WildZests: August 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Signing off until next week - Goa calling !

The last week of August is pretty interesting with two mid-week holidays (Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi), so I decided to make the most of it and take the full week off. The weekend was spent nicely with some bird pictures to add to my collection, but the plan to do a trip to Bandipur on Mon/Tue went flop. Gozu had a training in office on those two days and I didnt find anyone willing to join me for the trip. But the good part is, these two days were still special coz I got to play with my daughter enough which I miss through the week.

In a few hours from now, will leave on a trip to the land of beaches, GOA!!! The initial plan was to laze around on the beaches but now we've got other things on mind. We'll spend some time at the wild places in Goa. More on it later when I'm back...ciao!

Here's one of my favorite pictures from our last trip to Goa in the last week of December. Gosh..there have already been 2 New Year Eve's after this one!

Stork Billed Kingfisher!

This is one of the larger species of the Kingfisher family. At nearly one foot in length, these are almost double the size of the Common Blue Kingfishers. Like all kingfishers, even these are very patient in nature and can be found perched quietly near a water hole in anticipation of food.

This one was right by the water hole at the entrance to the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. As I was exiting the park on our trip to Valparai, I quickly stopped the car and got this shot. There wasn't any time to get the tripod setup so took the risk of shooting handheld with the monster kit, but I'm happy that the results are quite good. I would have preferred a nature perch instead of a wire, but you can't make choices for the bird.

Tech Specs:
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm with 1.4x TC
Shot handheld at 840mm, 1/400s, f5.6 and ISO 400
Stork Billed Kingfisher

Monday, August 29, 2011

Egyptian Vulture - The Pharoah's Chicken!

A first for me, ofcourse!

I've seen these birds earlier as well but never awed at them. Its just since I'm hooked onto wildlife as a part of my life that I've started admiring everything else besides humans around me.

I'd seen them flying at Hesaraghatta last time, so this time I wanted to get a few shots of these beautiful and endangered species. Though, I'd admit that the adults look much more graceful than the juveniles but I really dont mind getting good shots of either of them.

The Egyptian vultures are the smaller of the species and scavenge on anything from faeces to carcases. This is what keeps them around the cities as well unlike the others that are mostly found in jungles.

This juvenile bird was feasting on some cow dung near a water hole. There was a big excavation near the water pool and the car wouldn't have made it there. I already had a failed attempt of closing in on these creatures on foot so decided to stay inside and watch it. While I was using the beanbag on the passenger window sil as rest for the lens, this shot was all I could manage to get of the bird while it took off.

Tech Specs:
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/4000s, f5.6, and ISO 800
Juvenile Egyptian Vulture

Pariah - The messiah who made my day!

After a failed attempt on Saturday when I roamed around Kanakpura road and Valley School for some birding, it was a second try again on Sunday. I had to give it a pass in the morning since Gozu wanted to go out and that meant the baby traveled with me. Pozu isnt a problem to go out with, but mornings get busy with her breakfast and other things and her schedule gets a bit upset when she's out on field.

So off I went in the afternoon once Gozu was back, and today's destination was Hesaraghatta Lake. I've been to this place before and had seen the egyptian vulture flying around, so wanted to explore again. The last time I ended up going upto Yeshwantpur and then coming back towards Jalahalli and then take the road through Dodda Byalakere. This time I turned off at BEL circle and directly took the inside road through Byalakere and Silvepura to reach Hesaraghatta.

As I crossed the airforce area and took the left towards Byalakere, I digressed onto the road to the Peacock reserve in Byalakere. I just love Google Maps for the ease of finding your way through such places and the map was fairly accurate until a point where the map showed a road but I could see none. Anyways, I reached the Peacock reserve only to find it looking like an abandoned piece of land with the gate locked and nobody around to ask. Next I thought I'd roam around a bit towards the Avalahalli State Forest and see if there's anything worth seeing there. The road from the Byalakere Peacock reserve to Avalahalli Forest has a particular stink from the waste management project that is in that area. I could see a mountain of garbage from the road and a lot of garbage collection trucks on the road too.

As I reached the Avalahalli Forest, the road on the map through the forest was missing and I had to turn back and proceed towards Aivarakhandapura Lake and then connect back to the Hesaraghatta road. Though the Aivarakhandapura lake looks quite big on the map, it is nothing but an open grassland with a lot of cattle grazing around (very similar to hesaraghatta). Finally, I reached the destination after all these detours, but the good thing to notice was that apart from a few bad patches, the roads were pretty decent otherwise.

