KOCHI: This happened some years ago. Rejeev Thattekkad woke up early in the morning for his routine trek to the forest like he had been doing for some years now. He met with the group of foreigners he was supposed to guide to the forest. On the way, he showed them a few migratory birds perched on different trees. The group seemed very interested. Seeing their enthusiasm, he went on to show them the endemic species of the area. His passion for the forest was evident.
Noticing the group’s attentiveness to each word uttered by him, Rejeev referred them the book ‘Birds of the Indian Subcontinent’ written by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp and Tim Inskipp for more information.
At the end of the trek, one man in the group approached Rejeev. And he said smiling, “I am Tim Inskipp, one of the authors of the book you referred.” Rejeev stood frozen to the ground. “Had I known I was guiding a group of experts, I would not have blabbered so much. I was so embarrassed,” he says of the experience.
For Rejeev who is a bird watcher and a guide at Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary, this has been one of many such experiences. A passionate lover of birds, he has been guiding tourists, nature lovers, and wildlife photographers into the avian world of wonder and wings at Thattekkad for 19 years.
“Of the birds present in the area, 40 per cent are migratory birds. They are usually in the area from September to March. All of them will arrive by November. Thattekkad is also home to a lot of endemic birds,” he says.
Now, the very curious question that comes to one’s mind: How does he know the location of the birds? It’s not like they announce the date and location of their stay. The interesting thing about Rejeev is that he is a finder. A finder of birds. “We can identify birds by their sounds. If the guests arrive demanding to see a particular bird, I track it down beforehand and then later take the visitors to the spot. And I make sure the birds are viewed or photographed without being disturbed.
If you disturb birds in its natural habitat, it might not return ever and other nature lovers would not be able to see them,” he says.And it is not just birds that he tracks down. Once a wildlife photographer wanted to photograph a slender loris, which is indigenous to India and Sri Lanka.
One should understand that they are very hard to spot during daylight. But Rejeev, after days and months of trying, finally spotted two slender lorises. “Hands down, Rejeev is one of the best bird-finders in the state,” testifies Seema Suresh, a wildlife photographer. This would vaguely remind you of Liam Neeson from ‘Taken’, minus the violence.
Rejeev is also known to find rare nocturnal birds in daylight. Having spotted many over the years, he is lovingly called ‘Dr Owl’ in the area. This simple man, a conservationist in his own way, wants to keep doing this for the rest of his life. “Guiding visitors to the forests is my means to a livelihood. When you do something you love, you love your life. That is my testimony,” says Rejeev.