Is it because of the lockdown? We can’t entirely be sure. All over India, birders are reporting a myriad of rare sightings, like “steppe eagles, rose ringed parakeets, rose finches, rosy starlings and wagtails”, according to Times of India.
“It’s hard to tell how birds have been affected by the lockdown. I’m not so sure about new species being observed, but more people are observing if they’re at home. In my case, every winter for the last four winters, I’ve been seeing a bird called the Blue Rock Thrush in my neighbourhood from my balcony. This is not a very common bird, especially not in residential areas. This winter was no different, but with the lockdown, I could actually keep a daily record ﹘ note down that I have seen it every single day.” said Garima Bhatia, Project Manager, Early Bird, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF).
The blue rock thrush spotted by Garima. Photo courtesy: Garima Bhatia
A direct consequence of the lockdown or not, birds that were hitherto unseen are making an appearance. With the gift of unlimited time given to us by the lockdown, why not turn to watching for and appreciating these?
The phrase “birdwatching in quarantine” may seem oxymoronic to many. But if there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it's that almost any activity can be done from home, including running a marathon.
In fact, lockdown birding might even be more fruitful, according to some. “I’ve always told people, even in the jungle, the best way to do birdwatching is to stay put in one place. You hear calls and stay put there. If you go chasing it, you’ll see one bird instead of ten. So this is actually teaching people the right way to birdwatch — stay put.” said Mohit.
We have several people to thank for popularizing the prospect of birding in quarantine. David Lindo, or the ‘Urban Birder’ as he’s known, a British wildlife broadcaster, nature writer and urban wildlife educationist is on Day 29 of lockdown in Extremadura, in the Southwest of Spain, but he has not let it deter him from his passion for birding. Instead, he has since taken to social media to go live regularly, and challenge other birders to report their sightings. It’s even given rise to the hashtag #Lockdownbirding. There’s also #BWKM0 (short for Birdwatching at Zero Km) set up by Matteo Toller of Udine, and the Self-Isolating Bird Club, where birders can share their sightings and get tips and tricks on birdwatching in self-isolation.
Closer home, Bird Count India has started a lockdown challenge from March 25, where birders can log in their sightings at various time windows through the day. Beginners, fear not, they have several helpful guides and infographics to take you through the process.
We spoke to several birders on what advice they would give to fledgling birdwatchers at this unprecedented time. Apart from a trusty pair of binoculars, there are a few skills one can pick up along the way.
One birder, who prefers to stay anonymous, had this to say. “If they have views of trees and generally of birds, I would suggest that a beginner should just try and be able to identify bird families. Then one can always refer to the bird book or app to find the exact bird. An interesting way to do that is to actually note the bird size, plumage color, beak size and shape. When checking plumage color, it is important to note the variations throughout. Breast colour, nape color, undercarriage color, tail or vent color, head/ forehead color, beak color, etc. If they can read up on birds and plumage, i.e. the different feathers, they can easily understand bird descriptions in bird books.”
Finally, he adds that sketching the birds you see will help you take note of each detail. If you’re looking for some inspiration with this, we suggest you take a look at the #DrawABirdDay entries we received on April 8!
“Amateur birdwatchers can start by becoming a little more aware when watching and hearing birds. There are also tons of online resources that people can use to familiarize themselves with the common birds around them. So start observing common birds — observe their behavior, where they are seen (some birds are seen close to the canopy, some are seen closer to the ground, etc.). Based on that, you can start developing your skills.” said Bhatia.
Beginners can start by observing common birds like the house crow and large-billed crow. Photo courtesy: Srikanth Rao
As she suggests, there are indeed a range of resources, both online and offline to guide someone who is just starting out.
While some recommend the Birds of India app, others point novices to the book Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, or The Book of Indian Birds, staples for any new birdwatcher.
“Recently I’ve learnt about the app Merlin by Ebird. It’s very useful for beginners.” Srikanth Rao, Research Senior Officer, WCS-India shared.
As a hobby, birdwatching can also teach you to relax and stay in the moment if you let it.
“Under any circumstances, birding is a very relaxing hobby. People who do it will vouch for that. If you’re stressed or you’ve got something on your mind, being outdoors in nature helps. But when you’re watching birds, you’re going outside of yourself. You’re focusing on something external and not your own stress, so that really helps, especially during lockdown.” Bhatia says.
The experience is certainly elevated by the lack of human disturbance.
“For a few days, I’ve been sitting outside and watching the sky. I’ve seen a few Cormorants, which I’ve never seen in this area. In general, it’s very nice to sit outside. The air is very clear, so you can see far.” said Rao.
“It helps me even when not in quarantine. It makes me miss the jungle a lot less, but especially during this time, it’s brilliant.” Mohit added.
While bird patterns may have changed due to the absence of human beings, it is not nearly as radical as the change we have seen in our own patterns. We have more time than ever now to stop and take nature and its simple pleasures in. Time that can be channeled towards focusing on something other than ourselves, and reconnecting with the fellow beings that share our planet.
As David Lindo says, “It’s a good time to also get to know your family outside: Nature.”
P.S. We are so thrilled about the lovely entries we received for #DrawABirdDay. Thank you to everyone who participated! Take a look at some of the entries below.
By Aashika Ravi