The first ever Indian Dawn Chorus Day was celebrated across West Bengal by members of the Bird Watchers Society on Sunday, April 2, 2023. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, before the break of dawn, more than 40 members of the society fanned out to different birding hotspots in the state – from the mountains to the sea – armed with their recording gear to record the early morning vocalization of the birds in those areas.
What Is Dawn Chorus
Wild birds exhibit a peculiar behaviour. Every morning they start calling just before sunrise. Each species has its own precise time to start this call and in a forested area the vocalization of individual birds becomes a chorus within a short span of time where all the birds start calling in unison. This is known as dawn chorus and the scientific community is studying the different aspects of this phenomenon for a long time now to understand birds more intimately.
Apart from its aesthetic appeal that many call a symphony, a careful scientific study of dawn chorus can reveal a lot of things about natural history. For example, the quality of a particular forested area can be easily understood from acareful study of the quality of the dawn chorus of that area. This is a very basic but important example of how dawn chorus can help us unravel the mysteries of the wilderness.
International Dawn Chorus Day
While dawn chorus can be and should be studied round the year, internationally one particular day in the year has been chosen to celebrate it to increase awareness about this natural phenomenon that can be easily appreciated if not studied. That is the first Sunday of May every year.
It started as a radio programme really. Conceptualised by a British broadcaster Chris Baines, various events are planned by naturalist socieities across the world on the first Sunday of May. The most popular of them being a live global event where a host of international radio stations are connected together. Broadcasters connected to these radio stations go to particular bird rich areas in their respective countries and listen in to dawn chorus, with commentaries by experts. This programme has a global reach and appeal. It starts from the eastern most part of the world and as the sun traverses from east to west the programme passes on from country to country where dawn is breaking.
From India All India Radio has started participating in this event from 2018 when Chapramari was chosen as the first spot in India for an international audience. Noted ornithologist and photographer Sumit Sen led the team that presented the programme on behalf of the Indian contingent.
Indian Dawn Chorus Day
Although the international dawn chorus day is celebrated across the world in the first week of May, for a tropical country like India May is not the most optimum time to listen to bird calls. Birds are most vocal during their mating season, which is spring. May is optimum springtime in Europe but summer in the tropics. Apart from the discomfort factor of the hot Indian summer, many parts of India start experiencing heavy thunderstorms during this time of the year.
Therefore, when Birdwatchers Society decided to celebrate dawn chorus day in India it chose the first Sunday of April to do this. However, in the first year it decided to keep the event confined within the geographical boundaries of West Bengal. Once the teething troubles are sorted out, the programme can be scaled up both in terms of number of participants as well as geographical spread. Given the enthusiastic first year’s response from national and local media and participants’ interest it is hoped the event will gain in popularity in future.
What Happened on the Maiden Dawn Chorus Day
On that April Sunday of this year, the maiden venture for BWS, the dawn chorus participants met online from the field itself to discuss and listen to the sounds from one another for over an hour. It is indeed heartening to see so much enthusiasm and interest among members for a birding related activity which goes beyond taking pictures and photography.
The birds that were heard included the commonly heard ones like the Asian Koel, White-throated Kingfisher (West Bengal’s state bird), Jungle Babblers, Common Mynas, Blue-throated Barbets, Black-hooded Orioles, Yellow-bellied Prinia and various cuckoos among others.
In the process of recording, a couple of rare birds got sighted in the state, albeit no sound record could be made of them. Most notable among them was a Yellow-legged Buttonquail from Rongtong in the Darjeeling Himalaya by Sandeep Chakraborty. Samiran Jha’s team in Malda’s Adina Deer Park sighted a nesting pair of Grey-headed Fish Eagle. They also got Brown -capped Pygmy Woodpecker and a flock of 16 Oriental Turtle Doves.
One major success of the maiden initiative was the coverage across the state. There were volunteers from the high Himalayas (Majua Basti below Singalila National Park) to the seas (Frazergunge near Bay of Bengal). Many of these habitats, particularly those near large urban areas are under threat. The soundscapes that were recorded may be lost forever very soon.
BWS is committed to carry this initiative forward.