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Come fly with me

The Statesman, New Delhi, 1st August, 2010
 
Correspondent : Mehran Zaidi
 
Delhi is a haven ~ or should I say heaven ~ for birdwatchers. The “green city” has close to 450 species of birds, making it only second to Nairobi amongst the “bird capitals” of the world. There are many sites where one can watch birds. Probably the best place for birding in Delhi is Yamuna. The stretch from Wazirabad up to Okhla is an ideal birding area. In south Delhi, there is the Okhla Bird Park, where one can watch a lot of birds, especially during the winter season when the migratory “guests” arrive. The Yamuna Bo-diversity Park in Wazirabad is an excellent place for birdwatching. An artificial wetland has been created here which attracts water birds in huge numbers. YBP is a must for bird lovers.
 
The Garden of Five Senses near the Qutub Minar has a butterfly park where one can spot many different species. A “garden” to please one’s ophthalmic sense for sure!
 
The Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, located on the southern ridge in Tughlaqabad, is a very good scrubland forest for watching birds. This sanctuary is also a good place to spot butterflies.
 
The Sultanpur National Park, near Gurgaon, and the Mohammadabad marshes, near Sonipat, are fine birding spots in the NCR. Although Sultanpur has lost much of its charm, it still is a good birdwatching place and is regularly frequented.
 
How it all started
 
The colours mesmerised me and when it suddenly took off, o so gracefully, its flight made me forget my zipping dinky cars. In excitement I clutched at my chacha’s neck and repeated what he had said, “Tree-Pie! Tree Pie!”. The two of us walked into Buddha Jayanti Park in search of another shy bird. I was five.
 
For a little boy an uncle who as a surgeon, Captain in the Army and captain of the Services Ranji cricket team, was the idol. I had to do everything chacha did. That’s how I got hooked on to birds. When other kids my age would rattle off names of GI-Joe characters, I would have a longer list of birds! As I grew, my obsession with birds grew. My parents encouraged me and shared my hobby. By the time I was 12, I was a committed birder. A visit to Bharatpur was our annual pilgrimage. Gradually I became concerned about conservation issues and started writing and involving myself in activities aimed at similar concerns.
 
Birding etiquette
 
Wear dull clothes: Bright and colourful clothes can unsettle or scare away birds.
 
Wear strong and comfortable shoes: For birdwatching you will have to walk around on rough terrain, or on swampy and marshy grounds. Therefore, a good pair of shoes is very important.
 
Carry binoculars: Birds are shy, so the best way to watch these beautiful creatures is from a distance.
 
Maintain a record: A very important aspect of birdwatching is keeping a record of the birds you sight. The name of the bird, the date and the place should be noted. You should also maintain the pictures and videos of the birds in electronic files. This way you can share them with other birdwatchers and friends.
 
Go birding with an experienced birdwatcher: On your first few trips, tag along with an expert. He/she will help to spot rare birds at the best locations.
 
Take a “bird book: This is one of the most important tips for amateurs. The Book Of Indian Birds by Salim Ali is obviously the most preferred. Other useful books are Birds Of India by Martin Woodcock and Common Birds Of India by Dr Asad R Rehmani. For birding in Delhi, Ranjit Lal’s Birds Of Delhi and the Atlas Of The Birds Of Delhi by Nikhil Devesar, Bikram Grewal and Bill Harvey are the best.
 
Be silent and don’t fidget: Noise and quick movements make birds nervous and they fly away. So, being still help you watch and study them in detail.
 
Get a local guide: If you are in a sanctuary or a national park, get a local guide.
 
Join a birdwatching group: The best way to learn birdwatching quickly is doing it in groups. E-groups like Delhibird are very active.
 
(The writer started watching birds when he was just 10 years old and seven years later he started contributing articles to national dailies. The Limca Book Of Records acknowledges him as a contributor to the “nature and transport” section of its yearbook. Birds & Butterflies Of Delhi is available from Tara Press. Price: Rs 350)