The bird man’s legacy

The bird man’s legacy

September 10, 2023


Excited for my first birding trip to Kirthar National Park, I had packed all the essentials a night before along with my cameras, ensuring that any bright colours are avoided as these are known to ward birds off. We had been strictly told to adhere to the trip requirements as Mirza Naim Beg, popularly known as Mirza sahib or Beg sahib, had quite a strict code of conduct to be observed in front of wildlife that we co-exist with.

Amir Islam, an HR professional-turned-tour-organiser, now in Islamabad, had meticulously planned this trip with Mirza sahib and managed to keep us all hydrated and on our toes in the hot, dry weather.

After opting for early retirement from his banking career, Mirza sahib took on to the field of birding and wildlife photography, while we dotingly started scheduling our weekends with him as if it were a religious ritual. Despite the limitation of an apt equipment during the trip, I was delighted to be able to capture a huge committee of vultures with my 55mm-300 mm lens as Mirza sahib’s eyes gleamed with excitement while guiding us to the spot. Never after that did I get this close to the vultures, even with a better lens, however, the infectious pathogen had been planted and it continues to grow till date.

Photo by: Ayaz Wasay

It was through his guidance and dedication that he inculcated a shared sense of passion among us as he gathered together the most profound and diverse group of like-minded birders or wildlife photographers from Karachi and beyond. Never would I have imagined being able to watch migratory birds in Karachi or its outskirts and even the most misidentified local birds, let alone being able to identify them. But through his endeavours, the legacy continues even after Mirza sahib is no more with us.

The Mirza Naim Beg Birder of the Year Award, named after him, continues to recognise birders for their true passion and untiring efforts in the field. This year the award was given to Usama Tabani, the pandemic gem who thrills us with his work in Pakistan and beyond, despite rising to this recognistion in a very short span of time. “I was getting bored during the pandemic and started doing macro photography,” says Tabani. “Then I met Mirza sahib and got acquainted with birding and wildlife photography, and took to this hobby religiously ever since.”

Besides Tabani, special recognition awards were given to Ahmer Ali Rizvi to commemorate his determination towards developing documentaries related to the wildlife in Pakistan, and to Syed Khizar Sharif for his underwater photography as he also happens to be a scuba diver.

“Mirza sahib had been associated with the field of photography as a hobby since quite a long time through assignments related to fashion shoots for magazines,” shares Nusrat Ali, one of Mirza sahib’s old friends, while reminiscing fond memories. “I remember, he was a man of many passions; he participated in the Gwadar Hub Rally which was organised for the very first time in Pakistan and rose to the occasion as a winner in the 1000 CC category. However, since he was a banker by profession, his postings took him to various other parts of Pakistan. After a hiatus when he re-emerged as a bird photographer, organised a formal group and started to gather more people.”

Photo by: Heba MoenPhoto by: Heba Moen

Mirza sahib observed that people interested in birding were scattered and were going about their own ways often without guidance. He decided to get them all under one roof and formally started going for recce visits before any trip that he would organise so as to collect insights pertaining to the presence of bird species while ascertaining proper needs of the area. Of course, he made friends along the way. Over the years, he formally organised several birding trips to Haleji Lake, Kirthar National Park, Jhimpir, Kathor, Mehrano, Larkana, Mirpur Sakro, Thar, Gilgit-Baltistan, and internationally to Nepal and Sri Lanka to document and highlight the various bird species of the respective areas and regions. Once enough material was gathered, the group organised their first ever exhibition titled, ‘Birds of Sindh’ in PACC, followed by Alliance Francaise. So far, through collective efforts of the group, four exhibitions have been organised, showcasing the unique local and migratory birds found in the province, something most were unaware of.

Interestingly, Mirza sahib happened to visit Mehrano Wildlife Sanctuary managed by the Talpurs and left his mark there. Shumail Ahmed Larik, a houbara bustards conservationist and a resident of Khairpur says that considering Mirza sahib as a role model and inspired by his work, quite a few hunters turned into wildlife photographers and bade farewell to hunting once and for all. However, they continued shooting but switched their weapons from guns to cameras which hurt no living being other than the pocket.

Kamal Palari along with his brother, Haroon Palari are hunters-turned-conservationists from Jhimpir, who now relentlessly work to preserve bird habitats as Mirza sahib, the birding guru gave them all the more reason to continue on this path. They document bird migration patterns and gather insights around the wind corridor of the area. Both Palaris helped to set up camera traps for the young genius, Zafeer Ahmed Shaikh’s Indus Fishing Cat Project in Haleji Lake.

“The purpose of Birds of Sindh was not only to introduce new birders, but to also support the less-privileged ones who had a flare of birding but lacked the means of doing so,” says Ali. “And it was all through Mirza sahib’s efforts that we were able to fulfil the dreams of those aspiring to go big in the field.”

He recalled that in 2018 Bird life International’s ex-President, Peter John Sullivan had come over to Pakistan and was curious to know if birding or related activities took place here. That is when people routed him to Mirza sahib, who then took him for a guided tour to the outskirts of Sindh. Considering the lack of any organised structure, these efforts of local freelance birders impressed him immensely, and as a token of appreciation, Sullivan gifted Mirza sahib a wire-beaded giraffe which he had bought from an artisan from Africa. Mirza sahib decided to use it as a trophy for the ‘Birder of The Year’ award to be held annually and till this day, the giraffe moves from one talented individual to another. Therefore, the first recipient, Zohaib Ahmed got to brandish this award in recognition for awareness of birding and pet birds in general, followed by Waja Sadiq Baloch in 2020.

Baloch, being a resident of Malir has helped create awareness about bird habitats and spots in the area which attracted all the birds of a feather. Following him, Larkana’s Yasir Pechuho was given this recognition for his unsurmountable dedication to this activity, irrespective of weather conditions or limitations pertaining to high-end wildlife photography equipment. He has been documenting birds along with their genus and translations in English, Urdu, and Sindhi.

There was unfortunately a gap following the pandemic and Mirza sahib’s untimely death last year. However, thanks to the persistence of his family and close friends, the tradition of the award has continued which now has his name associated with it. The group also tried registering a society under a well-thought-out title when the birding maestro was still alive and much of the documentation had been completed as far as NOCs and other formalities were concerned as this was supposed to be a breakthrough. However, it’s establishment is still pending at the registrar’s office and any support would be appreciated for developing such an organised body that would not only formally plan out related activities, but would also be a means of projecting birding efforts including habitat protection, rehabilitation, and documentation of species in Pakistan

Usama Tabani (L) and Waja Sadiq Baloch (R). Photo by: Saad AleemUsama Tabani (L) and Waja Sadiq Baloch (R). Photo by: Saad Aleem

While he was bedridden for the last few months, before departing to his eternal abode, a unique side of Mirza sahib was revealed that he was a brilliant writer as well. Some of what he wrote that has stayed with me is about how extraordinary it is to wake up to a fresh day in the company of loved ones and all the blessings it entails. One can’t help humming ‘What a wonderful day’ by Louise Armstrong …

Heba Moeen is a PR and communication professional, an artist, and a wildlife photographer. She can be reached at [email protected]

All facts and information are the sole responsibility of the writer


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