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Alaska Seward Highway landscapeKite Surfing near Turnagain Arm on Seward Highway

It is very difficult to keep your eyes on the road. You can see why from the above photograph, a few guys Kite surfing right next to the Seward highway. Running through the scenic Kenai mountains, Turnagain Arm and Kenai Peninsula, Seward highway from Anchorage to Seward has to be one of best places to drive in the world. I pulled over many a times to appreciate the beauty of the picturesque landscape as I drove on a bright and clear sunny day.

After flying back from Katmai photographing Bears, I Couchsurfed at Brian’s place in Anchorage for a night. I had rented a car from the Anchorage airport. The following day, I drove towards Seward. The weather was incredible, with clear skies and bright sun. I was lucky since most of the summer days are drought with rain. July is a very busy time of the year in Alaska. Salmons, Halibuts, Trouts and other fish attract anglers from all parts of the world. This means getting a place to stay would be quite a challenge if you don’t book in advance. I decided to stay at Moose Pass for a night, a short distance from Seward.

Whale watching and glacier cruise was on my plan. After reading up on reviews for cruise on into the Kenai Fjords National Park, I was more than sold to take the cruise. However, I had not booked until I get to know the weather forecast for that week/day, as suggested by some. Rain and rough sea could not only make wildlife sightings rare, it would also make my cruise very uncomfortable. This proved a costly miss as I couldn’t get on the smaller ‘photographers boat’. I instead choose the Northwestern Fjords cruise, covering almost the same route lasting from 8:30am to 5pm. I missed sighting an incredibly rare mammal, Wolverine, that Dario and Max saw on the other boat. However, my consolation was to watch a humpback whale mom and calf for a good 30min.

Cruise in Alaska Seward Resurruction Bay

Alaska-Seward-Resurruction-Bay-Humpback-Whale-Calf-8116Cruise on a clear sunny day was great and the Humpback whale breathing with her playful calf at Resurrection Bay made it even better

The cruise is as much for wildlife as it is for the glaciers at the Kenai Fjords National Park. There are many glaciers on slightly different routes near Seward. Exit Glacier is one that can be reached on road by car. Although the glacier itself was not as impressive as some of the others I saw while on cruise, there is access to Harding icefield. It was an all day hike to the icefield and I had not planned for it. May be next time! Another place I was considering for wildlife and glacier cruise was Prince William Sound. Seward, however, is the more popular one with at least two cruise companies operating from Seward harbor on a variety of cruises, lasting a few hours to all day cruises. I chooses the all day cruise to the Northwestern Glacier, named after the university. It was an incredible experience. The chill in the wind and the sound of the glacier caving as you watch it from up close is an experience that is to be felt. No words, images or videos can make justice to that experience.

Northwestern Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Glacier-calving-Alaska-7975NortheWestern Glacier. Glacial calving is a natural phenomenon. However, the rate at which glaciers are retrieving is effect of climate change.

The captain of the boat did a 360 of the view from a certain location. The beauty of the place is to be experienced. Here is an unedited video with the 360 degree view of the glaciers in the Kenai Fjords national park:

The challenge of photographing wildlife on a boat is something totally different. First, it is hard to anticipate where and when do the creatures breach or come to the surface. Second, the rocking boat makes it even harder to compose and focus. Fortunately, the sea was calm. It still was quite a challenge. Sea Otters, Harbor seals, Loons, Sea Cormorants, a variety of Terns, Tufted and horned Puffins, Dall Propoises, and Humpback Whales were all a treat to watch. Towards the end of the cruise, we chanced upon a pod of Orcas. Orcas are the Elephants of the oceans, with a matriarchal society with a strong social and communication structure. The dubious reputation of ‘killer whales’ where they kill humans is the fictional creation of hollywood. ‘Blackfish‘ is an excellent documentary on how these beautiful creatures are tortured and confined into small pools for entertainment at SeaWorld and similar places. Please do watch Blackfish on Netflix.

