This year’s Bird Race, organised by the India Bird Races, was held on 15th January. Sunjoy Monga headed this year’s race. Registrations were opened up in early January and 44 teams had registered in all. The race was sponsored, as always, by Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Corporation (HSBC).
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This was a good number of participants, considering the fact that it was Sankranti day.
The rules, as always, were that people could form teams, and check off the various species of birds that they found in a 60 km radius around Bangalore. In this radius Nandi Hills is included, as it continues to be one of the birding hotspots around Bangalore. All teams had to also visit at least one water body and do a census of both the waterfowl, and conditions in and around the lake.
Another highlight of the Bird Race was the inclusion of Green Teams, which would use only public transportation to get around. This year there were seven Green Teams, all of whom made it with very respectable totals.
All the teams met by about 6.30 pm at Hotel Paraag after long day of birding. The organisers had arranged for coffee and biscuits for the tired birders, and dinner after prize distribution.
The celebrity spotting
Having spotted as many birds as they could, participants now gathered to spot as many of the experienced birders of Bangalore as they could! It was a thrill for "L-birders", as beginners call themselves, a pun on the "L-board" one uses when learning to drive to meet the stalwarts of bird watching. Not only Sunjoy Monga and Dr S Subrahmanya, but also luminaries like S C Neginhal, a retired officer of the Indian Forest Service (IFS) who has pioneered a census of the heritage trees of Bangalore and T N A Perumal, wildlife photographer extraordinaire, attended.
Dr Joseph George, who is one of the pioneers of bird-watching in our city, also attended. So for birders, it was like a star-studded firmament. The judges, too, were noted ornithologists and naturalists – S Karthikeyan, Chief Naturalist, Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), Prashanth Badrinath of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) and Dr M B Krishna.
Participants also enjoyed meeting other birding enthusiasts and exchanging notes.
Puttenahalli Lake, which has been rescued and rejuvenated by the PNLI Trust, was one of the venues that yielded a lot of bird sightings, including those of migratory water fowl like Garganeys and Northern Shovellers.
The Prize winners
The prize for the Green Team went to Team Masked Booby (yes, that is really the name of a bird!), with a count of 106 species.
The bird of the day, the rarest sighting in the judges’ view, was the Western Reef Egret, which was a record sighting for the city. Team Whitethroat spotted this bird. Jayaram Jahgirdar, Balasubramanyam, Hemanth Kumar, Vinay Subramanya, and Vinaya Kumar Thimmappa were part of this team. They also won the third prize for recording 140 species.
The second prize went to team Black Stork with Deepa Mohan, Anirudh Kannan, Kannan A S, Poornima Kannan, Saandip Nandagudi, and Yashpal Rathore, with 153 species. The first prize went to Team Flowerpecker with Vaibhav Choudhary, Apoorva Managoli, Chandrashekar M, Deepak T M, and Sanjeev Managoli for recording 155 species.
Twelve-year-old Apoorva Managoli says she enjoyed the day very much. "This was the first time I was allowed to bird non-stop for 12 hours!" she exclaimed, when organiser Swarna Venkat asked her how her day went. An avid birder who has got her father hooked to the pastime too, Apoorva can identify about 300 species of birds. She is a good nature photographer as well.
Paavan, 11, was part of Team Flycatcher. He too spoke very well about bird-watching that he enjoyed, though apparently the team had to skip lunch.
The members of Team Kaanu Baruva (which means "Shikra" in the Soliga dialect) were all from ATREE, and they used cycles throughout. The participants of the Green Teams who used public transport did, however, say that they walked for miles and were very tired by the evening!
Swarna Venkat did an excellent job of compering the evening get-together, asking participants for their reactions and making sure that the gathering was interactive. One participant said that her bird-race closed with a crow depositing "waste material" on her head, and the gathering had a good laugh, saying that it was the bird’s blessing.