Sooraj Bishnoi will be leading a team of bird watchers amongst 80 other teams competing at the Mumbai BirdRace this Sunday to spot the maximum number of rare avian species in city.
Bishnoi, regarded as one of city’s most promising bird watchers, is only 15 years old. He is amongst the 60-odd young birders participating in the sixth annual bird race. The event has seen a significant rise in the number of children birding in Mumbai’s concrete jungle.
“Last year there were approximately 30 children competing. This year, there are almost 60 children, between the ages of nine to 15. We even have 50 of them forming five all-children teams,” said naturalist and event-organiser, Sunjoy Monga. He attributed the rising interest to environment being a critical subject in school curriculums.
Bishnoi, a student of Lilavati Podar High School, has competed in all previous bird races and is now a team captain leading a group of newcomers.
A visit to the Bharatpur bird sanctuary at the age of nine turned Bishnoi into an avid bird enthusiast.
“In 2008, I was treated to the rare sight of 25 Crimson Sunbirds. There are always new birds and new habitats to see. I hope I can introduce my team to a world they have never seen before in the city,” he said.
Each team will be given a logbook featuring nearly 400 species of birds recorded in Mumbai over 20 years.
The team with the maximum number of entries (checked by expert judges) will win prizes including outdoor travel gear. All entries regarding spottings of rare birds have to be accompanied by photographs.
“Parents want kids as young as five to compete in the race. Children are keen learners and the idea of a race makes it all the more fun for them,” said Poonam Kurani, who runs an environment study centre, Kids Domain, and has many of her students taking part in the race.
Khushi Pathak (9) of Billabong High School said she is looking forward to spotting the small egret. “I’ve heard a lot about its beaks,” she said, adding, “Bird watching is my passion and I have a keen interest in learning about different species.”