Today, October 6th, we are informed by some “eminent” bird-watchers in my city, is Bangalore Bird Day.
Another meaningless eco-event among several other meaningless eco-events during the year.
These events are all the same. Talks are organised, tearful tributes are paid to some “eminent” bird-watcher or the other, bird-walks are conducted. During these walks an “eminent” bird-watcher takes around a noisy gaggle of non-eminent bird-watchers, all duly clad in camouflage clothing and sporting impressive cameras with huge throbbing lenses.
Everybody goes stomping around, shouting and pointing excitedly, and jiggling their huge throbbing lenses vigorously. The poor birds quite literally get the shit scared out of them.
Me, I avoid these events like the plague. I am not an “eminent” bird-watcher, you see.
I am a birder.
There’s a difference. Bird-watchers watch birds. Birders study birds.
The best birders I have gone birding with do not own a camera. Just a pair of binoculars and a notebook. Some of them are genuine ornithologists, some are professionals from other walks of life. But they all share common traits – they keep their mouths shut and their eyes and ears open, and they really know their stuff.
I prefer to be a solitary birder. Sometimes I call upon some chosen birder friends to join me, and sometimes they do join me, but I do most of my birding alone. Gives me a sense of peace, and allows me to actually commune with Nature.
So. Let’s share some tips about solitary birding, shall we?
Anyone can be a birder. There’s no need for a degree in the field, unless you want to be a professional ornithologist.
Unfortunately, that’s the problem. Everyone thinks he or she is a birder. And makes a big noise about it.
If you’re just starting out as a birder, first buy a good field guidebook. One would recommend Grimmett and Inskipp. Next, get yourself a pair of binoculars. With a magnification factor of 10x or 8x and an objective diameter of 40 or 50mm. These specifications are commonly mentioned as 10×50 or 8×40. Olympus is a decent brand. Nikon is better, but costs a bit. If you can afford it, get yourself a pair of Zeiss roof-prism binoculars. That’s an investment for a lifetime.
Next, get on to the internet, and get a list of birding hotspots in and around your city. Most of these hotspots will have a checklist of birds usually seen there, with photos.
And that’s all you need to begin with. If you wish, gather a couple of friends, no more. Get yourself to the nearest hotspot, preferably at dawn. Don’t go stomping around. Keep quiet. Pull out your binocs, and look around. Make a checklist of the birds you see. There are apps available, but the old-fashioned way is better.
And, pay attention to bird calls. All birds have characteristic calls, and can be identified and located by calls alone. That is why it’s better to go birding alone or with a very select set of birders who know how to shut up and listen.
Keep visiting that location regularly. Pretty soon, you will confidently identify all the birds there, and become an expert yourself.
Over a few weeks, you can improve your birding skills by studying the behaviour of the bird, its feeding habits, breeding season, and so on. Then you’ll be part of the bird’s life, rather than being a voyeur.
This would be the right time to get yourself a camera and start the creation of a birding album that you can enjoy over the years.
Bird photography is a craft all by itself, so we’ll delve into it later. For starters, you can cut your teeth on a reasonably inexpensive bridge camera. I’ve taken some of my best images using a simple bridge camera.
Over a few months, visit all the birding spots you can, and savor each visit. Do not forget to make a proper checklist each time. You will thank yourself in later years.
If there’s a bird sanctuary near your city, do make a visit there, during the right season. You will learn a lot in one visit.
Some obvious tips:
Safety first. You can get mugged, especially if you’re carrying an expensive camera. I’ve been accosted even in public places like Lalbagh. Avoid birding locations that are known to be unsafe, like Turahalli in Bangalore.
Wear dull earthy colors. And good boots. And insect repellent. Carry a first-aid kit, and if you’re like me, keep your medication in hand.
Carry snacks and safe water. In many places in India, they sell counterfeit brands of bottled water, so carry your water.
If you intend to shoot photographs, always check about local laws, camera fees, etc. Many locations in India do not permit camera tripods and camera flashes.
One guidebook, one pair of binoculars, one basic camera. Some patience. Some diligent practice. And some common-sense.
And that’s it.
In less than a year, you too will become an “expert” birder. Play your cards right, and you might even become an “eminent” birder yourself – and one Bird Day will be dedicated to you. But alas, only after you’re dead.
And you can do it all by yourself.
Sarcasm aside, solitary birding is the most rewarding pastime I can think of. You do not just watch birds, you can actually be with them. The world outside can be ignored. Time comes to a halt. Your worries melt away. And you can just be yourself.
All of which you cannot do in a crowd of stomping bird-watchers with loud mouths and empty heads.
Better hurry though. Birding locations are disappearing rapidly, especially in Bangalore. In the time taken to write this blogpost, another lake would have been encroached, another hundred trees would have been butchered, another bird species would have left the city.
Get off your gluteals, grab your binocs, dump the rest of the world. And just go birding.
Class Aves rocks!
Cheers … Srini.