September 30, 2015: Delhi, India — In 1985, a British ornithologist named David Hunt was leading a bird tour in northern India’s Jim Corbett National Park when he stepped off the road, apparently to try to take a picture of an owl. Unfortunately, a female tiger happened to be sitting there in the undergrowth, and Mr. Hunt met a quick and unexpected end. “The body was recovered with the help of elephants,” reported a short article in the New York Times.
That incident has since passed into ornithological lore, and it was slightly eerie to find myself standing on a road in Jim Corbett National Park this morning, taking a picture of a pair of Brown Fish-Owls. I didn’t step into the undergrowth and no tigers appeared (though it would have been cool to see one from a safe distance). The owls peered down with curiosity then dozed off, and Ramit, Vijay and I continued on our way.
It was a solid morning. We found 14 new birds before lunch and wondered where they all had been yesterday afternoon when the forest was so quiet. My favorite sighting was a tiny Collared Falconet—one of the world’s smallest raptors, smaller than a can of beans - which posed nicely on a snag. When the day’s heat kicked in, we called it good and Ramit and I began the long drive back to Delhi.
So, that’s a wrap for India: In 18 days in this country, I saw 437 species of birds, 321 of which were new! Even better, I’ve been able to connect with a bunch of enthusiastic birders along the way. The birding community in India is huge compared to most places I’ve visited, and it’s especially inspiring to see so many younger members here.
Ramit Singal is one of those and it has been fun to spend the past week with him around northern India. Ramit’s interest in birds is channeled into all kinds of outlets. He recently wrote a guide to the birds of the Maripal region and just finished a project with grassland birds in southern India, for which he was honored with a 2015 Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award. He’s the kind of birder who stops to look at snakes (“Last time I found a roadkill snake in the Himalaya, it turned out to be a new species to science,” he said), frogs, and other critters.
We were chatting in the car a couple of days ago and Ramit casually mentioned that he’d been thinking of doing a big year in India next year. “But then someone else decided to do it in 2015,” he explained. In fact, a talented birder named Shashank Dalvi has been birding almost every day this year and has seen nearly 1,100 species in India since the beginning of January. “I didn’t want to just repeat the Indian big year, which has now been done,” Ramit said, before explaining his new, more creative plan: In 2016, he wants to spend about six months hitchhiking around the un-birded parts of India to discover new places and talk to locals about bird conservation. The project, which he calls “A Hitch for a Twitch,” will combine scientific exploration, environmental education, and adventure. However it goes down, it sounds like a great idea!
New birds today: 14
Year list: 4565