Saee Gundawar is a naturalist at Forsyth Lodge. She has been interested in nature since her childhood and worked on environmental issues as a researcher across India as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand. After discovering birding as a hobby, she has made it a point to travel to various locations in pursuit of different birds!
Please tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do and where do you live?
I am someone who until a couple of years ago had no idea that there were different drongos or that Naturalists existed! Since then I have been on a learning journey that has brought me great joy as well as amazing insights. So much drama happens in the birding world and is just waiting to be observed, if only we can get away from our digital devices! Trees and herbs, mammals and birds all fascinate me and I especially like seeing how the environment and seasons as well as the other species in the region influence the behaviour of animals and birds.
I live in Forsyth Lodge at Satpura Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. As a naturalist here, I have the immense pleasure and privilege to explore this diverse landscape that has rivers, grasslands, dense forests, and many many species of birds, and to help guests experience all that this landscape has to offer.
When and how did you get interested in birding?
When I was younger it was fascinating to see my friends get caught up with photographing and documenting the various birds they saw but it always seemed such a tedious task to keep all the complex names in my brain! Although when I started training to be a naturalist, suddenly I was observing these small creatures that had flown from over the Himalayas or a 7-gram bird that came from Europe and it was absolutely fascinating to see how they behaved. These creatures, each and every one of them, had distinguishable habits, not unlike the big mammals; but unlike the big mammals, there are so many birds to observe! It’s the most exciting and rewarding hobby that can be as active or lazy as your mood is on any day, it can be enjoyed irrespective of your location, and needs just a pair of binoculars!
Do you have a favourite bird or birds? Why is it/are they your favourite?
I do not really have a favourite bird that comes to mind straight away, probably because of the fact that there is so much that I haven’t seen! Since becoming a birdwatcher I have travelled to Ladakh and to parts of western ghats in short trips, on these trips it was great to see some species like the Black Redstart and the Bar-headed Geese in Ladakh after they had left Satpura and migrated, to get a chance to observe them in a very different habitat and behaviour; the western ghats were awesome simply for the sheer diversity of wonderful species there are! The frogmouth, the Sri Lanka Bay-Owl, the Black-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher (Oriental Dwarf-Kingfisher) nesting; but then covid 19 happened and backyard birding has been my birding jam currently for the last 2 years!
Where do you enjoy birding the most?
This is a very hard question to answer because honestly every single habitat I have visited is so beautiful and unique and rich, and birds themselves behave absolutely differently in different places and in different seasons. If I had to choose though, I would say that my favourite place to be birding is in central India, in March, close to a tall old flowering Semal (Bombax ceiba) tree or maybe a few semal trees together. The Semal is like a fragrant and colourful treat that attracts absolutely all manner of birds together and over a cup of tea in the morning, you can see an amazing array of birds while sitting in one place!
Do you have a birding partner or a group you enjoy birding with? How is birding alone different from birding with others?
Usually, birding is something that I enjoy doing with other people. Many a time my regular partner in early morning or evening birding jaunts is my husband Vineith, who is also a naturalist and an avid birder. When we travel, we are oftentimes joined by friends who are also avid birders and it is always great to have others around. I notice that each of us has a different perspective when watching birds. As many eyes on the bird as possible is usually the best way to maximise chances of observing better.
Having said that, sometimes it is also just as enjoyable to sit out on the verandah with our cat and watch the fantails, bulbuls, robins, babblers, thrushes and the sunbirds come to the birdbath and preen, it is meditative almost to just sit and observe in silence, without the need to do anything else at all.
Anything on the birding bucket list? (Doesn’t have to be a bird, could be a place, witnessing a phenomenon, etc)
So many birds and places! To be honest I could not possibly narrow it down further than the following places:
Himalayas – from Tirthan to Sattal to the northeast what a dizzying array of birds, endemics and migratory species alike.
Kutch and Rajasthan – to see the Greater Hoopoe-Larks and the Demoiselle Cranes!
Andaman and Nicobar- so many endemics!
And if we ever are able to travel around the world again then, I would absolutely love to go to Borneo and Costa Rica and exclaim in delight at the weird and crazy evolution of the birds there.
Something that has always fascinated me since becoming a birder is the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, to be able to see the migration happening on this flyway would be a dream.
Has eBird changed how you bird? How?
eBird has definitely changed how I bird by making it easier for me to record my observations on the go. It is always great to have a place where I can record my birding irrespective of where I am in the world, I also got to record my bird observations when I was travelling to Spain! the location, trail and bird species in the area are automatically loaded so it is sort of like having a listing assistant that saves time for you so that you can spend more time and energy observing.
Have you set any birding goals for the coming months?
My birding goals for the coming months are simply to take pleasure in the birds that I can see on the lodge grounds. To stay home, stay safe, healthy, and get vaccinated so that when it is possible to travel out of the house again, I can hopefully add more species to my bird list!
What is your message for fellow birders?
It is never too early or too late to start birding, don’t let the names and number of species daunt you. Just keep watching the birds, they do some amazing things! Did you know that crows sing? That coucals build the most interesting nests that look like they will fall apart in a breeze? That sparrows take dust baths? Even the most common birds can do really interesting things, and if you are watching regularly you may even see something extraordinary.