Archive for the ‘Karnataka’ Category

Elephant Stable at HampiElephant Stables at Hampi, Karnataka

One of the richest empires that ruled the Southern India, the Vijayanagara Empire, had its capital around present day Hampi. What remains today of the once glorious state is the UNESCO world heritage sites, ruins of the empire. Virupaksha temple, Elephant Stables, Lotus Mahal, Vittala Temple, Stone Chariot, the musical pillars and few other monuments amidst the Thungabadra river and the rocky arid terrain give fantastic opportunity for photography.

Neelima, one of India’s best travel and landscape photographer, accompanied me and Dilip for a weekend escapade to Hampi. The best option to reach Hampi from Bangalore is through train to Hospet, and taking a cab from Hospet to Hampi. Given Hampi’s popularity and unavailability of train tickets left us with no choice but taking an overnight bus from Bangalore. The bumpy roads for latter part of the journey left me with little sleep and we arrived at 5am. There are many options for accommodation available, on either side of the river Tungabadra. We decided to stay at a shack on ‘the other side’ of the river. This meant taking a boat across the river every time we set out. Each of the historical sites are anywhere between 2 to 10 miles (or ~3 to 15km). It is possible to visit most of the prominent monuments in 2 days. Hiring a cab, renting a bike or a moped are the different options. We rented a moped.

Stone Chariot at Hampi, KarnatakaStone Chariot at Vittala Temple, Hampi

The temple complexes and the rocky landscape provide one the picturesque places for photography. Despite our outing in June, at the end of summer and onset of Monsoon, we were lucky to have splendidly beautiful blue skies. Started out with breakfast at the popular Mango Tree restaurant – cuisine is predominantly western. Our first day stops included Virupaksha temple and few unrecognized ruins at first. Returning to the Mango Tree for lunch.

In the evening, we visited the Vittala Temple. This is one of the most interesting monuments at Hampi. I still had the memories of visiting this place decades ago. The stone pillars carved on the mantapa of the temple produces 7 notes of music. It is simply fascinating to see and hear music from gently tapping the stone pillar. However, we were not let to tap the pillars on the main complex. The deterioration caused by millions of tourists visiting had already waned down the thickness of the pillars from what I had seen a decade earlier. There is only one pillar that is allowed for demo. Our guide showed us that and it was equally impressive.

Vittala Temple Mantapa at HampiStone pillars at the Vittala temple complex produce musical notes on tapping it gently

Second day plan was to visit the Lotus Mahal and the Elephant stables at the Zenana Enclosure. The image you see at the top is the elephant stable. To get the size reference, see the man walking at the center. After lunch, I insisted on visiting Daroji for watching Sloth Bears. We had to ride ~30km. Through the hilly terrain, we reached the Daroji Bear Sanctuary. Birding in the late afternoon was average at best. Sloth bears visit for the jaggery lick on the rocks. We settled at a watch tower at 4pm. However, the bears were not expected until dusk depending on our luck. After waiting for close to an hour and half, we decided to return since we needed to catch the last boat across the river at 6:30pm. I was not fortunate to photograph sloth bears at Daroji and gives me reason to return.

Lakshmi Narasimha statue HampiLakshmi Narshima Statue close to Virupaksha Temple

Krishnadevaraya was one of the prominent rulers of Vijayanagara empire. There are legends of gold and diamond ornaments being sold on streets by hawkers during his reign, signifying the wealth during the period. After the Sultans of Bijapur defeated the last emperor of the dynasty, they looted the wealth in the capital and destroyed the hindu temples, monuments and structures. Today, this stands in ruins and as popular destination for travelers.

Ruins of Vijayanagara empireRuins of Vijayanagara empireRuins are reconstructed, restored and preserved by ASI (Archaeological Society of India)

Check out the landscape images from Hampi here.

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This is the pattern in mind when I think of Kabini. Undoubtedly the elusive Leopard. The best place in the world to photograph this beautiful cat is around the backwaters of Kabini reservoir at Nagarhole National Park. I have never returned from Kabini without sighting this spotted cat (including my last month’s visit).

Having visited Kabini many a times, I had missed visiting this magical place in summer for long time. Arun, Selva and Sudhir agreed to join me, and I made a booking more than a month in advance for 2 night stay at the Kabini river lodge. Ooty was an obvious and easy choice for the weekend prior to Kabini visit from April 11 to 13th. Check out the Ooty trip report and few images here.

Started from Ooty after photographing few birds, briefs stops for sightings of Black Eagle, Chestnut headed bee eaters and Elephants near Bandipur, we were sightly late to reach Kabini.

Route: Ooty->Masinagudi->Bandipur->Gundlupet->Begur->Sargur->HD Kote handpost->Kabini

The expectation was high and Kabini didn’t disappoint. Soon into the evening safari, we saw this huge leopard. It paused for a moment to check us and all our cameras hit non-stop for 3-4 seconds. Combined, we must have captured about 40 frames in 3-4 seconds.

