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“Indian Birds in Focus,” by Amano Samarpan published by Wisdom Tree is not just a picture-perfect book but also an S.O.S. for action. Through intimate photographs and brief captions of birds in nine different habitats, Samarpan shows how “the fate of birds acts as a kind of barometer for the human race.” Over 10 per cent of the wild bird species in this country are threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, he warns. “To ignore their fate is to ignore the potentially devastating consequences of our actions.” While based in the U.K., Samarpan has been visiting India for over 30 years. In his own time, he has seen bird-rich areas disappear. “I used to watch white-rumped vultures from my hotel room in the centre of Delhi and then suddenly, within a few years, they became endangered and were seldom seen anywhere.”

Another casualty of our brick and mortar lives is the house sparrow. Samarpan’s first encounter with Indian birds was with the jabbering joyous munia. He remembers his first day in Delhi when he tried sleeping off jetlag. He was soon interrupted by the tweeting of a flock of sparrows that were making a racket and exploring his prostrate body. “It was a delightful introduction to India and something I had never experienced before.” As we cement our houses, we deprive the humble sparrow of its thatched habitat. The book frames this bird’s dilemma in a photograph of it peeping down from an asbestos roof.

However, birds have proved to be resilient, notes Samarapan. A hardy “urban survivor” is our common crow. He says we see many crows in the cities because they destroy nests of other birds and also simply because they are clever. Another bird, which has so far outlived man’s callous ways, is the black kite. Samarpan makes note of the black kites that can be seen “swooping around, giving great aerial displays and using this to get food”. One of Samarpan’s first assignments was at Sultanpur National Park. He says, “Some of the biggest challenges have not a lot to do with photography!” They have more to do with access to sanctuaries, finding a good guide and getting a candid shot despite hordes of tourists. Samarpan says he has a special fondness for kingfishers for their bright plumage and for their deftness at diving into the water and emerging with a wriggling fish.

NANDINI NAIR

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