Malyasri is an ardent birdwatcher and her passion for birds can be seen in her paintings using various substrates (See below). Here is more about Malyasri and how she started her journey in birding.
1. Please, tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do and where do you live?
I am currently working as a research fellow with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The project that I am involved in is about the ecology and recovery of the critically endangered vultures found in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. My hometown is Kolkata; however, due to work, I stay alternatively in Dehradun and Himachal. I love to draw birds on different media from paper to fabrics. My interest lies in developing approaches to involve tribal communities with bird conservation in northeast India.
2. When and how did you get interested in birding?
I’ve been watching birds since my school days. I used to watch birds from my terrace in Kolkata through my grandfather’s binoculars which he used for hunting in his earlier days. I used to watch the Purple Sunbirds sipping nectar from the Drumstick flowers (Moringa oleifera), the male Asian Koels constantly battling sitting on a false Ashoka tree (Monoon longifolium), and the continuous calls of Coppersmith Barbets on in the afternoons of long summer holidays. However, my first exposure to watching birds in the field was during my college days when I visited the Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve. This trip gave me an excellent opportunity to draw birds and their characteristics that helped in identifying them.
3. Do you have a favourite bird or birds? Why is it/are they your favourite?
My favourite group will always be the hornbills (Family: Bucerotidae). I can spend days watching the fig (Ficus) trees attracting a variety of birds including hornbills. My favourite is the Narcondam Hornbill which I am yet to see. Other than that my favourite species are owls. I’d watched a Jungle Owlet regularly feasting on Bandicoots in our campus. I am mesmerized by how the owl sees and hunt its prey. It will perch still on a branch waiting patiently and the moment the prey is spotted, it will swoop down to catch it. I remember in Dehradun, I used to hear the calls of Brown Hawk-Owl almost every night.
4.Where do you enjoy birding the most?
I enjoy birding in various landscapes and habitats- starting from the Eastern Himalayas to the Western Ghats, but I am in awe of the temperate broadleaf forests and high altitude areas of Eastern Himalayas. My favourite birding spot will always be Zemithang, Arunachal Pradesh, where I’ve lived for more than a year and still want to visit again to watch the Black-necked Crane and Ibisbill wintering in the banks of Nyamjang chu.
5. Do you have a birding partner or a group you enjoy birding with? How is birding alone different from birding with others?
I do enjoy birding in a group. I meet many birders while traveling, but I generally bird with those who follow ethics, for example- not disturbing the habitats or not using playbacks. On the contrary, I enjoy the company of crazy birders who record bird calls, count birds all the time. I find birding alone works best for me where I can give my time to individual birds in my own way. I remember spending a considerable amount of time watching the courtship display of Lesser Florican in the grasslands of Gujarat. Birdwatching can provide plenty of opportunities to record bird sounds. I recollect recording Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler from Great Himalayan National Park. However, group birding can be useful while birding in densely vegetated habitats, where multiple birders help in identifying species.
6. Anything on the birding bucket list? (Doesn’t have to be a bird, could be a place, witnessing a phenomenon, etc)
There is still a lot to add to my bucket list. The topmost priority is to visit Narcondam and Nicobar Islands to watch the endemics. Also, I wish to record the Rusty-throated Wren-Babbler (Mishmi Wren-Babbler) and Purple Cochoa on my next trip to Arunachal. The congregation of Amur Falcons and watching a Spoon-billed Sandpiper is another objective to achieve.
7. Has eBird changed how you bird? How?
I started using eBird when I was volunteering in Pakke with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) in their Hornbill Telemetry Project. eBird has changed the way I used to look at birds. The launch of the Mobile App is one of the best things to happen. I can easily see how many species I have seen in a month or a year, uncommon and rare species recorded in an area where I wish to go birding, and so on. Apart from these, the app can even record the track I walked during birding. This ‘Record Track’ feature is an interesting feature! Simultaneously, the media uploaded in eBird has helped me to keep a track of all my call recordings. These and many more features have made my birding exceptional and memorable!
8. Have you set any birding goals for the coming months?
I will be mostly based in Himachal Pradesh. My goals are to record as many birds as possible and also to better understand how bird calls vary with habitat and season.
9. What is your message for fellow birders?
My message for fellow birders is that they don’t just watch birds but also pay attention to their behaviour patterns, or habitat features which can best be remembered. We do it all the time by remembering people by how they speak and behave.
Many places with tremendous diversity can be best explored by people who live locally hence encourage local birders to use eBird who can then help in gathering data with their regular birding efforts.
Art by Malaysri
Cover Image: Himalayan Owl Strix nivicolum © Sumanta Pramanick/ Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab from this checklist