Avid Birding in Covid Times: Experience from Guwahati

Fizala Tayebulla

This post is a personal account of birds that I have curated from my “Corona_Birding_Ghy” photo album. I understand that maybe not everyone is crazed about birding as an activity. It is tedious, often accompanied by neck strain from looking upwards through branches of tall trees for long periods (or until one is able to locate the source of a bird call/detect movement of the bird!). And long hours of nothingness. Birds move swiftly from one spot to another, not always making a sound while doing so. Often, birds are spotted in flight, leaving a birder with the familiar disappointing realisation that a moment ago the bird was perhaps right in front of the bird-watcher before it took flight! Other times, birds are cryptically coloured and challenging to spot without a distinct call or move (how I miss roosting owls that later call at night from the same location).

But it is however, a world in itself and a rewarding one at that. With the privilege of a camera, birding becomes almost palpable. One can record and forever store the gorgeousness that is often overlooked in plain sight. For those who are new to birding or are adults who are interested to help cultivate a sense of curiosity for young children, this time of lockdown is a window not to be missed.

“As for a personal approach to young children, I like to explain to them that: Birding is like finding a Pokemon!”

To anyone to get a sense of what kind or how many birds can be found in your vicinity, the Merlin app is a must-have. This app works like your personal field guide that will not only provide you with a list of all birds in your vicinity/state/country but will also help you identify birds that you have spotted, as you answer some simple questions and provide the app with an image of the bird you want to be identified. Connecting to a much larger platform E-bird at some point is also a valuable venture to start your birding profile with life count lists, to know fellow birders, bird distribution, migration trends, to participate in global birding events and so much more. As for a personal approach to young children, I like to explain to them that birding is like finding a Pokemon! That often gets them intrigued, and then we talk about colours and distinct behaviours of birds; showing them some of the most vividly plumaged birds from my photo album helps too.

To start with birding is fairly simple, you only need a notebook and a pen/pencil to write down details of birds you saw (such as details of colour, shape of the beak, size of the bird, activity/behaviour) and the timing of birding. In addition, one can always pick up a cap and if possible, a pair of binoculars for a clearer and magnified view of a bird. That is really all you need to be a budding birder!

Once you find your rhythm, length of time/patience at one-go to bird, you will start to see many more birds than you initially thought you would. And you’d be surprised by the variation found within bird families and species right in your surrounding. For instance, I found that the mynas in the trees next to my house are not all common and pied mynas. Only recently did I figure that there are at least FOUR species of mynas that reside here (photos included below)!

Communication, articles, blog posts and images circulated during the lockdown, has revealed – like me, a lot of the fellow birders reckon that it is also their first time of ritualistic birding from home. As opposed to the pre-lockdown setting, when our homes were a place to come back from work, a place to be stationed usually longer in the weekend, and a default place of rest. I have felt that the lockdown has given birders a robust window to thoroughly sight birds in their vicinity. There are two primary birding points from my house. (A) My work station at home, which is next to a window overlooking the trees and the lake. Which I must confess, is sometimes distracting because a birdcall or a peripheral fly-by is ubiquitous. (B) The terrace of the building I live in has an overlooking view of treetops and the entirety of the lake. Although I must admit, birding from the terrace has been an early morning/evening activity only and honestly, I have not been as regular. At the initial stage of the lockdown, my home-town district was categorised as a ‘green zone’ (a district with no reported cases of positive corona tests in the last 28 days), the movement was fairly less restrained (although most residents preferred to stay indoors). I was able to occasionally take a walk and sometimes ride (wearing a mask is compulsory in public) with a bottle of hand-sanitiser, handy note-book with a pen, bird book, drinking water, and most importantly a camera (C) towards the river Brahmaputra (which is less than a kilometre from where I live). Naturally, the birds I saw there was a larger set than I saw from my house.

