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 

Prince of hearts…king of the Jungle

A kingdom may last for ever, but a king’s reign always comes to an end. With the passing away of Prince, a new king will take over the kingdom he possessed for years in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

Known for his large territory within Bandipur, he would freely roam the jungles with nonchalance. There have been instances when tourists have spent the entire safari, which can last almost three hours, with Prince walking from one end of the tourism zone to another.

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Walking his Kingdom| April 2016

My earliest memory of Prince dates back to Dec 2009 on a morning drive along with friends. Because of good tracking skills from our driver/guide Siddhu (then with Tusker Trails), we stumbled upon this magnificent tiger walking on the safari track. Least bothered with the presence of our jeep, he continued sashaying along the track, thereafter scent marking a few trees and finally settling into his private pool.

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The Royal Bath | Prince of Bandipur – Dec 2009

On that day, my friends and I were treated to a sighting that lasted a little over ten minutes. It was overwhelming to watch a tiger at close quarters enjoying his time in a waterhole. I couldn’t take my eyes off him and for the most time, the camera laid forgotten by my side.

I didn’t know then that I would be deprived of another sighting of Prince for the next four years. During an evening safari with the the Forest Department, we received information from another vehicle that a tiger was spotted at a waterhole. We rushed to the spot and sure enough, he was sleeping at the edge of the waterhole. Minutes later, vehicles started piling up and he moved further and further into the water. In all these years of visiting various parks, I can confidently say that Prince is the most adorable looking tiger I have seen yet.

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Innocent Eyes | Feb 2014

It saddens me to know that the Showstopper of Bandipur will not grace us with his presence anymore. Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers will miss our very own PRINCE.

Here is a compilation of some of the best sightings of Prince in the last two years.

It was purely intuitive of Santhosh (driver/guide Jungle Lodges) to take a chance at Prince’s favorite waterhole. We reached the spot twenty minutes into the safari and there he was, cooling himself on a harsh sunlit afternoon.

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Comfortably numb | Jan 2015

A sighting that lasted more than 20 minutes that afternoon, it was also the beginning of my tryst with Bandipur and its popular inhabitant.

Another time in August 2015, while exploring Bandipur during the monsoon with the hope to make some interesting images, we are graced by Prince himself, lazing in a small puddle of water.

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Poise | Sep 2015

With Santhosh again at the helm of affairs, we drove from one end of the reserve to another after receiving information of a sighting. We spotted Prince as he turned towards the waterhole from the safari track.

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Lazing tiger, flying dragon | Sep 2015

Sighting a big cat in the lush greenery of a jungle always fills me with joy.

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A stroll in the jungle | Sep 2015

Few weeks had gone by with no sighting of Prince and with growing concerns over Prince’s whereabouts and health, he laid all doubts to rest. We were treated to a sighting so close to the safari track, I just about managed to fit the tiger and his meal in the frame.

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Not quite a king’s meal | Sep 2015

A large waterhole next to a temple inside Bandipur has always attracted a host of birds, sambar and spotted deer, elephants, gaur, etc. Never having seen a tiger at that waterhole, it was a fitting end to an otherwise uneventful safari.

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Fire amidst greens | Aug 2016

Entering the waterhole cautiously, I assumed he would casually sit and cool himself. Instead, he started kicking and splashing water.

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Splashing exit | Sep 2016

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Prince is no more. He ruled the jungles of Bandipur and our lenses for long years. Shooting Prince since his youth till the end, I have grown alongside as a photographer. Little did I know that watching him in a playful mood in the waterhole, would be the last photograph I will ever click of the majestic figure.

This momentary sadness will be overshadowed by all the memorable sightings you have given me. Rest in peace my friend!

Among the Top 100 | WIPA 2017

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Watch your step, kid | Sambar and Fawn Silhouette – Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, TN, India

In the recently concluded Wildlife Photography competition held by popular magazine Better Photography in association with the best in business; Toehold Travel and Photography Pvt. Ltd., I was pleasantly surprised to know that the above picture had been nominated for the main category of the competition from over 7000 entries. The image can be found here.

A personal favorite from my collection, this image was made way back in the year 2012. Post sunset we were returning from an evening drive and spotted the sambar and her fawn on the edge of the hill. The blue sky in the background and still figures presented an ideal opportunity to make a silhouette. Underexposing a few stops, and getting the focus right with the light rapidly decreasing, I managed this.

Shot with: Canon 1D Mark III + 300 2.8 IS II, 2x TC II 

Hungry chap

Crested Serpent Eagle (juvenile) feeding on a snake | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, 2015

As the name suggests, the Crested Serpent Eagle’s favorite prey of course is snakes. This sighting was purely accidental. Having stopped at a waterhole hoping for some animal activity, I scanned the wooded area for the juvenile serpent eagle who had made it his territory.

I was in for a surprise. The serpent killer had a snake between its beak. The eagle took its time with the snake, slowly devoring it and giving us an opportunity to make images. A chance to witness the serpent killer in action, was immensely satisfying.

Shot with: Canon 500 f4 IS + 1D Mark 3

The big switch

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Lesser Flameback Woodpecker | Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse, Mudumalai, India

Finally! Earlier in November I decided to shift my primary shooting gear from Canon to Nikon. I was on the lookout for a Nikon 500mm lens to replace the Canon one.

Earlier in January, a friend insisted I see a 600mm lens on sale. I thought ‘why not? No harm in seeing the lens!’. After testing the lens, I started considering this as an option especially for bird photography.

After debating and consulting friends, I decided that the 600mm telephoto was too tempting to let go. Super excited about this lens and looking forward to more birding.

Shot details: Nikon 600mm f4 VR + D7100 at Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse 

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

My Maiden Tiger shot

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Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Canon 40D + 100-400 IS lens

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!

The Kashmiri

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Kashmir Flycatcher (male) | Ooty, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India

This fleeting bird had been a topic of discussion among birders and a lucky few had sighted it. Annual visitor to Ooty and its surrounding areas of higher elevation, it remained elusive to most. The precise location of this species was unknown for most times, hence lesser known sightings.

That year, news of this bird being sighted in the Botanical Garden of Ooty spread like wildfire. A weekend trip with friends was planned and off we went in search of the Kashmiri and a few other endemic birds of the Western Ghats.

Staying mostly in the canopy of trees and shrubs, the Kashmiri came out in the open only to flash-feed. Keeping a track of the flycatcher’s movements, only one time he perched on the dry log. I pulled the camera off the tripod, rushed to the spot, knelt and took a few pictures. This tiny birdie made me run around in circles for this satisfactory picture.

Shot with: Canon 300mm 2.8 IS II + 2x TC II, 40D