Orca-Killer-Whale-Pod-Alaska-Seward-Resurruction-Bay-8047Orca or more popularly known as Killer Whale Pod in Resurruction Bay, Seward, Alaska

After the cruise, I started towards my stay for the next day – Ninilchik. The drive didn’t yield much exciting except  a pullover for speeding. Fortunately, I was let off with a warning – respect for Alaskan troopers. Ninilchik is a small Russian village. Yes, Russian.  It is a fishing village on the banks of Cook inlet. The place I had booked to stay in Ninilchik village was one of the most beautiful places you can have your vacation homes. Perched atop a small ridge cliff, the house overlooks the Cook inlet bay and the two volcanoes, Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt, on the other side. Mt. Redbout erupted as recently as 2009! Watching the sunset from there was one of the most spectacular views. Brain had told me visiting the beach at Ninilchik for the spectacular views of sunset behind the volcanoes and I didn’t know if will have time. To view it from the backyard of my stay was truly special.

Cook inlet is another great location for Halibut fishing. The beach at Ninilchik is the starting point. I saw numerous fishing boats early in the morning set out. I, on the other hand, was there for a different reason. Bald Eagles. Though I had good views of the eagles fishing at Katmai, I had not got a closer portrait photograph that I wished for. This was the place. The beach also serves as a dumping yard for halibut remains after cleaning the fish. This attracts the eagles, terns and many other birds. I saw at least 50-60 Bald Eagles on the mile long beach shore in the morning. The cliffs on the edge of the beach provides a good roosting spot for the eagles – higher and out of reach from the beach and inaccessible from the road on the other side. I spent the entire morning without much success as they would fly away despite my cautious approach. The open beach meant no cover for me to sneak up close. Until, I found a few rocks on the shore.

Juvenile-Bald-Eagle-Alaska-8347A perspective to show how I photographed the bird – Using rock as cover, crawl as close as possible

Bald Eagle Juvenile at AlaskaThe result – A juvenile Bald Eagle

Bald-Eagle-PortraitPortrait of the Bald Eagle that eluded me at Katmai was challenging but a success at Ninilchik

On my last evening in Alaska, I went looking for another popular mammal and bird to Kenai – Caribou and Sandhill crane. I was driving around in the areas I had researched before without much luck. I pulled over to a viewing area. Time was running out. I was 3 hours away from Anchorage airport. Then, I saw a Crane. I was excited. Though I couldn’t get close for lack of time and restrictions placed for the birds’ comfort. Soon, I saw a herd of Caribou far across the horizon. It was such a awesome feeling as I were to wrap up my trip and head to Anchorage for my flight back to LA. I photographed as late as I could. However, Caribou still remains on my list for a better photograph. Here are few more images.

Mount-Redoubt-Iliamna-Cook-Inlet-view-Ninilchik-beachView of the volcano across Cook Inlet from Ninilchik beach as a boat gets underway for Halibut fishing

Chamerion angustifolium or Fireweed, AlaskaChamerion angustifolium or Fireweed is one of the most common wildflower in Alaska

Arctic Tern FlightArctic Tern nesting at Potter Marsh on Seward Highway. Artic Tern migrates longest in the world, an astonishing 44,000 miles from pole to pole

Halibut Fishing, Seward Harbor, AlaskaCleaning Halibuts at Seward Harbor. July is a very popular time for fishing in Alaska.

Swan-Tundra-Trumpter-Alaska-HomerA Swan at Homer. Views of mountains never go away in Alaska.

Mallard-Female-Wing-flapA pretty Mallard female – lands right in front of me as I was photographing the Swan above.

Greater Yellowlegs Greater Yellowlegs – very shy birds and proved quite a challenge to photograph

Harbor Seals, AlaskaHarbor Seals resting on glacial ice to conserve energy – Don’t they get cold?

That’s all folks! Please drop me a note if you wish to visit any of the places and get some tips on photographing the species in the Alaskan peninsula. Although not an expert of the location, I have spent considerable hours researching on times to visit, roads to take and locations to wait at to photograph the many of the species in the region.

