As I sit in the hide, a familiar call takes me back to a little over a year ago. An evening session and an uncalled visitor; the Scimitar Babbler .
That evening, without warning the babbler showed up, sat on the perch meant for woodpeckers and in a jiffy dived into a water basin behind the hide, splashed and quenched its thirst and then restlessly visited every perch set up and in the end, settled on a branch of a neighbouring tree.
I can tell you quite honestly, I probably held my breath the longest, the camera tightest and prayed the hardest! All because getting this sulker out in the open and sit patiently is not an easy job.
Everyday I hear the scimitar sing, everyday I hope that he visits, everyday I hope for at least a guest appearance, everyday I am left wanting! It has been a year now, and the scimitar still sulks!
Here’s to maybe a visit, maybe a tease, maybe a sighting, just maybe a photograph!
On a beautiful afternoon, we ascended to ‘shaheen point’. Mahesh, Avinash and I were doing a trip after a long time. A short walk through tea bushes and we reached our vantage point i.e. a cliff with beautiful landscape around it. Dusky Craig Martins and Swallows hovered around us but none wanted to give their wings a break and perch on the ground for us.
We laid our cameras on the ground and soaked in the fresh air, soft sun and beautiful scenery. The falcons are usually seen on that rock, Sivalingam Anna mentioned. We looked across to another hill and saw a couple of rock protrusions. That is quite a distance away, I thought! We shall go across to that hill once we sight the falcon. Activity typically happens after 4.00 PM, Sivalingam added to his previous statement.
Thus began the waiting! Since the martins and the swallows wouldn’t give us an opportunity to shoot, we pulled out our phones and made pics of the the landscape. We added a few selfies too! There was excitement momentarily, when Sivalingam heard the falcons and pointed in their direction. Far across the hills, a tiny speck was flying and it was gone before I could see it.
Little after 4 PM, Mahesh pointed towards a rock. There is something on it, he said. Sivalingam looked through his binoculars and confirmed, Shaheen Falcon! The picture below is shot with a 600 mm lens and will give you an idea of how far we were.
The next thing I know, the four of us moved swiftly across to the opposite hill, walked again through tea bushes, a couple of culverts and loose soil. As soon as the falcon was within our sights, we relaxed the pace and slowly moved to a safe distance before we set up our cameras.
The falcon, aware of of our presence sat unflinchingly and posed as we made images.
A closer look of this mid-sized raptor.
The entire sighting must have lasted about 20-30 minutes and towards the end, another falcon swooped down and our friend on the rock finally took to his wings and soared into the skies.
The best part: I was seeing this species for the first time. A day which started with the search of the Kashmir Flycatcher, ended with an incredible sighting of the very beautiful Shaheen Falcon!
Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Sivalingam Anna, birding and wildlife enthusiasts have the pleasure of seeing and making images of such species.
The wisdom gathered over years of photographing birds- the vibrant the colours of the feathers, the more elusive the bird. One such bird is the Red Munia. After looking for it for a long time, my desire to shoot the bird in its striking colours was finally fulfilled about a year ago.
Soon after a trip to Rajasthan, a friend informed me about an opportunity to photograph the Red Munia. It was quickly decided that we would leave the next day to the spot and hopefully make some worthy images.
On the day of the shoot, we left earlier than usual, set up the hide at a safe distance, fixed a thin perch and waited in anticipation. Three of us squeezed into the small hide. After about 45 minutes of waiting, the lady made a brief appearance.
I managed a few pictures before the munia disappeared into the reeds. The female munia I was told was quite a shy character.
Awaiting another 15 minutes or so, we saw some movement on taller reeds, a tiny bird moved from one reed to another, the male munia was finally going to grace itself! As soon as it sat on the perch, I couldn’t stop admiring its beauty! That red outshone everything else around!
The male munia made a couple more appearances and the final one was after waiting close to an hour. The red munia carrying a feather or any other nesting material!
Shooting handheld with a 500mm lens and professional DSLR (1D Mark IV) was not a pleasurable experience. Despite the camera boasting 10 frames per second, it was never easy with my elbows hurting, hands shivering, even losing balance. All this only for about 3-4 hours 🙂
Soft light shone through the canopy of bamboo as one visitor after another came, made their presence felt, posed for photographs and went about their business (foraging).
Once the coast was clear, Mr. Red decided it was his turn to show off. The usually intimidated spurfowl walked in cautiously but soon settled himself after scanning the area to make sure no other dominating birds were around. As he posed in the lovely golden light, it allowed me to make a few frames as the red turned to gold.
A regular visitor to the photography hide, the red spurfowls rarely leave us disappointed. Stay tuned for more.
Pangot is a hill station not too far from the popular Nainital. My first visit was in the year 2013, and the first morning I woke up to snow everywhere and a horde of white-throated laughing thrush on a tree outside my room.
Last year, Mahesh and I travelled to Pangot, post Sattal, Munsiyari and Khaliya Top. We stayed in a comfortable guesthouse called Kafal House with friendly and courteous staff and simple tasty food.
