Swarming with birdlife, thick with fish and dotted with lush green wetlands along its shores, the Chilika Lake seems like a vision crafted by some imaginative artist in the mists of prehistory. In truth, Chilika is one of Asia's largest lagoons. Arguably the finest wetland on the Indian subcontinent, it sustains over 25,000 small fishermen and is a declared international Ramsar Site attracting large numbers of aquatic birds, the migrants among which are the focus of an intense on-going study.
The silt borne down by the rivers has no access to the sea and spreads into the lagoon promoting a proliferation of weeds that thrive off the rich organic matter which support a thriving ecosystem. As many as 158 varieties of marine creatures are found here including prawn, crab, mullet, perch, threadfin and catfish.Crabs, oyster, coelenterates and gastropods also form a substantial population at the lake. A crowd of crustaceans at Chilika makes these among the most abundant species at the lake.
Chilika is justifiably famous for its birds. There are nearly 160 species recorded at the lake, including 93 migratory species. Some of these come from as far away as Ladakh, Tibet, Mongolia, Mansarovar, the Caspian Sea, Siberia and Northern Asia. These home in on the shallow waters around Nalbana, where they are able to rest and feed.
Shovellers, pintails, tufted pochards and bar-headed geese are also on Chilika's guest list. Brahminy duck, garganey, red-crested pochards, common pochards, pelicans, wigeons, dabchicks, coots and gadwalls all cluster here in the cold winters. Spotbill, lesser and large flamingos, painted storks and spoonbills are found here. Herons, egrets, kites, eagles and over 100,000 waders are seen around the lake.
Birds' Island earns its name from the many birds that converge here in winter. It is also known for its algal extravaganza. The island is located 4 km. from the OTDC at Rambha. Huge granite rocks with overhanging shelves that attract the birds as perching grounds characterize the terrain. Birds' Island is the ideal location for an amateur birdwatcher interested in a large number of sightings of diverse species.
Though birds are seen all over, the maximum concentration is at Nalbana, Gerasara, Bhusandapur, Mangalajodi and Sorana. These areas shelter lakhs of birds that feed and roost here.
The Kalijai temple dedicated to the goddess is an excellent place. In the month of January every year, a huge gala fair is held during the festival of Makar Sankranti. Barunkuda, with a temple dedicated to Lord Varuna; Nabagraha near Behrampur and the Choubar Shiva temple near the village Alupatna are accessible from Satapada.
Best time to visit
The lake is pleasant throughout the year and one can enjoy Chilika in any season. The period from October to March is the best because winter invites a greater number of migratory birds to the area.The lake is best visited in the early mornings although one can easily spend the entire day there. Round it off with a glimpse of the gorgeous sunset