City Birder's Paradise, The Okhla Bird Sanctuary near Delhi
Those who have experienced Delhi winters will agree – it is nothing less than a feat to get up 6.00 am in the morning amidst the dense fog enveloping the city, and visit a water body. What made our adventure a little more maddening was the fact that it was planned on a Sunday a day when clinging to the blanket was acceptable even mandatory after a long work week. And yet, discarding the warmth of the blanket and braving the biting cold were just little discomforts for us, when the magic of migration revealed itself in its full glory at the Okhla Bird sanctuary. The Okhla Sanctuary lies in Noida, Uttar Pradesh and is truly a city birder’s paradise. If you love nature and want to get into bird watching, Okhla bird sanctuary could be a good start. It is not huge – only 4 square kilometres in size and offers just enough of the rugged life that a novice birdwatcher will enjoy. Even if you are someone who has been bird watching passionately all your life, Okhla is that easy weekend haunt that you can go to on a moment’s notice and if you are lucky enough can see some stunning winter birds including flamingos, storks, pelicans and cranes.
How to Get ThereOkhla bird Sanctuary lies at a point where river Yamuna enters Uttar Pradesh. It is officially in Noida but so close to Delhi that a day trip to Okhla or an early morning outing does not feel like you are in another state.
By RoadThere are many ways to reach the sanctuary via road or metro. If you are driving from Delhi, take the Kalindi Kunj route. From Noida, take the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway or the Dadri road.
By MetroMany people find the metro a very convenient way to reach there. The nearest metro station is the Botanical Garden Metro station from where you can take a three wheeler or a cycle rickshaw to reach the sanctuary. It takes approximately 10 minutes.
What to SeeThe first thing that hits you as soon as you enter the gates of the Okhla bird sanctuary is the sudden gush of wind and the shades of green all around. It is a stark contrast from the urban landscapes surrounding it, like an oasis in the desert. And very slowly, as you move on the well laid path around the lake, you get to sight your first birds. The geese, teal, gulls, lapwings…they are all there having flown from their distant winter lands, and in India to spend the season in this small but significant habitat.
BirdsAccording to official figure some 309 species of birds visit the Sanctuary especially during winter months of October till February. This barrage of river Yamuna is bound by highways, flyovers, apartments, power plants and industries from all sides. Nevertheless its existence ensures that birds flying from miles away can rest a while or spend their winter here, in the national capital region before moving back to their homeland during summers. At different times of day and at different locations, varied birds can be spotted here by the birdwatcher. There is also a bird guide available at the ticket counter to help you identify the birds that you see in the distant, swimming in the lake, flying around, catching a fish or just propped on logs with their wings raised especially the cormorants. Some of the commonly seen birds are,
- White throated Kingfisher
- Indian pond heron
- oriental skylark
- Spot billed duck
- Painted stork
- Northern shoveler
- Green bee-eater
- Common teal
- Yellow footed green pigeon
- Indian Koel
- Weaver bird
AnimalsIf you thought Okhla was only a birdwatcher’s paradise, think again! We spotted some mongoose, and swamp deers too! Although we did not spot any, it is said you can see water snakes or other snakes as well here. There is a small temple inside the sanctuary where if you are lucky you might see the mongoose going from here and there. There are also excellent kinds of trees, herbs and shrubs spread all across the sanctuary giving it its beautiful green cover.
Entry Timings and TicketsThe entry fee for the sanctuary is Rs. 30 for an Indian national and Rs. 300 for a foreigner. Earlier they allowed taking the car or bike with you inside, but now you can only tour the sanctuary on foot. There are excellent watch towers from where it is easy to see all the different birds without having to trek a lot. The sanctuary opens from 7.00 am in the morning till 5.30 pm in the evening. Camera charges may be additional.
- Wear comfortable shoes as there is much walking involved, sometimes even on wobbly leaf mounds above the water.
- Carry a pair of binoculars. The migratory birds are mostly sitting at the central part of the lake where visitors can’t go.
- Avoid wearing bright coloured clothes as they might distract the birds and they will fly away.
- Carry plenty of water and snacks, but be careful not to throw any trash in the waterways and the path.
- Silence is golden, if you do not wish the birds to shy away.
- It is good to plan an early morning visit as most of the birds are out and about. It also saves you from the heat.