Purbasthali where the lenses chase the birds

The Sunday morning was crisp and bright. A cool wind from the north washed everything in its way. The sun was shining high above the eastern board over the river Ganges. A chill ran down everyone who faced it. A perfect day for a hike or a short travel armed with a camera. My family was away and I was in the mood for running away from the city’s concrete jungle and spend a day in the lap of nature. Usually, with the family in tow, we drive down; however, this time being on my own, I took the suburban train from Howrah station and headed for a lake, located one hundred and forty-two kilometers away in the Burdwan district of West Bengal state, India. The place is called Purbasthali.

An ox-bow lake that got formed when the mighty Ganges river changed her course on her way towards Kolkata. Over the years, the lake had grown naturally. Biodiversity aided the water body to turn into a bowl of opportunity for the winged visitors for spending three months with fish and crustaceans to feed on, start a family and enjoy the sunny warmth during the mild winter.

Hyacinth, numerous water plants, and trees had grown in abundance in this shallow lake.  

Bar-headed geese flying low over the lake attracted everyone's attention in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Bar-headed geese flying low over the lake attracted everyone’s attention

In the winter months, when the Indian subcontinent takes a break from the harsh sun, the location attracts birds from far and distant lands.

Migratory birds come in flocks and the inhabitants and tourists feast their eyes to catch a glimpse of these lovely colorful birds.

Narrow roads formed the backbone of communication in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Narrow roads formed the backbone of communication in Purbasthali

The town of Purbasthali is just like any other small towns in West Bengal. Slender roads, that snake their way into the township skirting cultivated lands and ponds on either side. Twenty years back, the mode of transportation was rickshaws; however, with the technology slowly penetrating at every level, we saw the growth of electrically powered rickshaws, helping both communication and the environment.

We came across sections where the roads bordered long lines of coconut and banana trees that swayed in the morning breeze.  

Unkempt forested patches of land gave us company as we cycled our way towards the lake in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Unkempt forested patches of land gave us company as we cycled our way towards the lake

Old and broken houses clamoring for repairs looked at us with a sunken look. These beautiful houses had seen good days and unfortunately for socio-political reasons, now stand utterly neglected and looked like skeletons of their past glory.

Old houses stared at us as we made our way through the town in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Old houses stared at us as we made our way through the town

The brisk business activities had just kicked off in the early morning as we moved past the temples, shop fronts, and small to medium markets that had sprouted all along the empty patches between the houses.

Loads of dry woods were being carried from the forest which surprisingly even in these days act as the main source of fuel in many homes of this quiet town.

Heaps of dry woods could be seen being taken away to light the fire for the breakfast in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Heaps of dry woods could be seen being taken away to light the fire for the breakfast
Very clean roads greeted us. Sports shops, also doubled up as departmental stores were vying for customers in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Very clean roads greeted us. Sports shops, also doubled up as departmental stores were vying for customers

The sight of fresh vegetables always attracts me. I loved the sight of green and red colors right from the nearby cultivated lands. The taste of these vegetables is so good that in case you make a habit of eating them regularly, it becomes quite challenging to come back to the products on sale from the mighty cold storage houses of the big cities.

They taste like plastic due to their prolonged exposure to chemicals and cold storage environment.

Eggplants, carrots, spinach, and bananas - all fresh being dumped for the early morning sale in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Eggplants, carrots, spinach, and bananas – all fresh being dumped for the early morning sale

The fifteen minutes ride was slowly coming to an end. A large soccer field to our right made us almost jump from our vehicle. We felt like hitting the turf for a game of soccer.

The ground had a mix of brown and green colors and was almost flat and awaited the players to show their ball dribbling skills.

A football or soccer field was preparing itself for a game of soccer as we trundled past it in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A football or soccer field was preparing itself for a game of soccer as we trundled past it

During the festive seasons, one of the great ways the Bengalis, tend to spend their rest day is by driving down in buses, or trucks and hold picnic parties where several families meet and carry loads of vegetables, fishes, meat and they cook with a gas stove as the source of the fire.

They ate lazily across the mid-morning and enjoy their feast with a complete blind eye to the beautiful natural sights that surround them. A blaring sound box in the background spewed out the popular movie songs to which the youngsters danced.

A typical picnic party about to get started. The man sitting on the ground had already started cooking in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A typical picnic party about to get started. The man sitting on the ground had already started cooking

Very soon I got my first sight of the wide lake with moored boats. With increasing number of human traffic to these areas, the main attraction – birds have started falling down over the years. I looked around and fortunately found a like-minded soul and asked him if he can take one passenger with his family.

