In the scientific community of our modern society, there are people who are atheists, there are some who believe in miracles and then there are Ornithologists who believe in miracles and stuff like a lucky charm. Every Bird watcher believes in the theory of evolution and seldom prays to God until they are running late to pay a visit to a backyard county where a rare bird was sighted a few days ago.
My name is Akshay Shinde a 24-year-old Wildlife Conservationist and I happen to belong to a group of individuals residing in the metropolitan city of Mumbai who constantly goes out in search of avian beauties. Before stepping out I often consider checking the weather, Tide timings, UV exposure, train timings, and date. Thanks to global warming the weather has never been the same for one full season in the past few years. Never has there been a summer with off-season showers, nor have there been winters where the scorching heat was the reason why people suffered from migraines. Protecting against UV exposure is a must in this era for which we use Sunscreens and trains to help us in cutting down the time required in travelling great distances but what's with the date? I have the instinct to believe that auspicious dates and festival times happen to best dates for scoring great lifers! What's a Lifer? A bird sighted for the first time in one’s lifetime is added to a person’s list of species observed since that individual started Bird watching seriously.
One can easily forget a common sighting like that of a House Crow, Black-crested Bulbul, and Andaman Shama depending upon where the observer is local but when traveling to a distant location to see a particular bird for the first time, it’s a sight to behold. The concept of counting Lifers is what keeps us Bird watchers in the game. It was 31st December 2018 when I was studying for my Master’s in Wildlife Conservation at Bhavans College. I had to start my new year with a bang and I wanted the sound to be loud and clear telling everyone that someone has taken this field very seriously. As I said I am a person who believes in miracles, so I started asking out people about their New Year plans. Most of my friends were either out of Mumbai or were busy studying for the exam that I was supposed to be studying for but who wants to study on the first day of the year? After all, this was my last academic year! Then I got a message from a fellow birdwatcher friend of mine Hema Sagare, she is an experienced birdwatcher much senior to me who has been famously known as the lady luck in the Birding community. We decided to visit a nearby Birding hotspot which is quite famous for winter migrant birds. The next day I woke up early and realized that nothing is going as per my plans, it was an overcast sky in winter meaning gloomy weather, although it saves us from UV exposure but then turns out to be a down point for bird photography. After reaching the spot I learned that miss Hema was still in her sleep. She came late to the spot but I had decided that I shall accept whatever nature throws at me without any complaints. We entered the mudflats of Bhandup Pumping station, a sewage treatment plant which is has a blend of habitats like mangroves, a large pond, grass that grows in open spaces, and a creek that runs into the sea. This place has been a hotspot for birdwatchers giving people an opportunity to spot migratory birds like Godwits, Gulls, Flamingos, Shanks, Stints, Stilts, Storks, and Sandpipers. As we moved deeper into the habitat the species list started to increase with the wind carrying those sad clouds away and bringing rays of good hope. There were noisy kids cycling around with their parents who asked us if we could show them the birds with our cameras and binoculars. Hema taught them how to use Binoculars and they were happy to see the brilliance of Greater flamingos who elegantly showed off their plumage. As time passed the temperature started to rise and our water bottles started drying up fast. We thought of counting it a day and started discussing our new year plans, goals, and ambitions with respect to birdwatching. Hema asked me what is that Bird you would like to see this year? I answered that I want to see a Nightjar but during the daytime, she giggled and asked have you not seen any?
Now here’s a fact about Nightjars, these birds the size of a Crow are absolutely nocturnal in nature. They find insects while flying and catch them in midair in presence of Moonlight. Spotting one in the daytime is quite difficult as its body is quite cryptic in plumage. They are masters of camouflage and very specific to habitats meaning a grey-brown looking species blends well in Savanna habitats, a full brown in Forest, and a sandy colored in the desert. As we talked about the previous nightjar sightings that we have had in the past years while applying sunscreen, from the grass that was in front of us crawled a short but long bird taking tiny steps and sitting in the middle of the road. Clouds went from the sky, I first thought that it was my hallucination that a Nightjar walked in front of us. Hema asked is that a Nightjar? To which I replied it's neither a Jungle, Jerdon’s, or Indian Nightjar which is commonly seen in our region. This one looked like light ash with yellowish patches on its body. We quickly took some photos and the sound perhaps alerted the bird who was here for a nap, it flew in front of us and instinctively I photographed it in flight which revealed its key ID features. We couldn’t hold our excitement and shared the sighting with our seniors, one senior bird watcher from our community checked the bird’s record and suggested that this Syke’s Nightjar which breeds in Sindh Valley of Pakistan has been documented in Mumbai after 104 years! Luck worked out, we made a new record and lady luck lived up to her reputation.