By Kul Bhushan
Migratory birds fly to India in October-November and return home by mid-April as the powerful sun scorches the plains. But one intrepid photographer, an Englishman, returns to India even in the hot summer to photograph birds.
Amano Samarpan has been "shooting" the birds for the last 16 years all over India. He maintains that winter is not the only good season for birding, summer may have fewer birds but they often look more dramatic.
When birds start getting ready for breeding, their colours tend to become stronger and more vivid to attract a mate, and brighter colours help in this. During the non-breeding season, their colours tend to become drab again since the danger of brighter colours is that they make themselves more vulnerable to predation. Colour changes occur from changes in pigmentation produced by the body. But some birds do not change colours at all and not all birds breed in the summer, a few prefer the autumn or winter.
His first book of photographs, Birds of India, was recently launched by Pavan K. Varma, the director general of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), who paid warm tribute to his patience and persistence in getting outstanding photographs of Indian birds. It is a handy field guide for all who want to watch or photograph birds. Samarpan also held an exhibition of his bird photographs at Osho World Galleria, New Delhi, inaugurated by well-known photographer Avinash Pasricha and it garnered a lot of media attention.
He still remembers the first day in India.
"Lying in bed in Delhi trying to sleep off the jetlag, I was greeted by the sound of house sparrows outside," recalls Samarpan, "After a while, they could be heard inside the room and then I felt them landing on my prone body, using me as one of their perches as they played around.
"The clamourous reed warbler is one who stands out. Hearing them in the undergrowth near the Yamuna river (that runs past Delhi), I replied to the tutting sounds coming forth and after a while established a kind of rapport with the little creature until silence fell. It seemed contact was lost until the bird suddenly appeared with a huge fly in its mouth, an offering perhaps. Ungratefully, it seemed, I responded with a couple of fast shots with my camera before the bird disappeared. After that, although I often heard it, never again did it respond, in spite of my returning the next day and the day after," he said.
"You need to win the birds' confidence before you can get good shots. If you chase them, they fly away. Win their confidence with no sudden movements, by remaining silent and moving slowly. Of course, you need to have the right equipment - a good camera with a telephoto lens of at least 400 metres, a pair of binoculars and a tripod. Dress in pastel colours, wear a big hat and comfortable walking shoes. These are the most important rules of this game," he maintained.
"All birds view humans as potential predators," he said. "Even if you are taking photos to conserve them, they do not know and so will try to fly away from you. One gets lucky at times. Once, in the Morni Hills near Chandigarh, an Indian roller flew over him and landed a few feet away and Samarpan got good photos.
But mostly, it is difficult work.
In the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, he wanted to take pictures of uncommon and difficult to see species. After many days of fruitless search, his bird guide, Maan Barua, came up with an idea. Maan brought out his tape recorder and played the sounds of these birds and they came! But one has to be careful not to use playback as birds have established breeding territories.
Babblers hide in the grass and so one can hear them but not see them. If one plays their taped sounds, they come to see what's happening and the cameraman has to be ready to click them quickly in a short time as they go back into their habitat very soon. Winter is the time to photograph the migratory birds that come all the way from the cooler climes.