Graciously, he asked me to join and we were on our way. With a heart full of expectations, I settled on the boat with my new friends for a five-hour boat ride through the shallow lake.

Chupir Chor, the local name for the lake at Purbasthali. The boats were a welcome sight by Gautam Lahiri
Chupir Chor, the local name for the lake at Purbasthali. The boats were a welcome sight

As we boarded the country boat, the first glimpse of few birds greeted us. A bold black to gray colored cormorant, almost skimming the water surface dashed at speed.

It was closely followed by Barn swallow and a school of Lesser Whistling ducks.

A cormorant scouring for fish flew over the water at low height in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A cormorant scouring for fish flew over the water at low height
A barn swallow perched atop a bamboo pole that popped up from the lake in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
barn swallow perched atop a bamboo pole that popped up from the lake
A pond heron took off from its refuge and hung low over the water for its next catch in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
pond heron took off from its refuge and hung low over the water for its next catch
A wood sandpiper trudging over the muddy bank for morsels of food in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
wood sandpiper trudging over the muddy bank for morsels of food
A rare sight of a western yellow wagtail or Citrine Wagtail, sitting on a slender branch of a plant and observing its surrounding in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A rare sight of a western yellow wagtail or Citrine Wagtail, sitting on a slender branch of a plant and observing its surrounding
An Open Asian Bill stork intently looking at the water edge for an unsuspecting fish in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
An Open Asian Bill stork intently looking at the water edge for an unsuspecting fish
A small boat entirely made of metal tin floating aimlessly used by the nearby fishermen in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A small boat entirely made of metal tin floating aimlessly used by the nearby fishermen
A bronze-winged jacana took off spreading its large wings as our boat homed in for a closer look in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
bronze-winged jacana took off spreading its large wings as our boat homed in for a closer look
Two more Jacanas hunting for fish and shellfish along the shallow parts of the lake in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Two more Jacanas hunting for fish and shellfish along the shallow parts of the lake

We were lucky enough to see a fish kill by a kingfisher. These birds are exceedingly fast. In one neat movement of its wings, it lunged, shot like a bullet, dived at an angle of forty-five degrees from the point where it sat and caught the fish and came up with a small three inches long fish shaking violently to free itself.

All the actions got completed within two seconds. The large long beak of the little bird is a perfect weapon for its hunt and the bird really knows how to use it.

A common white throated kingfisher holding a small fish that flipped desperately to escape in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A common kingfisher holding a small fish that flipped desperately to escape
A pair of bronze headed kingfishers stood alert to the slightest movement of a fish below the water surface in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A pair of white throated kingfishers stood alert to the slightest movement of a fish below the water surface
A black-headed Ibis flapping its large wing, exposing for a moment the red streak of feathers inside its white plume of feathers in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
black-headed Ibis flapping its large wing, exposing for a moment the red streak of feathers inside its white plume of feathers
The Indian Purple Moorhen, a family of them were looking at the water surface, laden with water hyacinth and marsh for fish and shellfish by Gautam Lahiri
The Indian Purple Moorhen, a family of them were looking at the water surface, laden with water hyacinth and marsh for fish and shellfish
Finally, we saw the Purbasthali's signature birds: the Red-crested Pochards, the reddish male swam alongside its female companion
in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Finally, we saw the Purbasthali’s signature birds: the Red-crested Pochards, the reddish male swam alongside its female companion

I was just enough lucky to catch a glimpse of an Osprey, a juvenile flying at speed over the lake surface. It looked majestic and sleek as it scudded across the open sky.

A juvenile Osprey flying across at great speed in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A juvenile Osprey flying across at great speed

We sailed the lake surface for about four-hours, directing the boat across the extreme corners of the lake and finally came back to the bank of the lake from where we had started.

Rows of yellow mustard fields lined up one side and were glowing under the afternoon sun with the blue sky behind.

A painted Stork gliding over the mustard fields swooped low and came for a perfect landing on the swamp in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
A painted Stork gliding over the mustard fields swooped low and came for a perfect landing on the swamp
Mustard field swaying in the lake breeze around the lake in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
Mustard field swaying in the lake breeze around the lake

After a day-long exposure to various birds, our boat faced the setting sun on the western horizon.

The birds had tucked away on the branches and the nearby
marshlands for the night. We too made our way for our homeward journey in Purbasthali by Gautam Lahiri
The birds had tucked away on the branches and the nearby marshlands for the night. We too made our way for our homeward journey

Purbasthali was extraordinary. It would be advisable to the visitors, especially bird lovers to pick a day of visit other than the weekends to explore the lake for bird sightings.

Weekends and holidays attract huge human crowds and the birds become extremely cautious not to venture around the humans who come here with dissimilar desires.

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