Monsoon Magic

I love the game drives into Bandipur during the monsoons. Wildlife amidst lush green surroundings and drops of rain is such a refreshing sight. On more than a few occasions, I got lucky witnessing some interesting behaviour and action, other times, pure joy of making images in the rain drenched forest. I have picked a few such moments!

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Headless | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Off with your head! A jungle myna displays its hapless victim.

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Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Stripe-necked Mongoose devours a snake that saw no escape

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King Pool | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

A long gone king poses in his pool close to the safari track

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Heavy soaking | Chital – Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

A beautiful stag stands still enjoying the generosity of the rain gods

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Kingfisher | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Post rains, a white-throated kingfisher contemplates its next move.

This year the monsoon has finally made its presence felt. Time to make the best of what the jungles have to offer. Bandipur, Kabini…we just have to see!

 

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 

 

A new King

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Basavankatte Male | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Scattered drops of water falling out from the sky disappeared into the baked safari track, leaving no trace. The summer had taken its toll on Bandipur with most of its waterholes in a pitiful state. Looking up, I wondered, is there any respite for the jungle from this heat?

It was as if someone above was listening to me! An hour into the drive and the scorching sun finally hid behind dark clouds, claps of thunder pierced through the forests, heavy drops of water landed with a splash and soon we welcomed rains. As we took cover and quietly rejoiced, the forest was turning a new leaf and someone was going to proclaim himself King!

Continuing on our safari, we passed many puddles of water and our driver-guide had to carefully negotiate the slippery track. Few hundred yards ahead, a huge male tiger walked on to the track and occasionally went about, scent marking his territory. Watching all this in the drizzle, we decided to inch closer. Sensing the proximity, he turned around and gave us a deadly stare!

At that moment, everything including the rain stood still! It was as if Lord Indra himself had stopped the rains and silenced the thunder to announce the arrival of the new King!

A year of blogging

Cool breeze passes by as I sit by the backwaters in the dead of the night. Beside me, a couple of friends cast their imaginary fishing lines, and enact a struggle as if they had caught an African catfish (an invasive species). My thoughts wander toward the evening safari during which we narrowly missed the Black Panther.

Many such memories from various jungles came flashing back as I sat by the banks. Narrow misses, close encounters and no sightings in game drives are common in a wild life enthusiast’s days. All of these experiences penned down, one story at a time in the blog. A year gone by since it’s inception and I have somehow managed to post 52 photoblogs.

While choosing pictures was not so difficult, the writing part definitely was! Travel, meetings, busy times, lack of focus, no peace and quiet are excuses I often come up with. Despite that a blogpost went online every week. That being said, most importantly it has improved my writing and increased focus on the smaller details.

The last year has seen some significant development, from switching camera gear to Nikon and shifting hunting grounds. Bandipur an all time favorite, now faces stiff competition from Kabini which is slowly working its way up the list of favorites.

Commemorating one year of blogging, here is a collection of favorites from the above mentioned parks.

Here’s to more shooting, writing and blogging!

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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!

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 

Hungry chap

Crested Serpent Eagle (juvenile) feeding on a snake | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, 2015

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.

Shot with: Canon 500 f4 IS + 1D Mark 3

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

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 

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!

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.