Passion for nature—how this CEO tracked and photographed all of India’s owl species in one year
In this photo essay, we feature India’s breathtaking owl diversity along with insights on the photographer-author’s passion for wildlife.
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 715 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
Photographers and nature lovers will be particularly appreciative of the new book, Owl Out! The Trailblazing Journey of Finding All Owls in the Indian Subcontinent in One Year!
The author, Dhiraj Singh, is an alum of IIT Bombay and CEO of SIS Group Enterprises. He was earlier Senior Advisor at McKinsey, and Managing Partner and CEO of vKarma Capital.
The book chronicles the nature lover’s mission to document and photograph all 38 species of owls found in the Indian subcontinent—within an ambitious timeframe of just one year. In addition to amazing and endearing photographs, the book shares the thrill of researching and searching for owl species across the country.
“My book has already received a very warm and enthusiastic response! It was a No. 1 Bestseller on Amazon in its category for the full first month,” Singh proudly tells YourStory.
There are readers who have sent messages while camping at 15,000 feet in Ladakh about how they enjoyed finishing the book at the place where he had gone looking for some owls. “The book is hitting the right chords with both birders and non-birders for the sense of adventure, the thrills of ups and downs, and the fight against all odds,” Singh adds.
He avoided videography most of the time, and choose to focus only on photographs. “The owls made their presence felt only for a few seconds sometimes, and I could not afford to have distractions then,” Singh explains.
He is sharing some of his work with the bird research community as well, such as the Raptor Research and Conservation Foundation in Mumbai. See YourStory’s earlier photo essays on owl photography exhibitions in Bengaluru and Pune.
Singh recalls that while each bird photo shoot was special, two really stand out for him. “The experience of finding the Himalayan Wood Owl – after failing to find it for almost five nights in very tough conditions in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim – was extra special,” he enthuses.
It made him realise that passion and perseverance can offset any luck factor. “It made me realise that being adaptive in plans, expectations, and living conditions is a critical trait for survival and success in humanity,” Singh explains.
Another outstanding experience revolves around the Buffy Fish Owl in the Sunderbans. “After having travelled for about 12 hours in the boat during the monsoon season, it was destiny that finally led me to it,” he recalls.
A Brahminy Kite, which he had photographed a day earlier, came flying over their boat. “For lack of any other excitement, we just followed it. It flew on and sat on a tree—where the Buffy Fish Owl was sitting on a branch below on the same tree! This was one of the many experiences in the journey where I did feel that fate was my accomplice,” Singh says with gratitude.
He attributes his love for wildlife to his dog, Kulfi. “He made me far more appreciative of other life forms on this beautiful and amazing planet,” he recalls.
Singh commends the active birding community in India, which has become even more active now post-Covid. “The Indian Birds Facebook group has almost 500,000 members. There are many such groups, guided tours and walks, webinars, blogs, and books that are creating more awareness and interest in birding,” he observes.
“The best part of birding is that one gets to see parts of India that are just exquisitely beautiful. At the same time, it’s a great exercise and stress buster when you have to trek great heights or walk long distances to find that one bird! It is a feeling of exploration and finding hidden treasure,” Singh affirms.
Eyeing other projects ahead, Singh is focusing on tigers and other big cats. “I am also focusing on another bird species project. There are many other unique species in India I would like to explore, such as the Red Panda,” he adds.
Check out YourStory’s compilation of proverbs and quotes on the occasion of World Environment Day, Earth Day, and World Oceans Day. See also our photo essays on the Nature inFocus awards in 2023, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017.
Singh says photographing owls and publishing a book about them within a year has taught him a lot about patience and target achievement. “I have also become far more adaptive. I have greater understanding and appreciation now for not just wildlife and nature but also for our various communities in different parts of the country,” he says.
“Most importantly, I have reinforced my learning to never give up, and also have faith in destiny,” Singh affirms.
Singh feels birding and photography help increase awareness about birds, protect them from poaching, and preserve their habitat. He also addresses issues around ethical practices in nature photography, and cautions against disturbing birds, going too close to them, or playing alarm calls during the breeding season.
“Learn from all sources about the birds so that you are better prepared,” he advises aspiring birding enthusiasts. “Don’t underestimate yourself as a novice—I was a novice when I started a year and a half ago,” he says.
“Enjoy the moment, the frame, the behaviours and expressions, and nature—not just that one beautiful photograph,” Singh emphasises.
Photographers should do research for selecting the right gear, and learn from online resources. “Practice a lot on your own—see what works best for you and stick to it. Be open to any inputs from more experienced photographers,” he adds.
“Find meaning and stories in your photos. Fall in love with your photographs, not just with the ‘likes’ on social media,” Singh urges.
He also has advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and creators. “There is never a better or right time to do something, to follow a passion, to do something challenging,” he says.
“Don’t be a slave to society's expectations. Believe in miracles, believe in the power of your mind! Love nature, love all species, and do your bit to protect them for future generations,” Singh signs off.
Now what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and do your bit for nature and our precious habitat?
(All photographs courtesy Dhiraj Singh.)
Edited by Kanishk Singh