I belong to the Punjabi Clan and my family’s roots can be traced back to Amritsar and Lahore in the pre-partition era; the family migrated and settled in Delhi in 1947. Since my father was from the defense services, we lived a gypsy’s life, spending most of our time in Cantts (Cantonment area), that were often quite open and wild. And that’s where the early childhood interest in watching nature grew. This hobby also provided a good escape from mathematics in school!
My love for nature kept growing during my days in the army. Once armed with Salim Ali’s book on ‘Birds of the Indian Sub-continent’ my tryst with the hobby of bird watching started, and later bloomed into a life-long passion. My dependence on this book increased with every reading. Salim Ali’s capacity to accurately describe birds and their habits was beyond comprehension, and each description was equivalent to a thousand good photographs.
The rewards of bird watching are endless and every single sighting has been a memorable one. I vividly remember each of my sightings, whether it is the song of a Crested Lark, flying concert of Small Pratincoles, the hunt by an Osprey, sight of low flying Saras Cranes, the air show of courting Indian Rollers or the flight of over a hundred Demoiselle Cranes making mid-course corrections over the Ganga, on the way to their winter destinations. The charms of bird watching are countless, and you can pursue them anywhere, anytime – be it in the middle of an ocean or a desert, on a railway platform, or from your office window or even your balcony.
Come winter and one is mystified by the phenomena called migration. I have watched with amazement as White Wagtail arriving at the same spot, year after year, keeping their appointments by the date. There is never a dull moment on the banks of the Ganga, all throughout the winters. The Black Redstarts, Bluethroats, water fowl and the wading birds keep you spell-bound till March end.
Regular and systematic penning down of every insignificant and uneventful field observation, can add up to be a wealth of data, which when compiled over the years, may prove to be of great relevance, in the fast degrading environment and ever changing climate.
Feeding trays for birds and a bird-bath is a must in every home. I find that the Jain religion, which advocates this culture, has helped sustain a healthy population of the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) in the city of Jaipur, while we have observed shocking declines of this wonderful bird from our midst in the recent years. Many a time conservation at the grass-root and individual levels can be far more effective and rewarding than national projects. Bird watching must be a part of the curricula in every school. This would help the cause of conservation, and highlight the economic importance of birds and the nature in general amongst the young generation.
You can write to Praveen Chopra at firstname.lastname@example.org. His MigrantWatch sightings can be seen here.