As bird watchers head towards the Thane creek to watch flamingos, they are puzzled by the absence of the birds near Sewri jetty this year. Every year, the migratory birds flock to the city in winter and are seen in the wetlands around the Thane creek and Sewri. However, not many have been spotted in Sewri this year. With the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) work having begun at the Sewri jetty in mid-January locals and researchers are pointing out the development work as the cause for their absence.
“This is the first time that the birds have not flocked to Sewri. I have been visiting the area since two to three weeks to understand this phenomena and it seems like the reason is the MTHL construction activity. The work is generating a lot of noise from machines and the workers are also moving around in the water in small boats. This has disturbed the area’s peace,” said Pravin Patade, a bird watcher, who has been observing the area for the last decade. Avinash Bhagat, a bird researcher, agreed, saying, “It is a sudden disappearance and it could be because of the noise coming from the MTHL construction. They seem to have moved to safer places.
However we cannot be sure as there is very little research done on these birds.” The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is constructing the country’s longest sea-link, the 22-km MTHL, between Sewri and Nhava Sheva. The contractors began the geotechnical survey for the project on January 15 and small boats are present in the sea for the survey. The work is expected to continue for the coming four years.
According to locals, they have spotted flamingos in the area but they do not settle on the mudflats. “We see a few flamingos sometimes but they only fly around and never settle on the mudflats. These are also very few in number and hardly comparable with what we see every year. It clearly seems to be due to the activity for the construction of the bridge,” said Mohamed Javed, a local resident.
However, ornithologist Sunjoy Monga said, “It is too early to decide the reason for their absence. The work has only begun and we need to have some research before we can decide. Since 1990s their arrival in the city has been delayed. They used to come by November they might be further delayed now.” Researchers also pointed to other reasons for their absence. “The birds come to Mumbai from Saurashtra and Rann of Kutch. Last year, those areas received good rainfall and the water level in those areas is still high. They usually come to Mumbai when the water there gets dry. If they are getting food there they might not come to Mumbai,” added Bhagat.
According to Patade, there are two kinds of flamingos – greater and lesser – that flock to Mumbai. While the greater flamingos are seen in the city through the year, the lesser flamingos are migrants that come from Gujarat for food and mating. “It is also possible that they did not come to Mumbai due to cyclone Ockhi. It happened during their flying time and these birds are known to follow the wind pattern. While good number of flamingos have been spotted in Thane they are not as much as the previous years,” he added.
A spokesperson from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which has been appointed to conduct mitigation activities during construction of the MTHL, said, “We cannot comment right now on the absence of flamingos as we have only begun the research. But prima facie it could be due to the cyclone last year.”