Creating a visual map of monsoons and bird migrations

When petabytes of big data from satellite imagery and thousands of hands come together to create a movement — something as simple as tracing the migratory patterns of the pied cuckoo

The pied cuckoo, sometimes called the rain bird, is a migrant, and much like migrants across the world, is seen as having mystical qualities. Every year, in a wide curve, the pied cuckoo follows the south-westerly winds that blow in across the Indian Ocean, leaving Africa for the Indian subcontinent. If you believe folklore, the bird brings the rains.

Of course, we don’t care to any more, because, “We have systematically been educated out of our connections with nature,” says M D Madhusudan, Scientist and Co-founder at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), a non-profit based out of Mysuru.

Madhusudan himself is a bit of a storyteller, who talks of Kalidas’ Meghdoota, which tells of the long wait for the rain by everyone from the black-and-white bird to the poet with a pitcher. The scientist combines this with a recent interest in how data can be represented visually to communicate complex concepts to the layperson. He says he’s simply following through on an effort first initiated by his colleague, Dr Suhel Quader, in 2011.

The human connect

Legends, songs, parables, have all told of the migration of the pied cuckoo, some from within south India, some from Africa. But tracking the movement of birds is not easy. “If a single scientist were to track a bird species like the pied cuckoo across hundreds of thousands of square kilometres and over many years, can you imagine the number of people that would have to be employed to gather such data,” he asks. Instead, scientists have partnered with thousands of enthusiastic birdwatchers across the country to form a citizen-science network. Not only does such collaboration yield insights into the distribution and abundance of birds, it also helps in understanding large-scale phenomena, such as patterns of bird migration....Read more


Source web page: The hindu

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