Living in the jungle comes with its own perks. One wakes up to the chirping birds, different ones in different seasons while some days one goes to sleep hearing the tiger roar somewhere. Some afternoons langurs go ballistic with their alarm calls and deer sipping water at the water hole break into a run. Amongst all these wildlife moving in and out of the property, there is a consistent visitor almost every evening and at times during the day. That’s the gentle giant! Whether in a group or solo, elephants come in and go as they please.
Despite the three long decades of residing here, every time an elephant comes by, it leaves the onlookers in total awe. The graceful walk, the patient grazing, the gentle eyes and the stoic appearance… they never cease to amaze me each and every time I see them.
Yesterday was celebrated as World Elephant Day. At home, we celebrate elephants whenever they wish to be celebrated. All they do is walk in and start the party!!
A beautiful green coat, a striking red beak and an exotic blue patch on the throat sums up this little birdie.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
As the sun set and it got colder, Mr. Leppy curled up (not literally) and went to sleep.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Amidst the tall grass, a tiger moved stealthily towards his prey. Inching closer and closer to the herd of deer who were busy grazing unaware of his presence. A loud piercing call broke the silence of the jungle. Then another call and another until it sounded like an orchestra.
The sound was a combination of a bark and clearing of the throat that caused the deer to freeze in fear and their alert buttons were switched on. Looking in all directions, they finally spotted the tiger crouched in the grass, motionless. A twitch of the tigers tail sent the deer into a frenzy and they galloped to safer ground.
Yet another opportunity missed, the tiger moved slowly out from hiding. From the tall tree above, the orchestra was still playing. The tiger looked up to see who had let the cat out of the bag. A group of langurs were looking back at the tiger not leaving his sight.
The watchman or should I say watchmen of the jungle had saved yet another that day. The Grey Langur also called the Hanuman Langur, occupying the tallest seats in the jungle (read trees), have the best view of what’s happening below. Keeping track of the predator movement, they sound the alarm bells when a tiger, leopard or wild dogs are spotted in the vicinity. Upon hearing the Langur, deer, sambar, even birds sound their calls. Everyone is wary of a predator lurking.
On some occasions, even a tall tree or high perch is not enough for the safety of the Langur. Leopards are known to hunt while swiftly climbing trees and treating themselves to an unlucky Langur. Even tigers sometimes get the better of the watchman.
In the image posted above, a Grey Langur looks warily as our vehicle approached it. Gorgeous lighting that evening set this image apart from the rest in my collection.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Spot-winged Grosbeak (m)
Spot-winged Grosbeak (f)
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.
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.
A drive down the road from Kafal House was productive too. A long awaited picture of the verditer flycatcher was finally done.
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.
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: