Kunal Shah Captures the Astonishing Beauty of India’s Birdlife

All pictures by Kunal Shah. Used with permission. For extra tales like this, subscribe to the Phoblographer.

“It’s a really tiny fowl, the scale of a sparrow, and I photographed him on a hill close to my home in Pune,” the wildlife photographer Kunal Shah remembers of his current encounter with a male Pink Avadavat, often known as the Strawberry Finch, through the breeding season. “The title appropriately describes the fowl, as the intense purple coloration and people white spots make it look precisely like a strawberry.”

His portrait of the small songbird rapidly went viral on-line. “To be trustworthy, I had not anticipated to obtain so many optimistic evaluations on this picture,” he admits. “Right here in India, the species is pretty widespread and arrives through the monsoons. They’re often seen in flocks, flying from tree to tree, bush to bush.”

Sadly, the strawberry finch has traditionally been trafficked as a part of the pet commerce, so Shah was grateful to witness this one within the wild, free to discover it’s pure habitat. Regardless of their common presence in Pune, the photographer has by no means taken a Pink Avadavat sighting without any consideration. And whereas he’s seen the putting, vermillion fowl many occasions, this was the primary time he felt he did it justice in a single picture.

The hill close to Shah’s home combines three habitats: pure scrublands, a deciduous forest plantation, and marshy wetlands. This mix makes it the proper spot to find an array of extraordinary species. From the Strawberry Finch to the uncommon Eagle-Owl and nocturnal Nightjar, Shah attributes his photos of India’s birdlife to good luck, however he additionally acknowledges them as the results of numerous lengthy hours within the subject.

Endurance and persistence have been his biggest instruments. Over time, he’s had the chance to {photograph} a few of India’s most lovely and necessary birds and wildlife. We requested him about his ardour for birds, his curiosity in India’s various habitats, and the important significance of practising moral wildlife images.

Indian Nightjar

Phoblographer: You began bird-watching whenever you have been in center college. What are a few of your earliest reminiscences of birdlife?

Kunal Shah: One among my pals from college was into bird-watching, and it was by means of him that I discovered this curiosity. We used to take a seat on the playground throughout our lunch break, making an attempt to identify a few of the birds round us. My pal may establish the widespread birds, and he confirmed us how Pink Vented Bulbuls are completely different from Pink Whiskered Bulbuls.

Just a few days into bird-watching, I began holding a journal to notice down the names of all of the birds I noticed. The Black Drongo, a particularly widespread fowl, was my first “dream fowl” due to its distinctive double tail. They have been throughout me, however I simply didn’t discover them. I keep in mind how pleased I used to be once I noticed (and accurately recognized) my first Black Drongo. It’s the first entry in my journal.

Because the years glided by, I began visiting biodiversity hotspots in my metropolis, in search of birds. At first, I had a small Sony Cybershot pocket digicam that I used to hold round to doc the birds I noticed. Three years into bird-watching, seeing how passionate I used to be about this, my mother and father purchased me my first DSLR, a Canon 700D. I haven’t stopped since then.

Green Bee-eaters

Inexperienced Bee-eaters

Phoblographer: What gear do you employ now?

Kunal Shah: I stored exploring and photographing the world of birds with the Canon 700D and a Canon 70-300mm lens. Typically, whenever you go to the sphere in search of birds, you additionally come throughout a wide range of different issues: arthropods, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and so on. Initially, I hadn’t paid a lot consideration to something apart from birds, however as I grew to become extra obsessed with images, I attempted my hand at capturing all these different features of nature as effectively.

I upgraded to Canon 90D final yr, and I nonetheless use the 70-300mm with it. It’s not solely wildlife that I {photograph} now. I additionally do landscapes, portraits, astrophotography, macro, occasions, merchandise, and every thing and something that I discover attention-grabbing. I’ve a Canon 18-55mm equipment lens and a Canon 50mm in my bag for wide-angles and portraits. I take advantage of a reverse ring and a Raynox 250 for macros.

I at all times have forceps and a group field in my bag, as I really like to gather issues like Arthropod exuviae, stays of arthropod nests, and different such pure artifacts. I additionally like to dissect fowl pellets and notice their diets, only for enjoyable.

“India’s birds of prey have at all times fascinated me as a result of they’re large, highly effective, and charismatic. India is residence to over 106 species of birds of prey; that’s 18% of birds of prey world wide.”

Amur Falcon

Amur Falcon

Phoblographer: What makes India’s wildlife particular?

Kunal Shah: India is so wealthy in biodiversity due to its number of completely different habitats and landforms. India has all of it: snow-clad mountains, sizzling deserts, sandy seashores, evergreen forests, mangroves, savannas and grasslands, wetlands and marshlands, rivers and oceans. The nation can be residence to a variety of endemic in addition to endangered species, together with the Royal Bengal Tiger. Loads of effort is being put into the conservation of those species by declaring biodiversity-rich hotspots as sanctuaries and nationwide parks.

