Bhigwan – a Paradise of Greater Flamingos
Agnipankh which translates as wings of flame (fire) is the apt word for Flamingo. The magnificent bird has single-handedly transformed Bhigwan into bird sanctuary. Every other living organism in and around Bhigwan is ‘conserved’ because of greater flamingos. And they fly in abundance to this sleepy village on the backwaters of Ujani dam in the winters. This year in January, we made an effort to wake up early and drive about 100 kms from Pune to Kumbhargaon in Bhigwan near Solapur highway. And we were mesmerized by this peculiar species of birds and other hundred equally interesting birds.
Origins of Bhigwan
Bhigwan town is the perfect destination for bird watchers around Pune and even Mumbai. The small town is located around 105 kms away from Pune on Solapur Highway. But why does it attract so many migratory birds. You will surprised that it has man-made origins rather than natural. In 1980, Ujjani dam was built on river Bhima which flows through Pune and Solapur district to aid irrigation in the region. The reservoirs created by the dam is one of the largest backwaters in India. Since its creation, the reservoir backwaters along the villages of Kumbhargaon and Diksal in Bhigwan started attracting, every year, a large number of migratory birds from North India and other countries. Fresh waters of reservoir provided ample food material (green algae and fish) to these birds. A research study was carried out and as per its reports, backwaters in Bhigwan attract about 100–150 species of migratory and local birds. Hence it is known as mini Bharatpur or Bharatpur of Maharashtra.
Birds of Bhigwan
We started early from Pune so that we can reach Kumbhargaon village around sunrise. It is 5.5 kms off Pune-Solapur Highway. We were accompanied by professional photographer and birding expert Manish Kavediya. He has organised boat with help of locals Sandeep Nagare and Nitin Nagare. The boatsman was also a local who was expert in spotting birds and identifying them as well. Since we went to Bhigwan on a weekday, there weren’t many tourists and birding enthusiasts. This helped us as birds prefer least disturbance to their habitat and human chatter can drive them far away from shore.
Bhigwan is particularly famous for Greater Flamingos. During peak season, there have been about 1000-1500 greater flamingos reported. The boatmen take special care not to get the boats too close to the flock of flamingos so as not to disturb them. Even watching such attractive birds from a long distance is a sight to behold. It piqued our interest when boatman kept referring to flamingos as Greater Flamingos. Actually, some flamingos are shorter, some are taller and their features are identical. The taller of the two species is the greater flamingo and their plumage tends to be more white than pink. Greater flamingos have light pink beaks with a dark tip. The shorter ones are Lesser flamingos and are more pink in colour and their legs are sorter. Their beaks are a dark red with black tip. It has however been found that greater and lesser flamingos are not related.
Along with flamingos, there are about 75 migratory birds and 125 local birds spotted in Kumbhargaon and Diksal sanctuaries. There are many species of Ducks, Herons, Egrets, Waders and Bird of Prey along with flocks of hundreds of flamingos. Most common birds are Painted Storks, Grey Heron, River Tern, Spoonbill and Flamingos.
Apart from the reservoir waters, the area around Kumbhargaon is also excellent for birding – Red Munia, Common Hoopoe, shrikes, lapwings, larks and pipits and Pied and White-breasted Kingfishers can be easily spotted. Raptors like Western Marsh Harrier, Black Eagle and Osprey can also be seen. Apart from that, different species of swallows are seen in plenty. Here is entire list of birds in Bhigwan
Eco-system Conservation at Bhigwan
Locals in Kumbhargaon and Diksal mainly rely on fishing and bird-watching tourism for their livelihood. Hence, they have started realising importance of conservation of back-water ecosystem. Locals like Sandeep Nagare are self-trained and training youth so that they understand eco-system and contribute to its sustainability. Our boatman was similar local youth who self-trained in bird-watching and now conducts guided tours. Thanks to efforts of local people, slowly, bird-watching in Bhigwan is becoming an organised activity. In future, it has plans to set up a robust eco-tourism facility. Wetlands such as Bhigwan are one of the most delicate ecosystems on the planet. Draining of wetlands for commercial and agricultural motives poses a serious threat to the sustainability of these habitats. In many cases, the amount of water taken from the ecosystem far exceeds its ability to replenish. Industrial and agricultural waste lead to degradation of the habitats as well. Nesting sites of the water birds have also been destroyed largely due to anthropological factors. During monsoon, wetlands help to mitigate floods. Damage to wetland ecosystems, therefore, has a far-reaching impact on different components of the ecosystem. The education of locals towards sustainable management and their participation in the cause of its conservation is essential; they are the ones whose livelihoods are intricately woven with the landscape and who stand to gain or lose the most from the fate of the wetlands.
How to reach Bhigwan
By Road – Travel in their own vehicle on Solapur Highway around 105 km from Pune.
One can travel to Bhigwan by the ST (State Transport) Buses for Solapur.
By Train, One can reach Daund and hire a local taxi to Bhigwan.
Or There are 3 trains, passes through the Bhigwan town.
Drive 105 km on Pune Solapur Highway, At the town of Bhigwan turn left below the flyover for Diksal village.
For Kumbhargaon, drive 5km from the Bhigwan town flyover on highway, take left from the water tank next to service lane.
Here’s real-time Google map to plan your trip
Best time to visit Bhigwan
Best Time to visit Bhigwan Bird Sanctuary is during the migratory season, From late October to February. However, birds are seen even in March-April right uptil monsoon.
By the time of summer season when water level is low, you can just walk around the lake on grass and capture the little birds.
The best time of day to visit Bhigwan is just during sun-rise when birds wake up for gathering food. During this time, flamingo feathers look bright in the dawn. Also, sunset time is good for bird-watching.
Nearby Attractions to Bhigwan
There are many attractions along Pune-Solapur Highway. There are religious shrines such as AshtaVinayak temples of Theur, Siddhatek within an hour of Bhigwan. Further on the eastern side of Bhigwan are Ashtavinayak temple of Morgaon and Khandoba temple of Jejuri within 2 hours of Kumbhargaon. Other attractions include Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Supe and Purandar fort. in Narayanpur village