BENGALURU: There are bird hobbyist, ornithologist and then there is Shashank Dalvi, a wildlife biologist from Mumbai who holds the distinction of being the only person to have undertaken and completed a ‘Big Year’ in the country in 2015.
For the uninitiated, a ‘Big Year’ refers to time within one year when you set out to sight and identify the most species and number of birds. While this is a big deal in western countries like the US, it’s just picking up in India says Shashank.
In the city for a talk on Monday, Shashank enthralled an audience about his journey to over 30 destinations and across thousands of kilometers and interacted with the City Express about his love for birds.
His love for birds started very early when he grew up in Mumbai. Visiting the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the middle of the city was a major activity during his boyhood days so it was but obvious that he began in Mumbai. On the first day, he spotted as many as six species of owls such as the Forest Owl. Thereafter his journey took him to Northeast India, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Western India and Ladakh and Kashmir.
Recounting a particular incident in his search for the Van Hasselt’s Sunbird in Karimjang in South Assam, he says “The bird was seen around seven to eight months ago in this very spot. Most of the people in our team had given up and had gone. I and another friend waited for 10 minutes and then half an hour and then finally and hour. Then at long last, we sighted the bird. Just when we were about to leave we spotted the bird. The wait and effort were all worth it,” he says. By about February, Shashank had spotted and identified as many as 330 birds.
Family and Birding
In Nicobar, he combined at his honeymoon with his Big Year ‘duties’. He had previously preponed his wedding by a year to go the Big Year. In Nicobar, his main aim was to locate the Nicobar Megapode, an endemic (indigenous) species. “We went looking for this bird at a time when the pace was hit by a storm. We had to walk for around 23 km. The key is to locate a nest of this bird. They make huge mounds of around five to six feet tall and 10 to 12 feet in width,” he says. Four nests were found but sadly no sighting.”I had to wait for another seven months when I went again in December,” he adds. In Rajasthan, he took his entire family for a holiday cum bird sighting. “In and around Jaisalmer we saw quite a few species like the Great Indian Bustard, Bimaculated Lark, Spotted Creeper. Seeing the Indian Bustard always makes me happy especially at a time when their number are greatly dwindling,” he rues.
During the entire year, Shashank covered the Northeast extensively and visited the region as many as three times. His second was a ‘Mega’ trip when he stayed for a period of 50 days. “Northeast has easily the highest number of bird species in the country when compared to other parts. Till around April 1 when I was in Andaman and Nicobar, I had already seen and identified as many as 652 species of birds. By May I had already 812 birds in the Northeast,” he explains. Shashank has been a big part of the ban on the hunting of the Amur Falcons that migrate to Nagaland. “There was a point when as many as 13,000 of them used to be hunted in a day. And the migration is for a period of one month,” he says. Despite seeing the migratory birds many times, he says seeing them filling up an entire sky gives him “goosebumps” every single time.