Joy of Birding

Lalit Shastri

Grey-headed flycatcherIt was a bright sunny afternoon; the year was 1998; some time in April, when I heard a pleasant trilling sound of a bird just outside my window as I worked on my news story of the day. At that time I was working for The Hindu as Principal Correspondent for Madhya Pradesh in central India.

The continuous proclamation of the bird’s presence touched the chord of anxiety and without losing any time, I was out gazing through the thicket and the entangled shoots and branches of my Bougainvillea tree to spot the bird singing those beautiful notes. Oh what a delight it was to witness for the first time the grandeur of a grey-headed mango-yellow bird, the size of a sparrow. I kept gazing at the bird but remained unsatatiated though the avian delight stayed hooked to the same branch for a long time oblivious of my presence.

This one episode came as a turning point in my life. It kindled in me the desire to explore, to learn, and to know as much as I could about the wonderful world of birds. That evening, after I had completed my day’s work, I was at a book shop looking for an illustrated book on birds. My friend Ajit Sonakia, a fantastically committed and learned forester, with whom I had discussed my experience earlier that day, told me to go for “The Book of Indian Birds” by the immortal ornithologist Salim Ali.

I bought the book and before returning home went to another shop and purchased a Panasonic VHS handycam (in those days, DV cams had not hit the market), an equipment I could barely afford. Armed with The Book of Indian Birds and the handycam, I started my journey as an upcoming birder. It was a learning experience when I could, for the first time, relate the image in my mind with the most congruent picture—that of a Grey-headed Flycatcher in Salim Ali’s book , which has become a constant companion and is a bible for birding.

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