What Nandan Nilekani’s Unique Identification Programme aims to do with India’s population, a Hyderabad man has already done with books on Indian birds. He has compiled a centralized database.
The literature on the study and documentation of birds of South Asia has a history of over three centuries. This birdwatcher has trapped almost all those books in one volume. Birds in Books—Three Hundred Years of South Asian Ornithology: A Bibliography published late last year, is Hyderabad-based businessman Aasheesh Pittie’s dedication to those who have studied and documented South Asian ornithology.
Birds in Books: Permanent Black, 845 pages, Rs795.
An avid birdwatcher and student of avian life since 1979, when his father handed him a copy of Salim Ali’s Book of Indian Birds, Pittie culled information from scores of books and research papers for this massive bibliography, which contains details and synopses of nearly every book on the subject. No wonder then that he is the president of the Birdwatchers Society of Andhra Pradesh (Bsap), associate representative (India) of the International Ornithological Committee, and Indian representative of the Royal Naval Birdwatching Society. He has published over 300 notes and papers, and co-authored A Checklist of Birds of Andhra Pradesh. He edits the online journal Indianbirds.in.
Pittie’s interest in birds developed while growing up in the city. “Hyderabad has open scrub as its main habitat, in which birds are more easily visible than, say, in a rain forest in the Western Ghats. This helped in two ways. One, I did not have to really strain myself to see birds. Those that are found in peninsular India were all around and easy enough to spot. Two, there were not so many different species as in the Western Ghats. This made me watch those that were around me, and from watching repeatedly, I began to see them. Familiarity with an area and its birds became an asset in the long run, for I could recognize changes in the environment by the presence or absence of birds.”
Sharing his insights on Hyderabad skies and its avian population, the birdwatcher says, “The best place for birdwatching around Hyderabad is the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) campus. Other areas around Hyderabad include Anantagiri hill, and the Narsapur Reserve Forest.”
Bird’s-eye view: Aasheesh Pittie’s book has more than 28,000 references to books, papers and documents. Photo: Bharath Sai/Mint
To compile the book, Pittie scoured the libraries at the Bombay Natural History Society and the Asiatic Society, Kolkata, as well as the Natural History Museum Library in Britain when he went there a few years ago. Ornithologists in India and abroad helped.
Under any entry of an ornithological work in the book, you will find details such as the title, where it was published, which year it came out, what the book contains, what its major arguments are, the number of pages, whether it has plates, sketches and images, in which library (in the case of rare books) it’s available, and the people and journals that reviewed it.
The last comprehensive work of this kind came out in 1994. Ornithology of the Indian Subcontinent 1872-1992: An Annotated Bibliography, edited by three Smithsonian scholars, has 6,000 bibliographical entries. Pittie’s 843-page book has more than 28,000 references to ornithological books, works, papers and documents relating to South Asian birds. The book also has short biographies of the authors of the books mentioned.
Pittie says Hyderabad, like most Indian cities, has taken an ecological hit. “In the last 5–10 years, wilderness areas around the city have taken a tremendous beating from the rampant and unregulated growth of urbanization. Wetlands are misused and drained for construction. Good birding habitats, where larksong was prevalent, are fast disappearing all around the city.” His current compendium may just ruffle India’s ornithological feathers. A big bird has come home to roost.
About the Birdwatchers Society of Andhra Pradesh
Bsap was started by entomologists in 1980 and registered as a society in 1983, primarily to encourage birdwatching as a hobby and give people an opportunity to get out into the wilderness. It is a membership-based organization, open to everybody. It has around 260 members. The annual membership fee is Rs400, and a one-time payment of Rs100 is collected as admission fee. Life membership is Rs3,000. Bsap organizes monthly field trips to birding habitats around Hyderabad and holds one indoor meeting a month where a film may be shown or a talk delivered. In these indoor meetings, the subject need not be limited to birds—it could encompass all of nature.
For details, call 040-23556166.
5 places to birdwatch
This 3,000-acre campus is one of the richest birding spots around Hyderabad. It contains different types of habitats, such as wetlands, grasslands, urban gardens, farmlands, paddy, forest areas, scrub, etc., which attract a large variety of bird species. The checklist of birds boasts of 257 species up to date. Star attractions during winter include large numbers of harriers. Around 3,000 ducks come there in March on their way back to breeding grounds. A good place to spot Wire-tailed Swallows, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and Yellow-wattled Lapwings, besides the waterbirds, a few raptors and some bush birds.
Narsapur Reserve Forest
Spanning 30-40 sq. km, Narsapur Reserve Forest—30km from the city on Medak Road, beyond the Dundigal Air Force Academy—is rich in small woodland birds, woodpeckers and flycatchers. Sightings include species such as the Pygmy and Mahratta woodpeckers, both species of Chloropsis, and possibly Spangled Drongo. Also look out for woodland birds, Indian Pitta, Ground Thrush and Paradise-flycatcher. On the lake, there are River Terns, Cotton Teals and Open-billed Storks. Look out for the larger owls, both the Great Horned and Brown Fish Owl. If lucky, you might also spot the Crested Serpent-Eagle and Crested Hawk-Eagle.
Not just deer: Watch waterbirds at the Nehru Zoological Park. PP Yoonus/Wikimedia Commons.
Anantagiri Reserve Forest
It is 70km from the city. There should be a lot of woodland birds around in the morning—certainly a couple of nesting flycatchers, White Throated Ground Thrush, Indian Pitta and, if you are lucky, the lorikeet. Added attractions here are nesting raptors—there are two active Crested Hawk-Eagle nests, one active Crested Serpent-Eagle nest and at least one active Shikra nest. You may also get a sighting of the rather uncommon Common Babbler.
Nehru Zoological Park
When not watching the creatures in the cages, you may discover that the zoo is actually a good place for birdwatching. The lions’ enclosure and the various tanks hold a lot of ground, small birds and a number of waterbirds. stone curlews have been known to breed near the Sambar enclosure. There may be a number of migrants too.
This park in the heart of the city is a good place for birding just before the monsoon. Crows nest in the park, so do drongos and Pied Starlings; occasionally Chloropsis can be seen. There’s a good chance you’ll spot coppersmiths, orioles and plenty of warblers. The lake shore should offer some wading birds such as stilts and moorhens. You might glimpse some gulls and terns as well.