On birding

We’re planning a trip to Hesaraghatta tomorrow, and I was thinking about why I like bird-watching.

I started birding only in 2009, and even since that time, I have been, at best, a very low-intensity birder. Most of my birdwatching trips are morning drives to places which are not more than 50km away, so I’m not an expert by any means. I can, however, tell a black-capped kingfisher, a common kingfisher and a brown-winged kingfisher from each other, for what it’s worth.

The thrill of bird-watching is the thrill of recognition. Yes, most birdwatching sites are peaceful and beautiful. Yes, most birding takes place during dawn or dusk, where the weather and noise levels are typically at their best. And yes, a nature lover likes any form of nature – birds included. But bird-watching is a bit more than all of that. The first time you see a new bird, and someone points it out to you, it is a moment of introduction. And when you see a bird of that same species once again, it is a moment of realizing that this isn’t just another nameless creature in the sky; you actually know what its name is, and you remember the other times you saw it in the wild.

The first time I took any interest at all in birding was when I spent a week in the Sunderbans, in 2009. There, we had an amazing guide – his name was Sujith Kumar Raptan – could tell a brown-winged from a black-capped from the call alone. In those 5 days, navigating those muddy waters in a boat misnamed “River Queen”, he pointed out about 40 different species of birds to us – everything from pond heron to lesser adjutant stork. In the beginning, they were only names; when he started repeating himself, that’s when I started showing interest; when I started identifying them on my own, I realized it was a hobby that could last a lifetime.

Soon after my return from the Sunderbans, I invested in two pieces of field equipment to further my quest. The first – a pair of binoculars. In retrospect, I am proud of my choice: the Nikon Monarch 8×42, which has proven to be an incredibly durable and accurate investment. The second – Salim Ali’s book of Indian birds. Though my more knowledgeable friends claim Salim Ali’s book isn’t the best in the market, it’s the best known. And even in the encyclopaedic tone that the book is written in, I can still find nuggets – like his opening sentence, “Even those people who know nothing about birds save that some of them are good to eat, know this, that they can fly.”

Also memorable is a quote of Salim Ali’s that is inscribed at the entrance of the lovely Ranganthittu bird sanctuary, about 4 hours drive from Bangalore. He says: “Man does not live by bread alone. Just look at the people who have no hobbies and spend all their time solely in earning a living. After fifty when they retire from official chair-warming, they don’t know what to do with all the time in their hands and just spend it watching the clock! If they cultivated a hobby like bird watching – it is very healthy because you have to be out of doors to watch birds – they would have lived longer to enjoy their pension.”

I have the good fortune of making most of my birding trips with Ravi, who is a keen wildlife photographer. Here is his blog: http://ravi-sundar.blogspot.in/

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