Zach LeClain had never been part of bird trails. But on Sunday, the 24-year-old US national took baby steps into the world of bird watching inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Borivli as a participant in the 8th Mumbai BirdRace.
Fifteen minutes into the race, LeClain spotted two elegant looking Racket-tailed Drongo’s. He had just helped his five-member team – ‘Jungle Prinia’ – mark a bird and increase their tally.
This year’s bird race saw 400 participants and 69 teams compete to record the maximum number of bird species across Thane, Bhandup, Mulund, Sewri, Airoli, Karnala, Tungareshwar, Vasai and Virar.
“This year, many ventured to spots like Karjat, Phansad and Dombivil It’s a healthy trend as more birders are involved in sighting species in these far-off locations,” said Sunjoy Monga, naturalist and race organiser.
Wandering through the protected areas of the national park, LeClain accompanied by Dutch national Henk Russien, 54, and US national Jaeda Harmon, 39, spotted 53 bird species at the end of their five-hour bird spotting trail.
The team’s captain Rohit Narsinghani and his wife Alka Narsinghani led the foreign nationals on their way to the Tulsi Lake.
“I have never been to a forest inside a city. The variety in species here is phenomenal and I am loving the whole process of spotting and identifying a bird,” said LeClain, a school teacher. Narsinghani diligently informed the first-time bird watchers about the how a Drongo’s sound is different from that of the other species.
“Back in Netherlands, the total number of species found is only 320 compared to the thousands found in India. In fact, our bird race log sheet has a list of 407 birds that we can spot across the venues,” said Russien, a software trainer.
For LeClain’s team, the moment of the day came around noon. While trying to spot an Egret, Russien noticed a large tail with scales emerging from the lake. An eight feet long crocodile sauntered out to the bank of the lake. “Watching the crocodile walk out of the water in front of my eyes was the most memorable wildlife experience I’ve had,” LeClain said.