An evening with Parrots

I entered the sunflower field and stood there, confused. So many hanging parrots feeding on the seeds, I wondered where to start from. I slowly edged forward and took a comfortable position to photograph the birds. 

Camouflage amidst sun flowers

In no time, I was lost behind the camera, watching the parrots gorge away on the seeds.

Delicious seeds

Carefully, I moved further into the field and tried a closer approach.

Balancing act

A loud sound reverberated across the hills surrounding the field. I lifted my head off the camera and waited. Another one followed. This time my phone went off too! My wife was on the line and excitedly asked me ‘Did you hear it?’ Yes, I replied. ‘There’s a tiger somewhere!’ 

I scanned the hills looking for anything in orange and black. Except for the loud roars, there was nothing in sight. Grudgingly, I moved ahead with the job in hand. Parrots were waiting to be photographed.

Spot of Red 

While the target was Hanging Parrots, occasionally Plum-headed and Rose-ringed parakeets would make an appearance too. But they would remain camera shy. Any sort of movement and they would take to the sky. 

Hanging tight

I took my time and made as many images as I could. The sheer experience of knowing there was a tiger close-by and its numerous roars, added to the thrill. Until next time!

All images made with Nikon D850 along with a 600 F4 VR lens and on occasions with a 1.4 TC II teleconverter attached to the lens. 

Along rolled a tiger

It was safari number five and overcast conditions loomed over us as we entered the Moharli gate. While there was a cool breeze, some dark clouds hovering above us screamed of certain rain.

Ratan (our driver guide) proceeded towards Jamunbodi Lake with the hope of finally showing us a tiger. We stopped at the view point and I made a few images of the beautiful setting. A panoramic view of the lake is what I hoped to capture. My only regret was that it was overcast and the beautiful afternoon light that transforms the lake into a magical place, was absent that day.

A little ahead on the road, we noticed that a jeep had stopped and the occupants were looking upwards at a higher branch. As I was wondering what bird it could be, an Indian Roller took flight and flew right over us. Hoping the bird would perch close by, I kept my eyes on it. While it did land on a branch near me, it took off within seconds. A disappointment indeed.

Vikram excitedly announced ‘roller dikha toh tiger definitely dikhega’! No sooner had he spoken those words, our guide pointed to the right and said tiger! I strained my eyes and looked in the direction he pointed. I saw some movement in the bushes and soon a tiger emerged from the foliage.

From the foliage

Our guide identified the tiger as a female who is popularly called Maya. She slowly walked out into the open, giving everyone present, a grand view. In no time, from just a handful of jeeps, about 10-15 lined up there. Excitement knew no bounds for driver, guide and tourists for it had been almost three days since a tiger had been spotted.

She neared the jeeps, with clear intentions to cross the road. Armed only with a telephoto lens, all I could manage was a portrait of this beautiful tiger as she trudged along and finally crossed the track.

Deep focus

She crossed the track and seemed focused on something. Scanning the surrounding area, we discovered where her focus lay. A couple of Sambar Deer grazed, oblivious to the fact that a tiger had them in sight.

Person of interest

We were expecting some action, but unfortunately for the tiger and us, the sambar let out an alarm call. They had finally spotted her. Slowly, she made her way into denser foliage and then out of sight.

Where them sambar at?

As we were soaking in the sighting with smiles and handshakes, heavy drops fell on us and moments later we were in the middle of a cloudburst. All of us were drenched to the bone in that heavy downpour. Even the rain jacket didn’t help much to me and the equipment. We drove out and took shelter at a forest department office until the rain receded. We made one more round to the area we saw the tiger. No sign of movement, we decided to exit the park.

After we returned to our homestay, I immediately wiped all the equipment and put it out to dry. All was well..no issues!

It was later that evening, Vikram narrated to us about his unique connection between an Indian Roller sighting and a tiger. Every time he has seen that bird, he has spotted a tiger. Incredible!

Tadoba is a jungle close to my heart and it has rarely disappointed. That evening our stars aligned and thanks to the Indian Roller, along rolled a tiger.

