Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Bird In A Bush.......


Ahh…. Those Sunday mornings! Binoculars dangling on the chest, eager eyes scanning the dense canopy, ears tensed and receptive, walking in single profile we would trudge along the narrow wooded path. Each one of us from different walks of life coming together on such trips with a sole aim of searching the feathered rarities and hoping to add at least one new name to the ever growing checklist. These trips would last from day break till noon and on some days till sun down.
I wish I could spend every Sunday morning and more, exactly this way! But when I remember the old saying “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride them”, I remain satisfied with my share of such Sundays.

My interest in birds has a childhood connection. I remember my wanderings and explorations around home and school in Mumbai suburbs. The area where we lived was surrounded by wetlands. Banana and Jasmine plantations and paddy fields dotted the landscape.

I would often accompany Mahu – a son of local Warli (Warli is tribe from Thane district in Maharashtra) farmhand, on his crab hunting expeditions. He would walk skillfully through slushy mud, occasionally pouncing on an unsuspecting crab. Mahu was my age and he never attended school, however he had intimate knowledge of plants, birds, snakes and other “lesser” creatures. In his company I learnt a lot.

I vividly remember one afternoon! As we were walking along a narrow irrigation canal, lined with some short, broad leaved plants, Mahu abruptly halted and drew my attention to a particular plant deeper in the bush. Upon moving closer to the plant, I saw a neat leaf cone hanging from one of the branches and inside were two tiny eggs nestled in a straw cup. I stayed riveted to the spot, for, I had never seen anything like that before! Sensing my astonishment Mahu informed that there were many such nests along the canal. He added that “the nests were built by a bird called shimpi” (shimpi is Marathi word for tailor). A few days later he even showed me the bird in action; stitching the edges of the leaf to make a cone. I noticed that the bird used some kind of natural fiber. This was my first close encounter with the fascinating world of birds.

One incident here, I can never forget! Some mornings I would bypass the toilet facility at home and run to a near by stream to answer nature’s call. One morning as I settled on rocky a toilet seat, I heard a melodious whistling from just across the narrow stream. Thinking that there was some one across the stream and that I would be caught in the act, I got up, cleaned and ran back home. Later, when I recounted the incident to my cousin, he broke into feat of laughter. His laughter confused me, on pestering a lot, he told me that no villager ever came to that part of the stream and it was just a bird whistling away. I could not believe him because the whistle sounded like a tune of some popular song. It was years later that I actually saw Malabar whistling Thrush also aptly called ‘idle school boy’ for its carefree whistling song.

These incidents are finely etched into my memory. After I completed schooling, my family moved to Goa. During my college days in Goa, I often volunteered for WWF nature camps and had glimpses of wide variety of bird species of Goa. Birdwatching then, remained restricted to such occasions; it never became full blown interest. Through out college days and later years other ‘youthful’ interests took front seat pushing birdwatching behind.

It was some four years ago that, this interest resurfaced. This time I took it a little more seriously. I bought a pair of binoculars and a couple of field guide books. On weekends I started frequenting Bondla wildlife sanctuary, some 18Kms from my home. The credit for this revival of interest goes to Maruti Chitampalli, Venkatesh Madgulkar and Dr. Salim Ali. The writings of these authors gave a push to my dormant interest in birds. Within few months, my checklist sported 90+ birds’ species

My long time friend Jagdish also joined me on my trips. Together we explored the area around our home town – Ponda (Goa). We became sharply aware of the diversity of avian life in such a small area. We would often narrate our experiences to our friends and to anyone who would listen. As a result, Donald, Hazrat, Paresh, Amit and recently Manoj joined in.

All of us now eagerly wait for those ‘Sunday mornings’. These trips are fun; there is lot of enthusiasm and anticipation. Each one of us gets a ‘high’, every time a new specie is spotted. In short span of time everyone’s eyes have become trained to spot slightest flutter in the thickest of the foliage. Often we would break into arguments regarding the identification of particular specie. Most arguments would be settled after consulting our field guide books, some arguments would continue for a longer time and few for months.

My checklist now sports 200+ bird species; it is nothing to brag about! For Goa is home to more than 420 bird species. I haven’t even reached 50% mark. I do have a long way to go!

