A Guide to Tourism Destinations and Beyond

Vol.3  No.3   April-June 2004 

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Where Tired Wings Rest

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Where Tired Wings Rest

By Hpone Thant
Photo: Lwin Moe

Asian openbills search for foodWhen the wind turns chilly in the northern hemisphere the geese, the Eurasian Woodcocks and the Ruddy Shelducks and the cranes know that it is time for them to fly south. Gathering in flocks they fly to where the weather is warmer and the food easier to find. While many fly over Myanmar on their way further south some find time to roost and rest in the lakes, forests and wetlands of Myanmar. And the sandbars that appear regularly along the Ayeyarwady and the Chindwin Rivers also offer them a place to rest their tired wings.

Moeywingyi wetlands, just off the Yangon-Mandalay Highway is one layover place for these feathered travellers. "This 40 acres wide wetland was created by the British colonial administration in the late 1870s by damming up 3 small local streams", the forest warden explained to us. "Rain water was also collected during the monsoon season and stored. The water is then released into the Bago-Sittaung Canal in the dry season to float the logs from the Bago Yomas (ranges) for export. However the added bonus was that this wetland area became a habitat for both the resident and migratory birds and an excellent bird watching site". 

A gray heron takes flight at the approach of our boats We were with a group of local bird enthusiasts on a trip to Moeywingyi Bird Sanctuary just 70 miles from Yangon. Also it was a good opportunity to escape from the stuffy and hectic pace of the city and see the countryside. It was mid January and the weather was pleasant as we left Yangon early in the afternoon. It was the best time for going birdwatching at Moeywingyi. The water level had not receded very much and many migratory species had arrived.

With the evolving environmental consciousness the Ministry of Forestry was set on conserving the natural habitats of plants and animals of the country and declared this Moeywingyi Wetlands as a bird sanctuary in 1988 with a view to conserve not only the resident and migratory water birds and their habitats but also other unique wetland flora and fauna species living here. Another aim was to educate and promote the people's interest and appreciation of nature and in nature conservation. 

We arrived at our destination at dusk. "You arrived at a very good time. Just put away your things and join us on the sundeck. Soon the birds will flock back to rest for the night" The friendly Lady Manager/Director, Ma Kay Thwe, of the Moeywingyi Resort informed us. She had arrived ahead of us to arrange for our trip. According to the latest statistics there are 42 waterbird species and 33 species of shore birds here with the total population of over 4500. And this wetland is the breeding ground for cranes, purple swamphens, common moorhens etc. The Forest Department has now been able to identify 34 species of migratory birds also that stop here. Apart from the birds there are many reptiles and other amphibians here; vipers, water snakes and tortoises in the lake.

A typical scene at Moeywingyi Rare openbills mingle with water buffaloes A stork in flight

The sun is slowly setting when we reached the sundeck. A flock of egrets whooped and flew high as they returned to their nests. Other flocks are seen in the distance but too far away and dark to identify them. "Do not worry. Tomorrow morning we will see the birds as dawn breaks. We have motorized canoes ready for you to explore the wetland and you will see many birds" our friendly lady manager told us. "But tonight please enjoy our hospitality". 

A true birder must get up before the sun rises and be on site to catch the birds waking up. So we were up early before the eastern sky turns crimson. The canoes split the waves as they speeded up and soon we were on open water. Already some cormorants were out fishing. The cormorants have a strange style of swimming. Their whole body is under the water and only the long elongated necks are visible. Sometime they spread their wings out to dry in the sun, perched on a pole. As we approached the edge of the wetland more and more birds are seen. Flocks of purple swamphens took fright at the sound of the engines and flew away. But the gray heron must take time to soar into the air to lift its heavy body. Gulls soar overhead and a solitary kite searches for prey riding high on the thermals. "We found a crane nest last year. So it seems some cranes make this their breeding grounds. Also the Moeywingyi Bird Sanctuary is unique in that bird watchers can come here the whole year around as there are many migratory as well as resident birds here. Normally the migratory species arrive here around November", our warden explained on the way.

A group of schoolchildren visits the Moeywingyi Bird Sanctuary The birders were delighted. It is fantastic to find a rich variety of birds in such a place so close to human habitation. "We had educated the villagers to respect and love nature. They can practice their traditional fishing techniques using hooks and lines but no nets are allowed. Now the people understand nature and are active participants in our conservation activities", the park warden explained. "Previously they hunted the birds for food but now they understand the need to conserve the habitats for sustainable ecotourism potential of this area".

The lady manager explained about the daily life of the village people around the wetland. "This is one of the unique attractions of this Moeywingyi Wetland and our Resort. Here the visitors can also study how the villagers fish or plant paddy. There are 6 villages around here with 444 inhabitants. Most are engaged in farming, fishing and breeding of buffaloes. There are also duck farms around. But there is another fascinating sight which I will keep as a secret and you will be surprised."

A moving and glistening body of black animals was seen wading into the water. "Oh, they are water buffaloes!" someone exclaimed. These huge beasts are being brought to water and to their pastures. A group of young herders on canoes shouted commands and steered the seething mass of animals to their destination. There are a couple of hundreds of these black beasts in the water now. The horns flashed and their wet bodies shimmered in the sun as they slowly by-passed our canoes. This spectacle can be observed twice daily: one in the morning and then in the evening.

Water buffaloes on the way to pasture A lonely vigil

By now it is high noon and we have to get back to the hotel, pack, have lunch and return to the city. But it was a refreshing and rejuvenating trip to the countryside and a rare opportunity to experience nature. 

Acknowledgement: The author sincerely thanks the S.P.A Tours and Academy award winning                       actor/photographer Lwin Moe for their assistance in writing this article.
Hpone Thant is a regular contributor to Enchanting Myanmar travel magazine and other local and international publications on Myanmar’s customs and traditions and nature. He can be reached at: harry@swiftwinds.com.mm