Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mumbai for Kids: Flamingo spotting at pumping station in Bhandup

At 6.30 am, the sun has only begun to shine softly on the city, but the horizon is pink. We are in a boat puttering towards the pinkness. Then, we look through our binoculars and it is incredible. Flamingos. Tall, elegant, some bent and intent on feeding, others standing, alert and still; very, very still.

Bhandup is one of the best kept secrets for observing birds. I'm in for a surprise as I drive past endless hillocks of pristine white. It looks like snow, but the white backdrop is of salt pans. And there is more. Its diverse landscape has a grassland, lake, mangrove forest and creek. We are heading for the creek.

At the jetty, we spot others who have come for the trip organised by Wildnest, who do customised tours. The fishing community loan out boats for flamingo watching and before we set off, each one of us is handed binoculars and a photographic bird-checklist. The hired boat is large and roofed, so that kids on the trip are sheltered.

Kids and parents head to the jetty
Kids and parents head to the jetty

As the boat cruises off, we head for the pink horizon, with only a hint of the treat we are in for. Half the passengers are children; our guide Nitya Goel Aggarwal explains what they ought to expect from the ride. It's exciting to peer through the binoculars and zoom in on the Painted Stork, Stints, a Sandpiper, different gulls, the Tern, the elegant Black-Winged Stilt, and the Red Shank. Everyone is oohing over a Eurasian Spoonbill, while we nod excitedly over an Avocet, a few Cormorants, and learn the difference between the Pond Heron and Grey Heron.

Approaching the flamingoes at the creek
Approaching the flamingoes at the creek

And then we spot them: the first large cluster of Greater and Lesser Flamingos. Because it is high tide, we are close enough to see the difference between the two species (the Lesser variety is pinker, while the Greater is pale pink but visibly larger). The kids are thrilled to spot a flock take off, showing off their dark underwings, or to watch another group do a formation dance; while a third flock is busy feeding on the algae of the mudflats. It's a feast for the eyes. Now I know why a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance.

Fact File

Where: Bhandup (E) Pumping station
Best for: Girls and boys aged 4 years and above
How to reach: Use the Eastern Express Highway and take a U-turn under the Mulund-Airoli bridge. Look out for the Bhandup Pumping Station bus stop and head towards the Bhandup jetty. It is a 2-km drive from the bus stop.
Timings: Early morning is best
Budget: Rs 850 (adult), Rs 600 (child, between 3-6 years). Free for kids under 3 years
Log on to: for more details
Food: Carry
Water: Carry
Rest Room facilities: None
Where else to go: Salt pans in the vicinity

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