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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Taj Mahal at sun rise

Continuing on the unexpected trip – Read Bharatpur story here.

Sunday morning left early from Bharatpur, and reached The Taj Mahal at Agra in an hour. Google maps worked incredibly well to help us reach the rear end of the Taj Mahal, from the side of Yamuna river. I had checked with Peevee regarding visiting from the river side and had great expectations to shoot the reflection from the river. As Benjie says ‘Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.’

I was disappointed as we were not allowed to get closer to the river bank. Despite the news of heavy rains, the water level wasn’t high. A barricade is set up and a bunch of policemen patrolling the area do not to let anyone closer to the monument from the other side, at least not the tourists. Also, the sun rise was somewhat in front of us. A stupid mistake that I made thinking east was to Taj Mahal’s left but missed the sun’s movement in solar cycle. Anyway it was fantastic to witness the Taj again – from a slightly different perspective than I had viewed more than a decade earlier. After photographing from the rear end garden for  an hour, we headed to the main entrance by 10:15am to photograph the Taj Mahal in the typical full frontal way.

As i jostled the Sunday morning crowed  and stood at the entrance with full view of Taj, a foreign lady beside me cried ‘Wow!’. That sums it up. The symbol of love, Taj Mahal, is truly wow.

Symbol of love in color looks as beautiful as..


Symbol of love looks in monochrome

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National Chambal Sanctuary – Chambal river safari at Dholpur

After a late breakfast by 11:45am at a ridiculously expensive restaurant in Agra, we left to Dholpur. The road from Agra to Dholpur is in excellent shape and doesn’t take more than an hour to reach Dholpur. The Chambal Safari boating run by MP tourism is close to the bridge, after Dholpur, on Agra-Gwalior highway. I had talked to a boatman at the place the previous night. Some IAS officer were to arrive on the same day we planned to go, and he warned me that I might not get any boat safari. Since I had only that day to spare, I took the chance and thought of walking along the banks to photograph Skimmers if we can’t take a boat. Talking to Rajeev Tomar was  helpful in getting the confidence to take this chance. Who knows when I can visit Chambal again!

At the boating point, we were told boats are booked for ‘saab’. One of the staff gave me the phone number of the officer who had come with an entourage that would take all the 5 boats. Thankfully, on my request, that person agreed to let us take a boat for couple of hours. What an incredible 2 hours of boating it was!

The two hours of boating from 1:30pm to 3:30pm  on the Chambal river gave me the sight of a variety of Birds, mammals and reptiles –  Skimmers, River Lapwings, Black Bellied Tern, Bar headed Geese, Ruddy Shelduck, Comb Duck, Black Winged Stilts, Gharials, Muggers, Turtles, Gangetic Dolphins and more! Though I could only manage few glimpses of endangered Gangetic Dolphin, I could get photographs of many of the avian and reptilian species in the fantastic riverine habitat.

Starting with few variety of birds:

Black Winged Stilt

 

Ruddy Shelduck – pair


Comb Duck ( female) in the turquoise blue waters


River Lapwing  roosting on single leg


Gery Heron – ready to take off

 

Black-Bellied Tern – roosting

 

Next, the reptilians. Chambal river is home to the reptiles mugger crocodiles, a variety of turtles and the critically endangered Indian Gharials. Chambal river is without doubt the best place to sight the Gharials. Their population was in such bad state that they were in the verge of extinction. Thanks to the efforts of conservation organizations, they are making a strong come back. One can easily sight a gharial swim and bask around the Chambal river now. By the time we returned from the boating, Rajeev had arrived at the place. He then took us to Gharial Rearing Centre. Illegal fishing, inadvertent destruction of breeding sites and habitat destruction are major threat for their survival. From the banks of Chambal the rearing center collects eggs, and hatches them in incubation. The young gharials are fed with fish and taken care till they are about 6 months old, when they are let into the wild. Most of the Gharials you see on the Chambal river are from this rearing center. I was lucky to hold a young Gharial. Though they look naive, their razor sharp teeth can make enough damage. We also saw young Indian tented turtles at the rearing center, and a huge adult basking in the sun on the river while on boating safari.

A young Mugger Crocodile basking in the sun

Adult Gharial basking with its eyelid closed – notice the tag on its tail


Indian tent turtle (Pangshura circumdata) is one of the 8 species of turtles found in Chambal river

 

And then there were Skimmers – the target species for my trip to Chambal. Initially we saw a pair skim momentarily and fly away. Soon, we saw over 30 skimmers on the banks. They were in no mood for fishing and were roosting on the banks. They get their name because of the style of their fishing – the bird flies just above the water skimming the water surface to grab any fish if it comes in the path. Check this image of Mario Goren to see how they fish.