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Bald Eagle Scape Sunset AlaskaThe magnificent Bald Eagle perched atop the Alaskan Cedar on a late summer day at Katmai National Park

The Arctic region and the brown bears were a fascination for a long time. In September of 2012, I was very close to the Russian part of Alaska, in Vladivostok, and really wanted to visit Kamchatka. I was told it was not worth going, if not for August. Going to Alaska to watch the Sockeye Salmon run and Brown Bears fishing was on my mind but not in the scheme of things for the summer of 2013. I had spent enough hours researching on backpacking in Central and Eastern Europe. Thanks to unfortunate realities, I was stranded in US. For some reason, I had thought the sockeye salmon run was in September (It’s a time to see Bears catching Red). Those who know little bit about my travel planning would know I have to plan it right – right place, right time of the year, right species, right gear, right guides. In a week’s time, I researched and was all set to visit and camp in Alaska, alone.

Brooks Camp is one of the most popular wildlife viewing, or more specifically Brown Bear viewing places in the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say it is as popular as Masai Mara for Wildeebeast migration or Bandhavgarh for Bengal Tigers. The lifeline of this place is the Sockeye Salmon, which make an arduous journey from the pacific ocean to the fresh waters of Alaska for spawning. The upstream migration provides opportunity for many predators feasting on the protein rich Salmon.

The arrival of Sockeye Salmon at Brooks Falls is not easily predictable. However, the best times are between 3rd and 28th of July on most years. In May 2013, I was told they are taking reservations for July 2015. No surprise that the Brooks camp lodge with capacity of 60 guests needs reservations 2 years in advance. Fortunately, I was able to get a camp site for 3 nights. Perhaps because I was going alone. Larger groups definitely need advanced planning. The reservation for camp site opens on January 5th every year and get booked in a few hours.

Route:

Los Angeles -> Anchorage -> King Salmon -> Brooks Camp

You can reach King Salmon on Alaskan, Penn Air or other commercial airlines. However, transfer from King Salmon to Brooks camp is through float planes operated by few private players. Katmailand is one of the popular ones and was my preferred operator. I booked my return trip with them from Anchorage and was a smooth process. For good or bad, it is a fixed price flight at $685 ex-Anchorage.

Alaska-Landscape-from-planeMany rivulets and water bodies connect the fresh water breeding grounds of salmon to the Pacific Ocean

The flight from King Salmon to Brooks camp is a fascinating one. As a fan of Disney’s TaleSpin, it was almost like a dream to fly on a float plane. Taking off from a small lake in King Salmon, the 40-minute flight takes you through the amazing scape of Alaskan peninsula. The views of the expansive Alaska and the numerous rivulets, ponds and lakes amidst many mountains was a treat to watch. The small float plan lands on the beautiful Naknek lake that drains into the Naknek river and eventually to the Bristol Bay and Pacific Ocean – the  upstream route salmons take for the freshwater spawning grounds. Bristol Bay is one of the largest Salmon fishing areas in the world. The regulations ensure no overfishing and enough Salmons reach fresh waters to spawn and continue the life cycle.

Float Plane landing at Brooks Falls alaska

Brown Bear Scape and Naknek Lake AlaskaThe beautiful green-blue hues of Naknek lake on a blissfully day with clear sky, a rarity in Alaskan summer

Everyone that visits Brooks Camp must undergo a mandatory Bear Safety instruction conducted by the rangers. This is to ensure there visitors know how to behave. As at any other popular national park in the world, it doesn’t come as a surprise how some tourists conduct themselves. After the mandatory orientation, I walked almost a mile with my 50lbs backpack and camera gear to the campsite. Later realized there’s a push cart! Setup my tent and went for a lunch at the lodge restaurant. Though the prices are a little steep, food is totally worth it considering the remote location of the camp. There is at least one good vegetarian option for every meal and also few delicious desserts.

Campground from the lodge is about 0.8 miles, and the falls platform from the lodge 1.8miles. The walk between these would give you numerous encounters with bears. You are expected to make noise and warn the bear of your presence – contrast to other wildlife viewing experiences where you keep quiet to ensure you don’t disturb the animals. My first day at Katmai was gloomy and it started raining by the time I reached the falls platform. My relatively inadequate rain gear would come under test for the next few days. I felt if I have survived the monsoon in Agumbe, I can handle any rain. The exciting part of the afternoon was that there were few salmons jumping (~ 3-5 per minute), and there were few hungry bears. Although Brooks fall is the best place to see a Bear catch a jumping salmon, you may not get to witness it if you are not lucky. Salmon and Bear timing need to match as I figured out the next few days.

