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Posts Tagged ‘leopard’

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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Pug-Mark-Bandipur

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

Deer-fawn-alert

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

spotted-deer-running

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:

leopard-walking-bandipur

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

Leopard-Bandipur

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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Kabini JLR was on to-do list for long time, and I took a trip to this Jungle Lodges and Resorts on the backwaters of Kabini last weekend. Being rated as the top five wildlife resorts in the world by Tatler’s, getting a booking at this JLR is not an easy task. We had booked two rooms about a month back. Vandan picked me, Danny, Akshat and Sam from various parts of Bangalore and we headed to Kabini by 7:30am. The popular Kamath Lok Ruchi on Mysore road was thronged by hundreds of people, we too stopped there for a sumptuous buffet breakfast. Numerous restaurants and coffee shops on Mysore road make the journey prolonged, which otherwise wouldn’t take more than 2.5 hours. :))

Route: Bangalore -> Mandya -> Mysore -> HD Kote -> Kabini JLR : 220kms

Butterfly right outside our room at Kabini JLR

Butterfly right outside our room at Kabini JLR

We reached JLR by 12:30pm. At the reception we were briefed about our activities for the next 23 hours. A board displaying the recent sightings had Tigers, Leopards, Sloth Bear, Python, and Wild dogs. This apart from the common ly sighted spotted deers (chitals), sambhars, elephants, and numerous birds. Sightings in the morning were more than that in the evenings. Checked into our rooms soon, freshened up and had lunch by 1:30pm. Lazed around for sometime after lunch, picked up our gears from the room, had tea and left for safari by 4:00pm.

Prem was our driver and naturalist. First up we spotted a tusker on the Mysore – Mananthavadi highway. This stretch is intentionally under prepared to avoid roadkills. We drove into the jungles with the hope of spotting a big cat. Nearly an hour in the jungle and no luck. Few spotted deers, racket tailed drongo, white throated kighfisher, a glimpse of sambhar and that’s about it. A radio message informed Prem that there was a tusker fight at some part, and he started driving to that spot. On the way we sighted a Crested Hawk Eagle (EKA Changeable Hawk Eagle) perched nicely on a dead tree, fired a few frames. Soon, we spotted couple of Malabar Gaint Squirrels but were hard to capture. The light was already fading, lower shutter speed and high ISO didn’t get the best of the images. When we reached the spot we saw 3 young tuskers, two of them were tussling with each other. The third one walked into the bushes. The other jeeps had left the spot, and Prem maneuvered the jeep around so that we could get a best capture of the tussle, but the elephants always positioned in such a way that we couldn’t get a perfect shot. Nevertheless, Prem did as much as he can and we got a few decent snaps. The first image in this post, at the top, was this fight. It was almost 6pm, and we were to leave that area. Spotted few Sambhars but were almost impossible to photograph even at 1600 ISO.

Crested Hawk Eagle

Crested Hawk Eagle

Back at the resort, watched a documentary on the wildlife at Kabini. We were convinced that summer was the best time to witness the best of wildlife and largest congregation of Asian elephants in the world. Prem also suggested us to visit at least for two days during summer to capture best of the wildlife at Nagarhole national park and Kabini backwaters. A sumptuous dinner, and bonfire for some time. Slept by 11:30 pm.

Next morning, got up by 4:45am. The wakeup call was at 6am and the safari at 6:30am. We wanted to capture few long exposure landscape shots on the backwaters, so got up early, got ready and left for shooting by 5:45am. Then Safari, again with Prem, by 6:40am. Prem was about to take us along one direction of Mysore – Mananthavadi highway, we saw two jeeps heading in the opposite direction. He turned on the radio, and we were informed about a leopard sighting. He rushed us to the spot. There was a leopard on the branch of the tree about 250mts from the road. One could barely see more than a yellow texture with black spots with naked eyes, but these naturalists are amazing to spot these while in the jeep. We clicked a few ‘documentary shots’, confirming it to be a leopard. As the tourists gathered, their noise made the leopard uncomfortable and he jumped off the tree into the thick bushes. It left what looked like a kill, and we too left the spot soon. That was my first spotting of a leopard in the wild, and was like a spec at that distance.

I was disappointed, and bored as we drove inside the Nagarhole forest. Few moments later, we spotted a pack of Wild dogs (Indian Dholes), strolling along the jeep track. There were 8 of them, and were playing with each other. Got some nice shots as the lay around leisurely. Warning calls from jungle fowls were readily heard. When we got enough of them we drove to other parts spotting few chitals and sambhars. Drove around the park for an hour clicking shots of few birds. Sighted and photographed a Small Green billed Malkoha. Then, returned along the same path of wild dogs sighting. I had shot full 8GB of my card by this time, and replaced it with a 2GB card. Were hoping that the Indian Dholes, which hunt in packs, would have made a kill, but no such luck. It was time to leave, back to the resort.

I was about to suggest Prem that we visit the place we spotted the leopard again, he echoed my thoughts ‘Sir we’ll go to the place we spotted the leopard again and then leave.’ Reached that place and looked around. There was nothing i could see, but Prem spotted the leopard on a tree branch. He helped us spot it and capture. Leopard was at a distance, shot few frames hand held, then mounted our cameras on tripods and clicked few shots. The shots were dismal. We realized we need at least 600mm to get a decent shot of the leopard. Prem radioed to others of spotting this leopard. Others arrived soon, including those who had missed the leopard earlier. It was barely visible with naked eye, as earlier. We shot few snaps and showed them to other tourists. My 2GB card got over, and i picked another 2GB card to replace. As i changed, and was about to position myself to shoot, the leopard sprang and got down quickly. I missed the shots, but Sam got a few ‘better’ shots. Alas! May be next time.

Returned to the resort for brunch, took a boat ride on the backwaters for 15-20min. Then back to the room, packed our stuff and checkout by 11:45am. From there we left for Mysore, we wanted to shoot the palace in the evening sun. Lunch at Royal Orchid at KRS by 3pm, relaxed for sometime. Started walking to the car the sky opened up, pouring heavily. Trees didn’t cover us much. This delayed us, and since it was still drizzling we abandoned the plan of shooting the cathedral and headed straight to Palace.

Mysore Palace is closed at 5:30pm. They stop issuing tickets, and you can not go inside the palace. No one is even allowed in the premises from 5:30 to 6:45pm. We were the first to stand in the queue to get into the premises, to witness the lighting, at 5:40pm. Akshath was disappointed as he had plans to click the palace in the fading blue light. By the time we were let in it was dark, and soon they turned on the incandescent lights to decorate the palace. It was like a glittering gold palace, beautifully done. There were thousands of people, belonging to different race and religion. We settled and clicked few frames. We were constantly approached by people to inquire if we’d click their photos for money. Exhausted, by 8pm, we left the place. Choco-bar snacks there, and dinner at McDs on highway, reached my house at 12:30am. Monday morning at work. :P

Here are few more images:

Malabar Gaint Squirrel

Malabar Gaint Squirrel

Wild dogs pack - walking in search of food

Wild dogs pack - walking in search of food

More pics of wildlife and Mysore palace to come. Watch out my flickr space.

Happy Diwali to all my readers! :-)

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