Calcutta may have fallen off the map for many people but nature lovers are happy to note that birds still call this polluted city with shrinking greenery their home and some even find it attractive enough to fly thousands of miles for a visit every year.
Big Bird Day, an annual one-day census of avian life in a particular area, saw 20-odd teams of birders fan out across the city and its fringes early on Sunday to come up with a list of bird species that is as intriguing as it is alarming.
“On the one hand, there is the joy of spotting a lineated barbet and on the other there is the disappointment of discovering that common mynahs are no longer so common, after all,” conservationist and birder Sumit K. Sen, who led one of the teams, told Metro on the move.
This year’s event saw Bengal’s participation being the highest among all 28 states and three Union Territories where Big Bird Day has been an annual affair since a forum of Delhi birders started it in 2004.
“The idea is to create a database of different species of birds,” said Sen, whose team started from Jodhpur Park at 5am and covered popular birding sites such as Shyamkhola and Chintamoni Kar Bird Sanctuary before heading out to Rajarhat and then to Santragachhi Jheel, off the Kona Expressway.
At the Chintamoni Kar Bird Sanctuary, tailorbirds, woodpeckers, a blue-throated barbet, a black-hooded oriole and sun birds flitting about kept the six pairs of eager eyes busy until the appearance of a visitor few had expected. “That was a slaty-legged crake. It’s a migratory bird that comes here for around three months but its whereabouts during the other months of the year are not easy to confirm,” Sen said.
If the slaty-legged crake and, later, a black redstart in Salt Lake had everyone excited, the absence of significant bird life in Rajarhat was a disappointment. The row of cars parked outside the newly opened Eco Park may be getting longer by the day but the construction boom in Rajarhat has apparently spelt doom for avian existence.
According to birder Arka Sarkar, events like Big Bird Day are not only about sharing the joy of observing bird life but also increasing awareness about the challenges of conservation. “The response this time was overwhelming. We had requests for participation even on Sunday morning despite registration closing at 3pm on Saturday,” Sarkar said.
Subhankar Patra, who led a team through Boshipota in Hooghly, cycled for over an hour from his Dankuni home to reach the starting point. “This census gives us a sense of the diversity of species and what needs to be done to save bird habitats,” Patra said.
Although it will take three to four days to draw up an exhaustive list, the general feeling at the end of Big Bird Day was that avian species have found ways to adapt to the environment. Take Baisnabghata Patuli on the southern fringes. “Last time, we observed 31 species there. The number has gone up to 49 this year. Birds seem to be making do with the few green patches left,” said Arijit Banerjee, a member of the bird gang.
Rabindra Sarobar yielded 43 species, Salt Lake Central Park 51 and the Howrah- Hooghly belt around 140, said Kshounish S. Ray, who co-ordinated the Bengal leg.
Kushal Mookherjee of Prakriti Sansad warned that there was “a limit to birds adapting to changes” in environment. “If birds do not find food sources and safe resting places, how can they survive?”
That’s the big question thrown up by Big Bird Day.