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.

Amidst_Grass_MG_4801
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.

tiger_1_ref_mg_4800
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.

Waiting_MG_4804
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!

tiger_2_ref_mg_4829
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 

Sattal and Pangot | Birding Havens II

Pangot is a hill station not too far from the popular Nainital. My first visit was in the year 2013, and the first morning I woke up to snow everywhere and a horde of white-throated laughing thrush on a tree outside my room.

Last year, Mahesh and I travelled to Pangot, post Sattal, Munsiyari and Khaliya Top. We stayed in a comfortable guesthouse called Kafal House with friendly and courteous staff and simple tasty food.

At Kafal House, a bird bath and a few perches were set up. Our sessions started at the set-up which attracted common birds like the white-throated laughing thrush, black-headed jay, grey-winged blackbird, rufous-chinned laughing thrush, himalayan bulbul. Other exciting species were the rusty-cheeked scimitar babbler, chestnut-crowned laughing thrush, spot-winged grosbeak, oriental turtle dove to name a few.

The plum trees surrounding Kafal House were in full bloom and many russet sparrows were seen perched on these trees. My favourite picture of the sparrow is shared below.

Russet_Sparrow_JK_5597
Amidst all that pink – Russet Sparrow | Kafal House, Pangot, Uttarakhand, India

On another day, we left in the early hours hoping to reach another birding destination called Vinayak which is immensely popular for the cheer pheasant. Barely few kilometers from our lodging house, we bumped into a pair of koklass pheasants. Extremely low light conditions prevented any good photographs.

Our trip to Vinayak for the cheer pheasants was unsuccessful, but it did yield a few landscape photographs. In the picture below, early morning rays kiss the mountain top.

Vinayak_Sunrise_Pangot
Early mornings at Vinayak | Uttarakhand, India 

A drive down the road from Kafal House was productive too. A long awaited picture of the verditer flycatcher was finally done.

Verditer_Flycatcher_JK_5182
Verditer Flycatcher | Pangot, Uttarakhand, India 

Langur! They were everywhere and how does one avoid bumping in to them or seeing them? Here is one photograph when I caught an individual making faces at me.

Langur_JK_5218
Making faces – Grey Langur | Pangot, Uttarkahand, India 

Bad weather on a couple of days did affect birding but it was still an enjoyable trip. I prefer Pangot as a destination to Sattal, simply because it is very picturesque. I long to go there soon!

List of birds photographed in Pangot and neighbouring areas:

White-throated laughing Thrush, Black-headed Jay, Rufous-chinned Laughing Thrush, Streaked-laughing Thrush, Striated Laughing Thrush, Oriental Turtle Dove, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Russet Sparrow, Verditer Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Blue Whistling Thrush, Striated Prinia

Equipment: Canon 1D Mark 4 + 500 f4 IS + 1.4 TC 3

Sattal & Pangot | Birding Havens – I

Sattal and its surrounding areas have always fascinated me. Since my first visit to the hill station way back in October 2010 and again in 2013, it has been in my thoughts time and again.

Last year March, I visited this place again with friends Mahesh and Sridhar who made their maiden trip to this birding haven. A week long bird photography trip was planned with the very popular Hari Lama, an excellent guide based in Sattal.

Here is a short compilation of images starting with the photography hide at Birders Den, Sattal.

Greater_Yellownape_Woodpecker_JK_1967
Greater Yellownape Woodpecker | Birders Den, Sattal
Blue_Winged_Siva_JK_2405
Blue-winged Siva | Birders Den, Sattal 
Great_Tit_JK_4459
Great Tit | Birders Den, Sattal
Grey_Headed_Woodpecker_JK_2278
Grey-headed Woodpecker | Birders Den, Sattal 

Birding along the road had its own advantages too! We were lucky to get a Green-tailed Sunbird (female) as she was speedily moving from one branch to another.

Sunbird???_JK_3849
Green-tailed Sunbird | Sattal

The search for the White-crested Laughing Thrush led us to a spot along the highway and lo behold, a sight worth remembering.

White_Crested_Laughing_Thrush_JK_4363
White-crested Laughing Thrsuh | Sattal

Best things in life come in small packages… And the tiny package in the form of Red-billed Leothrix made a few appearances during our time on the road.

