Archive for February, 2010

A scenic ride on ICE, from Frankfurt to Köln, going past Koblenz along the river Rhine.  A day and half earlier, I had communicated via mail to Mahesh that i will most probably reach Cologne by 12:30pm. I did not have a cell phone. I get out of the train with my 23 + 8.something kilograms of luggage, and see this guy with a huge grin walking towards me.

It was great to catch up with a college buddy after a really long long time, and in most unexpected of places. Just about a couple of years back, we were chatting at IISc air strip, and now we were catching up in Cologne!

We dropped our luggage at a pre-paid counter – costs about 2 euros for 24 hours, and set out to explore Cologne in the few hours I had before continuing on my journey.

Just outside the Cologne station is this huge, mammoth structure – Kölner Dom or Cologne Cathedral. I had never seen such huge man-made structure. Built over 600 years, this monument at one time was the tallest structure in the world.

The Cathedral is epitome of Gothic architecture, and was built to keep the faith of people in Christianity. The craftsmanship reminded me of our own Hoysala temples of Belur. Unlike Hoysala temples, which were in parts destroyed as the territories were concurred by rulers of different faith, the Cologne Cathedral is unscathed to a large extent – signifying the solidarity of Christianity in Europe.

Spent some time inside the cathedral, appreciating the Gothic design, sculptures and magnificent stained glass windows. Next, we decided to scale this tower. At the top of the tower is the world’s largest free swinging bell, St. Petersglocke, which fortunately wasn’t ringing at that time. The walls inside the church have zillions of scribblings of visitors from across the world. I decided not to leave any mark of my presence in that way. The climb was exhausting, but the view of the city from the top was exhilarating.

Check the bridge across the river Rhine:

The most fascinating aspect of this structure is that it survived the bombing of World War II, when the entire city was in shambles. Check the same bridge in this priceless image captured in 1944:

Photo courtesy of The Rocketeer, who found these photos in a book bought at a Public Library sale!

After the tiring climb, we went to one of Cologne’s oldest breweries to refresh. Früh am Dom, brewery located near the cathedral was our stop for Kölsch. Kölsch bier, exclusive to Cologne is served in Kölsch-Stange, and a must try when you are in Cologne. You get non-alcoholic Kölsch as well. Unfortunately, the dungeon was closed the day I visited, and we settled outside. Visit to the chocolate factory was very tempting, but we did not have the time.

Stained glass windows inside the church

The great twin spires

It would have not been possible to spend few hours at Cologne, and have vegetarian food for lunch if Mahesh was not along. Thanks a lot dude!

It would also have not been possible to share these images if not for Sam, who lend his Sigma 10-20mm lens for my trip. Thanks Sam!

It would also have not been possible to take the fantastic train journey from Frankfurt to Eindhoven, changing 4 trains with a rather long stop at Cologne, and brief stops at Mönchengladbach, and Venlo before arriving at Eindhoven if not for Sudhir, who suggested to take the scenic route along the Rhine river valley and planned the route.


DB Bahn – German railway website is very useful for planning your journey across Europe.

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A Brown-fish Owl perches close to your jeep at 6:40pm, on a cloudy monsoon day. You obviously can’t expect an owl to make an appearance in bright sunlight. Wildlife photography in Indian jungles (all tropical jungles perhaps) is more challenging because of low light. So, what is the work around?

One, faster lenses such as 400mm f/2.8. Two, newer generation of low noise at high ISO cameras. But what if you are not a rich guy (like me)? One, accuse good photographers that their images came from better lenses and better cameras. Two, try to make better of what you have. Let me take the latter route.

1. Use whatever form of support that is available. Seat of the jeep or support of the metallic bars.

2. Under-expose the image by 1-2 stops and recover the image in the post-processing.

Using the right metering is vital in exercising these techniques to get the right exposure.

Brown-Fish Owl

This Brown-Fish Owl perched on this tree when we were watching a herd of Gaurs near a water hole in Bandipur. The bird was close enough for my 55-250mm IS lens. It was pretty dark. I underexposed by nearly 2 stops at ISO-800 to get 1/13s shutter speed on Partial metering. I took the support of jeep window to hold the camera steady. I recovered the image as I wished, albeit little noise.

Crested Serpant Eagle – Eye contact at eye level

This is a full frame image at 250mm. Had I put my hand out of the jeep, I might have caught this bird. This is what monsoon does to most wildlife. They sit idle and don’t care much. ISO-200, 1/10s shutter speed. I did not underexpose more than I wanted. Barely any post-processing. Evaluative metering. I took the support of jeep seat to get the required stabilization.

Holding the camera steady for slower shutter speeds is the key for getting sharper images in low-light. While on jeep safari, carrying tripod is not always an option whereas carrying a monopod or a bean bag is. Fill-in flash is also helpful to get faster shutter speed, but keeping the interest of subject in mind avoid it as much as possible. Neat Image helps to reduce noise, but I can’t afford the software at present.

