In my previous post, I wrote about the history of Vasai and how it has gradually become the Vasai as we know of today. So, in case you’ve missed that part, or if you are interested in the history of this place, I would recommend you read that before you proceed. However, if you are a nature lover Vasai is one place to visit especially during the monsoon season. Now, there are no special areas in Vasai-Virar region so I cannot recommend any particular places which you should visit. The region is quite vast and open and there’s a lot of greenery around which attracts the local and migratory aquatic Vasai birds to settle down here for some time before they continue their journey elsewhere.
Before I proceed further let me share this with you. When I moved here a decade ago, I had no clue about the kind of biodiversity that I will get to experience here, but I must say I am so happy to be here.
The Vasai-Virar region is one of the richest biodiversity regions voted by naturists and bird enthusiasts on the outskirts of Mumbai with more than 250 rare and common species of birds found and documented.
While I haven’t found them all, I have tried my best to compile all the pictures and information to bring you this post. In this part of the post, I and Sarah have covered the aquatic Vasai birds that we found and shot in Vasai. During the monsoon season, many empty spaces transform into lively lakes and ponds and attract plenty of aquatic birds that enjoy fishing in these tiny aquatic bodies. While most of these lakes and ponds are far away from the townships it takes some amount of patience to shoot these shy Vasai birds.
A member of the cormorant family of seabirds this one is often confused with the Indian cormorant who looks identical. This one usually perches on the waterside rocks or tree stump or branches and spreads wings to dry out after taking a dive. It has a black plumage and is an expert fish catcher as he quickly dives in for his food. It is hard to spot the males from females as they both are black in color, but males are generally larger than females.
Many of my friends know that I usually have a tendency to make an “expert comment” and I give “names” to things in a funny way. When I saw this bird for the first time with the wings spread out, I instantly called it an “SRK Bird”. Now, Indians might be able to get what I’m saying, but for my international audience let me explain. Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) is a Hindi movie star who fortunately shares his name with me, but he usually does romantic movies and has a signature pose which viewers adore for all these years.
The breeding season is from July to September. You can find them across the Indian subcontinent including countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. They usually make a nest with egrets and herons in the same area.
When you are in Vasai you might easily spot egrets enjoying their time. When I moved to Vasai in 2005, egrets fascinated me because you don’t get to see egrets in Mumbai. Of course, you can head to the zoo and see them behind the cage. However, seeing them in the open in their natural environment flying around, picking up insects and fishes and resting on mangroves is more fun.
Egrets are the most commonly found birds around and they look so appealing with their spotless white plumage contrasting with the greenery around. There are many species in the egret family and you will end up finding Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret and even Great Egret here. Consequently, you can find them in abundance in Vasai-Virar region.
Egrets feed in shallow water and on land and are very sociable birds. They usually hunt for fish, small reptiles and amphibians and even spiders, insects and worms. You can find egrets in Vasai throughout the year, except during the summer season when they cannot bear the scorching heat.
Western Reef Egret
We got to shot Western Reef Egret when we least expected it. I and Sarah were looking for other birds when we suddenly spotted this egret at a distance, so it was a lucky moment for us. Popularly known as Western Reef Heron, this is a medium-size egret that has a slate-grey plumage and is quite contrasting to the white egrets flying around. It is certainly very hard to photograph this bird because you don’t get to see him all the time. However, like egrets you see them stalking their prey in shallow waters. They also stand on rocks and try to find fishes that swim between the rocks. The breeding season in India is from April to September. Western Reef Egret occurs as a vagrant in North America, the Caribbean, and South America.
Probably, the most difficult bird to shoot in this list is Pheasant-tailed Jacana. It is undoubtedly one of the shy aquatic birds and it took us more than two weeks to take a good shot. They can easily sense human presence from a certain distance and they are quick to fly off. So, I and Sarah chased it many times in an attempt to shot good pictures. Jacanas have wide feet and claws that make it easier for them to walk on shallow lakes and even on floating vegetation. It was surprising to see them walking so effortlessly on floating lotus leaves. Pheasant-tailed Jacana breeds in India, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia.
