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Romancing the birds

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In winged company Birder K. V. Eldhose in his favourite haunt: Thattekkad
In winged company Birder K. V. Eldhose in his favourite haunt: Thattekkad

K.V. Eldhose knows more about bird than people, and K. PRADEEP learns he is happie with his winged friends

Like birds, with their yearly cycle of migration and return, K. V. Eldhose follows his winged friends over rooks, swifts, jungles, listening to them, recording every movement. Very often, bound out from home, Eldhose chases birds, most of them, on their way back home. It is a sort of romantic one-sided journey. The relatively small Thattekad Bird Sanctuary is among the top 20 jungle getaways in the country. For a birder it is a rich, favourite location. And Eldhose has an important role in turning this spot into a birder’s paradise.

Satisfying

“There are many youngsters here today who have made bird spotting a vocation. And there are many who have made this into a satisfying pastime,” says Eldhose who has been into birding for the past 25 years.

Some of the world’s top ornithologists, birders, like Jon Hornbuckle, reputed journals like the one from Oriental Bird Club, consider Eldhose as the best tour leader for birders in South India. He guarantees sightings of 16 endemics as well as 300 species in a 10-day sighting tour. All those who join him on the tour are serious birders, not for the casual tourist. “The tour covers three States, different habitats and so there is diversity in the species. There is a 14-day tour on offer in Goa but most of what you see there are water birds.”

During the season, which is usually from August-May, Eldhose is fully ‘booked.’ The two off-season months at home he spends in farming, which is another love. He lives close to Thattekkad. “I have tried out something different like hybrid coconut. Then there is a little bit of rubber, a regular crop of bananas and pineapple that keeps me busy. Occasionally, birders come here for a day or two. I get time with my children, giving them lessons in birding.”

Eldhose jumped into bird watching out of curiosity. While in school he chanced upon a copy of Salim Ali’s ‘Birds of Kerala.’ “Most of the birds that he had listed in the book were from my own backyard and the surrounding forests. I soon began identifying them. This then became a sort of routine. I dropped out of school. Day and night I searched for the birds I had seen in the book. Every bird I spotted I noted in a notebook. I could not afford to buy a pair of binoculars then. Birds had become my life’s passion.”

The first group he took on a birding tour was a party of Zoology teachers from different colleges. Eldhose took them around Thattekad spotting, explaining about the birds he had become familiar with. Thattekad was declared a bird sanctuary in 1983 and with it Eldhose’s stock rose. The Department of Forests and Wildlife also began to entrust him with important field studies, like the one on the Sri Lankan Frogmouth.

Spotting birds in the wild is tough, requiring a lot of patience, perseverance and pluck. “There is a systematic method involved. I was basically self-taught. But my acquaintance with foreigners who came here helped me evolve a system. It is basically identifying birds by their cries. Spotting becomes much easier this way.” Eldhose has a wonderful collection of photographs, slides, sound recordings of birds, which he keeps adding.

The world birding fraternity sat up and began to notice Eldhose’s efforts when he came up with evidence of the elusive Frogmouth, which was sighted at Thattekad by Salim Ali way back in 1933. “I was behind this bird for four years, ever since that night I first heard its cry. It finds a fine camouflage in the evergreen forests making spotting almost impossible. Once I sighted it I began to make an exhaustive study that included physical identification, nesting habits, and even a video recording that had the hatching of a young one.” This 13-minute video was screened at the Oriental Bird Club, U.K. He is now training his eyes for the elusive Jerdon Baza, a rare eagle-kind of bird, which has been spotted in places like Wayanad.

Eldhose’s attire (and he is invariably seen in this) bespeaks his avocation. Camouflage fatigues, green or dull grey T-shirt, a peak cap, binoculars slung round his neck, he looks as though he might at any moment rush for his camera and bolt into the forest following a bird cry. Before he takes a birder or a group, Eldhose goes alone to the area, lingers long, watching for a slight disturbance in a distant tree, hoping it would develop into something interesting. “Birding is a fulfilling pastime and a great job. It is a lot more than that. I have always felt that it is intimately connected to the journey we make to find a place for ourselves in this world. The beauty and variety of birds are fascinating and, of course, humans have always looked to the sky, always wanted to fly like birds.”

Like any experienced birder, Eldhose has become attuned to details of motion and sound. With every passing year, with every spotting, that sense becomes more acute. And then readily the humdrum of everyday concerns slips away, he flies with those birds.

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