"Santragachi 1" Santragachi by Okalbaishakhi
Santragachi Travel Guide: 1 reviews and 2 photos
A suburban locality known primarily as an important railway junction of the South Eastern Railway, Santragachi is a residential neighbourhood within commuting distance of the city of Calcutta. Prima facie it appears to be an ordinary, unremarkable locale beset by habitation and railway tracks but beyond the busy railway station and the bustling marketplace lies an ornithologist’s delight. Since the early eighties, a 13,75,000 square feet waterbody just adjacent to the Santragachi railway administrative building, has gradually turned into the favourite resting spot for diverse winter visitors like Lesser Whistling Ducks and Northern Pintails. From November to February when the temperatures dip, this small lake attracts around 4000 to 5000 migrants who move around freely, unperturbed by the proximity to human settlement.
Santragachi lake is one of the last few bird habitats near Calcutta where such a large number of birds still descend during winter. Earlier a regular seasonal visitor at the waterbody in the Alipore Zoo in Calcutta, the wintering fowl has begun to avoid such destinations owing to the increasing pollution in the city due to the construction of highrises and flyovers surrounding the area. The decline of most urban bird habitats in and around Calcutta can be attributed to the fact that most of these areas are economically valuable and thus randomly exploited. The Santragachhi lake or the Santragachhi Jheel as the locals call it, is host to regular winter visitors like the rare Fulvous Whistling duck, Swinhoe’s Snipe, Ferruginous Pochard , Comb Duck and the more common Gadwall, Garganey an Northern Shovelers though the dominant species which is mostly sighted are the Lesser Whistling Ducks. You can also spot resident breeders like jacanas and bitterns. The lake is owned and maintained by the South Eastern railway but it is also looked after by the Forest Department of West Bengal. Every year around mid August or October before the feathered guests are expected to arrive, the forest department removes water hyacinth which covers a sizeable portion of the jheel, leaving small clumps along the fringes as birds like the Lesser Whistling Ducks feed on insects that thrive in these plants. Sustained efforts by the residents of Santragachhi and nature lovers has ensured minimal pollution of the water. The high level of awareness among the civil society is indeed commendable as they take pride in ensuring the protection of the birds and conservation of this important urban wetland.
Santragachi is not a pretty neighbourhood. Unless you actually visit the lake, you will find it difficult to believe that the count of migrant arrivals is actually rising in such an unlikely place. In 2010, a leading daily in Calcutta reported the arrival of around 10000 migratory birds at Santragachi jheel, as estimated by an NGO which was almost twice the previous year’s count. Yet regular bird watchers lament the lack in variety as the strength of these numbers don’t usually translate into diversity of species. The number of trans-Himalayan visitors like the Ferruginous Pochard, Northern Pintail, Swinhoe’s Snipe and Garganey have reduced over the years.
Despite joint attempts by the government and the citizens to ensure the improvement of the environment for the birds, illegal structures have come up on filled-up portions to the north east of the lake. Tea stalls, food shacks and cycle stands have been erected on bamboos stilts and hyacinth dumped underneath to drain the water out and increase the area under their control. Various such encroachments have flourished. As it so happens, these birds are sensitive migrants and if they find the lake unsuitable for roosting they might desert the Santragachhi jheel en masse and relocate to another place and never return. Also the usual maintainence of the lake by the forest department is often delayed. The jheel when left to its own devices, becomes covered with hyacinth and this in turn affects the bird count and increases the risk of poaching if the birds avoid the choked lake and descend on less protected waterbodies. Unfortunately the popularity of the jheel and more people taking up bird watching as a hobby does not compensate for better conservation if the responsible authorities remain indifferent. Many individuals would prefer the last few bird habitats remain off limits if not unknown, as given Calcutta’s overenthusiastic nature the immediate threat to these places is from the picniking crowd which disembark in large numbers to feed puffed rice to the birds and leave a trail of plastic waste in their wake.
In 2011, birders who frequent Santragachhi jheel assumed responsibility of clearing up the clogged lake themselves along with locals after repeated petitions to concerned government officials fell on deaf ears.By the second week of November, around 1200 Lesser Whistling Ducks descended at the lake along with two pairs of Cotton Pygmy goose, three pairs of Gadwalls and one pair of Garganey, both trans-Himalayan migrants. Delighted bird watchers also report sightings of a pair of Fulvous Whistling Ducks which are common in the Northeast but rarely noticed in south Bengal. As of now all appears well for Santragachhi as the variegated visitors are turning up in large numbers and the jheel is already buzzing with their synchronised sonorous calls while their human admirers have positioned themselves at strategic locations with their eyes glued to spotting scopes.
Santragachi Travel Guide
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