Bear-waiting-waterfalls-Brooks-Falls-6279Bear-catching-Salmon-6260Bear killing a salmon alaskaCatching a jumping Salmon is an acquired skill, passed from mother to cubs, and needs patience. Capturing the action shot needs patience too.

One can stay at the falls platform for a maximum of one hour if it is crowded. Many visit the place on a day trip, fly in the morning and fly out in the afternoon. Hence it gets busy during the day. However, those who stay overnight get the advantage of 22 hour sunlight days of Alaskan summer. The falls platform closes at 10pm. I stayed till 9:45pm on one of the days and while walking back alone, encountered a big brown bear right in my path hardly 30 feet from me. Two thoughts: stay put and get a wide angle shot or walk back. Instinct said wait and see what the bear does and then decide. Obviously the bear doesn’t give a shit about me and wants to show who’s the boss. He walks straight towards me. I start walking back and soon jogging backwards making some noise. His stride is much bigger and gains ground sooner. Fortunately there were few more who were walking back from the platform and join me. Someone suggests we get off the track and into the woods. We all get out of his path and a few hundred feet away in mix of tall grass, shrubs and trees. We keep yelling and making noise, as instructed by the rangers. After a few minutes, he walks away. Phew!

On the first night, when it wasn’t raining, a few of the campers lit a fire at the campground. On the other nights, the lodge restaurant with a fireplace provided a much needed oasis of warmth. Not only did I get to meet lot of awesome people from around the world, but also managed to dry my gear and the fogged up lens on most afternoons and late evenings.

Brooks-Camp-Lodge-Restaurant-Alaska-6487Meeting awesome people and drying my gear at the fireplace of Brooks camp lodge restaurant

The best and also the worst part about Alaskan summer is the terribly long days and sunlight. Almost 22 hours of daylight means, you as a photographer are out all the time. Though it was cloudy on most days, it created a fantastic soft lighting situation. With a good camera that can produce images without much noise at ISO-800 or 1000, you can shoot almost for 17-18 hours a day, if you can stay up that long. My day would typically start by 7:30 and end past midnight, with intermittent breaks. Between the campground, lodge, falls platform and other small trails, I’d have easily averaged 8 miles a day.

First day afternoon provided good opportunity for Bears fishing of Salmon on the falls. Soon after, Bears were full. The following days, there were plenty of Salmons jumping (~70-75 per minute at times), but hardly any bears at the falls. If you are visiting to see a bear catch a salmon jumping in air, make sure you have at least 3 to 4 days at Brooks camp. However, the lower platform is an excellent place to spend time and observe wildlife. Common Mergansers with chicks, Mallards, Arctic terns, Arctic Skua, Ospreys, Bald Eagles and many other birds can be spotted right from the platform. The beautiful Naknek lake and bears around it provide excellent opportunity for some landscape shots.

On the 3rd day, I signed up to visit the Valley of 10,000 smokes. Katmai National Park was established because of a volcanic eruption at the beginning of 20th century, and not because of the Bears. The valley is an expansive space of volcanic ash that is inhospitable for all life forms. A modified-to-the-terrain bus takes you on an hour long journey to the valley from Books Camp. It was incredible to see the dead valley in the middle of picturesque green mountains and tall trees. It is like a canyon in the middle of evergreen forest. No picture makes justice to the valley of 10,000 smokes.

Valley-of-Ten-Thousand-Smokes-Katmai-National-Park-Alaska-0490Volcanic ash and lava flowing over the valley has not let any life form to exist. Only recovering recently and slowly.

Cannot end the post without a mention to the amazing park rangers at Katmai National Park. Without these rangers, Brooks camp wouldn’t be a place that it is. The platforms and the bridge are setup only for the summer, in May of each year and taken down in October. They ensure people get to have the best viewing and fishing experience, and at the same time bears stay wild and with minimal or no human interference.  Here are few more images from my stay at the Brooks camp:

Rangers at Katmai National Park, Brooks Camp Bear blocked the trail to the falls platform for nearly an hour and rangers kept an eye.