At the lake, I drove in and spotted a group of Egyptian vultures sitting on a mound. There were two adults and two juvenile vultures in the group. I parked the car by the track and setup the tripod etc and started closing in slowly. Apparently, they didnt like any movement towards them and flew off quickly. Lesson learnt, be as inconspicuous as possible which obviously can't the case with me carrying the 10kilo rig. The best option is to stay in the car and close in slowly to get a clear shot, surprisingly the birds dont mind the big black car.

I drove around on the tracks through the lake bed for a while, tracking a lot of pipits, bushchats in search of food and then there were common mynas and jungle crows for company. The vultures had lodged themselves on a tree by the far side of the lake and took turns to hover around for a bit and then return back. At one such time, I did manage to get a glimpse of a juvenile Egyptian vulture near a water body. But this wasnt the ideal setting and all I could manage is an okay okay in-flight shot. (more on that in a later post!)

Later, a black kite flew past the car and made itself comfortable on the little mound nearby. I quickly drove up by the track where I could get a clear view of the bird. The lighting was perfect and the bird was very cooperative. It yielded me the best shot I could ask for. I'm sure there will be more shots I'd get of these birds, but this one will always stay special for me.

Tech Specs:
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/800s, f8 and ISO 800. Handheld from the car!
Black Kite

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Great Thick Knee

In continuation to the Ranganathittu series, I thought of sharing another of the beautiful species that are commonly found on the rocks through the river. The Great Stone Curlew aka. Great Thick Knee are usually resident birds at the sanctuary. I've generally seen them in pairs and it looks like this one was guarding an egg.

Tech Specs:
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/4000s, f5.6 and ISO 1600
Stone Plover aka Great Thick Knee

Roll Baby Roll

Another one of my favorite shots from the trip to Ranganathittu. This one was a very cooperative Kingfisher perched on a twig by the shore of one of the many islands. In a flick of a second, it rolled it's head on both sides and all the water sprinkled out.

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/2500s, f5.6, ISO 1600
Roll Baby Roll....Pied Kingfisher

Tridev - The Three Headed Stork!

During my last visit to Kabini earlier in August, I stopped at Ranganathittu for a quick tour of the sanctuary. Knowing that this isnt the season time at Ranganathittu, the expectations weren't very high but I was pleasantly surprised with the Juvenile Painted Storks and the Black Headed Ibises nesting around the islands.

Karnataka Tourism has increased rates for safaris at all their parks and it was no different at Ranganathittu as well. What used to be a 500 per hour boat ride is now 1000 bucks for 30 mins. That's a 4-fold increase in rates which means more money flowing into the forest dept kitty! Anyways, I'm okay to pay the premium as long as they take some steps in maintaining and conserving these places and not just siphoning it into unnamed accounts.

There was a group of Painted Storks on a rock and as the boat passed around the place, a sudden convergence of bodies happened. I started clicking as the boat moved to get a shot that looks like a three headed stork. The result was quite rewarding and a good addition to my avian collection.

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/4000s, f8 and ISO 1600
One Soul - Three Painted Storks

Monday, August 15, 2011

Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

"Today we celebrate our Independence Day!", this is the dialogue that I still remember from the I-Day movie. Some things just leave a mark on your mind and even though it isnt relevant in this situation, it still comes to mind when I think of I-Day.

I just finished processing some pictures from this weekend trip to Maidenahalli and was very happy with a couple of them. Here's a b/w conversion that almost turned out like a sketch.

Tech Specs:
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/1000s, f8 and ISO 400
Indy Day

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The glowing Lily!

There was a phase when I was hooked on to doing flower abstracts and I can tell you that its a very interesting topic if you want to try out some quick indoor setups. They actually make some good wall hangings for the house if you get some good ones. Slowly the season changed and the flowers werent as good as they used to be and then the topic just got lost in the array of things to do.

A couple of things that one needs to keep in mind while doing flower abstracts, it needs plenty of light and a nice background. So either you try it on a nice and bright day or have some good artificial lighting available indoors. Also, unlike the traditional macro shots which are shot at smaller apertures to increase the DOF, the abstracts are usually shot with a shallow DOF keeping the lens wide open. This one was made at the Kabini JLR garden on one fine morning, its a nice while garden lily which can be found in most parts of the city as well.

Tech Specs:
Canon 40D + Canon 100mm Macro
Shot at 100mm, 1/500s, f2.8, ISO 200

Agastya - The Legend of Bandipura

At 13+ years behind him, Agastya is definitely past his prime but his majesty is still the King. This was my second sighting of this male cat and he was kind enough to stick around for a good 20 mins until he disappeared in the thick of the jungle. Given his years of experience with humans coming in close range in the park, he appeared non-chalant with the presence of several jeeps lined up through the track while he walked leisurely along a grassy patch by the roadside.

