All ears turn blue

Earlier this year in the month of July, Mahesh and I planned a quick trip to photograph Rain Quails in the outskirts of Pune! While in Pune, Mahesh received an update about  a sighting and possible photo opportunity of the Blue-eared Kingfisher (a kingfisher species that had still eluded us). The closest we got to seeing this elusive kingfisher was in Thamdi Surla, Goa, a few years ago.

Excited about this sighting, we reiterated our plans and decided to go to Abloli (near Guhagar), stay the night, photograph the kingfisher and then head back to Bangalore. The drive from Pune turned out to be a long one due to bad roads in the last leg.

We finally reached Abloli with just about half hour of light left in the day. Exchanging pleasantries with our host, Sachin Arekar, we headed straight to the hide where the kingfisher frequented.

We took our slots and waited. I was not carrying a tripod or monopod and was struggling to shoot handheld with equipment weighing over 6.5 kilos. Add to it the swarming mosquitos. The heavy lens gave me more trouble than the blood suckers! Waiting a few minutes, Sachin signalled that the kingfisher would come out in the open anytime.

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Bumping up the ISO, I made a few images. Shooting in almost darkness, we wrapped up hoping to have a good morning session.

In the morning we reached the hide and to my utmost surprise, Sachin had made a support for my lens and camera with the help of two pipes. Settling in my slot, it was waiting game for the kingfisher.

The male landed first and a few times thereafter, and ordinary images were the result.

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Blue-eared Kingfisher (m) | Abloli, Maharashtra, India

On a rare occasion, the female graced us with her presence. The resulting image also not satisfactory.

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Blue-eared Kingfihser (f) | Abloli, Maharashtra, India

Waiting to make that one image which would satiate the hunger for all these years, finally came true. The blue-eared male landed on the perch, and for a brief second or two, posed well.

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The Poser | Blue-eared Kingfisher (m) – Abloli, Maharashtra, India

Contented to have seen this kingfisher at such close quarters, making satisfactory images was worth every bit of change in plans.

Sachin Arekar our wonderful host runs Garva Agro Tourism, a comfortable and homely set up. Not to forget, sumptuous food too. 

Images made with Nikon – D850 + 600 f4 VR 

Folktale of the Marula tree

Legend has it that the Marula Tree is a revered tree in African jungle.

An interesting story as narrated by Nick. In the olden days every house had a marula tree, and if not the houses, the village had a tree. If a family member was leaving home to pursue a job or new venture in the city, the bag would be placed under the marula tree by the grand parent or an elder and the family would offer prayers for the wellbeing and safety of the traveling member. And also that the he or she be successful in their endeavours.

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Marula Tree | Kruger, South Africa

When the city dweller returned, the bags again would be placed under the tree and prayers would be offered. After seeking blessings and thanking the revered one for keeping their family member safe, the family would invite all the near and dear to their home and serve them liquor brewed from the marula fruit. The festivities which included song and dance would continue into the wee hours of the morning. Such is the significance of the marula tree.

While it is revered by the the natives, the leaves and fruits are relished by elephants, baboons and other herbivores. Rumour has it that elephants have even gotten intoxicated feeding on fermented marula fruit which is also used to make liquor. Witessing an elephant standing under the marula tree and feeding on it leaves while out on a bush walk only made the folk tale sweeter.

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Elephant and the Marula Tree | Kruger, South Africa

The only regret during my sojourm in Kruger is that I didn’t try the famous Amurula liqueur which of course is made primarily with the marula fruit. Well, that is left for another time. Maybe try the local marula brew too ūüôā

Winged wonders of Kruger

The three days of safaris in Kruger were not enough to soak in the wide variety of birds that reside in the park. While it was challenging to photograph most birds on the game drives, the Imbali Safari Lodge had a few regulars that put on a show.

I finished breakfast and decided to stick around near the outdoor dining area by the poolside. A movement in the bushes above the pool caught my attention. A colorful crested head popped out. Crested Barbet! Following the movement of this bird, I managed this one.

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Crested Barbet ~ Imbali Safari Lodge | Kruger National Park, South Africa

The very pretty Lilac-breasted Roller is a widespread species in the African continent. It was lovely to sight so many during the game drives. This individual posed patiently against the backdrop of clouds and a blue sky.

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Another commonly seen roller was the European Roller. Though it is pale in comparison to the Lilac-breasted Roller, I was quite happy to make a few images. Roller_European_SJK8436

Can you imagine a bird thats called Go-away Bird? As funny as it may sound, this species is actually called Grey Go-away Bird or Grey Lourie. Despite being wide-spread, this was the only sighting where the birds patiently sat for pictures.

