Graceful beasts of nature: bird watching, Yangon style
EARLY birds find more food’ is a household phrase in Burmese language, something mothers coo to their children to get them up and moving first thing in the morning. For some committed people, there’s good reason to be up at the crack of dawn to go and forage with the birds – these people are the bird watchers, and it’s serious business. A member of the Weekend team headed out with the Biodiversity And Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) to take part in the opening weekend of their bird watching season.
The BANCA bird watching season begins in the last week of November and ends in May, corresponding with the dry season. On the last Sunday of each month, members meet at a pre-determined bird watching spot, of which there are a number around Yangon, with binoculars and note pads at the ready. There are spots at six or seven locations such as the ‘National Races’ Village, Kandawgyi park, Yangon Zoo, Mya Kyun Thar inside the city limits but also locations further afield such as Mt. Victoria in Chin, the Inle Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary, Kalaw, etc. The BANCA stick to the city locations, however.
“Wild birds don’t want to live in crowded urban areas, so you’ve got to go out and find them,” Thaw Phyo Shwe, field coordinator of BANCA, said. “Within Yangon, there’s only a handful of locations for good bird spotting”.
The first meeting of the 20182019 season was held at the ‘National Races’ Village, where a nearby mangrove forest provided the perfect environment for rare and beautiful bird spotting. The session began at 6am, with anyone being allowed to participate so long as they arrived on time, agreed to not make too much noise and were not wearing brightly coloured clothing. Binoculars were provided to those who couldn’t bring their own set.
The bird watching events are led by seasoned BANCA experts, with the first meeting of the season including an introductory lecture on the society and the discipline of bird watching for new participants. These members include tour guides, photographers, environmentalists and some zoological students.
The main message of the lecture, which reflects the philosophy of the BANCA, is that birds are essential to maintaining the natural balance in an environment and are vital to healthy ecosystems. Development, destruction of the environment, farming and other changes cannot just affect birds but also the food they need to prey on to survive. Noise pollution is also a determining factor to their well being.
First time participants typically have trouble seeing birds in the trees and focusing on them with binoculars, especially if they’re on the move. “Once I get my binoculars on a bird, it’s already flying away!” a zoological student complained. Thae Zar Ni Aung, who is now studying her major in the field, can recognise all the birds she catches glimpses of – she has seen them many times in her textbooks, but it will take more practice for her to spot them in the wild and get a good gander.
But, having an interest in bird watching doesn’t have to be academic. Kon Thantar Cho, 23, is a tour guide educated in tourism but has always harboured a love for birds. She makes it to watching events when she can and said that her professional goal is to be a bird researcher and then a fully fledged bird guide.
“I’m feeling a bit sick today, but illness can’t stop me! I love birds and I get to go out into the environment. Using binoculars really heightens the experience – getting all that detail. You realise that birds are all around us. We should take advantage of the access we have,” she said.
Bird photographer Myat Thurein, who also attended the first meeting, has loved animals since he was little. Birds are the easiest wildlife to follow and to photograph, he said. Animals like deer are much more attuned to noise and movement, so they are skittish. It’s more relaxing to stay still and watch from a distance. He lamented that bird watching and photography are not very popular in Myanmar, so, at least for now, his favourite passtime will just remain a hobby.
He encouraged people to try and be more aware of the environment. You never know what’s out there, he said.
Early bird catches the worm.