How to organize a group outing for the Bird Race (170116)

January 18, 2016

Every year, I feel touched and happy that many people would like to go with me, as a single group, to take part in the annual Bangalore Bird “Race”. Last year, we were 34, this year, the number was less, but still large enough to merit a lot of planning.

Since it’s a day-long outing, the route has to be carefully planned, and the criteria are quite a few.

There are the obvious ones like distance to be covered, how to do the route without going too far afield or backtracking, and at what time to break off the birding activity so that teams can come to the evening venue without too much of traffic snarls (the venue is always held in the middle of the city, as birders come from all the quadrants.)

Water bodies are essential as they are good spots to sight a larger number of bird species. But many lakes in Bangalore now charge unpleasant amounts of money for cameras (they seem to overlook the fact that every person with a mobile phone now carries a pretty good camera) after about 8am or so. When it’s a large group, this will result in a needless amount being spent.

Some recce trips establish if a water body, or a birding area, has the likelihood of being productive in terms of bird sightings.

The route has to be timed, and the places where a large group can stop for chai, or sit and have breakfast, have to be planned. Similarly, a place where such a group can be served lunch without too much of delay has to be identified and worked into the plan so that the timing is not too off.

Generally unavoidable delays have to be budgeted for and put into the mix too.

Toilet breaks, especially for ladies and children, have to be thought about and worked out.

The time at each birding spot has to be planned loosely, so that the group keeps to a reasonable schedule. At the same time, there has to be enough flexibility to adopt changes (on the 17th, when we realized that we might not add too many species at the Valley School area, the plan was changed and we went to Harohalli lake instead…or at least, some of us did, see below.)

People who join in at the last moment, may suddenly take unilateral decisions to go to an unknown place (after a group decision has been made for another spot) and go off without informing the right person. This results in others waiting and wasting a lot of time, instead of birding.

No matter how much a single meeting point is decided upon (to avoid complications during the start) there will be people who will not adhere to this. Multiple pick up points always result in delays, so this, too, has to be budgeted for.

One has to be careful not to tread on sensitive corns…to keep the right combination of folks together in the cars, and not put in one vehicle, people who are less than comfortable with each other. Seating in cars must be allocated, and the number of cars must be minimized to lessen the carbon “wheelprint”. Special needs…diabetics, restricted diets…must be kept in mind.

Sudden situations may develop where some people have to go off. This too, cannot be helped and the situation must be dealt with as it arises.

One has to remind folks that the Bird Race birding is different from other days. Usually, we take as much time as we want to observe, document and photograph the birds; but on this day, it’s “tick-and-move-on”. For newbies, it’s a great way to see many birds in one day, and once in a while, this kind of birding is also interesting and fun…but it can’t be done often, and by that very reason, everyone tends to tarry at the site of an interesting sighting.

And increasingly, I am finding that people would rather bird longer, than wind up just to fight traffic to get to the evening gathering. Since bird counts can now be sent over mobile apps, it seems better logistically to bird until sundown, and then go home. But this does not take into account the joy of meeting other participants, and like-minded people, face-to-face, of cheering on the children who have participated, and enjoying a pleasant evening of simple camaraderie.

But if all this is done…it’s enormous fun to go in a group, exclaim over this or that bird, to ensure that everyone sees as many birds as possible, exchange great food and great jokes….and generally, have a wonderful time through the day!