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Home >> Birding Banter >> Delhi Bird Watching Society
 

Delhi Bird Watching Society

Apr 19, 2006 at 01:19 AM
 
Delhi Bird Watching Society - Peter Jackson
 
The Delhi Bird Watching Society was had only a handful of members during my tenure as Secretary in the 1960s. But with General Sir Harold Williams doing most of the work, we produced the first Delhi list with the Latin names. We, including, of course, Usha Ganguli until her fatal illness used  to go out on Sundays sometimes, but I was usually out by myself. I was also out every morning for an hour or two before settling down to my work as a foreign correspondent. I lived in Prithviraj Road and did not have to go very far to be in the countryside in those days. Okhla, where General Williams, then President of the DBWS, introduced me to Salim Ali on 7 November 1954, was always a good place. We (or rather they, because I was a beginner) recorded 69 species in a couple of hours - I still have the list.
I was pleased to see recent reports from visitors.
It is worth recording that Indira Gandhi was a founder member of the DBWS. But I knew her because, as Reuters correspondent in Delhi, I was constantly following Panditji, and Indira. In 1969, IUCN held its General Assembly in Delhi, and I took a distinguished group of birders to Sultanpur - including Salim Ali, Peter Scott, founder of the Wildlife Trust, Dillon Ripley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and Luc Hoffmann, a leader in IUCN/WWF and European wetland studies, as well as Prince Birendra from Nepal. We had a wonderful day. On the way back to Delhi, Peter Scott asked if anything was being done to protect the jheel. I had to say "nothing", and Peter asked who he should write to. I suggested some names, such as the Chief Minister of Haryana and the Minister for Environment. As so often, nothing happened.  I decided to put the matter to Indira Gandhi, who had been to my house to see my bird photos. I wrote her a letter describing the area, with a list of the birds and some photos. Her reaction was swift - she asked me to take her there. Her security staff came with me to the jheel to scout the area. We made arrangements for a Sunday visit, but on the Friday I got a message saying she could not go. However, she took action and asked the Chief Minister to protect Sultanpur. I had left India when it happened in 1972.
A few years later, Indira was held at the Sultanpur resthouse after her arrest, and so she did see the jheel. From time to time I have returned to Sultanpur and been saddened by its decline. It seemed ironic last October that I received the BNHS Salim Ali International Award for Conservation, with Sultanpur listed as one of my achievements, just as my friends were telling me it was finished, no water. I went to Delhi, and, despite the depressing reports, went again to Sultanpur. There was some water and some interesting birds. And, that very
day, a new agreement with the water authorities was implemented and water began to flow into the jheel.
Many who have been to Sultanpur will have seen me described as "world-famous ornithologist" in brochures and placards. I wasn't then, and am not now. In fact I am known mainly as a tiger and other wild cat specialist. Unfortunately, the people responsible in early days confused me with Peter Scott.
When I did my 24-hour bird count (146 spp.) in April 1970, Sultanpur provided many of the observations. I shall scan my report and map and post them on the site some time.
Incidently, I was interested to see the recent message that I had recorded the grey-headed fishing eagle at Sultanpur in 1969. I could not help recalling Salim Ali telling me how, when he looked back from his old age, he could not help wondering about some of his early identifications . I hope I was right - it was not impossible.

 
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