Natural sightings soar under quarantine - GulfToday

Natural sightings soar under quarantine

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

india lockdown 3

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Observations from the natural world to citizen science platforms have soared during the quarantine. Platforms such as eBird and iNaturalist depend on public contribution of data for scientific research and have reported increased contributions from across India in spite of the lockdown.

Pointing out that looking into backyards (or inside houses) can introduce us to the birds, insects and other life-forms that coexist with us in cities, a recent Mongabay Series report has found that natural history experts and enthusiasts are spending more and more time at their windows, balconies and terraces in different cities of India as the COVID-19 pandemic has confined them to their homes.

Nearly 3000 observers in India upload 400,000 to 600,000 observations per month on the eBird platform. eBird experts say that that these people were contributing valuable insights even when they were stuck at home.

eBird and other platforms were quick to encourage citizens to stand, stare, collect and report natural world data from their backyards, balconies and trees around them.

Bird Count India, a platform working to increase knowledge of bird distribution and population, started the Lockdown Birding Challenge on March 27. The challenge required people to observe their backyards for just 15 minutes, twice daily, at particular time slots till the lockdown ends.

The lockdown birding challenge generated tremendous response amongst bird watchers across the country. Birders from all over submitted their lists from their balconies, rooftops, gardens, and campuses; reporting herons and hornbills, green pigeons and flycatchers. Many of them started noticing the resident birds around them that were involved in breeding activities.

The challenge motivated citizens to look for birds for exactly 15 minutes, standing at the same place (called ‘stationary protocol’) during specific time slots every day. The purpose of pre-dawn and the night lists were to document early-rising birds and nocturnal species, respectively. Lists had to be ‘complete’ (all birds that they were able to identify needed to be included) and uploaded to the eBird platform (ebird.org/india). The eBird mobile app was also one of the methods to upload sightings.

Though the idea of the challenge was not new, this was to motivate people stuck at homes during quarantine and increase their involvement in the natural world. In order to spark their interest, simple instructions were also handed out.

Flocks of birds flying over (e.g., towards their roosting sites in the evening) had to be marked as “Flyover” and the direction of flight needed to be mentioned in the comments; if birds were feeding on a flowering or fruiting tree nearby, that too needed to be mentioned (including the species of tree) in the comments. The relative lack of noise was pointed out as a good opportunity to try out some bird sound recordings using smartphones (if other recording equipment was not available).

Just like the other birding challenges that the platform had initiated, once the data had been corroborated, all those who managed to meet the target would be named on the website, and one among them will be chosen at random to receive a small gift in appreciation.

Experts told Mongabay that the challenge also coincided with the breeding season of many resident birds. Hence, observations such as a nest with chicks or a bird flying with nesting material could build datasets to study breeding seasonality in the future.

One such citizen lockdown project listed in the Mongabay report engaged audiences online as well. The ‘Terrace Series’ included photographs of birds in backyards and on insect sightings indoors to shed light on homes within human homes – of social paper wasps, pharaoh ants, signature spiders and many others.

Another organisation, SeasonWatch has a regular Spring Festival that encouraged people to look at the changes trees undergo from 15 February to 31 March. This time SeasonWatch gathered around 7,100 observations in 46 days, including part of the lockdown period.

There are already government initiatives that powered by citizen science data. For the pioneering report ‘State of India’s Bird 2020’, researchers harnessed data contributed by more than 15,500 birdwatchers across the country, comprising over 10 million bird observations, uploaded to the online platform eBird India.

This comprehensive report based on data collected by birdwatchers (including citizen scientists) has found that Indian birds are in overall decline. One such important finding recorded that the population of house sparrows was declining in Indian cities but roughly stable across the country. Recognising the power of such data, the researchers have stressed the need for greater collaborations with birdwatchers and naturalists.

Related articles