Author-photographer Amano Samarpan talks about the dangers of man and the resourcefulness of birds

Indian Birds in Focus, byAmano Samarpan publishedby Wisdom Tree is not just apicture-perfect book but alsoan S.O.S. for action. The authorphotographerzooms high on acrested serpent eagle sunning itselfon a treetop. He focusses his cameralow on a desert wheatear. Hesloshes through waterloggedswamps in Rajasthan to frame aslender sarus crane heeding itsmate's call.

Through intimate photographsand brief captions of birds in ninedifferent habitats, Samarpanshows how "the fate of birds acts asa kind of barometer for the humanrace." Over 10 per cent of the wildbird species in this country arethreatened according to the InternationalUnion for Conservation ofNature, he warns. "To ignore theirfate is to ignore the potentiallydevastating consequences of ouractions," he reminds us.

Disappearing areas

While based in the U.K., Samarpanhas been visiting India for over30 years. In his own time, he hasseen bird-rich areas disappear andonce-frequent visitors become vaporous.

He recounts, "I used towatch white-rumped vulturesfrom my hotel room in the centreof Delhi and then suddenly, withina few years, they became endangeredand were seldom seenanywhere. It took another fewyears for people to accept it wasthe result of a drug being given tocattle."

Another casualty of our brickand mortar lives is the house sparrow.Samarpan's first encounterwith Indian birds was with the jabberingjoyous munia. He remembershis first day in Delhi when hetried sleeping off jetlag. He wassoon interrupted by the tweetingof a flock of sparrows that werediligently making a racket and exploringhis prostrate body.

The photographer says, "It was adelightful introduction to Indiaand something I had never experiencedbefore."

Today, the sparrow is seen infewer numbers, he explains, becauseof the concretisation of cities.As we cement our houses, wedeprive the humble sparrow of itsthatched habitat. The book framesthis bird's dilemma in a lovely photographof it peeping down from anasbestos roof, as if wonderingwhere all its nesting thatch hasgone.

Urban survivor

But even while urbanisation pollutesthe soil, water and air andelbows out nesting areas, birdshave proved to be resilient, notesSamarpan. A hardy "urban survivor"is our common crow. He sayswe see many crows in the citiesbecause they destroy nests of otherbirds and also simply because theyare clever. Another bird, which hasso far outlived man's callous ways,is the black kite. Samarpan makesnote of the black kites that can beseen "swooping around, givinggreat aerial displays and using thisto get food", from the top floor ofhis hotel on wintry mornings.

Samarpan took to photographyabout 20 years ago. One of his firstassignments was at Sultanpur NationalPark, though his knowledgewas limited he made good images.

On bird photography he says,"Some of the biggest challengeshave not a lot to do with photography!"They have more to do withaccess to sanctuaries, finding agood guide and getting a candidshot despite hordes of tourists.

At first reluctant to reveal a favouritebird, Samarpan does admithe has a fondness for kingfishersfor their bright plumage and fortheir deftness at diving into thewater and emerging with a wrigglingfish.BOOKNANDINI NAIR