Santragachhi Jheel, one year on

Very rarely can thriving wildlife habitats be encountered in and around bustling metropolises. Even more rarely does their quality improve with the years. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the recent “cleanup” of Howrah’s Santragachhi Jheel has enthused birdwatchers.

Last year, large stretches of the 1.3 lakh sq. feet lake were found to have been taken over by water hyacinth, greatly reducing the habitat available for waterfowl(link). The Jheel also has to contend with the ever-rising levels of water and air pollution, a natural consequence of its location in the middle of a congested neighborhood. Many felt that waterfowl would stop visiting the lake altogether.

The worried Green Tribunal, a bench of the Kolkata High Court ordered the Howrah Municipal Corporation and the West Bengal Forest Department to keep the jheel clean throughout the year. And for once, the latter seem to have paid heed. The local Chottodal Club, Indian Railways(the lake’s nominal custodian)  and a number of environmental NGOs have participated in the largest cleanup attempt at the Jheel since 2011.
The results have been striking. Lesser Whistling Teals have always been the dominant waterfowl species of the Jheel.This time, the SundayWatch team’s Christmas day visit found over 3,500 of these gregarious ducks. Winter migrants were also noticeably more numerous this time around, with a total of over 100 Northern Pintails and Gadwalls being sighted. Last year, they were numbered only in the low dozens. And that’s not all-the Near Threatened Ferruginous Pochard(Aythya Nyroca) also kept its date with the Jheel, flying in from distant Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Other exciting sightings included those of Garganeys(Anas querquedula), Common teals(Anas creccha) and Eurasian wigeons(Anas penelope).


A Pintail swims past a large flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks


Garganey and Ferruginous Pochard, Pic credit: Rikhi Banerjee


Overall, the team, of which i was lucky to be a part, sighted 70 species this time, of which 27 were waterfowl. The complete list, a shining testimony to the Jheel’s incredible potential as a biodiversity haven, goes as follows: (numbers in brackets)

1)Lesser Whistling Duck (3500+)
2)Fulvous Whistling Duck (2)
3)Cotton Pygmy-goose (2)
4)Gadwall (45)
5)Eurasian Wigeon (2)
6)Garganey (2)
7)Northern Pintail (35)
8)Common Teal (3)
9)Ferruginous Pochard (4)
10)Asian Openbill (3)
11)Indian Pond Heron (8)
12)Purple Heron (1)
13)Cattle Egret (15)
14)Little Egret (1)
15)Little Cormorant (10)
16)Indian Cormorant (15)
17)White-breasted Waterhen (2)
18)Common Moorhen (6)
19)Bronze-winged Jacana (4)
20)Stork-billed Kingfisher (1)
21)White-throated kingfisher (6)
22)Common Kingfisher (4)
23)Red-rumped Swallow (4)
24)Barn Swallow (12)
25)Western Yellow Wagtail (2)
26)Citrine Wagtail (2)
27)White Wagtail (3)
28)Spotted Dove (12)
29)Eurasian Collared Dove (5)
30)Yellow-footed Green Pigeon (30)
31)Common Pigeon (50)
32)Rose-ringed Parakeet (4)
33)Common Hawk Cuckoo (1)
34)Asian Koel (3)
35)Greater Coucal (1)
36)Little Swift (15)
37)Asian Palm Swift (25)
38)Green Bee-eater (12)
39)Lineated Barbet (1)
40)Blue-throated Barbet (5)
41)Coppersmith Barbet (15)
42)Lesser Goldenback (2)
43)Ashy Woodswallow (1)
44)Brown Shrike (2)
45)Black Drongo (8)
46)Indian Golden Oriole (1)
47)Black-naped Oriole (1)
48)Black-hooded Oriole (5)
49)Rufous Treepie (4)
50)House Crow (250)
51)Eastern Jungle Crow (1)
52)Red-vented Bulbul (12)
53)Red-whiskered Bulbul (1)
54)Plain Prinia (2)
55)Yellow-bellied Prinia (1)
56)Common Tailorbird (2)
57)Jungle Babbler (2)
58)Common Myna (20)
59)Jungle Myna (10)
60)Asian Pied Starling (25)
61)Chestnut-tailed Starling (12)
62)Oriental Magpie Robin (4)
63)Taiga Flycatcher (4)
64)Pale-billed Flowerpecker (1)
65)Purple Sunbird (3)
66)Purple-rumped Sunbird (1)
67)House Sparrow (50)
68)Western Yellow Wagtail (2)
69)Citrine Wagtail(2)
70)White Wagtail (3)


Passerines, such as the Green Bee-Eater(Merops orientalis), also throng the Jheel

This list is certain to warm every birdwatcher’s heart. However, one can notice a few omissions compared to last year’s list. For instance, the much-anticipated Common and Swinhoe’s Snipes failed to make an appearance this year. Likewise, the distinctive chacking calls of the Phylloscopus warblers were conspicuous by their absence.

Interestingly enough, the cleanup process might have contributed to this, since they are heavily dependent upon reed beds and water hyacinth-dominated areas. And even waterfowl aren’t out of the woods yet, with large amounts of plastic garbage dotting the lake. The cleanup doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on them, though it would perhaps be unfair to wholly blame the competent authorities ; the urban sprawl around Santragachhi is increasing day by day. Plastic continues to be dumped in large quantities, and noise pollution has long passed tolerable levels.


Plastic waste is a common sight at the Jheel

One hopes that the lessons of 2011 and 2016 are learnt and fully incorporated into a holistic long-term conservation strategy. Only then will the lake continue to be a stronghold of birds, and not garbage.



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