I’m reminded of those lines from the famous classic rock number by Whitesnake called Here I go again. The line was apt for this elephant who was the largest Tusker I laid my eyes upon, while in Kruger National Park.
It must have been only a few minutes into the game drive As we came near an open patch of grass, we spotted this tusker coming out of the bushes. It is always a treat to watch elephants walk- the lazy gait, barely any noise, flapping their ears, trunk up in the air sometimes to catch a scent. Slowly, he made his way towards a tree right beside the road.
So close was he to the vehicle, only a camera phone could get the entire elephant in the frame. Quickly switching to a 50mm lens, I managed to shoot a couple of interesting perspectives.
Once he was done munching, the drifter decided to move along. He walked past our vehicle at his own pace, crossed the safari track and walked back into the bushes…probably saying to himself ‘here I go again’!
Shot details: Pic 2&3 shot with Nikon D850 + 50mm 1.8 lens. Pic 1 with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR.
The jeep stopped and Bradley pointed towards a herd of Impala. They are everywhere, he exclaimed! While everyone else was looking at the impala, my eyes as usual were on the lookout. A slight movement in a bush caught my attention.
“Bradley, I think I saw some movement in the bushes”, I called out. He backed up the jeep to a halt, I pointed in the direction of the movement. A small head popped out and peered at us. Ah! Thats a mongoose! The mongoose came out supporting itself on the branch of a thin tree and posed for a brief moment.
With lovely evening light falling on it, the mongoose looked radiant. What is it doing up a tree, I wondered?
After a brief pose, the mongoose swiftly went up the tree, and as I tried to track it with the camera, I saw band like thing wrapped around the branch. There’s a snake on the tree, I let out a soft cry! Bradley was back in action with this binoculars, it is a Boomslang, a very venomous snake, he said!
No wonder the mongoose was up a tree! It was up for a fight with the Boomslang! The mongoose tried attacking the snake and after a few attempts, gave up and swiftly disembarked the tree. Although it was not possible to capture the action on camera, it was exciting to see this brief encounter of mongoose and snake.
We boarded a 30-seater aircraft from Johannesburg and before one could settle in the plane, the pilot announced our descent onto Skukuza. As I got out out of the plane, I was struck by the beauty of the Skukuza airport.
Designed more like a safari lodge, the beauty of the arrivals section surprised me. Handcrafted lampshades hung from the ceiling and end to end prints of Zebra adorned the walls of counters.
Even the departure lounge was designed like a cafe.
It felt surreal. Unable to contain my excitement and while still standing in awe, like most first-time visitors, I took multiple pictures on phone.
At the exit of the tiny airport, I came across a life size statue of the critically endangered Rhino.
Beautifully sculpted, it occupies prime space at the entrance of the airport and also signifies what the Rhino means to the people of South Africa and especially in Kruger.
After a quick exchange of pleasantries with the driver, we set off to what was going to be home for the next three days i.e. Imbali Safari Lodge. A journey of almost three hours, we were slightly behind schedule as we had landed in Skukuza after half hour delay. We had to make it to camp on time, else, we would miss the evening game drive.
Elephants, hornbills, hundreds of impala and a Cape Buffalo (who only showed his butt) were seen along the road as we drove to Imbali. Half way into the journey, the tired eyes finally shut and I took a much needed nap. The crackle of the radio woke me up. We were finally nearing our lodge. Minutes later we entered the driveway of the reception. Already quarter past four, I quickly chugged the welcome drink, fixed camera and lens, got introduced to my guide; Bradley, two lovely couples (who would also be part of the wonderful experience) and was off for the evening ride.
No sooner had we left the lodge, we were greeted by a huge Tusker and his two companions.
The huge male in the above image came so close to our vehicle, we were literally within touching distance from him.
In the two hours of safari, we saw numerous birds, plenty of impala, a herd of kudu, elephants, mongoose chasing a boomslang snake, a group of southern ground hornbill (highlight of the evening), even had a flat tyre and finally two lions. And this was just the start!
Three days and 6 game drives, stay tuned for the the Kruger series!
