When you least expect it

As the sun started setting, deer alarm calls got louder. We traced the source of the alarm calls and landed at a waterhole. We waited patiently hoping a big cat would appear and quench its thirst and satiate our hunger to see one. A minute or two later, Uncle Promodh whispered loudly…tiger tiger! Our driver/guide Bomma and I jumped off our seats and looked in the direction Uncle Promodh pointed…and in the foliage, he sat camouflaged, not a tiger but a beautiful leopard!

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In hiding

He got up and as predicted , walked out into the open. We had already backed our jeep and were waiting for him. Soon as he stepped out, I started shooting, hoping he would stop and look at me. He did just that! Stopped for a couple of seconds, stared into the lens and casually walked away into thick lantana foliage leaving all of us speechless!

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Out in the open

An exciting finale to the safari for all of us but it was Andrea and his father Giovanni who were overwhelmed for this was their first ever jungle safari and the elusive cat graced the occasion!

Shot with: Canon 1D3 + 500 f4 | Feb 2015

Hunter vs Scavenger 

The late tiger popularly known as Prince had made the Mulapura waterhole a favourite cooling off destination. Hoping to catch a glimpse of him, our safari jeep and it’s occupants decided to wait there.

Across the waterhole at a distance, I spotted a crested serpent eagle perched on a bamboo branch. Because it was not an uncommon sight and neither an uncommon bird, I almost gave it a dismissive wave.

The movement of another bird had caught my eye! A jungle crow had perched itself on a lower branch. Wondering how the eagle would react, I kept my eyes on the scene through the telephoto lens.

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Action unfolded almost immediately! The crow began harassing the eagle with continuous attempts of flying into the eagle. The eagle responded by opening its wings and following every movement of the crow. This went on for almost a minute and finally, when the eagle had enough, it took off from the scene.

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It was only then I realised what was actually going on. As the eagle flew, I noticed something hanging off its leg…a snake. The serpent eagle had hunted a snake which was clutched in its powerful talons. Sensing an opportunity, the crow tried bullying the eagle to steal its meal. Warding off all attempts of the crow, the eagle decided to take its snack away and eat it someplace safe!

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Visiting forests is not all about big cats. Drama like this makes makes an uneventful safari an exciting experience.

All roads led to Arrowhead

Around the same time last year, I was in Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, as part of my backpacking trip which included Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Jaipur. It also happened to be my second visit to this picturesque tiger reserve.

Few drives into various zones in Ranthambhore had not yielded any big cat sighting yet. Knowing that we had good a chance of tiger sighting in the Rajbagh lake zone, we set out with renewed energy that morning. An ever enthusiastic Nagendra Ji kept our spirits high and at the same time was keeping watch for pug marks and tiger trails. Alarm calls, fresh pug marks and  exchanging information from other jeep drivers/guides led us nowhere!

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Awoken from a slumber | Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, India

As Nagendra Ji instructed the driver to take a narrow track and drive along that route, I eased back into my seat and was soon lost in my own world. Halfway journey into my dreamworld, the jeep eased to a stop. While all the occupants were off their seats, my dreamy self tilted to the right inspecting what had caused this interruption! Yeh toh Arrowhead hai! An excited Nagendra Ji called out!

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For the next thirty minutes, she yawned, laid down, posed for the camera and also did a brief cat walk leaving us immensely satisfied. The rest of the day was spent only reminiscing the sighting.

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

Ghosts of the Blue Hills

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Nilgiri Langur | Avalance Road, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

On a cold Christmas evening, a bunch of friends and I were driving on a narrow road towards Avalanche Lake, a destination near Ooty. As we turned a corner, I caught sight of multiple black figures sitting on a tree beside the road. Nilgiri Langur!

The vehicle came to a screeching halt and I whipped out my camera. The sudden braking of the vehicle alerted the langur who were feeding on the tree. One by one, they jumped off the tree and disappeared into the woods, typical of their shy nature. All but one remained sitting on a branch, with a mouthful of food, wondering what was all the fuss about.

As the langur sat still, I made a few images. The langur realising that his companions aren’t returning, fled the scene soon after.

Unfortunately, the nilgiri langur’s conservation status is classified as vulnerable primarily due to habitat destruction. I sincerely hope their numbers increase with all the conservation efforts going in.

Image shot with Canon – 300 2.8 IS II + 1D Mark 3

Photography….my elixir of life 

It was World Photography Day yesterday the 19th of August 2017. Memories of my early days came flashing back as I sat by a window and looked at the blue hills slowly being covered by mist. All I was thinking was shooting a time lapse 🙂
IMG_0456.JPGIt all started many years ago with a Hitachi camcorder. My late father had bought a camcorder and my excitement knew no bounds. Small size video tapes were the only recording medium and sometimes those tapes were hard to come by. That camcorder was my constant companion anywhere and everywhere outside the house.

Living in Mudumalai was the biggest advantage. With the traffic through Mudumalai and Bandipur not as crazy as today, it was quite peaceful shooting while parked on the main road. I loved making videos of elephant herds grazing by the road. 
After going to college, the camcorder had multiple users and footage I had shot over a period of time had been erased or new stuff had been recorded over it. I lost quite a lot of elephant and leopard footage.

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Years later, I got my hands on a friend’s Canon film SLR, tried, tested, failed, learnt and then finally went digital after two years. What started in 2005 has not stopped. Cameras have come and gone, lenses have been upgraded, the quality of images have improved, but the passion for wildlife, birds and photography….that has not changed. And I hope it never does. 

An ode to Elephants

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Mudumalai Tiger Reserve

Living in the jungle comes with its own perks. One wakes up to the chirping birds, different ones in different seasons while some days one goes to sleep hearing the tiger roar somewhere. Some afternoons langurs go ballistic with their alarm calls and deer sipping water at the water hole break into a run. Amongst all these wildlife moving in and out of the property, there is a consistent visitor almost every evening and at times during the day. That’s the gentle giant! Whether in a group or solo, elephants come in and go as they please.

Despite the three long decades of residing here, every time an elephant comes by, it leaves the onlookers in total awe. The graceful walk, the patient grazing, the gentle eyes and the stoic appearance… they never cease to amaze me each and every time I see them.

Yesterday was celebrated as World Elephant Day. At home, we celebrate elephants whenever they wish to be celebrated. All they do is walk in and start the party!!

Tiger! Tiger!

Three road-blocks, a few sambar deer alarm calls, loud tiger roars and the nervous impatience!

It was half past five and we were driving towards a dam in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. A solitary barking deer and then a herd of chital (spotted deer) flanked the road and were grazing peacefully. Few moments later a sambar’s alarm calls broke the silence of the forest. Each sambar call was followed with a loud roar. A tiger had announced his or her presence! Alert chital were looking in all directions with fear in their eyes and restlessness in their posture. With bated breath, we waited, as minutes passed, the alarm calls stopped and so did the roars.

The silence of the jungle had returned and we continued on our drive. After driving around for about fifteen minutes, our driver Swami suddenly took a u-turn and headed back in the direction where we earlier heard the tiger roaring. Driving past the same herd of deer and half a kilometer later, the jeep came to an abrupt halt! Swami whispered…TIGER!

About two hundred feet away a tiger sat on the safari track like she owned the jungle. A few seconds after we spotted her, she started walking in our direction. I focused my camera and fired away. She stopped at a culvert, raised her tail and sprayed…she was scent marking the area. After she was done, she glanced in our direction and started walking towards us. As she came up the slope, I had goose bumps and my camera went on overdrive.

It was way past 6 pm and the day light was fading away fast. The tiger, now barely fifty feet from the jeep, stopped, stared at us for a few seconds. Thankfully I was in my senses to keep the shutter button pressed! She then turned and disappeared into the lantana undergrowth.