Leopard – watching left before crossing the track

The search for the bigger striped cat was on on almost all safaris. We missed an opportunity on 2nd day morning safari when a tiger arrived at the backwaters to quench thirst. But we did get to sight the big bird, Spot-bellied Eagle owl.

Back at the camp, each of us spent time to shoot macros of spiders and other insects. Fearing a nasty sting, I got close to this wasp for only one shot.

Moves like a butterfly, stings like a bee

Evening safari again yielded many elephants. A herd of spotted deer gave fantastic opportunity to capture some silhouette images on the backwaters in the golden light of fading sun.

Now, what’s Kabini without elephants. The best part about Kabini in Summer is the congregation of Asiatic elephants. You will find them pretty much everywhere – in the forest, on the backwaters, in the water. There were tons of them. It was a beautiful sight to watch mother with calf, huge tuskers young bulls, on the back waters – bathing, feeding, wrestling.

Eye of a Matriarch

Congregation of Asiatic Elephants at Kabini Backwaters

The final morning safari started with a beautiful sight of two peacocks trying to woo a mate. The spectacle was full on right on the jeep track. If not disturbed by the jeep ahead on trying to reach the sunset point from where a tiger was sighted, we would have seen more display of romance of peafowls.

Peacocks wooing Peahen

Even our jeep was rushed to the sunset point only to hear from the few jeeps that were already there that tiger went back into the thickets. Few jeeps decided to stay back, and our jeep driver decided to get to other part in hope of tracking the big cat. Soon, they get a call saying tiger is seen again near the sun set point. What followed that was something that I had only heard happens  (and subtly experienced) in Central Indian forests.

All the jeeps that got the info on tiger rushed at inexplicable speed to the spot. It was utter madness as I just sat disappointed, covering my eyes from the huge dust storm the convoy of jeeps had created.

Again as we reached, we were told the tiger just left the banks. Within a minute or two wait, our driver wanted to get back to track the big cat else where. I was furious. I told him I want to wait at a place long enough if we were to have any chance. There was no point in driving around. He suggested me we wait at another place and not here

Just as we were getting out, a couple of Dholes were sighted. Again, all the jeeps rushed as the were moving slightly ahead. The thunderous noise of the jeeps scared the Dholes and they got inside the bushes. If only we had turned off jeeps and waited, instead of rushing towards them they would have got comfortable and taken the jeep track as they were to do. It was disappointing to see people who know jungle better than us and drive everyday not understand the Dholes’ behavior.

We waited for nearly an hour at another spot facing the back waters. Few alarm calls heard, but no sighting of any big predator. We were to wind up the safari and just then got a call from another jeep about the tiger sighting, again at Sun set point. By the time we got there, the tiger again had gone inside the bamboo thickets. But we could see it through binoculars and record some strips of a sleeping cat on our cameras.

We waited for few minutes in the false hope that this tiger would get up and provide better views. I was capturing some images of an elephant and calf grazing on the backwaters. Just then one guy in a jeep started yelling ‘Tiger, tiger!’ All thought he was kidding. But he was proved right as all of us pointed our cameras and binocs towards a distant patch of backwaters.

Tiger on prowl

A tiger was walking down the path, from the bamboo thickets towards the water. Two tigers in ten minutes! The lighting was perfect and the tiger majestically walked towards water albeit a little wary of more dangerous animals, humans. She was really far for any portrait-esq image. However, the sighting was heartening and marked a good end to a wonderful summer trip.

P.S.: Have more frames that I wanted to publish but unfortunately haven’t found time to process. This was from April 2011 visit. Had luck to visit again in December 2011. Images from that trip will have to wait for a few years. :)

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All my trips to Kabini have been very short, lasting not more than 2 days. But I am glad to have visited this magical place once every year in the last 3 years. Each visit has been a different experience, appreciating different things. First time it was the awe of mammals, second time it was the admiration of winged beauties on the back waters, and this time it was about life on the forest floor, of arachnids and insects.

Signature spider

Despite driving for about 12 hours the previous day, I got up by 5am and headed to Shreeram’s house, and from there we picked Adarsh, Deepa and Tarangini. Stopping over at a few places for birding, we reached Kabini by 1pm.

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you say ‘Kabini’ is Elephants, perhaps Leopards. Not the variety of spiders! This trip was special not because I got to see a leopard, but because I witnessed a sequence of events that one sees only in a wildlife documentary – A Spider Wasp hunting a Tarantula, dig a hole (to lay an egg) and drag the paralyzed tarantula into the hole, and then close the hole.  All these action was right outside our tent at JLR camp!

