Society

Birdwatchers see rise in bird sightings during COVID-19 lockdown

‘Cockarakooo’: I wake up to this call every morning these days. No, I do not live in a village by the fields. I am in an extremely urban setup. Which is why I cannot explain in words my joy when I am actually woken up by a rooster. There’s an empty strip of land near my apartment, which is home to hens, roosters, and cows. They’ve always been there. But now that everyone is home due to the 21-day lockdown and noise levels are low, I can hear them clearly. In fact, I can discern around eight different birdcalls early in the day. Are there more birds in my neighbourhood these days or am I paying more attention to them?

“Both,” laughs Coimbatore birder K Mohan Raj. “Noise pollution is minimal and as a result, there is more bird movement even in urban areas.” He mentions how a bulbul is building a nest in the verandah of his home in Kanuvai, Coimbatore. “This bird is quite rare to be spotted in the city,” he adds. Mohan says now is the best time to appreciate the natural world around us. “Birds seem to be happily calling out to each other from long distances.” Go to your backyard, balcony, terrace, look out your window. “There’s so much to see; birding makes one happy, a much-needed thing at the moment,” he says.

Mohan says that one can spot at least 10 bird species from urban homes that have some green cover. These include the house sparrow whose falling numbers have been worrying experts; tailor bird, sunbird, Asian koel; the white-throated kingfisher can be spotted too, and are commonly seen around waterbodies. Mohan points out that those with a keen eye can see the booted warbler, a migratory species. March being the flowering season for plenty of trees such as sakkarai pazham (muntingia), flowerpeckers flock them to feed on the sweet berries. Golden oriole and barbets head to peepul and banyan trees to feed on their fruit.

“This is among the best seasons for Nature watch,” Mohan explains. “Neem trees have flowered, bees buzz about. In my neighbourhood, I even spotted the gorgeous paradise flycatcher.” At night, keep your ears pricked for calls of the francolin. “Owls come out, and you can also see bats swooping down to eat mosquitoes.”

Birdwatchers see rise in bird sightings during COVID-19 lockdown

Some people, such as P Jeganathan, a scientist with Nature Conservation Foundation, find birding something as necessary as their daily yoga or meditation sessions. “I do it for 15 minutes every day, no matter where I am,” he says. He is now in Tirupur and continues to do so from home, and documents the species spotted on the eBird portal.

“The birds are like my neighbours now,” he says. “I have learned their behaviours well over these days.” Jeganathan also does “season watch”, which is essentially keeping track of the trees in his surroundings; note which of them are flowering, and what birds each trees attract. “Neem, for instance, attracts coppersmith barbets when it flowers. I even heard the Blyth’s reed warbler, a migrant bird from the northern hemisphere. Its call is distinct, and I was able to hear it since there was no other noise around.” Jeganathan also points out some inexplicable phenomena due to the lockdown. “I see a lot of crows milling around…I don’t know why.”

“Usually in March, I’m walking around the palash trees and other flowering trees. This year, I am stuck at home, with just one flowering neem tree in view,” says Chennai-based naturalist Yuvan M. Fortunately for Yuvan, everyone else is stuck at home as well, which means even the shier birds are coming out to frolic. “The other day, on the road before my house, I saw a pair of skulky crow pheasants foraging freely along the entire length of the road divider. Usually, these birds just hide in the bushes.” He also saw a barn owl near his apartment for the very first time.

Others reaping the benefit of absentee humans, include songbirds. “They usually need very quiet surroundings before they come out and sing. In the past few days, I have been seeing as well as hearing pied wagtails and pied bushchats nearby,” he says, adding, “I even saw a group of about 200 starlings from my balcony, which I haven’t seen before. They did a mild murmur here, even though there are very few flowering trees nearby and it is almost time for them to fly back to Europe.” Maybe the peace and calm we left behind is encouraging them to stay back.

Suhel Quader, a birder from Bengaluru, decided to study the effects of low noise levels on birds during Sunday’s curfew. “It was my 12-year-old daughter’s idea, actually,” he says. “Using an app, we recorded noise levels and also kept track of the number of birds.” They did so on Saturday and Sunday, from 7 am to 7 pm, and interestingly, they found that more birds were audible on the day of curfew. Suhel continues this exercise from his home. “Birders from several other cities and villages across India are doing this,” he says, adding that they are now brainstorming on the approach to be taken and what to do with the information at hand.

Birding can be therapeutic. Jeganathan adds that there are studies that show that the exercise can have a “healing effect on people with depression.” “There are plenty of resources online to help too,” he points out. Meanwhile, I can hear a ‘keekee’ outside my balcony as I type this. Excuse me while I step out to see who that is.

News from the insect world
  • Now is the time to say hi to our creepy-crawly friends. Many small creatures are waiting to be discovered: insects, spiders, lizards, earthworms are a few common ones. Insects by far are the greatest in variety. At home, depending on the number of bushes and trees around, you can quite easily spot the grasshopper, geometridae moth, owl moth, leaf-roller beetle, weevil, paper wasp, honeybee, the occasional butterfly, hoverfly, long-legged fly, tile fly, and the troublesome mosquito and house fly.
  • Apart from these you can look out for the garden lizard, house lizard, millipede, garden slug and snail. Among spiders, you can spot the bold jumping spider, the messy daddy-long-legs spider, the discrete lynx spider, the secret thomisid spider, the beautiful web-spinner spiders like argiope, neoscona and spiky orb.
  • — Naturalist ‘Poochi’ Venkat

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 8:06:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/and-the-birds-fly-free/article31172534.ece

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