A round-the-year guide to engaging with nature

Spaces and species

Updated - January 02, 2020 06:35 pm IST

Published - January 02, 2020 04:04 pm IST

The Brown-headed Gull

The Brown-headed Gull

Blessed with rich and varied habitats, Delhi-NCR is very rewarding when it comes to both flora and fauna. The city caters to the needs of beautiful creatures in possibly every season. In summer, the resident birds breed in their preferred habitats; the monsoon attracts several birds and insects, and the winter is well known for migratory birds. Delhi's rich biodiversity is mainly due to the different kinds of habitats it celebrates, such as scrublands and deciduous forests in the Aravllis and the Ridge; wetlands like Okhla Bird Sanctuary, and small grasslands, sometimes found adjacent to wetlands and scrublands. Each habitat is home to both generalist species as well as habitat-specialists. No wonder then that Delhi is an avifauna marvel and the second most bird-rich capital city in the world, after Nairobi in Kenya.


Watch the Brown-headed Gull migrate

To marvel at the large congregation of migrating Brown-headed Gulls, head towards Nigambodh Ghat on a boat ride you'd remember for a lifetime. A few male birds may also be seen in their breeding plumage.

Photo: Rushen/Wikimedia Commons


See the Kulu Tree flowering

Once imagined to have been a part of the Delhi Ridge, the magnificent Kulu has almost disappeared from the city, but the Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Gurugram has a few blooming specimens. The tree stands out with its white chipping trunk, its branches spreading upward like that of a dancer's arms mid-pose. It displays khaki-coloured flower clusters, deep red-brown on the outside and green on the inside. The tree is also known to have medicinal uses. Locally, it is also called 'Kateela' or 'Kateera'. Aravalli Biodiversity Park, once an extensively mined and exploited region, has now grown into a small forest, with flora native to the Aravalli Range. It is no less than a marvel.

Photo: Vijay Dhasmana


Experience a Murmuration of Rosy Starlings

Rosy Starling (Pastor roseus) captured at Borit, Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan with Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Rosy Starling (Pastor roseus) captured at Borit, Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan with Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Lodhi Garden , with its historical monuments and old trees is where large flocks of migratory Rosy Starlings head in March-April. They are celebrated for their incredible aerial display known as a murmuration, where they fly together in large groups and change direction at the same time, avoiding a collision with one another. It's a sight so incredible it makes you fall in love with birds. If you like garden-hopping, drive to Nehru Park to see the Flame of the Forest, called Dhak or Palash, locally. It's a survivor, withstanding heat, frost, drought, and poor soil conditions. The bright orange flowers yield an orange dye, once used as a Holi colour. You'll also find a large tree near the entrance of Teen Murti Bhawan.

Photo: Imran Shah/Wikimedia Commons


Find the flower of the Sita-Ashok

Thought of as India's most beautiful tree for its fragrant, pale, apricot-coloured flowers that appear in clusters, borne directly from the main branches of the tree. The Roshanara Bagh in North Delhi, a Mughal era garden built by Roshanara Begum, daughter of Shah Jahan, proudly displays a row of 12 beautiful Sita-Ashok Trees. The tree is considered sacred and is surrounded by folklore, religious, and literary references.

Photo: Abhishek Gulshan


Hear the calls of the Brown-headed Barbet

A loud cavity nester, the Brown-headed Barbet breeds in May in the lushness of Sunder Nursery, a 16th century heritage park, home to several old trees that have developed holes, and thus comfort cavity nesters. The loud green Barbet, with a brown head, is observed on tree tops, calling to attract mates. It starts pairing in April and breeds in May, where the males feed the females in cavities to keep them comfortable.

Photo: Abhishek Gulshan


Discover the home of the Alexandrine Parakeet

Monuments like the Qutab Minar in Mehrauli have crevices for nesting birds especially parakeets. The largest of the kind in the city is the Alexandrine Parakeet. The birds were heavily traded to be kept as pets, and they're listed as a near threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It is named after Alexander the Great, who exported several to Europe, where it was considered a sign of nobility. The elegant bird has a crimson patch on its shoulders, a unique identification mark.

Photo: Abhishek Gulshan


Spot the Cinnamon Bittern

The onset of wet weather in the city is greeted by the arrival of an elusive bird called the Cinnamon Bittern, at the wetlands here. The bittern is fairly big and is cinnamon-coloured bird. Okhla Bird Sanctuary in Noida is perhaps one of the richest wetland-reed habitats in Delhi NCR. In July- August, you may often see these beautiful birds shying away in reeds or flying from one patch to another.

Photo: C. l. Pramod/Wikimedia Commons


Watch the Common Mormon fly

The butterfly park at Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary plays host to a variety of butterflies at this time. Most belonging to the family of Swallowtails are large and brilliantly coloured with a tailed hindwing. Common Mormons are predominantly black with white markings on males, and females displaying some red on the hindwing.

Photo: Rlevse/Wikimedia Commons


Count the colours of the Indian Pitta

Commonly known as the Navrang in Hindi, the Indian Pitta has nine colours. It nests on trees in Bhondsi Nature Park in Bhondsi, Gurugram. The birds are shy, but when they start to pair on arrival from Southern India, they are vocal and visible.

Photo: Abhishek Gulshan


Recognise a Zebra Blue

A small, fast and jittery butterfly from the family of Blues, the largest family consisting of over 6,000 species of butterflies. The butterfly has orange spots on the head-like tail to confuse predators. It is seen on ornamental Plumbago flowers at the Hauz Rani city forest in Saket.

Photo: Anagha Devi/Wikimedia Commons


Enter a reforested zone

The Yamuna Biodiversity Park, in Wazirabad, is located on the Yamuna riverfront and has been developed by the DDA and scientists of the University of Delhi into a haven for birds. Several migratory ducks (from Europe and other parts of Asia) like the Common Pochard come in winter to the wetlands. A diving or dabbling duck, fish, molluscs and aquatic plants are its primary source food.

Photo: Dr. Raju_Kasambe/Wikimedia Commons


Visit a wetland

Sultanpur National Park in Sultanpur village, Gurugram, was first declared a Bird Sanctuary in 1972 when Peter Jackson, a prominent British ornithologist approached the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, for the need to protect the place for its Avifauna brilliance. Later in 1983, it was upgraded to a National Park. Before concretisation and the construction of drainage, the area was naturally waterlogged. Though this is now artificially maintained, it still attracts thousands of migratory birds like the Brown Goose, the Common Teal, the Northern Shoveler that flock together and spend this winter in the rich habitat.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India.

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