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Discovering the Beauty and Diversity of Chilika Lake: Asia's Largest Brackish Water Lagoon and Haven for Migratory Birds

Chilika Lake is a brackish water lagoon that covers an area of over 1,100 square kilometres (420 sq mi) on the east coast of India, in the state of Odisha. It is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the largest brackish water lagoon in the world. It is also a Ramsar site of international importance for wetland conservation.

Chilika Lake is an ecosystem with rich biodiversity and fishery resources. It supports more than 150,000 fisherfolk living in 132 villages on the shore and islands. It also hosts over 160 species of birds in the peak migratory season, making it the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian subcontinent. Some of the birds that visit Chilika Lake come from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea and other remote parts of Russia, Central and Southeast Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas.

Chilika Lake is also home to some rare and endangered species of plants and animals, such as the Irrawaddy dolphin, which is one of only two lagoons in the world where this species can be seen. Other threatened species that inhabit the lake include the fishing cat, the dugong, the spoon-billed sandpiper, and the black-headed ibis.

Chilika Lake is a popular tourist destination for its scenic beauty, birdwatching opportunities, boating facilities, and cultural attractions. Some of the islands and places of interest in and around the lake are:

Nalabana Island This is a bird sanctuary that covers an area of 15.53 square kilometres (6 sq mi). It is a major congregation site for birds during winter and disappears during monsoon due to inundation.

Kalijai Island This is a religious island that houses a temple dedicated to Goddess Kalijai, who is worshipped by the local fisherfolk. The island also offers a panoramic view of the lake and its avian inhabitants.

Satapada This is a place in the southern part of the lake where one can see Irrawaddy dolphins and enjoy boating and fishing activities. It is also connected to the Bay of Bengal by a new mouth that was opened by a cyclone in 2000.

Rambha This is a place in the southern part of the lake that has several islands with scenic views and historical significance. Some of these islands are Breakfast Island, Honeymoon Island, Beacon Island, and Birds Island.

Mangalajodi This is a place in the northern part of the lake that is known for its community-based ecotourism initiative. It offers guided birdwatching tours by trained local villagers who have transformed from poachers to protectors of birds.

Chilika Lake is an eco-wonder that showcases the harmony between nature and culture. It is a treasure trove of biodiversity and a source of livelihood for many people. 

Chilika Lake in Odisha is a famous destination for migratory birds that visit the lake during the winter season.

These are some of the names of migratory birds that visit Chilika Lake:

Lesser Flamingo This is a large pink bird that breeds in Africa and Asia. It feeds on algae and crustaceans in shallow water.

Ferruginous Pochard This is a medium-sized diving duck that breeds in Eurasia. It has a chestnut-brown plumage and a white eye-ring.

Black-tailed Godwit This is a large wading bird that breeds in Europe and Asia. It has a long, straight bill and a black-and-white tail.

Eurasian Curlew This is the largest of the curlew species, with a long, curved bill and brown-streaked plumage. It breeds in Europe and Asia and feeds on worms and shellfish.

Asian Dowitcher This is a medium-sized wading bird that breeds in central Asia. It has a long, straight bill and a black-and-white pattern on its back and wings.

Curlew Sandpiper This is a small wading bird that breeds in Siberia. It has a long, curved bill and reddish-brown plumage during the breeding season.

Great Thick-knee This is a large wading bird that breeds in Africa and Asia. It has a thick, black bill and yellow eyes with black patches.

River Tern This is a medium-sized tern that breeds in South and Southeast Asia. It has a black cap, a forked tail, and a red bill with a black tip.

Common Pochard This is a medium-sized diving duck that breeds in Eurasia. It has a reddish head, a black breast, and a grey body.

Great Knot This is a large wading bird that breeds in Siberia. It has a short, straight bill and grey-brown plumage with dark spots.

These are some of the long-distance migrant birds that visit Chilika Lake every year. There are many more species of birds that can be seen at the lake, such as Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Shoveler, Common Koot, Shelduck, River Lapwing, Tufted Duck, Red Crested Pochard, etc. Chilika Lake is an important wetland for bird conservation and attracts thousands of birdwatchers every year. 

Egret bird in the Chilika Lake in odisha, india

The birds of Chilika Lake face several threats to their survival and well-being. Some of these threats are:

Avian flu This is a viral infection that can affect birds and sometimes humans. It can cause high mortality among birds and pose a risk to public health. In 2018, some crows and chickens were found dead near the lake due to avian flu, raising concerns for the migratory birds.

Poaching This is the illegal hunting or capturing of birds for meat, feathers, or trade. Poaching can reduce the population and diversity of birds and disturb their natural behaviour. Some poachers use nets, traps, guns, or poison to catch the birds.

Siltation This is the accumulation of sediments in the lake due to erosion from upstream rivers or human activities. Siltation can reduce the water depth and quality, affect the salinity and fishery resources, and destroy the habitats of birds and other wildlife.

Encroachment This is the illegal occupation or conversion of land or water for human use, such as prawn culture, agriculture, or construction. Encroachment can shrink the water surface area, block the inlet channel or mouth connecting to the sea, and cause pollution and conflicts with the local communities.

Invasive species These are non-native plants or animals that can spread rapidly and outcompete the native species. Invasive species can alter the ecosystem balance, reduce food availability, and introduce diseases or parasites to birds and other wildlife. Some examples of invasive species in Chilika Lake are water hyacinth, Eichhornia, and golden apple snails.

These threats need to be addressed by effective conservation and management actions that involve the participation of various stakeholders, such as the government, NGOs, researchers, and local communities. 

How to reach Chilika Asia's largest Brackish Water Lagoon - Chilika

Chilika Lake can be visited by different modes of transport, depending on your starting point and preference. Here are some possible ways to reach Chilika Lake:

By air, The nearest airport to Chilika Lake is Bhubaneswar Airport, which is about 120 km away. From there, you can take a taxi or a bus to reach the towns near Chilika Lake, such as Barkul, Rambha, Balugaon, or Satapada.

By rail, The nearest railway stations to Chilika Lake are Balugaon and Rambha, which are on the Howrah-Chennai main line. From there, you can take a taxi or an auto-rickshaw to reach the lake or the islands.

By road, Chilika Lake is well connected by road to major cities in Odisha, such as Bhubaneswar, Puri, and Berhampur. You can take a bus or a taxi to reach the towns near Chilika Lake, such as Barkul, Rambha, Balugaon, or Satapada.

By boat, Once you reach any of the towns near Chilika Lake, you can hire a boat to explore the lake and its attractions, such as Nalabana Island, Kalijai Island, Satapada, Honeymoon Island, Birds Island, etc. You can also book a boat ride from the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) or the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) offices at Barkul or Rambha.

Chilika Lake is a beautiful and diverse destination that can be enjoyed throughout the year. However, the best time to visit Chilika Lake is from October to March, when the weather is pleasant and the migratory birds arrive in large numbers. 


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