The first day’s evening safari was a expected drive in the park – Chitals, few common birds, and surprisingly no elephants. Shivanand, JLR naturalist, told me that the relaid road of Mysore-Mananthwadi highway has made the sighting of big cats on the highway less common than it used to be, thanks to the frequent buses and lorries. No wonder we didn’t see many mammals last time i drove expectantly on this patch on way to Wayanad! Also, I felt the detour to reach the national park limits from JLR camp was longer than the route through Karapura village.

Back in the camp, Deepa and Shreeram showcased the images they had captured in the evening safari. All of them ridiculed me for I had fired only about 6 shots, and didn’t shoot even one of the 5 crested serpent eagles that we saw. Adarsh got some free time after work, and we spent an hour discussing the movie, Inception. We realized we need to watch again. :)

The next day, we saw a crested hawk eagle first up in the morning safari. The light was dull. A few photographs later, we got into the forest tracks. Soon, we got a call about leopard sighting. Reached the spot in a whizz. The leopard seemed to have had a good meal, and was in a mood for a nap. Dinesh Kumble had the first sighting and had informed us. Another jeep reached the spot at the same time as we did. We got a few record shots. Though he was very close, the leopard was nestled in the foliage and we didn’t have good angle for photographs.

Indian Leopard

I suggested to move the jeep ahead. For I felt we can get a better angle and view if the leopard decides to descend. There were already 4-5 jeeps, and I was pretty sure the disturbance would get the leopard to get down the tree.  But my request wasn’t heeded. The jeep was put a little ahead and stopped. We did get a few ‘better’ shots when the leopard looked towards us.

But soon after, he decided to end the show. Got down and disappeared into the bushes. We later realized what an awesome view it would have been had the jeep been moved to the spot I suggested. I was mighty disappointed and slightly mad at JLR naturalist, not just for not moving the jeep to the spot I suggested, but also for not taking us back to the spot where leopard was sighted, to the end of the safari an hour and half later. But anyway, there’s only so much we had to sight i guess!

Crested Hawk Eagle & Streak-throated Woodpecker

Back at the camp, we were to take a walk around the camp to see some life in the undergrowth. But Shreeram saw a Wasp that had brought down a tarantula right outside our tent. Soon, the wasp started digging a pit. We were excited to see what was going to unfold. We took turns to have breakfast, so that one can stay back to watch the wasp and inform us if something happened. We did not want to miss the action of Wasp dragging the tarantula into the pit.

Spider wasp lays a single  egg on the abdomen of the spider. Once the egg hatches, the larve feeds on the live spider. The size of the food (spider) determines whether the young wasp would be a male or female. More food means wasp can grow bigger and hence female. Female wasps don’t care about size zero you see.

We didn’t know that this would take more than 3 hours! But here you have it compressed in a little over 4 minutes.

I so wished I had a video capable DSLR and a macro lens. The footage would have been much much better. This is all I could manage with Panasonic Lumix FZ8, which still has done a great job. Gorillapod was very handy as well. Click here to see the setup.

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A species of Flying frog

Agumbe, tipped as the cherrapunji of the South, is one of the wettest places in the world. I wanted to visit this place for photographing reptiles and amphibians that emerge out during monsoon. After missing it in last two monsoons, I visited ARRS this year. Quite an experience it was!

After a lot of thought, I dropped the temptation to drive and instead booked a bus to Agumbe. Arun dropped out at the last (few) hours of the trip. A few calls later, Hemant agreed to join. He was called in at about 6pm by other Arun. Bus was to leave at 10pm. Quite a lot of time? Not so if you are in Mumbai. 6:10pm – Mumbai Airport. 6:30pm – flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. 8:00pm at BIAL. At 9pm, Hemant is at bus stand. Roughly at about 10:15 the bus took off. Gerry, Josh, Farid and Nathan were in the same bus.

A wearing 9 hour journey got us to Agumbe by 7:30am. It was raining. Yeah, this is what you expect here. Josh and others left in a jeep, while Arun, Hemant and I looked for autos. After searching a transport for 10-15min, we decided to walk, in the pouring rain, to ARRS that is about 2-3km from the bus stand. Though excited initially, we realized the walk was not worth in the pouring rain carrying our reasonably heavy baggage.

At the camp, met Harish, Chetana and others. I was tired, thanks to my incapability to sleep in bus and thanks to my sleeplessness in the last few days. Took some rest. Then, tried out the Canon 100mm macro lens and Canon Speedlite 430EX II. I was getting used to this gear I had borrowed from Selva and Sandeep. During lunch, chatted with Harish, Gerry, Josh, Vinay and others and later ventured out for a ‘walk’ with Gerry.

Dew drops

I was expecting to walk around the camp, maybe venture into wood, but not walk in a stream for 2-3kms! It was fun, no doubt. Provided incredible photo opportunities as well. Gorillapod came in very handy to capture some long exposure shots.

