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!
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.
Three road-blocks, a few sambar deer alarm calls, loud tiger roars and the nervous impatience!
It was half past five and we were driving towards a dam in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. A solitary barking deer and then a herd of chital (spotted deer) flanked the road and were grazing peacefully. Few moments later a sambar’s alarm calls broke the silence of the forest. Each sambar call was followed with a loud roar. A tiger had announced his or her presence! Alert chital were looking in all directions with fear in their eyes and restlessness in their posture. With bated breath, we waited, as minutes passed, the alarm calls stopped and so did the roars.
The silence of the jungle had returned and we continued on our drive. After driving around for about fifteen minutes, our driver Swami suddenly took a u-turn and headed back in the direction where we earlier heard the tiger roaring. Driving past the same herd of deer and half a kilometer later, the jeep came to an abrupt halt! Swami whispered…TIGER!
About two hundred feet away a tiger sat on the safari track like she owned the jungle. A few seconds after we spotted her, she started walking in our direction. I focused my camera and fired away. She stopped at a culvert, raised her tail and sprayed…she was scent marking the area. After she was done, she glanced in our direction and started walking towards us. As she came up the slope, I had goose bumps and my camera went on overdrive.
It was way past 6 pm and the day light was fading away fast. The tiger, now barely fifty feet from the jeep, stopped, stared at us for a few seconds. Thankfully I was in my senses to keep the shutter button pressed! She then turned and disappeared into the lantana undergrowth.
The entire sighting lasted about 2 minutes. To have such an encounter with this magnificent animal was unforgettable.
As we entered Bandipur for the evening safari, I asked Adil what he thought he might see on his maiden safari. “We are going to see a tiger” came a confident reply. Having done enough drives without a wild cat sighting, I thought to myself “yeah…like we are actually going to see one”. It was a “normal” drive. We saw the chital (spotted deer), Indian peafowls, elephants. As we were going down a slope near the reserve, I heard an excited yell TIGER! TIGER!
I saw Vishnu Anna jump off his seat and rush toward the driver asking him to stop the vehicle. I looked in the direction he pointed and scanned every inch for the tiger. There she was! Sitting in a clear patch of green grass at a distance of about a hundred meters. Stray bamboo branches made it very difficult for the camera to focus on the tiger. Low light conditions didn’t help either. After five minutes, she lay flat and flipped over to the left. Then she got up and disappeared behind lantana bushes. We tried hard and spotted her again behind thick foliage. Waited for half an hour for her to come out in the open and then left.
The mere sighting gave me a high. For many it was their first tiger sighting. For me the first capture on camera. It had been a long time desire to photograph a tiger. Thrilled? Yes! Because the first shot was due for 4 long years! Satisfied? No! But I knew this is just the beginning of many more tigers to see!
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.
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
I would have been kicking myself if I hadn’t gotten off the car and taken the camera out from the trunk (I was driving with four other friends…so no camera in hand). I spotted the owl off the main road in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. The first thing that came to my mind was the picture of a Forest Eagle-owl, photographed in BR Hills by Dr. Ajit Huilgol. Unsure if the owl I clicked was the same, I came back home and referred his picture against mine. It was the Forest Eagle-owl indeed! I was thrilled. This still remains as one of the most special wildlife and birding moments!