I can draw striking similarities between bird watching and the job I do.
Know your environment: Always do proper homework about the kind of terrain, the type of birds, etc. With experience, you learn to recognise bird calls and that helps to spot them. Typically, if you spot something interesting with the naked eye, zoom in with the binoculars to further identify the interesting prospect. Use the field guide and clarify.
Keep moving until you find the right spot: Stay in a place and you may never see opportunities. Keep moving, from a grove to the next hilllock, one bamboo clump to the next clearing. Stay sharp and keep looking around. Find the right spot, with the right lighting. Sometimes being in the shadows doesn’t help.
The bird may be in a silhouette. When in the natural environs, it’s best not to disturb the setting. The less noise you make, the more you can see in the foliage. Birds are very sensitive to sounds and walking on dead leaves alerts them. I have seen more during trails where the groups are smaller and tighter (not more than 4-5 people).
Patience and endurance is a virtue: Birds are free to move wherever they please. You can only wait for them and they may still not show themselves. At times, you can spot many birds within just a few minutes of beginning the trail.
And sometimes for several hours, you may end up spotting none. Then there are good omens – Spot a coucal/ crow pheasant and the trail will hopefully be successful. Keep a diary of all you spotted. Serves as a good reckoner to compare past performance.
I was fortunate to study in a college which has a green campus with a premier engineering college, a top B-school, two schools and a degree college.
It had many trees, open grounds, right in the middle of the campus a 50-year-old Banyan tree with many birds and bats. The campus had a botanical garden with a water body – amongst my friends it was called “The Pond”. It was an escape zone, sometimes even to study in the quite noisy botanical garden.
The distracting noises were chirping sound of the birds, the stridulating crickets and the buzzing of flies and bees. The sights were just mesmerising. A little hen-like bird used to emerge from the pond. It had a pure white breast and made its way around the pond.
A small bird with a shimmering plumage and a longish brown beak would patiently sit on an overhanging twig above the pond and dive into it to get its prized catch.
The bats would swoop on the surface of the pond to take sips of water in the evening. I was studying Physics and often found myself in the Zoology department making enquiries about these birds, their habits, plumage, etc.
I actually stumbled my way into the Nature Club and I became its member. And later WWF and BNHS memberships followed. Over time, bird watching trails developed into long walks and I turned in an avid trekker.
I believe it’s always better to keep an open mind when looking through the field glasses. The light and the foliage play tricks. Often when you think it’s an interesting subject that’s in front of your eyes, it will be a stump of a dead tree.
Keep looking at the stump longer and you will realise it's moving, it is an owl. Look even closer, you will see there are two owlets alongside. It’s a world of surprises that awaits you in the magnified world.
All birds are rare. With growing pollution and degrading of the environment, even sparrows are in grave danger. I would rank birds rare depending on how difficult it is to spot them. Birds have a fantastic plumage, and perfectly suitable camouflage in the area that they are residents of.
They are created to stay hidden. To me, the emerald dove and quail are the hardest to find or spot. On a couple of trails, they have been just a few feet away and they couldn’t be spotted. Only once they flew away did I know I was so close to them.
Bird-watching is not a very expensive hobby. Clothes that are dull-coloured should be worn. A good pair of trekking/ walking shoes are a must. A backpack that can hold a field guide, binoculars, some food, water, a barsati/ poncho and you are ready for bird watching. The recommended binoculars magnification is 8x42.
It's best to see the birds in this magnification. If you are watching birds in India, then The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali is a perfect field guide. The ideal place to begin is your neighbourhood, the vicinity where you live and see the common birds first.
— Co-ordinated by Reagan Gavin Rasquinha