With pandemic life affecting us all, we envy the raw freedom of birds; no better time to look outside and witness the constantly unfolding spectacle of life. Many species are nesting and feeding babies, you would be surprised to know exactly how many birds are with you all along. Youngish birder Faraaz Abdool invites everyone to get to know the birds that share our space; he wants especially the youth to check out the T&T Young Birders’ Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ttyoungbirdersclub
Birds have captivated our minds for millennia. Their mesmerising mastery of the air frustrated and hypnotised humans at the same time. Artists wanted to replicate their unending chromatic diversity in paint, scientists wanted to study the creatures and people coveted the most resplendent feathers for self-adornment. In the early days it was necessary to trap and kill the bird to be able to view and study it, fortunately we became well versed enough in manipulating optics to not rely on these barbaric methods.
Watching wild birds has been made possible with portable optical devices like binoculars and spotting scopes. Recording sightings is easier than ever, even a phone skilfully paired with a spotting scope can yield surprisingly high-quality results. To this day, however, the time-tested, foolproof technique of pen and paper persists amidst the cacophony of clicking shutters. The enjoyment and study of birds is not limited to a singular sense – birdsong is one of the most ubiquitous and complex sounds of nature. Many visually similar birds have unique dialects based on their locality, very much like we have a distinctive Trinidad and Tobago accent. The differences in vocalisations have led many species to be split into two or more distinct species.
We understand that people who study birds are ornithologists; they are zoologists having a special interest in life with feathers. Similarly, we have associated people who enjoy birds – the birders – as more mature, probably retired, fairly “well off” and often from developed countries like the US or UK. Outside of those groups, there seemed to be little room for anyone with a passing interest in birds. As with all things, however, the only constant is change.
Birding is a legitimate, enriching hobby in which anyone, of any age, race or nationality can participate. All over the world, birding clubs are opening their doors to new members, specifically targeting minorities, young adults, and marginalised communities. Inclusiveness is not merely a trending hashtag, but a fact of life in the birding world. There is no qualification necessary that deems one “worthy” of appreciating the life of another being.
It can be quite intimidating for a novice birder who can hesitantly identify five species of birds, to pick up a field guide with 500 described species. The mere act of eavesdropping on a conversation between two experienced birders can make even the most extroverted of us clam up. This underscores the importance of creating safe and welcoming environments for young and novice birders. This environment, often referred to as young birder clubs (YBCs), is a recurring theme in many countries across the world currently. Many of us have already come to realise that we are living on the cusp of an ecological disaster, and we are clutching at straws to solve the problem. From conspiracy theories to greenwashing, it is difficult to not lose hope, and even harder to trust information. Young birder clubs are a means by which nature loving people can get some respite from the endless barrage of sad news and doomsday predictions.
As babies and young children, we are flooded with animal imagery – elephants, tigers and storks welcomed all of us into this world. Gradually, however, we were pulled away from nature. It became something that was a career option, often overshadowed by other more lucrative occupations. The extractive nature of many of these high-paying jobs would turn anyone with a natural mind away in a heartbeat, but livelihoods beckon. What truly do we stand to gain if we let children experience nature, and why should we encourage them to look at the palm and blue-grey tanagers bicker over a ripening bunch of bananas?
All the profoundly important lessons our children need to learn are rampant in nature. Nature is moderation, there is no excess. Even if animals hoard, there is a greater purpose. For example, the humble agouti tends to stow away as many seeds as it can, hiding them in shallow holes in various places in the forest; thereby planting the seeds of the next generation of trees. Lacking the ability to climb, the agouti can only access fallen fruit courtesy parrots and oropendolas. Taking children out of nature to put them in a classroom to teach them about the food web is an insult to their intelligence and innate ability to comprehend mother nature.
If we let our children grow up connected to nature, they would come to know how special we are in TT. We are such a tiny land mass with an almost unreal level of biodiversity dictated by a unique geological situation. Our history here did not begin with the arrival of European colonists, slaves, or indentured labourers. As children of TT, we are required to understand the history of the islands we have come to inherit, and exactly what makes us so different from any other place on earth. Perhaps that would constitute a nation of patriots sometime in the future?
Birding is not just about birds as they do not exist in a vacuum. Birds are merely the most accessible and eye-catching form of nature available to most of us. Birds can give us a taste of places we have never been, they are a window to a natural world of wonder. YBCs can give youth a purpose by providing the resources necessary to fuel a passion. The proper mentorship can ensure the passage of opportunity is available to the next generation. Young people need to know that there is value in keeping our wild spaces wild, that numerous career options exist within the sphere of birding, and that there is most definitely hope for their future.