Familiar Birds of Sanawar

A Pioneering Book That Brings Out the Love of School Children for Birds

“Birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.”

Familiar Birds of SanawarThis is the illuminating quote from Douglas Coupland with which a remarkable new book ‘Familiar Birds of Sanawar’ has started. This book has been brought out by the Sanawar Nature Club. The pioneering aspect of this book is that a very significant contribution to it has been made by students of the Lawrence School, Sanawar. This school, situated in the lap of nature in the lower Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh, is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. As the Headmaster, Himmat S. Dhillon has stated in his introductory remarks, this school, arguably the oldest co-educational boarding school in Asia( if not the world) takes a lot of pride in its highly diverse flora and fauna and this book, as also the affection and care that went into preparing it, is a reflection of this.

The involvement of students in such a venture over a period of several months brings them closer to the world of birds, particularly as an important contribution they have made is in the form of beautiful art work and sketches of birds.

As many as 62 birds are described in this colorful and beautifully produced book. Each bird gets two pages, including a description of the bird, habitat, range and call, followed by beautiful photographs and sketches.

This school excels in terms of its close and abiding relationship with its former students (some of whom also contributed in recent times to a tree planting effort) and they with their old memories of their school and its natural surroundings have also contributed much to this book. Hence this book has involved the cooperation of many students, former students (called Old Sanawarians or simply OS), teachers and staff-members, resulting in the richness of this book.

References, plumage terminology and checklist given at the end of the book have added further to its usefulness.

It is hoped that this book as a pioneering effort will also encourage other efforts of involving students more closely in consciousness regarding protection of birds and nature. This can be even more fruitful and enriching if efforts are made to reach out to farmers, women and elders in nearby rural communities to learn more about local birds and overall about biodiversity. The Lawrence School, Sanawar already has rich experience of serving rural communities in diverse ways and in fact recently also received an award for helping stranded migrant workers and other distressed persons in the early phase of COVID pandemic. Given this background it should not be difficult to seek the cooperation of rural communities also to further enrich the understanding of nature and biodiversity.

In the Himalayan region there has been much recent concern regarding many-sided environmental harm as a very large number of trees have been axed, although much of this damage could have been avoided. Thousands of trees have in fact been cut in the course of widening the Parwanoo-Dharampur highway (a part of Parwanoo-Shimla highway) on which students as well as staffers travel from time to time. If one goes to nearby villages, one hears distressing stories of how their life has been adversely affected by the axing of these trees and the subsequent landslides (several of which could have been saved). Each tree lost also means the home of several birds being lost. It is thus important to understand the linkages between the loss of rural communities and the loss suffered by birds.

Another big loss to birds has been caused by pesticides. Ever since Rachael Carson voiced grim and evidence-based warnings regarding the grave harm caused to birds in her classic book ‘The Silent Spring’, the evidence of the harmful impacts of pesticides on birds ( as well as on other important pollinators like bees and butterflies) has continued to grow. These dangers to birds should also be incorporated in such studies and guidelines included on how to minimize the harm to birds caused by such growing threats. This will help to improve further the great value of this book whenever a second edition is brought out.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine, Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and A Day in 2071.

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