Sattal and Pangot | Birding Havens II

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.

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.

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Amidst all that pink – Russet Sparrow | Kafal House, Pangot, Uttarakhand, India

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.

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Early mornings at Vinayak | Uttarakhand, India 

A drive down the road from Kafal House was productive too. A long awaited picture of the verditer flycatcher was finally done.

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Verditer Flycatcher | Pangot, Uttarakhand, India 

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.

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Making faces – Grey Langur | Pangot, Uttarkahand, India 

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:

White-throated laughing Thrush, Black-headed Jay, Rufous-chinned Laughing Thrush, Streaked-laughing Thrush, Striated Laughing Thrush, Oriental Turtle Dove, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Russet Sparrow, Verditer Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Blue Whistling Thrush, Striated Prinia

Equipment: Canon 1D Mark 4 + 500 f4 IS + 1.4 TC 3

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 

 

 

 

 

Its raining…babies

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.

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Red Spurfowl (female) with her young | Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

A chick poses for a few seconds while the mother, father and other siblings forage for food.

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Standing tall | Red Spurfowl (chick) | Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

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!

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Grey Junglefowl (female) and her young one | Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

The young junglefowl chick strikes a pose before getting down to foraging business.

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Striking a pose | Grey Junglefowl (chick) | Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

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.  

Visiting bipedal family – both winged and non-winged

It had been only a month since I got my hands on the 300 2.8 IS II lens by Canon. The level of excitement bumped further after a trip escorting my aunt back to Solan was confirmed.

Landing in Chandigarh some time in the month of February, my cousin Siddharth suggested I visit the Sukhna Lake which is part of the city. There were high chances of seeing some migratory birds.

Doing a round of the lake one evening, I finally found my spot to photograph birds. A host of migratory birds were in the mix along with common ones.

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The common pochard, brown-headed gull and the tufted duck were lifers and I was especially happy to see a funky hairdo tufted duck.

Few days later, I was up the hills of Himachal Pradesh. It was still winter and waking up to head out for birding on cold mornings was not what I had in mind. Around Solan, I did birding along the railway tracks close to my Aunt’s house, a few locations away from the city and also in the backyard of an Uncle’s home.

A few photographs from Solan and its outskirts:

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Barog and Chail are small hill stations in Himachal Pradesh. While Chail is the more popular and sought after destination, Barog is famous for its picturesque railway station and the longest tunnel on the Kalka-Shimla heritage rail route. The length of the tunnel falling just short of 1.5 kilometers. Interestingly, the station has rooms too for tourists who are keen to stay.

While Chail was a trip to meet more family members, I visited the Barog station on multiple occasions purely for birds. Walking along the railway line and exploring areas near the station accommodation with and without the tripod was great fun.

Photographs of species from Barog and Chail:

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Here is the complete list of species photographed and recorded during my visit:

Birding spots: Solan, Barog, Chail and the outskirts of Solan 

Oriental White-eye, Himalayan Bulbul, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Black Bulbul, Black-throated Tit, Red-billed Leothrix, Black-chinned Babbler, Grey-hooded Warbler, White-throated Fantail, Red-vented Bulbul, Great Tit, Grey Bushchat, Crested Kingfisher, White-capped Redstart, Brown Dipper, Blue Whistling Thrush, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Grey Treepie, Blue-fronted Redstart, Grey-winged Blackbird, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Rufous-chinned Laughing Thrush, Great Barbet, Orange-flanked Bush Robin, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Plum-headed Parakeet, Verditer Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Common Stonechat.

All images made with Canon 40D, 300 2.8 IS II + 2x TC II – Feb, Mar 2012

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 

Ganeshgudi | A birding haven

A long drive to Belgaum had its own advantages. With Ganeshgudi only an hour-and-a-half away, an impromptu visit to the Old Magazine House was devised and I got there on a Friday evening.

I had checked earlier with a dear friend, Angad Achappa, about the usual suspects that frequent the Old Magazine House, so I had a fairly good idea what to expect.

Here are a few images of birds that I saw during my one night stay there:

  • The flagship species at the Old Magazine House is the White-bellied Blue Flycatcher. One can see quite a few individuals (both male and female) frequenting the bird baths.
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White-bellied Blue Flycatcher (male) | Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi
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White-bellied Blue Flycatcher (female) | Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi
  • Another common species is the Orange-headed Thrush.
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Orange-headed Thrush | Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi
  • An occasional visitor – Lesser Yellownape Woodpecker
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Lesser Yellownape Woodpecker | Old Magazine House,
  • At about 6.30 am the next morning, there was excitement among the birding guide and a bunch of photographers. A Malabar Trogon had been spotted at close quarters! Following the bird, I walked along the road and made a few images. This by far has been the best sighting of the Malabar Trogon.
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Malaber Trogon (male) | Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi

Other species that I saw during the same visit are:

Hill Myna, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Oriental White-eye, Black-naped Monarch, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Puff-throated Babbler, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Little Spiderhunter, Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-rumped Shama, Emerald Dove, Flame-throated Bulbul.

Note: The Old Magazine House now has a new bungalow with 6 well appointed rooms. Few old old cottages they had earlier have been dismantled and maybe renovated in the future.

All images shot with Nikon 600 f4 VR + D7100. 

 

 

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!

The Mighty Steppe

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Steppe Eagle | Almora, Uttarakhand, India (2016)

Many steppe eagles were seen en route to Munsiyari. Despite our eagerness to stop and capture these raptors, the guide suggested we do that on our return to Sattal. As we continued our long drive, quite a few virtual images of this magnificent raptor were imprinted in my mind.

Few days later the opportunity to convert those virtual images to real ones came along. After crossing Almora district, we spotted a few steppe eagles by the roadside. Urging the guide and driver to stop, I fixed a teleconverter to the lens for farther reach. With whatever light that remained of the evening and a cooperative bird, I made a series of images.

An opportunity to shoot the steppe eagle on two of my previous trips to Sattal were wasted due to camera issues. This image was the best of the series and immensely satisfying.

Shot with: Canon 1D Mark IV + 500 f4 IS + 1.4 TC III