India’s birds of prey have at all times fascinated me as a result of they’re large, highly effective, and charismatic. India is residence to over 106 species of birds of prey; that’s 18% of birds of prey world wide. I hope to see and {photograph} all of them sometime. India can be residence to the best variety of wild cat species on this planet: 15. I’ve seen three to this point. Wild cats are very moody, shy, and elusive creatures, and it’s not straightforward to identify them. However I really like problem, and it’s going to be enjoyable to seek out all of them.

Phoblographer: What is among the most elusive fowl species you’ve photographed?

Indian Eagle Owl

Indian Eagle Owl

Kunal Shah: One among my favourite birds has been the Indian Eagle-Owl, an enormous horned owl species discovered on the Indian subcontinent. I began bird-watching in hopes of seeing one on a hill barely ten minutes from my home. They’re fairly uncommon, particularly in an city metropolis like Pune.

After I first began birdwatching, I used to see pictures of the Eagle-Owl within the space, however I by no means discovered one myself. I looked for them for a few years with no luck, and I lastly had to surrender this childhood dream of seeing the Eagle-Owl on the hill. Just a few extra years glided by, and one wonderful day, I simply determined to search for one at a small deserted stone quarry lined with vegetation.

Despite its large dimension, an Indian Eagle-Owl’s camouflage is mind-blowing. The rocky cliffs of this quarry could be an ideal spot for one to cover. I scanned the cliffs over and over for round half-hour earlier than deciding to maneuver on. Simply as I used to be about to go away, one thing caught my consideration. To my shock, it was an Indian Eagle-Owl dozing off in a small crevice within the rocks. It was a second I had waited for years to witness.

After one other half-hour or so, the large owl took off and landed on a department as I watched. Initially, once I began in search of these birds, I didn’t know a lot about their conduct, life-style, and habitat, however I gained that data and expertise through the years. I consider that’s what helped me discover him. It was a second I can always remember.

White Breasted Kingfisher

White Breasted Kingfisher

Phoblographer: What moral guidelines do you comply with when photographing wildlife?

Kunal Shah: Ethics are of the utmost significance when interacting with wildlife. I’m a robust follower of moral wildlife images pointers, and I at all times encourage others to comply with them as effectively. After we watch and {photograph} wildlife, it’s our obligation to make sure that our actions don’t trigger any disturbance or injury to the animals or their habitats.

I’ve come throughout a wide range of cases of malpractice that some individuals resort to simply to get just a few “good” images. A few of them embrace luring wildlife by giving them meals or taking part in recordings of mating calls to draw birds. Others embrace getting so near wildlife that it disturbs their every day actions, utilizing highly effective flashguns to {photograph} nocturnal life, or just not caring in regards to the habitat. All of those practices are very harmful for wildlife.

Feeding wild animals could cause them numerous well being issues and result in the lack of their pure looking instincts. It may possibly additionally lead to an enormous imbalance of their pure populations. Luring wildlife by taking part in their mating calls may end up in the birds not responding to actual mating calls sooner or later.

Highly effective flashguns can have an effect on the eyesight of nocturnal wildlife; not respecting their habitats and getting too shut can have an effect on the whole ecosystem. All these items occur over a time period, and there are some very actual examples of their adverse results. The precedence ought to at all times be the well-being of nature and wildlife over getting good images.

Spotted Deer

Noticed Deer

Indian Scops Owl

Indian Scops Owl

Phoblographer: Are any of the fowl species you’ve photographed threatened by human exercise?

Kunal Shah: Savannas are my favourite habitats to probe for wildlife, with one of many primary causes being that the area the place I dwell is predominantly a savanna. I’ve photographed a wide range of savanna wildlife through the years, proper from the small arthropods, reptiles, and birds to bigger mammals.

Like forests, savannas are distinctive ecosystems that help an abundance of life. Nonetheless, wildlife in savannas is just not as obvious to the human eye. Scrublands and grasslands have a really low density of timber, most of them being quick and thorny. They’re grassy landscapes with quick shrubs and naked rocks. The wildlife right here has tailored to this open ecosystem in a really particular means: camouflage! These animals are so effectively camouflaged of their atmosphere {that a} passer-by wouldn’t even discover them.

For these causes, there’s a harmful sentiment hooked up to those open ecosystems. They’re thought of to be barren due to the absence of tall timber and obvious life. Over time, a big portion of the scrublands and grasslands of India has been given away for urbanization or transformed to farmlands, settlements, dumping grounds, or mining spots.

