On the face of it, Dr. Jayan Thomas may appear to be a regular doctor who is busy with his patients all week. But on weekends, this doctor does something that sets him apart from the rest. He goes to spend his time in the company of birds.
Birding is not very common in Kerala. So how did this famous ophthalmologist in Kannur get fascinated with birds?
“It was 10 years ago. I used to take these walks on Payyambalam beach. One day I spotted a few bee-eaters. I observed these birds smashing bees on the wires of an electric post and then swallowing them. This was fascinating and that’s when I got interested in birds.”
Since then Dr. Jayan takes off on weekends to observe birds. He is part of communities like Kerala Birder, which he feels has helped him develop his knowledge of birds.
The highlight of Dr. Jayan’s birding journey has been a photograph he took of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. This rare bird from Alaska was spotted in Kannur and he is the only person from South Asia who has a picture of it. He went back home and checked with his network of birders, and people across the world confirmed its name.
Though he knew it was a rare bird, he had no idea at the time that the photograph would get him into the Limca Book of Records.
“This bird has never been seen in Kannur. It came to Madayipara, which is close to the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala. This is a beautiful place with a hillock on one side and the ocean on the other. Normally, this bird goes to South America. It probably came to Kannur because of some strong wind. It was one among a flock of other birds. It was here for three days and then it disappeared.”
As compared to States like Karnataka, birding is not a popular activity in Kerala. There isn’t a big community here. Dr. Jayan usually goes on his bird watching trips with a couple of friends who share his interest. He also is actively involved in online communities like E Bird – where one can store a log of the birds sighted in different regions.
The western coast of India sees visits from many migratory birds. And the Malabar region is also home to some resident birds. Prominent among then is the White-bellied Sea Eagle.
“This bird requires a tall tree to make a nest. It’s very tough to find a tall tree around the coast now as people are cutting down trees to make buildings. Now, the Sea Eagle is diminishing in numbers,” says Dr. Jayan.
After taking an interest in birds, Dr. Jayan has become more sensitive to ecological problems. A big issue in Kerala, he feels, is the lack of land. As people are encroaching on bird territories like wetlands to construct homes, Dr. Jayan feels there will soon come a time when there won’t be any birds left in the State.
Dr. Jayan is also involved in the conservation efforts of Kerala Birder. The Forest Department, with the group’s support, has a wetlands project on the cards, wherein it intends to purchase and maintain wetlands specifically for the bird population.
Dr. Jayan also conducts bird walks in association with a home stay in Kannur.
For those who have an interest in birding, Dr. Jayan has some sound advice.
“You need to first buy a guidebook on the birds in your region or on the birds in India. Then buy a good pair of binoculars. Initially, you will need someone to tell you about the birds. Slowly, you can start observing them on your own. It is a good hobby for everyone. They have a good family system, they mate for life, and they are tidy. They also have a courtship before getting married. They are similar to us and superior to us, I feel. There is so much to learn from them,” says Dr. Jayan.