Stream close to ARRS

I still was checking out the locales and was tring to shoot a timelapse, which was coming out fine until someone started walking on the log that i was resting my camera on. Here’s a peek:

Chetana in yellow, Gerry in green, Farid in blue boots, Nathan in black and Dhamini crossing the stream. I had to cut short my shoot and continued the walk. It was an incredible test for my new woodland shoes. I thought of the quote ‘While you own something, no matter what it is, use it as hard as you can and enjoy it.‘ and moved ahead.

The water level was changing as we walked, and the algae coated stones/rocks were slippery. It was raining perpetually. Good test for EOS 450D and 18-55mm I thought. I had tucked the cam under my rain jacket when not shooting. My confidence with rain-handling-capabilities of my cam grew as we walked more and more. I begun to use it without much care. Stupid mistake! A sudden drop and rise in water level. My foot went a feet lower, and my cam took a dip. That’s the end of it!

I had switched off my cam, fortunately, when it took a dip. Got back to the room to dry it. The worst part of the place is that nothing dries, not even your hand kerchief. Not even the fire wood, I realized, as it took considerable effort to lit the fire.

Since my camera was unusable, I had to borrow Nikon D90 when we found a Malabar Pit Viper. On one had, I was disappointed to have my camera dead while on the other I was excited to see this snake.

Malabar pit viper, waits patiently at a spot for its prey to pass by

I did not spend much time looking for frogs since I didn’t have much incentive (of photographing), we did find many species of frogs.

On Saturday, we went to a small waterfall that was close to the camp. The opportunity to create different images are infinite here, only made difficult by the perpetual rain. Day and night we were able to find a variety of frog species: Borrowing frog, Bronzed frog, Bi-colored frog, Ramanellas and many others. There were out there, one just needed the eye to see them.

I was keen on photographing Rhaco, that was one of the reasons I was at Agumbe. Friday night we weren’t successful in finding it, but Saturday we got lucky. Thanks to Ben for finding the Malabar Flying Frog. Hemant shared his Canon 1000D, and I could capture a few photographs of Rhacophorus malabaricus.


Malabar flying frog – uses the webbings between its toes to glide or fly

We had found a Vine Snake on Friday night, but couldn’t photograph. On Sunday morning, we found another one that I could photograph. This little one got threatened and wanted to scare us away.

Notice the black and white scales on it’s body. What otherwise is a well camouflaged green body, it changes to scare away its predators – our cameras in this case.

Green vine snake – threat display

There were plenty of other interesting insects, especially the ones Ben was able to find – a foot and half long stick insect (I had never seen a stick insect longer than 4-5 inches), a whip scorpion, Vinegarroon, that emits vinegar when threatened. It was exciting to see Caecilians, limbless amphibians, that stay underground most of the time was also very interesting to see. It was unfortunate that I didn’t have my camera at my disposal for photographing these.

But I did have Hemant’s camera when we found this Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis – Notice the pseudopupil (black spot that appears on eye) – it appears to follow you as you move

I packed up by late afternoon. My camera showed signs of life after a day and half in the dry room. It had not been resurrected fully, but I was sure it would survive. Though at times felt this could be the excuse to buy 7D, I am glad my camera survived when I reached Bangalore and dried it.

Here are few more images:

Red Pierrot butterfly


Rhaco again


You don’t have to be brave, you should just look


Though I couldn’t photograph much, I got to understand what to expect on my next visit, probably next monsoon.

P.S.: Photographs here are captured on Canon EOS 1000D, Canon EOS 450D, Nikon D90, Canon 18-55mm IS, Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM, Nikkor 70-300mm VR, and Canon Speedlite 430EX II.

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Spot-Bellied Eagle Owl, one of the largest owls found in India, was the first sighting on first day’s evening safari.

Deepa floated the idea of NTP meet sometime in November. We soon decided on Kgudi, after considering Doddamakali, Bandipur and Kabini. January was the ideal time to visit the place. Seven out of twenty eight of us decided to spend two days at Kgudi, rahter than just one day meet, and left a day early.

Route: Bangalore -> Maddur -> Malavalli -> Yelandur -> Kgudi

Distance: 230km

On the way to Kgudi, around Malavalli lake, we sighted a number of birds – Small Green and Blue-tailed bee eaters, Rosy starlings, Grey and Yellow Wagtails, Ibises and more. Also, we saw a juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle.

The camp at Kgudi itself is haven for birds. Within an hour we sighted Verditer, Asian Brown and Paradise flycatchers, Jungle Babblers, Scarlett and small Minivets, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Lesser Yellownape woodpecker, and lot of other birds.

