The wisdom gathered over years of photographing birds- the vibrant the colours of the feathers, the more elusive the bird. One such bird is the Red Munia. After looking for it for a long time, my desire to shoot the bird in its striking colours was finally fulfilled about a year ago.
Soon after a trip to Rajasthan, a friend informed me about an opportunity to photograph the Red Munia. It was quickly decided that we would leave the next day to the spot and hopefully make some worthy images.
On the day of the shoot, we left earlier than usual, set up the hide at a safe distance, fixed a thin perch and waited in anticipation. Three of us squeezed into the small hide. After about 45 minutes of waiting, the lady made a brief appearance.
I managed a few pictures before the munia disappeared into the reeds. The female munia I was told was quite a shy character.
Awaiting another 15 minutes or so, we saw some movement on taller reeds, a tiny bird moved from one reed to another, the male munia was finally going to grace itself! As soon as it sat on the perch, I couldn’t stop admiring its beauty! That red outshone everything else around!
The male munia made a couple more appearances and the final one was after waiting close to an hour. The red munia carrying a feather or any other nesting material!
Shooting handheld with a 500mm lens and professional DSLR (1D Mark IV) was not a pleasurable experience. Despite the camera boasting 10 frames per second, it was never easy with my elbows hurting, hands shivering, even losing balance. All this only for about 3-4 hours 🙂
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!
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.
At the Bandipur forest reception, a couple of department drivers informed me about a leopard sighting that happened earlier that morning.
A spotted deer (chital) had been hunted the previous night and the leopard perched on the tree with its prized kill and a full tummy. The morning visitors were treated to this glorious sight. Assuring that the leopard would still be at the same spot, the drivers wished me luck.
Entering the forest at 4 pm, we headed straight to the spot where the leopard was last seen. A few vehicles were already lined up, the leopard must still be there, I thought to myself. Driver/guide Siddhu pointed in the direction of the leopard.
He was perched quite contentedly on the lowest branch of the canopied tree. With lantana bushes coming in the way, I had to stand and attempt taking photos with a heavy lens and no support. To make matters worse, the other occupants in the jeep were literally jumping up and down in excitement. Mutiple shusshss’ and please don’t shake the vehicle…did not help either. I managed a few frames, before the rest of the vehicles lined up with loud excited visitors. Too much noise disturbed the afternoon siesta and the leopard came down the tree to hide in the thick foliage. Divers and naturalists told us the deer kill was on the ground and the leopard must be feeding on it.
We left the spot and drove around other parts of the forest seeing umpteen number of birds, gaur, elephants and a transformed Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Lush greens and previously dry waterholes were now filled up. Well, most of them at least. It was a good feeling to be back in my favourite reserve after a bout of heavy rains.
On the return lap of the safari, we drove back to the leopard spot. He was now seated on a higher branch and was in and out of sleep. I made a few images and a video too.
As the sun set and it got colder, Mr. Leppy curled up (not literally) and went to sleep.
The fully fed leopard was content with his meal and I was content with the evening drive and a refreshed and transformed Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Another common species is the Orange-headed Thrush.
An occasional visitor – Lesser Yellownape Woodpecker
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sighting a big cat in the lush greenery of a jungle always fills me with joy.
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.
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.
Entering the waterhole cautiously, I assumed he would casually sit and cool himself. Instead, he started kicking and splashing water.
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!