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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Greater Gold

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Travel and work kept me away from home for a while. Post rains, a lovely sun-lit morning was a welcome sight and I trotted into the hide to entertain my winged visitors.

To test a recently acquired 1.4x TC, I mounted it on the lens and started making images of a white-cheeked barbet nibbling away on a fruit. A woodpecker landed on the dry stump, as I trained my lens onto the woodie and saw that unmistakable red on the head and I knew there was something odd about this woodpecker!

On closer inspection, I realised the wings were fully golden! This was indeed a different woodpecker….the Greater Goldenback Woodpecker! ¬†The woodpecker explored the stump, hopping around and after a minute or so, took off.

Always a great feeling, when a new winged visitor makes an appearance at the hide ūüôā

Image shot with: Nikon D750 + 600 f4 VR, 1.4 TC 

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

The Hanging Parrot

A beautiful green coat, a striking red beak and an exotic blue patch on the throat sums up this little birdie.

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Mr. Handsome | Vernal Hanging Parrot, Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

Preparing myself for the parrot’s visit to the fruiting Singapore cherry tree, I got myself in position and waited. Sure enough a parrot landed on the tree and got to business right away. Hanging like a bat, the parrot proceeded to feast on ripe cherries.

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Hanging High | Vernal Hanging Parrot, Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

It is indeed a beautiful sight to see these parrots negotiate branches carefully, hang upside down and feeding. The Vernal Hanging Parrot is one of my favorite birds!

Images shot with: Canon 40D + Sigma 500 f4.5, Feature image with 40D and 300 2.8 + 2x TC

 

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 ‚Äď KITTU!

I turned to the right and there he was ‚Äď 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 ‚Äėbeginners luck‚Äô. 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 Р40D + 100-400 IS 

Birding by the bridge

The stream which flows at the entrance of Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse attracts a host of birds. Commonly sighted birds are Malabar Whistling Thrush, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Black Drongo, Red-vented and Red Whiskered Bulbul, etc. 

One evening I was treated to wonderful sights of the White-rumped Shama and female Indian Paradise Flycatcher. 

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White-rumped Shama (male)
 A White-rumped Shama poses on a steel pipe. It was nice to see this otherwise shy bird sit comfortably in the open despite my presence. 

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Indian Paradise Flycatcher (female)
The extremely restless Flycatcher flying from one perch to another, offered a few seconds to freeze some frames. 

More from the bridge in future posts…

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 

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 ‚ÄėTusker Trails‚Äô. 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 РLeopard 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 ‚Äď1/3, Aperture Priority

Christmas Greetings

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As we enter the last week of the year and on the joyous occasion of Christmas, here is one picture of the Plum-headed Parakeet holding a pod of the “flame of the forest” tree as if it were delivering a postcard.

With naturally gifted colors which also ¬†represent the traditional red and green of Christmas, here is wishing all you lovely people out there “Merry Christmas”!