Leothrix_RB_JK_4283
Red-billed Leothrix | Sattal

Not far from Sattal is an area called Chafi which is primarily for birding by the river. Birds like the shy Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher, Wallcreeper, Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstart, Spotted Forktail are the top birds on the list of usual suspects there.

Despite an unlucky occasion when I had branches covering my best angle, I got lucky on the second attempt shooting the Brown Dipper.

Brown_Dipper_JK_4668
Brown Dipper | Chafi, Sattal

The list of birds photographed in Sattal and its neighbouring areas is given here under:

Red-billed Blue Magpie, Gree Treepie, Greater Yellownape Woodpecker, Great Barbet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Russet Sparrow, Blue-winged Siva, Grey Bushchat, Steppe Eagle, Long-tailed Minivet, Verditer Flycatcher, Grey-winged Blackbird, Striated Laughing Thrush, White-throated Laughing Thrush, Green-tailed Sunbird, Ashy Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Red-billed Leothrix, White-crested Laughing Thrush, Great Tit, Crested Kingfisher, Blue Whistling Thrush, Brown Dipper, White-capped Water Redstart, Rufous-chinned Laughing Thrush, Kalij Pheasant, Rufous Sibia

Pangot series is for next week folks!

Equipment used: Canon 500f4 + 1D Mark 4 

 

 

 

 

Its raining…babies

It has now passed two years since I set up of the bird photography hide in Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse with the assistance of friends. Without doubt, it is the Red Spurfowl that attracts most attention and is by far the most popular visitor.

One morning while waiting expectantly for birds to turn up at the hide, the red spurfowl (male) walks in and inspects the surrounding, seconds later the female walks in with three chicks! With the excitement levels already high seeing the spurfowls, it was joyful to see the chicks along with them.

Spurfowl_Chick_Mum
Red Spurfowl (female) with her young | Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

A chick poses for a few seconds while the mother, father and other siblings forage for food.

Spurfowl_Chick
Standing tall | Red Spurfowl (chick) | Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

As if the spurfowls with their young were not enough, in walks a Grey Junglefowl (female) with a young one by her side. It was tough deciding which family to shoot!

Junglefowl_Mum_Chick_ADI5592
Grey Junglefowl (female) and her young one | Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

The young junglefowl chick strikes a pose before getting down to foraging business.

Junglefowl_Chick_ADI5581
Striking a pose | Grey Junglefowl (chick) | Forest Hills, Mudumalai, India

With the activity of the young ones only started, stay tuned for more posts and pictures.

Equipment used: Nikon 600 f4 VR + D750 mounted on Benro GH2 Gimbal head + Manfrotto tripod.  

Visiting bipedal family – both winged and non-winged

It had been only a month since I got my hands on the 300 2.8 IS II lens by Canon. The level of excitement bumped further after a trip escorting my aunt back to Solan was confirmed.

Landing in Chandigarh some time in the month of February, my cousin Siddharth suggested I visit the Sukhna Lake which is part of the city. There were high chances of seeing some migratory birds.

Doing a round of the lake one evening, I finally found my spot to photograph birds. A host of migratory birds were in the mix along with common ones.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The common pochard, brown-headed gull and the tufted duck were lifers and I was especially happy to see a funky hairdo tufted duck.

Few days later, I was up the hills of Himachal Pradesh. It was still winter and waking up to head out for birding on cold mornings was not what I had in mind. Around Solan, I did birding along the railway tracks close to my Aunt’s house, a few locations away from the city and also in the backyard of an Uncle’s home.

A few photographs from Solan and its outskirts:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Barog and Chail are small hill stations in Himachal Pradesh. While Chail is the more popular and sought after destination, Barog is famous for its picturesque railway station and the longest tunnel on the Kalka-Shimla heritage rail route. The length of the tunnel falling just short of 1.5 kilometers. Interestingly, the station has rooms too for tourists who are keen to stay.

While Chail was a trip to meet more family members, I visited the Barog station on multiple occasions purely for birds. Walking along the railway line and exploring areas near the station accommodation with and without the tripod was great fun.

