Meet an Educator is a monthly series by Early Bird, where we feature the work of educators across India who are actively spreading the joy of birds and nature. This month’s featured educator is Deepa Mohan, a wildlife volunteer and bird educator. She organises regular bird walks in and around Bengaluru.

Do tell us about yourself, where you are from, and your work.

I am Deepa Mohan, and my “work” now is that of a wildlife volunteer and bird educator. 

I have conducted free bird/ nature walks, regularly, for more than ten years now (except during the lockdowns and when I am out of town), to several locations in and around Bangalore, and some in the Melagiri area too. 

I have several WhatsApp groups… Two only for announcements (click here to join), some for Nature information and discussions,  one for children and their parents, one for asking ids of Indian birds, one  for buying/ selling camera equipment… and several local groups, such as Whitefield birding group North Bangalore birding group.

Are you a birder? What about bird watching excites you?

Yes, I am a birder. Everything about bird watching is exciting….going to various locations in and around Bangalore, in India an abroad…I am as excited to watch a well-known bird as to spot a rarity.

When and how did you get interested in bird/nature education?

Over a period of time, I realized that Bngbirds, the umbrella group of birders and nature lovers in Bangalore, were organizing only outings to Lalbagh once a month. So I started walks to the Bannerghatta biosphere locations. Over a period of time, I got involved in many institutions like IIM B and IISc, and schools too. I do like sharing the treasures that we have around us, in terms of both the birds, and other living beings, and the scenic locations too. We are very lucky, in Bangalore, to have so much natural beauty and diversity around us.

©Vijetha Sanjay

What do you hope to achieve through your education work?

That cliched phrase….awareness of the environment, and respect for it! We would not wantonly destroy our natural heritage if we understood its worth and importance.

Why do you believe it is important for children to learn about birds or connect with nature?

The same as above. When children learn to regard their surroundings, and are aware of the bird life around them, they will be moved to protect both.

What tools or resources have helped you in teaching about birds? Can you describe an approach that has worked exceptionally well for you?

I started, of course, by field work, and used bird books to show the images of the birds. The increasing availability of materials on the internet has been a great help. I also use both the beginner’s bird brochures and the flash cards devised by EarlyBird. My approach is to take adults and children first on a birdwatching outing, and then show them a presentation indoors, or have fun games to do with birding afterwards.

Talking to some young women and sketching some birds for them, at Charotar, near Anand, Gujarat. ©Bud Chapman

Have you encountered a significant challenge as a bird/nature educator, how did you overcome it?

Some challenges (which continue) are the lack of permission from the authorities. This comes in two forms: refusal to allow schoolchildren to go on a field trip; refusal to give access to birding areas. Of course, Covid was a major block, but hopefully, that is behind us now. It’s a constant struggle to get access and get participants permission to come out with me (especially if it is a government school). Sustained efforts  are sometimes successful…sometimes not! Eg. I took the children of Somanahalli government school to a lovely pond near their school, but the school did not give permission for them to come and experience the Birdsong Installation which was then at the Indian Music Experience Museum in Bangalore.

Do share any memorable moment or experience you have had in teaching kids about birds/nature. Can you recall any insightful instance that shaped your perspective?

I find that children are, for the most part, alert and curious. Piquing their interest is very easy. My “aha” moments are very many! One was when a little girl slipped her hand into mine and said softly, “You make the birds so interesting! Now I watch for them all the time.” Several questions by children have me looking up more information and in the process, learning more myself. 

Children of Somanahalli Government School drawing and talking about their favourite birds ©Vijetha Sanjay

Have you noticed any changes in your learners after they received exposure to birds and nature-based learning? If yes, what are they? If not, why do you think that is?

Yes, many of them are far more aware of the birds and the natural world around them. The state of dichotomy between  “our world” and the “world of Nature” seems to dissolve and they begin regarding themselves as part of Nature.

What message would you have for your fellow educators, or somebody starting out in their nature education journey?

Oh…can’t give much “gyaan” about this! Each of us might choose a different way. I would say….being very interested in people/children as well as birds, keenness to go out on field trips, and being a good communicator are definitely part of the journey.

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