If you have some more techniques to share or wish to make donations for me to but a f/2.8 lens, feel free to contact me.

P.S.: Thanks to JLR Bandipur drivers, Kiran for Brown Fish Owl image, and Ramesh for Serpant Eagle image.

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Nestled on the banks of river Periyar, Thattekad is home to a variety of resident endemic and winter migratory birds. Amogh, Anush, Deepa and I spent 3 days in Thattekad with god-of-thattekad, Eldhose, as our guide.

5:15pm – Train from Bangalore city.

4:30am – Ernakulam junction

4:45am – Taxi to Thattekad

6:30am – Photographing Red Spurfowl without even brushing teeth :))

This is how crazy the trip was. On reaching Thattekad, Eldhose took us to Spurfowl area before we could check into our room. After spurfowls, we went to Salim Ali bird sanctuary in the hope of sighting a Black Baza. 3-4km walk, but no Baza.

Ceylon Frogmouth, a nocturnal bird, that had not been sighted since Salim Ali, only to be rediscovered in 2000 by Eldhose was a treat to watch.

Spend 3 hours at Thattekad resort, and headed to ‘flycatcher area’ by 3 pm. Trekking through rubber plantations and forest area, we reached the famed waterhole. Spent couple of hours without much action, but then as the light faded those small and beautiful flycatchers made appearances. Could make only terrible images, but I enjoyed the variety of birds sighted.

Blue-Throated Flycatcher (female)

Next day morning, woke up at 3:30am. Yes, you read it right – 3:30am. A short drive, and 15-20minutes walk on moonless pitch-dark reserve forest area. We were looking for rare Owls, Spot-bellied eagle Owl and Oriental Bay Owl particularly, but neither was seen. As the sun rose, lots of other birds started their daily routine – Crimson backed Sunbird, Hill Mynas, Asian Fairy Blue Bird, Small and Scarlett Minivets. Plenty! We even saw a Bay-Banded Cuckoo.

Asian Fairy Blue Bird – ‘I’ve got a berry!’

In the evening, we sighted a flock of Black-throated Munias, but was really difficult to get a photograph. Late evening, Eldhose took to Pitta area. Amogh and I had not seen a Pitta. We were excited. Waited for an hour for the beautiful bird to make appearance. It was pretty dark at 6:20, and fill-in flash helped make some decent image.

Indian Pitta

Jerdon’s Nightjar was the next bird sighted at about 7:30pm, and it was totally dark. I could not get even a record shot. Next day morning, photographed the Brown-Hawk Owl that perches at the same place, perhaps for a few years now, and left for Cochin and then to Bangalore.

Eldhose was a fantastic guide to have for two days. Thanks to Anush.

Bird list:

Day 1

Bluebird, Asian Fairy
Bulbul, Grey-headed
Buzzard, Oriental Honey
Cormorant, Little
Crow, House
Crow, Thick-billed
Cuckoo-shrike, Black-headed
Dove, Spotted
Drongo, Ashy
Drongo, Racket-Tailed
Drongo, Spangled
Egret, Small
Frogmouth, Ceylon
Flowerpecker, un id
Flycatcher, Asian Paradise
Flycatcher, Asian Brown
Heron, Pond
Hornbill, Malabar Grey
Kingfisher, Small Blue
Kingfisher, White-breasted
Leafbird, Golden-fronted
Mynah, Hill
Oriole, Black-Naped
Oriole, Eurasian Golden
Sparrow, House
Sunbird, Purple-rumped
Spurfowl, Red
Swallow, Ashy Wood
Treepie, Rufous
Treepie, White-bellied
Warbler, Greenish Leaf

Day 1 evening
Babbler, Dark-fronted
Babbler Puff-throated
Drongo, Ashy
Drongo, Bronzed
Drongo, Racket-Tailed
Drongo, Spangled
Flycatcher, Blue-throated
Flycatcher, Brown-breasted
Flycatcher,Tickell’s Blue
Flycatcher, Rusty-tailed
Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue
Goshawk, Crested
Minivet, Scarlet
Minivet, Small
Shrike, Nilgiri Wood
Thrush, Orange-headed Ground
Treepie, Rufous
Waterhen, White-breasted
Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback
Woodpecker, White-bellied

Day 2
Barbet, Crimson Fronted
Bulbul, Red-vented
Bulbul, Red-whiskered
Bulbul,Ruby-throated or Black-crested
Bulbul, Yellow-throated
Cuckoo, Bay-banded
Dollar Bird
Pigeon, Green Pompadour
Pigeon, Green Imperial
Owlet, Jungle
Nuthatch, Velvet-fronted
Robin, Oriental Magpie
Sunbird, Purple-rumped
Tern, River
Tern, Whiskered
Wagtail, Pied

Day 2 evening
Bee-eater, Blue tailed
Bee-eater, Small green
Munia, Black-throated
Munia, White-rumped
Nightjar, Jerdon’s

Day 3
Owl, Brown Hawk

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