At Kafal House, a bird bath and a few perches were set up. Our sessions started at the set-up which attracted common birds like the white-throated laughing thrush, black-headed jay, grey-winged blackbird, rufous-chinned laughing thrush, himalayan bulbul. Other exciting species were the rusty-cheeked scimitar babbler, chestnut-crowned laughing thrush, spot-winged grosbeak, oriental turtle dove to name a few.
Spot-winged Grosbeak (m)
Spot-winged Grosbeak (f)
The plum trees surrounding Kafal House were in full bloom and many russet sparrows were seen perched on these trees. My favourite picture of the sparrow is shared below.
On another day, we left in the early hours hoping to reach another birding destination called Vinayak which is immensely popular for the cheer pheasant. Barely few kilometers from our lodging house, we bumped into a pair of koklass pheasants. Extremely low light conditions prevented any good photographs.
Our trip to Vinayak for the cheer pheasants was unsuccessful, but it did yield a few landscape photographs. In the picture below, early morning rays kiss the mountain top.
A drive down the road from Kafal House was productive too. A long awaited picture of the verditer flycatcher was finally done.
Langur! They were everywhere and how does one avoid bumping in to them or seeing them? Here is one photograph when I caught an individual making faces at me.
Bad weather on a couple of days did affect birding but it was still an enjoyable trip. I prefer Pangot as a destination to Sattal, simply because it is very picturesque. I long to go there soon!
List of birds photographed in Pangot and neighbouring areas:
It has now passed two years since I set up of the bird photography hide in Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse with the assistance of friends. Without doubt, it is the Red Spurfowl that attracts most attention and is by far the most popular visitor.
One morning while waiting expectantly for birds to turn up at the hide, the red spurfowl (male) walks in and inspects the surrounding, seconds later the female walks in with three chicks! With the excitement levels already high seeing the spurfowls, it was joyful to see the chicks along with them.
A chick poses for a few seconds while the mother, father and other siblings forage for food.
As if the spurfowls with their young were not enough, in walks a Grey Junglefowl (female) with a young one by her side. It was tough deciding which family to shoot!
The young junglefowl chick strikes a pose before getting down to foraging business.
With the activity of the young ones only started, stay tuned for more posts and pictures.
Equipment used: Nikon 600 f4 VR + D750 mounted on Benro GH2 Gimbal head + Manfrotto tripod.
As the name suggests, the Crested Serpent Eagle’s favorite prey of course is snakes. This sighting was purely accidental. Having stopped at a waterhole hoping for some animal activity, I scanned the wooded area for the juvenile serpent eagle who had made it his territory.
I was in for a surprise. The serpent killer had a snake between its beak. The eagle took its time with the snake, slowly devoring it and giving us an opportunity to make images. A chance to witness the serpent killer in action, was immensely satisfying.
As we enter the last week of the year and on the joyous occasion of Christmas, here is one picture of the Plum-headed Parakeet holding a pod of the “flame of the forest” tree as if it were delivering a postcard.
With naturally gifted colors which also represent the traditional red and green of Christmas, here is wishing all you lovely people out there “Merry Christmas”!
This fleeting bird had been a topic of discussion among birders and a lucky few had sighted it. Annual visitor to Ooty and its surrounding areas of higher elevation, it remained elusive to most. The precise location of this species was unknown for most times, hence lesser known sightings.
That year, news of this bird being sighted in the Botanical Garden of Ooty spread like wildfire. A weekend trip with friends was planned and off we went in search of the Kashmiri and a few other endemic birds of the Western Ghats.
Staying mostly in the canopy of trees and shrubs, the Kashmiri came out in the open only to flash-feed. Keeping a track of the flycatcher’s movements, only one time he perched on the dry log. I pulled the camera off the tripod, rushed to the spot, knelt and took a few pictures. This tiny birdie made me run around in circles for this satisfactory picture.
I would have been kicking myself if I hadn’t gotten off the car and taken the camera out from the trunk (I was driving with four other friends…so no camera in hand). I spotted the owl off the main road in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. The first thing that came to my mind was the picture of a Forest Eagle-owl, photographed in BR Hills by Dr. Ajit Huilgol. Unsure if the owl I clicked was the same, I came back home and referred his picture against mine. It was the Forest Eagle-owl indeed! I was thrilled. This still remains as one of the most special wildlife and birding moments!
A drive of almost 2000 kms just for this tiny bird seemed like a ludicrous idea when discussed with friends over a cup of coffee. Despite that, five of us decided to go looking for this species in a small village tucked away in Maharashtra after a pit stop at the flower beds of Kaas plateau. Early that morning we were welcomed by the incredibly colourful Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher bringing food for its chicks. As we sat at a safe distance from the nesting site, the male as well as the female kept on the constant supply of skinks, frogs and spiders to feed their young ones.
Shot with Canon 1D Mark IV, 500mm f4 IS + 1.4x TC III mounted on a Manfrotto tripod and Benro Gimbal (GH2) head.