Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wings of delight - An article on Mumbai BirdRAce

The city's birdwatchers flock together
The hunt is not an exercise of will
But patient love relaxing on a hill
To note the movement of a timid wing
—Nissim Ezekiel in
Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher

Years ago, Nissim Ezekiel drew similarities between a poet, lover and birdwatcher in one of his much appreciated poems. Over the years, the number of those who will agree with his words has only multiplied as the community of birdwatchers has increased in the city and continues to grow.

"Since Mumbai has the advantage of being a coastal city, it has a wide variety of bird species. Over 350 species of birds have been recorded over the years in the Mumbai surrounds," says naturalist Sunjoy Monga. Nearly 50 per cent of these species do not breed here, these are the various type of migrants or seasonal visitors to the region, he adds. And they are the ones who make the otherwise dull winter in Mumbai interesting. And bird-lovers take out their pairs of binoculars and reference books before setting out on the trail of two-winged creatures.

"Most of the people who come for our bird-watching outings in Mumbai are learners. These trips teach them how to use binoculars, reference books as well as study and document bird movements. They later on go to the spots outside Mumbai where birds population is higher," says Avinash Kubal of the Maharastra Nature Park. "With the surge in the number of birdwatchers, the documentation of birds has also got a boost," says Sujit Narwade of the Bombay Natural History Society.

Though with flamingoes, the Sewri Bay, especially the jetty, has become a famous stomping ground of birdwatchers along with the Uran wetlands, these nature lovers have found many other places across the city where the chances of sighting of birds—resident and rare—are high. Rajesh Sachdev's favourite haunt is Sanjay Gandhi National Park. "Any time of the year, one can spot at least 30 species of birds in the park if you spend a couple of hours there," says Sachdev, who is involved in the Mumbai Bird Race. The annual evented scheduled on February 22 is organised in the city since 2005.

In fact, it was after sighting a beautiful Paradise Flycatcher in the park three years back that he converted into an avid birdwatcher. Rajmachi and Matheran are the two other favourite weekend

getaways for Sachdev to study birds.

There are more: Elephanta Island, Vikhroli grasslands, Thane creek and

margins, Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, near Vasai, Lotus Pond on the Malad-Marve Road and Talzan Hills in Charkop. According to Monga, several city parks and groves too attract birds. "Actually, birds exist all around us. One just needs to learn to notice them," says Neeta Deb. She admits to being a

"beginner birdwatcher" and tries to spend as much time as her nine-year-old old allow her to be with the nature.

Bird-watching has also become a

perfect excuse to get wildlife activists and lovers together. On February 1, Rishi Agarwal is organising one such event at Lokhandwala Lake. His motive, other than spotting the winged creatures, will be to draw attention to the condition of the lake. In 1999, he, along with a group of friends, had stopped the BMC from dumping garbage at the lake. His inspiration might have come from a bird-watching trip to the area that this environmental activist had undertaken with a group. "We had spotted 45 species of birds that day," he recalls, and adds, "On a regular day one can spot pond heron, bar-headed geese, common kingfisher, pied kingfisher and medium egret among others there."

The pollution, concrete growth and demolition of forest have taken a toll on the bird population in Mumbai. Sachdev wants vultures, who are now extinct in the city, to be back. Till that happens the sighting of 'Indian pitta', locally known as 'navrang' can make him happy.
Rajesh Sachdev
Wildlife Activist & Photographer
Mumbai, India.

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