Birding at Himayat Sagar

25th December, Christmas, was on a Friday. So, it was a long weekend and I did not have any plans as such. The previous evening, while browsing on meetup site, I found an interesting event. There was a meet up for bird watching and trail walking at Himayat Sagar on the morning of 25th .

Now, I am an arm chair bird watcher. Now, I do not have a camera (not even a basic point and shoot) nor a binocular or a bird book. So, I am not qualified to be called a bird watcher at all. And with my poor eyesight, it is really difficult to identify details on the birds. Hence, arm-chair bird watching is what suits me! I like to do facebook birding! I subscribe to some facebook groups and pages which feed me information on various types of birds, their habitat, their food habits etc. In fact, thanks to facebook groups, over the last few months, I have been able to identify different types of Kingfishers – Common, Pied, White breasted, etc, came to know that there is a bird called Wag-tail and that they are abundantly found in Hyderabad, in fact in our office campus itself, and that there are various types of wagtail, various types of Babblers, various types of Pipit, Hawk, Cuckoo, Myna, Heron, Owl, Plover etc. While my knowledge of birds has increased only a little, it has definitely increased my curiosity to know and understand more about birds. But due to lethargy, I was never inclined to go for an actual birding. But, when this opportunity presented itself, I thought it would be a great idea to go along with some folks who know about birds and learn from them.

This meetup was being organized by GJ. She is an active member of GHAC. Over the meetup site, she told us to assemble on time. We were supposed to meet at Gachibowli circle by 6:00. The previous night, I set the alarm at 5:00 am. Woke up in the morning and, got ready to start to the common meeting place by 5:30am.
By the time I reached there, it was still dark. The sun was rising around 6:20 or so during that week. I found a car parked and 3 more people waiting. I parked my car and went to them. Suddenly, one of the guys, asked me GHAC? I said, “Yes, How do you know?”. He said “From your shoes. I am Sayyad”. I introduced myself. There was GJ who was the organizer.

She gave me a disclaimer form to read, sign and pay the nominal meetup fee of Rs 50. Then few more people joined us. By 6:30, it was a group of about 7 people. GJ asked for a volunteer to collect the fees. I accepted. She gave me a bunch of papers. One which is a disclaimer and another to note down details of the payment. I collected the fees from the people who were joining. By 6:45, we decided that we should move. I did not know the direction. So, I decided to follow GJ’s car.

Himayat Sagar is an artificial lake about 20 km from Hyderabad. After the massive flood in Musi river in 1908, the Nizam of Hyderabad initiated a comprehensive program to control flood. As part of that program, a reservoir was created on Esi river, a tributary of Musi River. This was supposed to help in flood control. It was built in the reign of Nizam Osman Ali Khan and was named after his youngest son, Himayat Ali Khan.

In just about 15 minutes, we reached the reservoir entrance. We parked our cars there. There were few other folks who also joined us at the gate. I got back to the task of reading out the disclaimer to the new folks, jotting down their details, getting their signatures and collecting the fees. Then GJ asked all of us to stand in a circle and give our introduction. There were few students, few young IT professionals, and there were 2 families. There were a young family of 4 (Father, mother, son and daughter) and another elderly family of 4 (Father, mother, daughter and son-in-law). There were about 20 people in total in the meetup.

Then GJ informed that people who are interested in bird watching can stay back with her and others who wanted to go for a peaceful morning jog can run along the road built on the dam till the end just and come back. Some folks went for the run. The families, myself and GJ stayed back for birdwatching. It was a long paved road. After covering a short distance, we could see the water reservoir on one side. On the other side of the dam, there was a small green forest area. Lots of trees and shrubs were there. It seemed to be a place for many birds as we could hear their morning chirping.

It was a very beautiful, cool and calm day. There was a good amount of chill in the air. some cyclists with their modern cycles and cycling gear crossed us. As we walked along the road on the dam, we first saw few parrots. They were rose ringed parrots. GJ took out a binocular from her bag and adjusted it. Then she passed it to others to have a look. The parrots were beautiful.

