Sunday, January 29, 2017

Birds and I

I got interested in birds when I was in the first year of college. (I earned a BSc in Life Sciences and Biochemistry at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai.) It was quite a coincidence that most of my projects through those three years were about birds: nomenclature and classification, field visits, migration and mating behaviours, etc. I had a designated table at the library of the Bombay Natural History Society at Kala Ghoda, where I had the chance to meet some of the most well-known conservationists and wildlife experts in South Asia including JC Daniel and Isaac Kehimkar. I became a journalist and among other things, wrote about the thousands of flamingoes  that would visit Sewri in Mumbai every year. After I moved to Gujarat, I discovered it's long coastline and the unusual topography of the Rann of Kutch created several breeding and feeding habitats for many migratory species from Siberia, Central Asia, Tibet and even Central Africa. I had the opportunity to travel around some of the wetlands here along the Narmada, in Kheda and Anand, Nalsarovar, Kutch and along the Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay) and write about them in the Lonely Planet-like book on Gujarat published by India Guide and edited by Anjali Desai. In Australia, the Ramsar Convention on Wetland Conservation (1971) became the starting point of a conversation with my Iranian friend, Azin, who had worked in UNEP, Tehran, before moving Down Under. I invested in Michael Morcombe's Birds of Australia which I picked at a book fair at The University of Queensland. After 1.5 years, a couple of weeks before we left, we were visited by Shreyasi, my friend from New Zealand who brought for me a model of the Australasian swamphen called Pukeko. It now rests in my mini-garden in Vadodara. Today, while watching the birds at Vadhwava reservoir, a place I had written about in Mumbai Mirror seven years ago, I reflected on my association with birds for over 15 years. When a fellow birdwatcher asked me to identify the species he had clicked, I leafed through Salim Ali's The Book of Indian birds, for having spent 15 years birdwatching, I know there is so much more to learn. My respect for these creatures has grown through the years, for their strength, their wisdom, their loyalties to their kind (watching penguins wait for other members of their gang in Australia touched me in ways I cannot explain), their ability to shatter boundaries and fences and their uncaged spirits.

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