Roads Across Odisha-4
Mangalajodi Bird Sanctuary
Mangalajodi Bird Sanctuary
It was again an early morning start, and as always we had to be precise with our timings as it was also my last day at Odisha and I had to catch a train from a station nearby Chilka. We were scheduled to leave for Mangalajodi bird sanctuary situated in the Chilka waters. The Mangalajodi wetland (10 sq. km.) is a freshwater swamp to the northeast of Chilika Lake. Mangalajodi is home to over 3, 00,000 water birds of around 200 different species, both resident as well as migratory. Mangalajodi happens to be scheduled wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention as well.
Pair of Bramhiny Shell Ducks
It was time for us to face our first instance of uncertainty, in what I should call a meticulously planned journey. Our driver for the first two trips had committed to us to be in front of the hotel at 6 o clock, but didn’t turn up. Also efforts to reach out to him on his mobile were futile. Thanks to a courteous hotel staff, an alternative cab was arranged for within half an hour and I and Satya left for our destination.
We had absolute no information on how to explore the waters of Mangalajodi, the geography and species as both of us were weak at recognizing water birds. A hoopoe greeted us on the banks of the back waters along with wagtails. But still we had no idea how to venture in to sanctuary. Nearby the banks were 2 men working on their boats and Satya ventured ahead to ask them regarding way to exploring the sanctuary. The person informed him that we had to get the receipt of the payment at the welcome counter of Mangalajodi, we informed him that it was close. After a short deliberation the person in blue shirt nodded and said that you can pay the money later and he will take us around. We looked at each other, no one in the sight till farthest of the points and to trust on someone like that and to go with him in back waters was a great risk, but somehow our instincts came in and we decided to board their boat.
We were not expecting much out of this trip while boarding the boat, but as soon as the boat went off, the boat man pulled out the bible of ornithology in India “Birds of Indian Subcontinent”, by R Grimmett, C Inskipp we were just spell bound. A person who hardly looks like literate person is referring to a book on birds?? Meet Madhu Behra, the eco guide and a proud conservator and member of Wild Orrisa. Wild Orrisa is the behind the scene catalyst for converting a tribe of Bird poachers in to avid bird watchers and die hard conversationalist.
Living Legend- Madhu Behra
Madhu Behera is true representation of modern day Valmiki, from being a poacher himself till mid 90’s when there were even less than a few thousand birds remaining in Mangalajodi area to making it a tremendous success story to make the latest bird census above 3 Lacs. Madhu bhai has been instrumental in conserving the birds of Mangalajodi. His own income had dropped from around Rs. 2,000 a day to around Rs. 2,000 a month. His life had changed and today protecting the birds seemed to be all that mattered to him.
With very few tourists coming to Mangalajodi made us ask him a question that how long can he and his family sustain such low income levels, and with so low levels of income why would he not go back to hunting? Madhu bhai smiled for a while and said “Ab to bird watching ka hi nasha hai, ab job hi ho bird watching hi pasand hai” (Now I like bird watching and no matter what happens he will not go back to poaching , but will continue bird watching only). And as we were just about to get emotional with this statement byMadhu bhai, Madhu bhai with all his excitement said “Black winged Stilt”. From “black headed Munia” to “blue throat bee eaters”, the names were flowing so smoothly out of his mouth that we felt that we were in company of a biologist. He was aware of breeding habits, eating preferences, migratory path of the birds… every thing that one needs to know about birds and was not even a high school pass out. Even some of the so called “bird experts” will run for their money in front of Madhu bhai’s knowledge. With all the knowledge about birds, Madhu Bhai comes to you with humility and openness to share his knowledge. Madhu bhai is not only an example of a conservation success story but also signifies where our education system has failed so miserably? Yes I am referring to the application part of education.
Pair of Black Winged Stilt
A Bronzed Tailed Jacana
A Purple Moorhen
As our boat rowed along the swamps we came across pacific golden plover, herds of Bramhiny Shell ducks, Bronzed tailed jacana, Non-breeding Pheasant tail jacana, purple moorhen, Terns, Weaver birds, Painted storks, Eurasian spoon billed…It was like watching a wild life film on water birds. On every stroke of the rower something new was coming in front of us.
A Streaked Weaver
Black Headed Munia
Pacific Golden Plover
While on the boat we had breakfast of sweet bread and Banana along with Madhu Bhai and his cousin who was rowing the boat.
Just the time we were having our bread, some noises started to come from the grass lands and herds of small birds started flocking in the air all of a sudden and Madhu bhai made us point above, it was a Shikara on hunt in the skies, and the birds were alerting each other from the predator.
Eurasian Spoon Bill
A Grey lapwing
While being with Madhu Bhai, many questions started coming to my mind, why forest officials are getting paid if they cannot protect the resources for which they are getting paid? Why academic and other qualifications like proximity to bureaucrats are more required then the on field knowledge of wild life? Why our government does require NGOs to apply common sense and bring change in the society? The questions are enormous and I am quite sure that answers to these questions will snatch many IFS officers of their jobs and colonial bungalows where they stay with all the royal amenities.