BY:  Shreya Yadav/ Asiem Sanyal/ Chetana Purushotham

The dying sun cast an amber glow as we walked up Munda Pahad, a patch of littoral forest that extends from the beach upwards, at Chidiya Tapu, the southern-most tip of the Andamans. Though popular for its sunsets, we were at Chidiya Tapu for something else altogether – counting birds. The forest before us offered ideal conditions – no humans frequented the path, and it was eerily quiet, except perhaps for the slow creak of bamboo or the rustle of leaves left in the wake of some scurrying animal. As we slowly ascended, gingerly stepping over sprawling tree roots and dead leaves, we were treated to deep, resonating hums that reverberated through the forest. Looking around, we saw our first bird of the day – the Green Imperial Pigeon! With silent whoops, we made a note of the number of individuals, and proceeded onwards. Suddenly, the forest seemed to come alive. Red-whiskered Bulbuls chittered noisily at the top of fig trees, and the endemic Andaman Drongo put on elaborate airborne pirouettes for us as it snapped up flying insects. Every once in a while, the path would resolve into a clearing, from where we could see the sea glittering in metallic hues. A White-Bellied Sea Eagle soared lazily on the updrafts, and kept us company for part of the way. Pacific Swallows darted between cliffs like small fighter planes. It was a perfect evening to bird-watch, and this time the information we were collecting was going to be used for a much bigger global project: the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).

The GBBC was first formulated in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, U.K. The main objective of the project was to create a global dataset of the distribution and abundance of birds from around the world. People anywhere (with a pair of binoculars) could participate in the 4 day count in February, which happened this year from the 13th-16th. India joined the project in 2012, and in 2014 topped the global listing of countries for the number of bird species recorded overall.

This year, the Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team (ANET) in Wandoor, South Andamans, convened a few groups of birders to cover as much area and ecosystem-type as possible. By the end of Day 4, we had recorded 49 species of birds from roughly 4 different habitat categories. The tidal marshes at Sippighat were populated by a plethora of wetland birds, with Purple Swamphens, Lesser Whistling Ducks and Cattle Egrets ruling the roost; we ended with a tally of 20 species and a whopping 241 individuals. At the Mount Harriet National Park, the rainforest brimmed with life – we spotted Black-Naped Orioles, Vernal Hanging Parrots, a host of Glossy Swiftlets, Andaman Cuckoo-Shrikes, among others, bringing our count to 17 species and 97 individuals. Just around the ANET campus alone, as part of the Campus Bird Count (a sub-event of the GBBC), we observed 12 species in little over a 1km2 radius of littoral and mangrove habitat. It was interesting to see how the composition of birds changed with the area we were in, with some species overlapping across areas.

As we descended from Munda Pahad having spent a tremendously fulfilling evening birding, we had the fortune to spot the rare Andaman Nightjar, just as darkness claimed the skies (Our tally for the day stood at 10 species and 27 individuals at Chidiya Tapu). It was a poetic end to a perfect day.

So far, 709 species of birds have been reported from India and over a million people from the country participated in the event this year. And understandably so, because more than anything else, it is just great fun to go out, look up at the canopy or at waters fading into the distant horizon, and let them reveal themselves to you in feathers and whistles.