From my trip to Tadoba in October 2019. All images made with Nikon D850 along with a 600 F4 VR lens.

All ears turn blue

Earlier this year in the month of July, Mahesh and I planned a quick trip to photograph Rain Quails in the outskirts of Pune! While in Pune, Mahesh received an update about  a sighting and possible photo opportunity of the Blue-eared Kingfisher (a kingfisher species that had still eluded us). The closest we got to seeing this elusive kingfisher was in Thamdi Surla, Goa, a few years ago.

Excited about this sighting, we reiterated our plans and decided to go to Abloli (near Guhagar), stay the night, photograph the kingfisher and then head back to Bangalore. The drive from Pune turned out to be a long one due to bad roads in the last leg.

We finally reached Abloli with just about half hour of light left in the day. Exchanging pleasantries with our host, Sachin Arekar, we headed straight to the hide where the kingfisher frequented.

We took our slots and waited. I was not carrying a tripod or monopod and was struggling to shoot handheld with equipment weighing over 6.5 kilos. Add to it the swarming mosquitos. The heavy lens gave me more trouble than the blood suckers! Waiting a few minutes, Sachin signalled that the kingfisher would come out in the open anytime.

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Bumping up the ISO, I made a few images. Shooting in almost darkness, we wrapped up hoping to have a good morning session.

In the morning we reached the hide and to my utmost surprise, Sachin had made a support for my lens and camera with the help of two pipes. Settling in my slot, it was waiting game for the kingfisher.

The male landed first and a few times thereafter, and ordinary images were the result.

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Blue-eared Kingfisher (m) | Abloli, Maharashtra, India

On a rare occasion, the female graced us with her presence. The resulting image also not satisfactory.

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Blue-eared Kingfihser (f) | Abloli, Maharashtra, India

Waiting to make that one image which would satiate the hunger for all these years, finally came true. The blue-eared male landed on the perch, and for a brief second or two, posed well.

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The Poser | Blue-eared Kingfisher (m) – Abloli, Maharashtra, India

Contented to have seen this kingfisher at such close quarters, making satisfactory images was worth every bit of change in plans.

Sachin Arekar our wonderful host runs Garva Agro Tourism, a comfortable and homely set up. Not to forget, sumptuous food too. 

Images made with Nikon – D850 + 600 f4 VR 

Making a splash

Aditya and I set out for a safari into Kabini, as usual in the rickety forest department bus. Hopeful as always, Aditya announced to me, “We will see a big cat, Kittu Mama!” I smiled as the driver crossed the check post and onto the old MM Road (Mysore-Mananthavadi). A few kilometers down the road and crossing a bridge, a photographer beside me, jumped off his seat…Tiger! Tiger!, he remarked excitedly! As the driver reversed, a gorgeous tiger came into sight, sitting in a small pool below the bridge. It was the Tiger Tank female.

No sooner had the bus stopped, the entire crowd in the bus swarmed towards the front seats wielding their mobile phones and point and shoot cameras. The bus was loaded with tourists from Kerala and in a matter of seconds, I was pushed away and in front of me stood the Great Wall of Kerala! With absolutely no space to shoot or see, I put the camera down and stood beside the door. With all the commotion in the safari bus, the tiger eventually got disturbed and left the scene.

Disgusted and disappointed, I got back to my seat and turned off the camera. No hopes of shooting in this bus, I thought to myself. As the driver explored various routes, we sighted elephants, gaur and chital. No signs of leopard lazing on a tree or the even more exciting male who occasionally sits on the temple especially during monsoon months.

The driver veered towards the backwaters road and was stopped by Aditya. Lets try the hoskere waterhole, he suggested. Enthusiastically, he took us to the waterhole, all eyes widened as soon as the waterhole came into sight! A young tiger was enjoying the cool waters in the mild drizzle.

My first thought was she might make a quick exit as soon as she sees our vehicle. Not even remotely perturbed, a dry twig floating in the pool soon became a toy for her and entertainment for us.

