Sunset Canoe Ride & Birding In Satpura National Park
Last time I visited Denwa Backwater Escape, on the periphery of Satpura Tiger Reserve, I was with Wife Jee and kids and we had a great time. So when I was invited by Pugdundee Safaris to visit Satpura once again I was indeed looking forward to it. The fact that Wife Jee and kids were not happy on my solo visit is another story but I will not spill our family beans here.
So on a hot afternoon, I arrived at Denwa Backwater Escape and the moment I met Chinmay Deshpande the resident naturalist who left the city life to be in jungles, I started picking his brains about our plans for the day. The first event planned for the day was a Sunset Canoe Ride in the Denwa Backwaters, part of the Tawa Dam Reservoir system. Now, unlike the backwaters of Kerala which are brackish and part of the lake and canal system built for irrigation and navigation in Kerala, the backwaters of Tawa Dam simply came into existence due to the building of the dam.
The main purpose of our Canoe Ride was bird watching. These backwaters on the periphery of Satpura Tiger Reserve play home to many resident birds and host to migrants during winters. When I reached the backwaters the migrants were all gone and we mainly spotted the resident birds around the bank on t he little hillocks, some of these hillocks were under water during monsoons.
As we reached the jetty to board our canoe, we were enveloped in life jackets, for the depth of these backwaters can vary from a few inches to more than 100 feet depending on where you are and the time of the year.
We were there each in each canoe, one naturalist, and two guests. The canoe rides are done with blessings of the forest department and the naturalist helps you identify the birds. But for all practical purposes, the canoe ride can be divided into 2 clear parts. The first half dedicated to Bird watching and the second half dedicating to watching a magical sunset.
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Chaliye, after this self-promotional commercial break, let us go back to our bird watching on a canoe ride in the backwaters of Denwa, in the Satpura National Park.
Just as we were getting ready to board our canoes, the clouds and sun rays played hide and seek and the divine energy of Sun blessed our canoes. We were ready to explore the backwaters and look for some of the birds that come to feed and breed in the area.
Birding & Photographing Tip: Prefer to take the pole position in a boat as this way you will be the first one to spot a bird and if you are in the company of chatterati you can ask them to hush up.
Now the topography of the banks and even small islands in the backwater keeps on changing due to ever-changing water level and the mud deposited every year by the river during monsoons.
The river banks are used as nesting sites by birds and I strongly discourage you from getting out of your canoe to walk on the river bank. Please remember it may be a small walk for you but if you step on an egg that may look exactly like a pebble, you are killing the next generation of the bird.
We stayed in the boat and all the bird pictures you see in the post were clicked from a safe distance using a Nikon 55-300 VR lens on a Nikon D 7000 Body, the Sunset images were clicked either by cell phone or using an 18-105 VR lens.
One of the first birds we spotted was the omnipresent Red Wattled Lapwing, making their characteristic sound that pierces your ears and gives away the presence of the bird. I am not sure why this bird makes such loud noise and invites predators.
One of the theory that I was told was that when the female spots a predator or other animal that is near the nesting site, it makes the noise to distract the potential danger away from the nest. Sometimes she will even abruptly land and pretend to be sitting on eggs, fooling the intruder to a wrong nesting site.
Soon we were deep inside the backwaters, away from the human habitation and we could see the birds in more frequently and in bigger numbers.
Soon we spotted few River Terns flying in a small group and some of them were on the mud banks, hopefully choosing a nesting site. Not far from the nesting site I clicked little Tern, very similar in shape and color to the River Tern but much smaller. This was my first time to see Little Tern from such a close distance.
The other first time encounter was with Indian skimmer or Indian scissors-bill (Rynchops albicollis), a highly vulnerable bird. In the area, we were canoeing a small population of only around 10 birds exists and hopefully, they will grow in numbers. There are no clear numbers available but it is believed that about 6000-10000 Indian Skimmers live in India and Pakistan in fragmented populations mainly around river banks. One of the biggest reasons for the decrease in population of these birds is the loss of habitat as a lot of river banks are used for cultivation leading to total destruction of breeding grounds.
Near the Skimmers a pied Kingfisher was diving in water trying to capture fish just like everybody else around us. Some Eurasian Spoonbills were busy in a high level conference planning their return journey to the cooler lands as things were getting a bit hot here in Satpura. On the other side of the bank, a colony of Wooly Neck stork was busy in their own strategic conference. Not far from the conference a couple was trying to escape the preening eyes but just before they vanished to the other side of hillock the paparazzi in me clicked their picture. After all, why should Hrithik and Kangana have all the attention? The Wooly Necked Storks are majestic birds and though they appear dull from a distance in good sunlight if you look at them you realize how shiny and metallic their wings are. I have spotted them all the way till Periyar in Kerala, in Goa, Pench National Park etc.
The list of birds , that I remember spotting in Denwa Backwaters during the canoe ride is given below:
- Ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), aka Brahminy duck
- Ringed Plover
- Indian Thick Knee
- Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
- The black-winged stilt, (Himantopus himantopus)
- Little Egret
- Indian Skimmer
- Wooly Necked Storks
- Pied Kingfisher
- River Tern
- River lapwing (Vanellus duvaucelii )
- Little Tern
And a few more that my little bird brain conveniently forgot, but you can check this earlier post on Satpura National Park for more birds, bears and Gaurs that I clicked during a Safari inside Satpura National Park.
But like I said Birding is only part of the fun of canoe ride in the Denwa Backwaters, as we were returning it was late in the evening and the tired Sun wanted to take a dip in the cool waters of the Denwa River.
The beauty of each and every sunset is that it is 100 % original, never in past and never in future, the same sunset will happen again. You can stand at the exactly same place every single day of life and yet see a different Sunset.
As we were heading back in our canoes towards the Denwa Backwater Resort, I captured a few pictures of the melting Sun as the sky as well as the waters around us changed colors. The birds returning to the nest, the canoes in the water, the tree stumps trying to keep their heads high above water all added to the illusion of being in a mystical place.
Useful information about Bird watching Canoe Ride in Denwa, near Satpura Tiger Reserve:
- The canoe ride happens both at Sunrise as well as Sunset; I went on a sunset boat ride.
- Arrive a little early so that you are in water before everybody else, this ensures better chances of bird watching.
- Please wear a life jacket as at places water can be more than 100 feet deep.
- No noise, no littering
- Do not get down from your canoe and walk on the shore, you may destroy nesting site of birds.
- Carry a good binocular and minimum a 200 mm lens to capture images of birds, this way you do not have to disturb them by going close and can click from your canoe.
- No sudden movement or standing in the canoe, not only you may scare the birds but also you will tilt the center of gravity of the boat leading to the capsizing of the boat. Even if you will survive your camera will not.
I visited Satpura National Park on an invitation of Pugdundee Safaris. To know more about the Birding, Canoe Ride, Jungle Safari and eco-friendly luxury stay in Satpura, you can visit Pugdundee Safaris Website.
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