Birding on the Local!
You hear the horn blowing and the long snake like machine rumbles onto the platform. Suddenly you are awake. Your senses go into alert mode. You get in the stance, take one deep breath and brace yourself for the onslaught that is about to follow. It gets over in 10 seconds. Everything is a blur by the time you manage to grab a seat. The timing of the jump is crucial. The train has not stopped but if you manage to get in while it is in motion, you my friend would be rewarded with maybe the fourth seat. But the downside is that there are plenty who have perfected this jump so this often results into a scuffle and occasionally a fight. But this article, is not a part of Dummy's Guide to Train Travel series although a lot of these corporate idiots who migrate to Bombay could do with one, this my friend is about Birding while listening to market updates and men gossiping about their bosses.
The monsoons are here and the area surrounding the railway tracks on the Western line has been covered in a fresh coat of green. This in turn has resulted into a teeming bird and insect life in these green patches.(sections near Vasai, Mira Road, Dhaisar, Borivali, Kandivali, Goregaon, Jogeshwari, Khar, Bandra, Elphinstone, Mahalaxmi). The fields that run parallel to the railway tracks at various places are traditionally home to several varieties of birds including the Cattle Egret, Pond Heron, Common Mynah, Asian Pied Starlings and of course the ubiquitous House Crows and Sparrows. But post the monsoons, sit back and keep staring at the overhead wires that are being charged by 25000 volts. Perched on top, oblivious to the danger that lies beneath their strong claws are the Kingfishers, Wire Tailed Swallows, Drongos and if you get lucky the Brahminy Kite(spotted hovering above near Vasai)
I recently spotted the white throated Kingfisher perched on the wire, just before Khar. It's orange/red bill standing out in the diffused morning light. It's bright blue wings clearly visible amongst the numerous crows that crowded the scene. It was staring intently towards the tracks. The name of a Kingfisher is a misnomer as far its diet is concerned. It doesn't only like fish but enjoys small reptiles, amphibians, crabs and sometimes even birds. While travelling on the Central line which has a better bird population owing to the several green patches as opposed to the western line, one can easily spot a Magpie Robin, Cormorants(in numerous water bodies that dot the railway tracks), Common Sandpipers, Swifts, Common Tailor birds and the Greater Coucal if you are really lucky. Also if you happen to travel on the Harbor line which goes mostly past marshy lands and mangroves, your chances of spotting wetland birds are very high including a variety of storks. Same applied for Vasai wetlands.
As the train moves past Jogeshwari, you can spot a number of kites hovering over the eastern side. Kites fly very close to the ground at Bandra station and if you let you gaze dart across the horizon, you might spot one perched right above the three storied houses of Bandra east. The waste disposal plant after Lower Parel bears a similar scene. But the most dense green patch lies to the western side, just before Mahalaxmi. It appears to be an old mill compound that resembles a microcosm of a dense forest in the monsoons. Most often than not, your train might slow down here or even stop momentarily. Make good use of this opportunity and you might just be rewarded by the sight of a male Asia Koel or a robin.
Monsoons are typically bad for all the railway lines. And that slows them down. Apart from getting delayed for work, you have an added advantage. You can peacefully stare at the birds that line up on the wires and put on a show as they fly from one tree to another. Maybe confirm your guess with our great friend, Salim Ali, if you carry his book around which in my opinion you should. I know this post is not the best consolidation of the birds that one could probably spot but I would be happy to add your experiences to it. Feel free to drop a line.
Until next, Happy Birding!
Pictures: Wikipedia as I don't have a sexy camera. Yet.