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Birds of a feather

The stroll down the lawns of the US embassy lawns in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi's embassy district, was turning into an impromptu bird walk, writes Gargi Gupta.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2009 22:15 IST
Gargi Gupta

The stroll down the lawns of the US embassy lawns in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi's embassy district, was turning into an impromptu bird walk. But that was only to be expected since my companion, Peter Kaestner, is one of the top ten bird-watchers in the world, having seen as many as 8,186 of the around 10,000 birds species that inhabit the planet. Besides, Kaestner, conselor of consul affairs at the US Embassy (yes, he’s the one who decided on your visa), was in a nostalgic mood — he was leaving India for good the next day. And it seemed all the feathered creatures in the vicinity had turned up to say goodbye to him.

“That’s a white-cheeked bulbul there, a bird I’ve seen about ten times in the past five years….That’s a rose-ringed parakeet. That was a red-vented bulbul that just flew overhead. I can see two more species of the bulbul — up on that Gulmohar tree is a red-whiskered bulbul and down here is the white-cheeked bulbul. I can’t believe it — it’s only the middle of the afternoon,” says Kaestner, pointing to a yellow-footed green pigeon which follows our little party, as if showing off. “But this is Delhi. I have visited 140 countries and there is no major city which has the diversity and
number of birds you see in Delhi,” says Kaestner, a little wistful.

If Kaestner sounds like a Delhi-phile, he has reason to be. He came to Delhi first as a boy in 1967-68; New Delhi was also his first posting and he was vice consul here in 1981-82. So what are the changes he’s noted in the three decades? Expectedly, Kaestner’s is a birding answer. “Hmm…pied starlings have increased dramatically; sparrows seem to be a bit down. But what’s amazing are the vultures; I have photographs from 20-25 years ago where you can see vultures, dozens and dozens of them, eating a carcass. Now you don’t see vultures at all. You used to also see Brahmani kites in Delhi and don’t any long longer — I’m not sure why.”

The diplomat-birdwatcher also used his time in India to see some rare Indians birds — especially the Bugun Liochichla, a new bird discovered in 1995. Call it the perks of the job.