Over the past 11 months, I have spotted and photographed 200+ birds in South India. I have also spent the year working on two documentaries. It means that I was not gainfully employed. So, time was on my side. I got to watch birds every single day. I was on the lookout for bird poop that drizzled from above. The thin branches that swayed when all else remained still. Dancing phone lines, scissoring through cities and forests, on which they perched upon. Quick movements in shrubs and bushes.
But, it was mostly several gigantic strokes of luck. I saw them wherever I went. Soon, I started to believe that the birds found me as often as I searched for them.
I hounded the scrub forests, marshlands, and backwaters in and around Chennai. Places like Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, Ponneri, Pulicat Lake, Kelambakkam Backwaters, Pallikaranai Marsh and the paddy fields in Nelapattu. They are home to a remarkable variety of residential and migratory birds. No matter the season, they never disappoint. I also visited the hills in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh, and spent weeks over there in search of birds.
I don’t think much about the number of birds I have seen. I have stopped recording it, as of last month. It isn’t that I am indifferent. It just makes me feel a little less invested in the process.
Maybe birding is a calling but I am not sure. Even now, I try to spend weekend mornings with the birds. I find a lot of love in them. The sort that I don’t want to receive from people. Like Elizabeth Fraser sang, “love is a doing verb”. Expectations. Drama. Lies. Love strained through text messages and linen sheets.
But this was special. Maybe it has something to do with their wings. The sensation of flight. To many, all this may sound like an exaggeration. Some nonsense that may or may not involve egalitarianism and hugging trees.
It is much simpler, though.
Birding reminds me of the Saturday mornings during the Eighties I had as a child. Unless examinations were around the corner or flatulent people were lunch guests, I looked forward to them. I could wake up early, watch cartoons and music videos before going back to sleep again. I could read all day without having to learn anything. I could roller-skate the evening away, and play with my pet dog. And I still had Sunday left. It was perfect. I would have been happy if every day was Saturday. Life would have been wonderful.
Nowadays, I want to wake up every morning, knowing that birds are, in large numbers, next to where I live. I want to applaud the aerial acrobatics of kites. Confuse butterflies with sparrows and falling leaves with orioles. Watch starlings engage in territorial chirping contests with flycatchers. Take a dip in the lake and swim next to the painted storks, although that would be illegal and creepy. And go to sleep, knowing that there are owlets nearby to safeguard my dreams.
I have a pocked-sized Nikon digital camera. Nothing fancy, expensive or worthwhile your time. I have a pair of binoculars that are, like most of my friends, too heavy to accompany me. I really can’t tell you how serious I am about it. But as my first year of birding season comes to an end, it feels as though I had one of my best years yet.
Thank you, my beautiful birdies.
(written in 2014)
(Photographs: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh)