I have been interested in birds since my childhood. Being born in the hilly district of, Wayanad, where birds sing and large carnivores roam , it was natural that I was attracted to them and the greenery around. My mother was a teacher in the nearby school and she had a good collection of feathers of common birds which was nicely kept in a large table book. She used to show it to us kids and talk about the various birds around us. As a child I was so curious to see the “living owners” of these feathers. It opened a whole new magnificent world of songs and colours to me. My earliest memory of a bird was that of an Indian pitta (“Kathakali” as told by my mother - it has broad black lining over its eye and also many distinct colours on its body) that moves gently on ground and comes close to us often. When I was five years old (1978) , one of my uncles came to live with our family for two years. He was keen to collect birds from wild, mostly parakeets, and keep them as pets. As kids we used to
accompany him to the woods around us to catch the birds. When some of the birds died my mom stuffed the birds and kept them on the walls. The demise of these feathered friends definitely made us very sad. But, later I found that, it was the one of the techniques used to preserve bird specimens! There were plenty of birds in our coffee garden, thrushes, parakeets, drongos, woodpeckers etc. When I was in the 8th standard I got an opportunity to attend a talk on birds by the renowned bird photographer and writer Mr. P.K Uthaman. His talk accompanied by beautiful photographs revealed a fascinating world of birds to me and I was hooked forever. In the same year I did my first mountain trekking to the top of Chembra peak in Wayanad which stands at a height of 6000ft !! It showed another amazing world existing on mountain tops, the Shola forests!! . In the Shola I heard many unique bird calls, which I had never heard in my backyard. Much later, I found that one of them was the “laughing thrushes”, a bird unique to these Mountains. Along with birds I was deeply interested in Mountains and forests of the Western Ghats.
When I grew up I accompanied many experienced bird watchers to many forest areas of Western Ghats and participated many bird surveys organised by State Forest Department. This was an opportunity to learn about the distribution and abundance of many bird species. In 2005, I met Mr. C. Sasikumar, senior ornithologist and author of many bird books of Kerala. He inspired me to pursue ornithology scientifically and often compelled me to publish my observations. There started long term collaboration in many ornithological studies.
My exposure to different communities of birds in different habitats across the Western Ghats over a period of 10 years kindled many scientific questions in my mind about cryptic diversities existing among mountain birds. How and why these variations evolved only within certain groups of birds and not in many other group of birds? Finding answers was not easy, but coincidently I met other scientists who had similar interests in evolution and there started some astonishing scientific research in this landscape using modern techniques and facilities. The outcomes of these studies are truly eye opening and not quite what I would have expected.
I was also curious about how birds live and adapt to the modified habitats such as plantations and paddy fields since these man-made boundaries hardly makes any difference to them. I did some research on these lines as well. My research interests and area of work can be seen in the Research page of this website.
Conservation becomes an integral part of scientific research. I was deeply motivated towards conservation by Bahugunaji, founder of the Chipko movement. He visited our school (SKMJ High School, Kalpetta)when I was in the 8th standard, motivating all of us to plant trees and protects forests. His visit and talks have been a great inspiration and often reminded me to orient my own research activities on conservation and supporting conservation of critically endangered species and threatened landscapes in Western Ghats. Much of my time is therefore dedicated to communicating with students, farmers and urban communities about the need for conservation. We need the Ghats, its amazing diversity to sustain forever at its full bloom so that the process of evolution continues.