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Bird Watching | An eye for nature

Bird Watching | An eye for nature
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First Published: Sun, Apr 27 2008. 11 13 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Apr 27 2008. 11 13 PM IST
Small store owners are not the only ones feeling the pinch of big retail in Bangalore. Across the city, the once ubiquitous house sparrow, a seed-eating bird, has all but disappeared.
As more of the city’s consumers buy pre-packaged cereals and pulses at local supermarkets, only a few small stores still have open sacks of grains, which these sparrows once pecked into. Neither do householders sun-dry cereals on mats laid out in the backyard of bungalows, as independent homes turn into high-rise apartments. “The sparrows don’t find enough food in the city any more,” says J.N. Prasad, a city-based birdwatcher who runs the Merlin Nature Club.
However, hardy adaptors, such as barn owls and blue rock pigeons that roost in the eaves and ledges of multi-storeyed buildings, have steadily increased in number across the city that is home to more than 100 different species of birds.
Birders who document these changes are also a growing breed in this city, better known for its software engineers. On alternate Sundays, about 30-40 birdwatchers congregate in two birding hotspots in the city—the 240 acre Lalbagh gardens in south Bangalore and the 150-acre Hebbal Lake in the north that plays host to more than 70 species of birds. Armed with pencils, notebooks and binoculars, these birders spend hours on these trips, taking notes, drawing sketches and referring to guidebooks to identify each species.
Since last year, the city has hosted two annual bird races where birdwatchers compete to spot the highest number of birds in a single day, from dawn to dusk. “This year, the winning team picked 113 different species across the city,” says Prasad.
Simple tools
Birding is an egalitarian sport in which specialists and amateurs interact freely. All that a birder needs to start off is a notebook and a pencil, apart from, of course, a keen eye for nature. The thrill lies in being able to spot a bird as it roosts in green foliage, on the weeds by a lake, or swoops from the blue sky. The next step is to sketch a likeness of the spotted bird, noting the colour and size and sounds it makes.
New birders can refer to guidebooks such as Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali, Birds of the Sub-Continent by Vikram Grewal and Birds of Southern India by Richard Grimmett and Tom Inskipp. They can also access online sites such as Indiabirds.com, Indianaturewatch.com, ask senior birders, or post their queries on online discussion boards such as bngbirds.com.
“It is better to pick a pair of good field binoculars once you have the basics of birdwatching in place,” says Arun Desai, a birdwatcher who is learning the craft alongside his daughter Abhijna, a 14-year-old high school student.
Age no bar
The popularity of this hobby owes much to the fact that it is accessible to everyone, from a pre-teen to a senior citizen. “The oldest member on bngbirds.com is an 85-year-old, while the youngest is 14,” says M.B. Krishna, who initiated the online group in 1998 which now has an archival databank of 13,500 queries and answers on birding.
For instance, Deepa Mohan, a 53-year-old birder, took to this hobby just over a year ago after spending three days at a training programme for naturalists at the Bannerghatta National Park. “I had no camera or binoculars in the beginning. I just joined in with groups of enthusiastic youngsters and learnt the ropes on the way,” she says. “A lot of these birders are young engineers who support the open source movement in software, so they carry that philosophy to birding as well,” adds Mohan.
Abhijna, who first chanced upon information on birding during an online surfing trip, sought her father’s help to enroll in nature camps, such as the one run by Prasad in south Bangalore. With more than 40 sketches in her bird book and a 86-member Green Tree Club for birders that she has initiated at her school, Abhijna is now set on her next target: a pair of binoculars and her own copy of the Salim Ali classic. “I haven’t missed more than two Sunday outings in the whole year,” says Abhijna whose initial sightings include the white-cheeked barbet, a crow pheasant and an Alexandrine parakeet.
Building communities
Birding, with its mix of trained ornithologists and amateur enthusiasts, is a strong force for urban conservation programmes. The bngbirds group currently has a membership of 1,060 people, by far the largest such group countrywide. “Birding sensitizes people to nature and urban conservation,” says Krishna, who based his doctoral thesis on a study of bird populations.
The city has also seen the launch of a Barn Owl Conservation project that helps citizens set up nest boxes for owls in large buildings that would otherwise build nests in air-conditioning vents and pipe ducts. “Birding gives me a chance to stay close to nature in a large city and is a stress buster,” says Nirmith Satish, an 18-year-old engineering student who picked up birding from his early exposure to conservation projects such as Kids for Tigers. “I meet a large number of interesting people on these trips,” he says.
Birding can also mean the start of a personal journey into other allied interest areas. “I began with birding, which led me to photography, which, in turn, has led me to software,” says Mohan. She feels that the exposure to a large community of wildlife photographers on her birding trips has helped increase her skill base.
This is a sentiment that is clearly shared by participants at the annual bird race, which saw a record turnout of 165 competitors this year. “This is a hobby that a loner can take to just like an extrovert,” says Prasad who aims to pass on his skills to the next generation of birders.
FLY AWAY HOME
Online resources
www.indianaturewatch.net: A comprehensive image gallery, discussion boards on birds, mammals, insects and reptiles
www.indiabirds.com: Catalogued bird listings, video and audio
bngbirds@yahoogroups.com: Launched in 1998, it has more than 1,060 members, forming the largest community of birders in the country
Birders’ meeting points
Second Sunday of every month: 7.30-9.30am
Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, south Bangalore
Fourth Sunday of every month: 7.30-9.30am
Hebbal Lake, north Bangalore
Merlin Nature Club: Tel: 26644682
Books
‘The Book of Indian Birds’, by Salim Ali
‘Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent’, by R. Grimmett C. Inskipp, T. Inskipp
‘Popular Handbook Of Indian Birds’, by Hugh Whistler
Be equipped with
Pocket notebook, pencils—to note and sketch bird sightings
Field binoculars—waterproof preferably, most commonly used brands include Nikon, Bushnell, Steiner, Swarovski, Brunton and Leica.
Cameras (optional )
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First Published: Sun, Apr 27 2008. 11 13 PM IST