(A) Birding vantage point: Work station window
(B) Birding vantage point: Terrace
(C) Birding vantage point: Brahmaputra River

Unfortunately, I have not been able to travel to the riverside of-late as corona positive cases have increased in the district, although movement is allowed from 7 am-7 pm. These days we all do have to take it upon ourselves to try to limit/be cautious about heading outside unless absolutely essential. However, I would like to share some of the highlights and take-aways from my lockdown birding experience:

  • Birding around local water bodies has rendered a list of 38 species in total, out of which five species are my first-time sightings!
  • The first-time sighting (in decades) and photographing of Lesser-Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna javanica) in the lake in front of my house made it to the local news! Click here for the full coverage.
  • Having time to listen to the same set of bird calls have helped me build on my knowledge set and memorise bird vocalisation.
  • I was fortunate to witness an atypical, annual event of over 150-200 Greater Adjutants (Leptoptilos dubius) – members of the stork family – congregate at the shallow regions of the Brahmaputra river.
  • I take it as a personal achievement that I have managed to help cultivate some curiosity and interest in my parents about birding, and try to repeatedly discuss a short list of commonly seen birds (for hopeful recall value).

The following is a list of bird species that I have recorded in Guwahati, Assam during the Lockdown (March-May, 2020), which is compiled according to the ‘family‘ scientific categorization.

Megalaimidae

Small, stocky-bodied, vibrant and multicoloured, large head

Coppersmith Barbet
Psilopogon haemacephalus
Blue-throated Barbet
Psilopogon asiaticus

Passeridae

Small-medium sized, stocky-bodied, dull coloration, may have black and white markings, short beaked

Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Passer montanus
House Sparrow
Passer domesticus

Sturnidae

Medium-sized, some may have iridescent plumage

Jungle Myna
Acridotheres fuscus
Great Myna
Acridotheres grandis
Common Myna
Acridotheres tristis
Chestnut-tailed Starling
Sturnia malabarica

Dicruridae

Medium-large sized, usually black with large hooked beaks, long wings usually with a deep fork

Hair-crested Drongo
Dicrurus hottentottus
Black Drongo
Dicrurus macrocercus

Oriolidae

Medium sized, inhabitants of tropical and sub-tropical regions, brightly coloured, predominantly in yellow, green and black

Eastern Black-headed Oriole
Oriolus larvatus
Author has illustrated the bird species Eastern Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus) for clearer view

Muscicapidae

Small-sized, short beak with a wide base and a hook at the tip, wings are more of less pointed, usually seen on exposed perch for long duration

Oriental Magpie-robin
Copsychus saularis

Psittacidae

Small-large sized, bright and colourful plumage, thick-hooked beaks, zygodactyl feet, muscular tongues

Rose-ringed Parakeet
Psittacula krameri

Cisticolidae

Very small-sized, rounded wings; rather long, weak feet, subdued coloration

Common Tailorbird
Orthotomus sutorius

Ardeidae

Medium-large sized wading birds, slim bodied, long necked, bills are usually long, straight and sharp

Little Egret
Egretta garzetta

Paridae

Very small-sized, stocky bodied, short and pointed beak, strong feet and rounded wings

Cinereous Tit
Parus cinereus

Pycnonotidae

Medium-sized, plain-coloured, short-necked, slender bodied, rounded wings, beaks are slightly elongated and hooked at the tip

Red-vented Bulbul
Pycnonotus cafer

Alcedinidae

Small-medium sized, long and thick beaks, typically rounded wings with short tail

White-throated Kingfisher
Halcyon smyrnensis

Picidae

Small-medium sized, wide range of colours, zygodactyl feet, defining characteristic feature is in the way they hunt their prey by hammering their beaks into wood

Black-rumped Flameback
Dinopium benghalense

Anatidae

Medium-extra large sized, stocky bodied, webbed-feet and flat-billed

Lesser Whistling-Duck
Dendrocygna javanica

Nectariniidae

Very small-sized, slender bodied, usually have downward-curved long bills, brightly coloured typically with iridescent feathers, short wings characterised by fast flights

Purple Sunbird
Cinnyris asiaticus

Ciconiidae

Very-large sized, long legged, long and stout bills, significant wingspan, no vocalisation

Lesser Adjutant
Leptoptilos javanicus
Greater Adjutant
Leptoptilos dubius

Cuculidae

Small-medium sized, long-tailed, stout and slightly decurved beak, short-legged

Green-billed Malkoha
Phaenicophaeus tristis

Strigidae

Large-sized, circular facial disk, relatively large eyes

Brown Boobook
Ninox scutulata
(Author has illustrated the species in the absence of a photograph)

*All image and illustration rights of this post are attributed to the Author

8 thoughts on “Avid Birding in Covid Times: Experience from Guwahati

  1. Jahnavee Barkakati says:

    Loved going through this bird wonderland of my native town, some familiar, some not! Lovely photographs! Keep it up! Looking to purchase your first coffee table book on birds 🙂

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