Most of those actions are managed by main establishments; nevertheless, there’s one other rising menace that these habitats are going through: tree plantation. The federal government and residents collectively have undertaken an initiative of planting hundreds of timber on these open scrublands to transform them into inexperienced forests. That is harmful for the habitat in addition to its inhabitants. Just like the wildlife of the forest can’t survive away from the forest, savanna wildlife can’t survive away from the savanna.

Many savanna species are already going through the ailing results of habitat loss, probably the most distinguished one being the Nice Indian Bustard, a critically endangered savanna fowl with only some hundred birds dwelling within the wild. Recognizing savannas as necessary habitats, like forests, and declaring them as protected biodiversity zones is the necessity of the hour, from the federal government in addition to the residents.

Indian Paradise Flycatcher

Indian Paradise Flycatcher

Phoblographer: Have you ever visited any sanctuaries working to guard India’s habitats?

Kunal Shah: Most of my wildlife outings are often exterior of protected sanctuaries: locations like hills, scrublands, and wooded savannas round Pune metropolis. It’s completely wonderful that a lot biodiversity exists in such an city metropolis like Pune, and nearly all of this biodiversity exists exterior of protected sanctuaries. That is the case everywhere in the nation. Whereas wildlife reserves and sanctuaries are wealthy in biodiversity, lots of wildlife is seen exterior of those protected areas.

Central India has a few of the most well-known wildlife sanctuaries, tiger reserves, and nationwide parks in India. I haven’t visited many sanctuaries but, however a few of the sanctuaries that I’ve visited are Navegaon Nagzira Tiger Reserve, Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Pench Nationwide Park, and Bandhavgarh Nationwide Park, all in Central India.

Wildlife tourism is big in India. The truth is, tourism is among the primary components that has ensured the well-being of those protected reserves. In nearly the entire wildlife sanctuaries in India, the Forest Division has created safari routes for tourism. Solely 20% of the whole sanctuary is open to vacationers. It’s an incredible and really uncooked expertise to discover these sanctuaries. These reserves give protection to a few of the most endangered natural world of the nation. The Forest Division works very exhausting to make sure that the wildlife is protected from poachers and that every thing runs easily.

Fulvouse Forest Skimmer

Fulvouse Forest Skimmer

Crested Hawk Eagle

Crested Hawk Eagle

Phoblographer: Why is it necessary to you to share the tales behind your pictures, along with the pictures themselves?

Kunal Shah: I began off with an curiosity in images, however through the years, I found my curiosity in writing as effectively. I like to narrate my experiences, inform tales, and describe the scene for my viewers. I would like them to visualise it as in the event that they themselves are experiencing it by means of my eyes. With this newfound ardour, I began my very own Nature and Wildlife weblog, the place I write about something and every thing that pursuits me: my travels, my experiences, some memorable incidents from the sphere, or citizen science in easy phrases.

Wanting to inform these tales past simply pictures and textual content, I in the end ventured into the world of filmmaking. I began making journey movies, b-rolls, quick movies, and wildlife documentaries that I put up on my YouTube channel. The truth is, one in all my wildlife movies is at the moment doing rounds at numerous worldwide movie festivals all through the world. It’s a few group of lizards discovered solely within the Indian Subcontinent, the Fan Throated Lizard.

One species of the Fan Throated Lizard, the Deccan Fan Throated Lizard, is present in Pune metropolis. The males have colourful followers on their necks that they flash to draw the females throughout their mating season in summer time. It’s actually fascinating to observe and {photograph} their courtship ritual. These are extremely territorial lizards, and the males can struggle with one another to the loss of life with the intention to win the females. I spotted that nobody has ever made a movie about this magnificent species and wished to share their story.

Deccan Fan Throated Lizard

Deccan Fan Throated Lizard

Indian Paradise Flycatcher

Indian Paradise Flycatcher

Phoblographer: What recommendation would you give to rising photographers and conservation advocates who need to doc birdlife of their metropolis?

Kunal Shah: My first piece of recommendation is simply to get on the market and begin documenting every thing that you simply see. Go into the sphere, observe the completely different natural world in your environment, after which come residence and do the analysis about what you simply noticed. This can assist you to to get began.

Purchase an area subject information about birds, mammals, vegetation, and bugs–no matter you’re focused on–and attempt to establish the completely different species round you. Be part of an area wildlife neighborhood, hang around with like-minded individuals, join with specialists over social media. All this goes a good distance and will certainly lead you in the best route.

For younger photographers, my primary tip could be to click on as many photos as you may of your topics from completely different angles, with completely different digicam settings, after which attempt enhancing them in numerous methods. Experimentation is the important thing to studying. That is what I did, and it’s what I nonetheless do.

Crested Serpent Eagle

Crested Serpent Eagle

You may keep up-to-date on Kunal Shah’s work and skim extra of his tales by following his nature and wildlife weblog. Observe him on Instagram at ks_wild and on YouTube at ks_wild. Go to his web site right here.

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