As little as 6 years ago, it was was an unknown lake on the outskirts of the city. I have had the pleasure of being the only one in the National Park for about an hour some six years ago when the government asked for an application requesting entry submitted a day in advance for 7am entry. Thankfully that rule isn’t around anymore and you can buy the really cheap tickets at the gate whenever you come in. However, some media articles and environment awareness have made it a morning hotspot where by 8 am it is swarming with people. Not all are savvy bird watchers, but I have almost always run into some serious enthusiasts and have ended up in conversations about what birds have been spotted since morning.
Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary is about a 40 minute ride from newer parts of gurgaon and maybe just 25 minutes from old gurgaon. The sanctuary centres around a shallow lake and a muddy walkway around it that would make for about a 2 km walk around the lake. The boundaries just beyond the walkway have a ton of encroachment from farmhouses but off late the impact has been better managed and the lake itself is quite pristine. Early morning it carries a thin mist that opens out to a large number of ducks, painted storks, pelicans, bee eaters, cormorants, egrets, spoonbills, ibises and if you are lucky Saras cranes. There are also some deer, blue bulls the like wading around in the water and a lot of dragonflies. It makes for a full ecosystem of nature to admire any enjoy.
The entrance has a large parking lot and washrooms along with a small ticket window to collect the very nominal entrance fees. A little beyond the entrance gate is also a guest house with a small attached restaurant, called the Rosy Pelican. Right at the entrance of the park is a small picnic area with a bench and the likes. There are some battery operated vans available to take you around but the routes around the lake are small enough that I have always walked.
Once you enter from a small metal gate, there is a choice to go clockwise or anti clockwise and it will make a huge difference to what you see and photograph depending on what side you start. I usually have gone there early morning, so my perspectives are for that time, evening views may vary.
The route left or the clockwise visit is the far more popular way to start as you quickly get to some prime bird watching spots with the Sun behind to, to make for great pics. The route starts with a straight wide path which seems quite well laid out and has a wood and rope boundary on each side. About 150 meters down there is a turn right to carry on around the lake boundary. A little before the right turn, look left, that is the place to usually spot a family of owls. There isn’t much else to photograph or see before this turn, but moment you make the turn the foliage around the lake opens up to a beautiful spawning view of the water and the several birds out for their morning food hunt. The trees about 30 meters in are a common place to spot kingsighers, up close and personal. I have seen them sit there for a while and then dive down to fish a fish from the waters.
Further down, the pathway turns right around the edge of the lake and you get to see a lot more of cormorants, egrets and some seachicken. A little over 100 metres beyond the turn is a spur to the right and that leads to one of the best bird viewing spots in the park. The walkway here is surrounded by brown grass that is home to a lot of small birds and red munias can often be spotted here, nesting. There are also a wide variety of dragon flies and an even wider variety of photographers. The cul-de-sec of the spur is an amazing vantage point with a 300 degree view of water and a chance to see nests of painted storks and other large natives. There are also hundreds of ducks, both migratory (if in season) and native swimming around in waters lined with some green moss and small white flowers – it is a site to remember.
Once back from the spur to the main pathway, the sanctuary gets significantly less exciting for a while and a lot of visitors tend to just turn back from this point. There is no clearer vantage point beyond and the water levels drop significantly now onwards so you mostly see smaller grass dwelling birds that are far harder to photograph and so some extend, less sexy to see. The views get better only towards the end of the circumference which makes for about 700 meters of a relatively peaceful, serene walk with not as many spectacular bird spotting points. The parts you see in the end here are what you will see first if you started the anti clockwise route.
The anti-clockwise route offers a very different experience in the mornings. The sun is right in front of you and creates some unbelievable golden hues in the pictures. The path here is a little more elevated from the lake level and a little further from it with a number of trees blocking the view. There are places to go off path, closer to the lake and see the birds in larger groups and more at peaces. Perfect place to capture flocks of birds and also those split second stots of scores of birds taking off as you approach them with a camera. The sun in the background can be a boon or a bane depending on how you compose the shot. There are actually several opportunities on this side to capture the more artistic shots but if you are looking for sharp bird close-ups, it is much harder from this side. On a crist January end morning, ar about 7:15 am, there is the near perfect light to create silhouettes with a golden backdrop.
If it’s already bright when you get there, I would recommend starting the clockwise route. However, if the the sun is still a ball of golden orange, I would strongly recommend starting anti-clockwise. In any case, there wouldn’t be enough light to get sharp bird closeups; so better to get the fancy landscapes and then walk your way anti-clockwise to the main vantage points and by the time you get there the light would be sufficient.
The park is open beginning Oct to April end every year, though the migratory birds are there from mid-November to February end. Foggy conditions may hinder good bird spotting early morning from mid-December to mid-January. So the best times to go are mid Nov to mid-December and then mid-January to Feb end. However, March and April are a great time to spot dragonflies and also find the park less crowded.
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