Barsaati nullah di Kudi

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Barsaati nullah di Kudi | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India

A week in Corbett hadn’t borne any fruit (read tiger sightings). The highlight of the trip so far had been a wonderful sighting of the very rare Leopard Cat, Common Green Magpie and a Collared Falconet! All three of course in the Dhikala region. Sightings in Bijrani had been poor and the jungle trips were ending in disappointments.

Wrapping ourselves in multiple layers including thermals, we set out yet again for the morning drive in peak winter. The bone chilling cold was only starting to leave as soft light shone through the sal trees. The gorgeous winter sun turning everything into gold that morning.

Driving past the barsaati nullahs (watercourse that flows during rains), Dhasmanaji guided the gypsy onto a track leading to a waterhole. Pramod jumped in excitement and pointed ahead…Tiger! Over a hundred feet away, a flash of orange and black disappeared from the road side into tall grass.

Rushing forward to the spot, there was no sign of the tiger. We backed up and waited by the side of a barsaati nullah, in hope that it would reappear. Minutes later, there was a rustle in the thick grass, soft cautious steps approaching us and then she emerged. The gorgeous morning light enhanced the beauty of this young lady and we shutterbugs finally had an overwhelming sighting.

Image shot with: Canon – 1D Mark IV + 500 f4 IS

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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Ghosts of the Blue Hills

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Nilgiri Langur | Avalance Road, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

On a cold Christmas evening, a bunch of friends and I were driving on a narrow road towards Avalanche Lake, a destination near Ooty. As we turned a corner, I caught sight of multiple black figures sitting on a tree beside the road. Nilgiri Langur!

The vehicle came to a screeching halt and I whipped out my camera. The sudden braking of the vehicle alerted the langur who were feeding on the tree. One by one, they jumped off the tree and disappeared into the woods, typical of their shy nature. All but one remained sitting on a branch, with a mouthful of food, wondering what was all the fuss about.

As the langur sat still, I made a few images. The langur realising that his companions aren’t returning, fled the scene soon after.

Unfortunately, the nilgiri langur’s conservation status is classified as vulnerable primarily due to habitat destruction. I sincerely hope their numbers increase with all the conservation efforts going in.

Image shot with Canon – 300 2.8 IS II + 1D Mark 3

Celebrating Tigers

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Tiger and Tourists | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2012

The mere mention of the word tiger is enough to get the adrenaline rushing for most people. If they see one, even if it were a glance, they feel blessed. I remember a sighting in Bandipur when a jeep full of people were dumbstruck throughout the ten minute sighting and spoke only after the tiger left. Such is the charisma of the striped cat.

People from all over the world and of course India too, throng various national parks and tiger reserves that our country has to offer. Popular parks like Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench (Madhya Pradesh), Tadoba (Maharashtra), Ranthambhore (Rajasthan), Corbett Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand), Mudumalai, Bandipur, Nagarhole, Periyar (Southern India) to name a few, host a large number of tourists, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers every year. The agenda of the trip is very clear in their minds – Tiger!

Yesterday, 29th July was International Tiger Day, an annual celebration to raise awareness for tiger conservation. I think we must celebrate the existence of this magnificent creature everyday.

The above image is of a tigress from the Bandipur, fondly called Gowri. Many visitors that evening felt blessed as she graced us with her presence. Having raised multiple litters, she has left behind her legacy in Bandipur. To many more tigers and many more sightings!

Image shot with: Canon 300 2.8 IS II + 1D Mark III

 

Fully fed and riding high

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.

I’m fully fed! Do not disturb! | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

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.

His Majesty | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

As the sun set and it got colder, Mr. Leppy curled up (not literally) and went to sleep.

Curled Up! | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

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.

Images made with Nikon D750 and 600 f4 VR II 

The scimitar never called

Mosquitos were feasting on me as I waited in the birding hide for the brown-cheeked fulvetta. A number of these skittish birds were occasional visitors. The drying river bed few metres away from the hide worked in my favour. Evening sessions which were usually non-productive started attracting birds due to water availability at the bird bath.

Few fulvettas appeared cautiously, took a dip in the bath and left. A white-rumped shama would disappear somewhere behind, only to perch on a stump few minutes later and dry itself. An old bird bath that was removed and left behind the perches had collected water and was hosting birds! Must bring that bird bath to the front, I made a  mental note.

And then in a flash, a bird appeared…yellow beak like a curving sword and the unmistakable colors! One of the shyest birds, and a skulker; Indian Scimitar Babbler had made a quiet entry. The presence of this babbler is known by the continuous calls but always stays hidden behind thick foliage.

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Hopping down from the tallest stump, it disappeared into the old bird bath. All I could see was splashes of water and I hoped for it to sit out in the open to dry itself. A painful wait ended with the babbler sitting on every perch at the hide and finally settling for a branch on a tree nearby.

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Ignoring the sound of the shutter, the scimitar babbler calmly dried itself while I made some images. Once done, the babbler made a quick exit, leaving me with a wide smile. A quick review of the images left me smiling wider. I finally had pictures of the skulker.

Shot at Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse with a Nikon D750 and 600 f4 VR II

Tale of two Tigers

Tiger! Tiger! Left…left!

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.

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I see some stripes | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

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.

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Camouflaged | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

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.

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Waiting in line | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

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!

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Incredible Hunk | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka 2011

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.

Images made with: Canon – 40D + 100-400 IS 

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