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Wading the waters, she took time out to set her gaze upon us and inspect what was causing all the noise!

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As she neared the edge of the waterhole after entertaining us for almost ten minutes, she stared into space as if in deep contemplation.

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A minute later, she got out of the pool, scent marked a few trees beside the safari track and made her way back into the woods. Quite easily the boldest tiger I had seen in Kabini. The disappointment having missed the previous tiger, was overturned with the joy of having witnessed such a lovely sight.

In the last two years she has become arguably the most photographed tiger in Kabini and is now a busy mother of three tiny cubs. Until we meet again!

Images made with Canon 500 f4 IS + 1D Mark IV  in July 2016

A year on and still Sulking

As I sit in the hide, a familiar call takes me back to a little over a year ago. An evening session and an uncalled visitor; the Scimitar Babbler .

That evening, without warning the babbler showed up, sat on the perch meant for woodpeckers and in a jiffy dived into a water basin behind the hide, splashed and quenched its thirst and then restlessly visited every perch set up and in the end, settled on a branch of a neighbouring tree.

I can tell you quite honestly, I probably held my breath the longest, the camera tightest and prayed the hardest! All because getting this sulker out in the open and sit patiently is not an easy job.

Everyday I hear the scimitar sing, everyday I hope that he visits, everyday I hope for at least a guest appearance, everyday I am left wanting! It has been a year now, and the scimitar still sulks!

Here’s to maybe a visit, maybe a tease, maybe a sighting, just maybe a photograph!

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Image made with Nikon D750 + 600f4 VR atForest Hills Farm and Guesthouse

Monsoon Magic

I love the game drives into Bandipur during the monsoons. Wildlife amidst lush green surroundings and drops of rain is such a refreshing sight. On more than a few occasions, I got lucky witnessing some interesting behaviour and action, other times, pure joy of making images in the rain drenched forest. I have picked a few such moments!

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Headless | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Off with your head! A jungle myna displays its hapless victim.

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Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Stripe-necked Mongoose devours a snake that saw no escape

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King Pool | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

A long gone king poses in his pool close to the safari track

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Heavy soaking | Chital – Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

A beautiful stag stands still enjoying the generosity of the rain gods

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Kingfisher | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Post rains, a white-throated kingfisher contemplates its next move.

This year the monsoon has finally made its presence felt. Time to make the best of what the jungles have to offer. Bandipur, Kabini…we just have to see!

 

Folktale of the Marula tree

Legend has it that the Marula Tree is a revered tree in African jungle.

An interesting story as narrated by Nick. In the olden days every house had a marula tree, and if not the houses, the village had a tree. If a family member was leaving home to pursue a job or new venture in the city, the bag would be placed under the marula tree by the grand parent or an elder and the family would offer prayers for the wellbeing and safety of the traveling member. And also that the he or she be successful in their endeavours.

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Marula Tree | Kruger, South Africa

When the city dweller returned, the bags again would be placed under the tree and prayers would be offered. After seeking blessings and thanking the revered one for keeping their family member safe, the family would invite all the near and dear to their home and serve them liquor brewed from the marula fruit. The festivities which included song and dance would continue into the wee hours of the morning. Such is the significance of the marula tree.

While it is revered by the the natives, the leaves and fruits are relished by elephants, baboons and other herbivores. Rumour has it that elephants have even gotten intoxicated feeding on fermented marula fruit which is also used to make liquor. Witessing an elephant standing under the marula tree and feeding on it leaves while out on a bush walk only made the folk tale sweeter.

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Elephant and the Marula Tree | Kruger, South Africa

The only regret during my sojourm in Kruger is that I didn’t try the famous Amurula liqueur which of course is made primarily with the marula fruit. Well, that is left for another time. Maybe try the local marula brew too 🙂

In search of the Shaheen

On a beautiful afternoon, we ascended to ‘shaheen point’. Mahesh, Avinash and I were doing a trip after a long time. A short walk through tea bushes and we reached our vantage point i.e. a cliff with beautiful landscape around it. Dusky Craig Martins and Swallows hovered around us but none wanted to give their wings a break and perch on the ground for us.