A Jungle Babbler right outside golghar

But the evening safari on the first day was washed out, thanks to untimely showers. The highlight was the spot-bellied eagle owl that had eluded us at Thattekad. Other than this, there was hardly any activity during the whole safari, but for few spotted deers and a lone Crested Hawk Eagle.

Spotted Deer

Late evening, manager of Kgudi JLR Ashish spent some time with us and Shreeram showcased some of his photographs. Ashish himself is a good photographer, and maintains his blog here.

Next day morning was bright and sunny, but the sightings weren’t better. There were a bunch of Crested Tree Swifts preening on a tree.

Crested Serpent Eagle was seen on all safaris – in sunshine, and in rain. Deepa has compiled a beautiful report here.

As we continued to drive around, I wondered how do so many people find leopards on such beautiful perches! Need more luck. Returned to the camp and saw Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Roufous woodpecker, and few others.

Soon, Sripad, Chirdeep and other NTP members arrived. Narayan took us for a small trek that lasted about an hour and half. Jungle Owlet, Pygmy woodpeckers, scat of wild dogs, a skull of Gaur, and alarm calls of Sambhar, but no big cat was seen. Returned to the camp tired and thirsty. By this time everyone had arrived.

During lunch caught up with all the NTP members who had arrived.

Evening safari was another drive in the park, until Narayan sighted sloth bears, mother and 2 cubs. There were around for few minutes, but quite far and the cubs were hidden in the uneven terrain. I could manage only a record shot.

Later in the evening, while driving back from safari, saw a beautiful Blue-rock Thrush perched close to the jeep. At shutter speed of 1/13s, jostling in the jeep for space with other photographers,  I could manage a decent shot. Notice the blur of its tail caused by the slow shutter speed.

Blue Rock Thrush – enjoying attention

Karthik couldn’t join us for the meet because of his Andaman trip. It was nice of him to send us a cake. Sanjay Mohan, ED of JLR joined us since MD couldn’t join. Later in the evening, Ashish showcased his guitar skills, while Deepa et al showcased their singing talent.

At night, some of us geared up for a ‘star trails’ night photography. Vineet was fantastic in identifying some of the star constellations. Spent quite some time trying to get taare photograph par, but was not very impressed with the results. Hope to get better next time. Thanks to Adarsh, Sanjay and Vineet for the star trail experiment.

Next day morning safari was spent without much luck, until all the jeeps converged near a water hole for a ‘tiger sighting’. Pintails, and couple of other ducks were at the water hole. Then, Sambhar alarm call. Expectation was rised, but I knew my luck – I had seen and missed many such moments. I clicked images of anxious people waiting for some big cat.

From Manish on extreme right to Anirudh on extreme left, all waiting anxiously for Tiger!

After about 20-25min of wait, all jeeps started leaving one after the other. Two of the jeeps left. Our jeep started to leave. Just then, one group of people excitedly got off their jeep and started clicking photos. I thought a tiger appeared!

We jumped off the jeep and check out this little fellow:

Draco – The flying lizard, known for brilliant camouflage

Got back to the camp for a sumptuous breakfast. And then we all posed for customary group photograph.

As i drove back home, just outside the camp saw a huge Naja naja – good end to a fantastic trip.

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The biannual flower show at Lalbagh botanical gardens started on 7th August. I did a quick visit today morning. The focus was bird waching and hence reached there by about 6:30am. Walked around the lotus pond, and lake till about 9:30am. Then, went to the glass house.

Crowd had gathered near the Glass house, and barged in as soon as they opened it. Apart from the usual varieties, few exotic species are also at display.

Mermaid, beautifully decorated with orchids, is  impressive


Dinosaurs crafted out of 50000 flowers (see aircrafts in the background)


I was keen on spotting owls, but i couldn’t find. A pelican was lazing around in the lake and got to play around with exposure.

Spot-Billed Pelican


A Spotted dove near the Glass house


Flower show is the main crowd puller. Except for the attractions such as Dinosaurs and Mermaids, nothing changes year on year. Read about last year’s flower show here.

Prem wished he would rather go to Valley school. Prinias, Kites, Mynas, Crows, Cormorants, Pelican, Grebe, Doves, and Moorhen. Where does one find the wood owls and spotted owlets?! Deepa, any inputs?

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Panthera tigris and Panthera pardus are the two big cats in the southern Indian forests. Almost every visitor wants to see a tiger, but there are many who want to see only a tiger. On most days, the safari will be a chase for the the elusive Leopard, and the majestic Tiger. More so for the latter than the former.

On June31st-July1st, surprisingly, there was only one guest, a young British girl. Her eagerness and excitement to see elephants and other animals was more than that to see a tiger. Learning that i had never seen a tiger in the wild, she wished me luck.

