Monday, November 23, 2009

A Walk in the Beel - I

Ever since the people working in my Office became aware of my interest in birds they have been telling me, "Sir, aapuni Maijan Beel jabo lage. Taat dher sorai pore". Sir, you should visit Maijan Beel. Lots of birds are there.

A beel is an Assamese term for a lake or water body. These are usually inland low lying areas which get filled up due to the water overflowing the Brahmaputra during the monsoons. Several beels dry up during the winter but the larger ones are perennial containing vasts pools of swampy water forming the perfect habitat for birds of different varieties. If I am not mistaken most of the famous birding hotspots in Assam including Kaziranga, Dibru-Saikhowa etc are basically large beels. Villagers often fish in these waters and some have even been known to have wild ducks in their diet. I must hasten to add that, by and large, wild birds are not on the menu in Upper Assam.

As the monsoon intervened and being busy with work I could not really visit the Maijan Beel although it is barely 5 km from my place. Last Sunday (22-11-2009) I finally decided that the Beel ought to be looked at.

There are basically two beels and they are most probably interconnected. The smaller 'S' shaped beel lies within Maijan Tea Estate while the bigger one lies just outside the Estate towards Dibrugarh town. Just to give an idea of the topography; Maijan Tea Estate is located near Dibrugarh Town on the banks of the Brahmaputra and suffers an annual flooding from the river. It has lost a lot of land to the river and is still doing so. In fact, during the massive earthquake of 1952, the river changed course and swallowed up vast areas of the Estate and where the river now runs used to be planted with tea bushes.

As I lived behind the Estate I reached the smaller beel first. The sun was just coming up as I reached the beel and I could see several small canoes already out on the beel. As I sat there and soaked in the sun I could see several species of water birds on the beel. Asian pied Starling, Lesser whistling Duck, Bronze winged Jacana, Purple Moorhen, Grey Wagtail and the Common Stonechat were the most abundant species. I also saw the White breasted and the Common Kingfisher and the Little Cormorant. There was a ridge running alongside the beel, possibly used by man and cattle to walk around it and also to dam the water in. It was broken in several places by the water and hence it was not possible to circle around the entire beel. Will try that the next time!! While the high ridge is a good vantage point for spotting birds, the birds spot you too.

I visited the larger beel next. I had to drive across the Tea Estate and exit towards Dibrugarh town through the main entrance. It was similar to the smaller beel except for the size. This beel had a dyke built to protect Dibrugarh town and it looks motorable on a two wheeler and hence will try that one too the next time. Having had a look at the beels, I drove off towards the river. This area was scrub land and i could see that Tea had once been planted here. This is where I spotted the Common Kestrel, first for me here locally.

Having done the reconnaissance for a future visit I drove back home. I spent around 2 hours on the trip and  the birds spotted by me were:

Jungle Mynah
Common Mynah
Grey backed Shrike
Long tailed Shrike
Bronze winged Jacana

Grey Wagtail
Common Stonechat
Asian pied Starling
Purple Moorhen
Cotton pygmy Goose
White breasted Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher
Little Cormorant
Common Kestrel
Indian Treepie
Jungle Crow
Indian Roller
Lesser whistling Duck
Indian Roller

There were several other species that I could not identify. Have left them for the next visit.

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