Winged wonders of Kruger

The three days of safaris in Kruger were not enough to soak in the wide variety of birds that reside in the park. While it was challenging to photograph most birds on the game drives, the Imbali Safari Lodge had a few regulars that put on a show.

I finished breakfast and decided to stick around near the outdoor dining area by the poolside. A movement in the bushes above the pool caught my attention. A colorful crested head popped out. Crested Barbet! Following the movement of this bird, I managed this one.

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Crested Barbet ~ Imbali Safari Lodge | Kruger National Park, South Africa

The very pretty Lilac-breasted Roller is a widespread species in the African continent. It was lovely to sight so many during the game drives. This individual posed patiently against the backdrop of clouds and a blue sky.

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Another commonly seen roller was the European Roller. Though it is pale in comparison to the Lilac-breasted Roller, I was quite happy to make a few images. Roller_European_SJK8436

Can you imagine a bird thats called Go-away Bird? As funny as it may sound, this species is actually called Grey Go-away Bird or Grey Lourie. Despite being wide-spread, this was the only sighting where the birds patiently sat for pictures.

Lorie_Grey_SJK8516Walking on the track, we bumped into an interesting looking birdie. The guide identified it as a Black-bellied Bustard/Kohraan. Skittish initially, the birdie eventually stopped and gave me a few frames. Korhaan_Black_Bellied_SJK8632

Three vultures sat on a dry tree and scanned the horizon presenting a perfect setting for a silhouette. Vulture_Silhouette_SJK8499

A Southern Ground Hornbill takes off as if to announce the end of the wonderful three days in Kruger which had a mix of many birds and wildlife. Hornbill_Southern_Ground_Sil_SJK7588

These are only few of the birds that I could shoot but the sightings were limited to these frames. Plenty of birds around but only if they sat stable for a few seconds for the images I wanted to make. Can’t wait to go back to Kruger for a longer period and meet the variety of winged wonders that beautiful park has to offer.

All images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR

Long necks, tall legs

The dusty safari track seemed never-ending to the naked eye. While it was always the impala crossing from one side of the road to another, it was pleasant surprise to see the tallest animal of the African bush block our path and watch us with curiosity. A minute later,  the second one joined and together they crossed the track. Giraffe_SJK8348

As we moved ahead, we spotted a herd of giraffe on our left. Counting upto five individuals, only two were out in the open. The rest of the herd hidden behind the tall tree and only their heads gave away!

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Two individuals however, stood motionless looking across the road. Sensing some predator movement, we scanned the area but it didn’t bear any fruit.

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Leaving the herd, we moved ahead and later in the evening came across a tusker enjoying a mud bath. That post is for another day.

Images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR

An evening with Lions

We hadn’t had the opportunity to see big cats yet on our evening game drive. As the sun was setting, a voice cracked in the radio. A couple of lions have been spotted, announced Bradley. Confirming the location of the sighting, we drove to the spot where the lions were sighted.

Sitting amidst the green grass which provided great camouflage, sat two lions with absolutely no care in the world. They are a pride of seven brothers, said Bradley. Two here, maybe we would get lucky and see the rest too…wishful thinking!

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Watchful Eyes | African Lion, Kruger National Park

As the last rays of light shone upon us, the lions got up and started moving. Continuously, roaring as they walked, calling out to the rest of the pride.

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A King’s Pose | African Lion, Kruger National Park

This young male, stopped in his tracks and looked at us with curious eyes. A personal favorite because of the engaging expression!

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Curious Eyes| African Lion, Kruger National Park

We stayed till the lions were completely out of sight and made our way back towards the safari lodge. A welcome sundowner in the ‘bush bar’ courtesy Bradley, was all about the ‘band of brothers’ we just sighted.

All images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR 

 

Hornbills of Kruger

Southern Ground Hornbill was one of the birds high up on my wish list soon after Kruger plans materialised. Having seen it earlier in Masai Mara a few years ago, the regret of not being able to make any images of this endangered species was was heavy on my mind.

Well into the second half of our maiden drive in Kruger, as the breeze got cooler and the evening light turning everything to gold, we spotted a few black objects on the track as we turned around a bend. A group of ground hornbills were on a stroll!

Seeing our jeep approaching, the hornbills scattered and we were left with only one standing on the track. As the hornbill slowly made it across the track, I made images of the biggest hornbill species in the world.

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Southern Ground Hornbill | Kruger National Park, South Africa

While one hornbill moved away, majority of the group decided to stick by a termite mound. I had the good fortune of taking a picture of a juvenile hornbill too.

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Southern Ground Hornbill (juvenile) | Kruger National Park, South Africa

Other species of hornbills spread across Kruger National Park are the Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill and Red-billed Hornbill. Despite seeing them all over during the game drives, they are difficult subjects to shoot. They flew away as soon as the jeep approached them.

A co-operative southern yellow-billed hornbill was gracious enough to stay put on a branch while I attempted to make images.

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Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill | Kruger National Park, South Africa

The more skittish red-billed hornbill was quite a challenge! Despite all my attempts, I managed a decent record of this species.

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Red-billed Hornbill | Kruger National Park, South Africa

Thus having covered the majestic southern ground hornbill, the pretty yellow-billed and red-billed hornbills, I have managed to get over the deep-seated regrets from the past trip to Kenya.

All images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR 

The Drifter | Kruger

Like a drifter I was born to walk alone…

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. 

Fight another day

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.

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With lovely evening light falling on it, the mongoose looked radiant. What is it doing up a tree, I wondered?

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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!

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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.

Having seen something like this only once earlier (a stripe-necked mongoose hunting a snake in Bandipur Tiger Reserve), witnessing moments like these make a safari experience even more special and memorable.

Sojourn in Kruger 

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.

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Welcome to Skukuza

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.

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Airport or Safari Lodge?

Even the departure lounge was designed like a cafe.

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Cafe Departure

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.

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Prime spot | Airport Black 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.

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Typical scene of an evening game drive

No sooner had we left the lodge, we were greeted by a huge Tusker and his two companions.

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Marching into the frame

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!

Shot details: All images made with an iPhone 

 

Shades of Blue

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Shades of Blue | Indian Peafowl (male), Forest Hills, Mudumalai, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India

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.

Wishing one and all a wonderful 2018!

Bears on a stroll

Bears

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.

Shot in the year 2012, Canon 300 2.8 + 2x TC, 40D

Paint it Red

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.

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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!

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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!

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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 🙂

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

Hunter vs Scavenger 

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.

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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.

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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!

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Visiting forests is not all about big cats. Drama like this makes makes an uneventful safari an exciting experience.