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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Birding from the balcony

As the songs of birds rise above quiet and empty streets, urban India discovers the joys of birding.

Written by Pallavi Chattopadhyay |
April 19, 2020 10:54:30 am
birding, birding lockdown, birding during lockdown, birding and lockdown, lockdown and birding, indian express, indian express news Bhaduri, a research scholar at IIT-Guwahati, working on climate change in the Brahmaputra river, says birding gives him peace of mind and is a distraction in these tense times. (Photo by Rupam Bhanduri)

An avid birder, Rupam Bhaduri from Guwahati, has been following the “Lockdown Birding Challenge” initiated by Bird Count India ever since the country went into a lockdown last month. Every day, he uploads a checklist on the online platform of eBird-India, a citizen driven project, after observing the various species of birds for 15 minutes, from his balcony. The 26-year-old says he has never attempted urban birding before and has mostly ventured into forest patches in the past, for bird sightings. His current passion has rendered him viewings of Orioles taking food from one nest to another, and sparrows nesting around his home owing to the breeding season.

Bhaduri, a research scholar at IIT-Guwahati, working on climate change in the Brahmaputra river, says birding gives him peace of mind and is a distraction in these tense times. He says, “We are all locked inside our houses and cannot go anywhere else, so we need to be involved in some kind of activity. Bird watching is a pleasure for someone looking to connect with nature. Usually, we don’t notice the birds around us. I could never believe there are more than 20 species of birds just around my house that could be seen from my balcony.” His biggest takeaway: with or without prior knowledge in birding, one can learn something new every day just by observing the birds.

Delhi-based bird artist Rupa Samaria, who specialises in avian artworks, is surprised to spot a kite landing on her terrace, in the narrow lanes around her house in Green Park. “They never come so close to us. Since there is nobody around, they’re landing everywhere without fear,” she says, adding how sunbirds and tailorbirds have also been a regular sight these days.

Speaking about the Lockdown Birding Challenge in India, Ashwin Vishwanathan from Bird Count India, a scientist at Nature Conservation Foundation, highlights that at a time like this, birds are a great way to entertain ourselves. He says, “We often think bird-watching involves going outdoors and looking at new things. But this is a great way to know how many wonderful birds are there just outside our houses. An example of how rewarding home birding can be is seen from this one search effort that began in Australia, in which people all over the world started participating. It recorded one-sixth of the world species just from homes.”

Vishwanathan also takes note of how many people have started seeing birds of prey from their terraces lately, such as the greater spotted eagle in parts of Bengaluru and steppe eagle from parts of Assam. He says, “These are usually birds of prey that one sees outdoors. With us spending so much time at home, people are seeing that many of the rare birds of prey are actually moving on top of our houses.”

Nikhil Devasar, founder of the Delhibird Foundation and co-author of the field guide Birds About Delhi, explains how birding has come up in a very big way in the last 20 years. He says, “When we started birding in the late 90s, nobody knew what bird-watching was. Our club today has more than 75,000 members, mostly from India. Because of the lockdown, birders are now sitting in their balconies and birdwatching. There are many bird calls also happening now because there are no sounds and our minds are completely at rest to observe them.” Taking a cue from the observations of fellow birders on his Whatsapp group, Devasar has taken notice of how the average birding list of late as seen from balconies has come to nearly 30 species of birds in Delhi, with some even reaching 50. Shikra, black-shouldered kite and waders emerge as common sightings at a time when many birders have a lot of time on their hands.

Wildlife cartoonist and illustrator Rohan Chakravarty, from Nagpur, speaks about the therapeutic effects that birding has. “I have had anger management issues in the past and birding has helped me a lot to calm down. I would recommend it to everyone who is in need of a calming hobby,” says the 32-year-old birder, who is renowned for Green Humour, his series of comic strips based around nature.

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