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Global Birdwatchers Conference 2010

Car horns blaring, traffic chaos, cows in the street, people everywhere, Black Kites over head, sunshine, welcome to India!

Arriving in Delhi has changed; gone is the madness and crush of bodies that culturally shocked you to the core, sad in some ways. Delhi now has a modern, clean, brightly lit, airport just like New York or Paris or any where in the world. You now have to wait until you leave the airport before India slaps you in the face and has your eyes out on storks and your brain in a whirl taking it all in.

We were here to attend the first ever Global Birdwatchers Conference being held in Khijadiya, in the state of Gujarat so our journey was not over yet. An internal flight followed by a coach transfer and we made it to our hotel. It was pitch dark so we crashed out and set the alarm early.

Stepping out from the hotel in to the morning sun we heard cranes calling and a flock of Demoiselle Cranes flapped slowly over! We were stunned, a new bird for us and we were still in the hotel grounds, what a start. The drive to the conference produced many more cranes, both Demoiselle and Common, in the fields along with White throated Kingfishers and Spotted Doves all over the place, wonderful.


As we entered Jamnagar, the host city for the conference, the streets were lined with hundreds of posters welcoming birdwatchers and showing some of the amazing bird life the area has to offer, our appetites were wetted for the field visits to come. The imposing town hall was decked out in colourful arches, ribbons, posters and photographs again welcoming all the delegates from around the world, a real buzz on arrival. We spilled out of the coach and immediately we were talking birds with friends that been total strangers only seconds before, that is surely one of the greatest things about this conference, friendships forged from a common passion for birds!


Inside the auditorium birdwatchers thronged and took their seats for the opening ceremonies. It was good to see that the politicians had taken notice of the importance of the conference, and had come along to address the gathering. We hope their words on conservation were heart felt and when we return we will see many of the improvements talked of implemented.


The first session was on “Migratory Birds of India with special reference to Gujarat” a snappy title! Four speakers told of the array of magical birds that visit the fantastic habitats in the state, a real eye-opener for us and we are sure for most of the overseas visitors, how had this place been kept a birdwatching secret for so long? Tens of thousands of migrant waders and wildfowl use the vast wetlands for refuelling and over wintering; again we were itching to get out there.

After a wonderful lunch and more bird talk, the air was full of laughter and chatter; it was back for the second session – “Birdwatching and Photography”. We were treated to some stunning images of Indian birds, wildlife and landscapes, a joy to watch.

Then at 4pm we were let loose and out in to the field, after the long journey and sitting in doors it was a joy to be out in the warm sunshine, blue sky above and birds everywhere! It was only a short drive to the magical wetlands of Khijadiya. Wisely the delegates had been split in to groups and each group visited a different part of the huge wetland reserve. Our group were dropped off at a watch tower that over looked huge freshwater marshes on one side of the track and saltpans on the other, heaven! It was just heaving with birds and everyone talked at once pointing out the latest new bird for the trip. It was the Cranes that stole the show for us, mostly Common but with a few Demoislle amongst them. These magnificent birds were dropping in to roost on the saltpans, giving their trumpeting calls as they flapped slowly across the orange setting sun, just stunning, we stood and soaked it up.


All too soon the light had gone and we made our way back for the last session of the day, it was a full programme that is for sure! Session three covered Birdwatching and Conservation but it has to be said many of the delegates, ourselves included were just about out on our feet after our long journeys to get here and then all the excitement of the day.

We collapsed in to bed that night our heads spinning from all that we had seen and heard, had it really only been that morning when we had seen the cranes fly over the hotel? We had packed a huge amount in to just one day and there was more to come!

Day two and we were out before dawn to be bussed back to the reserve to visit another area of the wetland. It was just magical to out in the wilderness of the marshes at sunrise. It cool and calm with a clear sky and the marsh noises, frogs, wildfowl and cranes filled the still air. The eastern sky slowly glowed orange as we walked along an embankment over looking a vast area of open water and reedbeds.


As the light improved the birds came thick and fast! Wood Sandpiper skipped along in front of us calling, excited by the dawn, Red-wattled Lapwing flew up in alarm and then just as quickly settled back down. Thousands of Coot carpeted the open waters and amongst them Gadwall, Pochard and Great crested Grebes. White-throated and Common Kingfishers whizzed over the still water as Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers floated up from their roosts. Dusky Sand Martins hawked over the surface as Citrine Wagtails hurried along the edge. River Terns with their characteristic slow wing beats patrolled searching for the first meal of the day, paradise! We all helped each to share the joy of each new sighting and it was wonderful to be able to show our hosts great views of many of the birds in the scope, helping them really appreciate what a fantastic spectacle they have here at Khijadiya.


Time flew by as it always does when you are enjoying wonderful birding and time was called, now here it all went a little wrong! Trying to very politely ask to ask a group of very keen birders to make their way back to the bus when all around are stunning birds was never going to be easy! We were as guilty as the rest of them, stopping to watch Oriental Honey Buzzard, Isabelline Shrikes, singing Bluethroat; Black shouldered Kite and many other birds instead of getting back to the waiting bus! Of course by the time we had all trouped back we were way behind schedule, the plan had been to return to the hotel for breakfast then on to the conference, no way was there time for that now.

As we were speaking in the first session we decided to go straight to the conference, which was due to start any minute, many others sadly decided to back to the hotel and missed the start of the second day. This was very disappointing and needs to addressed for any future conferences.

Day two began with Eco-Tourism and Ted Floyd from the American Birding Association kicked things off with an excellent presentation, next up was Alexander Mischenko who gave a Russian view, then it was our turn. Thankfully many of the breakfasters had now filtered in but still a good number of delegates were “missing” and there was no sign of the previous day’s politicians and dignitaries, sad they could not support the whole conference.

We took to the podium and gave our talk on Eco-Tourism that we had experienced during The Biggest Twitch and told of our adventure at the same time. Our main message was that Eco-Tourism must benefit the local community, not just a few rich people, so that the community values its wildlife and then protects it. The blend of tale and best practices we had seen went down very well, we would have loved to have talked for longer!

The last two speakers a Malaysian gentleman and a lady from M.S. University rather lost their way with their talks and time badly ran over despite the very best efforts of chairman Mr. Hash Vardhan who was a great character.

Lunch again allowed for more bird talk and it was wonderful to see so many people from all around the globe mixing and sharing their passion for birds.

The afternoon session was on Avi-Tourism and had an Africa flavour with Duncan Pritchard talking on community based conservation programmes, the way to go, and Peter Ryan on the need for field guides and infrastructure to promote Avi-Tourism, both excellent speakers. These were followed by three more talks with a more local flavour highlighting some the work that is beginning to done here in Gujarat.

Then we had another chance to head out to marshes and enjoy more wonderful birding. Just a few of the highlights our group experienced included a huge Black necked Stork on its nest, a male Pallid Harrier floating past so close, and Ferruginous Ducks diving next to Purple Swamphens, just brilliant!

Unfortunately our travel plans changed and we had to leave the conference before the final morning field trip to a coral reef where those that went saw Crab Plover – gripped!

The conference had been a wonderful experience and we had made so many new friends and learnt so much, not least that Gujarat has wildlife spectacles just waiting to be discovered. But perhaps most of all it gives hope that birdwacthing, and birders, can help conserve not only this wonderful area but on a global scale, the amazing wildlife we have. Let us hope that the Global Birdwatchers Conference 2010 is the first of many and that great things for birds and people come from it.

We would like to thank the many, many people that worked so hard to make this event so successful and we know much has been learned from this first conference to make future events even better! We look forward to next one.



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