Maguri Beel - A Bird Paradise in Assam
This is a long, nay, amazingly long pending post. I kept on postponing this in the hope that I will visit the area again next year, come back with better pictures, better bird collection and then write a post. Now since the Assam trip is postponed indefinitely, maybe I should write a short post.
We had visited Maguri Beel in Tinsukia district, Assam, in January 2013. Almost a year back, as you can see. Now Tinsukia is the husband’s hometown. He had spent almost his entire life there and yet he never knew of the vast birdlife that existed just beyond his backyard. (Because, I had not happened to him then. Heeh.) When we joined the Birds of Eastern India community on Facebook, we were astounded by the sheer variety of birds reported from the Maguri Beel region. The chief contributor was Amar Jyoti Saikia, a genial doctor by profession and an ardent birder. If you want to gauge the depth of birdlife in Maguri Beel, do check out his albums on Facebook. You will be amazed.
We finally reached Kohua Eco-camp, a resort on the bank of the Beel. There, we were greeted by Polash, a soft-spoken youth, who was to be our guide for the birding trip across the Beel on his boat. As he steered his slim boat away from the banks, we suddenly realized that Maguri Beel was not just a marshy lake as we had envisaged. It was a vast area, abutting the famed bio-diversity hotspot of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. There are reportedly 405 species of birds in the area, out of which around 85 species are migratory visitors. It is only recently that Maguri Beel came into focus. Previously, there used to be rampant killing of migratory ducks and other waders in the same area till the residents were made to realize its tourism potential. Circa 2003, things started to look positive and gradually the youths began to lend their hand in conserving the bird population. Today, says Polash, there is a huge tourist rush, even from overseas, who come to Maguri Beel to observe the congregation of birds in the region.
Asian Openbill Stork
As the boat skillfully navigated away from water hyacinths, we spotted a small group of bar headed geese lazily snoozing on the banks. A lone little ringed plover pottered about quietly while restless wagtails and swallows whirred around. It was cold as we delved deep into the Beel. Polash kept a sharp look-out for birds and pointed to us various birds, amazing us with his knowledge on the subject. Many a times he would just look into the horizon and call out a bird’s name. I would skeptically scan the area with the binocs and true enough, the bird would be there. I wonder how good his eyesight must be!
We saw a large number of ruddy shelducks, their bright rust-orange plumage breaking through the dullness of the winter morning. It was a pleasure observing their synchronized flights, even their foraging ways. The beautiful northern lapwing appeared intermittently, sauntering amidst the tall reeds. We approached a huge group of ducks which immediately took protest at our presence and flew off noisily. Polash counted six species of ducks in that group – northern pintail, garganey, gadwall, northern shoveler, mallard and widgeon. The ducks settled down at a far-off corner of the Beel and we decided to let them be. At other times, migratory birds like graylag geese, pochards, falcated ducks, greater crested grebes and pacific golden plovers could also been sighted.
Flock of migratory ducks
We passed a number of fishing camps and were told that fishing is allowed in the Beel. Suddenly, a pied harrier appeared on the scene and created a flutter among the ducks. We watched as the raptor circled around groups of hapless ducks and swooped down menacingly from time to time. Slowly, the harrier eased out of our view as it flew towards the furthermost areas of the Beel.
Pheasant-tailed Jacana (left) and Bronze-winged Jacana (right)
The sun was shining well and proper by then and we could not take too many photographs owing to the opposite light factor and our camera lens limitations. Polash seemed almost disappointed that we could not do justice to the varieties of birds there. Meanwhile, our baby who was just one year old then, woke up and started bawling at the top of his voice. We urged Polash to turn back before all the birds in the Beel flew away hearing the brat’s wails. As we returned to the resort, we saw a flock of openbill storks standing still, as if to bid us adieu. We thanked Polash and left the resort, not before making a resolution to come back again. There is so much to explore, so much to see and learn from Maguri Beel, a true bird paradise!
Getting there: There are flights and trains to Dibrugarh. You can drive down from Dibrugarh to Tinsukia, a distance of around 50 kms. There are buses, cabs and trains available.
Best time to visit: November to March
Stay: There are a number of hotels in Tinsukia town. Alternatively, you could opt to stay at Kohua Eco-camp on the bank of Maguri Beel.
List of birds sighted that day in Maguri Beel (some of them forgotten):
Striated Grassbird, Little Cormorant, Little Grebe, Asian Openbill Stork, Purple Swamphen, Little Ringed Plover, Bar-headed Goose, White wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Widgeon, Garganey, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Lapwing, Grey-headed Lapwing, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Bronze-winged Jacana, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Pied Harrier, Barn Swallow, Wood Sandpiper, Indian Roller, White-breasted Kingfisher.