Campground-and-tent-Brooks-Camp-AlaskaMy tent pitched at the campground – image here as I searched a lot to find out how the campground was since I was camping alone

Bald-Eagle-and-Photographers-Alaska-6909Where is the Eagle? Lower platform is the best place to spend time and watch eagles, ospreys, terns, bears and other birds.

Bald-Eagle-Brooks-Camp-6924Bald Eagle makes an aerial maneuver – a treat to watch standing at the lower platform

Arctic Skua, AlaskaArctic Skua makes an unusual appearance

Brown Bears Courtship alaskaA courting pair enjoying the summer

One last image. The day I visited valley of ten thousand smokes, it had been raining heavier. I had been out in the rain from 7am till about 9:30pm, with very little break. I had hiked over 12 miles. We (Max, Dario and I) had missed out on the sighting of a sow with cubs earlier in the day. We waited at the lower platform on that cold, rainy evening hoping for some action. By 9pm, the rain had stopped but the light was still bright. By 9:45pm, tired and cold, we decide to head back to the camp. As we walked half way across the bridge, we saw the mother bear walk her cubs out – cautiously looking for any other bears. We just stopped at the middle of the bridge and she walked up to the edge of the water and at the perfect angle for us. The elation was unbound. You need to get lucky in wildlife photography to capture good images. However, you increase your odds by spending more time in the field.

Alaskan-Brown-Bear-Sow-with-CubsMy favorite image of the trip. Got very lucky after waiting for hours in the cold and rain

Gear: I rented my gear for the trip since I had sold most of my gear before embarking on the 2 years at business school. I researched quite a bit on the gear that I need. I took my favorite lens, Canon 100-400mm. It provides a great flexibility. You will find bears at close ranges. Even at the falls falls, you will not need longer than 300mm for a good image of the bears. For Eagles, Terns, and other birds, have a 500/600mm. Body I used was 7D and Rebel XSi. A high ISO tolerance and faster fps camera is very useful.

Having rain covers is useful, don’t have to dry lens when it gets fogged up otherwise. Mosquito and bugs are common in Alaskan wilderness. Though it was less than what I had read about, I had a bug repellant spray and a head cover.

Some useful blogs I researched and read before my trip: Gordon Liang

Booking campground: http://www.recreation.gov/camping/Brooks_Camp_Campground/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=70949

Booking lodge and flights: http://www.katmailand.com

It was a fantastic trip to the Brooks falls. I stayed at the lower platform until 45min to my flight on the last day at 6pm. Also, It was great to meet some awesome photographers Massimiliano and Dario from Italy, Laura from Fairbanks, Tim and Shekar from the Bay area. There were many others I shared dinners and lunch with. I didn’t feel anytime that I was traveling alone. I continued my journey in the Alaskan Peninsula, to Anchorage and then to Seward, Ninilchik and Homer. More on that in the following post.

P.S.: I need donations for buying new gear. All my photographs are under creative commons license and can be used for non-commercial work only by providing credits to the photographer.

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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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The zeal to write about a new place I visit and publish the photograph has tempered down, if not dead, since I started at the business school. However, the list of fantastic places I visited during this calendar year has been nothing short of incredible and unexpected. Though some of the places I visited was on my mind for quite sometime, few others were not. Visiting a place that you have not even heard of doesn’t happen that often, especially to someone like me that had made a list of places to travel around the world in a year.

In January 2012, I was in Bangalore. Starting from there, I have covered over 56,000 miles in 8 months and set foot on 4 continents in one year. Though most of my travel happened over the summer and mostly for work, it exposed me to a variety of cultures, economic diversity, languages, architectures, lifestyles and much more.

Travel on work also provided some opportunity to visit some spectacular places. While in Peru, I took time off to visit Machu Picchu and while in China, I visited the Great Wall. During my visit to Delhi on work in 2010, I visited Taj Mahal. That completes 3 of 7 wonders of the world as per New7Wonders list. These unexpected visits has spurred motivation for me to visit all the 7 wonders of the world. Wonder when that would happen!

