Society

How this Chennai student helped in documenting birds

Birds of a feather (Clockwise from left) A black-naped oriole; Oriental honey-buzzard; Vikas on a bird-watching trip; black-shouldered kite

Birds of a feather (Clockwise from left) A black-naped oriole; Oriental honey-buzzard; Vikas on a bird-watching trip; black-shouldered kite  

Marsh harriers, Bonelli’s eagles, and Indian rollers... student Vikas Madhav has helped SSN College of Engineering document over 125 species of birds in their campus

The sun is blazing and we’re trudging through vegetation towards the outer boundary wall of SSN College of Engineering in Kalavakkam. Sweat drips down our brows, but Vikas Madhav seems unaffected as he rattles off the names of the various birds we spot along the way. “That’s the marsh harrier,” he says, as I train my binoculars in the direction he points. But even before I can catch a glimpse of the raptor, he’s excitedly showing me a flock of cormorants perched gracefully on a barren tree. Meanwhile, the Indian roller with its striking blue feathers has taken a special liking to the college football field, flitting between the goalpost and the patch of grass. As we walk on, we hear the calls of peacocks and peahens that have made the college campus their home; soon enough a couple of them fly past as Vikas rapidly clicks away with his Canon 5D.

How this Chennai student helped in documenting birds

Over the course of our walk, Vikas shows me various birds like the Bonelli’s eagle, Common coot, red-vented bulbul, Indian roller, sunbirds, magpie-robin, red-rumped swallow, Jerdon’s Bushlark, rose-ringed parakeet, egret, painted stork, golden oriole, kingfisher, black drongo, black-shouldered kite, Oriental honey buzzard, jungle prinia, yellow wagtail and many more.

For the second year Engineering student, bird-watching is a passion that he harboured early on; he began volunteering with the Forest Department since he was in class VIII and has participated in several camps and birdwatching trips to document the birds that can be found in the country over the years. “One of my first trips was to Uttarakhand for the Great Himalayan Bird Count. The purpose of these camps is to try and spot as many birds as possible and submit it to the Government so that they can turn non-protected spots into protected zones. Over the last 14 years, I’ve been to several places; I’ve covered Uttarakhand extensively, most of North East India, Western Ghats and have gone up to Gujarat,” he says.

How this Chennai student helped in documenting birds

In fact, on Vikas’s last trip to Sathyamangalam forest range, near Erode last month, he was the team lead. “We were in the core of the forest, in a small room, with no cell signal and only sleeping bags. But it was a great experience,” he says, adding, “I go on at least one trip per semester. In college, it’s easier, since they help me with my attendance. It was harder in school though.”

How this Chennai student helped in documenting birds

Vikas went on birdwatching trips even when he was due to appear for his board exams. “At the end of the day, they’re just exams. If I can manage above 92% it’s enough,” he says nonchalantly. Despite his interest in nature, he chose to pursue Engineering as a compromise he admits. “There’s not much scope for pure sciences in India. And frankly, I didn’t want to do Zoology since I will not dissect animals and Botany is just not my cup of tea. So I settled on Engineering,” he says.

Visions of green

    Over the course of the years, Vikas has had some memorable adventures. For instance, in Nagerhole, the jeep he was travelling in was charged at by tuskers. On a trip to Chokta in Uttarakhand, he got to see the Monal pheasant, a rainbow coloured bird. In Meghalaya, he saw the brilliant hued Emerald Cuckoo. One particular trip to Yamunotri (during non-peak season) had them staying in a ghost town. “The entire village was empty, only the chowkidar and his family were there to help us,” he says.

    As we walk around the sprawling 250-acre SSN campus, Vikas tells me that he now organises birdwatching walks for his fellow students as well. “I usually use my free hours to head out and spot some birds on campus. Now that my fellow students are also interested, I organise walks for them. It’s amazing how interested they are. The good thing is that the college has built around the eco-system and not encroached on it. Even now with the new buildings, they take care to ensure that they don’t disturb the natural habitat of the birds on campus.”

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    Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 11:56:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/chennai-student-birder-volunteers-with-forest-department/article26496310.ece

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