Photographs of species from Barog and Chail:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here is the complete list of species photographed and recorded during my visit:

Birding spots: Solan, Barog, Chail and the outskirts of Solan 

Oriental White-eye, Himalayan Bulbul, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Black Bulbul, Black-throated Tit, Red-billed Leothrix, Black-chinned Babbler, Grey-hooded Warbler, White-throated Fantail, Red-vented Bulbul, Great Tit, Grey Bushchat, Crested Kingfisher, White-capped Redstart, Brown Dipper, Blue Whistling Thrush, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Grey Treepie, Blue-fronted Redstart, Grey-winged Blackbird, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Rufous-chinned Laughing Thrush, Great Barbet, Orange-flanked Bush Robin, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Plum-headed Parakeet, Verditer Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Common Stonechat.

All images made with Canon 40D, 300 2.8 IS II + 2x TC II – Feb, Mar 2012

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.

Tiger_Nullah
Spot the tiger | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

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

Tiger_Nullah_Close_JK_7141
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 🙂

Tiger_Wet_JK_7343
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.

Tiger_Corbett_MG_4938
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 

Mother’s Day

Tiger_Cub_Ranthambore
Noor with her cub at Ranthambore | 2014

The fierce tigress that Noor is, its unusual to see her as a doting mother. Motherhood turns the most cynical of women into loving and selfless mothers. That’s an instinct we humans share with the animal kingdom.

Cheers to all the mothers and a very happy mother’s day!

Eternal bond of the gentle giants

We talk about family and how close one is with their parents or siblings or friends. Its not only humans who have such close bonds. The animal kingdom too shares such close associations.

Elephants in particular are very social animals and live in large or smaller herds which usually consist of females and young ones. The herd is captained by an older cow elephant called the ‘matriarch’.

Ele_Family_MG_0380
Close knit family| A herd with two calves quench their thirst at a stream

It is not just the mother who is protective of her calf. The other female elephants in the herd are equally protective and caring for the young ones.

Canon 1D Mark 4, Canon 500 f4, ISO 800, f4, 1/125 secs, Av mode
Mommy dearest | The calf reaches out to its mother at a salt lick

In the truest sense of family, it’s not just adults being protective of the young ones but adults also communicate with each other and watch out for the herd.

elephant_comm_sjk_3501
Trunk call | Two tuskers communicating by touch

These gentle giants are not so different from humans when it comes to survival. They are aware of the fact that family is important for the overall survival of their species.

Ganeshgudi | A birding haven

A long drive to Belgaum had its own advantages. With Ganeshgudi only an hour-and-a-half away, an impromptu visit to the Old Magazine House was devised and I got there on a Friday evening.

I had checked earlier with a dear friend, Angad Achappa, about the usual suspects that frequent the Old Magazine House, so I had a fairly good idea what to expect.

Here are a few images of birds that I saw during my one night stay there:

  • The flagship species at the Old Magazine House is the White-bellied Blue Flycatcher. One can see quite a few individuals (both male and female) frequenting the bird baths.
Flycatcher_WBB_DSC6836
White-bellied Blue Flycatcher (male) | Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi
Flycatcher_WBB_F_DSC6914
White-bellied Blue Flycatcher (female) | Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi
  • Another common species is the Orange-headed Thrush.
Thrush_OH_DSC6619
Orange-headed Thrush | Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi
  • An occasional visitor – Lesser Yellownape Woodpecker
Yellownape_WP_DSC6879
Lesser Yellownape Woodpecker | Old Magazine House,
  • At about 6.30 am the next morning, there was excitement among the birding guide and a bunch of photographers. A Malabar Trogon had been spotted at close quarters! Following the bird, I walked along the road and made a few images. This by far has been the best sighting of the Malabar Trogon.
Trogon_DSC6758
Malaber Trogon (male) | Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi

Other species that I saw during the same visit are:

Hill Myna, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Oriental White-eye, Black-naped Monarch, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Puff-throated Babbler, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Little Spiderhunter, Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-rumped Shama, Emerald Dove, Flame-throated Bulbul.

Note: The Old Magazine House now has a new bungalow with 6 well appointed rooms. Few old old cottages they had earlier have been dismantled and maybe renovated in the future.

All images shot with Nikon 600 f4 VR + D7100.