Lorie_Grey_SJK8516Walking on the track, we bumped into an interesting looking birdie. The guide identified it as a Black-bellied Bustard/Kohraan. Skittish initially, the birdie eventually stopped and gave me a few frames. Korhaan_Black_Bellied_SJK8632

Three vultures sat on a dry tree and scanned the horizon presenting a perfect setting for a silhouette. Vulture_Silhouette_SJK8499

A Southern Ground Hornbill takes off as if to announce the end of the wonderful three days in Kruger which had a mix of many birds and wildlife. Hornbill_Southern_Ground_Sil_SJK7588

These are only few of the birds that I could shoot but the sightings were limited to these frames. Plenty of birds around but only if they sat stable for a few seconds for the images I wanted to make. Can’t wait to go back to Kruger for a longer period and meet the variety of winged wonders that beautiful park has to offer.

All images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR

Long necks, tall legs

The dusty safari track seemed never-ending to the naked eye. While it was always the impala crossing from one side of the road to another, it was pleasant surprise to see the tallest animal of the African bush block our path and watch us with curiosity. A minute later,  the second one joined and together they crossed the track. Giraffe_SJK8348

As we moved ahead, we spotted a herd of giraffe on our left. Counting upto five individuals, only two were out in the open. The rest of the herd hidden behind the tall tree and only their heads gave away!

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Two individuals however, stood motionless looking across the road. Sensing some predator movement, we scanned the area but it didn’t bear any fruit.

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Leaving the herd, we moved ahead and later in the evening came across a tusker enjoying a mud bath. That post is for another day.

Images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR

An evening with Lions

We hadn’t had the opportunity to see big cats yet on our evening game drive. As the sun was setting, a voice cracked in the radio. A couple of lions have been spotted, announced Bradley. Confirming the location of the sighting, we drove to the spot where the lions were sighted.

Sitting amidst the green grass which provided great camouflage, sat two lions with absolutely no care in the world. They are a pride of seven brothers, said Bradley. Two here, maybe we would get lucky and see the rest too…wishful thinking!

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Watchful Eyes | African Lion, Kruger National Park

As the last rays of light shone upon us, the lions got up and started moving. Continuously, roaring as they walked, calling out to the rest of the pride.

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A King’s Pose | African Lion, Kruger National Park

This young male, stopped in his tracks and looked at us with curious eyes. A personal favorite because of the engaging expression!

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Curious Eyes| African Lion, Kruger National Park

We stayed till the lions were completely out of sight and made our way back towards the safari lodge. A welcome sundowner in the ‘bush bar’ courtesy Bradley, was all about the ‘band of brothers’ we just sighted.

All images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR 

 

Lurking scavenger & predator

While the African wild dogs were enjoying their meal (presumably an impala kill), a suspicious movement away from the pack, caught our attention. Slowly walking out of the bush and revealing itself was a spotted hyena!

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Lurking | Spotted Hyena ~ Kruger National Park, South Africa

Known to scavenge not only on scraps but also to chase away the hunter from its kill, the spotted hyena is quite an unrelenting animal especially when there’s a bunch of them. But here the odds were against the hyena! A single hyena didn’t stand a chance against a pack of wild dogs.

By now the wild dogs were aware of a sly hyena doing the rounds. Two or three dogs kept the hyena at bay while the others went about their meal. Anticipating some action, I kept track of the hyena’s movement. Gathering some courage, the hyena finally moved towards the feeding pack. The moment the hyena crossed the comfort line, a warning was given by the dogs.

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Walking back disappointed | Spotted Hyena ~ Kruger National Park, South Africa

Not wanting to risk injuries, the hyena opted for a hasty retreat. If only the hyena had more companions, if only!

Images shot with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR

Painters on a prowl

I have often been told, Kruger National Park is the best place to see the African Wild Dog (also known as African Painted Dog or African Hunting Dog). Now that I was finally in Kruger for three days, I directed all my questions to our guide, Bradley.

How often do you see Wild Dogs? I asked. We see them maybe once in a week, he replied. But they have not been spotted in recent times, he added. My heart sank, hearing the last few words. More than the Big 5, this was the endangered species I was longing to see.

On a morning game drive, I decided to take the seat next to Bradley. That move would later prove to be a favourable one. We took a new route that morning which went past another camp called Hamilton Tented Camp. As we drove past the camp and down a slope toward a dry river bed, a swift movement on the right side caught my eye.

Wild Dog! The vehicle had barely come to a stop, and as I whipped out the camera and took a few pictures… Poof! The dog was gone.

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In a hurry | African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

My joy for that brief moment knew no bounds! I was ecstatic seeing an African Wild Dog. The wild dogs are rarer than the leopard, exclaimed Bradley, as he turned the jeep around. Driving ahead, we spotted a congress of baboon who seemed quite relaxed and unaware that one of the finest hunters in the wild was in the midst.

