A forest officer speaks of his love story with the birds.
Raptors are handsome, and garden birds like flycatchers and others are very pretty, but “nothing can beat our national bird. The Peacock is god’s own,” is how Arijit Banerjee puts it. Seeing the brilliantly coloured bird in a dry deciduous forest can be breathtaking, he adds. He is an IFS officer who is an avid bird watcher whose images feature in some of the major birder portals.
Watching birds is both a relaxation and passion for this officer. “It is my form of meditation. I don’t do films or temples, this is it,” he says.
Posted to Jaipur a second time in 2014 he has been lucky to have his quarters in a forest block. Till date, he has sighted 192 species in his garden alone!
An Indian peacock © Arijit Banerjee
For this keen birder and nature lover, every sighting is thrilling, more so when it is unexpected. But some moments stand out forever. Like one September in Tal Chhapar, he was in the Blackbuck sanctuary. “With grass still green, and the place teeming with Blackbuck and luckily no dogs, there was this magical scene of 3000 or more Montague’s Harriers flitting over the grassland picking grasshoppers. It was like ‘have seen this, can now die’”, he recollects.
Another such memory is at Kabini where he was able to watch a Brahminy Kite feed on a dead fish for almost 45 minutes. He is also appreciative of times like when he had “stumbled” over a Panther outside Jaipur!
Crimson Sunbird © Arijit Banerjee
Arijit is happy that with social media and increase in incomes, there is a rise in awareness and more people are interested in birds. They are out there trying to ‘shoot’ birds with cameras and get likes on social media. “Nothing wrong in that. However, sadly there are instances where some people stoop to unethical levels to ‘get a good shot’. This can go to the extent of disturbing birds or even disturbing them when they are nesting or sitting on eggs. People should respect animals and keep a distance and not be intrusive. Observing is more important than photography.”
He also wishes that the public refrain from feeding animals in the wild, be it monkeys, nilgai or birds. This is neither good for the animal nor humans with chances of disease transmission as also habituating them. “In cities we have seen how people feed pigeons in the name of religion and we end up with iconic monuments plastered with bird droppings!”
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher © Arijit Banerjee
On a related topic of invasive species, Arijit says it is a matter of being responsible with bio-sanitation. He adds, this must start at home. “We must not allow foreign species to proliferate like the African catfish which was introduced for protein. Do it in a limited manner in a controlled environment but not in nature,” Arijit says, adding that seeing American Red Slider Turtles or Alligator Gar Fish in the Indian ecosystems is “scary!”
He believes that loss of habitat in many places is unavoidable as it is the play of nature and climate change. “Where water plants used to grow you now have water hyacinth. Bharatpur which was once an iconic marshland is now more of a woodland,” he says, adding that these changes can be seen everywhere. As nature of habitat changes, so also will the kind of species it hosts.
Indian Golden Oriole © Arijit Banerjee
Arijit is still optimistic that the habitats can be maintained for hundreds of years, as long as we all make small sacrifices like going an extra km or more to avoid cutting a road through a forest to spare 200-300 trees. “So also in urban landscapes it will be good if we can avoid converting all land to cement and concrete but preserve some green spaces for the birds.”
As he sees, forests and environment are not the responsibility of a few people but belong to all. “It is not about habitat vs. people but habitat and people; only, we need to make sure when in the wilderness not to litter, respect the land and wildlife, not to make noise, etc.” He is currently posted as APCCF (Protection).
A 1991 batch officer of the Rajasthan cadre, Arijit is a botanist by education and forester by training, but birding, or ‘naturing’ as he calls it goes beyond both. Introduced into ‘structured bird watching’ by a colleague in 1992 as a probationer in Dehradun, he began with a pair of borrowed binoculars and Salim Ali’s field guide. He soon found that subsequent postings took him to places with an abundance of birds. During the course of his moves to Kota, Kurseong, Kolkata and back to Rajasthan, he graduated from a basic camera to a DSLR and all other field gear. This was thanks to online friends he picked up soon, “though the learning curve was steep.”
Leopard © Arijit Banerjee
To a question on the importance of identifying species by sight and scientific names, Arijit philosophises: “Yes, one can distinguish a sparrow, crow and munia and be happy but reading up helps expand knowledge; to check if the habitat can support other birds and look for them, this kind of thinking stimulates further probing. But yes, watching birds and listening to their call or observing behaviour is good enough. Rest is up to you. But I would urge people to keep their phones aside and go out and watch birds once in a while.”
While you will see birds in a forest, sometimes you can be taken by surprise, a pleasant one at that, when least expecting to see one. He recalls how on way from Bangalore airport to Bannerghatta National Park, he had sighted a Black-shouldered Kite near the airport and was thrilled. So also on seeing a Shikra next to a swimming pool in Chennai.
“These are wow moments!”
His images can be seen on the portal listed here.