Incidental Lifers

The most exciting moment for any bird watcher is a lifer. A lifer is when a birdwatcher sees a bird species for the first time in his/her life in the wild. I started bird watching in 2010 and I already knew some of the common species before I moved into the real birding world. Since I started observing the species in the field, the first couple of years were filled with lifers. Wherever I went, wetland or forest, the lifers always brought me happiness. And there were instances where I got lifers even though my primary focus was not birding at that point in time.

The Barn Owl

Vanodaya is a Bangalore based NGO working for wildlife conservation. I joined Vanodaya in 2010 and I was involved in many wildlife conservation activities. We had many wildlife enthusiasts in the group and we used to meet every week on Sunday morning in Cubbon Park at 8 AM. Though most of them are working professionals, everyone is passionate about wildlife and we sacrifice the Sunday morning hours to meet and discuss the activities. Once I reached the usual place before the scheduled time and one of my friends had also reached there. We observed a different behaviour of crows. The crows were mobbing around the bush and they were trying to pull something from there. When we approached closer we saw the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) hiding inside the bush. It was a lifer for me. We chased away the crows and left the place to leave the owl on it’s own. Once in Chennai, I saw the Indian Eagle Owl being mobbed by crows. The barn owl is one of the widespread bird species that exist on all the continents except Antarctica. Barn owls are the natural pest control in farming lands. They hunt rodents and help farmers produce their crops. Farmers in Israel are placing artificial nest boxes for Barn Owls and the owls are accepting the nest box and they are breeding. Though they are widespread in many countries, they are not common. It took a decade for me to see a second Barn Owl, it was flying in the Palani Hillock around 9:00 PM.

Photo by Om Prakash

The White Cheeked Barbet

In 2010, I was eager to see a new bird species. Once I found a small green bird passing just in front of my home in Bangalore, in the early morning hours. I observed the same instance for the next couple of days and found where it went: it was perching on the mango tree nearby. I observed it’s appearance for a while and found it was a White Cheeked Barbet (Psilopogon viridis). This is one of the common species in Bangalore. Most of the Bangaloreans would have heard its call. They make a high pitched call: “ ku-turr” which can be heard in the city, even today, thanks to the remaining trees which still provide a habitat for this bird. These birds are very well camouflaged by their colour and therefore hard to spot, but their unique call is helpful in identifying this species.

Photo by Satheesh

The Indian Blue Robin

We finished our birding trip in the Nandi hills in 2011 on one of the cold days. We were able to find many species including a few lifers for me. We saw the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, the Puff throated Babbler, the Asian Paradise Flycatcher etc on the same day. While leaving the hills, I stopped my two-wheeler at one spot (maybe instinct) and I decided to spend a couple of minutes. I noticed some movements just near the road, close enough for me to not to have to take out my binoculars, and then I saw a beautiful small bird with white brows. It was the Indian Blue Robin (Larvivora brunnea). They breed in the Himalayas and then fly all the way to South India to spend the winter. I saw this bird again a couple of times during the winter, but the very first sighting of this bird was memorable.

Photo by Om Prakash

The Egyptian Vulture

It was a cold day in Agra and it was my first visit to the Taj mahal. This world wonder is indeed beautiful. We had taken a lot of photographs and we were approaching close to the monument. I saw the bird sitting on one of the four pillars, I took a picture of it and found that it was an Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus). Once the Egyptian Vultures were a common and widespread species but now they are very rare, particularly in South India. Due to the usage of Diclofenac for cattle, the bird population has declined by more than 90% as they were consuming the carcasses of the dead cattle. The decline of the Vulture population has been studied for all the species and the experts found Diclofenac is one of the major reasons. Arulagam is an NGO base in Tamil Nadu that works with the forest department to protect the Vulture species. They are creating huge awareness campaigns about the dangers of Diclofenac.

Photo by Raveendran Natarajan

The Painted Spurfowl

Once I was returning from Kabini to Palani, when I found a pair of colourful birds moving on the roadside in the Sathyamangalam forest range. Though I couldn't get a chance to take photographs I immediately referred to the guide and found they were Painted Spurfowls (Galloperdix lunulate). The Painted Spurfowls are resident birds but uncommon. I found them a second time 5 years later, in the Palani hills, interestingly I found them at the same location.

Photo by Raj

The Wire-tailed Swallow

It was monsoon weather in Bangalore. I had finished my lunch at the office and I was going back to my cabin. I found a few Swallows near the fountains and I was curious to know why because this is not the right time to see the Barn Swallow. They were not Red-rumped Swallows either so I observed them for some time and then one of them came close to me and it was perched on the ideal slab. I could very clearly see the long two tails and I took a photograph with my mobile. It was a Wire-tailed Swallow (Hirundo smithii). Observing nature closely helps to understand the changes and challenges faced by nature nowadays. Though I had experienced very long birding trips without lifers, nature sometimes surprises in its own way.

Photo by Om Prakash

Article Published in Leaf Litter Magazine June 2023. ©Satheesh Muthu Gopal

Share your interesting lifers with a location in the comment below..!! 

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  1. Excellent sir..

  2. Excellent Satheesh 👏🏼👏🏼

  3. Excellent 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

  4. This is an interesting article 😍😍 Thanks for sharing your lifer experience with us.. please keep sharing and I wish you more lifers in future 👍🏼

    1. Incidental lifers are always a special one. Let me say about my special lifer that’s first in your list. The baen owl. I have started my birding in winter of 2018 and it’s been years since I began. I have seen a lot of species during this vast years of my birding but I missed this one species and never stopped looking for it. My team gave me a lot hints about its whereabouts of the owl but I still missed it. The author himself saw it in the girivalam road of Palani Murugan temple and told me about it. I got excited and checked for a week but still I couldn’t see it. I never stopped looking and a year passed by. After I got my first dslr camera from my birding teammate Vishaka Guru anna and I got Marco lens to shoot snakes and insects. On the night of May 16 , 2023 I went in search of snakes along a lake at Ayakudi , Palani where I usually go in search of reptiles. I saw something in the shadow flying above the palm tree and I thought it’s a flying fox and ingnored it and suddenly I raised my torch above on the palm tree and saw the snowy white apple cut faced owl rotating it’s head in a circular motion and I couldn’t control my happiness of this amazing sighting I had of this owl. I clicked only one picture of it and enjoyed the naked eye sight of the owl instead of wasting the moment with camera. This kind of incidental sightings are always the best of the best. Excellent article Satheesh 👏🏼👏🏼 Waiting for more of these kind of unique article 🙌🏽

    2. Thank you Karthi for sharing the wonderful experience 😊🦉

    3. Thank you for the opportunity to share my side of story 🙏🏼❤️🙌🏽🦉

  5. Please ignore typing errors

  6. Very nice and well written Sathish,
    Thanks for sharing your life time experience with us..
    Your shares are a guide for future generations.
    I congratulate you with all my heart.