The Kingfishers (and other fauna) of Bhitarkanika, Orissa

Brown-winged Kingfisher
Brown-winged Kingfisher 

December 10 & 11, 2007

Bhitarkanika (National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary) is the second largest mangrove eco-system (next to the Sundarbans) in India.  It is a spectacular place – as yet largely unspoiled (although the one habited Forestry station where we stopped to show our permits was strewn with litter) – a place you would never tire of visiting.  It is home to the largest population of Giant Salt Water (Estuarine) crocodiles in India, the largest nesting ground for the Olive Ridley sea turtles in the world, and an amazing number of resident and migratory birds, including eight species of Kingfishers.

White-throated Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher

In the two days we spent in Bhitarkanika, traveling by motor boat for 6-7 hours a day, skirting river banks for most of the day, we saw five of the eight species of Kingfishers found here:  White-throated, Black-capped, Pied, Common, and the extremely rare Brown-winged (according to the latest literature in Bhitarkanika, one of only 50 birds in the park). We only saw the Black-capped kingfisher and the Common kingfisher (two of each) in flight, but lots of White-throated and Pied kingfishers perched, fishing, and in flight.  The sole Brown-winged kingfisher stayed perched on a tree branch hanging over the river even as we brought the boat around for a second glimpse, marveling at its bright pink bill and even brighter pink feet.

Estuarine Crocodile
Giant Salt Water (Estuarine) Crocodile 

Our introduction to the fauna of Bhitarkanika was almost immediate,  with the sighting of an enormous crocodile, half hidden in the long grasses by the river bank, which did a half flip as it plunged into the water upon our approach.  Then, as I wondered whether we would see any Irrawaddy dolphins (we didn’t get a good look at them in Lake Chilka), a pod appeared port side. And, a huge Water Monitor lizard basked on the bank as we left the permit check at Khola Creek.

Bar-headed Geese
Bar-headed Geese

I won’t list all the birds (egrets, herons, darters, storks, ibises, plovers, sandpipers, bee eaters, ducks and geese) that we saw (not that I could identify them all), but besides lots of crocodiles and the monitor lizard, we saw spotted deer (that bark!), Rhesus monkeys, and a couple of different water snakes.

Spotted Deer
Spotted Deer

We were all dozing off as we turned to head back to Chandbali when the motorman’s helper cried out.  He had spotted a sea turtle.  It was an Olive Ridley sea turtle, one of the first to make it this close to the nesting beaches in Gahirmatha.  (We had asked before we set off whether we could stay overnight at Gahirmatha, hoping to see nesting sea turtles, but had been told that the turtles hadn’t arrived yet – they were “on their way”.) And here it was!  Our initial excitement turned to sadness as, upon closer examination, we saw that there was blood on several places on the turtle’s shell.  We assume that it had been injured in a fishing net, a major cause of death for sea turtles.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

Our last few hours were uneventful, as we passed picturesque village scenes of rice harvesting and straw stacking and fishermen working their fish and shrimp nets. Not even a crocodile in sight.

9 Responses to “The Kingfishers (and other fauna) of Bhitarkanika, Orissa”

  1. 1 viral December 21, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    nice — great pics too!

  2. 2 P.C.Dhal September 13, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Nice pictures.

  3. 3 Anjali December 1, 2008 at 8:09 am

    We’re planning a visit to Gahirmatha end Dec. May I have your numbers to discuss how you got to Bhitarkanika, any specific transport/stay recommendations? We (my husband and I) are keen naturalists and would be grateful for any info.
    Anjali Mullatti
    0821-4288 688.

  4. 4 yoomilee December 7, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Dear Anjali,

    Sorry for the delay in my response. You can check out this site: for information on Bhitarkanika and where to enter and where to stay ( There seems to be limited entry to Gahirmatha from 1st. November to 31st. March.

    You will need to get a forest entry permit, which you can do at Rajnagar. We drove from Bhuvaneshwar and stayed at Chandbali at a government guest house. We got our forest permit there, but we had connections. You will need to get your permits at Rajnagar, Khola or Gupti. We hired a boat from Chandbali and spent two days in the reserve, staying overnight at Dangmal.

    Hope this helps.


  5. 5 xnegvx June 8, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Hi Yoo-Mi,

    I came across this post just now and found it to be very informative. I am a budding naturalist and this place looks like a heaven I must see. The biodiversity of this place seems to be astounding. Thank you for writing this article.


  6. 6 BINOD KUMAR NANDA July 28, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    I Visited During 2001 When I Was In LCC ,Salipur ,We All Member Visited Boating Also 30 Km Inside ealy Intresting

  7. 7 biswarup chakraborty January 8, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    nice pictures

  8. 8 heena patel March 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Nice collection i like this really thnxxxx for sharing…..))

  1. 1 Painted Storks in Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary « Essere Trackback on January 16, 2008 at 6:30 pm

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