The entire sighting lasted about 2 minutes. To have such an encounter with this magnificent animal was unforgettable.

Shot with: Canon 40D + 100-400 IS 

Tale of two Tigers

Tiger! Tiger! Left…left!

I was rudely awoken from my power nap. I’d like to call it head banging (there is limitation of comfort in sleeping during a safari). I turned to my left looking for the tiger, no sign of it. I turned for confirmation- Indu Mami and Amma pointed in the direction of the tiger.

On a second look, there he sat camouflaged in the blades of grass. Only the ears and forehead visible. Unsure about getting any closer right away, we held our excitement and waited. I made a few images during that wait.

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I see some stripes | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

Minutes later, our driver/guide Sanjay, suggested we move ahead slowly. The tyres had barely moved a few feet, the tiger got up and disappeared into the lantana. Our sighting ended abruptly!

Driving up and down the road with the hope of spotting him again was futile.

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Camouflaged | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

After a while, a Jungle Lodges vehicle was heading in the same direction we saw the Tiger and minutes later, the vehicle came rushing back. Sensing a sighting update, Sanjay quickly turned the jeep around and received confirmation. A tiger had been spotted not too far from where we were. As we reached the spot, we were in for a disappointment. There was a line of vehicles parked already and the tiger was lying about 50 feet away from the track. While all jeeps had a clear view of the tiger, we unfortunately were left looking at the lantana bushes. After about 10 minutes all the action and excitement came to an end. This tiger too had disappeared into the lantana. The drivers decided it would be a good idea to wait at the nearest waterhole. Maybe the tiger would walk in to quench his thirst there.

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Waiting in line | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

It was around 6 pm when we drove up to the road leading to the waterhole, jeeps were parked and tourists pointing towards something. The tiger was on the move! Yet again, we missed the sighting despite being so close. As it was getting darker, one by one the other jeeps started leaving. After fifteen minutes, we slowly rolled the jeep down the road, when all of a sudden Sanjay stopped the jeep and in a loud whisper – KITTU!

I turned to the right and there he was – The Incredible Hulk looking right at us! He was caught completely unawares. Assuming all the vehicles had left, he decided to cross the road. I grabbed the camera and fired away with shutter speed 1/20 seconds in that extremely low light. By the time I increased the ISO setting, the tiger decided to move into the dense foliage. It was truly an adrenaline pumping moment!

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Incredible Hunk | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka 2011

My Uncle and Aunt from Solan (Himachal Pradesh) on their maiden safari were treated to two tiger sighings. And that’s why I keep telling people I have ‘beginners luck’. I drive with them and we see Tigers. Touch Wood! Of course, the person who deserves total credit is Sanjay; a fantastic tracker and very lucky with big cat sightings.

Images made with: Canon – 40D + 100-400 IS 

Sattal & Pangot | Birding Havens – I

Sattal and its surrounding areas have always fascinated me. Since my first visit to the hill station way back in October 2010 and again in 2013, it has been in my thoughts time and again.

Last year March, I visited this place again with friends Mahesh and Sridhar who made their maiden trip to this birding haven. A week long bird photography trip was planned with the very popular Hari Lama, an excellent guide based in Sattal.

Here is a short compilation of images starting with the photography hide at Birders Den, Sattal.

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Greater Yellownape Woodpecker | Birders Den, Sattal

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Blue-winged Siva | Birders Den, Sattal 

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Great Tit | Birders Den, Sattal

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Grey-headed Woodpecker | Birders Den, Sattal 

Birding along the road had its own advantages too! We were lucky to get a Green-tailed Sunbird (female) as she was speedily moving from one branch to another.

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Green-tailed Sunbird | Sattal

The search for the White-crested Laughing Thrush led us to a spot along the highway and lo behold, a sight worth remembering.

