Birding by the bridge

The stream which flows at the entrance of Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse attracts a host of birds. Commonly sighted birds are Malabar Whistling Thrush, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Black Drongo, Red-vented and Red Whiskered Bulbul, etc. 

One evening I was treated to wonderful sights of the White-rumped Shama and female Indian Paradise Flycatcher. 

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White-rumped Shama (male)
 A White-rumped Shama poses on a steel pipe. It was nice to see this otherwise shy bird sit comfortably in the open despite my presence. 

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Indian Paradise Flycatcher (female)
The extremely restless Flycatcher flying from one perch to another, offered a few seconds to freeze some frames. 

More from the bridge in future posts…

Prince of hearts…king of the Jungle

A kingdom may last for ever, but a king’s reign always comes to an end. With the passing away of Prince, a new king will take over the kingdom he possessed for years in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

Known for his large territory within Bandipur, he would freely roam the jungles with nonchalance. There have been instances when tourists have spent the entire safari, which can last almost three hours, with Prince walking from one end of the tourism zone to another.

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Walking his Kingdom| April 2016

My earliest memory of Prince dates back to Dec 2009 on a morning drive along with friends. Because of good tracking skills from our driver/guide Siddhu (then with Tusker Trails), we stumbled upon this magnificent tiger walking on the safari track. Least bothered with the presence of our jeep, he continued sashaying along the track, thereafter scent marking a few trees and finally settling into his private pool.

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The Royal Bath | Prince of Bandipur – Dec 2009

On that day, my friends and I were treated to a sighting that lasted a little over ten minutes. It was overwhelming to watch a tiger at close quarters enjoying his time in a waterhole. I couldn’t take my eyes off him and for the most time, the camera laid forgotten by my side.

I didn’t know then that I would be deprived of another sighting of Prince for the next four years. During an evening safari with the the Forest Department, we received information from another vehicle that a tiger was spotted at a waterhole. We rushed to the spot and sure enough, he was sleeping at the edge of the waterhole. Minutes later, vehicles started piling up and he moved further and further into the water. In all these years of visiting various parks, I can confidently say that Prince is the most adorable looking tiger I have seen yet.

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Innocent Eyes | Feb 2014

It saddens me to know that the Showstopper of Bandipur will not grace us with his presence anymore. Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers will miss our very own PRINCE.

Here is a compilation of some of the best sightings of Prince in the last two years.

It was purely intuitive of Santhosh (driver/guide Jungle Lodges) to take a chance at Prince’s favorite waterhole. We reached the spot twenty minutes into the safari and there he was, cooling himself on a harsh sunlit afternoon.

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Comfortably numb | Jan 2015

A sighting that lasted more than 20 minutes that afternoon, it was also the beginning of my tryst with Bandipur and its popular inhabitant.

Another time in August 2015, while exploring Bandipur during the monsoon with the hope to make some interesting images, we are graced by Prince himself, lazing in a small puddle of water.

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Poise | Sep 2015

With Santhosh again at the helm of affairs, we drove from one end of the reserve to another after receiving information of a sighting. We spotted Prince as he turned towards the waterhole from the safari track.

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Lazing tiger, flying dragon | Sep 2015

Sighting a big cat in the lush greenery of a jungle always fills me with joy.

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A stroll in the jungle | Sep 2015

Few weeks had gone by with no sighting of Prince and with growing concerns over Prince’s whereabouts and health, he laid all doubts to rest. We were treated to a sighting so close to the safari track, I just about managed to fit the tiger and his meal in the frame.

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Not quite a king’s meal | Sep 2015

A large waterhole next to a temple inside Bandipur has always attracted a host of birds, sambar and spotted deer, elephants, gaur, etc. Never having seen a tiger at that waterhole, it was a fitting end to an otherwise uneventful safari.

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Fire amidst greens | Aug 2016

Entering the waterhole cautiously, I assumed he would casually sit and cool himself. Instead, he started kicking and splashing water.

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Splashing exit | Sep 2016

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Prince is no more. He ruled the jungles of Bandipur and our lenses for long years. Shooting Prince since his youth till the end, I have grown alongside as a photographer. Little did I know that watching him in a playful mood in the waterhole, would be the last photograph I will ever click of the majestic figure.

This momentary sadness will be overshadowed by all the memorable sightings you have given me. Rest in peace my friend!

Among the Top 100 | WIPA 2017

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Watch your step, kid | Sambar and Fawn Silhouette – Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, TN, India

In the recently concluded Wildlife Photography competition held by popular magazine Better Photography in association with the best in business; Toehold Travel and Photography Pvt. Ltd., I was pleasantly surprised to know that the above picture had been nominated for the main category of the competition from over 7000 entries. The image can be found here.

A personal favorite from my collection, this image was made way back in the year 2012. Post sunset we were returning from an evening drive and spotted the sambar and her fawn on the edge of the hill. The blue sky in the background and still figures presented an ideal opportunity to make a silhouette. Underexposing a few stops, and getting the focus right with the light rapidly decreasing, I managed this.