Indian Skimmers in flight

 

Indian Skimmers roosting with head tucked under wings

 

Indian Skimmer flock – it was difficult to get a portrait of single bird with so many around, until..


until this one obliged for a portrait

 

Later in the evening, after a round of chai at Rajeev’s house, we were back at Taj to do some night photography. Lest I knew that there were street lights put at the foot of Taj, even on its rear side, I’d not have made the futile effort of going there. Later that night, returned to Bharatpur – and next day, from there to Delhi and then to Bangalore.

I would like to thank and dedicate these photographs to Rajeev Tomar for giving me confidence on making the short trip despite the boatman suggested me otherwise. It was the most enjoyable and productive two hours of photography. Also, thanks to Rajeev for taking me to the Gharial rearing center, which I had no idea about until I went there.

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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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Monsoon is not the best time for sighting wildlife, or so is the belief. Monsoon is also not the ideal time for photography. But wildlife always throws surprises.

Butch and I were not keen on any particular sighting, but wished to see a pack wild dogs (at least after learning about a pack of 31). Ramesh was our driver on the first day’s evening safari. Half an hour into the safari we saw 3-4 jeeps coming from the opposite direction. They had seen a tiger cross and said they were expecting it to cross this path (one that leads to Subrayana katte). I asked Ramesh to take jeep in reverse without starting it. I didn’t want other jeeps to go ahead and block our view, and didn’t want the tiger to be disturbed because of our jeep’s noise.

Butch and I were sitting at the rear end of the Commander. Just as the jeep moved, a tiger emerged out of the thick lantana bushes right next to our jeep. She was right next to us, not more than 7 to 8 feet. I clicked an image, and realized she was too close. As I zoomed out, couple of other jeeps that were behind ours moved towards her out of the jeep track, overtaking our jeep. She turned back for a moment that i missed to click as i zoomed out to get her in the frame. She strolled away from us, scent marked on a tree and slipped into the bushes. The sighting lasted about 25 seconds, but the closeness was surreal. Rest of the safari was spent in tracking her to a waterhole, where she didn’t appear.

Monday morning safari started with sighting of few wild dogs on the highway. They were moving inside, towards tavare katte. It’s not easy to miss a pack of 31 wild dogs even if you have little idea of their movement. We caught up with them within 15min. The alpha dogs attempted to make a kill of Sambar fawn, which swan to the middle of the lake. Realizing that the effort was not worth, the pack leaders moved on follwed by sub adults and older pups of the pack.

Sub-adults and pups waiting for alpha dogs to make a kill

We were sure they will make a kill soon. Within minutes we saw a stag emerge out of bushes, chased by alpha female. She stopped momentarily seeing the jeeps. Taking this chance the stag crossed the road and scampered for an exit. Since there were only 3 jeeps, the dogs were comfortable and had enough space for themselves. The pack leader chased down the stag, faster than a sprinter.

Dholes start eating the prey while it is still alive

Stag was trying to gore the dog with his antlers, but the agility of the dog dodge him and made quick bites. Within seconds we could see the flesh and blood from the rear of the deer. The lead dog was joined by another. One caught the stag by neck and the other started eating from the rear. There is nothing clean or swift about this kill. Each bite will rip piece of flesh from the prey.

The action was simply incredible to watch. No photograph makes justice to the scene i witnessed. Soon, the deer was dead and another dog pulled the carcass inside the bushes.

Can’t describe the pain in the eyes of the deer

Little ahead on the road, the rest of the pack were waiting for the alpha dogs to arrive. Soon after the kill, the alpha female came to invite the rest of the pack for breakfast. She was so well greeted by her pups. They all strolled behind the bushes towards the deer carcass. We left them to have their breakfast in peace.


I was not asking for anything more. But we still had two safaris. The best part of Bandipur is that you are not disappointed even if you don’t sight a tiger. There are many other creatures that catch your eye, especially in monsoon. A Peacock was  trying to impress a mate. The dance and the way he put up the show was a treat to watch. If he were a guy, women would throw themselves at him.

A Peafowl dancing to impress his better half

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Common Hoopoe

Stripe-necked mongooses are commonly found in Bandipur. Here’s one on his daily routine of finding beetles and other insects for a quick meal.

Commonly found Stripe-necked Mongoose

Bandipur has a variety of woodpeckers. Before we sighted the tiger, we were enjoying the sight of a female streak-throated woodpecker, who was soon joined by her better half. Monsoon is the season of love in the wild.

Female Streak-throated Woodpecker

Mr. & Mrs. Streak-throated Woodpecker


Yawnnn…..

Red-wattled Lapwings are common around waterholes and open grass areas of Mulapura.

Red-wattled Lapwing


Crested Serpent Eagle preening

This is only an indication of what one can find in Bandipur. Go, enjoy the rains!

P.S.: This trip was from 6th June to 8th June 2010.  I tried to restrict the number of images, but couldn’t resist posting these many.

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‘ To be a good photographer you don’t need great skill. All you need is a good camera’  commented Mamta some time back. I don’t agree to that. To start with, I don’t consider myself a good photographer.

