Though everyone agrees that the number of birders has gone up, several feel that the number of committed people has actually come down. "It’s become a strange sport," muses Shyamal. "A lot of people are not interested in going beyond gloating over sighting new species. They have yet to realize that one doesn’t know much about birds by just identifying them."
This is why, to most experienced birders, the four-year-old Bangalore Bird Race will be nothing more than a pleasant way of getting more people involved in the activity. "It can never be like a proper census or data collection", is the unanimous opinion. However, it is a very popular annual event, where teams of birders vie to see who can spot the most species of birds on a given Sunday in January.
Ethical birding practices:
1. Disturb the birds as little as you can, even if this means not observing them properly. Some birds are more used to human beings; others are very shy and wary.
2. Do not spend too much time near nests. Birds, and nestlings, are very vulnerable to predators.
3. Do not let your passion for spotting or photography overcome the need to keep your distance from the bird.
4. Do not withold information about bird locations from other birders; they have as much right as you do, to observe them. But while doing so, lay stress on these guidelines for ethical birding and ask them to adhere to them, too. Passing on the message of ethical birding is as important as passing on the enthusiasm for birding.
Prasad and Subbu talk about the days when, in Subbu’s words, they were "lurking behind boulders and bushes or crawling on the ground" to get as close to the bird as possible. In an era when photography was prohibitively expensive and only for the few, keen observation, and meticulous documentation was key to learning. "We need to remind the newbies not to forget the usefulness of sketches," says Prasad.
If "bngbirds" doesn’t organize outings to various bird destinations, because it is BWFC which is the group of birders….why, then, is BWFC no longer doing this? I get different answers. Apart from from the reason given above, Karthik also says that many areas of forest now require special permission. "We have all become busy with our various careers, and find it difficult to organize such outings now," is Prasad’s view. The strength of the bngbirds egroup is around eighteen hundred now.
In this context, it must mentioned that one couple, Geetanjali and Subir Dhar, have been making a sustained effort to organize outings (on the third Sunday of every month) to various Reserve Forests and other areas in the Bannerghatta zone. The outings have now become very popular. Another group in the Sarjapura area, spearheaded by Dr. Glenn Christo, Dr Sandra Albert, and Dr Prarthana Gupta, has also just started a 4th Sunday outing , with the very first one taking place in February this year.
When more people go on trips, in quest of the birds that they can no longer see within the city limits, the question of "ethical birding" arises. Watching the birds without disturbing them unduly, being mindful of nests and habitat, and not letting excitement overcome discretion, is a lesson that new birders need to learn from the more experienced ones.
Sunday outings of the Bird Watchers Field Club of Bangalore:
- 1st Sunday of the month: Outing to Hebbal Lake. Meeting point: Entrance of Hebbal Lake, approx. 7.30 am.
- 2nd Sunday of the month: Outing to Lalbagh. Meeting point: The Glass House, facing the Bandstand, approx. 7.30 am.
- 3rd Sunday of the month: Outing to a venue in Bannerghatta, meeting point, time, and Wikimapia coordinates announced on the bngbirds egroup.
- 4th Sunday of the month: Outing to the Sarjapura area, meeting point,time, and Wikimapia coordinates announced on the bngbirds egroup. Started in February 2011.
1. Wear comfortable, dull-coloured clothes (birds are very sensitive to colour.) ,good walking shoes, and caps/hats.
2. Carry a sketch/note pad and pencil, a good pair of binoculars, and a field guide. Cameras are optional.
3. For better spotting and observation, "Eyes and ears open, mouth shut," in the words of Karthik. Early morning and dusk are good times for birding.
4. Be on time for the outings, as it’s generally a large group and it’s not polite to keep others waiting!
5. Join the bngbirds egroup, and exchange information about your observations in the field.
6. Do make up groups and go birding in the various birding destinations in and around Bangalore. Of late, there have been untoward incidents, and there is safety in numbers. It’s also a green option to car-pool as much as one can.
7. User all the resources you can….books, experts, the Internet….to learn more about birds and birdwatching. It’s a fascinating activity, and generally leads one into various other fields of interest.
One dimension of bird-watching that seems to have "developed" quite fast lately, is bird photography. How has the immense popularity, and affordability, of digital photography, affected birding? Prasad says, "People tend to aim and shoot, and then try to id the bird, rather than patiently try and observe its behaviour. They want to photograph another bird rather than observe the same bird and learn more." MBK calls it ".trophy photography". His theory is that people sometimes do bird photography, and make exaggerated claims, to get personal credit.. However, Subbu is far more positive about this: "The boom in bird-photography, the digital revolution and the internet birding – the way we have access to, and share, information on birds and birding; and the speed at which we can communicate …we are on a much happier grounds than before," are his words.
Another significant aspect is that many more women and children, too, are interested in birding; but MBK feels that even this has its flip side. "The children are being brought there by the parents," he opines. Would the children be interested of their own accord, and left to wander around the fields, looking for birds, as his parents let him do? he wonders.
Apart from the inactive Merlin Nature Club, other birding clubs (such as Green Cross), are all but defunct now; all the experienced birders say that after attending a few of the field sessions, most people form informal groups of their own and go birding together. But to me, the fact that such a large group of people are still under one umbrella…called the "bngbirds group"(though it is technically the Birdwatchers’ Field Club of Bangalore)…is something quite satisfying! It’s a sort of microcosm of India…a lot of diverse people, opinions and attitudes, still somehow held in one entity by their mutual interest in the birds of Bangalore.