Grace­ful beasts of na­ture: bird watch­ing, Yan­gon style

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Birds - NYO ME For more in­for­ma­tion, one can con­tact BANCA’S so­cial me­dia page Ban­camyan­mar/ .

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.

Photo: Nyo Me

Early bird catches the worm.

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