Photography is difficult. Not all photographs speak 1000 words, but a few speak a million. A good photographer is one who is consistently able to make photographs that speak a few thousand words. A video is much easier that way, and a documentary (or audio-visual) is further so (once you have a story, you know what content you need. You just have to go out and shoot that).

But in photography, you are handicapped without the extra dimension of time to describe the scene. More so if your dimensions of expression is shunted further, without color.

Here’s an attempt at Black and White photography.

Landscape

Landscape of Periyar river, captured at Thattekad in January. The misty morning and the dense forest vegetation provide the beautiful contrast. Also, an example of landscape images you can make on Canon 100-400.

Bird

Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo at Thattekad in the yellow and green canopy. This one has lost one of it’s ‘racket tail’.

Mammal

Royal Bengal Tiger

Finally, the pride of India walking into history. Photographed at Magdhi zone, Bandhavgarh national park.

I have felt Black and White photography is much harder than color photography and am looking for materials to learn about capturing and processing grayscale images. Please point to any good material about Black and White photography. Here’s a good article on Black and White photography from Naturescapes.

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When you hear about Bandhavgarh national park, the first thing that comes to your mind is tiger. But imagine tigers get extinct – a possibility in the near future, and a scare that i got on my trip to Bandhavgarh.

Bandhavgarh means Brother’s fort – a fort gifted by Rama to his devoted bro Lakshmana on their way back from Lanka. Many kings have ruled this beautiful patch of land since.

What’s Bandhavgarh like without tigers? I’d say it’s like a palace without king. You have fantastic meadows that were once villages, abundance of Sal trees, Chitals grazing, Langurs howling,  and Charan Ganga flowing amidst the bushes. But no tiger to roar (rather photograph). I did fret, but I enjoyed too.

I enjoyed 38 hours train journey from Bangalore. I enjoyed the visit to the fort on steep jungle roads that were paved during the reign of the Maharajas. I enjoyed the sight of the critically endangered Long-billed and Red-headed Vultures soring on thermals. I enjoyed having Samosas for breakfast everyday of my stay. I enjoyed the vast Rajbhera meadows. I enjoyed hearing to the complaints of fellow tourists on terrible park entry rules set by forest department. I enjoyed the alarm calls of deers. I enjoyed remembering Charger at Charger point.

A young Rhesus macaque in light and shades


I enjoyed waiting for forest entry gates to open early in the chilly morning and in the blazing afternoon sun. I enjoyed information exchange (on tiger locations) that happens during and after each safari. I enjoyed the stone carving of Vishnu – Sheshshaiya and other deities . I enjoyed chai at center point, which every jeep hast to touch on the safari.  I enjoyed the view of the temple, from the ground below and from up close. I enjoyed Crested Hawk Eagle shouting at young Langurs.  I enjoyed the dusty jeep rides. I enjoyed my first ever sightings of Lesser Adjutant, Red-headed Vulture, White-eyed Buzzard and Chestnut-shouldered Petronia. I enjoyed the sighting of Jerdon’s Nightjar in broad daylight.

Jerdon’s Nightjar roosting in the day


Sheshshaiya at Bandhavgarh fort


Hanuman Langur with her baby


A Golden jackal picking the scent from a tiger kill


More than anything else, I enjoyed the company of Butch without whom the trip wouldn’t have been possible and wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it was.

P.S.: B&W imaging is more challenging than RGB photography as you have one less dimension to express. One of the good articles that i have read on B&W photography is here on NatureScapes.

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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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Trip to valley school today morning was a great one. Since i don’t have enough time right now to write more, i’ll leave with few images showing the creatures i enjoyed watching and photographing.

Plants – use sun to tap energy

Bougainvillea

leaf and flower

Birds – live on these plants and tress

Red Vented Bulbul

Red-vented-bulbul

Birds – young ones are born and brought up on plants

Red Vented Bulbul chick

Was photographing the adult from the car in close range. Didn’t know there was a nest nearby. This young one got disturbed, and flew out of the nest a few feet and landed on the ground. Shot this image and left the spot feeling bad for disturbing the little one.

red-vented-bulbul-chick

Molluscs Crawling their way through

African Giant Snail

This was a co-operative one. Shot this at various angles, with and without flash.

Giant African Snail

Insects – Beetle rolling it up

This beetle was putting in a lot of effort in rolling up a ball. Don’t know the identity of this beetle. Beetles constitute about 50% of insects species.

beetle-rolling

ArachnidsYour friendly neighborhood hero

Araneus Mitifica

This pretty looking spider was hanging from a tree.  I guess, she got disturbed as we were around and started ascending. Got this shot on Manual focus as AF was struggling to lock this tiny creature in the frame.

Araneus-Mitifica

That’s all folks for now, off to watch IPL finals. Go RCB!

P.S.: Will update this post with more info on each of these images, do come back if interested.

Update done. (29/05/09 11:49PM)

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