THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: You would not have heard Nilgiri Pipit singing, since it is found only in south Indian mountain grasslands at an altitude above 1,800 metres. Even if you trek all the way, you might just not hear it; for the species is disappearing.
The reason why, its sound made the event, ‘Giving birds something to sing about’, organised at the Forest Headquarters, Thiruvananthapuram, a delight. The music was a groovy number at that, as the audience at Vanashree Auditorium started bobbing their heads.
Giving birds something to sing about’ was the last event that was part of a tour by three bird lovers - musician Ben Mirin, evolutionary biologist Robin Vijayan and photographer Prasenjeet Yadav. Their tour was called ‘Sky Island Beatbox’. Sky Island? Those are isolated habitats of birds like Nilgiri Pipit on the mountain tops.
Robin has been working on island bird systems, or isolated habitats, for 15 years. “It can be regarded as the Polar Bear of Western Ghats. If there is one species that can represent the degradation of the grassland habitat, it is Nilgiri Pipit,” said Robin, a researcher at National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru.
Ben, a beatbox musician, had earlier worked on a similar project with birds of New York. It was Robin who roped him in for the Sky Island Beatbox project. He has numerous talents, one of them being the ability to mimic bird sounds. “But I would rather let the birds speak for themselves,” he says.
Prasenjeet Yadav, a molecular biologist who now wields the camera for National Geographic, was brought into the picture, as the project will eventually be made into a short film of about 5 minutes. The cast of the film is rather obvious - the birds of Western Ghats. The Forest Department, which is an active supporter of sky island research, is also a collaborator for the events in Kerala.
Apart from the pipit, the sounds of Grey Breasted Laughing Thresh, White Bellied Shortwing, Black-and-Orange Flycatcher and Scimitar Babbler were played at Vanashree Auditorium.
“What’s this bird playing? You, sir?” Ben would ask the forest officials in the front row. Then he would offer clues. “Remember, the Western Ghats Polar Bear?” he would say. From the back rows, the students of Christ Nagar Higher Secondary School would shout “Nilgiri Pipit.” That was one bird that none among the audience was going to forget.