It’s about time that an initiative has been taken to discuss the diminishing bird population!

With a huge landscape and a beautiful place for bird watching, the grounds of once dacoits-sheltering Chambal Safari Lodge hosted the Uttar Pradesh International Bird Festival. A mere 45 minutes from the Taj Mahal, this ornithologists’ haven highlighted the unique biodiversity of Uttar Pradesh. During its closing ceremony, attendees witnessed the peak of thrill and excitement.

This 3-day festival, from 2nd to 4th December 2016, celebrated “Birding”, or bird watching to the non-enthusiasts. Birding has recently become immensely popular with bird tourism growing six times faster than other sectors.

A unique initiative in India, this festival provided an excellent platform to educate the community towards conservation, protection, and habitat management. This year’s event was more interesting than its predecessor due to an exciting line-up of presentations, workshops, field visits with acclaimed ornithologists, researchers and birdwatchers. 68 international delegates from 26 countries and 324 Indian delegates, including representatives from every single Indian state were all witnesses to this grand spectacle.

Credits: instagram credits @krishan.prakhar

Conceived by Nik Devasar, who decided to take advantage of the enthusiasm provided by the E-Bird India portal, this festival was a collaboration of Bird Count India with a large number of organizations, all working to increase our collective understanding of the distribution, abundance, and population trends of Indian birds. Devasar put the idea in front of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav who realized the potential and agreed to initiate  the largest Bird Festival of India.

The Indian delegates varied from authors and scientists to wise birders. One of them was Sumant Rajguru ,who was graced with a standing ovation for locating the nesting ground of a flock of rare skimmers in Orissa earlier this year. This ground  was being scouted for twenty years by officials. He is also known for documenting the breeding behaviour of skimmers. Rajguru narrated important stories that highlighted the important role that citizen scientists can play in saving the biodiversity.

Evgeny Syroechkovski, a Russian field biologist appealed to Indian birders to keep a watch on the spoon-billed sandpiper in the Orissa and West Bengal stretch. One of the world’s rarest wading birds with their population already shrunk by 90% over the last thirty years, at least half the world’s remaining population of Spoon-billed Sandpipers is threatened by subsisting hunting in Myanmar. Immediate action in the direction to save these birds is needed.

Balachandran,deputy director of the BNHS ( Bombay Natural History Society) which is one of the largest non-governmental organisations in India engaged in conservation and biodiversity research, also spoke on migration and announced the forthcoming publication of the Indian Birds Migration Atlas. Asad Rahmani, director of the BNHS , talked about the biodiversity in the Himalayas, plains and grasslands. In a talk pivoted around the grasslands, he brought to light the crucial fact about how a large number of endangered species are found there, how most of them are on the verge of extinction and why protecting them is crucial.

Credits: instagram credits @nelsongeorge141

Author of  Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide, The Smithsonian’s Pamela Rasmussen spoke about how providing the DNA evidence from museum specimens confirmed one of the biggest birding scams in Indian history,   and a new specie called the Himalayan Thrush (Latin name Zoothera salimalii , a tribute to Salim Ali) that was  discovered by Indian biologists in the fields in Arunachal Pradesh. In a detailed talk which will require a whole article to encompass in words, Rasmussen focused on the fact that many such species of birds might be still waiting to be discovered in India, particularly in the north-east.

The British husband and wife team Carol and Tim Inskipp, authors of the much more affordable guide on Indian birds were also present at the festival, and gave presentations concentrating  on the challenge that is the continuously changing habitat of the Himalayas and how it is affecting the Indian birds.

In the afternoon, the birders saw the wetlands and birds like the Sarus crane  in their glory, while also acknowledging the contracting habitat. Isn’t this why gatherings and festivals like these so important, for the ecosystem and for us? We wish for many more.