The arrival of the postman at our doorstep, just before noon, is always a welcome event, more so when he brings something always awaited by us: a book or a magazine, or even the rare letter. Today, he brought the latest issue of Indian Birds, volume 8 number 5 of our subscription to this excellent bird journal, which we have in our little library from the very first issue. The latest issue promised interesting reading over a quiet weekend indoors, tucked away from melancholy mists and monsoon rains. Opening the issue, I was delighted to see the first paper titled ‘Notes on Indian rarities—1: Seabirds’, by three leading ornithologists, J. Praveen, Rajah Jayapal, and Aasheesh Pittie. It was the first part of a very welcome series on Indian birds, a critical review of all bird species reported from India, especially rare birds with few records, all as a prelude to making a systematic checklist of Indian birds that I will much look forward to. Their task is not an easy one, to sift through reports and publications, examine records and evidence, verify details and locations mentioned, in order to arrive at a reliable and complete list of India’s birds. In their first paragraph, they highlight several difficulties and lacunae that are are spot-on. I liked their observation on species that have made their way into checklists, without adequate basis:
An unfortunate fallout is that several contentious species, with dubious provenance, have crept into such lists virtually unchallenged, often abetted by the professional standing of the observers and/or the periodicals they are published in.
The authors’s emphasis on the necessity of critical review, on the need to establish an Indian Bird Records Committee, on verifiable evidences to support bird records, are all timely and pertinent. After explaining the intent and describing the thorough methodology they followed to find and screen records of birds, they provide detailed species accounts summarising their findings and conclusions. I was grateful to them for taking this initiative and leading us through the occasionally murky waters of Indian ornithology.
Still, I immediately wondered what the authors had concluded about a bird species that I myself had seen and reported along with my brother, a compulsive birder, nearly three decades ago. My eyes gravitated automatically to the bird, the second species on their list: White-tailed Tropicbird Phaeton lepturus. In one paragraph, with an accompanying table, they summarised the records from across India, of this beautiful bird.