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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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Canopy at Ooty – much has been destroyed, little left

One of the most popular hill stations in India, Ooty, was the destination for photographing some endemic species of birds of western ghats. Though I couldn’t manage to capture a good image of my target species, I was able to watch a variety of species on a two day trip.

After answering calls and messages wishing on my birthday, I left home to pick Selva, Sudhir and Arun. We left Bangalore by 11am struggling past horrendous traffic on Mysore road. The initial plan was to squeeze an evening safari at Bandipur in search of Gowri and her cubs. But on seeing the mammoth crowd at Bandipur resorts, we gave up on safari. The crowd on a Saturday evening at a national park is no less than that at any popular mall in Bangalore.  It really made me wonder how have those magnificent ‘animals’ survived in India all these years given the number of people we have!

We  drove slowing keeping an eye for any bird, mammal or reptile. We saw Malabar giant squirrel, and lot of Peafowls. I stopped the car on hearing an unusual call. On looking out, we saw a of White Bellied Woodpecker. Spend a considerable time photographing this bird from car, without wanting to disturb the bird which seemed like making a nest. Many passersby stopped to inquire about what we were go-hung about.

White-bellied Woodpecker at Bandipur – Madumalai

We also caught up with this beautiful peacock on the edge of the road. Thankfully it was undisturbed by too many tourists thronging on the highway, and we captured few frames.

Indian Peafowl

Soon, stopped over at Masinagudi for checking a spot known to sight leopards, but not much luck. It was getting dark, and we left towards Ooty on the arduous Kalhatty ghats with 36-hairpin bends. Reached Ooty by 8pm, and started looking for accommodation around Charring Cross.  After looking a couple, checked into Youth Hostel. It was good to meet Neelima and a group of cyclists who had pedalled up the hills along the 36haripin bends.  I really admire their mammoth effort!

Next day morning, first stop at Gorishola yielded many birds – Grey Junglefowl, Eurassian Blackbird, Tickell’s leaf Warbler, and Oriental White eye. Though we were able to see many birds at Gorishola, it was difficult to capture a decent frame as you’d expect anywhere in western ghats. We left to Doddabetta, another location that was known for easy photo opportunities of Blackbirds and Nilgiri Laughingthrushes.

Eurassian Blackbird

Instead of sighting the sure-shot NLTs and Blackbirds at Doddabetta, we hit a jackpot. A huge flock of Nilgiri Wood Pigeons – a western ghats endemic that had eluded me in many visits to Nandi Hills. The size of this Pigeon is monstrous, and I was fortunate to capture one decent image before it flew away.

Nilgiri Wood Pigeon

We roamed up and down, and around the Doddabetta tourist spot looking for birds of feathered kind. Mahesh and gang, who had arrived little earlier had got a prized catch of Black and Orange Flycatcher. But we weren’t lucky. As the crowd picked up, we left the spot.

After a quick breakfast at Charring cross, we tried to reach the Wood house area from the Botanical Garden side. The road was very narrow and almost non-existent. It was very hard to maneuver a big car around hairpin bends. After a few bends and turns, reached a spot on a narrow road where an auto had broken down and there wasn’t enough space to squeeze the car through. I had to get down the road in reverse till a found a spot to take a turn! It was quite a driving experience.

After contemplating where to go, we hit the Crainhill forest reserve. It’s an incredibly beautiful place. I just loved the tall tress and the location. We were able to spot the Black and Orange Flycatcher there, but just a glimpse. After spending sometime there, we drove towards Muthorai and Potato research station – sighted an Oriental Honey Buzzard and few common birds.

Later in the evening, we took the Doddabetta route to reach Wood house area. This place is secluded and you’ll not find anyone. It’s almost untouched. Though the activity wasn’t as much as we wished, but it seemed very promising. We were able to sight many Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers, few blackbirds, Minivets and NLTs.

