Self-taught bird photographer Bharat Chintapalli’s walk into the wild

An Indian Forest officer, Bharat wants to document birds and understand the impact of climate change on their habitat and migration patterns

Birds are the heart and soul of Bharat Chintapalli’s photographs. An Indian Forest Officer posted as an attached officer at Jamui forest region in Bihar, Bharat’s plunge into bird photography was not planned. During his IFS probation days at Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA) in Dehradun, the faculty encouraged students to pick up a hobby. “It (bird photography) happened out of the blue; since our training had many tours, I thought the camera will be a nice companion,” he reminisces. When armed with a Nikon P900, he clicked a bird on the campus, but couldn’t identify it; he persisted with clicking birds to be able to identify. Soon, he was hooked to bird photography.

New hobby

A native of Visakhapatnam, the BITS-Pilani engineer began reading to identify birds’ family and understand its distribution maps. It was tough for a probation officer to take time out for a new hobby but using the break period to explore patches on campus helped. He went on to become the secretary of the wildlife club and organised multiple tours during his training days.

The spark bird, a vulture he saw during a west India tour, created a life long interest in birds and to study the impact of climate change on them. “We saw a Chinkara carcass being ripped by vultures at the Dessert National Park in Rajasthan; that had a profound impact. My primary interest was rafters, the strong migrating birds that come to India; migration is also related to climate change.”

Spotted owlet, a photograph by Bharat Chintapalli  | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The focus was also to study the risk of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to rapters. He adds, “Not just NSAID drugs that bring down vulture population but also the visceral gout that eagles get when they eat the caucus .”

Bharat shares interactions with bird watchers on the link between climate change and birds: “Siberian cranes used to visit Bharatpur in Rajasthan till 2002 but with a rise in temperature, there is no record of their visit. Same with alpine birds, a common sight in Himachal Pradesh but now people see mynahs in those areas.”

Mute swan, a photograph by Bharat Chintapalli | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Developing local eco-systems can be one solution to adverse climate change. He gives an example of Bharatpur, where educated rickshaw wallahs turn into volunteers with a primary motivation to conserve birds. “As a native of Visakhapatnam, I know how plastic pollution kills birds especially Pelagic birds. Initiating community livelihood schemes can also help. Stopping hunting festivals organised in West Bengal and Jharkhand where many birds are killed will conserve. Conservation is a positive step to control the damage,” he continues.

Bharat mentions a video uploaded by a volunteer of Eastern Ghat Wild Life Society on finding masks and PPE kits on the Rushikonda beach in Visakhapatnam. “YouTube videos show how the plastic masks and PPE kits are now found in oceans. There was no tourism in the past six months, which reduced littering in these places, but we do not know if the situation has really improved.”

Greenish Warbler, a photograph by Bharat Chintapalli | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Over a span of 20 months, Bharat has photographed more than 330 birds. Now he explores the Nagi and Nathi bird sanctuaries in Bihar and documents his observations on eBird, the online database of bird observations. “I met so many wild lifers and amazing ornithologists living in obscurity. They have some papers published but no one knows about these ornithologists or the work they produced; Besides wanting to create visibility for them, I want to document as many birds as I can and understand the impact of climate change on their habitat and migration patterns.”

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