“See, all I can figure out from it is that, they all… are birds.”
“But look at the wings, look at their beaks; their tails… each is so different from the other! Every bird has a different colour in their feathers. How can you not identify the differences? Surely you can!”, said Panchali affirmatively and pressed her index finger close to the picture of a robin.
“Oh! All I see are fluffy feathery creatures, and I know some differences surely. Some can fly and some cannot! Don’t even try to expect more from me!”
Now both Nayana and Panchali started laughing.
Maybe she did not know the names of many, nor could she identify all sorts, still Panchali had been a passionate bird watcher. Back then, in Kolkata, her mother used to identify to her different sorts of bird species since her childhood days. There was their neighbour’s huge backdoor garden, with a small pond in the middle, where almost fifty species of birds could be seen—mostly residential, and some migratory.
Panchali had been all excited when she was in college and got to know about a bird watching camp being organized in a very tiny village of Bengal. It was her first ever exposure to actual bird watchers, some who professionally took photographs of these feathered beauties or take proper note of how many birds could be seen, where and when. Her childhood fascination now took shape as she learnt numerous names, and actually came across such birds which she may have had seen just in Salim Ali’s ‘Birds of India’.
She, for the first time, came to see Indian Roller—which, during its flight, displayed a flash of royal blue. Amazed she was. That tiny village, with its huge ox-bow lake and a distant deciduous jungle, housed various sorts of water and land birds. The occasional shrill calls of the Moorhens and Lapwings in the dead of the night added to the melancholy of the quiet moonlit nights. Even the silent beats of wings could be heard at night, and she came to know it was the Barn Owl. It came every night and sat amidst the darkness of the leaves of a huge mango tree just beside their campsite.
Lapwings and robins, herons and egrets, ducks and teals, jacanas and minivets completely ate her head through and through.
She graduated from her city Calcutta, and went to this other city for pursuing higher education. Obviously she couldn’t leave her likings far behind. The first day in the university greeted her with a completely new set of birds—fantails, Tickel’s blue flycatcher, Common Iora and Indian robin. The weird flips of the Japanese-fan shaped tail of the tiny ‘fantail’, seemed too irresistible to take one’s eyes off.
Bengal Bird Day on the 19th of January, 2014 went unknowingly in watching water birds all throughout the morning.
And now she has to explain to her friend, ‘why birds, and not something else…’
“Tigers, I find, are way cooler. At least, you have a life risk in photographing them. But birds… umm… they are just birds. What’s so cool about them? You can’t even identify them properly if you don’t have proper gears”, said Nayana.
‘True,’ thought Panchali. ‘She’ll never get the thrill of it if she doesn’t want to.’ But deep inside her heart she was quite resolute about injecting at least a bit of that passion into her friend.
With the help of the new Grimmet and Inskipp’s handbook, she showed Nayana pictures of a few colourful birds. She seemed a bit interested in the grandeur of colours of the Himalayan Monal.
Finally, one morning,while going to class, Nayana pointed at some dry branch of a tree and asked, ‘Is it a pigeon or something?’
Panchali seemed really pleased, took the composure of a wise old person, and explained, ‘well… you’re almost there. It’s a red collared dove.’