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.
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!
Two individuals however, stood motionless looking across the road. Sensing some predator movement, we scanned the area but it didn’t bear any fruit.
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.
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!
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.
This young male, stopped in his tracks and looked at us with curious eyes. A personal favorite because of the engaging expression!
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.
While the African wild dogs were enjoying their meal (presumably an impala kill), a suspicious movement away from the pack, caught our attention. Slowly walking out of the bush and revealing itself was a spotted hyena!
Known to scavenge not only on scraps but also to chase away the hunter from its kill, the spotted hyena is quite an unrelenting animal especially when there’s a bunch of them. But here the odds were against the hyena! A single hyena didn’t stand a chance against a pack of wild dogs.
By now the wild dogs were aware of a sly hyena doing the rounds. Two or three dogs kept the hyena at bay while the others went about their meal. Anticipating some action, I kept track of the hyena’s movement. Gathering some courage, the hyena finally moved towards the feeding pack. The moment the hyena crossed the comfort line, a warning was given by the dogs.
Not wanting to risk injuries, the hyena opted for a hasty retreat. If only the hyena had more companions, if only!
I have often been told, Kruger National Park is the best place to see the African Wild Dog (also known as African Painted Dog or African Hunting Dog). Now that I was finally in Kruger for three days, I directed all my questions to our guide, Bradley.
How often do you see Wild Dogs? I asked. We see them maybe once in a week, he replied. But they have not been spotted in recent times, he added. My heart sank, hearing the last few words. More than the Big 5, this was the endangered species I was longing to see.
On a morning game drive, I decided to take the seat next to Bradley. That move would later prove to be a favourable one. We took a new route that morning which went past another camp called Hamilton Tented Camp. As we drove past the camp and down a slope toward a dry river bed, a swift movement on the right side caught my eye.
Wild Dog! The vehicle had barely come to a stop, and as I whipped out the camera and took a few pictures… Poof! The dog was gone.
My joy for that brief moment knew no bounds! I was ecstatic seeing an African Wild Dog. The wild dogs are rarer than the leopard, exclaimed Bradley, as he turned the jeep around. Driving ahead, we spotted a congress of baboon who seemed quite relaxed and unaware that one of the finest hunters in the wild was in the midst.
Leaving the baboons, we must have moved barely a few hundred yards, when we saw three wild dogs standing on the safari track. Not sure if they were a shy pack, I took pictures as we slowly made our way towards them.
One bold individual stood his ground as we got closer. Urging Bradley to stop at a safe distance, I made a portrait of this fine looking specimen. I must admit, I always thought these dogs to be ugly! Now, I take my words back!
We were in for more surprises! There were four more individuals in the pack. They had made a kill nearby. One dog had a piece of meat while another made away with a leg piece. Presumably an impala that had been hunted.
As we were the only vehicle around, the wild dogs got comfortable and one curious dog came sniffing close to my door.
Just when all of us including Bradley were rejoicing one of the best sightings of wild dogs in recent times, we had a a surprise visitor!
The story is for another day! Stay tuned for next week’s post.
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.
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.
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.
The more skittish red-billed hornbill was quite a challenge! Despite all my attempts, I managed a decent record of this species.
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.
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.
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.
With lovely evening light falling on it, the mongoose looked radiant. What is it doing up a tree, I wondered?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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!
Visiting forests is not all about big cats. Drama like this makes makes an uneventful safari an exciting experience.