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!

 

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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 ūüôā

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 out 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 

 

Lurking scavenger & predator

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!

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Lurking | Spotted Hyena ~ Kruger National Park, South Africa

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.

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Walking back disappointed | Spotted Hyena ~ Kruger National Park, South Africa

Not wanting to risk injuries, the hyena opted for a hasty retreat. If only the hyena had more companions, if only!

Images shot with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR

Painters on a prowl

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.

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In a hurry | African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

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.

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Three’s a team | African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

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!

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African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

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.

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Mouthful | African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

As we were the only vehicle around, the wild dogs got comfortable and one curious dog came sniffing close to my door.

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Too close Eh! | African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park, South Africa

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.

All images shot with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR