Birders look for greener pastures

Bird watchers and experts state that while they were earlier visible within the city, they now have to travel to the outskirts to spot these blue and brown birds.
Last Updated : 30 August 2023, 01:15 IST
Last Updated : 30 August 2023, 01:15 IST

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A new report has brought the focus back to the declining numbers of certain species of birds. Among them is the Karnataka state bird, Indian Roller. 

Bird watchers and experts state that while they were earlier visible within the city, they now have to travel to the outskirts to spot these blue and brown birds.

"The Indian Roller prefers open spaces, like grasslands, gardens and agricultural fields. We don't have too much of these spaces in the city anymore. Their habitats have disappeared. You can still see them when you're travelling by train or on the outskirts as you're moving away from the city," says Ulhas Anand, who has been a birder since the 90s. 

Ulhas has noticed a steady decline in the diversity and density of species since he started birdwatching, he adds. The last time he spotted an Indian Roller, it was in April-May when he was on his way to Mangalore, he reveals.

Structural change of lakes

Dr S Subramanya, a well known name in birding circles, has been practicing the hobby since the ‘80s. He explains that structural changes of the city's lakes and tanks have also aided in the decline. "Earlier, the catchment areas would allow for water to freely flow into the lake. Now, due to encroachment, catchment areas have disappeared. The sloping banks meant the lakes were seasonal wetlands. Due to uniform deepening, they have become perennial wetlands. Laying running tracks around the waterbody has removed space for shallow water margins,” he explains.

Migratory birds once flocked to these lakes and the paddy fields downstream, he says. Today, the paddy fields have been replaced with apartments and layouts. In January 1993, there were a record 50,000 migratory ducks in Bellandur lake, he recalls.

Lake visits important 

Deepa Mohan, a hobby birder, believes that lakes should not be abandoned on account of unkempt or unclean conditions. "If we stop visiting lakes for birding, we are playing into the hands of encroachers and land sharks, which will only worsen things," she says. 

She shares that migratory birds like storks and cranes are difficult to spot these days. Even bar-headed geese, which fly from Mongolia through the Himalayan passes to reach Magadi lake have reduced drastically. "Earlier, during the winter we could see 3,000 to 4,000 around the lake. Now, it's down to 300-400," she says. Raptors, which were a common sight in Turahalli, have also dwindled. 

A popular hobby

Despite the decline, birdwatching as a hobby has grown in recent years. Subramanya shares that his informal group of birdwatchers initially comprised 25 people. The group still exists and has walks every second Sunday. 

Ulhas remembers sending out postcards to participants to inform them of the time and location for their walks. Today, there are thousands of birders in the city, they state. Walks happen every weekend. 

While they would visit Girinagar and Kanakapura road in the '80 and '90s, they are now forced to go farther away from the city. However, spots like Saul kere, Jakkur lake and Valley School are popular for birdwatching. Lalbagh continues to be frequented too. Ulhas states that rather than looking for a specific bird, the goal is to record whatever one sees. "We spot 30 to 40 species on any given walk. In winter, that number goes up to 70 to 80 due to migratory birds," he explains. Subramanya shares that in addition to his weekly walks, he enjoys birdwatching from the comfort of his own balcony too. 

Tips for birdwatching

The best way to get started is to join a group, says Ulhas. Most of the walks are free and one will have experts to guide them. He says that it's important to carry a notebook and pencil to make notes about what you see. Take pictures for reference, he adds. A decent pair of binoculars and a camera are equally important. 

Subramanya says that it takes roughly a year to get the hang of it. When one visits different habitats - lakes, agricultural fields, university campuses and gardens - one will gradually gain a better understanding of the hobby, he shares. 

Visit bngbirds.com to for details about the next walk. 

The report

Last week, the State of India’s Birds (SOIB)  report revealed that 60 per cent of Indian bird species show long-term decline. Species such as Indian Roller, Common Teal, and Great Grey Shrike are categorised as endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened in India. The SOIB is published by State of India’s Birds Partnership, which is a group of 13 government and non-government organisations. It is based on the observations of 30,000 birders, who record bird sightings on ebird.org/india

Published 30 August 2023, 01:15 IST

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