As the sun rises over Nalabana in Odisha, dozens of bar-headed geese, greater flamingos, black-tailed godwits and northern pintails shuffle about on the edge of the shore, the wind caressing their feathers. The birds silently feed, sticking their long bills into the soft earth to dig up crabs and fish. Their languid, unhurried behavior gives away little of their epic journeys to get here, from pole to pole.
The Nalabana island is part of the Chilika Lake, India’s largest brackish water lagoon. This island, a secluded portion of the green, is home to large flocks of migratory birds that make their way to the lagoon every year during winter. According to Susanta Nanda, Chief Executive, Chilika Development Authority (CDA), the record number of birds seen this year is a result of rooting out the illegal prawn-rearing enclosures from the lake by the forest department. For over two decades, the lagoon was ravaged by illegal prawn farming, choking one of the world’s finest biodiversity hotspots.