For the better part of Sunday, people in groups of four to five, scanned bushes, craned at trees and searched painstakingly in parks and fields across and around the city, looking for anything feathered or flying.
The Mumbai Bird Race on Sunday — a competition between teams of birdwatchers, each with at least one experienced birder — took participants to various birding spots in the metropolitan area. The aim: to spot the most varieties of bird species in a day.
The event was organised by naturalist Sunjoy Monga and sponsored by HSBC Bank. Participants ranged from children to senior citizens, and from experienced ornithologists to first-time birdwatchers.
Perhaps summing up a worrying paradox of our times, Monga said, “The number of bird watchers is increasing while the number of birds is decreasing because of environmental problems.”
The race proved him right. The winners sighted 136 species compared to last year’s 176, while the numbers of participants, just under 500, were higher than ever.
One of the more memorable birds sighted was the extremely rare Pied Harrier, a sighting for which the judges asked for photographic evidence. Another memorable encounter was the witnessing of an Osprey, a raptor famous for its fishing skill, swoop down to lift two fish from the water. Equally impressive was the concentration of birds that migrate annually, travelling as much as 10,000 km, from as far north as Siberia and central Asia.
“Birds are indicators of the health of ecosystems and the bird race will hopefully get new birders to think of birds and their environment together,” Monga said. “With more people interested in birds, there is hope for an increased awareness about the perils of increased pollution.”
One couple, just two of the near 200 first-time birdwatchers at the event, said, “For us it’s just something new to do in Mumbai.” Being out on a beautiful day looking for birds with a group, instead of going to the same old movie halls and malls, was a good change, they said.
There was a ceremony to announce winners and discuss the day’s activities at the Maharashtra Nature Park in Bandra in the evening. Cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle handed out awards and congratulated the participants.