Named for Dr. Salim Moizzudin Ali, India’s pre-eminent ornithologist, the Salim Ali bird sanctuary is one of the smallest protected areas of Goa. This slice of ornithological heaven is undoubtedly a fabulous insight into the fragile eco-system that is the mangrove marshes. Ornithological enthusiasts will have a field day being paddled around the sanctuaries narrow canals in a dugout canoe, spotting rare bird and animal life.
Where to Go
Located on the island of Chorao in the Mandovi river, the sanctuary is accessible by a ferry which starts at the Ribandar ferry wharf, about 15mins drive from Panaji, the capital city of Goa. Once the ferry passengers disembark, there are boat men ready to take passengers in canoes around the Salim Ali sanctuary’s marshy canals. There is also a boat service organized by the Forestry Department of Goa.
When to Go
The best time to visit the sanctuary is during the winter months i.e. October to March when the migratory birds that frequent the area are also in residence. The maximum number of the sanctuary’s inhabitants can be seen in the early hours of the morning and at sunset. The sanctuary is open from 6.00am to 6.00pm all days of the week
However, it should be noted that the Mandovi is a tidal river, and at low tide, not all areas of the Salim Ali sanctuary are accessible especially by boat. However, the canoes which are much more shallow crafts can usually access more of the sanctuaries watery by-lanes.
What to See
The Salim Ali Sanctuary is host to a number of common and uncommon species of marsh dwelling birds and animals. Visitors can most probably see white egrets and purple herons, you can expect to see colourful kingfishers, eagles, cormorants, kites, woodpeckers, sandpipers, curlews, drongos and mynahs on a fairly regular basis. Other, more rare inhabitants of the sanctuary include the little bittern, black bittern, red knot, jack snipe and pied avocet (on transient sandbanks).
In addition to birds there are some species of reptile and crustaceans that make their home amongst the mangroves. These include mudskippers, fiddler crabs, crocodiles, otters, flying foxes and jackals. The migratory birds that make their home here include pintail ducks.
The sanctuary boasts a well-equipped Nature Research Centre which is available for public use, so that tourists and locals alike can gain further insight into animal and bird life on the mudflats amidst the rare and fragile eco-system created by the mangroves.
There is also a three storeyed watchtower that keen observers can use to observe bird life at three levels, below canopy level, at canopy level and above canopy level.
The local boatmen are available to take visitors through the canals in dugout canoes that can move easily through the shallow waters at low tide, and give the visitors an impressively close up view of marsh life at its finest. Additionally there is a boat tour organized at high tide by the forest department which takes about 9 people at a time.
Whether or not you are a keen ornithologist and biologist, a trip to the sanctuary is not unrewarding as the life and eco-system are rare and beautiful aspects of nature that everyone enjoys experiencing. Additionally, there is no need to walk around but rather one can enjoy a leisurely canoe-trip round the shady marshes of the island of Chorao.