American ambassador Scott Delisi has reconciled to leaving Nepal without a new constitution, and he would have been happier if there had been more progress in making Kathmandu better prepared for future earthquakes. But what would have made him really sad would have been if hadnâ€™t been able to spot the spiny babbler before he leaves Nepal later this month.
An avid birder, Delisi finally fulfilled his wish to see one of only two bird species found only in Nepal at Nalang of Dhading last month. After years of doggedly pursuing this elusive bird on Phulchoki and elsewhere, he finally spotted and photographed it, pushing his â€ślife listâ€ť to 1,084 bird species, 193 of them from Nepal.
â€śWe would have felt very badly to leave Nepal without seeing the spiny babbler, and weâ€™d have had to come back for it,â€ť Delisi said as he prepares to leave Kathmandu to take up his new assignment as US ambassador to Uganda.
The bird bug bit Delisi and his wife, Leija, when he was posted to Botswana in 1997 and he found that whileÂ the big animals like lions and giraffes were sometimes hard to see, the birds were always around. That isÂ Nepal has 867 species of birds, 8 per cent of the total found in the world, and 130 of them are threatened because of habitat destruction and the disappearance of water bodies. Ten species of birds that were recorded here in the past are either extinct or have been extirpated, according to Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN).Â when the couple started working on their â€ślife listâ€ť, a list of birdsÂ Â spotted and identified for the first time.
Delisi says that is what fascinated him about bird-watching, the intellectual challenge of finding and recording individual species, their individual markings, their calls, and the way they change their behavior at different times of year. â€śThe more you look at birds, the more you are taken in by their incredible variation and the impact they have on the ecology, and how fragile their existence has become,â€ť Delisi says, holding a computer printout of his life list.
Delisi and Leija are very strict on themselves about recording a new species on their list. They donâ€™t tick off a bird if they have just heard its call, or caught a glimpse as it flies by, especially if it is one of those â€śLBJsâ€ť (little brown jobs). â€śWe are very picky, we donâ€™t just list a ruby-throated singing thrush just because we heard it. If we canâ€™t be sure, we donâ€™t tick it.â€ť
Most ambassadors play golf, others like to trek, and there was even an American ambassador in Kathmandu who was an avid mountaineer. But what drew the Delisis to birding was the ease with which you could just pick up your field guide, binoculars and go to Chitwan, Shivapuri, Pulchoki, or Dhulikhel. Sometimes months go by before a new species is added to a list, but then they find a new species of barn owl right in their own garden in Kamaladi in the centre of Kathmandu.
We ask LeijaÂ Delisi if their hobby has made her husband more easy-going. â€śHe is already a very calm, composed person,â€ť she answers diplomatically, â€śbirding gives him is a chance to forget about the office for a few hours here and there and scouting about for new birds to add to our life list is quite a satisfying way to soothe the mind.â€ť
Although Delisiâ€™s life list is respectable, he doesnâ€™t even come close to another US diplomat, Peter Kaestner, whose list has 8,200 of the worldâ€™s 10,000 or so bird species. Delisi denies with a laugh any link between his hobby and his postings in countries which are rich in birdlife.
â€śThe best part of birding in Nepal is the terrain,â€ť he says, â€śin Africa you spot birds from the back of jeeps because there are animals around that could eat you. But here you are always climbing mountains looking for birds. And it is the tremendous backdrop that gives birdwatching in Nepal its distinctive edge.â€ť
Delisi is a life member of Bird Conservation Nepal, and has been a roving ambassador for birds during his three-year tenure here in Nepal. â€śMy main worry is whether my grand-children will ever see the Bengal florican which is on the verge of extinction,â€ť says Delisi, â€śbut I am really happy that many young Nepalis are bird-watching, and are aware of the urgent need for conservation.â€ťGo back to previous page