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 

 

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

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.

All roads led to Arrowhead

Around the same time last year, I was in Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, as part of my backpacking trip which included Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Jaipur. It also happened to be my second visit to this picturesque tiger reserve.

Few drives into various zones in Ranthambhore had not yielded any big cat sighting yet. Knowing that we had good a chance of tiger sighting in the Rajbagh lake zone, we set out with renewed energy that morning. An ever enthusiastic Nagendra Ji kept our spirits high and at the same time was keeping watch for pug marks and tiger trails. Alarm calls, fresh pug marks and  exchanging information from other jeep drivers/guides led us nowhere!

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Awoken from a slumber | Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, India

As Nagendra Ji instructed the driver to take a narrow track and drive along that route, I eased back into my seat and was soon lost in my own world. Halfway journey into my dreamworld, the jeep eased to a stop. While all the occupants were off their seats, my dreamy self tilted to the right inspecting what had caused this interruption! Yeh toh Arrowhead hai! An excited Nagendra Ji called out!

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For the next thirty minutes, she yawned, laid down, posed for the camera and also did a brief cat walk leaving us immensely satisfied. The rest of the day was spent only reminiscing the sighting.

A new King

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Basavankatte Male | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Scattered drops of water falling out from the sky disappeared into the baked safari track, leaving no trace. The summer had taken its toll on Bandipur with most of its waterholes in a pitiful state. Looking up, I wondered, is there any respite for the jungle from this heat?

It was as if someone above was listening to me! An hour into the drive and the scorching sun finally hid behind dark clouds, claps of thunder pierced through the forests, heavy drops of water landed with a splash and soon we welcomed rains. As we took cover and quietly rejoiced, the forest was turning a new leaf and someone was going to proclaim himself King!

Continuing on our safari, we passed many puddles of water and our driver-guide had to carefully negotiate the slippery track. Few hundred yards ahead, a huge male tiger walked on to the track and occasionally went about, scent marking his territory. Watching all this in the drizzle, we decided to inch closer. Sensing the proximity, he turned around and gave us a deadly stare!

At that moment, everything including the rain stood still! It was as if Lord Indra himself had stopped the rains and silenced the thunder to announce the arrival of the new King!

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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Celebrating Tigers

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Tiger and Tourists | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2012

The mere mention of the word tiger is enough to get the adrenaline rushing for most people. If they see one, even if it were a glance, they feel blessed. I remember a sighting in Bandipur when a jeep full of people were dumbstruck throughout the ten minute sighting and spoke only after the tiger left. Such is the charisma of the striped cat.

People from all over the world and of course India too, throng various national parks and tiger reserves that our country has to offer. Popular parks like Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench (Madhya Pradesh), Tadoba (Maharashtra), Ranthambhore (Rajasthan), Corbett Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand), Mudumalai, Bandipur, Nagarhole, Periyar (Southern India) to name a few, host a large number of tourists, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers every year. The agenda of the trip is very clear in their minds – Tiger!

Yesterday, 29th July was International Tiger Day, an annual celebration to raise awareness for tiger conservation. I think we must celebrate the existence of this magnificent creature everyday.

The above image is of a tigress from the Bandipur, fondly called Gowri. Many visitors that evening felt blessed as she graced us with her presence. Having raised multiple litters, she has left behind her legacy in Bandipur. To many more tigers and many more sightings!

Image shot with: Canon 300 2.8 IS II + 1D Mark III

 

Tiger! Tiger!

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.

Shot with: Canon 40D + 100-400 IS 

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 

The queen of Bijrani

A little over a year ago, I visited the Bijrani side of Corbett Tiger Reserve. The forest rest house, small canteen, ever smiling staff especially Manish, the quiet but starlit nights and an occasional jackal doing the rounds with the hope of getting tit bits of food post closure of the canteen… vivid memories from there.

The agenda of the trip was simple, photograph tigers in the Bijrani zone. Memories of briefly spotting a young tigress on a glorious morning in February were still fresh. Would she honour us with her gracious self again was the big question?

We were welcomed with rain at Ramnagar. The morning drive was a washout though we hoped the skies would clear and the afternoon drive would bear fruit. Post lunch the dark clouds disappeared and the sun shone brightly upon us.

As we drove through a wooded area, a Paradise Flycatcher caught my attention. Before we could train our lenses on him, he gave us the slip! Dhasmana Ji suggested we follow pug marks of a tiger seen on the track earlier on the drive. As he reversed the jeep, my dear friend Subbu (who was standing on the back seat) excited called out Tiger! Tiger! In a nullah (dry rivulet) and under a huge log lay a sleeping tiger. It would have been impossible to spot the tiger if Subbu wasn’t standing atop the seat.

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Spot the tiger | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

A zoomed out picture for one to visualise the distance from the nullah and the angle too.

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Closer view of the tiger with a 500mm telephoto lens | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

Our exclusive rights to the tiger sighting did not last long. Soon a horde of day visitor jeeps were lined up in whatever space they could manage. Dhasmana Ji suggested we stick around for he was sure she would get up later in the evening and we would have our opportunity to make images.

After almost 1.5 hours, and all day visitor jeeps leaving, we stopped on the safari track which cuts the rivulet….envisioning some images with the habitat and the tiger walking towards us, time flew by. With the waiting time a quarter short of an hour, we moved to another rivulet crossing to see if the tiger had been spotted there. Negative there too.

As we reversed our vehicle back to the original spot, we spotted the tiger walking on the rivulet. By the time we got there, she had already reached the edge of the safari track! She stopped and then made herself comfortable in a small puddle. Minutes later, she decided it was time to get up and make it our money’s worth 🙂

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Wet and walking | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

With just three jeeps in the forest, we followed the tiger as she walked on the safari track, up a hilly area, mock charged a herd of sambar deer to our utter astonishment. And finally sat on the safari track as we were nearing the end of our jungle drive.

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Poise | Queen of Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

The above picture summarises that exciting evening drive with an ageing tiger who once ruled a large part of Bijrani reminiscing her glory days. Someday I shall have it printed and put up on my wall reminiscing the Corbett days.

Photos were made using the following equipment: Canon – 70-200 IS, 500 f4 IS, 1D Mark 4, 6D