We were driving out of the park, almost at the end of the morning safari. We were close to the highway. It was about 8:30am. A forest department safari van stood right in front. The driver flashed the headlights. Kiran, JLR driver, stepped on the gas and at about 50mtrs we saw the tigress Gowri leading her 4 cubs. Kiran stopped the jeep instantly, and by the time i could clearly see, Gowri and one of her cubs had crossed. Other 3 cubs too were very swift. There was no time to get my camera out. I just enjoyed the sight of those wonderful cubs walking with their long tail held up. We tried to track her for nearly an hour after that, but no luck.

The expectation and disappointment was higher for the visitors who came after 1st of July, as the sightings board at the Pug Mark restaurant read ‘Tiger (Mother & 4 cubs) –  1st July –  8:30am – Minister Guthi road‘.

At times, I wished to get a chance to photograph a big cat. It would be disappointing to go back without even a record shot. Once, we tracked a fresh pug mark (first image on the post) and drove in that direction. Just then, a forest department jeep came from the other side. The smile on driver’s face gave away what we had missed. Two minutes!

Alert Fawn


It was the time for the last safari. I had accompanied two Indian-American guys on previous day. We had tracked alarm calls for nearly an hour, and then left the spot only to know, later in the night, driver Kiran, in another jeep, had spotted a tiger at the same spot, soon after we had left. I didn’t want to rub my bad luck on them again. I accompanied a family with two 10 year olds.

Now, what are the chances of sighting a big cat when you are with a group making lot of noise as against with a group of disciplined wildlife photographers? I’d say equally likely :)

I suggested Ramesh we first scan the Mularpura area instead of the other route we usually take. We were looking for wild dogs, and so were Krupakar-Senani. Nearly an hour into the safari, no sign of any predator. The guests were asking the question almost every visitor asked, Where is the tiger, When was the tiger seen last?

Just then, alarm calls of spotted deer. Ramesh bought the jeep to a halt and we scanned the area. Alarm calls got stronger. Deer started moving. Deer ran from one side to another. I had not seen a herd of spotted deer run so fast. 20 minutes flew past. Kids were getting edgy. Soon, herd settled down and started grazing again. Alarm calls subsided. There goes my last chance!

Chitals running, soon after alarm calls


Ramesh started the jeep, and Kiran’s jeep came from the other side, informed Kiran about the alarm calls and left. Our alertness had dropped a little. We had moved about 150 mtrs, and suddenly something big and yellow with black spots ran, in a flash, from one side of the track to the other. Ramesh yelled ‘Tiger!’ My mind said No.. spotted deer! Within a second, we utter in unison ‘Leopard!’ No one else in the jeep saw the leopard. It was huge.

We took a left turn and stopped the jeep, hoping to see him again. Scanned the area for 10-15 minutes. No sign and no calls. Ramesh takes a u-turn. A jeep comes from the other side, and whirs past. We head back to the place where deer were grazing, and thought of going to another area. I didn’t want to miss the leopard, I said ‘let’s go back now‘. A U-turn and a left turn, we see the leopard walking at a distance. Guests missed again.

Ramesh stopped the jeep. I got out to see if he is still on the jeep track. I walked some 10mts from the jeep and saw him walking on the track undeterred. Took a few shots, my first shot of leopard on foot:


Got into the jeep and drove towards the leopard, but he hid behind the bushes. I got on top of the bonnet of the jeep, and there he was staring straight at me.

Standing on the bonnet without making any noise, hand holding the camera in the drizzle, i fired 3 shots at 1/30s keeping my shaky hands as steady as possible.

I was waiting for him to move into more open area. He kept staring, and i kept waiting. Guests inside the jeep could barely see him, and their patience didn’t out last that of the leopard. A small noise and he ran behind bushes, not to be seen again.

The Leopard Look – Parthenium in the foreground, forest fire charred branches amidst lush green bushes in monsoon


I got in the jeep and showed the image to the guests. They say ‘Wow… You have a very good camera!’

Then they say ‘Where is the tiger? Can we see the tiger?

P.S.: Click on the images, color redention in smaller version doesn’t seem right. Larger images look better.

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The thought of visiting the Black buck (Antilope cervicapra) reserve in Maidenahalli was lingering in my mind for nearly a year. Shreeram floated the idea and a Sunday (21 June ’09) was well spent.

Route: Bangalore -> Nelamangala -> Tumkur -> Koratagere -> Madhugiri -> Puravara village -> Maidenahalli reserve

Distance: 145km

The drive on Hindupura road, after taking deviation from NH-4 provides excellent opportunity for bird watching. At our first stop, we saw a pair of Egyptian vultures roosting on a rock. On to our left was a pond with lots of common birds such as Prinias and Bulbuls. Failed to get closed to the vultures, which sensed us early and flew away.


There are no shops or restaurants at Maidenahalli. Madhugiri, a small town before you reach the reserve, is the place where one needs to stop for food/water. We had breakfast at Madhugiri. In India, you don’t need a GPS. Just ask the villagers for direction and you’ll get to your destination.

