The eBird experience shows that you can do patch birding near your home and serve the cause of conservation

“What are you going birdwatching for?”

“That’s a preposterous question. Anyway, the answer is in your question — to watch birds.”

“But at this time of the year? Isn’t the Perumbakkam wetland ninety-nine percent dry. Dude, winter is long past, in case you haven’t noticed.”

The above exchange is imaginary alright, but not improbable.

Surely, during this so-called “non-birding” season, birders are going through such squawks of protest, from family and friends.

They understood your long absence in the morning hours during winter when migratory birds found themselves local addresses. But not now, when the chirrups have died down at the wetlands.

The non-birding world can’t be blamed for holding on to certain assumptions about birding. They are not aware that: One, birding can be engaging through the year, and not just during the migratory birds season. Two, there are many more birds living with us than those visiting us. In Chennai, for every winter visitor, there are five resident birds. May be, even six. That’s just a roughly-drawn statistic, but you get the idea, don’t you?

Three, though residents, some of the birds will “remain unseen” unless we take the effort to look for them. Four, some resident feathers we think we know well, we actually don’t know that well enough. And five, birding can be done almost everywhere, even right where you are living, every day.

Everywhere, some birds will show up and if you record the “findings”, you may be serving the cause of bio-diversity and conservation.

That’s essentially the spirit with which eBird functions. An online space, it allows birders to record their regular sightings, with or without photos. This data has great implications for conservation, as it helps draws a picture of bird species’ population and distribution. This data can be useful in chalking out intervention programmes when a bird species is found to be dwindling in an area.

In Chennai, there are many patch birders. They have a regular 9 to 5 job, but find time to visit their birding patch that may be just a chirrup away, as often as possible or even every day.

Sundaravel Palanivelu lives in Kamakotti Nagar in Pallikaranai, and a narrow part of the Pallikaranai marsh is cheek by jowl with this locality. He visits this patch, regularly.

He has entered his findings from Kamakkotti Nagar, among other places, in eBird. For the past two years, he has been studying this section for how fledgling pelicans are found in large numbers.

Conservation puzzle

Sometimes, observations based on patch birding can offer a piece in the solving of a conservation puzzle. Aravind A.M. goes patch-birding very regularly, on an almost daily basis, at Ram Nagar in Madipakkam, which is part of his daily walking route.

From April 2018, he has been observing the presence of house sparrows in this locality, especially on two streets, and documenting their numbers on eBird.

“The number of house sparrows has consistently been in the 20 to 25 range. Now, for the last one and half months, I have seen a drop to 10 to 15 individuals,” says Aravind.

The fact that house sparrows are found in this locality is a reason to cheer; and there is case for a detailed study of the factors here that seem to be helping these birds. The drop in recent weeks should also be factored into the study.

"Bird Count India, which works on behalf of eBird India, asks birders to be consistent in their visits to their patch. They have certain programmes such as ‘100 days of birding’ to encourage birders to watch their patch regularly," says Aravind.

Rama Neelamegam is part of patch-briding group at IIT-M. Here’s what Rama has to say about her birdwatching patch and the larger benefits of patch-birding: “My birdwatching patch is IIT-M, shared along with Mahathi, Tanmay, Vivek and Prof. Susy, who are all campusites. I go there at least once a week and bird-watch irrespective of the time of the year. All five of us are regular eBirders which means that we record all our sightings in eBird India. Patch birding gives an insight into the arrival patterns of migrant birds, and the breeding habits/ patterns of resident birds. For instance, late March is when residents like common tailor birds and yellow-billed babblers begin to breed. That is the time we see a high count of grey-bellied cuckoos on the campus; these birds which are brood parasites, lay their eggs in the tailor-bird nests.”

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