I have always had a fascination for nature and the immense variety it offers. Usually the enjoyment that I derive is superficial – a state of ‘ignorant bliss’. It isn’t all that bad, I should say. But the desire to understand more has always been there. May be that would give me a better appreciation of the ways of nature. It was that search which led me to the Naturalist Training Program (NTP) run by Jungle Lodges. I was quick on the trigger to respond to the invite. Later on, I found out that it was good that I did so, for most participants had tried multiple times before getting a slot which goes on a ‘first come first served’ basis !

A program is usually as good as its mentor – true in this case as well. Karthik (S. Karthikeyan) who was our mentor for the program is a thin, bearded, soft spoken gentleman with a good sense of humour. More importantly his knowledge of nature was as luxuriant as the forests of Bannerghatta where the camp was held. We figured out during the three day program that Karthik did not just gray, he earned each strand of white hair on his beard through intense study of the subject of his passion – life all around us. The team of participants consisted of people with a wide range of background – from a complete novice like me to someone who earns his bread as a birding guide. It is not easy to handle groups with such diverse levels of knowledge. But, Karthik had something to offer to each one of us. He ensured that all participants returned a shade ‘wiser’ than what they were when they arrived.

The program covered overall biodiversity, reptiles, mammals, plants and even conservation. But, the stress was on birds and birding – a topic which I had no prior experience in. The program gave me an excellent insight into birds, bird behaviour and birding techniques as well as a little bit of practice through bird watching outings. For me, it was an astonishing discovery that so many species live in Bannerghatta area. An important lesson that NTP gave me was to go about birding in a scientific way and to take more effort in understanding bird behaviour. This is a little different (and way better, I should add) from the ‘check list’ approach where you have a look at the bird, locate the closest picture in the field guide and quickly tick off another name in the list!

Apart from the core subject, we also discussed a host of other topics like photography during birding, use of binoculars and modern day jungle tourism. My personal opinion is that one should enjoy nature with god-given eyes before seeing it through the view finder. I have found it difficult to do both at the same time for the simple reason that your perspective (literally) is very different while using a camera. But I could see that some of the participants could combine these very well. In the case of birding, I had no decision to make as my camera and lens were far from adequate to shoot little avian species always teasing the photographer by swift movement. We also got familiar with use of binoculars during the outings. It is again a matter of personal choice whether binoculars should be used or not. I felt the most suitable option for my aging eyes was to watch with naked eyes for an overall understanding and then zoom in using binoculars to see the details.

Modern day jungle tourism was another hot topic which brought out some varying points of view. As one would expect, all participants were in agreement about not disturbing the natural habitat in anyway, but there were differing views about the approach to tourism. I have always been annoyed by noisy tourists who are clad in unfriendly attires trying to capture their first tiger with the most modern digital camera for a pompous display when they are back in urban settings. But, that is just one perspective. I would admit that enjoying nature is not the monopoly of khaki-clad, binocular-wielding, researched elites. It is important to bring together both the categories that I have mentioned above and a whole host of others including children, to ensure that we conserve our natural resources. I feel that NTP alumni could put their heads together on this topic – it should be useful especially since we have divergent points of view!

By the time we were leaving our tents at the close of the program, all of us had gained tremendously as students of nature. I would now be equipped with my notebook and pencil whenever I am out. Field guide will be close by for reference and knowledgeable friends would be pestered for guidance. Fortunately, however hard we try to learn, there is enough knowledge out there to keep us sufficiently ignorant – a trait required to enjoy nature in an uncomplicated way. After all, I don’t want to completely lose my ability to sit back, stretch my legs and enjoy watching the birds flying around, with child-like innocence.

Posted by Rama Warrier who attended NTP the recent NTP. You could read his blog on http://ramawarrier.com/

Naturalist Training Program – for students of nature

If you love nature and want to approach your passion a little scientifically, this is for you. I always wanted to get some inputs to help my study of nature – to understand an appreciate it better. Naturalist Training Program or NTP for short is a three day program run by Karthik (S. Karthikeyan) who is the Chief Naturalist of Jungle Lodges. I attended the program which was conducted in the third week of Nov, 2010.

Here is a gist :

See if this is for you :

  • You love nature and all the life forms in it
  • You would like to explore this in a systematic way
  • You would like to be a part of a network of nature lovers and naturalists
  • You are looking for guidance to pursue your passion for nature
  • You can take two and a half days out – Friday to Sunday noon
  • You can travel to Bannerghatta nature camp in the suburbs of Bangalore

If you answer ‘yes’ to the questions above, this program is for you.

Guru : Karthik (check out www.wildwanderer.com if you want to know more about him )

Pre-requisites : Nothing other than an inquisitive mind and love of nature. Our batch had a complete dummy like me, a professional birding guide and others somewhere in between. All of us were satisfied with the program.

Duration : Two and a half days – usually Friday morning to Sunday noon

What is covered? : Broadly biodiversity, birds and bird behaviour, bird watching, plant- animal interaction, conservation and field outings

Methodology : A combination of classroom and outdoor sessions to enhance the knowledge and skills of participants to help them work their way towards becoming a naturalist – amateur or professional

How do I enrol? : Send a mail to Karthik (palmfly@gmail.com). He keeps a database of interested people and will mail you when the next program happens. It usually happens twice to thrice a year – subject to Karthik’s availability.