Every February, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology organises ‘The Great Backyard Bird Count’ (GBBC), a worldwide citizen science event encouraging birders, students, and the general public to count and identify birds found in their surrounding areas. The event is a fun, and easy way of engaging bird watchers from all age groups in counting birds to create a real-time database of bird populations. GBBC also has a sub-event called the ‘Campus Bird Count’ (CBC), which encourages different institutions and organisations such as educational and training institutions, government institutions, research stations, and corporate campuses to participate in the event and know more about the birds present in their institutional campuses.
As part of the event, the Centre of Urban Ecology and Sustainability also organised birding at different campuses of Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) on 14, 15, and 17 February 2020. The University has five campuses in total, of which three are operational, while the other two are upcoming. On the second day of the event, birding was organised in the University’s upcoming campus at Dheerpur, which is located in north Delhi. As of now, the construction of the University campus has not yet started, because of which, the area is still covered with natural vegetation. The Dheerpur region is a low lying area which was once a part of the widespread historical marshlands of Delhi. The soil of the region, although saline in certain places, is largely conducive to the growth of vegetation. While trees are sporadic, vegetation in the form of shrubs, tall and short grasses, as well as halophytes are widespread. Using this blog as a platform, I would like to share some of my experiences from CBC 2020, and how this experience has given me a glimpse of urban nature.
On the day of the event, I reached the Dheerpur campus site at 7 a.m. and carried out a quick scan of the area visually. Covered with bushes, different grass species and a few trees, the area looked beautiful, quiet and calm. We could hear the distant noises of blaring horns from the interstate highway but nothing remotely close to the sound of a bird call. Since it was a chilly winter morning, I was quick to assume that the birds were inactive and that the landscape has very little to offer for birders. However, within moments, I was proven wrong.
As the birding group gradually began searching the area, probing bushes and scanning trees, the real character of the landscape began to unfold. After I
heard a few bird calls, I spotted my first bird that was perching on a small iron pole not too far away. It was a White-throated Kingfisher – a brown bird with electric-blue and black wings, thick orange bill, and a white patch on the throat. When it flew, the electric-blue wings of the bird looked remarkable. As we moved forward, the group was able to spot all kinds of birds, and with the help of bird experts, we were able to identify the species. We managed to see different species of wagtails, such as Citrine Wagtail, White Wagtail and Western Yellow Wagtail. Other birds that we spotted were Ashy Prinia, Plain Prinia, Red Avadavat, Eurasian Hoopoe, Plum-headed Parakeet, Hume’s Warbler and many more. Some of the species that we spotted were lifers for me. ‘Lifer’ is a term that is commonly used by bird enthusiasts, and refers to a bird species seen and positively identified by an individual birder for the first time in his/her life.
A White-throated Kingfisher spotted in Dheerpur Campus of AUD during CBC 2020. Photo: Fizala Tayebulla
The event went on for about two hours, covering approximately 4.24 Kms, and we managed to see around 37 to 40 bird species. The highlight of my entire birding experience that day was spotting a Bluethroat – a small bird that tends to stay hidden in vegetation. Hopping around in a dense bush, it was initially difficult to spot it. But with some patience and persistence, I managed to have a good look at the bird. It was a predominantly grey bird with beautiful electric blue and orange pattern on the throat; it looked as if the bird was wearing a technicolour bib.
A Bluethroat spotted in the halophytic vegetation of the Dheerpur region. Photo: Fizala Tayebulla
As an amateur bird enthusiast who has limited experience in birdwatching, on the day of the event I made an assumption that was proven wrong. ‘Nature’ and ‘urban’ are generally seen as two separate entities, and it is often considered difficult to find nature in urban settings. However, if we look carefully, and allow our surroundings to sink in, we start to realise that nature is everywhere. Although there is no comparison between a world-famous, biodiversity-rich ecological hotspot and the nature that exists in an urban centre, we certainly cannot say that there is no nature in urban areas. It was a surreal experience for me to see so many different kinds of birds in such a small patch of land, flourishing in the midst of the city chaos. This has also strengthened my interest and intent to deep dive into the discipline of urban ecology and understand the functioning of nature in an ecosystem that is highly influenced by anthropogenic factors.
About great backyard bird count. (n.d) Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/conservation/about-great-backyard-bird-count