Last weekend, professional and novice birdwatchers in the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Bhutan came together to document as many birds of the mountainous region as possible. On 13 May, known as Endemic Bird Day by Bird Count of India which also coincides with Global Big Day for birdwatchers around the world, these avian enthusiasts assembled to collect more knowledge about the bird diversity of the Himalayas.
The Himalayas are synonymous with images of stunning snow-capped mountains, vast valleys and forests, and is an evergreen travel destination. But, its fragile ecosystems and their inhabitants are threatened by the consequences of climate change. The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, spread over 3,500 sq. km. across eight countries including India, Nepal, and China, is warming faster than the global average, according to the first-ever assessment of the impacts of climate change on the region, as reported by Down to Earth in 2019.
At a time when populations across the world struggle to manage the adverse consequences of environmental crises, it is more necessary than ever for people to engage with the environment. Moreover, documenting birds that are endemic, or species that are restricted to a defined geographical area, helps in understanding their status. One of the simplest ways to participate in conservation is by observing. The Himalayan Bird Count, which started in 2022, brings together researchers and citizens to study the bird population of the Himalayas and assess the impact of climate change and other anthropogenic factors on them. The initiative is a collaboration between the Bird Count India, Bird Conservation Nepal, and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, Bhutan.
Endemic Bird Day is in its ninth year and is unique to India. It aims to document the 232 species of birds that are endemic or near-endemic to our subcontinent. The data from Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, North Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim is added to the Himalayan Bird Count as well as to the Global Big Day data, while that from other states are added only to the latter. Anyone can take part in the events, even from their homes by reporting bird sightings to the eBird website, or through the free eBird Mobile app.
“The Himalayan Bird Count gives the opportunity for people to participate in conservation through something they enjoy doing. It also helps in expanding the birdwatcher community who will then monitor birds wherever they are and add to the data,” says Sanjay Sondhi, Founder and Trustee of Titli Trust, who helped coordinate the event in Uttarakhand region.
Last year, a total of 1,078 birders went out to look for endemic (and other) species and uploaded 4,139 checklists. In all, 835 species of birds were recorded on this single day, of which 151 are endemic to South Asia. Some of the birds recorded last year include Bugun Liocichla and Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler in Arunachal Pradesh, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide in Bhutan, and Eurasian Eagle-Owl in Ladakh.
While organisers are still collating data for this year, participation seems to have significantly grown, with new birders joining the event. For instance, in Bhutan, there has been an 80 per cent increase in participation since last year, according to Mittal Gala, Program Manager, National Conservation Foundation, and one of the organisers of the Himalayan Bird Count.
“It was an exciting event with so many new birders joining from different states and countries. Experienced birders often conduct bird walks which further attracts new birders. In the Himalayan region, Nepal and Bhutan people recorded 613 species and 1,033 checklists,” she tells Lounge. More data from other regions such as Arunachal Pradesh will be collated by 10 June.
Today there seem to be more bird-watching enthusiasts and professionals than a decade ago, say both Sondhi and Gala. “The available technology not only to help in bird watching but also get trained as a watcher is much more enhanced than before and is also more accessible. It has become much easier to learn and pursue it,” says Gala who has been bird-watching for about 15 years.
When asked what drew her to birdwatching, there is sudden warmth in her voice. You can hear her joy as she talks about how interesting birds and their behaviours are and the unique traits of different species. “Bird watching also helps in maintaining data on them and monitoring any changes. The more people join in, the bigger the available date becomes,” she says.
In 2020, ten organisations collaborated to release the first State of India’s Birds report, which used more than a million observations of birdwatchers on the eBird platform to assess the trends of around 800 species. The second report is due to be released later this year.
So, how can you become a birdwatcher? Sondhi says it’s easy. All you need is a field guidebook and a pair of binoculars. With just those two, you can start observing and learning about the birds around you.