Text by Rupsikha Bhuyan
Photos by Dr. Rituraj Bhuyan
A pair of feral horses in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park
Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is situated on the south bank of the river Brahmaputra in the extreme east of Assam, India. With an area of 350 square kilometers, Dibru-Saikhowa provides a safe haven for many endangered and uncommon species of wildlife. Some rare and globally threatened species of animals found in this region are the hoolock gibbon, capped langur, slow loris, water buffalo, Gangetic river dolphin. However, Dibru-Saikhowa is most famous for its feral horses and avifauna. Over 300 species of birds, resident and migratory, are found in this National Park.
Maguri Beel- the gateway of Dibru Saikhowa
Bird watchers and ornithologists are well aware of the importance and beauty of the Maguri Motapung Beel. A wetland located around 3.5 kms away from the Guijan Ghat, Maguri Beel acts as a gateway of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Biosphere Reserve. It has grown its importance over the years due to the presence of many threatened resident and migratory birds that visit the place during the winter season. Some species of birds, that this area provides an abode include Jerdon’s Babbler, Marsh Babbler, 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 and many more.
Top: Jerdon's Babbler
Bottom: Marsh Babbler
A trip to Maguri Beel
Being a daughter of an avid birder, my father would often take me along with him on some of his birding trips with his huge camera lens that 17 years old of me could barely hold for more than a few minutes. Maguri Beel was a place he frequented almost every year during the winter months, as it was barely an hour’s drive away from his tea garden bungalow.
One particular day of November 2018, he took me along to birding at the Dibru Saikhowa Eco Camp. We arrived at the eco camp around 11 a.m. After a few hearty laughs with a cup of tea with his another birder friend, my father led me along to the swamp's shore. Since the waters were shallow, small boats that could only bear the weight of around 4 people were used. The boat rides usually lasted 3-4 hours, but the beauty of wildlife all around barely made it seem more than an hour or two. The murky waters filled with different aquatic plants moved as we went forward on our boats. As we slowly lost sight of the eco camp, the sounds of people faded away to silence until the only thing we could hear were the calls of birds and the boat getting rowed. Once every few minutes, our guide would spot different birds and my father would go on to tell me about them
“That flock there are Ruddy Shelducks.” He would point and I would follow along, listening. It was a beautiful, bright coloured, almost goose-like duck. The males have a black ring on their necks. They are migratory birds, visiting these grounds from Southeastern Europe.
A pair of Ruddy Shelduck in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park
I remember listening intently and trying to memorise the names and features of many species of birds that we saw, although I would probably forget a lot of them later on. The Ruddy Shelduck, however, was a name that stuck with me, due to its vibrant colours, and the striking white patches on their wings which only visible during flight. Until this day, the Ruddy Shelduck has to be my favourite migratory bird I could spot in the Maguri Beel.
The beauty of the experience of a rowboat ride in Maguri Beel is in mainly watching wildlife in their natural habitats. It is amazing to think about how some of these species of birds travelled thousands of kilometers to reach this particular area of Assam specially during winter season. The Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is also home to many endangered species of birds, one of them being the White Winged Wood duck, locally referred to as ‘deo hans’ in Assamese, meaning ‘spirit duck’. It gets its name due to its ghostly sounding call. Although we did not encounter one on our trip, I was informed by my father that they have a dark body, a white head that is thickly spotted with black, conspicuous white patches on the wings and red or orange eyes. In the entirety of India, this species is found only in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Another rare species we encountered on that trip was the Black-breasted Parrotbill. It gets its name from the black markings on its chest area. With a brown coloured head and body, a black and white patch behind its eyes, and a distinctive parrot-like beak, the Black-breasted Parrotbill is definitely said to be one of the most sought after birds for bird-watchers in North East India.
Thus, as the sun sets slowly towards the end of the day, the trip to the swamp was considered a success with many sightings of different species and a lot of information about them shared and discussed. The water surface reflecting the red and orange hues of the sunset gave off an ethereal feel, almost as if we were in limbo between everyday life and nature at its best. Nearing the eco camp would take us back to real life as the silent sounds of nature would give away to sounds of the occasional cars driving by, and people talking, laughing and going on about their days.
The bitter truth
Unfortunately the beauty of such a place is not safe from us humans. With more and more dams built in the country and more communities rehabilitated to different areas, wild lands are taken over by human settlements, grasslands over-grazed by livestock, forests cut down to make more room for yet more settlements. Fishermen from villages nearby use cheap mosquito nets for fishing in areas like Maguri Beel, which unlike normal fishing nets, do not have wide enough holes to let go of smaller fish and eggs that would keep the species alive in the future. These actions prove detrimental to the aquatic life in the area and dwindles their numbers greatly. Only when we humans realise the consequences of our actions and change our patterns of ecological abuse to conserve these magical areas can the dwindling numbers of wildlife get restored to their initial glory.
About the Author:
Rupsikha Bhuyan is a student of Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Pune and currently pursuing her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org