Black nape, crest and rosettes

I was home on a short break and thought I’ll head to Bandipur for a safari. For a change, I got a seat in the Jungle Lodges jeep as opposed to the customary canter. My companions for the drive were a pilot from Hong Kong and his girlfriend and a photographer from Bangalore. Exchanged pleasantries and we set off into the lush green jungles with our driver/guide Muddu and naturalist Nagendra.

It was the third week of August and presence of the monsoon very much there, though I hoped it wouldn’t rain during the drive.

The pilot, Jeff and his girlfriend were keen birders and naturalist and dear friend Nagendra was doing his best in showing them the variety that Bandipur has to offer.

We came across a black-naped hare, sitting out in the open. Strangely, this one didn’t bolt soon as the vehilce came in sight. The long ears and prominent black nape in display, perfect opportunity for portraits.

Black-naped Hare| Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

We must have driven maybe a kilometer from the hare, when Nagendra spotted rose-ringed parakeets on a tall tree beside the track. Jeff and the rest of us were looking at the birds when Muddu called out…leopard!

We saw a tail disappear into the lantana bushes. We got into position knowing well that the leopard would walk onto an open patch. Everyone held their cameras tightly. A minute later, boom, out walked the leopard! Ever so cautious, she took a few steps, stopped, looked towards our vehicle and then swiftly went into hiding. We moved further back anticipating her movement yet again, but in vain.

Leopard | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

By now a light drizzle had started. As we approached a waterhole, I spotted a crested hawk-eagle on a tree. The raptor seemed comfortable with our presence and posed for a long photo session. Drizzle in the background made for some nice images.

Crested Hawk-eagle | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

As we were exiting the park, a sloth bear also marked attendance. In all, a very pleasing safari.

All images made with Nikon D850 and 600mm F4 VR lens – August 2019

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

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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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

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 Showstopper

On 1st Jan, I landed in the front seat of the safari van for my maiden safari of the year.

As the vehicle turned onto the track leading to the closest waterhole, our driver Siddhu suddenly stopped the van and loudly whispered “Kittu Sir! Kittu Sir! Leopard!! Leopard!!” Having slept in the wee hours of morning after welcoming New Year 2016, I was fast asleep. I woke up with a start wondering what was going on! He then thrusts the camera on me and points towards the leopard.

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Leopard at dusk | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka

In my groggy state, I focused and fired away! Thankfully the leopard was stood still, contemplating his next move. A minute or less later, he decided to walk beside the track.  Disinterested as he was with our presence, he walked casually into the bushes and disappeared. Everybody in the van rejoiced… a fantastic beginning to the year!

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The Showstopper

Two things here, the image was shot with the same settings applied at the birding hide earlier that morning. Exposure -1.3 (yikes!) and ISO 400 (thank god!). Lesser ISO resulted in retaining the details and hardly any noise in the image.