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Birder flock shoots rare birdies Armed with camera, cause

Several species of birds previously unrecorded or rare in south Bengal have been sighted and photographed this season by a crop of young Calcutta birders armed with zooms and the zeal to walk the extra mile.

The list of rarities recorded in or around the city over the past month includes the Great White Pelican, White-tailed Blue Robin, Ashy-headed Green Pigeon and the Black Baza.

All four sightings have been hailed by the birding community as “great records” that would help scientists studying climate, environment and migration patterns.

Bindia Gupta, a 29-year-old guest lecturer and PhD student, photographed a pair of Great White Pelicans from a window of her Batanagar home last Friday.

“I spotted them at a distance and couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew this would be a significant find even as I got my camera ready,” she recalled.

Bindia goes on field trips and has long chats with veteran birder Shubhankar Patra as part of her “training”.

Adding to the season’s spectacle is the Ashy-headed Green Pigeon, clicked by mother-of-two Amita Sengupta at Tribeni, about 20km from Bandel in Hooghly district. “This bird has not been seen anywhere in south Bengal for at least 50 years. We have not yet been able to find any record of it in south Bengal,” Patra said.

This bird from the pigeon family is a strict vegetarian, eats small fruits and berries and rarely travels out of its home territory — Ghoom in Darjeeling, Gorumara, Jaldapara and some other north Bengal jungles.

“These birds might have come here earlier too, but there wasn’t enough awareness to record their presence. The photographic evidence — given the craze of the click — lends credibility to the findings,” a birder said.

Chirping on the showlist was a White-tailed Blue Robin. A native to the Himalayan foothills, the adult male was spotted in the Sunderbans in November.

The Black Baza, a small raptor, has made a comeback of sorts. Found in Salt Lake till the 1960s when it was a marshy land, the bird had almost disappeared along with many other feathered species as the concrete jungle overran the green space.

A group of four, in their early 20s, photographed a Black Baza in a reserve forest in Ranaghat, about 80km from Calcutta, on November 30. “We try and go out every week,” said Kanad Baidya, a 24-year-old member of the quartet and a doctor at RG Kar hospital.

“The bird generally migrates from north Bengal to the Andamans,” said Sumit Sen, veteran birdwatcher and founder of the popular kolkatabirds.com website. According to him, the Black Baza spotted in Ranaghat was probably taking a pit stop in its long-distance flight.

The bird selfies are celebrated among a wide network of birdie buddies on Facebook and other social sites, sometimes garnering 100-plus “Like” and comments. The “friend list” grows and so does interest.

Facebook has many flocks of the same feather — birder groups, some strictly restricted to neighbourhoods such as Narendrapur or Baidyabati. These intrepid birders go out together, inform each other about interesting sightings and enlarge the scope of recording species.

“Fifteen years ago, hardly four-five people would go out and keep a record of the species found in and around the city. So many young people are now taking interest in birding. It’s a positive sign. The more the merrier,” said Sen, who is often contacted by novice birdwatchers to identify the species of birds they have clicked.

A fresh pair of keen young eyes helps. “Over the past four-five years, the volume of birders has grown manifold. This helps in recording more species. They would visit any place tracking birds and spend hours at one place,” Sen said.

The records, besides being a delight for ornithologists and naturalists, would help scientists studying climate and environment changes in the city. Conservation efforts could also be based on these data.

Sometimes sheer luck lands the birder at the right place at the right time. Mostly, it is about getting your shoes dirty, arms weary and yet returning without that “Wow, kothay peli! (where did you get that)” shot.

GO BIRDING

Buy a copy of Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett and Inskipp
(about Rs 700). It is a ready-reckoner

Join the Google group Bengal Birds. It regularly updates recent sightings. Visit www.kolkatabirds.com

Get a camera and tele-lens, binoculars, a spotting scope with tripod and a dictaphone to record chirps and caws

Beginners can start with a binocular (8x40 or 10x50) costing about Rs 2,200 and point-shoot digital camera (about Rs 3,500)

You can go to Chintamani Kar Bird Sanctuary, Joka wetlands, Rabindra Sarobar, Rajarhat, Central Park (Salt Lake), Santragachhi Jheel, Narendrapur, Botanical garden in Howrah

Wear neutral-coloured clothes, sturdy shoes. Garish colours are a no-no

Don’t go bang-bang with your camera. Approach a bird slowly, like a soldier tackling an obstacle course flat on his stomach

Keep your mouth and cell phone shut

Why is there a spurt in the number of birders around town? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com