One of the attractions of birding is the fact that birds (at least the common ones) are everywhere, and a birder can indulge her hobby practically anywhere on earth. Of course, the rare species are usually in remote areas, far from crowded cities, and to get to them photographers undertake difficult treks carrying kilos of camera equipment, donate considerable amounts of blood to leeches in dense forests, and wade through waist deep slush for that perfect picture. However, as a beginner, the best place to start birding is in your own neighbourhood – a park or playground that you frequent, or, if you are lucky, from the comfort of your own home. I am fortunate (perhaps I should say “was fortunate”) to have a large 7th floor balcony which overlooks an abandoned factory overgrown with lovely trees, right in the middle of the city, and it is perhaps one of the reasons for my renewed interest in birding after moving to Bangalore.
Observing the birds from my balcony is a most relaxing way to start my morning. I don’t often spend a long time birding (I do need to get to work at a reasonable hour!) but sometimes sneak moments of birding in between the newspaper and shower. If I hear an unfamiliar call, I grab my binocs and rush out. Last winter was glorious, being woken up by the call of the paradise flycatcher practically every morning!
In 2007 I participated in a programme called MigrantWatch, the first citizen science initiative of its kind in India. Its goal was to track the movement of selected migratory species by asking volunteers throughout India to report their sightings. I learnt a lot from it, due to the fact that I signed up to keep daily notes from my balcony. I started noticing birds I hadn’t seen before, the arrival of the migrants for the winter and their departure in the spring. Other seasonal variations such as breeding times of the resident species also started making sense. At certain times of the year some birds were very vocal, and completely silent at other times.
I signed up to keep track of the greenish warbler. I had only recently learnt to identify this bird, and quickly learnt its distinguishing features and its call from the Migrantwatch website. I was delighted to find that it was a winter resident in the trees around my house, and in the process also discovered several other migrant species which were regular visitors – black-naped orioles, ashy drongos and chestnut-tailed starlings. I once saw a brown shrike and even a verditer flycatcher!
The summer/monsoon residents too are numerous – I routinely see purple and purple-rumped sunbirds, jungle mynas, laughing doves and spotted doves, screeching groups of rose ringed parakeets, greater coucals and Asian koels, and the “kutroo kutroo” of the white-cheeked barbet lends music to our surroundings throughout the day.
There is a beautiful poem by Tagore (for the trivia lovers – this poem was penned by Tagore in Satyajit Ray’s autograph book when he was a child, making it doubly special) which captures this beauty-in-the-backyard phenomenon:
Dekha hoye nahi chokkhu meliya
Ghar hote shudhu dui pa pheliye
Ekti dhaaner shisher opor
Ekti shishir bindu”
A nice translation is here: http://pronounce.blogspot.com/2006/09/glistening-drop-of-dew.html
As I type this, I can hear the woodcutters chopping away at this bird paradise across my balcony. They have been at it since yesterday, while I was away at Nandi Hills birding. This morning I noticed that they had wiped clean half the compound, and in a panic called some friends and got in touch with Hasiru Usiru to find out what to do. The volunteers were fantastic with their advice, promptness and concern. The chopping has stopped temporarily thanks to the commotion created, but I fear that the powers-that-be have given their tacit approval to this mass murder. There is sadness in my heart and moisture in my eyes as I contemplate the harsh reality that I may no longer wake up to the paradise flycatcher or record the arrival of the black-naped oriole in winter. And the juggernaut of “development” rolls on.
An update – 25 Oct, 2009
Since the above post in April ’09, a number of developments have occurred. Talks with the builder of the next door plot have led to the formation of a group for the greening of the neighbourhood, with a monetary commitment from the builder. The plot will see luxury apartments coming up, but no more trees will be cut, we hope. Construction will likely start soon, as they are clearing the sheds and buildings.
The good news is that the greenish warbler is back and I hear its call every morning. No ashy drongos or black-naped orioles have been seen yet, but a few weeks back I was delighted to find a grey wagtail and a shikra keeping a watchful eye on each other. This morning, a pair of spot-billed pelicans circled overhead, and M thought she saw a paradise flycatcher! I have my fingers crossed and will be watching out for it and other familiar winter visitors next door.
More pics clicked from my home:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
4 Nov, 2009
This week it seems a flycatcher festival is in progress across my balcony! Yesterday morning I was amazed to find a rufous male Asian paradise flycatcher, a male black-naped monarch flycatcher and a verditer flycatcher in the trees outside my house. And all this while demolition work continues, to clear the plot for the construction to come. The verditer posed for me for a long time while I clicked away to my heart’s content. And this morning, I could make out the silhoutte of a red-throated flycatcher in the trees, identified by its long wings and the occasional upward flicking of its tail while perched. A pair of black-naped orioles were also seen flying past. The long-awaited winter visitors have finally arrived!