To me, birds are a part of the whole of the natural world, so there will be photographs of other living beings too, including the birders who make the walks so enjoyable! – says Deepa Mohan, an avid birder and nature educator from Bangalore. Find out what makes her tick…
Please tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do and where do you live?
I live in Bangalore, Karnataka. I used to be a theatre reviewer, Carnatic musician, and teacher; now I call myself a wildlife volunteer and a bird/nature educator.
When and how did you get interested in birding?
I suppose I have always been interested in birds, but after I took the Naturalists Training Program by Karthik (S Karthikeyan, Chief Naturalist, Jungle Lodges and Resorts), my interest in trees moved into a keen interest in birds. I truly started from scratch….watching the common birds around me first.
Do you have a favourite bird or birds? Why is it/are they your favourite?
I am sure every person you ask this would have great difficulty in answering! I have some favourites like the Whistling Thrush or the Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, where I like the song; I like birds like the Peregrine Falcon or the Shikra for their hunting skills; I like birds like the Himalayan Monal or the Glossy Ibis for the iridescence of their feathers…and so the list goes! Rare or common, big or small, colourful or brown, sweet-voiced or harsh-sounding… I love them all. I am just as happy watching the Red-whiskered Bulbuls building a nest on my balcony, as I am to get a look at a Fire-tailed Myzornis!
Tell us more about your public bird walks – How did they start? How do you make it appealing to people with different levels of birdwatching skills?
Geetanjali Dhar asked Chandu, another friend of ours called Vittal, and myself, to conduct walks for the children of the layout she lived in. We soon realized how much the Bannerghatta biosphere had to offer and decided to make the walks (every third Sunday of the month) open to everyone, and they were hugely popular. Over a period of time, they became part of the walks conducted by the informal, umbrella birding group of Bangalore, called Bngbirds. After the pandemic hit us in March 2020, the walks were stopped. Since Bngbirds did not want the responsibility of the group walks, once the lockdown was lifted and life seemed more normal, I started the walks again, calling them the “Covid-Careful Outings”. Since the second wave hit, the walks have again been suspended.
I think that just sharing what I observe on the walks, and what I know about the birds I see, is a great way to make them interesting to people, whether they are ‘newbies’ or experienced birders. Organizing walks to interesting hotspots, making sure of a punctual start, letting people borrow my binoculars and bird books, organizing (of late) loaner binoculars and birding scopes for everyone….all these help. I must mention that I often learn a lot myself, on the outings! I think the basic requirement is being interested in people, and children….the joy when they see a bird for the first time, brings back that joy in my own birding, manyfold.
Where do you enjoy birding the most?
Another tough question! Well, the Bannerghatta biosphere is the nearest for me; there was a time when I would just take a bus, go to one of the many locations there, and come home. Now I have given up solitary birding because of security reasons, and also because it’s so much more fun when others can see these beautiful birds too. But I will cheerfully set off to any corner of the Earth to see birds; I have been lucky to have birded in five continents!
Anything on the birding bucket list? (Doesn’t have to be a bird, could be a place, witnessing a phenomenon, etc)
The Arctic? Antarctic? Perhaps going to the top of the canopy in Costa Rica, and to watch birds of Paradise? At a time right now, when going to Bannerghatta itself is not feasible, my bucket is overflowing with dreams!
Has eBird changed how you bird? How?
It took me a few years to start maintaining lists of the birds I saw on my outings. I started maintaining Excel spreadsheets (I still have them, but am too lazy to transfer all of them to eBird!) I tried several apps as they were developed to keep lists online, but have found eBird to be the best, by far. I find it easy to share my lists with others across the world and see their lists too. Being a “hobby” (pun intended) birder, I don’t do too much data mining, but I do like knowing that I am, in a small way, contributing to the general database. The eBird lists that I make and share after my public walks also have the effect of getting the participants even more interested….particularly when they realize just how many birds they have seen on the outing. I enjoy the discussions with other eBirders (in fact, I have started a group for all of us!) and know that I can get a lot of data when, and if, I want to get information. I find the eBird team and volunteers a dedicated bunch and I like the fact that eBird is having so many features added to it. I am a staunch eBirder!
Have you set any birding goals for the coming months?
As of now…the goal is to start birding outings and go birding once the virus decides to leave us in peace. Right now…the Oriental White-eyes have come to bathe in the water bowl I have set out…so off I go!
What is your message for fellow birders?
At the risk of sounding pompous…I’d say…go birding as often as you can…don’t go with specific expectations, find joy in whatever you see and experience! Then there is not a single bird outing that can be called a disappointment.
More from Deepa:
I’ve been writing accounts of the bird walks I conduct, not from any erudite or scientific point of view, but as someone who just loves going out to see the birds, with others who have the same interest. I find that these accounts are liked by a lot of people and now they are asking me to write pieces with specific points, which I am glad to do. For example, I just wrote mentioning the birds that I heard on my 2km walk from my daughter’s home to mine; that made someone ask me to write about a few very common urban birds.
The two posts are at: https://deponti.livejournal.com/1275452.html and https://deponti.livejournal.com/1275667.html. In fact, my writing about my outings and sightings can all be seen on this link: https://deponti.livejournal.com/tag/birding
Header Image: Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher Cyornis tickelliae by Mohan Bala/ Macaulay Library