The alarm rings even before the crack of dawn and tendrils of sleep still carry the threat of one dozing back again. While sleeping in after a long, hectic weekend sounds tempting, the lure of seeing little feathered creatures is unbelievably stronger.
The thirteenth Annual Manipal Bird Day saw eager folks from around town gather at 6:30 am in front of the MIT gate. It was an amalgamation of experienced birders and excited first timers, anxiously waiting to catch a glimpse of the colourful yet elusive birds, flitting from tree to tree. Geared with binoculars and cameras, the gathering of close to a 100 people divided themselves along 15 trails, where under the guidance of a seasoned expert, they would walk around and try to identify as many species as possible.
A short car ride to the trail was a welcome opportunity to get to know each other and it was incredible to see how a simple activity like bird watching could bring together individuals from different generations and walks of life.
Imagine this. The soft, golden rays of sunshine slowly slanting its way across the expanse of large fields, where the occasional cow can be seen grazing, the smell of fresh soil and foliage as the leaves crunch underfoot and the morning air, cool and crisp on skin. It was the perfect way to begin nature’s meet and greet.
Trail guides, Dr Freston and Dr Vrinda were quick to recognise some of the birds by just hearing their melodious little chirps. In the midst of a morning symphony of warbles, cheeps and squeaks, avid birders were able to make out a wide variety of birds. They’d forage for their meal or were on the lookout for nesting material. A sudden flash of vibrant colours and the rustling of leaves would leave all birders scrambling to get a glimpse through the binoculars or a picture with their cameras. The guides were kind enough to explain the identifying patterns, migratory habits and quirks of these birds, that made them so endearing to all nature enthusiasts. The Cattle Egret, perched on the back of a cow watching a bunch of excited people point randomly here and there, the flock of Munias who settled on the telephone wires, preening and posing for everyone and the occasional bird, darting in and out of the grass with a piece of straw in its mouth.
The 2 hour trek spent trying to identify birds by their beaks, coloured plumage or flying pattern, felt like an incredibly short time. The sunlight streamed in through a thick mesh work of leaves, dappling the forest floor with honey golden specks of sunlight. Trying to identify the birds by their stark silhouette against natural lighting proved to be a fun exercise.
The journey back to the Interact Lecture Halls could only be described as an excited babble discussing the various birds seen. The mixing up of names by those new to birding was a source of entertainment for all and their newfound enthusiasm was infectious.
Overall, 131 unique species were identified, ranging from the Oriental Darter, the Eurasian Hoopoe, the Orange Breasted Green Pigeon and the Verditer Fly Catcher. It was heart-warming to see that there still exist people who despite having hectic schedules and incredibly busy lives, still manage to take out time to aid conservation practices and spread awareness about it. These people are the ones who partake in painstaking rescue work, often with very poor outcomes due to the difficult circumstances, lack of vets and expertise, yet they continue to work harder towards their goals. This event was also a celebration of the work done by the conservationists and an award ceremony was followed by talks about various conservation strategies that needed to be undertaken.
Stories about various conservation strategies and animal rescues were shared followed by asking the audience some simple strategies they would like to implement to bring about a positive impact. It is the collective effort of PrithWe (KMC Manipal’s Nature Club), MBC- Manipal Birders Club, MBAC- Manipal Birding and Conservation Trust, and other dedicated individuals that has help sustained the wildlife in and around Manipal.
The session ended with people talking about their experiences, catching up with old friends and discussing the changes that they have seen over the years.
While the experienced birders took pride in being able to identify the vast majority of birds, the newcomers were absolutely bowled over by the sheer diversity found in this small belly of the Western Ghats, tucked away, far from modern day civilization and urbanization, in a little place called Manipal.
Written by Shivangi Acharya for MTTN
Edited by Ishita Sharma for MTTN
Featured Images by Shivangi Acharya for MTTN