Great bird lover, bibliographer
Hyderabad: Bird. Write. Read. Repeat.
This is what Aasheesh Pittie, 60, has been doing for 40 years. Unlike today’s birders, who are usually identified with long (and thick) lenses, his tools of choice were nothing but a pair of binoculars, a notebook and a pen for taking notes. A telescope was added later to view wading birds, the birds commonly found along shorelines.
What started as his field notes morphed into something great – a bibliography on South Asian ornithology. He published ‘Birds in Books: Three Hundred Years of South Asian Ornithology (2010)’. And recently, an expansion of it, “The Written Bird: Birds in Books 2” was released in early January this year. In the first book, Pittie indexed over 1,700 books written from the early 18th century to 2008. It covers birds from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. In the latest monograph, he indexed 535 titles published between 2009 and 2021.
Pittie also edits a digital magazine www.indianbirds.in and maintains a revered searchable database [www.southasiaornith.in]. South Asian Ornithologist [www.southasiaornith.in]. The database has more than 35,000 references, searchable by scientific names and keywords.
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“I started making myself an index. After each trip, I wrote down the details of the sightings. I realized that everything that was regularly published on birds was not easily accessible to interested people. The index was intended for my personal use, but I later felt it could help many others,” Pittie says of the Bibliography Foundation. He took up birdwatching in the 1980s with birdman Dr. Salim Ali’s “The Book of Indian Birds” as his main reference tool.
“I have a set of notes from Dr. Salim Ali. The originals are in the National Museum. I was able to get a copy. The notes show his remarkably calligraphic handwriting. He used to meticulously write down the notes every night. He used to have a page for each species and added more pages when needed. These notes formed the backbone of his “Handbooks of Birds of India and Pakistan,” says Pittie, showing a large hardcover book of his collections.
The Birdwatchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh sent handwritten postcards to its members on birdwatching trips. The bird watchers used to congregate at Koti before heading to Vanathalipuram, Shamirpet, Narsapur or the Zoological Park among others. “We would collate and publish the list in the next newsletter,” says Pittie, who found a mentor in Pushpa Kumar, who retired as a PCCF from the PA Forestry Department, and was known for his vast knowledge. birds.
“The Vanasthali had a dump nearby and there were thousands of vultures there. With just a fence around it turned into a forest area to support a large ecosystem,” he says.
An incident while birdwatching at ICRISAT cemented his love for birds and nature. “We saw an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) dive into the water and disappear for a few moments. He reappeared with a large fish caught in his claws. It was completely wet. He initially struggled with the weight of the fish and eventually started moving. In doing so, he turned the fish’s nose in the direction of flight. We were amazed by this movement. It was an evolution in action. He made the fish streamlined to reduce resistance in flight. Not everything is in books (or on the internet). Even if you see the same bird every day, the experience will not be the same because the bird behaves differently in different conditions,” says Pittie, who also learned early on to “see birds with ears” based on of their cries.
“You will be surprised to learn that the common raven (Corvus splendens) will dunk a hard roti, bread or papad in water and eat it when soft. But you have to spend time observing this kind of behavior he says.
“Whether it’s bird watching or bird photography, the goal should be to enjoy what we’re doing. However, the bird and its safety comes first and not the photography. If its environment is changed, chances are the bird will get distracted and become easy prey,” he says.
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