The writer joins members of the Coimbatore Nature Society for a morning walk and returns all chirpy

Sunday. Sholaiyur, 7.30 a.m. The air is filled with birdsong. Cocking their ears to identify them are 30-odd people, including ‘Daddyji’. He walks first, a collapsible chair slung across his shoulder. “I’m going further inside,” he announces to the bunch following him —students, businessmen, engineers, doctors and homemakers, united by their love for birds. Suddenly, ‘Hornbill, hornbill’ someone urgently whispers. People whip out a bird book while the more knowledgeable ones pronounce, ‘Malabar Grey Hornbill’. Each one takes his turn to spot the bird with the cackling call. Soon, a cloud of butterflies takes off in the far distance. And the members of the two-year-old Coimbatore Nature Society (CNS) smile, about a morning well spent.

Daddyji is Harikishan Das G. Joshi, 75, the senior-most member of CNS. He’s the affable grandfather-figure for the kids and the one who points out parakeets and drongos to the new birders. He started birding after a health scare. He joined his son, Chetan H Joshi, secretary of the CNS, on the group’s weekly Sunday outings. A morning trip with CNS is a lesson in many things — of being serious about birding, yet being laidback; of learning, of sharing information…

“But, that’s what we want,” says P.R. Selvaraj, president. “We don’t have a fixed objective. It’s more of learning and a need to be amidst Nature, not about seeing a certain number of birds within a time frame.” It helps that the CNS has a dynamic team, drawn from varied fields. “There is nil pressure. There is more output. We manage a decent amount of scientific data. Most importantly, we enjoy every outing,” says Selvaraj.

Building a generation

The group encourages the participation of children. When they go on to the wetlands, G. Parameswaran, executive member, carries along his scope and adjusts it to suit the height of every child. When a bird is spotted, no one thinks twice before checking with Bharath Ravikumar, a shy Class XII student.

They are as excited when Shriranjani, who has completed her Class XII, shows them a photograph of a tiny frog she spotted. Selvaraj says it is vital to get kids acquainted with Nature — “That’s how we can create a new generation of Nature lovers.”

Parameswaran moved to India from the U.S. in mid-2011; he came with a birding experience of about 20 years. He says, “We are a group of like-minded people with different talents. For instance, Selvaraj and M. Vijayaraj come with a trekking background; Saravanan Natrayan and Rajinikanth K. are photographers; Chetan is great at identifying birdcall; Parvathi (Bharath’s mother) and Sarayu identify birds well… It’s a lucky meeting of all these people.”

Parameswaran, Saravanan says, brings a certain professionalism that comes from years of birding abroad. Vijayaraj, one of the core members, says the bird trail leaves them rejuvenated to face the coming week. “Every other form of entertainment consumes energy; this gives you energy,” he says. For Rajinikanth, this is a great way to observe, learn and appreciate Nature. It also helps him get some great shots. Since his son, Vishruth, accompanies him for birding, it is an opportunity to have ‘man-to-man’ talks. Bharath, Shriranjani and Sahitya say being in the midst of verdant landscapes reduces the pressures of academics.

When Bharath travels, he makes sure birding is part of the tour. He recalls the excitement of sighting a blood pheasant in Bhutan. Saravanan, one of the co-founders, says “Birding is a lovely extension of my hobby. Now, I am interested in the scientific aspect of it too. When I post photographs, people are amazed that Coimbatore is a treasure trove of birds,” says Saravanan, whose wife Ezhil usually joins the group’s outings.

P. Venkatraman, a birder for the past 15 years, says the experience pays rich dividends in their everyday life. “This love rubs off on family, friends and colleagues.” Chetan speaks about how a rookie birder like him can today identify so many bird calls. “Three years ago, I knew nothing. This group has many selfless teachers. Selvaraj and Vijayaraj have groomed us well.”

Midway though every trip, the group stops for breakfast. A veritable feast is laid out, with members bringing in regional specialities. Half an hour later, the place is as pristine as it was before. “We like to lead by example. Birding is also about preserving the environment,” says Vijayaraj.

CNS does its bit for the local economy. All trips in the Anaikatti belt culminate in Chechi’s tea shop for the ritual masala vadai and hot chai. Some members stop by the local store to pick up tea. Others head to the pipe near the tea shop. A splash of cold water on tired faces later, they return to routine.

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