An Amateur’s Guide to Birders and Birding

Birding near Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary

Birding near Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary

We were all chatting over a slightly bland but otherwise well prepared dinner at Backwoods Goa birding camp (the guide, used to fickle western tourists, had immediately assured us much to our dismay that none of the food would be spicy and it also was “very safe”). Our group was composed of an Englishman, a well-educated woman from Delhi, a young couple from Mumbai, and Mr. Das, a businessman from Calcutta. With the exception of Mr. Das, the well travelled group was sharing ideas and advise for our return home through Europe. In the corner, Mr. Das was eating his curries in silence, occasionally humming a bit to himself. Upon finishing his last bite, he wiped his face, cleared his throat, and began…

“There are 9546 species of birds in the world,” he announced to the room, interrupting the woman from Dehli, “Of those 1314 can be found in India.”

The previous conversation was finished. It was time to talk about birds. Rather it was time for Mr. Das to talk to us about birds.

“What is Nature?” he continued.

This was of course a rhetorical question. We would come to learn that Mr. Das asked few questions. Instead he made proclamations. He would answer his own question about nature with quotations from Jim Corbett and other wildlife conservationists as well as his own theories. Mr. Das would go on to present a lengthy slideshow (it would be a nightly occurrence) of his extensive travels to India’s many wildlife reserves.

Mr Das was a man of proclamations and narrations, becoming a self appointed second guide to our guide. He was an offerer of unsolicited advise, willing to rewrite our travel itinerary with day by day instructions of what we should be doing in India. “You go to Hampi next? No, no, no much better you go to Hassan. You will leave on a bus from Bangalore at eight in the morning, this will give you half a day to tour before returning that night,”

It mattered little that we had no intention of staying in Bangalore to begin with. Mr. Das was also of course a master of camouflage. Despite the fact that we birded almost exclusively on roads, near villages, and around temples he dressed in full jungle camo, even wrapping it around his monstrous camera. While the birds seemed to care little either way, Mr Das unfortunately was unable to conceal himself from the curious stares of women in bright saris, giggling children, and men on motorbikes who passed him.

Dwarf Kingfisher (courtesy Nirjhar Das)

Dwarf Kingfisher (courtesy Nirjhar Das)

The elusive Frogmouth (courtesy Nirjhar Das)

The elusive Frogmouth (courtesy Nirjhar Das)

A Paradise Flycatcher (courtesy of Nirjhar Das)

A Paradise Flycatcher (courtesy of Nirjhar Das)

In short, Mr Das is a peculiar man. Though much to his credit, he is well intentioned, an extremely talented photographer (he was kind enough to provide the photos above) and a passionate conservationist. Mr. Das has dedicated himself to visiting and studying wildlife across the country and is a veritable encyclopedia on Indian parks and fauna. The fact that there are a significant number of Indians interested in their wildlife (a rarity in many countries we visit) likely accounts for why India is one of the few places on earth with increasing populations of tigers, elephants, and other critically endangered species.

Stream near Tambdi Surla Temple

Stream near Tambdi Surla Temple

Birders in general are a curious sort. Detail oriented to say the least, they can turn a one kilometer walk into a three hour outing and will marvel in wonder for inordinate amounts of time at small brown dots perched on a power line. However, we felt at home with our fellow birders. And our excellent guides, with over fifteen years experience, made sure that even us rank amateurs spotted nearly 100 different species of birds with incredible variety of colour, plumage, size, and adaptations in a mere three days. Though the tenacity of our fellow birders (who could easily spend nine hours of the day with binoculars glued to their faces) was perhaps a bit intense for novices, there was much to keep a wandering, less dedicated mind busy.

Laura making friends on Backwoods Camp's forested grounds.

Laura making friends on Backwoods Camp’s forested grounds.

A water snake slithers up to say hello near the Tambdi Surla Temple

A water snake slithers up to say hello near the Tambdi Surla Temple

The non-aviary life around the camp was equally as interesting. In addition to an array of insects, reptiles and mammals to watch, I often found myself equally charmed in the day to day interactions in the small neighboring village as well as the beautiful, black basalt temple, the oldest in Goa. Balanced with the camp’s serene, forested setting complete with a deep, cool, blue swimming hole, and waterfall treks into the surrounding Bhawar Mahavar Wildlife Sanctuary and it is the ideal escape from Goa’s crowded beaches for birders and non-birders alike.

Each home in the area includes a shrine to Vishnu with a basil plant growing in it. Hence the common name for the asian variety of the herb, holy basil.

Each home in the area includes a shrine to Vishnu with a basil plant growing in it. Hence the common name for the asian variety of the herb, holy basil.

A village near Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary

A village near Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary

The stone walkway to Tambdi Surla, Goa's oldest temple.

The stone walkway to Tambdi Surla, Goa’s oldest temple.

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