The mug of coffee sits beside me untouched as I reflect upon the year that passed by. While travel for photography was restricted mainly to Bandipur, Kabini and of course birding at home i.e. Forest Hills, few new places were explored purely for leisure.
Here’s to more travel, photography and exploration.
I always looked forward to evenings at Mark’s place (Mark Davidar). To me, Mark was a dear friend and an encyclopaedia of knowledge regarding wildlife. It was always a pleasure listening to his stories and incredible experiences.
Many a session have passed sitting in the verandah beside Mark who was always armed with his binoculars and had this amazing intuition for wildlife movement.
As we sat chatting one of the evenings, Mark mentioned about a certain Sloth Bear visiting the property regularly. She has a cub too, so be on the lookout for them, he said! I acknowledged with a nod. No sooner after he told me, I got lost in my imagination of a mother bear and a cub piggybacking on her.
It must have been past 5.30 pm, Mark trained the binoculars in front of his eyes and calmly stated, Sloth Bear! As I looked towards the trail, I saw two black objects walking at a brisk pace. The mother bear and her cub following her closely. As they stopped and curiously looked in our direction, I made a few images. Moments later, as the sun faded away in the sky, the mother-cub duo also walked away.
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 🙂
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!
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!
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!
The late tiger popularly known as Prince had made the Mulapura waterhole a favourite cooling off destination. Hoping to catch a glimpse of him, our safari jeep and it’s occupants decided to wait there.
Across the waterhole at a distance, I spotted a crested serpent eagle perched on a bamboo branch. Because it was not an uncommon sight and neither an uncommon bird, I almost gave it a dismissive wave.
The movement of another bird had caught my eye! A jungle crow had perched itself on a lower branch. Wondering how the eagle would react, I kept my eyes on the scene through the telephoto lens.
Action unfolded almost immediately! The crow began harassing the eagle with continuous attempts of flying into the eagle. The eagle responded by opening its wings and following every movement of the crow. This went on for almost a minute and finally, when the eagle had enough, it took off from the scene.
It was only then I realised what was actually going on. As the eagle flew, I noticed something hanging off its leg…a snake. The serpent eagle had hunted a snake which was clutched in its powerful talons. Sensing an opportunity, the crow tried bullying the eagle to steal its meal. Warding off all attempts of the crow, the eagle decided to take its snack away and eat it someplace safe!
Visiting forests is not all about big cats. Drama like this makes makes an uneventful safari an exciting experience.
Around the same time last year, I was in Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, as part of my backpacking trip which included Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Jaipur. It also happened to be my second visit to this picturesque tiger reserve.
Few drives into various zones in Ranthambhore had not yielded any big cat sighting yet. Knowing that we had good a chance of tiger sighting in the Rajbagh lake zone, we set out with renewed energy that morning. An ever enthusiastic Nagendra Ji kept our spirits high and at the same time was keeping watch for pug marks and tiger trails. Alarm calls, fresh pug marks and exchanging information from other jeep drivers/guides led us nowhere!
As Nagendra Ji instructed the driver to take a narrow track and drive along that route, I eased back into my seat and was soon lost in my own world. Halfway journey into my dreamworld, the jeep eased to a stop. While all the occupants were off their seats, my dreamy self tilted to the right inspecting what had caused this interruption! Yeh toh Arrowhead hai! An excited Nagendra Ji called out!
For the next thirty minutes, she yawned, laid down, posed for the camera and also did a brief cat walk leaving us immensely satisfied. The rest of the day was spent only reminiscing the sighting.
Soft light shone through the canopy of bamboo as one visitor after another came, made their presence felt, posed for photographs and went about their business (foraging).
Once the coast was clear, Mr. Red decided it was his turn to show off. The usually intimidated spurfowl walked in cautiously but soon settled himself after scanning the area to make sure no other dominating birds were around. As he posed in the lovely golden light, it allowed me to make a few frames as the red turned to gold.
A regular visitor to the photography hide, the red spurfowls rarely leave us disappointed. Stay tuned for more.
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!