Birding is difficult not just because of the terrain but also because the density is not evident from the limited view one gets from a noisy boat. The visitor is well advised to spend time on land outside the core area before venturing into the heart of the National Park. Once inside the Park, the only access to land is at the Sajnekhali compound and the various Watchtowers you can visit. Remember that the watchtowers are inside wire cages and do not allow you to stroll in tiger-land.
Key to birding the Sundarbans is overcoming the geographic and physical hurdles. Though only a 100 kms from Kolkata city, Sajnekhali, an established tourist/visitor destination takes 5 – 6 hours to reach through a combination of road and water transport. In a landscape dominated by great tidal creeks and waterways, the only way to access and enjoy the area is on motorized boats which come in various sizes and shapes. Sundarbans is the home of swimming man eating tigers, estuarine crocodiles, sharks, poisonous snakes and pirates. Man fights for survival in great numbers by living off nature’s bounty by accepting and fighting against these odds. The visitor has no choice but to stay within limits and out of trouble. This means that there is very little conventional bird-watching, more observations from water.
But the dark and foreboding attractiveness of the mangroves also hides some of the most sought after birds in the world and a chance encounter with a Brown-winged Kingfisher, a Grey Headed Lapwing, a Pallas’s Fish Eagle, a Lesser Adjutant or maybe a Mangrove Whistler is always a possibility.
Some of the birds commonly found in this region are red junglefowls, spot-billed pelicans, great egrets, cormorants, seagulls, common kingfishers, peregrine falcons, woodpeckers, northern pintails, and whistling teals.
Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) is a tropical bird in the family Phasianidae. The nominate race of red junglefowl has a mix of feather colours, with orange, brown, red, gold, grey, white, olive and even metallic green plumage.
Spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) or grey pelican, is a member of the pelican family. It is a bird of large inland and coastal waters, especially large lakes. At a distance they are difficult to differentiate from other pelicans in the region although it is smaller but at close range the spots on the upper mandible, the lack of bright colours and the greyer plumage are distinctive. In some areas these birds nest in large colonies close to human habitations.
Great White Egrets (Ardea alba or Casmerodius albus) is a large heron (family: Ardeidae) with all-white plumage. Standing up to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, this species have a wingspan up to 1.70 m (5.5 ft). Apart from size, the Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet. Males and females are identical in appearance; juveniles look like non-breeding adults.
Indian cormorant or Indian shag (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis) is a member of the cormorant family. It is a gregarious species that can be easily distinguished from the similar sized little cormorant by its blue eye, small head with a sloping forehead and a long narrow bill ending in a hooked tip.
Seagulls (Chlidonias hybrid) are typically medium to large birds, usually grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They typically have harsh wailing or squawking calls; stout, longish bills; and webbed feet. Most gulls are ground-nesting carnivores which take live food or scavenge opportunistically, particularly the Larus species. Live food often includes crabs and small fish.
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is small often rather shy and inconspicuous. Beautiful blue-and-orange plumage, in combination with habitat and habits, is basically unmistakable. Found along rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds—almost any fresh or brackish habitat with small fish. Often perches quietly in trees over water; most often seen in very fast low flight as a turquoise flash over the water, usually flying away. Easily detected once its high, shrill whistled call is learned, even if the bird itself is hidden.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a large, crow-sized falcon, it has a blue-grey back, barred white under parts, and a black head. The Peregrine is renowned for its speed, reaching over 320 km/h during its characteristic hunting stoop making it the fastest bird in the world, as well as the fastest member of the animal kingdom.
Northern Pintail ( Anas acuta ) is a bird of open wetlands which nests on the ground, often some distance from water. It feeds by dabbling for plant food and adds small invertebrates to its diet during the nesting season. It is highly gregarious when not breeding, forming large mixed flocks with other species of duck.
Whistling duck (Dendrocygna javanica) is also known as Indian whistling duck or lesser whistling teal. They are nocturnal feeders that during the day may be found in flocks around lakes and wet paddy fields. They can perch on trees and sometimes build their nest in the hollow of a tree. This brown and long-necked duck has broad wings that are visible in flight and produces a loud two-note wheezy call. It has a chestnut rump, differentiating it from its larger relative, the fulvous whistling duck, which has a creamy white rump.