Leaving the baboons, we must have moved barely a few hundred yards, when we saw three wild dogs standing on the safari track. Not sure if they were a shy pack, I took pictures as we slowly made our way towards them.

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Three’s a team | African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

One bold individual stood his ground as we got closer. Urging Bradley to stop at a safe distance, I made a portrait of this fine looking specimen. I must admit, I always thought these dogs to be ugly! Now, I take my words back!

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African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

We were in for more surprises! There were four more individuals in the pack. They had made a kill nearby. One dog had a piece of meat while another made away with a leg piece. Presumably an impala that had been hunted.

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Mouthful | African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

As we were the only vehicle around, the wild dogs got comfortable and one curious dog came sniffing close to my door.

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Too close Eh! | African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Just when all of us including Bradley were rejoicing one of the best sightings of wild dogs in recent times, we had a a surprise visitor!

The story is for another day! Stay tuned for next week’s post.

All images shot with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR 

 

Hornbills of Kruger

Southern Ground Hornbill was one of the birds high up on my wish list soon after Kruger plans materialised. Having seen it earlier in Masai Mara a few years ago, the regret of not being able to make any images of this endangered species was was heavy on my mind.

Well into the second half of our maiden drive in Kruger, as the breeze got cooler and the evening light turning everything to gold, we spotted a few black objects on the track as we turned around a bend. A group of ground hornbills were on a stroll!

Seeing our jeep approaching, the hornbills scattered and we were left with only one standing on the track. As the hornbill slowly made it across the track, I made images of the biggest hornbill species in the world.

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Southern Ground Hornbill | Kruger National Park, South Africa

While one hornbill moved away, majority of the group decided to stick by a termite mound. I had the good fortune of taking a picture of a juvenile hornbill too.

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Southern Ground Hornbill (juvenile) | Kruger National Park, South Africa

Other species of hornbills spread across Kruger National Park are the Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill and Red-billed Hornbill. Despite seeing them all over during the game drives, they are difficult subjects to shoot. They flew away as soon as the jeep approached them.

A co-operative southern yellow-billed hornbill was gracious enough to stay put on a branch while I attempted to make images.

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Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill | Kruger National Park, South Africa

The more skittish red-billed hornbill was quite a challenge! Despite all my attempts, I managed a decent record of this species.

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Red-billed Hornbill | Kruger National Park, South Africa

Thus having covered the majestic southern ground hornbill, the pretty yellow-billed and red-billed hornbills, I have managed to get over the deep-seated regrets from the past trip to Kenya.

All images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR 

The Drifter | Kruger

Like a drifter I was born to walk alone…

I’m reminded of those lines from the famous classic rock number by Whitesnake called Here I go again. The line was apt for this elephant who was the largest Tusker I laid my eyes upon, while in Kruger National Park.

It must have been only a few minutes into the game drive As we came near an open patch of grass, we spotted this tusker coming out of the bushes. It is always a treat to watch elephants walk- the lazy gait, barely any noise, flapping their ears, trunk up in the air sometimes to catch a scent. Slowly, he made his way towards a tree right beside the road.

So close was he to the vehicle, only a camera phone could get the entire elephant in the frame. Quickly switching to a 50mm lens, I managed to shoot a couple of interesting perspectives.


Once he was done munching, the drifter decided to move along. He walked past our vehicle at his own pace, crossed the safari track and walked back into the bushes…probably saying to himself ‘here I go again’!

Shot details: Pic 2&3 shot with Nikon D850 + 50mm 1.8 lens. Pic 1 with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR. 

Barsaati nullah di Kudi

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Barsaati nullah di Kudi | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India

A week in Corbett hadn’t borne any fruit (read tiger sightings). The highlight of the trip so far had been a wonderful sighting of the very rare Leopard Cat, Common Green Magpie and a Collared Falconet! All three of course in the Dhikala region. Sightings in Bijrani had been poor and the jungle trips were ending in disappointments.

Wrapping ourselves in multiple layers including thermals, we set out yet again for the morning drive in peak winter. The bone chilling cold was only starting to leave as soft light shone through the sal trees. The gorgeous winter sun turning everything into gold that morning.

Driving past the barsaati nullahs (watercourse that flows during rains), Dhasmanaji guided the gypsy onto a track leading to a waterhole. Pramod jumped in excitement and pointed ahead…Tiger! Over a hundred feet away, a flash of orange and black disappeared from the road side into tall grass.

Rushing forward to the spot, there was no sign of the tiger. We backed up and waited by the side of a barsaati nullah, in hope that it would reappear. Minutes later, there was a rustle in the thick grass, soft cautious steps approaching us and then she emerged. The gorgeous morning light enhanced the beauty of this young lady and we shutterbugs finally had an overwhelming sighting.

Image shot with: Canon – 1D Mark IV + 500 f4 IS