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White-crested Laughing Thrsuh | Sattal

Best things in life come in small packages… And the tiny package in the form of Red-billed Leothrix made a few appearances during our time on the road.

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Red-billed Leothrix | Sattal

Not far from Sattal is an area called Chafi which is primarily for birding by the river. Birds like the shy Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher, Wallcreeper, Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstart, Spotted Forktail are the top birds on the list of usual suspects there.

Despite an unlucky occasion when I had branches covering my best angle, I got lucky on the second attempt shooting the Brown Dipper.

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Brown Dipper | Chafi, Sattal

The list of birds photographed in Sattal and its neighbouring areas is given here under:

Red-billed Blue Magpie, Gree Treepie, Greater Yellownape Woodpecker, Great Barbet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Russet Sparrow, Blue-winged Siva, Grey Bushchat, Steppe Eagle, Long-tailed Minivet, Verditer Flycatcher, Grey-winged Blackbird, Striated Laughing Thrush, White-throated Laughing Thrush, Green-tailed Sunbird, Ashy Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Red-billed Leothrix, White-crested Laughing Thrush, Great Tit, Crested Kingfisher, Blue Whistling Thrush, Brown Dipper, White-capped Water Redstart, Rufous-chinned Laughing Thrush, Kalij Pheasant, Rufous Sibia

Pangot series is for next week folks!

Equipment used: Canon 500f4 + 1D Mark 4 

 

 

 

 

The queen of Bijrani

A little over a year ago, I visited the Bijrani side of Corbett Tiger Reserve. The forest rest house, small canteen, ever smiling staff especially Manish, the quiet but starlit nights and an occasional jackal doing the rounds with the hope of getting tit bits of food post closure of the canteen… vivid memories from there.

The agenda of the trip was simple, photograph tigers in the Bijrani zone. Memories of briefly spotting a young tigress on a glorious morning in February were still fresh. Would she honour us with her gracious self again was the big question?

We were welcomed with rain at Ramnagar. The morning drive was a washout though we hoped the skies would clear and the afternoon drive would bear fruit. Post lunch the dark clouds disappeared and the sun shone brightly upon us.

As we drove through a wooded area, a Paradise Flycatcher caught my attention. Before we could train our lenses on him, he gave us the slip! Dhasmana Ji suggested we follow pug marks of a tiger seen on the track earlier on the drive. As he reversed the jeep, my dear friend Subbu (who was standing on the back seat) excited called out Tiger! Tiger! In a nullah (dry rivulet) and under a huge log lay a sleeping tiger. It would have been impossible to spot the tiger if Subbu wasn’t standing atop the seat.

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Spot the tiger | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

A zoomed out picture for one to visualise the distance from the nullah and the angle too.

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Closer view of the tiger with a 500mm telephoto lens | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

Our exclusive rights to the tiger sighting did not last long. Soon a horde of day visitor jeeps were lined up in whatever space they could manage. Dhasmana Ji suggested we stick around for he was sure she would get up later in the evening and we would have our opportunity to make images.

After almost 1.5 hours, and all day visitor jeeps leaving, we stopped on the safari track which cuts the rivulet….envisioning some images with the habitat and the tiger walking towards us, time flew by. With the waiting time a quarter short of an hour, we moved to another rivulet crossing to see if the tiger had been spotted there. Negative there too.

As we reversed our vehicle back to the original spot, we spotted the tiger walking on the rivulet. By the time we got there, she had already reached the edge of the safari track! She stopped and then made herself comfortable in a small puddle. Minutes later, she decided it was time to get up and make it our money’s worth 🙂

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Wet and walking | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

With just three jeeps in the forest, we followed the tiger as she walked on the safari track, up a hilly area, mock charged a herd of sambar deer to our utter astonishment. And finally sat on the safari track as we were nearing the end of our jungle drive.

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Poise | Queen of Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

The above picture summarises that exciting evening drive with an ageing tiger who once ruled a large part of Bijrani reminiscing her glory days. Someday I shall have it printed and put up on my wall reminiscing the Corbett days.

Photos were made using the following equipment: Canon – 70-200 IS, 500 f4 IS, 1D Mark 4, 6D 

Prince of hearts…king of the Jungle

A kingdom may last for ever, but a king’s reign always comes to an end. With the passing away of Prince, a new king will take over the kingdom he possessed for years in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

Known for his large territory within Bandipur, he would freely roam the jungles with nonchalance. There have been instances when tourists have spent the entire safari, which can last almost three hours, with Prince walking from one end of the tourism zone to another.

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Walking his Kingdom| April 2016

My earliest memory of Prince dates back to Dec 2009 on a morning drive along with friends. Because of good tracking skills from our driver/guide Siddhu (then with Tusker Trails), we stumbled upon this magnificent tiger walking on the safari track. Least bothered with the presence of our jeep, he continued sashaying along the track, thereafter scent marking a few trees and finally settling into his private pool.

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The Royal Bath | Prince of Bandipur – Dec 2009

On that day, my friends and I were treated to a sighting that lasted a little over ten minutes. It was overwhelming to watch a tiger at close quarters enjoying his time in a waterhole. I couldn’t take my eyes off him and for the most time, the camera laid forgotten by my side.

I didn’t know then that I would be deprived of another sighting of Prince for the next four years. During an evening safari with the the Forest Department, we received information from another vehicle that a tiger was spotted at a waterhole. We rushed to the spot and sure enough, he was sleeping at the edge of the waterhole. Minutes later, vehicles started piling up and he moved further and further into the water. In all these years of visiting various parks, I can confidently say that Prince is the most adorable looking tiger I have seen yet.

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Innocent Eyes | Feb 2014

It saddens me to know that the Showstopper of Bandipur will not grace us with his presence anymore. Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers will miss our very own PRINCE.

Here is a compilation of some of the best sightings of Prince in the last two years.

It was purely intuitive of Santhosh (driver/guide Jungle Lodges) to take a chance at Prince’s favorite waterhole. We reached the spot twenty minutes into the safari and there he was, cooling himself on a harsh sunlit afternoon.

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Comfortably numb | Jan 2015

A sighting that lasted more than 20 minutes that afternoon, it was also the beginning of my tryst with Bandipur and its popular inhabitant.

Another time in August 2015, while exploring Bandipur during the monsoon with the hope to make some interesting images, we are graced by Prince himself, lazing in a small puddle of water.

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Poise | Sep 2015

With Santhosh again at the helm of affairs, we drove from one end of the reserve to another after receiving information of a sighting. We spotted Prince as he turned towards the waterhole from the safari track.

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Lazing tiger, flying dragon | Sep 2015

Sighting a big cat in the lush greenery of a jungle always fills me with joy.

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A stroll in the jungle | Sep 2015

Few weeks had gone by with no sighting of Prince and with growing concerns over Prince’s whereabouts and health, he laid all doubts to rest. We were treated to a sighting so close to the safari track, I just about managed to fit the tiger and his meal in the frame.

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Not quite a king’s meal | Sep 2015

A large waterhole next to a temple inside Bandipur has always attracted a host of birds, sambar and spotted deer, elephants, gaur, etc. Never having seen a tiger at that waterhole, it was a fitting end to an otherwise uneventful safari.

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Fire amidst greens | Aug 2016

Entering the waterhole cautiously, I assumed he would casually sit and cool himself. Instead, he started kicking and splashing water.

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Splashing exit | Sep 2016

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Prince is no more. He ruled the jungles of Bandipur and our lenses for long years. Shooting Prince since his youth till the end, I have grown alongside as a photographer. Little did I know that watching him in a playful mood in the waterhole, would be the last photograph I will ever click of the majestic figure.

This momentary sadness will be overshadowed by all the memorable sightings you have given me. Rest in peace my friend!