There was a huge kite that flew on top of us. It hovered for some time, surveyed our group like a boss, and then went away, probably realizing that we were not good enough for breakfast!

There were many babblers and some pea cock in the jungle. The peacocks were in some distance. But the babblers were very playful and kept coming closer, making a lot of noise, crossing from the jungle area towards the road and going back, jumping from tree to tree.

We reached a small gate on the road. Entering the gate, we found ourselves on the top of the sluice gates of the reservoir. A sluice gate is traditionally a wood or metal barrier sliding in grooves that are set in the sides of the waterway. Sluice gates commonly control water levels and flow rates in rivers and canals. Though the water in the reservoir was in some distance, in the earlier days, when the reservoir used to overflow with water, the sluice gates would be opened to let water out of the reservoir. 

The opposite side of the sluice gates was a very deep gorge formed by the rushing water. The bed of the gorge was filled with big and small rocks. It looked beautiful. But there was no water there. It seemed the sluice gates were not opened for years.

We saw many other types of birds there. Some of the folks were taking pictures. In the reservoir, we saw couple of birds. They were sitting on some rocks and then one just glided into the water. GJ trained her binoculars on them and then passed them to us. We took turns one by one. Then she pulled out a much used book from her bag. It was the book of Indian birds by Dr Salim Ali, the famous ornithologist. The book helped us identify the different birds. The black birds in the water were Cormorants. The cormorants have a very smooth way of swimming. They go completely inside the water and come out after a few meters. They fish for their food inside the water. On the rocks, we spotted some Cattle Egret and Grey Heron.

Then there was a flock some black birds that were flying very fast. The folks who were trying to take their pictures were not able to as they could not catch them in the frame. They seemed to be like swift or swallows or sand martins to me. GJ immediately pulled out the bird book and asked me to identify. Looking at their features and reading the book, I concluded that they were Red Rumped Swallows. There were a colony of them nesting in the jungle and they were flying all around. It was a great sight to see.

By that time, the guys who went for the walk were back. GJ announced that we will go down, not into the gorge, but in a path beside it towards the plain land below where there were some big rocks. But before going there, she again made us form a circle, made us do some warm up exercises and gave some instructions. Then we started going down the trail.

It was a very easy trail. There were some trees beside the path. I spotted a sunbird there. Shortly, we went through the jungle patch to come out in a plain area where there were lots of rocks. The group, especially the children wanted to sit there. The young folks started taking out their cameras and posed for pictures. The families took out breakfast/snacks and had them. I kept exploring the place, jumping from one rock to another to another. It was a good fun workout.

I went even further and found a rock in the shape of a dinosaur. There were plenty of Gree Bee Eaters there. I had not seen a Green Bee Eater in real life earlier. This was the first time I saw them. It was wonderful. I could also spot a Black Drongo also perched on a tree. I was amazed by my bird spotting knowledge just by doing facebook birding!

Coming back to where our group was perched, I gave the news to GJ and we all started to go there and see the birds. The children and the group also spent more time on the dinosaur rock. Some music was floating in the air, probably from some nearby hamlet.
We spotted some more birds like the white throated kingfisher, myna, starling, white brow wagtail and cuckoo.  It was almost 9:00 am and time for us to return back.

We traced our ways back and reached the dam road. Then thanked GJ. GJ invited me to join other short trips and treks. All of the folks bade good bye to each other and left.

I really enjoyed the short trip. It was a pleasant break from the daily grind of city and work life. One feels closer to nature and does not want to come back. This trip also made me bit sad by seeing the litter and garbage that had been thrown around the reservoir. And also looking at the receding water level of the reservoir, or the dry bed of the water outlet which one day used to be a river! But there is a ray of hope. There are like minded people who are joining hands to help preserve the serenity of nature!

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