Birder Profile – Garima Bhatia


Garima Bhatia is an ardent birder who loves travelling, spreading the birding bug, and vegan food. Read on to find out more about her!

1. Please tell us bit about yourself. What do you do and where do you live?

I live in Bangalore and work for an NGO called Nature Conservation Foundation, where I develop materials to introduce children to birds, as part of a project called Early Bird.

By training though I am a chemical engineer, and for 10 years I used to work in corporate R&D, doing research on automotive exhaust emission control. I am thankful that now I don’t have to commute in Bangalore’s crazy traffic (I work from home) and I have the freedom to spend time doing other things I care about – experimenting with vegan recipes and volunteering with the eco group in the community where I live, to name a few.

2. When and how did you get interested in Birding?

I’ve been birding seriously since I moved to Bangalore from the US 15 years ago, to a 7th floor apartment with a fantastic view of a large abandoned factory overgrown with a variety of wonderful trees and shrubs. Sipping my cup of tea in the balcony, I started noticing the birds around and slowly caught the birding bug again! I say “again” because I have vivid memories of being shown Orioles and Kingfishers by my father as a child growing up in Kolkata, and used to do some casual birding in college as well, but had lost touch with it in the intervening years.

3. Do you have a favourite bird or birds? Why is it/are they your favourite?

My favourite group of birds are the woodpeckers. I love watching them drum on tree trunks, skilfully pulling out insects. I think the reason I like woodpeckers is because they depend on large trees for their survival, and seeing a variety of woodpeckers gives me a comforting feeling that the habitat is a good one to be able to support them.

I recently had the opportunity to see several species of birds-of-paradise on a trip to West Papua, and watching the courtship dance of the Western Parotia instantly elevated it to the top of my all-time favourite birds list! An otherwise drab looking bird, the male miraculously transforms itself into what looks like a ballerina in a tutu, delicately hopping across the forest floor while shaking its head and quills in multiple directions. It is a most adorable dance! Do check out Cornell Lab’s excellent video of it here:

4. Where do you enjoy birding the most?

Of all the birding locations I have been to in India, I enjoy birding in the Eastern Himalayas the most as I find myself challenged as a birder – trying to identify birds in poor light, from the briefest of glimpses and sometimes with only the calls to go by!

However, my favourite birding spot is still my own balcony in Bangalore (in Koramangala) as it does sometimes turn up the most wonderful surprises. The birding patch across from it where I used to routinely spot Verditer and Paradise Flycatchers in the winter is now, sadly, gone (converted into apartments). But last winter I had a Blue Rock Thrush which used to show up on my balcony railing at 11AM sharp every morning and sing! (You can listen to its song here)

The Blue Rock Thrush perched on the balcony railing. Photo: Garima Bhatia/ML Library

There is also a large eucalyptus tree outside my window which sometimes gives me a chance to watch common birds up close and make up stories like this one:

5. Do you have a birding partner or a group you enjoy birding with? How is birding alone different from birding with others?

I have a group of friends in Bangalore who started birding together around 10 years ago, we called ourselves the BULBs – Bangalore Urban Lady Birders – as it started out originally as an all-women’s group! I do travel now with various birders and groups to different places, and enjoy birding with anyone who shares the principles I abide by – taking care not to be too intrusive, and keeping the birds’ welfare above all else.

There are some familiar places where I truly enjoy the solitude of birding alone but birding in a group can be very rewarding, especially in a new place where the extra eyes and ears can prove useful.

6. Anything on the birding bucket List? (Doesn’t have to be a bird, could be a place, witnessing a phenomena, etc)

There are lots of birds I am yet to see in India, but the phenomenon near the top of my bucket list is the annual congregation of Amur Falcons in Nagaland.

7. Do you use eBird? Has eBird changed how you bird? How?

eBird has been a boon for the compulsive birder, me included! It’s unthinkable now for me to go birding and not put up a list on eBird. Before going to a new location I usually check the eBird sightings from there and start a checklist from the relevant hotspot in case the location has poor network connectivity, so that I can use the app offline.

8. Have you set any birding goals for the coming months?

Nowadays I don’t set birding or twitching goals but prefer to enjoy the birding regardless of whether I have seen the bird before or not. I do naturally get excited at getting a ‘lifer’ but I don’t want to get too many lifers too quickly so that there will always be something to look forward to for many more years!

9. What is your message for fellow birders?

My message to fellow birders is to introduce at least 1 new person to birding, and to convert at least 1 birder/photographer into an eBirder! We need more and more people to adopt eBird in India so that we can take the first steps towards documenting and protecting the rich birdlife we have around us.

Cover image: Heart-spotted Woodpecker by Martjan Lammertink/ML Library at the Cornell Lab

For previous profiles in this section, click here.

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