Birds, as they cross borders and oceans, have always been known to signify freedom and peace. Reflecting the same feeling, numerous people around the world find solace in watching, photographing and following different species of birds. One such enthusiast is Mr. Harminder Mohan Bareja. Despite a busy schedule in a demanding corporate job of attracting and retaining talent, which is his profession, he manages to take out time for his passion of birding (bird watching) and has been able to spot numerous birds of rare species since many years.
As we go around discovering new people with varied passions every day for the #IamLivingIt series, we came across Harminder, a resident of Mumbai and the Head HR at Reliance Infrastructure EPC. Our Co-founder and CEO, Sandeep Shetty got into a chat with him and gets to know about his passion, fear, experiences and the story that lead him to the discovery of this wonderful passion.Here’s an excerpt from the same.
Sandeep: How did you get into birding/birdwatching?
Harminder : The actual bird watching started almost five years back through a bird-watcher friend who we got associated with. Before that, I had never even had a camera in my hand. They gifted us a book on our marriage anniversary by the Indian bird watcher Salim Ali and it was from then onwards that the whole journey started. I started reading about birds and how to identify them. There were a couple of bird watching sites within Mumbai, where we started going regularly. There was the Bhandup pump station, the Sanjay Gandhi National park, the Karnala bird sanctuaries and Phansad. While Bhandup pump station has water birds, Karnala has a variety of birds, in fact, it boasts of about 250 odd birds like Shama, Kingfisher and the Indian Pitta. Sanjay Gandhi national park has all the forest area birds. On the other hand, Phansad has exclusive birds like the cherry head parakeet, copper smith barbet, blue barbet, robin, and asian paradise fly catcher, green pigeon (the state bird of Maharashtra)etc.
Sandeep: Did you have to struggle with photography initially, because you just mentioned that you weren’t well acquainted with or rather interested in the technicalities of one?
Harminder: Not at all. Surprisingly, I never struggled since I first took the camera in my hand. Earlier, I had a normal Nikon camera and then once I got immersed into it, my first camera for bird photography was a Canon HS50, which I currently own. It’s a very handy camera for bird photography and till date I use the same. But plans are on to upgrade to another one soon. Though I’ve not done any professional course but I did take help from a couple of friends. When I went to Sasan, we got a professional photographer. In fact, on weekends there is a lot of rush at the Bhandup pump station with all bird lovers gathered at one place. So, these people with similar interests get into a conversation and tell you about the techniques like how to fix the megapixel or how to keep the bird style in mind, how to click three pictures at once, after all they keep moving.
Sandeep: Are you a part of any group and if you are, how do you plan your events and activities throughout the year?
Harminder: I am a part of this Facebook group called the “ Indian Bird ” where we keep sharing pictures and our love for bird watching. I am also a part of a Whatsapp group called Indian Nature Photopgraphy, where the discussions centre around birding sites, technical specs of gear etc.
Sandeep: Do bird enthusiasts have goals, do you have one for yourself, wherein you want to cover a number of birds or a certain kind of bird that you’d like to spot within a period of time?
Harminder: I wouldn’t exactly call it a goal. But yes, I do aim at publishing a book about my bird sightings wherein people can get a glimpse into my bird watching journey of five years. I already have two calendars with the same concept. One is based on Sasan whereabouts, which has 54 birds living within the township. Then there’s another site in Asansol called Raghunathpur, which also has a calendar of its own, based on the birds that we captured on our camera.
Sandeep: Birding requires a lot of time and patience, how do you manage? Has it been within you since the initial days or have you developed it as time passed by?
Harminder: Well, frankly I don’t exactly get a lot of time from Monday to Saturday as I’m loaded with work. However, on Sunday mornings, I go early, sometimes taking my kids along. They’ve developed their own kind of interest in the hobby and enjoy the trips. In fact, we are going for this boat ride which takes you from Bhandup pump station to Thane and they’ll row very close to the flamingos. It’s a two-hour journey basically and the season is just right to watch flamingos as the migratory birds start visiting by mid of November and remain until February or March.
When it comes to patience, you have to remain still or sit at one place for 30 to 45 minutes, waiting for the bird to come to a particular spot. Sometimes, the slightest of sound can scare the bird away.
Sandeep: Could you elaborate on the equipment that you use for bird watching?
Harminder: Well, bird watching doesn’t exactly require a lot of equipment. I have a tripod, a binocular and a camera. Presently, the Canon camera that I use can zoom it up to 200x.
Sandeep: How does your birding bucket list look like?
Harminder: Well, I’m looking forward to visiting a few new sites including the Chilika lake, the Jamnagar site and Kaziranga National Park.
Sandeep: Your most memorable moment in bird photography?
Harminder: When I was there in Sasan, there’s a place 60 kms from there, where I got to see a huge bird called the Plum-headed Parakeet. I’ve never seen such a magnificent bird before and right after I clicked it, it flew away. Despite our second visit to the same place, we never got to see it again. Then, there’s this site 18 kms into the interior of Phansad and the only way to reach it is by a bullock cart ride. So, along with my family, I decided to visit the place and it turned out to be one of the most memorable trips. There are numerous water bodies situated alongside each other and you have to remain very silent and still to let the birds get accustomed to you. You get to see birds like Asian Paradise Flyer Catcher, Green Pigeon, Kingfisher, Malabar Hornbill, in fact, vultures too, which are very rare in Mumbai.
Sandeep: So, do you see yourself hooked on to this passion of bird photography and bird watching for a long time?
H arminder : Yes, I think it’s going to remain there, I don’t find anything else as fascinating enough that will take away this hobby from me. It’s the most satisfying feeling in the world for me to click a picture of a bird. It absolutely makes my day.
Sandeep: Do birding enthusiast engage in conservation activities too?
Harminder: Well, we celebrate World Sparrow Day to pass on a message to people that birds need to be saved. I have a norm of gifting bird feeders to people and people keep sharing pictures of birds coming and feeding on it.
Sandeep: Your word of advice to beginners or people who might want to take up bird watching, but don’t know how to begin.
Harminder: You must have patience, it requires a lot of efforts and one must have a lot of stamina and physical health to endure the sun or stand there for a whole day. However, if you have the passion, then everything else is automatically sorted. He further went on to say, “Don’t listen to anybody, do your own thing. It’s the individual that drives one’s passion and nobody else. Bird watching helps you connect with nature, it helps you remain connected with the silence and the surrounding and nature that you are sitting with.”
One doesn’t always come across people, who despite their busy lives, manage to take out time to follow their passion or pursue something that satisfies them on an individual level. In this web of responsibilities, Harminder Mohan sets an example for youngsters as well as those who might be ignoring their ‘calling’. A small gift ignited his interest in bird watching and he has managed to keep it alive till date. Such is the zeal that he resonates. In fact, with more than 1250 bird species, India is no less than a paradise for bird watchers and attracts a lot of people from all around the world. An activity that requires nothing more than a camera and an eye as sharp as the eagle itself, birding and bird photography is not just about spotting birds, but also conserving them and the environment that they dwell in.
So, the next time you spot a bird in the sky, you will know how pleasing it could be for fellow dwellers to see the sight and capture it in their cameras after patiently waiting for hours.
Bird photography definitely requires patience, but so do most forms of wildlife photography, read up on more wildlife photographers!