Birds have always delighted people all over the world because of their beauty and their power of flight, but for members of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) birding is a quest that brings immense happiness. Many are groomed to be bird enthusiasts from an early age and birds in cages do not count anymore, having seen them master the wild.
“I had an interest on nature and birds from my young age. But there was no proper environmental organization that I could get guidance on birds in Matara where I went to school. Then one day I read a note on “Vidhusara”a Sinhala tabloid that a Sinhala field guide on birds was published. I rushed to book shop and got a copy of Sirilaka Kurullo, it was the first comprehensive field guide book on birds written in Sinhala, published by FOGSL,” said Malaka Rodrigo, a member of FOGSL.
It was the platform for Rodrigo to learn the joyful pastime of Bird-watching.
“I still remember the joy of identifying a bird for the first time on my own only using this field guide. So for me; FOGSL is the organisation that provided me with a gateway to nature. This later led me to study wildlife seriously, step into environmental journalism which had led to a positive change in my life,” he added.
FOGSL is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and they organised a Bird Fair at Thalawathugoda wetlands on November 20 with more than a hundred bird lovers participating in the event. The event comprised of ‘Guided Bird walks’ and ‘outdoor lectures on birds’ and that was a great opportunity for the public to participate. There was also a programme for kids - an Arts Campaign titled “Save Wetlands for a Better Tomorrow”.
A group of children with binoculars and DSLR cameras hanging around their shoulders were accompanied by a senior bird watcher. They were busy looking for winged trophies. The Thalawatugoda wetland the famous spot for bird watching is a novel experience for any person who is an admirer of bird life. The bird watchers themselves are an interesting group with many hailing from different walks of life; for some it was their hobby but for many it was their passion. Small children between the ages of six and eight showed remarkable knowledge of the nature of birds and their features. One smart boy even volunteered to teach the younger crowd who were totally new to the field of bird watching. He was very proud to talk about his passion for bird watching.
This enthusiasm is the work of FOGSL which was formed in 1976 by four bird enthusiasts P.B. Karunaratne, S.U.K. Ekaratha, S.W Kotagama and R.I de Sliva took the concept of bird watching to the general public, an area previously limited to an elite circle. It is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation attached to the Department of Zoology at the University of Colombo. The Objectives of FOGSL is to bring together people who are interested in the study and conservation of birds in Sri Lanka, generate interest among laymen and students of natural history on the study and conservation of birds. The institute, direct and carry out island wide programmes of field study, on various aspects of bird biology and establish links with other groups in other parts of the world with similar interest.
“We witnessed many new people who were interested in Bird Life last Sunday,” said Rodrigo who is also the Editor of FOGSL and added that many kids were also interested in this venture.
Bird watching skills
“We taught the kids and the people who were new to the field how to identify the birds. An average bird watcher can identify at least 10 birds. Anyone who has an interest in bird watching can join FOGSL to witness the real joy of it,” he said.
According to Rodrigo once Bird Watching was limited to a certain class but FOGSL has taken it to a different level and he was very proud to say that he himself bears testimony.
“Bird Life’s chief executive was here in Sri Lanka for the first time and the most interesting thing is that the bird’s migratory season has started. Once bird watching was restricted to the elite strata of society but after FOGSL was formed the whole idea took a different form,” he said.
According to Rodrigo, Bird Life International is the umbrella group for all the bird conservation organisations of the world and their Global Council met in Sri Lanka last week.
Another significant event was, the Bird Life Asia partners too met in Sri Lanka and along with them.
“An organisation dedicated towards birding, ornithology and conservation of nature, FOGSL provides a platform on which people from all walks of life interact. FOGSL also aims to establish and strengthen links with similar organisations in foreign countries,” he said.
“Birdwatchers observe wild birds in their natural habitat. Birdwatching means learning to identify the birds and understand what they are doing. Life suddenly gets more interesting when you become aware of the varied bird life all around you,” said Uditha Wijesena an engineer by profession who is in his 60’s now.
Observing birds in their natural habitats
Wijesena started watching and observing birds at a tender age. He was part of his school bird club and that groomed him to become an enthusiastic bird watcher even in his 60’s.
“I lived in the Uva Province and that was a great advantage for me. There were many rare birds that I could watch, observe and enjoy,” he said.
However, he exclaimed that the trend of bird watching is different now compared to his own generation.
“The young people who are into bird watching today are more interested in taking a picture of the bird. I do not blame all but that is an unfortunate reality that I see. Many have failed to realise that bird watching is a serious scientific study,” he said. According to Wijesena, a successful birdwatcher needs good eyesight and a sense of questioning.
“But today for many a pair of binoculars and a camera would do and I think that perspective of the younger generation should be changed,” he emphasised.
He further said that for a person to become a bird watcher, he has to have a note book and a good bird guide and added that the advantage of new technology is that if one cannot identify the bird, the photo taken would help him research on the bird.
“I used to take notes when I observe a bird. I take down the time, name only if I know and sketch the bird for future reference. There are possibilities to see a migrant bird, therefore I later search about the origin of the bird,” he said.
Wijesena had also participated in the bird fair last Saturday and sharing his experience at the Thalawathugoda wetlands he said, “I got a chance to see an orange- breasted green pigeon last Sunday at Thalawathugoda wetlands. Scientifically that bird is said to be seen in the dry zone but I happened to see it in the wet zone. The habitats of the birds also have begun to change with the difference in the climate.”
Calvin Fernando another bird watcher said that he was very glad that he joined FOGSL as a life member.
“I am very pleased to mention that, I have now gathered so much valuable knowledge about various kinds of birds, their behaviour, and their long distance travels. I never knew all this information about birds before. I always make it a point to attend the monthly lecture whenever time permits. The lectures are so interesting, informative and so very valuable. I have read several books that are published by the FOGSL. They are very well written and so interesting. l love to join the field trips too, because I gather so much of valuable knowledge and practical experience. during these trips. Most of all I love the happy crowd and their great company and the fellowship of all participants,” he said.