Golden oriole to the Asian koel, a wealth of biodiversity

During lockdown, Kobita Dass Kolli and Lakshmi Prabhala documented birds, insects and plants in their backyards in Hyderabad and the result is a digital exhibition that opens for viewing on Earth Day 2021

In 2020, when India went into lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic, Hyderabad-based nature lovers and photography enthusiasts Kobita Dass Kolli and Lakshmi Prabhala began paying close attention to flora and fauna in their backyards. What began as a leisure activity will now culminate in an exhibition titled ‘Biodiversity in the Backyard’, which can be viewed digitally and at the Goethe Zentrum-Hyderabad premises from April 22, earmarked as Earth Day.

Kobita Das Kolli  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On view will be photographs and a video installation of insects, birds, plants, flowers, mushrooms, butterflies and moths. Kobita and Lakshmi call it their ‘everyday stunning discoveries’.

Kobita had always been a Nature enthusiast, conducting gardening and nature awareness classes for students of Vidyaranya High School. Lakshmi is an avid photographer whose lenses capture Hyderabad’s heritage monuments, city life and culture.

When lockdown restricted movements beyond the neighbourhood, both of them explored biodiversity in their vicinity. It wasn’t a coordinated exercise. “We looked at each other’s posts on Instagram and realised we were on similar paths,” Lakshmi remarks.

Common Picture Wing or the Rhyothemis variegata  | Photo Credit: Lakshmi Prabhala

For Kobita, the proximity to Gandipet lake and the green spaces in her gated community facilitated sightings several birds and insects. “It’s been my long-standing dream to do this. But work and life got in the way. Lockdown gave me the opportunity to pause and look around. There’s so much we don’t know about our own neighbourhoods,” she says.

This process of observing Nature’s bounty began during her days at the University of Hyderabad when she would walk from the hostel to the class, observing different insects and birds in the scrubland. “Hyderabad with its rock formations and water bodies, has a rich and unique ecosystem,” she points out.

Lakshmi Prabhala  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Lakshmi had been participating in monthly ‘Tree walks’, which came to a halt during the pandemic. She turned to the garden in her apartment complex and the scrubland nearby to discover something new each day: “I am a novice and have been enjoying the discoveries and learnings.” Kobita helped her identify some of the birds and insects she photographed.

2020, Kavita reflects, was a good year for sightings of birds, insects and flora, given the copious monsoon showers. She spotted common birds of Hyderabad such as the magpie robin, Indian white-eyes, bright blue babul, Tickell’s blue flycatcher, Asian koel, brahminy starling, wagtail, common iora and yellow-eyed babbler.

Indian garden lizard  | Photo Credit: Lakshmi Prabhala

From November 2020 to January 2021, she sighted migratory birds such as golden oriole, rosy starling, Jacobin cuckoo (four sightings during her morning walks) and the paradise flycatchers.

Both of them discovered mantises and liken them to pets that they could follow and trace the progress: “I also watched caterpillars transform into moths and butterflies and notice how individual species have different hosts for food,” says Lakshmi.

For the exhibition, Lakshmi and Kobita are curating images from 120 photographs. The video installation, they state, is designed such that it wouldn’t be overwhelming for viewers: “There’s so much we documented, but we don’t want viewers who are new to this to get bored,” says Kobita.

Golden jelly fungus or the Tremella mesenterica  | Photo Credit: Kobita Dass Kolli

Lakshmi is glad that the biodiversity-themed exhibition coincides with Earth Day celebrations: “It’s a relevant theme, since we share the planet with all these living creatures around us, each one playing their part in preserving the ecosystem.”

(Biodiversity in the Backyard is on view at Goethe Zentrum Hyderabad till May 15; to view the exhibition digitally, check Goethe Zentrum’s social media pages)

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