BBC Wildlife Magazine

Out of the frying pan

Kallol risked a singeing to photograph crafty drongos as they snatch a hot meal from the farmland flames in West Bengal.

- by KALLOL MUKHERJEE KALLOL MUKHERJEE is a wildlife photograph­er specialisi­ng in bird shots. Find him on Instagram: @kallol_mukherjee_ photograph­y

As winter fades towards spring in the grasslands of Singur, Kolkata, farmers burn their fields in preparatio­n for a new season of crop planting. As the flames devour the land, grassland birds and invertebra­tes are forced out of their homes by the heat and smoke.

The sudden abundance of insects does not escape the attention of the local drongos – glossy black birds with distinctiv­e forked tails, common in eastern India – which have learnt to turn the situation to their advantage. “I’ve been photograph­ing birds in India for more than seven years,” says Kallol, “and of the roughly 600 species I’ve observed, the crow is by far the most adept at taking advantage of the opportunit­ies created by humans. But the black drongo comes a close second.”

Attracted by the sight of the smoke and fire, and the dry ashes swirling in the air, the drongos approach the scene and locate a perch nearby, where they await not only a free lunch, but a hot one, too. They capitalise on the moment of escape, swooping perilously close to the flames and darting around with the utmost precision, to seize the grasshoppe­rs, ladybirds and butterflie­s desperatel­y fleeing the inferno.

Too hot to handle

Kallol, however, needed to keep a safe distance. “Many a time I’ve tried to capture a portrait of a drongo among flames, but I couldn’t get the shot I wanted because the heat and smoke were just too strong,” he says. “Wildfires are very dangerous out in this open, dry habitat – a strong wind can increase the intensity of the flames or change their course at any moment. It makes you realise the sheer pluck of this farmland bird, which in this shot reminds me of the Roman emperor Nero, watching quietly as his kingdom burns.”

S Many a time I’ve tried to capture a portrait of a drongo among flames, but the heat and smoke were just too strong. T

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