We laid our cameras on the ground and soaked in the fresh air, soft sun and beautiful scenery. The falcons are usually seen on that rock, Sivalingam Anna mentioned. We looked across to another hill and saw a couple of rock protrusions. That is quite a distance away, I thought! We shall go across to that hill once we sight the falcon. Activity typically happens after 4.00 PM, Sivalingam added to his previous statement.

Thus began the waiting! Since the martins and the swallows wouldn’t give us an opportunity to shoot, we pulled out our phones and made pics of the the landscape. We added a few selfies too! There was excitement momentarily, when Sivalingam heard the falcons and pointed in their direction. Far across the hills, a tiny speck was flying and it was gone before I could see it.

Little after 4 PM, Mahesh pointed towards a rock. There is something on it, he said. Sivalingam looked through his binoculars and confirmed, Shaheen Falcon! The picture below is shot with a 600 mm lens and will give you an idea of how far we were.

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Shaheen Rock | Shaheen Falcon, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India

The next thing I know, the four of us moved swiftly across to the opposite hill, walked again through tea bushes, a couple of culverts and loose soil. As soon as the falcon was within our sights, we relaxed the pace and slowly moved to a safe distance before we set up our cameras.

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Poser | Shaheen Falcon, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India

The falcon, aware of of our presence sat unflinchingly and posed as we made images.

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A beauty | Shaheen Falcon, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu

A closer look of this mid-sized raptor.

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Powerful Talons | Shaheen Falcon, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India

The entire sighting must have lasted about 20-30 minutes and towards the end, another falcon swooped down and our friend on the rock finally took to his wings and soared into the skies.

The best part: I was seeing this species for the first time. A day which started with the search of the Kashmir Flycatcher, ended with an incredible sighting of the very beautiful Shaheen Falcon!

Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Sivalingam Anna, birding and wildlife enthusiasts have the pleasure of seeing and making images of such species.

Walk the African bush

We are going to walk the bush where the Big 5 roam, so listen carefully to my instructions because it could be dangerous.” These words of Nick (Nicholas) I remember very distinctly. And not just me, the entire group who joined the bush walk, remember!

While Nick was giving us this briefing, we heard the familiar sound of loading guns and snapping the barrel back in place. We turned around to see Andrew getting geared up before the bush walk began. Now this felt like we were venturing into a dangerous war zone. Time for further instructions.

  • Do not talk while on the walk! (definitely no talking, don’t want guns pointing in the direction of noisy people)
  • Andrew and I will lead, rest of you follow closely and in a tight line (as long as the person in front of me has no body odour)
  • If anyone of you wants to attract our attention, whistle or tap on the side of your thigh. Do not shout! (that is going to be difficult, we are used to shouting aloud). Even if you want to tie your shoe lace…everyone looked at their shoes and promptly bent to check and retie their laces. Hilarious! (don’t want to lose a shoe or trip on a lace while a buffalo is close on your heels)

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    Guides and Gunmen | Bush Walk, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Once the briefing was done, Nick pointed out to an elephant grazing at a distance, we are going to get a closer view, he said. Though referred to as gentle giants, the huge African elephant didn’t appear so gentle when walking towards it on foot. Trusting Nick and Andrew, we set off on our walk.

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Off on our Bush Walk | Kruger National Park, South Africa

Not approaching the elephant directly, we reached a vantage point and Nick motioned us to stop. No sudden movements, he said. Nick went on to explain that we had approached the elephant with the wind blowing toward us hence the elephant was oblivious to our presence. Had the wind been blowing from our direction towards the elephant, he would been alerted after smelling our presence. It could have led to two things, either the elephant would move away or walk in the direction of the scent. Since none of that happened, I clicked a few pictures and soon we were continuing our walk.