Of all the sightings so far, he'll always remain special to me and Gozu and not to forget, Pozu. He's the first tiger Pozu ever saw in the wild and he's also the one who's gotten her the name "Anastya". During our visits to Bandipur, we kept seeing pictures of this majestic king and were keen that if we get a son, he would be named Agastya. So Anastya was derived out of his name, and technically speaking its not a registered name and doesnt hold a meaning as yet. (though I tell people its the sanskrit'ized version of Anastasia)

Tech Specs
Canon 7D + 70-200L
Shot at 200mm, 1/60s, f4, ISO 200

Anguished but not defeated!

On an old tree by the safari track in Pench, we heard a lot of activity going on with the parakeets making some noise. A closer look and it was evident that there was something fishy as the parakeets were flying around the tree bark and calling to each other repeatedly. Just then, we spot a monitor lizard on the same tree near a hole in the bark. It was now obvious that the parakeets were trying to ward off the lizard to protect their nests.

The monitor was big and the parakeets helpless, but they were still ready to put up a fight. One of them kept going towards the hole to check out what's going on inside and may be distract the reptile out of there. I fear the worst may have happened to their nest since the lizard climbed into the hole and wasnt really in a mood to give in to their protest. But such is life, someone's offspring is somebody else's snack, it's the law of the jungle!

This is presumably a pair of parakeets trying to communicate between themselves about the situation. We waited for a good 15-20 mins at the scene and there were no signs of retreat from either sides.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Little Raptor!

The Shikra is so far the smallest bird of prey I've encountered when compared to the eagles and hawks which is the same family it belongs to. But they are nevertheless, equally graceful in their perch.

This one had perched on a branch right by the side of the road and the dull light was making it difficult to get good shutter speed. This was shot with a 1.4x TC on the 600mm at 1/30s shutter and I never expected the result to be this good looking. The blown out areas around the bird are because of the sky visible through the leaves in the background, but there was no way to avoid that.

Tech Specs:
Canon 7D + Canon 600mm with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/30s, f5.6, ISO 400
On a dull evening at Kanha, the Shikra waits for an opportunity!

Proud and Perched Peacock

As the summer sets in, these magnificent birds are ready with their full blown plumage to welcome the oncoming monsoons. The peacock dancing is a very graceful display of well coordinated moves that create a brilliant optical illusion with the pattern of feathers. The peacocks are said to dance to invite and celebrate the rains but its actually a part of the courtship display to attract members of the opposite sex.

These large birds usually prefer moving around on the ground but they can do short stints of flight and can be found perched up on tree branches. Its amusing to see the peacock fly with its train of feathers.

Tech Specs:
Canon 400D + Canon 70-200L
Shot at 200mm, 1/25s, f4, ISO 200

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Baby bloom!

This summer was a very rewarding experience with the langur babies. I had two or three opportunities to watch the mother-baby interaction closely. The baby enjoys attention from the entire group, and with a newborn in her arms, the mother is always kept in the close guards of the family. At one time, the whole family was shielding the mother from being seen with the baby.

The babies on the other hand, as innocent and exploratory that they can be, are always on the lookout for some mischief. At 2-3 weeks, they look so similar with human babies except for the the dark furry coat which slowly starts turning grey as they grow up.

This one was taken at Kanha national park on a rather dull day considering it was peak summer in April.

Tech Specs:
Canon 7D + Canon 600mm
Shot at 600mm, 1/320s, f4, ISO 400
A new beginning!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Digpa-ratsa Ri - Hanle Observatory

Far far away....a black top road running in between two mountain ranges for miles and miles together. This is the road that leads you to a remote town called Hanle which boasts of the world's highest observatory for optical & infra-red astronomy. The place is free of tourists and the town had little or no provisions for more than 4-6 visitors at one time. We were lucky to find one of the two rooms available at the lone guest house in town. There may be no cell phones in this area, but there's internet at the observatory and a satellite phone at the guest house. The observatory is remotely controlled by scientists sitting in a cosy Bengalooru office while a resident engineer and some other ground staff rough it out at the observatory.

Tech Specs:
Canon 7D + Canon 24-105 F4L
Shot at 24mm, f16, 1/30s, ISO 100
The road to Hanle!

Hanle also has one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh dated back to the 17th century, but more on that in a later post.

Ssshhh...my angel's sleeping!

Even though they can't talk when they're born, a baby can express a lot with their eyes and facial expressions. I like the gleam in her eye when she's upto something naughty but what I love the most is to watch her sleeping.

When she was born, I was amazed by the long eyelashes she had and even now they are a treat to watch. Kids are just beautiful, and the time spent with them, so precious. She'll always be my little angel, even when she grows up!

