Updated: Mar 25, 2021
Gajoldoba had been on my travel log for a few years! A planned trip in mid-March 2020 ended being a damp squib! I had to cut short my birding trip in North Bengal and rush back to Hyderabad as all the mountain regions were shutting down and tourists were asked to leave on short notice.
Thankfully, I got an opportunity to help Anirudh set up his homestay - himalayanodysseyretreat.com for a couple of weeks towards the end of Dec’2020. After the lockdown, it was a much need escape, and I jumped at the opportunity.
Towards the end of my stay, I got back to the plains, and planned a half day session to Gajoldoba. It was still a wintry morning and fairly nippy. Diya, Anirudh’s wife decided to join me for the boat ride. We got there for 7 am and waited for the boatman to arrive and we set off by 7.30 am. We ensured we were stocked with enough water, sandwiches, chips and juice as we set off for what was a 4-5 hour trip.
The late sunrise did help, and shooting the birds was an absolute treat. The entire backwaters of the Teesta at Gajoldoba Barrage was filled with a fantastic variety of waterfowl, waders, and a host of other avian species. It is indeed a birders paradise, when you actually get out there. There were several other boats out there, mostly tourists, but we did encounter a few photographer too.
The morning started off with seeing the beautiful, tufted ducks, ruddy shelducks and red crested pochards which spread were all over the waters. I ended up getting some lovely captures within the first 15 min.
Red Crested Pochard
As we went in further, I ended up seeing a host of birds wading in the water – Eurasian Wigeons, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Green winged Teals, Common Pochards, Common Mergansers, Black eared Grebes’, Eurasian Coots, hundreds of Pacific Golden Plovers, Northern Lapwings, Little & Great Cormorants, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets, and several Pond Herons on our ride towards the end of the barrage. My favourite captures amongst them all were the Lapwings - Northern, River and Grey Headed.
Grey Headed Lapwing
Apart from the usual suspects among the raptors like Black Kites, and Marsh Harriers, I spotted a Hen Harrier and a Short Eared Owl which was sitting on the ground on one of the little islands in reservoir. The raptors were at the far end of the water body and they were identified using the binoculars we had. While I would love to post all those wonderful pictures, one can get to see the collection on my Facebook page (which has birds by regions and trips made) and Instagram page where I upload them.
The season to visit Gajoldoba is from around November to March, but the best time to see the migrants visiting the region is January and February. It is indeed a birders paradise, and it will be a wonderful experience to spend time out there.
An important note to photographers is that, the boatmen have excellent knowledge of birds. Probably a trait they have picked and learnt from thousands of photographers who have frequented the place. That apart, they also know how to get the position of the boat right with the sun behind you, so you get a good composition and image. Do tip them well, since it is a tough job rowing the boat and the kind of distances they cover to ensure their clients have a good experience. Since you sit across a plank on the boat you are fairly close to ground level and you largely end up getting eye level shots which enhance the image very well.
And if you are wondering where can I get a bite to eat or something to drink, there are a lot of food stalls in the parking lot, and there is a fair spread for people to munch! Clearly the Bengalis love their food and you are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out there. I captured a few pictures on my phone which I hope will give you an idea of what to expect. The stalls serve omelettes, fried prawns, an assortment of bhajjis, dosas etc. You also have a nice choice of fresh juices like watermelon, orange, sweet lime apart from milkshakes.
As I write this blog, I am preparing to head to North Bengal on another birding trip in a few days time, from 26th March to 4th April. And I cant wait to get there all over again!
Do drop a comment and any feedback, and I will be happy to hear from you!