Together, we have explored Goa from foot hills of Western Ghats in the east to beaches in North and South and wetlands in between. Names like Southern Trogon, Asian fairy Blue bird, Paradise Flycatcher, Blue Capped Rock Thrush, White Bellied Sea Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle….. now grace our checklist.

Karmali Lake near old Goa is a very special place for bird lovers. Every year as November approaches all of us get restless and eagerly wait for an opportunity to visit the lake. This lake becomes home to many feathered guests like Coot, Combed Duck, Northern Pintail, Cotton Teal, Garganey, Adjutant stork, Black Ibis, White Ibis and many more. The Purple Moorhen, Bronze Winged Jacana, Dabchick and Lesser Whistling Teal are permanent residents of this lake.

We also discovered similar lakes and marshes in South Goa. In the past few years we have noticed that the number of species and number of individuals on Karmali lake is dwindling and their number at these other lakes is on the rise. One reason for this shift could be increase in train traffic on Konkan railway line along the northern edge of the lake. The road traffic on the eastern edge is also on the rise.

Goa is an international tourist destination is well known fact. Every year thousands of foreign and domestic tourists flock to Goa, for six to eight months Goa’s beaches are full of these fun seekers. But, very few people know that every year hundreds of different kind of foreign tourists land in Goa, with a sole aim of Birding. These tourists spend 2 to 4 weeks, busy roaming the length and breadth of Goa in search of tropical bird sp

ecies. One look at their checklists published on internet puts me to shame. In short span of time these people mange to cover more that 50% of our species number. However, there is tremendous apathy and ignorance amongst our people regarding the local environment and wildlife. Industrialization and urbanization are taking its toll, the Goan landscape is changing at alarming rate.

Realizing all this we decided to take our interest and activities to next level, that is, to reach out to people with the aim of creating general interest and awareness regarding our natural wealth and importance of saving the same. In 2007 along with a group of 8 dedicated students I installed a nature club in the college where I teach. Right from the beginning our thrust was on field experience rather than on talks, seminars, slideshows and competitions, though these things do play an important role in larger scheme, nothing can match field experience. With support of college management we purchased 4 pairs of binoculars, a spotting scope and 12X zoom digital camera. The 8 students that I mentioned made a good use of these equipments. The number of photographs they clicked in a year’s time was simply amazing.

The result of this entire work was an exhibition of photographs called ‘Birds and More’. We had 320 photographs on display in the art gallery of Kala Academy, Panaji. The exhibition was a great success, more than 1500 viewers visited the gallery, and this number was far beyond our expectation of 100 viewers. The local news papers and FM radio stations covered the event with great enthusiasm. For those three days (24th, 25th and 26th) of May 2008 we interacted with general public, majority admitted their ignorance regarding the variety of wildlife of Goa. Our photographs opened an entire new facet of Goa for them. We had included the photographs by other nature lovers from the state. Total of 15 photographers contributed to the exhibition. Later the same exhibition was held at various schools, colleges and clubs around Goa.

In near future we are planning to publish a book on Birds of Goa and later maybe a book on Snakes and Odonates too! With the aim of popularizing birdwatching I started a forum on internet called FEATHERTOUCHED (http/ The forum has 35 active members.

If not for birdwatching I would have never realized the real meaning of Biodiversity, a term I came across often in books and nature writings but never realized its deeper meaning!

We will have to put in greater and concerted efforts to create not only awareness but a deeper consciousness and build environment friendly culture. One way of doing this would be to encourage outdoor nature related activities like birding and nature study/appreciation.

I do birding, simply because birds fascinate me! However cliché it may sound, I would still say that “a bird is a symbol of freedom, joy and energy “.

Often we come across a sentence “……and I woke up to the chirping and singing of birds….”, used to describe and idyllic morning away from cacophony of city life. Without birds such mornings would be duller and gloomier than the city life.

1 comment:

Astrodude said...

Nice to see that you are finally getting serious about birds. I think that birding bug has bit you my frined. I also keep track of my lifelist. Unfortunately I did not do it back home but here I have reached a count of 307 (out of approximate 1200 US birds). It sounds such a small number but it us becoming more and more challenging to find new ones, but we will get there soon.

Happy birding.