Day 269: Urban Birding

A day birding one of the world's biggest — and most polluted — cities.

September 26, 2015: Delhi, India — More people live in Delhi, India’s sprawling capital, than on the entire continent of Australia. It is the second-largest metropolis on Earth (after Tokyo) and, according to recent studies, Delhi has lately become the world’s most polluted city. Delhi also boasts the second-highest bird list of any national capital (after Nairobi), at least according to several birders who independently cited this statistic to me today. Ramit, whose family lives here, planned out a whole day of birding the local hotspots, and we hit a series of parks from dawn until dusk. 

This was quite a change of pace for me this year. I’ve traveled through some of the world’s greatest cities over the past nine months but haven’t really seen any of them because, as soon as I land, I am generally whisked off to more remote environs. It was different to look for birds in a jungle made of concrete for once.

Amid the traffic, noise, and smog, urban birding has its charms. Because natural patches are few and far between, birds tend to concentrate in any green oasis, and finding birds is relatively easy. A large river called the Yamuna flows through Delhi, and we began the day along its banks, where River Lapwings, Tricolored Munias, and Pallas’s Gulls flitted onto my year list.

Ramit and I were joined by a rotating contingent of Delhi birders this morning, including Abhishek Gulshan, Rohit Chakravarty, Sudhir Oswal, Pankaj Gupta, and Ramit’s dad, Dinesh. The group of us hit a couple of city reserves before the day’s heat eventually kicked in and we went for lunch. (Another perk of urban birding: A good restaurant is always nearby!)

In the afternoon, a six-foot-tall, 14-year-old birder named Taksh Sangwan met us for a couple of hours. Taksh is probably India’s best, youngest birder; he has already seen hundreds of birds all over India, and we spent our time in serious discussions about which species I planned to see in which places. Taksh had wanted to join us for the whole day but had to take some school exams in the morning. He knew every bird by sight and sound and told us about a project he was working on to record bird vocalizations for Cornell University. Thanks, Taksh, for a great afternoon!

New birds today: 7

Year list: 4474

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