In our visual storytelling blog series titled the ‘Nature India Photo Story‘, we feature photo stories that explore the realms of science, wildlife, environment, health or anything else that smells of science.
The second in the series is a photo story by Owais Rashid Hakiem, a PhD student at the National Institute of Immunology in Delhi, and one of the shortlisted participants at our ‘Visualising Science‘ workshop. Owais, a masters in biotechnology from the University of Kashmir, took to photography in the picturesque capital of Kashmir. “Once I bunked a chemistry tuition class to walk along the Mughal-era road in the middle of Dal Lake in Srinagar, and captured fauna on my camera — that was my first attempt at photography. Although I failed to develop the film roll since the police snatched that roll away — it’s high security zone.”
“I spent most of my childhood on the banks of Dal Lake, playing with fishes and frogs, sometimes dissecting them out of curiousity. Catching flies to feed spiders and rescuing kittens from the naughty boys in the neighbourhood was the kind of things one specialised in,” he says.
Owais continues to click whenever outside the laboratory, where he studies the “regulation of heat shock proteins in Mycobacterium tuberculosis“. Read his photo story to get a glimpse of one such out-of-the-lab encounter.
A midnight date
By Owais Rashid Hakiem
It was a little after midnight. I was returning to my hostel room at the National Institute of Immunology (NII) in Delhi from the laboratory — my usual nocturnal stroll. NII is nestled in the lap of the Aravali hills. The night was abuzz like always with insect songs — known and unknown — emanating from the crevices of sundry vegetation.
But that night, I also heard a different sound as I went past a tree — it was a distinct and robust chirwak-chirwak. I looked up and aimed my mobile phone in the direction of this sound to click pictures. Who was this new arrival in the campus? The phone camera could only capture two faint spots resembling eyes. Curious, I rushed back to the laboratory to grab my DSLR camera to click some more.
I was in for a pleasant surprise — it was an owlet perched high on a tree, looking back at me in various degrees of bewilderment.
And in a while the owlet hopped, skipped and set itself up against the moon, as if offering me the perfect backdrop to shoot.
The exciting encounter in the dead of the night with a species that generally shies away from direct interaction with humans during the day left me craving for more.
And as I fiddled with my camera settings to capture that perfect one, I was in for another surprise — the owlet had company! I captured two of these lovely creatures enjoying a clear night, seemingly amazed at this unexpected intervention.
The spotted owlet Athene brama indica is a small bird (growing up to 8.3 inches tall) that breeds in the northern drier tropics of Asia. Commonly found in farmlands and human habitations, it makes nests in tree holes. It’s got white abdominal feathers with brown streaks, the rest of the body is greyish brown. Athene brama indica is paler than other owl cousins but is nocturnal like them, feeding on insects and rodents. So it’s nests near human population may show higher breeding success as more rodents become available.
The bird’s got a harsh and loud call, a churring and chuckling that goes chirurr-chirurr-chirurr and ends with a chirwak-chirwak. That call was my invitation to this unforgettable nightly rendezvous.
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