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Wednesday, June 03, 2020

How to introduce children to birdwatching

Always do it with experts, but prepare for some confusion and questions you can’t answer

Written by Ranjit Lal | Published: March 27, 2020 7:15:24 pm
Ranjit Lal, Ranjit Lal column, bird watching, coronavirus, quarantine, isolation, eye 2020, sunday eye, indianexpress, Bird watching conversations between experts and children are something interesting. (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

You: Kids, wake up! It’s 4 am. We are going
birding, remember? Expert uncle and expert aunty are going to show us some beautiful birds at the lake.
Kids: Umm, want to sleep. Go away!
Somehow, you bundle them into the car and reach
lakeside. An hour later.
Expert uncle: You’re late.
You: Yes, but what to do? The kids wanted to come.
Expert aunty: How sweet!
Kids (get out of the car, yawning): But where are the birds? Where is the lake? It’s all foggy. Can’t see anything!
You: You’ve to be patient while birding. The fog will lift.
Mercifully, after a disgruntled hour or so, it does.
Expert uncle (slinging on binoculars): Come on, kids! Let’s go to the lakeside.
Expert aunty: Dear, over there, a two-spotted dark-brown warbler.
Expert uncle: Really, can’t you count? It’s a four-spotted light-brown warbler.
An unseemly argument ensues.
You (addressing the kids): They’re trying to decide whether it’s a dark brown warbler or a light brown one.
Kids (looking through binoculars): It looks like a dark-brown warbler when it goes under those bushes and a light-brown warbler when it comes out in the sun.
Both expert uncle and aunty overhear this, unamused.
Expert uncle: Come on now, we’ll show you some really beautiful birds. There, look at all those lovely ducks!
Kids: But they’ve all got their heads tucked into their bodies. What time will they awake?
Expert aunty: Well, dear, it’s Sunday, maybe, they like sleeping till late.
Kids: We, too, could have been sleeping.
Expert uncle: Look there, the grey, brown and white bird walking like an old man.
Kids: Oh, yes, it’s pretty! What is it?
Expert uncle: It’s a white-breasted waterhen. It’s
quite common.
Little boy: So, where’s the white-breasted watercock?
Expert uncle: Umm…there’s no such bird, actually. The watercock is a bird, but it’s not the waterhen’s partner.
Little girl: You mean a girl watercock is still called a watercock and not a waterhen?
Little boy: And the boy waterhen is still called a waterhen? How dumb is that!
Expert Uncle (a bit irritated): Ah, yes. The peafowl is the only bird in which the…er, boy bird is the peacock and the girl bird the peahen.
Kids: Then why don’t they call these guys waterfowl, too? Like peafowl.
Expert aunty: Waterfowl actually refers to a whole lot of birds that live on water.
Kids: You bird people are mad. All confused.
Expert uncle: Look there, kids, that little brown bird with the drooping wings. It’s a red-breasted flycatcher and may have flown down from the Himalayas or Russia.
Kids: Yes, we see it. But, it doesn’t have a red breast.
Expert aunty: It’s the female then. Only the males have a red-breast.
Little girl: So, the female red-breasted flycatcher doesn’t have a red breast?
Expert uncle: That is correct.
Little girl: It can’t be. Only the robin has a red-breast.
Expert uncle and aunty roll eyes, but say, excitedly: Look, on those rocks, that huge bird with fierce golden eyes and ear tufts is an eagle owl. Quite rare!
Kids (awed): Wow! But is it an eagle or an owl?
Experts: It’s an eagle owl.
Little girl: Its mama was an eagle and its papa an owl?
Little boy: I bet its papa was an eagle, mama an owl!
Kids (a while later): Uncle, aunty, look at all those other eagles flying above us.
Experts: Those aren’t eagles, they’re kites.
Kids: Kites?
Expert aunty: Yes, black kites.
Kids: But they’re brown. They must be brown kites.
Experts: No, no, they’re called black kites.
Kids: You bird people are crazy. You call cocks hens and think brown birds are black. You need proper glasses.
You (en route home, you ask): So, what did you enjoy the most? Wasn’t birding fun?
Kids: The best part was when that brown eagle snatched the tuna sandwich out of expert uncle’s hands just as he was going to take a bite.
You: You mean black kite?
Little girl: No, no. Actually, it must have been a brown fishing eagle, after all

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