A forest guard accompanied us. We saw herds of up to 15 black bucks, and they wouldn’t let us get close!

The avian life is incredible at the grassland. The parachuting display of Indian Bushlark, Collared Doves, flocks of Grey Francolins running for cover, cries of Large-Grey Babblers, Southern Grey Shrike, White headed Babbler feeding a caterpillar to its chick, Yellow-wattled Lapwing and her chicks feeding were all a treat to watch. Search for Sandgrouse ended in vain.

After lunch and brief siesta, we headed towards a water body. A herd of about 25 black bucks, which were heading toward the pond, saw us and receded. There goes our chance for getting a decent photograph! I almost stepped on a Black-Naped Hare, which disappeared in a moment before i could even point my camera. We moved towards the pond to see a heard of sheep quenching their thirst. No wonder Black bucks are dwindling.


Forest guard told us there was a burrow of a Fox nearby and we might get lucky if we stay till dusk, but we thought maybe another day. As we drove out of the reserve, we could see many black bucks, closer to the road. Couple of males were stood their ground and we could get few good images.

We sighted close to 50 species of birds, and  here is the list.

Directions to reach the place, and other information on the reserve is best on web page maintained by Ameen Ahmed of WANC: http://maidenahalli.googlepages.com/

Also check Ameen’s post on Maidenahalli on his blog.

Maidenahalli reserve has many villages adjacent to it and there are lot of farms on the peripheral boundary of the reserve. Cattle grazing is rampant inside the reserve, and it was disheartening to see herds of cattle grazing inside the reserve. One can clearly witness the how habitat destruction happens at this place. Open grasslands were once widespread across Deccan Plateau, and it supported many animals which are extinct today. Indian Cheetah is the epitome. Encroachment and farming has reduced these grasslands to few tens of square kilometers from few hundreds. I wish Foxes and Black bucks live few more decades, if not few centuries.

Eurassian Collared Dove peeping out of a cultivated farm


The Black Buck, himself


P.S.: I am yet to have a good look at images from Bandipur, will have to clean up my system. Also, have to recover few images i deleted by mistake from the SD card. Will post the tales from Bandipur soon.

Also, considering a fund raiser for buying an expensive lens, any donors? :P

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All the participants with Karthik

All the participants with Karthik

I remember a colleague asking ‘Who’s a Naturalist?’ when one other colleague told us that he was invited by a popular wildlife photographer to work as a naturalist (the authenticity of which is not worth exploring). Answer to this question was what first answered in the Naturalist Training Program, which i attended from March 27-29, conducted by S. Karthikeyan, Chief Naturalist of Jungle Lodges and Resorts.

A person who studies natural history is know as a naturalist. Someone who looks at the nature in totality, someone who does not study nature with respect to one particular species is a naturalist.

Barking deer AKA muntjac

Barking deer AKA muntjac

The three day training program consisted of sessions on topics like biodiversity in India, introduction to bird watching, bird behaviour, urban wildlife and the most exciting of all, plant-animal interaction. The sessions were interspersed with Nature trails in the morning and evening inside the herbivorous enclosure of Bannerghatta National park. After the nature trails in the evening, David Attenborough‘s The Life of Bird series was played. The mesmerizing life of birds would inspire a novice to an avid bird watcher.

In the group of 17 odd people, probably 4-5 were into bird watching prior to the program, but most others weren’t. But the zeal of everyone was truely inspiring. The immense knowledge of Karthik got us to appreciate every little thing we saw in the nature trail. The sap sucked by the miniscule scaley insect on a leaf, and two ants close by to quench their thirst by the sap still remains vividly in my mind. The intricate interdependence of various forms of life, where loss of even one species could result in death of about 30 other species was put into perspective.

Bonnet macaque - mom and son

Bonnet macaque - mom and son

Watching keenly the behavior of the birds, and observing little things is what makes bird watching such an exciting activity, even if the bird is a common one. This point was put across by Karthik when he asked us ‘Does Myna hop or walk?

Asian Paradise Flycatcher (male)

Asian Paradise Flycatcher (male)

How often would we get to see the beautiful male Paradise Flycatcher from the dining table? This bird was around the camp for quite some time. So were many Sun birds, feeding on nectar from the flowers on jacaranda tree.

We were able to sight a variety of herbivorous mammals in the herbivorous enclousure. Black bucks, Gaurs, Chitals, Barking Deers and Nilghais shared the same space. This made it possible for some to get Blackbuck and Gaur in the same frame! :))

The only big carnivorous in the enclosure are the Mugger Crocodiles, which were sighted in the late evenings on the banks of the lake.

Three days, i was totally cut off from the bustling city and enjoyed 4 back-to-back bird watching sessions in 3 days.

