When Birding Got Competitive

When Birding Got Competitive
Red avadavat foraging for food, Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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A team of ten birders, all from different professional backgrounds but bound by the love for birding, got together for 12 hours of birding. And everything was beautiful that day

Precious Kamei
March 09 , 2019
06 Min Read

If you thought we had a long winter this year, ask a birder how (s)he had to wait for the daylight to break. Ask me and I will tell you how every morning I leave the warm comfort of my bed at 5:30 am and wait for the sun to show up, for that first chirp-chirp outside my window. Birding bug bit me hard two years ago and ever since then, come rain or shine, hot or cold, I'm always looking upwards, in the bushes, in the garbage dump...you name it and I have looked at it. Birding taught me how to be patient (for sometimes you need to sit or stand in one spot for a really long time), how to be more observant, taught me humility (there is no bigger shame than ID-ing with full confidence a completely wrong species and go to social media with that claim and get shot down by experts in the field) and to squint hard. I do birding every chance I get and carry no regrets.

A yellow-footed green pigeon admires its mealFebruary 24, 2019, a Sunday, came and this was the day for the annual Delhi Bird Race. If you follow Indian Birds on Facebook, you'd know what I'm talking about. But for those who don't know, Delhi Bird Race is an annual event that birders in Delhi and NCR take part in. The birding community, as it is, is a very compact community and events like this helps in getting to know who else in the city/country/continent loves to squint hard at a dried up leaf on a tree top, mistaking it for a bird. So what is the race all about? It is a race indeed, and you will learn why very shortly. Spread across Delhi (and NCR), birders divided the city into approximately 25 birding zones. For the race, 12 teams were formed with 83 participants in total. On the day of the race, each team would go explore the designated location from 6 am to 6 pm, note down the sightings and at the end of the day, all teams make the final count and this is how you get to know about the rich biodiversity of a place. Each team were named after birds, ours was called Merlin and that day, our team of 10, from all sorts of profession but bound by the love of birds, we documented 144 species of birds from the marshes, woods and lakes around Yamuna floodplains. A total of 275 species were reported by all teams combined, out of which 263 decided a winner and 12 were sidelined as unverified sightings. The winning team got an impressive count of 192 species, followed by the runner-up team with 187. 

A crested lark spotted on one of the banks of YamunaOur team, the Merlins, started early at 6:30 am, even before there was proper light, with the eastern side of Yamuna River. We covered woodlands, marshes and the river bank, walked long distances, drove for a while that ended in up in an offroading experience, and for all hours that we all were together, nothing was discussed other than beings with wings and lifers. 

 
This was not my first birding outing with experts but like every single time, this time too I learned important lessons/facts about birding as a hobby, learned more about the region, the people we came across and the beautiful fact that each one of us were from such different backgrounds, regions, even nationality, but that one single day, how none of us discussed "burning" topics but were happy looking at birds. 
 
Photographers maintain a respectable distance from the subjectWe walked across fields full of wagtails of all kinds, chats, avadavats, pipits, ibises and reached the shallow banks of Yamuna where lapwings, sandpipers, greenshanks, ruddy shelducks and gulls among other winged beauties waited for us. There were wildlife photographers in our team and it was obvious that they were trying too hard to maintain a sane face when there were so many photo ops. I have seen some wildlife photographers making bird/animal calls to make the subject look at them, which is why I keep voicing my opinions out loud (one too many times) that such photographers need to stay indoors. There are such photographers and then there are those who don't mind getting dirty from head to toe wriggling in the muddy banks of the river, being as quiet as possible and holding breath lest the bird gets disturbed...all these for one perfect shot of a ruff and a sandpiper feeding. We all stood at a safe distance and whispered words of admiration for our team member. 
 
A red-necked falconAs no good deed stays unrewarded, soon we spotted our best sighting so far—a red-necked falcon. To drive off-road and through a cloud of dust and at the same time spotting a falcon, partially hidden behind a curtain of leaves, only an expert eye could pull that off. One of our team members from behind the wheels all of a sudden stopped his vehicle and we all instinctively looked up and saw the beauty. Amidst controlled high-fives and whispered words of admiration, one of the team members sighed a sigh of relief and said "this was a lifer for me. I've been looking for this RNF for many years". The he clicked that bird for good 10 minutes. Since it was a race, we had to move on. But that afternoon, many of us did discuss the option of waiting in that spot for however long it took us see that falcon in action. But then it was a race day and we had to move on to our next spot. Delhi Bird Race gave me 17 lifers and with that my personal life count reached 191 species in one year and two months. 

A somewhat buff river lapwingThe awards function and birders' celebratory dinner was planned for the next weekend where birders and participants came together and discussed experiences and highlights of their race day. A lot many people have asked me why I do what I do and what do I get out of staring into a distance, squinting and feel it necessary to tell the other person what bird was it. Every time my answer is "because I love birds", but it is also true that from these birding trips we get to learn so many things like how the receding/increasing water level is hampering the crops, the condition of our rivers, forest, how man-made forest fires are killing important plant species as well as birds and animals. I carry with myself all these when I go birding and all of a sudden the whole world looks different.
 
I remember my heart skipping a beat when I saw for the first time in my life, the tiny sand lark. It was definitely worth waking up at 5 am on a Sunday just to see some beings with wings. 
 
The Information
Delhi Bird Race is an annual event. To learn about the date and any upcoming event, follow Indian Birds page on Facebook.  on Saturday, 02 March 2018. Apart from the race, the birders do keep meeting on the weekends for birding sessions around the city. To take part in the race, all you need to do is to have interest in birds and  send an email at delhibirdrace@gmail.com. Participation is free!

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