Sunday, January 30, 2011

My First Birding Expedition: Nerul and Talave

Pursuant to my earlier resolution to adopt Bird-watching (or birding, as it is called) in the beginning of this calendar year, I joined my first ever outing organised by the Bombay Natural History Society (B.N.H.S.) on the 29th of January this year. Starting from the pick-up point at Dadar T.T., the bus in which we were travelling took us to our first destination in about an hour and a half, picking up some more enthusiasts along the way at Chembur, Vashi, etc. The bus is owned by the B.N.H.S., and is adorned on its sides by pictures and activities of the society.
Our motley group consisted of about 16 people, including the tour guide Mr. Vandan Jhaveri; we were joined by a few people travelling in their own cars, one of whom, I would later discover, was Mr. Julius Rego, our birding expert, with whose help this outing turned out to be a successful one. He is a resident of Nerul, and is into marketing furniture. He told me he has been into birding for the last 10 years. But, what 10 years! He is able to identify the genus and the species of the bird by a sighting that may not even last 10 seconds! Identification of a bird, he told us, is not only on the basis of its physical characteristics or colour, but also on the behaviour of the bird while it walks the mudflats, while it feeds on the seeds on the mud, or on smaller fish or molluscs when in the water, behaviour of the bird as it moves within its community, by its bird-call, by size and also by … of course, its movement in the air and among the mangrove or other trees.
While appreciating our Oxford Field Guide written by Grimmett and the Inskipps, he 
                            strongly recommends a thorough read of Salim Ali’s classic book of Indian birds. He also told me, in particular, that I had to do a lot of birding to be able to stand comfortably with other birders. “You should,” he said, “come to the fields every week for six months.”
My co-expedionists were, as I said earlier, a motley lot. There was the Unbelievable Unmesh, with his tattoos and his fit physique, the Gangly Girish with his professional camera and an ever-present smile, the Elegant Elizabeth who kept pretty much to herself, the Ascetic Anil, the Savvy Shailesh with his hugely expensive camera and a good bit of experience, the Charismatic Cathy, the only non-Indian India-based executive working with Shell, and many more  whose names I am afraid I wasn’t able to collect, but who were no less interesting. In particular, the father daughter duo who were together most of the time, no less because the daughter doted on her father, than because the latter had some sort of infirmity. 
We started from Dadar just before 7 a.m., and reached the Nerul mudflats a little before 9 a.m. This is where Cathy and Julius joined us.Julius began with his educative dialogue by first pointing out a few trees as we marched into the marsh. He showed us a few butterflies and some other creatures of the environment too, and before long, we had familiarised ourselves with the football tree, a calotis lizard, various types of snails, molluscs, the mud skipper fish, and of course, billions of blistering barnacles – on rocks as well as on the exoskeletons of the molluscs themselves.
He started showing us a few birds,  the black-winged stilt to begin with, and as we progressed inside, the realm of birds enlarged – and soon, there were so many birds, both within the water, and off it, birds of the mangrove and the marsh. It was a pleasure, a revelation, a delight and a happy assault on the senses when we espied a huge formation of ducks taking off in the distance, a mix of terns and gulls flying in unison, and finally, a big mass of birds sitting, walking and rummaging about. Thus, we saw about 20-30 birds here. Also, in between this watch on the marsh, we saw a lot of flying Asian palm swifts and barn swallows, gazillions of house crows and rock pigeons and several other birds, such as the Asian pied starling, which the Oxford Atlas excludes from our region (!)
By the time we had left this location, we had walked over 3-4 km, seen over two dozen or more birds and were feeling great. Some of the birds were easy to see, such as the curlews, the stilts, the Little Stint, the Lesser Sand Plover (the last two were really pretty and we saw them for quite a bit), the cormorants (especially when they began to swim and dip their heads in to feed … in synchronised unison), the Caspian terns, the gulls (so many of them) and the Grey Heron. On the other hand, a few birds proved to be elusive, such as the Martin, which made a single brief appearance, the Blue throat, which was seen just once by Mr. Julius, and a few others, whose names I do not recollect.
From here on, we moved on to the second location, a village named Talave, which included dry grassland and scrub. This area is dotted with houses of fishermen and a large tract of dry grassland and scrubby land. Here, we saw a different range of birds, most notably the Black-shouldered Kite, a lot of Red Avadavats, Laughing Doves, the Indian Pond Herons, the Ashy Prinia, the Black-crowned Night Heron, and more waders and water birds.
We also saw a little of marine ecology – snails, barnacles, the mud skipper fish, the bivalves, oysters and so on. This walk had a beauty of its own, and by the time we returned to the bus, it was nearly noon, and we were getting ready to depart for our own homes. Julius left us here, and we all expressed our thanks to him. The return journey took over 1 1/2 hours, and I arrived back at my residence a little after 1:30 p.m.
All in all, a great journey.

To see the pictures of this expedition, check out Shailesh's Picasa Gallery here.