Returning from Wood house, I stopped near Sinclari’s to check out a bird that seemed a Craig Martin. But found a few house sparrows coming to roost on top of a house. I sneaked close and got one image I was happy of after spending one and half day at Ooty.

House Sparrow –  male in breeding plumage

House sparrow – A bird that once used to nest in my house, and now I had to drive over 300km to get one good photograph of. Nevertheless, I was happy to see them go unperturbed about their activities there.

Next day morning, we wanted to hit Doddabetta very early as Shreeram told there is no way we can miss getting good images of Nilgiri Laughing thrushes there. Ooty at 5:30am is very cold, even in summer. We reached Doddabetta with few minutes to 6am, and learnt from a couple of cops that the gates won’t open before 8am. Damn it!

I raced to reach Crainhills by 6:20am. There wasn’t much light and the bird activity was just starting to pick up. Grey-headed canary flycathers, Blackbirds, NLTs, White eyes, and Warblers – nothing that we hadn’t seen earlier. Then, a female Nilgiri Flycatcher made an appearance and sat at a distance for quite some time.

Got back to Doddabetta at 7:50am. A couple of cars were waiting and the gates weren’t open yet. Soon, guards arrived and let us in. I zipped through the curves so that we reach first – before Pigeons get disturbed. We sighted a Black-naped Hare on the way. We did see a few Nilgiri Wood Pigeons. Then, went in search of flycatchers, without much luck. There was one NLT that hopped on to the path and was foraging for leftovers.

Nilgiri Laughing thrush

There were plenty of Grey Tits, and many a times were so close that it was within minimum focus distance of 1.8meters! Slightly away from the crowd, sighted a bird that was frequenting a spot. I decided to hide near a fence and wait for the bird. It was close to 9am and we had to leave to Kabini. But patience of waiting there for half an hour yielded good dividends. I was able to capture this pretty bird with a prey (of some larve?).

Grey tit with a prey

Just as I packed up after this shot, got a call from Shreeram. Hurriedly had breakfast and left towards Charring Cross, from there to the bus stand to pick Shreeram and towards the land of Leopards and Elephants, Kabini.

Getting down the Ooty hills from Kalhatty Ghats got a close view of Black Eagle, and this Chestnut headed bee eater.

Chestnut headed Bee Eater

Despite the weekend-crowd, big hue and cry about Ooty getting very commercialize, I totally loved the place once again. The good thing about being commercialized is I get to have a Dominoes Pizza in Western ghats. :)

Yet, there are so many off beaten places yet to be explored. Though 2 days seemed enough initially, Ooty has lot more places to explore and worth spending time. It’s awesome to trek for hours at Crain hill forest reserve or explore the valley around Wood house. To quote Prem about Wood house area ‘ Come back feeling like a kid who has just been given an icecream.’ Maybe I’ll get to go sometime soon.

Thanks to Prem for his incredible compilation of birding spots at Ooty. Without his efforts, access to some lesser known spots wouldn’t be possible.

That’s all folks! Watch out for big mammals from the backwaters of Kabini.

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Saras Cranes – Birds that defines Bharatpur

A totally unexpected trip to Delhi turned out to an exciting weekend of travel and photography. Though this was a very short trip, I have lots of things to write. So, I’ve decided to split the trip into Bharatpur in part one and Taj and Chambal in the next. After a delayed IndiGo flight, I reached Arun‘s house in Delhi past midnight. Next morning, after finishing my work, we were on way to Bharatpur by 11am. Stopped over at a road side dabha for parantas – I loved ’em, despite a dead fly in Arun’s plate. :)

Route: Delhi -> Faridabad -> Mathura -> Agra -> Bharatpur

Distance: 180km; Driving time: About 4 hours.

