arises.

More than 300 species of birds have been spotted here we are told. The Greater Flamingoes are migratory birds that fly from Kutch, Europe, West Africa and arrive in the winters to Bhigwan. If the rainfall has been good, then the flamingoes are less likely to be seen as the water levels submerge the mudflats on which they like to nest. Shallow waters are more suited as the flamingoes can then easily skim the waters and find fish, shrimp and plankton. Another possibility is that due to abundant rains the flamingoes are likely to get distributed over other areas like Kutch, Sewri, New Mumbai and Jaikwadi in Aurangabad.

We wear life jackets and climb onto the boats and the boatman rows towards the several small islets on which we can see a variety of birds. A flamboyance of flamingoes wades in the water gracefully as they search for prey of shrimps and planktons. The carotenoid pigment in their diets is responsible for giving them a pink, red colour. Some of these graceful birds stand on one leg their eyes shut as if they are taking a nap. This one-legged stance many believe is their way of conserving energy. Suddenly a large number of them fly in the sky creating a wave of pink and white with black streaks in the sky. Flamingoes have a peculiar camaraderie in that if one bends their neck in search of prey others will follow suit. Their poses and movements are more or less synchronous. We see a family of mom, dad with juveniles in between them flying in the sky.

Greater Flamingos “Flamboyance”

The Painted Storks are another black and white beauty with long pointed yellow bills with which they catch fish as they tread in the waters. Like a ballet dancer with outstretched arms, they occasionally spread their black and white wings to reveal a dash of pink plumage on their underside. On one of the earlier trips, my husband and kids recalled having seen a colony of them on trees near the backwaters.

As we go further, we see Stilts, Glossy Ibises, Herons, Egrets, Sandpipers, Terns and Asian Openbills wade through the water. The Gulls and Ducks honk noisily as they seem to be enjoying their party. The jet black Indian and Little cormorants are perched on lower branches of shrubs. A colony of them is basking in the sun on an islet. My husband excitedly shares tidbits about the birds and is in a frenzy trying to capture them in his lens.

Glossy Ibis @Rafiq Somani
Black-crowned Night Herons @Rafiq Somani
“Gulp” of Cormorants @Rafiq Somani

We notice some migratory birds like Eurasian Spoonbill with long black spoon-shaped beaks and creamy white bodies. Bar-headed Geese, which get their name from two black bars on their white heads, search for some grains and worms on an islet. We spot the shy Garganey ducks and Rudy Shelducks which have flown in from Europe. Common Coots and Black-tailed Godwits are all busy but peacefully searching for food.  Northern Shovellers, Eurasian Wigeons are other migratory birds that we see.

Before we realize it is close to sunset and the sky is a flaming orange as the sun is now at the horizon ready to set. The stage is now set to capture the silhouettes of flamingoes with the backdrop of the setting sun. The reflection of the sun in the backwaters with a group of S-shaped flamingoes is a delight for us bird lovers. As the sun sets it is time for us to head back and we are more than happy to have witnessed the beautiful saga of birds.

Flamingoes at Sunset

Bird watching is a great opportunity to not just observe birds and nature, but it also roots you in the present moment. It compels you to look beyond oneself and connect with the Divine consciousness that we are all a part of. A realization dawns of how insignificant we are in the larger cosmos. At such times life, its purpose beyond the routine mundane existence comes to the forefront. It brings about a certain clarity in terms of perspective and energizes you to face life and its challenges.

 In addition to the aquatic birds, there are treks where you may want to explore the terrestrial birds and other wildlife flora and fauna. Some of the land birds observed are Peregine Falcons, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Spotted Eagles, Brahminy Kites, Wagtails, Kingfishers, Green bee-eaters, Common Hoopoe and so on. Foxes and Wolves have also been spotted here.

Nearest Airport: Pune is the nearest airport. You can then drive down from there to Bhigwan.
Distances: Pune -Bhigwan: 110 km Ahmednagar – Bhigwan: 118km Baramati – Bhigwan:  21 km
Where to Stay: Homestays are available for Rs 900 per night. Meals will be additionally charged with Rs 140 for a vegetarian thali and Rs 160 for a non-vegetarian thali. Otherwise, it is best to stay in Baramati or Pune which are the nearest cities that have a range of hotels to suit your budget and comfort requirements.
Travel tip: Please carry your binoculars, a water bottle and a hat.  The one and a half-hour boat ride will cost you Rs 1000 for a group of six people. An hour’s drive from Bighwan is a 12th-century Bhuleshwar temple that you may want to combine with your visit.
Best time to visit: December to March
Contact Details: Sandip Nagare of Aganipankha 9960610615

6 thoughts on “Bhigwan- A Big One for Birds”

  1. Thank you Shameera and Rafiq for taking us along this boat ride with the family.
    Love the description and uff!!! the photography, just fabulous. What an eye for detail. Thank you again 🌷🌷

  2. Purnima Joshi

    Superb article, wonderfully captures the essence of Bhigwan and the paradise it is for birds and treat for bird lovers. Breathtaking pics by Rafiq.

  3. Amazing and breathtaking pictures! This place is a hidden gem. Thanks for sharing your experience and tips on travelling to Bhigwan, it makes it easier for me to plan this trip to Bhigwan.

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