In this series, we bring you the journeys of young ornithology researchers, as written by them. Read on to find out what got them interested in birds, the challenges they faced and what advice they have for students who wish to pursue ornithology or ecology as a career. If you have questions for them, you can leave comments at the end of the blog or email them personally.
"Observing birds and their surrounding nature every day in the field helped me develop a curiosity about the birds: what are they eating, why some are vocalizing while others are not, why a particular call makes the whole group fly and seek shelter even if it is not the call of its own species, and so on. This innate curiosity expressed itself naturally and that is how the decision to follow a career in the field of ornithology was made for me."
"I never knew anything about bird watching until my Masters. Before that, I knew some local names of common birds like sparrows, mynas and crows; all the other birds were just a ‘yellow bird’, ‘brown bird’ and ‘green bird’ for me. Most people go birding to their backyards, forests or wetlands. Well, my birding journey started from Guwahati garbage dump yard (not a great place to be at, unless you are a birder!!), observing the foraging and feeding of hundreds of endangered Greater Adjutant Storks!"
”I got her to my field station in a hat filled with dry husk to keep her warm. She was there in my room for the next three weeks until she had developed feathers all over her body. We named the chick “Shimsha”, after the river which flows through the village. I used to keep her covered with cotton, layers of cloth and inside a wooden box of dry husk and eucalyptus leaves. During those three weeks, I got to know about the different versions of her vocalisations, when she was hungry, when she required attention and when she was feeling too hot inside the box. We used to spend hours and hours together, sitting outside the room ensuring she gets sufficient sunlight to grow her feathers. Our bond grew stronger with each passing day as I was witnessing the different stages of her life.”
"The grainy black-and-white set of moving images showed us a fuzzy outline of our predator - an Asian palm civet - dipping its muzzle into the opening of the nest box and pulling out Shama chicks one after the other within its jaws. After each dip, we could hear tiny bones being crushed with unusual haste and little cheeps discontinuing abruptly. The last video showed the animal attempting one final go at the nest box before disappearing out of the frame. The videos showed the goriest event I have watched in the avian world (in real life or otherwise)."
"Ornithological research is not just leisure birdwatching and enjoying the wilderness. It involves writing grants to secure funds, arranging logistics and networking with the right people. Being in the field and watching birds may be the most amusing part but this comes with designing a proper study to collect data, mastering analytical skills and finally disseminating results to the academic and non-academic world. A good starting point would be to learn from resources around, writing to people of relevant interests and expertise and engaging in discussions with peers."
As I pointed to a tree to ask the watchers what it was, in the background, I saw a clump of dried leaves, which seemed a little off to me. So I focused on the clump of dried leaves and I was awestruck! It was a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouth- one of my first sightings in the Anamalai Hills! We all were admiring its camouflage. Just about 5-7 steps away from the frogmouth pair, one of the watchers asked for my pair of binoculars to look through the shola canopy. On a closer look, there was another lifer for me- a Brown Hawk-Owl!
“I was driving back to the basecamp after fieldwork and stopped for a herd of Oryx to cross the road safely. While I was waiting for them to pass and just enjoying seeing this large herd of about 15, I spotted something from the corner of my eye, and lo and behold it was the Secretarybird! I was over the moon, and stayed in the car watching this strange yet gorgeous bird till it was out of sight. Needless to say, it made my day. I was lucky enough to have another sighting of the bird, and this time a large incoming storm made for a magical background; I failed to get a good photograph both times though!”
"It was 3:30 am, I woke up to the chill as the fire had turned low. Lying in my sleeping bag, I could see the dark silhouette of the canopy through which a thousand stars were peeking. I sat up by the charcoal, which was red and glowing, to keep myself warm. Others were still fast asleep while the forest was waking up. In the dense mixed oak forest which was still very dark, the stars slowly disappeared and the first call of the dawn began..."
“As part of my first research project, I was counting flock sizes of mynas leaving a bamboo clump (their roost) at dawn. Two hours had passed, and it was nearing 7 am when I spotted a Shikra settle on the adjacent terrace – its eyes were fixed on the roost. I had seen mock attacks before. But this shikra was on a mission - it swooped straight into the centre of the roost. This was accompanied by a cacophony of noise and an explosion of remaining mynas from the bamboo clump. The Shikra emerged with its target clutched in its claws. Perched on a tree nearby, well within view - I observed the feeble cries of the myna slowly fade. I remember being awestruck by this incident!”
As the afternoon passed by, the temperatures dropped and we finally saw our usual suspects come towards us from their favoured resting site, from beyond the dunes. They followed their daily routine and started coming closer to the traps. And just when they were about to reach the traps, they stopped and started foraging a few metres away. The next few minutes were nerve-racking and so silent that we could have even heard a pin drop. Everyone was ready with their tasks, all scopes were pointed at the birds to track their every movement, the tagging team was ready in the vehicle to make their 500m dash. About ten minutes later, one of the observers shouted “Caught, Caught, Caught…!