Shot with: Canon 1D Mark III + 300 2.8 IS II, 2x TC II 

Squirrels as Giants

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Malabar Giant Squirrel | Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse, Mudumalai, Tamil Nadu, India 

The first thing that comes into mind when one hears the word squirrel is a tiny creature with a fluffy tail. When the word ‘giant’ is attached with ‘squirrel’ it is hard to imagine or picture that. Well in fact, giant squirrels do exist.

The picture above is of the Malabar Giant Squirrel or the Indian Giant Squirrel. An incredibly beautiful creation with wonderful colors and a striking orange bushy tail. Known to be shy animals, they mostly keep to the high reaches of trees and are agile climbers too.

This individual is a resident at the Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, hence the opportunity to shoot a close-up.

Shot with: Canon 1D Mark III + 500 f4 IS  

The Mighty Steppe

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Steppe Eagle | Almora, Uttarakhand, India (2016)

Many steppe eagles were seen en route to Munsiyari. Despite our eagerness to stop and capture these raptors, the guide suggested we do that on our return to Sattal. As we continued our long drive, quite a few virtual images of this magnificent raptor were imprinted in my mind.

Few days later the opportunity to convert those virtual images to real ones came along. After crossing Almora district, we spotted a few steppe eagles by the roadside. Urging the guide and driver to stop, I fixed a teleconverter to the lens for farther reach. With whatever light that remained of the evening and a cooperative bird, I made a series of images.

An opportunity to shoot the steppe eagle on two of my previous trips to Sattal were wasted due to camera issues. This image was the best of the series and immensely satisfying.

Shot with: Canon 1D Mark IV + 500 f4 IS + 1.4 TC III

Spurfowl in the spot

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It was day three after having set up a bird photography hide at home i.e., Forest Hills Farm and Guesthouse. The usual suspects – the bulbuls, spotted doves and white-cheeked barbet did their rounds.

After about half an hour a new visitor walks in nonchalantly, almost leaving me in a state of shock…the Red Spurfowl! He warily started feeding on grains strewn across the ground. Aware of their extremely shy behavior, I had to be careful about firing the camera, lest I scare the spurfowl. Since that day, the spurfowl has been a regular and popular visitor to the hide.

On one such occasion, he walked out of the shadows and into the light, posing for the lensman. The picture on display is the result of that.

Canon 1D Mark III + Canon 500 f4 IS 

 

 

 

 

Hungry chap

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Crested Serpent Eagle (juvenile) feeding on a snake | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, 2015

As the name suggests, the Crested Serpent Eagle’s favorite prey of course is snakes. This sighting was purely accidental. Having stopped at a waterhole hoping for some animal activity, I scanned the wooded area for the juvenile serpent eagle who had made it his territory.

I was in for a surprise. The serpent killer had a snake between its beak. The eagle took its time with the snake, slowly devoring it and giving us an opportunity to make images. A chance to witness the serpent killer in action, was immensely satisfying.

Shot with: Canon 500 f4 IS + 1D Mark 3

Leopard Rock | Nagarhole

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Driving through the Nagarhole jungle, I wondered, where is this Leopard Rock! Image of the elusive cat crouching on that very rock flashed in front of me (courtesy dear friend Thomas S Anand).

As I was reminiscing that amazing picture which adorns one of the walls at home, I took a left turn on the road and spotted a huge rock at a distance. Could this be Leopard Rock? A few moments later it was confirmed as a leopard climbed onto it and sat majestically.

With my heart racing, I took the jeep off road and killed the engine. Using the side view mirror as support for the lens, I started shooting. I started the jeep with a desire to get a little closer to the rock. The noisy engine startled the leopard who got off the rock and hid behind some foliage. As I moved the jeep forward, he decided it was enough and disappeared into the forest.

It was thrilling experience. Thanks to Bids and Archana for forcing Alfred and I to lunch in Kutta. Nagarhole would never have happened from Virajpet.

Shot with: Canon 40D + 100-400 IS

Puddle of Snake 

During one of the monsoon evenings in Bandipur, the safari van came to a grinding halt! Shuffling feet reached the window by the door and a camera shutter went into overdrive. Sitting in the same side as the door, I cranked my neck and looked down to see what had caught the photographer’s sudden attention. A stripe-necked mongoose stood beside a puddle of water.

The mongoose then entered the puddle and walked all around disturbing the waters. What was this behavior, I wondered? Moments later, my questions were answered. The mongoose in a flash, darted towards one end of the puddle and came out with a snake in its jaws! The snake was ripped and devoured in no time. After the mongoose was done with the snack, it repeated the hunt, only to have run out of prey.

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Stripe-necked Mongoose feeding on a snake | Bandipur Tiger Reserve

Having only heard of age old stories of the rivalry and battles of mongoose and snakes, it was one of those super exciting moments that one experiences with lesser mammals. Nature and wildlife doesn’t fail to leave you spellbound with such uncommon occurrences.

Shot with: Canon 1D Mark 3 + 500 f4 IS