Among the Top 100 | WIPA 2017

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Watch your step, kid | Sambar and Fawn Silhouette – Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, TN, India

In the recently concluded Wildlife Photography competition held by popular magazine Better Photography in association with the best in business; Toehold Travel and Photography Pvt. Ltd., I was pleasantly surprised to know that the above picture had been nominated for the main category of the competition from over 7000 entries. The image can be found here.

A personal favorite from my collection, this image was made way back in the year 2012. Post sunset we were returning from an evening drive and spotted the sambar and her fawn on the edge of the hill. The blue sky in the background and still figures presented an ideal opportunity to make a silhouette. Underexposing a few stops, and getting the focus right with the light rapidly decreasing, I managed this.

Shot with: Canon 1D Mark III + 300 2.8 IS II, 2x TC II 

Leopard Rock | Nagarhole

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Driving through the Nagarhole jungle, I wondered, where is this Leopard Rock! Image of the elusive cat crouching on that very rock flashed in front of me (courtesy dear friend Thomas S Anand).

As I was reminiscing that amazing picture which adorns one of the walls at home, I took a left turn on the road and spotted a huge rock at a distance. Could this be Leopard Rock? A few moments later it was confirmed as a leopard climbed onto it and sat majestically.

With my heart racing, I took the jeep off road and killed the engine. Using the side view mirror as support for the lens, I started shooting. I started the jeep with a desire to get a little closer to the rock. The noisy engine startled the leopard who got off the rock and hid behind some foliage. As I moved the jeep forward, he decided it was enough and disappeared into the forest.

It was thrilling experience. Thanks to Bids and Archana for forcing Alfred and I to lunch in Kutta. Nagarhole would never have happened from Virajpet.

Shot with: Canon 40D + 100-400 IS

Lightning strikes twice | Part One

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Leopard on a Tree is every photographer’s dream shot. And I am no different. Harbouring the dream for a long time, I spend every drive scanning trees hoping to spot a leopard.

Friday, 19th June 2009: I had taken family friends for an evening safari into Bandipur courtesy ‘Tusker Trails’. After a futile weekend at Kabini looking for the spotted cat, I prayed to all possible gods who might convey my prayers to the wild cats as we entered Bandipur. In the beginning of the second half of the safari, I jumped off my seat almost yelling leopard but held back wondering if I was hallucinating! The teak tree had unususal spots and a tail hanging down a branch.

The driver had gone about 100 feet ahead from the actual spot. As we reversed the vehicle and stopped, the leopard was aware of our presence. Unfortunately for me, the driver parked the vehicle in such an angle that there was a tree on the right side blocking the full view. I zoomed to 400mm and started shooting. The cat was already on the move and stopped for a sec or two looking at us through the leaves. That’s when I managed this. In a flash it came down the tree and disappeared into the bushes. The action lasted only a few seconds. I quickly went through my pics and was disappointed with the results from this long time dream sighting. Except this picture. It was exactly what I had wanted – Leopard on a tree, looking directly at us through the gaps of the leaves completely camouflaged. Spotting this cat on trees and behind all that camouflage is very difficult and I take pride in the fact that I spotted it first!

What happened in the next few minutes is something I never expected or even dreamt off! That is for part two of the series. Stay tuned.

Shot details: Canon 40D, 100-400 IS, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/30 secs, EC –1/3, Aperture Priority

Jack in the Fox box

A Wednesday in Bandhavgarh (tiger reserve in Central India). The park remains closed for afternoon-evening drives. To make use of every minute available before the afternoon sets in,  we headed out towards the outskirts of the reserve with our guide with a promise of sighting a Fox. He took us to a spot where a fox apparently had a den. Setting a perimeter away from the den, a temporary hide was up in a jiffy and stood in wait.

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Jack on the prowl

Half an hour of waiting…. There was movement on the other side of the hide and we see a jackal entering. Staying wary of the “hide”, she sniffed around and to our surprise went halfway into a hole in the ground.

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Where are them pups?

“Sir, she’s hungry and has entered the fox’s den to hunt. There must be pups!” whispered the guide. Taking photos, I was praying that the jackal stays unsuccessful in its effort to kill the pups.

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Away with you!

Moments later, the fox (presumably the mother) sneaked up to the jackal only to be chased away by the predator much larger than her. Having chased the fox away, the jackal resumed her search in the fox’s den.

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Standing helpless

Anxious moments passed with the helpless fox watching and hoping her pups don’t get caught in the jaws of the hunter.

Finally it all came to an end. The frustrated jackal gave up and left the den and fox alone. Relieved that the predator had left, the fox sat within vicinity of the den on the lookout for other predators.

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My ears are up and listening

Minutes later, we left the hide too in relief that no pups were killed. Nevertheless an exciting encounter was witnessed.

Canon 40D + Sigma 500 f4.5 

That bird in Yellow

 

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Yellow-browed Bulbul | Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse, Mudumalai, India

 

About a year and a half ago, I had set up a bird photography hide on my property. Of the multiple species that visited the perch,  the yellow-browed bulbul was one species I had been praying for.

Many months later, sitting at the hide on one of the lazy mornings, I heard a familiar call. Moments later a pair of Yellow-browed Bulbul landed on a perch. A few fickle minutes of exploring the perches, feeding, a quick dip in the bird bath and off they went.

Immense joy and satisfaction fills me for having the much awaited species as a visitor at my hide 🙂

Shot with Canon 1D Mark 3 + 500 f4 ISForest Hills Farm and Guesthouse

Hippos | Masai Mara

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Sparring Hippos | Hippo Pool, Keekorok Lodge, Masai Mara, Kenya

There are certain scenes from the Masai Mara trip in 2014 which invoke the craving to visit that National Park again. And this is one of them.

After a day long drive in the game reserve, we returned to the lodge earlier than usual with low spirits. Our driver/guide James painstakingly drove us around with the hope of showing us a Black Rhino but it wasn’t to be.

The Hippo Pool seemed like a good spot to lift my morale. Walking on the deck I heard a lot of splashing in the pool. Anticipating some action, I rushed to a spot for a clearer view. Hippos known for their lazy demeanour, its unusual to see them get hyperactive in any regard. Amidst the many lazing hippos filling up the pool, these two were getting some fighting practice.

My lens hoisted on the wooden fence for support managed to freeze some of the action. It was amazing to see how these heavy beasts would move gracefully, open their mouths wide, displaying those mammoth sized sharp teeth and lock those jaws. The action lasted a few minutes and the hippos went back to being, well… lazy hippos.

Not among the usual list of expected sightings at the Mara but nevertheless an exciting one for me.

Shot with – Canon 1D Mark 3 + 500 f4 IS II 

My Maiden Tiger shot

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Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Canon 40D + 100-400 IS lens

As we entered Bandipur for the evening safari,  I asked Adil what he thought he might see on his maiden safari. “We are going to see a tiger” came a confident reply. Having done enough drives without a wild cat sighting, I thought to myself “yeah…like we are actually going to see one”. It was a “normal” drive. We saw the chital (spotted deer), Indian peafowls, elephants. As we were going down a slope near the reserve, I heard an excited yell TIGER! TIGER!

I saw Vishnu Anna jump off his seat and rush toward the driver asking him to stop the vehicle. I looked in the direction he pointed and scanned every inch for the tiger. There she was! Sitting in a clear patch of green grass at a distance of about a hundred meters. Stray bamboo branches made it very difficult for the camera to focus on the tiger. Low light conditions didn’t help either. After five minutes, she lay flat and flipped over to the left. Then she got up and disappeared behind lantana bushes. We tried hard and spotted her again behind thick foliage. Waited for half an hour for her to come out in the open and then left.

The mere sighting gave me a high. For many it was their first tiger sighting. For me the first capture on camera. It had been a long time desire to photograph a tiger. Thrilled? Yes! Because the first shot was due for 4 long years! Satisfied? No! But I knew this is just the beginning of many more tigers to see!

Backyard Leopard

A game of tennis and an intense rally going on. Amma hears the langur go ballistic near the Machaan (watch tower), a few hundred metres away. The alarm calls get louder by the minute. Amma and Aunty Lakshmi, break the rally, drop their rackets and run towards the Machaan while my brother Rahul and I continued playing.

Few minutes later I hear the faint sound of my phone ringing. It was Aunty Lakshmi. They  spotted a female Leopard. By the time I got there, the Leopard had disappeared. We went up the Watch Tower and waited. We heard the female Leopard ‘sawing’….that gave us hope of her reappearance.

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For five long minutes we waited.. and heard all about Amma and Aunty’s  sighting.  Suddenly there was commotion. We looked towards the water tank and spotted this beautiful male Leopard walking past it. This shot was made when he stopped on the rocks for a few seconds, looking in the direction the female had gone. Oblivious to our presence, he trotted into the Jungle and disappeared. All the action started and ended in about 1.5 minutes. It felt like a lifetime! Words fall short in expressing what you feel when you spot a Big Cat in your backyard.

Shot specifications ISO 1600, Av f5.6, 1/60 secs, EC 0, Aperture Priority. Canon 40D, 100-400 IS

The Devil Bird

Spot-bellied Eagle Owl (Forest Eagle Owl)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!

Colour splash on Diwali

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Colour Splash | Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Chiplun, Maharashtra, India

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.

Ranthambore Diary

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While I download pictures from a ten day long Rajasthan trip, which of course included Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, I leave you with a picture of this magnificent male tiger (popularly known as Sultan) from my previous trip to the same reserve with Toehold Travel and Photography in December 2014, skippered by dear friend and award winning photographer Sachin Rai. Wait up for more treasures captured from this trip to the lovely jungle. 

 

The Gentle Giant

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Elephants have been called gentle giants, primarily because of their graceful demeanour and large size. I’ve had the good fortune to sight, spend time and observe various behaviour of elephants at late Mark Davidar’s (a dear friend and inspiration) home.

img_2482Of the many elephants that frequented Mark’s home, was a tusker who Mark fondly called Rivaldo. He would visit daily to quench his thirst at the waterhole near the house but there was always the more enticing idea of being fed a fruit or two from Mark’s hands.

ele_relaxed_img_7843Though he would come quite close to the verandah where Mark and I would be sitting, he maintained caution whenever there were a few more people around. To see a wild elephant from such close quarters was an exhilarating experience.

On occasions, he would playfully chase away other visiting elephants and wild boar lest they steal his tidbit. And there were times he would have friendly interactions with other elephants especially males.

 

More stories about these gentle giants from home and around in future posts. elephant_comm_sjk_3501