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Grazing peacefully | Elephant – Bush Walk, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Nick handed over the reins to Andy and we proceeded further. Stopping at a small waterhole, Andy and Nick went on to explain how a small puddle caused by an elephant foot gradually evolves into a larger waterhole. First an elephant foot creates a puddle, a warthog comes along and sits in it and wallows, making it bigger, then come a few buffalo who do the same and the waterhole becomes larger, as water collects over a season, the process repeats with the elephants, warthog, buffalo and other wildlife. All this explained beautifully by Andy and Nick.

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Making of a waterhole | Bush Walk, Kruger National Park, South Africa

As we proceeded, Andy stopped to explain marks on trees too. Some by lions and leopards, others by buffalo and elephants. A few trees essential for the herbivores were shown and a brief explanation was offered.

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Marks on a Tree | Bush Walk, Kruger National Park, South Africa

An uneventful walk (in terms of encounters, thankfully we did not come across agitated elephants or angry buffalos) was coming to an end. Nick and Andy motioned us to stop and dropped a bomb on us “do any one of you have an idea which direction our jeep is parked?” All of us were stumped and proceeded to point in all directions. That is when both explained why it is extremely important to have some idea of the direction in case one gets lost or beat a hasty retreat. My only recollection of the jeep is in the picture below. Hahahaha!

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Andy, Jeep and I | Bush Walk, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Back at the jeep, Andy and Nick answered our questions patiently.  A few pictures with an elephant in the background and thereafter back to the lodge for a glass of beer.

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Gunmen guides with the bushwalker friends | Kruger, South Africa

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The gunmen guides, new friends from Kruger and I | Kruger, South Africa

Despite having done many walks and hikes in my backyard (Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India), this one was very informative, enjoyable and definitely ‘a walk to remember’!

 

Winged wonders of Kruger

The three days of safaris in Kruger were not enough to soak in the wide variety of birds that reside in the park. While it was challenging to photograph most birds on the game drives, the Imbali Safari Lodge had a few regulars that put on a show.

I finished breakfast and decided to stick around near the outdoor dining area by the poolside. A movement in the bushes above the pool caught my attention. A colorful crested head popped out. Crested Barbet! Following the movement of this bird, I managed this one.

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Crested Barbet ~ Imbali Safari Lodge | Kruger National Park, South Africa

The very pretty Lilac-breasted Roller is a widespread species in the African continent. It was lovely to sight so many during the game drives. This individual posed patiently against the backdrop of clouds and a blue sky.

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Another commonly seen roller was the European Roller. Though it is pale in comparison to the Lilac-breasted Roller, I was quite happy to make a few images. Roller_European_SJK8436

Can you imagine a bird thats called Go-away Bird? As funny as it may sound, this species is actually called Grey Go-away Bird or Grey Lourie. Despite being wide-spread, this was the only sighting where the birds patiently sat for pictures.

Lorie_Grey_SJK8516Walking on the track, we bumped into an interesting looking birdie. The guide identified it as a Black-bellied Bustard/Kohraan. Skittish initially, the birdie eventually stopped and gave me a few frames. Korhaan_Black_Bellied_SJK8632

Three vultures sat on a dry tree and scanned the horizon presenting a perfect setting for a silhouette. Vulture_Silhouette_SJK8499

A Southern Ground Hornbill takes off as if to announce the end of the wonderful three days in Kruger which had a mix of many birds and wildlife. Hornbill_Southern_Ground_Sil_SJK7588

These are only few of the birds that I could shoot but the sightings were limited to these frames. Plenty of birds around but only if they sat stable for a few seconds for the images I wanted to make. Can’t wait to go back to Kruger for a longer period and meet the variety of winged wonders that beautiful park has to offer.

All images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR

Long necks, tall legs

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. Giraffe_SJK8348

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!

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Two individuals however, stood motionless looking across the road. Sensing some predator movement, we scanned the area but it didn’t bear any fruit.

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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.

Images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR

An evening with Lions

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!

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Watchful Eyes | African Lion, Kruger National Park

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.

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A King’s Pose | African Lion, Kruger National Park

This young male, stopped in his tracks and looked at us with curious eyes. A personal favorite because of the engaging expression!

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Curious Eyes| African Lion, Kruger National Park

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.

All images made with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR