The moment Dr Salil Choksi laid eyes on a Pied Avocet on his first bird watch 13 years ago, he knew he had been ensnared for life. “Despite the dull colour of most wader birds, the Pied Avocets were so dainty and pretty that they captured my heart,” said the 53-year-old paediatrician, describing his first Uran bird trail, which was organised by the Bombay Natural History Society. Choksi participated in the annual Bird Race last Sunday.
As a boy, Choksi would spend copious amounts of time looking at birds at the natural history museum of his alma mater St Xavier’s High School. As he grew up, he left his passion behind, only to rediscover it on the trip in 2001. “Somehow, I found time to travel across Mumbai on weekends with bird-watching groups and started taping my excursions ,” said Choksi, whose videos are used to educate newcomers.
Tushar Nidambur, a 41-year-old IT professional, got hooked on birding after he took part in the first Mumbai Bird Race in 2005. “I was lucky to have been teamed with a good birder who sparked my interest in the subject. It is an exciting feeling to spot a new or rare species. Though Mumbai has kept my interest alive, the place I really want to visit is the Himalayas, which has more than half of the entire Indian bird species,” said Nidambur.
Another group of birders are the young ones who have been accompanying elders on nature walks. “My husband used to be an avid birdwatcher earlier and my daughter is following in his footsteps. She got into bird watching about a year back and uses books and the Internet to learn more about birds,” said Rashmi Haritwal, mother of 9-year-old Tridha Haritwal, one of the 40 children who participated in the Mumbai Bird Race. “On her birthday, we gifted her a small camera and binoculars with which she has spotted Paradise Flycatchers outside our house,” said Rashmi.
Bird-watchers regret that the number of birds is declining in the city.
“The Woodpecker was hardly sighted in the last two years in Borivli National Park,” said Choksi, highlighting the importance of birdwatchers in keeping a close watch on our feathered friends, which are often the first indicators of major environmental changes.
Where have they flown?
The number of bird species in the city fell to 249 in 2013 from 283 in 2006. According to data collected over the years by birders, the declining species include the White Stork, the Ashy Woodswallow, the Verditer Flycatcher, the Pied Avocet, the Emerald Dove, the Common Kestrel, the Woodpecker, the Lark and the Raptor