Review: Birds About Delhi by Nikhil Devasar and Rajneesh Suvarna
Delhi’s bitterly cold and foggy mornings are a joy to a motley group. They are birders (or bird watchers). Even the rain doesn’t deter them from venturing out in the wee hours on their scheduled weekend activity – a bird walk followed by a good potluck breakfast spread.
In India, bird watching as a hobby got most of its traction by piggybacking on the growth of the Internet. In 2000, Christmas Day, birder and author Nikhil Devasar revived the dormant Delhi Bird Watching Society (founded in 1950). Devasar rechristened it ‘DelhiBird’, an email-group to reconnect bird watchers, and started weekend bird walks in and around the national capital. Those were the days of agonisingly slow dial-up Internet. But there was no looking back as the tribe of birders grew exponentially. With a keen interest in the subject, birders introduced citizen science to ornithology. Nineteen years hence, the enthusiasm over birds and weekend walks are popular as ever. And everyone is welcome around the year.
In 2006, Devasar teamed up with veteran birders Bill Harvey and Bikram Grewal to create the Atlas Of The Birds Of Delhi And Haryana, an updated checklist and guide of what birds to find where (The previous book on Delhi’s birds dates back to 1975 - A Guide to the Birds of the Delhi Area by Usha Ganguli). As new records kept piling up over the years, there was a need for an authoritative guide. Birds About Delhi, Devasar’s new book with co-birder and photographer Rajneesh Suvarna fills the gap. Dorling Kindersley’s design expertise in producing fantastic field guides over the years with an eye for detail and functionality has worked beautifully here too.
With over 450 species illustrated with 800 plus photographs and marked with insightful information on what to look for as well as notes on habitats, commonality, and conservation status, the book also shows you the birding hotspots in and around Delhi. Devasar also brings in the expertise of Harvey (now settled in the UK) and Martin Kelsey (another veteran Delhi birder now based in Spain) to write on two groups of birds, the little brown ones which have eternally confused birders – warblers and pipits.
Delhi and its surrounding areas in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, present a variety of different natural habitats for birders to explore and enjoy. Especially, during this time of the year, when winter migration is at its peak notching up 120 species at a wetland is no big deal. With a checklist of 560 species, Delhi NCR (that’s about 40% of India’s bird list) only lags behind Nairobi, Kenya, which has a checklist of over 600 species.
‘Birds About Delhi’ is also a bit more than just a field guide. Devasar’s expertise in collating historical records, old and rare, finds a place here. And his field notes will get the amateur birder to get into the groove. Devasar could have expanded the section on vagrant birds to include the recent records from Dighal, Haryana, which has been a big draw for Delhi birders in the last five years. However, the vagrant species do find a mention in the field guide separately. For example, last season the Slavonian Grebe made headlines as only the third record from India.
This book celebrates the rich natural heritage of Delhi and its surroundings. Something we should be proud of, cherish, and enjoy. For birding is the easiest way to connect to the natural world, something the new generation urgently needs to do.