Birds we saw:

1. ? Water Rail
2. Ashy Prinia
3. Asian Palm Swift
4. Asian Pied Starling
5. Babbler ? species
6. Barn Swallow
7. Bee eater ? species
8. Black Drongo
9. Black winged Stilt
10. Black-crowned Night Heron
11. Black-shouldered Kite
12. Blue throat
13. Brown Shrike
14. Caspian Tern
15. Cattle Egret
16. Common Kingfisher
17. Common Myna
18. Common Redshank
19. Common Sandpiper
20. Common Stonechat
21. Eurasian Curlew
22. Eurasian Spoonbill
23. Fan-tailed Flycatcher
24. Great Egret
25. Grey Heron
26. House Crow
27. Indian Cormorant
28. Indian Pond Heron
29. Jungle Crow
30. Laughing Dove
31. Little Cormorant
32. Little Egret
33. Little Stint
34. Little Tern
35. Long-tailed Shrike
36. Painted Stork
37. Prinia ? species
38. Red Avadavat
39. Rock Pigeon
40. Sand Martin
41. Spotted Dove
42. Sunbirds ? species
43. Warbler ? species
44. White-eared Bulbul
45. White-throated Kingfisher
46. Wire-tailed Swallow
47. Shikra
48. Osprey

Monday, January 17, 2011

Over the weekend: Magn 2K11, Meniz etc.

After an indeterminate period of mostly lazy weekends, there is, finally, something to write about. My daughter, who is doing her final year in Hotel Management, had, in her college, a 2-day festival called Magn 2K11 (the last part indicating the year 2011, of course), and I, to participate as a spectator, went to her college to see some of the events. While the festival has improved over its last edition, it wasn't as exciting as the earlier one was. 

On the second day afternoon, the events that I saw included a little bit of bar-tendering, a little bit of unofficial dancing and some other activities, off-stage, there was excitement at the various food stalls. Inas and I partook of some of the many available treats including fried prawns, sev-puri, chi. tikka and a mocktail. I left at half-past five. Later, Nish and I returned after the clinic hours to get some more food for home (we took some more prawns of a different variety and Thai rice with gravy, as also a few hamburgers.) Inas did a good gig with her friends. All in all, a nice experience.

Then, on Sunday, Nish and I went to our get-together, the famous "meniz". In a meniz, a group of friends plan a get-together once every month/few months/or whatever periodicity they like; the get-together is at the place of one of the friends. The place rotates from one member to the other, and the sequence is decided at the very beginning by a draw of lots. My cousins and the two of us have formed such a group with 10 couples, and we began the cycle with the first meniz at MY  residence over 2 months ago. This time, it was the turn of my cousins from Borivali - the Panchas. We travelled by train from Mumbai Central, and arrived at the hosts' residence at 1:00 p.m. The meeting saw us all letting our hair down. We played Antakshari (the song game), Dumb Charades (the acting game) and Chinese Whispers. Enjoyed these.

Earlier, Sakkamaasi, Shabnam, Fatema, Shamina and Yasmin welcomed us with a kokum drink, and served some rather primitive sev puris.We sat for lunch  after the arrival of the late latifs, which, for the first time in many years, we were'nt. Food was catered and quite nice to eat. It included a unique halwa made from besan, a spicy dry chicken and biryani with soup.

At about half past 4:00 p.m., the hosts served us tea and dhoklas. 

All in all, a good time was had by us all, and we started back for home after six p.m.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A guest post

Recently, a health and safety advocate from the South Eastern parts of the U.S. of A. approached me for help on highlighting what, according to him, needs to be done for folks staying in rural areas or smaller cities that do not have the correct infrastructure for health and disease detection, amelioration, management and, to an extent, holistic therapy including palliation. He has made a case for this in a small guest article that he requested me to post on this blog. This is what he has to say about cancer in particular, and about all diseases in general.

Open skies, fresh air, and cool, clean water. Rural residents often enjoy the best there is in nature and in life.  But why is it that victims of cancer in rural areas are diagnosed with more developed stages of cancer than those in urban areas?

The truth is, cancer may not be more prevalent among those who live in rural and remote areas. In fact, research shows that the problem in diagnoses may not reside in the actual health of rural residents at all, but in the quality and quantity of health care information.

Pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and mesothelioma symptoms may develop just as quickly among urban and rural victims, but the latter may have limited access to frequent doctor visits.  That and inadequate information lead to fewer chances for proper and speedy diagnoses.

What can be done?

1. Most important is prevention. This means that the right information gets to the right people before they even have cancer. If we share what we know about cancer, we can help others live lifestyles that may prevent cancer. The spread of information may be slower in remote areas, and thus information sharing may take more effort.

2. Next, it’s important for those in remote areas not only to have information, but to know how to find out more, especially if cancer may be a possibility for them. Those suspicious of possible cancer symptoms should ask a doctor about X-Rays, CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans.  The technology and methods used by doctors are designed to screen for cancer.  It’s important that potential victims inquire about them.

3. Avoiding or ignoring treatment options offered by a doctor may be detrimental to cancer patients.  However, in rural and remote areas, hospital visits can be far and few in between. It may be beneficial for patients to speak with their physicians about the more holistic approaches to cancer prevention and treatment. Along with a doctor's help, exercise, a healthy diet, and a clean environment can help prevent or lessen the destruction of certain cancers.

Remember, information sharing can save lives. Those in cities and those in rural communities can both benefit from the knowledge and research of others. Knowledge is more than power; it’s a responsibility.  It’s up to a ll of us to spread cancer awareness.

- Eric Stevenson. For questions about this article please feel free to contact him at epicsurvivor@gmail.com.