By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Spring has arrived in the northern hemisphere, and many urban dwellers can hear a pleasant cacophony: the sound of birdsong that’s often obscured by the roar of city life.
Today is International Dawn Chorus Day for hearing birdsong. Dawn is the best time day to hear birds trilling, so if you weren’t aware of this event, you may have missed that high point. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the sound of birdsong: maybe not at dawn, but later in the day; maybe not today, but tomorrow or later during the week. And it’s not just city dwellers who can enjoy the sound, either, as Country Living notes, Good news! The dawn chorus is louder and clearer than it has been in decades, thanks to lockdown.
I’m well aware when birds start to arrive in springtime. My husband often heads the few short blocks from our house to Prospect Park to observe the spring bird migration. I would imagine that many non-birders would be surprised to learn that Central Park is a major stop on spring migration routes – and hosts a knowledgeable and lively birding community. It’s not just in New York city that birds have found niches, As yesterday’s Guardian noted:
Globally, city wildlife is doing rather well too. Red-tailed hawks – the North American equivalent of our buzzard – nest on the ledges of high-rise skyscrapers in New York; magnificent frigatebirds drift over the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, their outstretched wings mirroring his own pose; lesser kestrels – one of Europe’s rarest birds of prey – gather above Seville’s vast cathedral; and pied kingfishers hover like giant black-and-white butterflies over the River Nile in Cairo. All have found a niche where they can thrive in the heart of our cities.
The birds are there, in our cities, it’s just that this year, we can hear them singing so much more clearly.
Mumbai: Massive Flocks of Flamingoes
I don’t know very much about Mumbai and migrating flamingoes – although I have spent time watching these birds in Kutch, in Gujarat, at both the Great and Little Ranns, during many months of the year. That Indian state houses some of my favourite wildlife sanctuaries, where I imagine the lockdown really hasn’t affected the natural ebb and flow of birdlife. One can see birds, wild asses in Dasada, and even leopards and Asiatic lions in Gir National Park – the sole remaining place in the world they still live.
But the Indian lockdown – one of the strictest in the world, now extended through the 18th of May, with some relaxations – has left the city of Mumbai (Bombay) to the birds, as people shelter inside, since unlike most places elsewhere, getting exercise is not an allowable excuse to leave one’s dwelling.
Flamingoes migrate through Mumbai every year, and indeed, their number has been increasing, but this year, they’ve arrived in even greater numbers, as The Print reports. Absent the presence of their normal human competitors, the massive flocks of flamingoes are more conspicuous.
Along with many if not most readers, I share deep despair over the deluge of depressing COVID-19 news. Please permit me to share a couple of joyous videos, which lifted my mood a bit:
Mysterious ways of Nature?
Mumbai backwaters, as seen from Seawoods Complex in Nerul.
Every year 100s of pink flamingos migrate to this spot.
But this year, numbers are truly spectacular.
It’s mystery, sitting 1000s of miles away, how did flamingos come to know about the change? pic.twitter.com/SZiVSH49j0
— Harinder S Sikka (@sikka_harinder) April 16, 2020
The flamingoes are not the only natural benefit to India during this lockdown. The principal cities – Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai – are seeing air quality not glimpsed in decades. I have an elderly friend who lives in Kolkata who suffers from COPD> Mitrada is breathing much easier this year, along with everyone else in the country. Spare a minute to click on this link, as it reports some stunning information, India Witnesses Significant Drop in Pollution Levels Due to Lockdown, Reveals Satellite Data – which is preliminary, and only accounts for the very beginning of the lockdown through April. Whereas it is now May, and lockdown continues.
It’s not just better air quality and flamingoes in Mumbai, but India has seen at least two other environmental changes, according to India Today: dolphins near the Kolkata ghats, and water fit for drinking from the river Ganges near Haridwar. The dolphins have been spotted for the first tie in thirty years, according to the Times of India:
The sighting of South Asian River Dolphins is extremely rare these days, but thanks to the reduced water pollution, these beautiful creatures decided to show up on the shores and say hello to the city dwellers. A few days back, a number of reports surfaced, claiming the water quality of the Hoogly river in Kolkata has improved given the current lockdown situation. During this time, several endangered mammals were spotted in the city outskirts.
And now, the spotting of Gangetic dolphins has brought happiness to the city. Some 30 years back, spotting these water animals wasn’t an unusual occurrence. They used to be a regular visitor to the Kolkata ghats, but gradually, due to industrial pollution, these drifted away from the city.
According to the reports, the worldwide population of Gangetic dolphins is somewhere between 1200 to 1800. In an interview with TOI, Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, a senior environmental activist said that he spotted a couple of dolphins at Babughat in Kolkata. He said that due to the nationwide lockdown and lesser human activities, the quality of water has improved drastically and this is “one of the main reasons that the dolphins are coming back”.
And it’s not just India that’s seen a healthier environment.Lockdowns have allowed nature to move quickly to counteractsome of the damage humans have done. The Guardian again:
As well as the advantage of less hustle, bustle and extraneous noise from traffic and aircraft, the skies are clearer too, because air pollution has fallen dramatically. In Venice, the canals are clear and blue for the first time in decades, allowing fish and birds to thrive. The next step might be to cut light pollution at night: leaving lights blazing in empty offices and other commercial buildings is not only wasteful, but helps drive the climate crisis. It also seriously impacts wildlife, especially moths, bats and migrating birds, which can get disoriented by artificial light sources as they travel by night.
I wonder: how much and how many of these benefits will survive?
Yes, I am well aware that audible birdsong, dancing dolphins, and cleaner air and water have come at tremendous economic cost. Which has not only been endured so far, but which will continue to cause future suffering.
Still, I shall breathe in the air deeply – and enjoy the chorus of birdsong and the thought of dolphins cavorting again near Kolkata’s ghats.