Mumbaikars get 3-minute lesson on birds outside their windows

SGNP team of naturalists, photographers puts together an audiovisual on 19 species people can spot during lockdown

Published - May 20, 2020 01:24 am IST - Mumbai

Winged visitors: (From left) ‘Speed machine’, the Shaheen Falcon; grain and seed eater, the Oriental Turtle Dove; and the nectar-guzzling Purple Sunbird, clicked from the window of an apartment in Vile Parle.

Winged visitors: (From left) ‘Speed machine’, the Shaheen Falcon; grain and seed eater, the Oriental Turtle Dove; and the nectar-guzzling Purple Sunbird, clicked from the window of an apartment in Vile Parle.

Every morning since the start of the lockdown, Yogesh Patel, like most Mumbaikars, has been waking up to the sound of birds chirping outside his apartment in Jogeshwari (East). The difference is, he knows those sounds intimately.

“There are 15 species outside my window,” he said. He finds other interesting sights too. The mongoose who comes there to forage is instantly mobbed by the mynas. “Both species feed on insects, and the mynas look to shoo the mongoose away.”

For years, Mr. Patel, a naturalist, has been recording bird sounds in Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and near his home, on a simple device: his cell phone. And for a year, Madhuri Deshmukh, a homemaker in Vile Parle (E), has been taking pictures of birds from her son’s bedroom window. Her seventh floor flat gives her a grand view, and the birds park themselves on the peepul tree outside her window.

Mr. Patel and Ms. Deshmukh are part of an SGNP team that has compiled a three-minute audiovisual (AV) on birds that can be identified in Mumbai’s residential areas during the lockdown.

Wide variety

From the sharp cry of the Indian Golden Oriole and the persistent harp of the Common Tailorbird, to the passionate song of the Oriental Magpie Robin, the AV features calls and images of 19 birds Mumbaikars never knew coexisted with them.

“People in Mumbai are used to seeing crows and pigeons, but the city is rich when it comes to birds. There are almost 300 species in the city. The lockdown is giving us the time to notice them, and that’s a good thing,” said Shardul Bajikar, who takes care of communications and events for SGNP.

“Mumbai is a wild city,” he said, with the pride of a naturalist. “Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary, SGNP, mangroves in Versova, and Maharashtra Nature Park are inherent to Mumbai. We don’t need to create a Central Park, like New York has done.”As much as we take them for granted, we need these spaces, he said. “People should understand what we are living with.”

Spreading awareness

The AV hopes to make people aware of the birds Mumbaikars are now paying attention to but cannot identify. It also hopes to lighten the atmosphere at a time of stress, said Mr. Bajikar. He has been running a campaign since the lockdown began, wherein he puts up one post a day to communicate a ‘lockdown factoid’ or an activity people can do on their building terrace or at home. In response, people have been sending SGNP videos and photographs, which led to the idea of the AVs.

The team – “all good friends” — comprises naturalists Mahesh and Bhushan Yadav who go by the name J.Y. Brothers, Mangesh Kadam and Pallavi Parab, birdwatcher Yogesh Patel, and photographer Madhuri Deshmukh. The J.Y. Brothers have a library of 50,000 images taken in SGNP, while Ms. Deshmukh has an album loaded on SGNP’s Facebook page.

Natural affinity

The team has a natural affinity to birds. Ms. Deshmukh said she has observed 102 species till date. She spends an hour in the morning on ‘window birding’, armed with patience and her SLR camera. “I feel at peace when I see birds. I forget everything,” she said.

Over the years, Ms. Deshmukh said, birds respond to her call. “I don’t know if people will believe me, but I mentally call out to them, with a strong intent, and they appear. The joy I feel when I see them is something I can’t express.”

Mr. Patel spends a good deal of time recording bird calls. He provided the recordings, photographs and birds’ checklists for the AV. As a senior naturalist, he also leads trails in SGNP.

Exploring gardens

In the next few rounds of the campaign, the team will focus on areas in Mumbai with good garden spaces, where birds thrive. A Facebook Live on the city’s birds is also in the offing. “We can’t ask people to go out at this time, so we thought of focusing on calls and photographs,” said Mr. Bajikar.

Importantly, there are lessons on how nature handles lockdowns, curfews and distancing. As humans, we don’t get this often, but birds and animals are used to it, he said. For instance, the atlas moth, the world’s largest moth species, is found in Mumbai during the monsoon. “It spends nine months in a cocoon, till the next monsoon. It cannot migrate, and emerges only when the time is right. This is a good example of a lockdown.”

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