Tech Specs:
Canon 7D+ Canon 100mm Macro
Shot handheld at 100mm, f2.8, 1/20s, ISO 400

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mommy's the Boss!

When it comes to raising a family and teaching the little ones how to take care of themselves etc, its always the mommy who handles it best. This is true even with the elephant herds and one can easily see that its the mothers and aunts and sisters who take care of the herd. The males are often found roaming alone and only jump in for their part in the reproductive cycle.

Elephant babies are very susceptible to attacks whilst they're young and are closely guarded by the herd members at all times. The mother actively keeps an eye on her young one and will usually keep it within her trunk's distance, afterall she's waited 22 long months to have the baby delivered. The babies on the other hand also prefer to be pampered by the herd and will follow their mother all through. A lot of emotions can be observed within the herd that symbolizes the intelligence level of these beasts.

Summer is the best time to watch huge herds of elephants gather around the Kabini river bank to relish the green grass that grows on the receded river bed. A lot of social interaction happens within the herd and also amongst different herds, its very interesting to watch their behavior. Here's one such moment when the baby was following his mother for a dip in the river.

Tech Specs:
Canon 7D + Canon 600mm with a 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, F5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200
Going for a dip!

The Land of the Lamas!

Ladakh - the mother of all naturally beautiful places. Its not a cosy place to be in, but it can be the most rewarding experience if you rough it out. I'm hooked on to the mountains since 2007 when we made our first trip, I had a borrowed Kodak P&S camera back then. But you can hardly go wrong with your camera in Ladakh, every place is equally beautiful and even random compositions turn out to be keepers.

The last year (2010) was the 4th year in succession to the Himalayas. This was originally conceptualized as a solo bike trip, but the head of the house had set conditional permissions and I was glad to get Elvin and Anand to ride with me. We're old college buddies so this became a good bachelors trip out into the wild.

I wanted to explore newer places this time and also wanted to experience staying at Pangong overnight. So the itinerary was chalked out and arrangements were made. This time we were going to cover Zanskar, Leh, Pangong, Hanle and Tso Moriri. But as things unfolded when we started the trip, we had to drop a couple of places out from the plan. We still managed to do Hanle and stay at Tso Moriri for a night which was a very satisfying experience.

The lake has so much to offer that you could stay for weeks together and still have more angles to shoot from. Here's one of my favorite pictures of the lake taken in the early morning hours (6AM).

Tech Specs:
Canon 400D + Canon 10-22mm
Shot at 10mm, F14, 1/25s, ISO 100

Tso Moriri - 100% Indian and equally beautiful


Reviving an old flame!

There's your passion and then there's work! It's always difficult to strike a balance between the two especially when you are passionate about things that conflict with your work commitments. Don't get me wrong here, I love my job and have no intentions of giving up my professional career as yet. But its unlike photography where one good picture makes your day and sometimes weeks together!

The initial idea for this blog was to keep account of all my trips and compile them into a collection for a read when I'll be too old to move out of the armchair, and may be also use it to show my grandkids how much fun it was being in the early 20th century. But, over time work took over and writing never really took off!

This time, I'm going to revive it again with the hope that I'll be able to keep it alive for a long long time. To keep things simple, I'm going to also make some changes to the format and use this space to talk about what I like the most - Photography. I'm no master of the art so I'll stay away from giving discourses and lectures about how to make your pictures look better, there are already tons of sites which do that. Instead, this will be a platform to share some of the pictures I like and my thoughts on why I like them or what was I thinking when I made the image.

Enough of gyaan for Day 1, here's a picture I will cherish for a long time.


This is a very special picture for me. Its taken from an elephant back during the morning "Tiger Show", but thats not what makes it special. This was a trip when me and Elvin took my 16-month old daughter to the jungles of MP on a 10 day trip. A detailed account of my trip can be found at Two Men & A Baby - In Search Of The Stripes.

I don't really approve of the commercialized Tiger Show process and was very skeptical of doing the elephant ride given the amount of equipment and the little one, but we thought we'd do it for the one-time experience. I was holding on to the 7D+600mm combo and my daughter with one hand and had the 70-200 mounted on the 400D on the other hand to click this one. It was a tough situation, but I'm happy with the result!

My daughter on the other hand was so delighted by the whole experience, especially when she spotted the striped cat walking next to the elephant, I could see the excitement in her eyes.

Now coming to the technicalities, I know it isn't the best angle to photograph this magnificent animal and I could have easily gotten a better composition by keeping some more space around it. But this is what you can get when you're managing a baby and hanging on to the elephant back. :)

Stay tuned for more...