Wednesday, January 30, 2019

When a Birder killed the Blogger

More than a dozen years a have passed since I started blogging. After a few fledgling years as ‘tigertracker’, I transitioned into the ‘woodcrawler’. That was because, realization dawned that a forest and the wilderness was not only about tigers or any big cat for that matter. It denizens ranged from the tiny ticks that jump on you when given a chance, to the gentle pachyderms that mostly ignore you if you leave them alone. 

Then something happened in late 2014. Till then ‘woodcrawling’ meant just that, crawling in the woods. Of course, if you thought I was crawling on hands and knees, I forgive you for being mistaken! I would essentially wander around absorbing the sights and sounds of the forest. It would instill a sense of peace and well-being deep inside me that I was once again recharged to take on the big bad world. It was in the November of 2014 that I started taking a more serious note of the avian aspect of nature. Till then, birds were like a tiger, leopard or an elephant, a part of the jigsaw of nature. Suddenly, they became so large in my mind that they dwarfed the mighty elephants too!
It was a mere formality, signing up on the eBird portal and ‘documenting’ my birding adventures. At that time, I didn’t realize that it would become an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and induce certain behavioural changes in me that would make people give me strange looks. It also ‘mortally wounded’ the blog that it effectively killed off the ‘Woodcrawler’s Journal. All my time, free and otherwise was devoted to birds and bird documentation. Even if I had a little spare time, I was invariably making ‘checklists on eBird. While sitting in my office, my ears would be like a Doberman’s, all perked up and listening to birds outside; and my brain would whir and click, cataloguing and classifying the birds I heard. The moment I got a few minutes free, I’d open the eBird app and start a new ‘checklist’!

The consequence of this was that the ‘Woodcrawler’s Journal’ effectively went into a deep comatose state. The posts dried up after 2015 and the few that appeared were related to birds. After a post in February 2017, the next one was after nearly a year, in January 2018. That last post was actually about trying to revive my dying blog, even the ‘Messenger from the Wilderness’, though a full grown tusker was unable to drag it out of the quagmire called birding! 

Now, a year after and many birding trips in the company of like minded and eminently likable folks, I’ve decided that it is time for a rethink. I realized, that I was becoming obsessed with numbers, taking part in challenges put forward by eBird and ensuring that targets were met. The December challenge was the last straw. They wanted checklists with media and I found myself running out of my bath and office to record bird sounds, just so that I could complete the targets!

I found that I was in the Top 50 birders in Kerala and Top 5 for my district for 2018, and horror of horrors I was No.1 for the district without stepping out of the Palghat GAP in January 2019. I’ve almost scored a century of checklists for the month! 

I’d become an obsessive checklist maniac and every waking hour was spent documenting birds, photographing them and recording their calls. All my free time went into editing and uploading my photos and audio tracks into the checklists! I forgot, I had friends and family. I forgot, what it was to have a leisurely breakfast of home cooked food on Sundays because I was out at the crack of dawn chasing feathered fiends. No, it is not a mistake, I didn’t mean feathered ‘friends’, I really meant fiends. Sunday. breakfast had become a forgotten luxury.

I also realized, in this mad run for numbers, I’d forgotten my priority, woodcrawling. Now that I was literally running after birds, I’ve forgotten to soak in the nature around me. It isn’t lost on me that I’m missing out on the best nature has to offer; so occasionally, I do wander off on my own, but the darned birds come around to distract me! 

Pic Courtesy: Adv. Namassivayan Lakshmanan
 2019 seems to be a life changing year and I thought it should also reflect on my attitude to birds and nature. Though I’ve no plans to hang up my birding boots, I’m going to ignore the numbers game. I’m going to turn eBird into an useful tool than the other way round. It helps me document my achievements and as VR, our senior birder says, it will be invaluable to future generations to come. 

Right now, the priority is to revive the comatose blog and bring it into the sunshine again. I will blog about birds, no doubt, but not exclusively. After all, everyone is not a birder! As for eBird, I will continue to contribute, meaningfully because, if not for that portal, I wouldn’t have been able to assess myself and develop into a more serious birder.