Few more images:

jlrntp participants looking to identify a bird spotted

jlrntp participants looking to identify a bird spotted

Praying mantis, last species to be shot


Largest species of wild cattle, Gaur

Indian Gaur

Ubiquitous White Cheeked Barbett


P.S.: I was more into learning and less to photography, so please excuse me for these images.

Since this trip, AF on my 450D + 55-250mm IS lens seems to be little cranky. I am not able to get images as sharp as i got earlier with the same. May be i need to give the camera for service and get the lens calibrated. Anyone has any tips regarding this?

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Located at a distance of 125km from Bangalore, Ranganathittu bird sanctuary is one of the most popular bird sanctuaries in India. Large number of migratory birds arrive here during winter from across the world.

My plan of visiting this place was to shoot a supermodel of Ranganathittu, the Pied Kingfisher. Almost everyone who has been to Ranganathittu in the recent past has come back with a good shot of the resident Pied Kingfisher, which is hard to shoot at other places. Since initial plan to go on 31st Jan didn’t work out, i planned to go on 7th Feb. Most of my friends, who had initially asked me to plan for 7th Feb so that they could join backed out on Friday evening. I somehow convinced Karthik and Chinmay to join me. Dantis confirmed at 11:30pm. Sam sent me a message at 2am expressing his interest to photograph the irresistible supermodel.

I left my home at 5:30am, and picked Sam, Dantis, Karthik and Chinmay from different parts of Bangalore. We were on Mysore road by about 7am. Total disarray of plan. I wanted to reach Ranganathittu by 7:30am, but we weren’t even close. Didn’t stop either for Sam to get cash at an ATM or for Chinmay to have breakfast. Dashed to reach Ranganathittu by 8:45am.

Route: Bangalore -> Ramnagaram -> Bidadi -> Maddur -> Mandya -> Srirangapatta -> Ranganathittu

Distance: 125km or 78 miles

Stork billed kingfisher first catch

Stork billed kingfisher first catch

First up, we got very co-operative Red-whiskered Bulbul. As we reached the boating area, we spotted a Stork-Billed Kingfisher. There were hardly any tourists at that time, and could manage to click a decent shot of the bird before it flew away. There were plenty of Cormorants, Painted Storks, Openbill Storks, Spoonbills, Egrets, Ibis, Night Heron, and Spot-billed Pelicans on the islets of the river Cauvery.

We took a boat for 5 of us at Rs.50/- per person. I asked the boatman to head straight to spot where we can find the Pied Kingfisher. It was already 9am and the sun was getting harsh. I didn’t want the sun to come overhead and spoil the good lighting for photography. We clicked few Painted and Openbill storks and also a pair of Stone Plovers before we reached the spot of supermodel.

Open billed stork, obvious why it is called so, isn't it?

Open billed stork, obvious why it is called so, isn't it?

Since i insisted on clicking the kingfisher, the boatman got little skeptical of finding it, and said Sir sometimes you’ll find them straightaway and at others you don’t get them even when you wait for an hour. Cautiously moved the boat around, but we couldn’t get a sight. I told him, i’ll not leave without clicking the king, with a good tip. Just then, we could spot a Pied Kingfisher under the canopy, near to the shore. Once we spotted, it’s not hard to click the supermodels. They are so used to people here! May be as a challenge, i should click a good shot of Pied Kingfisher elsewhere.

Next target species was River Tern for me and Mugger Crocodile for Sam. Moved around the rocks where Swallows nested. Could spot a croc in water, but that’s not how Sam wanted it. At a distance, we could spot a River Tern. As we got closer, a chic came towards it mom. It was a great sight. The boatman told that there are 3chics around, but we could see only one. It was close to 10am and the sun was getting harsh. Managed to click the River Tern with its chic, but not to my satisfaction. The shadow of its head was on its body and face, covering its eyes at times, and i couldn’t get a sharp eye of the bird.


We left the spot, and clicked few shots of Pelicans. My attempts of getting a good shot of Painted stork in flight went in vain. Tipped the demanding boatman again, and left for breakfast.

Pied Kingfisher


River Tern with a chic


Stone Plover couple


Myself and Sam walked along the edge of the river for some time. Sighted an Asian Paradise Flycatcher, and also pied wagtail. Couldn’t reach the place where we sighted the Pied Kingfisher as the fields on the edge of the river were slushy and we hadn’t equipped ourselves for it.

We left for Bangalore by 12:45pm. With an hour break for lunch at the hyped and over crowed Kamat restaurant near Ramnagaram, we reached Bangalore by 4pm.

Couldn’t resist one more image of Pied Kingfisher:


All shots are shot with Canon EOS 450D and Canon 55-250mm IS lens, post processing on Canon DPP and Adobe Photoshop 7.0 (I know i need to upgrade).

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