They are usually black-brown in color, but the hind neck is golden. The golden color has this sort of iridescent effect which looks really great. As the name reveals, it has a pheasant-like long tail. These birds look incredibly beautiful when they fly as they have these white wings that contrast with their black-brown body. The tip of their wings and tail is black which adds to the beauty of this bird.
Initially, I and Sarah thought it was a tern, and then we thought it was a gull, but on researching further we found it is Jacana. Phew! A lot of work has gone into finding this one for sure.
Eurasian Kingfisher a.k.a. Common Kingfisher a.k.a. River Kingfisher is a sparrow-sized aquatic Vasai birds with excellent fishing skills. Considering its tiny size they are really hard to search, plus they can quickly feel your presence and fly away, so it requires a great deal of patience and effort to photograph them. This bird has great colors that make it so adorable. It has blue wings and head and orange underparts and a long bill to catch fish.
It usually sits on the lake or pond on a branch or tree stump and waits for the right opportunity. The direct and fast flight is what makes this bird a master fisher.
One thing I noticed is that they are usually alone and highly territorial and not like other aquatic Vasai birds that usually nest and roost in groups. As a result, you will not spot them very easily close to residential buildings.
I’m really glad that I got to shot an Asian Openbill so close to my home. I rarely get to see huge birds in my neighborhood, but this year I and Sarah just got lucky. It took us around almost a week to photograph this bird as they usually settle way too far from human settlements.
A member of the stork family, Asian Openbill has a grayish and black glossy wings and tail.
They get their name from their arched-shape beak with a gap in the middle. This gap allows them to have better control over their food. While they appear like storks from far-off but are certainly smaller than the storks.
It is a broad-winged bird and can make long distance journeys searching for the right food and weather. They look spectacular when they take off and when they glide through the air so effortlessly. They are widespread across the Indian subcontinent and in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand.
After a spell of monsoon for about a week, I and Sarah wandered in the neighborhood and we came across Red-wattled Lapwing. It is hard to find a Red-Wattled Lapwing in Vasai, but if you venture into some quiet areas with water bodies around you might be lucky to spot these aquatic Vasai birds. The movements are plover-like and they breed from March to August. While they mainly feed on grains, but they also pick up insects, snails and other small invertebrates from the ground.
These Vasai birds have prominent white patches that separate the black and brown colours on them. Red Wattled Lapwings have red fleshy wattle right in front of their eyes with a black-tipped red bill from which they derive their name. They have long yellow legs and you can find them standing near lakes and ponds and even ploughed fields and grazing the land and sometimes even close to garbage dumps.
The movements are plover-like and they breed from March to August. While they mainly feed on grains, but they also pick up insects, snails and other small invertebrates from the ground.
To begin with, Yellow Bittern is really hard to notice if it doesn’t move because of its colours. Hence, you really need to have a good eye to spot this one. This small bittern has a dull yellow and reddish-brown colour and blends with the environment.
They move very slowly. Sometimes they just sit still and that is when they camouflage with the surrounding. However, you can spot them close to shrubs or in the fields feeding on insects, fish, and amphibians.
There is no doubt that Common Greenshank is very hard to find. We spotted these birds along with egrets fishing in shallow waters far away from human civilization. Initially, I assumed them to be marsh sandpipers. However, Sarah and I noticed they have this upturn bill which sandpipers don’t have.
They have a coarse, dark and crisp breast pattern which is somewhat similar to sandpipers. Greenshanks are migratory birds and they winter in India, Africa and Australia.
There are more aquatic Vasai birds but accessibility is an issue. We hope you enjoyed the post. Do let us know which of the Vasai aquatic birds you liked most of all. Also, I should mention that Sarah shot and compiled a majority of the images. This post was her idea so the credit goes to her. She chased the birds, waited for the right opportunity to click pictures and bring them to you. She is currently working on the pictures coming up in the next posts.