We reached Bharatpur by around 3pm and drove straight to Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Thanks to Arun Bhat, I had contact of a good guide. Had contacted Captain Singh for guiding and he was on the park entrance waiting for us with a spotting scope. He showed a Collared Scops Owl right on a tree right at the entrance.  Hired a rickshaw and briefed Kaptaan what we expected to see. Were looking out for Dusky eagle owl, but first up, sighted a Grey Nightjar. Soon located a  resident Dusky Eagle Owl. She was tucked away in her roosting spot. What a beginning! Two fantastic lifers. As we moved on our way, sighted a Golden Jackal and many Herons, Painted Storks, and Cormorants. Photographed a Painted Stork fishing, had a glimpse of Bluethroat and watched the popular small blue kingfisher dive a few times. Long tailed nightjar was on my list and were lucky to sight it. The habitat at Keoladeo Park is breathtaking. One can only wonder how fantastic it would have been in it’s pinnacle!

Grey Nightjar

Later, Moved towards the temple of Keoladevi. We were watching hundreds of ducks – Comb duck, Ruddy Shelducks, Pintails and few others. It was not a good opportunity for photography as they were far away for any decent shot. A lone pair of Saras Cranes were on the far end of the once glorious wetland. Just then our rickshawala called out that he sighted a Black Bittern. We ran towards the spot. From far, had a good look. Just as we inched closer, the bird flew and hid in the reeds.

Dusky Eagle Owl

By then dusk was setting in, and we started back. Photographed a pair of roosting Ruddy Shelduck at the evening on the way back, while chalked out the plan for next two travel-crazy days as we got out of the park. Checked into RTDC Saras – a reasonable priced cozy place to stay  at about 500 meters from the entrance to Keoladeo Park.

The next day was spent in Agra photographing Taj, and few birds at Dholpur side of Chambal river. Returned to Bharatpur for overnight stay.

On Monday morning, the target species were Saras Crane, Black Necked Stork, Siberian Rubythroat, Oriental Scops Owl, Painted Snipe and Little Green heron. First up, Captain to us to a place outside the park where Saras Cranes are expected to be seen. After nearly an hour of driving back and forth, we had not sighted Saras Cranes, but a few Grey francolins, and 3 Egyptian Vultures. I was getting edgy and wanted to get back to the Park. Maybe we’ll get them there. As we were driving back, I was deleting few images to make space in memory card,  Kaptaan said ‘Saras Crane‘.

Excitedly, we got out and slowly approached a pair that were feeding in the fields. We made images as we approached, slowly and carefully. The lighting was just perfect – brimming early morning  sun behind our back and minimal mist. I was content with images I could capture. I got closer and closer to get a portrait. Just then, the pair started their courtship dance and song. Saras cranes mate for life and they share an incredible bond with each other.

It was the most incredible romance to see. I fired as many shots as I can. The courtship ritual ended in both the birds getting close to each other, singing and looking up into the sky. Just as they ended the sequence, I fired a shot and my camera displayed ‘memory card full’. My mind read, memories forever.

Saras Crane courtship dance – Bharatpur

Back at the Keoladeo park, we headed straight into the first check post in the car – I was running short of time as I had a flight to catch from Delhi that evening. Started looking for Siberian Rubythroat. After 15-20min of patient motionless-noiseless waiting, male of the tiny bird made a few brief appearances in the undergrowth. I could clearly see the ‘ruby’throat.  Spent another 10min waiting and captured an image I was happy with. Then, hired a rickshaw there and spent the next two hours looking for Little Green Heron and Oriental Scoops owl, without much luck. But we did see a Black necked stork pair. Also sighted a Greater Spotted Eagle. While getting back, tired to get male of Dusky Eagle Owl but without success. By about 11:30am, left the park to check for Greater Painted Snipe in the nalas of Bharatpur. We did see the bird, but wasn’t a good photo opportunity. It was getting late and had to leave the place. We left for Delhi by 1pm, and headed straight to airport. Reached Bangalore home at 11:55pm, ending a power-packed, short, unexpected but memorable trip.

I spent only 2 hours in the evening on first day and 4 hours in the morning on the last day. Yet, I could see a variety of species. Despite being in a great hurry, I could manage few decent photographs. If you spend 2 days, you can make a plethora good of images.

Here are few more images:


Siberian Rubythroat – A sulker in the undergrowth


Jungle Babbler




Indian Pond Heron – Has the patience of a saga to wait and catch its prey

Pink algae at once glorious wetland habitat of Keoladeo Ghana National Park – Bharatpur

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