WildZests: May 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Roam Anywhere - Moreh Plains

For me, Ladakh has always been about travel and not just sightseeing. The destination is never as exciting as the journey itself and to enjoy it at the fullest, you need to be connected with the whole environment through your journey. A bike ride offers an excellent opportunity to do just that!

While you ride through some of the harshest terrains which take toll on your bike, it presents you with a lot of problem solving situations where your risk appetite is tested. The safest way isn't always the most exciting and what's the point of doing an adventure road trip if one doesn't take any risk. One such place is Moreh plains where you can virtually ride anywhere between those two mountain ranges for a good 30-35 odd kilometers.

The land is perfectly flat with the tracks varying from small rocks to gravel to dry flat land with patches of soft clay-like mud. Even though there are no ups and downs, the biggest risk is getting your front tyre sunk in one of those soft mud pits, which can easily mean a nasty fall. Even though there's no threat to your life, there's always a threat of getting injured so one needs to ride carefully.

Here's a shot from one of my first trips to the magical land of Ladakh:

Moreh Plains

Friday, May 11, 2012

Been There & Done That....But We're Going Back For More!

Ever since our first trip to Ladakh in 2007, the place keeps pulling me every year and I can never seem to get over it! A lot of people ask me, don't you want to see other places! What's so special in Ladakh that you want to go there each year, haven't you been to most places by now? Well, the answer is yes, I've been to most places and done most of the things that everybody does there and even some which not everyone dares to do. But the place has so much to offer that I'd never get to a state where I get bored of it. For a place to be so good, it can't only be the landscapes, it can't only be the people, it can't only be the weather, it has to be a confluence of a lot of things that makes Ladakh a very unique experience. If there is something that I'd recommend as places to be before you die, this would be at the top!

Now, I know that not everyone is as crazy as us (Gozu and me) when it comes to travel. We're not the ones who enjoy the relaxing leisure trips where there's nothing to do but sit on a chair and read books or stay in bed all day. Not that it's a bad way to spend your vacation, but I guess we're just not cut for it. We don't really care for expensive hotels to stay, big variety of food for our meals, or even room service for that matter. All we need to have is some action everyday on our trips, be it adventure, driving, exploring new places, or even shopping at times. Photography is always the hidden agenda for all trips given the fact that I'm so into it now and a dozen of good pictures just makes it feel so rewarding that all expenses are quietly forgotten.

This year is special for the both of us as little Pozu will embark with us on her first journey to the Land of the Lamas, Ladakh. We had canceled the trip last year due to various reasons related to work etc. But for this year, we have firmed up our plans to make a road trip with her and the preparations have already begun. It's not going to be easy, but who the hell ever said that we wanted it easy!

Over these years, I've shot numerous pictures of the place and I'd say each one is special in some way or the other. So last weekend, I dug out some of the extra special ones and processed them again, but this time in B&W. Whether the picture flaunts the brilliant blue skies or the grey monotones, whether it is at the ever so beautiful Pangong Tso or at Moreh Plains or at Hanle, there is a certain magic in these places that catches your eye.

A must visit for everyone who goes to Ladakh is Pangong Tso. The beauty of the lake is typically said to be in the calmness and changing colors of the water through the day, though there are quite a few idiots who go there only to see the shooting location for the film 3 Idiots. The saline water body at 14000ft that gets fresh water from the melting ice each year and yet continues to be lifeless around it is in itself a marvel. Add to that the snow capped mountains that surround it along the boundary and you have the perfect rejuvenating picture in front of you. Nothing really moves apart from the fluffy clouds and the colors in the water, it does feel like time just stops here!

Here's one of my favorite shots of the lake from my last bike trip.

Tech Specs:

Canon 400D + Canon 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 USM
Shot at 10mm, 1/100s, F14 and ISO 100

Puffy Clouds

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Woodpeckers of Bandipur

This season it did seem like the woodpeckers had taken to Bandipur in huge numbers. Everyday, we could spot a number of them flying around on trees by the safari tracks. And the fact that we spotted four different species (viz Black Rumped Flameback, Streak Throated, White Bellied and Rufous) in this trip is worth mentioning.

This black-rumped flameback woodpecker was happily feasting at a termite mound when we noticed it. This was one of the very cooperative subjects I've had in this trip and it posed nicely as it flew to the tree nearby.

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/400s, F4 and ISO 800

Black Rumped Flameback Woodpecker

While we were waiting on something else, this Streak Throated Woodpecker flew in suddenly and all we had were a few seconds before it flew off again. This is easily one of my best images of this beautiful bird, so I wouldn't complain of the short visit.

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/1600s, F4 and ISO 800

Streak Throated Woodpecker

And last but not the least, we had a White Bellied Woodpecker foraging on the tracks ahead of us. This isn't the best of my shots, but I'm going to put it up here to complete the list of sightings. Sadly, we couldn't get any pictures of the Rufous Woodpecker.

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/500s, F4 and ISO 800

White Bellied Woodpecker

The Brainfever Bird

Everytime we're out in the jungle, we can hear the brainfever bird calling from within one of the trees but you can hardly spot them. Many a times, we've seen the hawk cuckoo in flight but it's never been that I've had it perched out in the open without any distractions. Even though one could see them in the cities too, getting a bird in it's original habitat is always a bonus.

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/640s, F4 and ISO 800

Common Hawk Cuckoo

The Serpent Slayer

During the morning safari on the last day of our trip, we had a wonderful time with this Serpent Eagle perched on a tree stump. As we watched, it suddenly gave a big yawn which was coordinated with a head movement from side to side. The burst mode helped in capturing the action at it's peak with the tongue fully stretched out.

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/800s, F4 and ISO 800

Crested Serpent Eagle - Yawning

Grey Jungle Fowl

The Grey Jungle Fowls are a pretty common sight in the Nilgiri forests, however, getting them in good light and pose has always been a challenge. These wild chickens are pretty fast and will usually run into the bushes at the slightest sound or movement around them. Even when you do get them in the open, the angle of shooting is limited and getting a good background isn't always possible.

During the recent Bandipur trip, we had a few bold moments by some very unsuspecting characters. Firstly, we had quite a few mongoose sightings where the usually shy creatures were infact displaying a totally daredevil behavior. The jungle fowls too were very forthcoming and in one instance, while we were waiting on something else, we had a pair of Grey Jungle Fowls having a quick meal at a termite mound. The diffused light due to the cloudy weather presented a good opportunity to capture details of this male's plumage.

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/640s, F4 and ISO 800

Jungle Fowl

Another King In The Making

Gowri's litter of four cubs has been the biggest attraction at Bandipur since the last two years now. A successful mother, she has been able to raise all four cubs to near adulthood and in the next few months these cubs would start looking out for territories of their own. What will happen to them is still to be seen, but given that there are 3 males and one female, there is definitely going to be a lot of action in the forest in the coming months.

One of the cubs had an unfortunate incident while playing and has suffered an injury to his tail. His tail appears to be broken at the root and at one other location. However, his broken tail hasn't made him shy away, he is infact the boldest cub of the litter. When we saw him that morning, he was roaming alone and will probably be the first one to separate out of the family. At just about two years of age, he may still be learning all the skills that would be needed for him to survive, but he sure has a lot of attitude already!

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/1000s, F4 and ISO 800

Tiger - Male (Cub)

Changeable Hawk Eagle - A Hi-Key Portrait

While cloudy days present a challenge with the light, they also provide for opportunities to capture some brilliant details in an otherwise contrasty subject. The Changeable Hawk Eagle's brown plumage has shades of white on the under belly and it can get quite challenging to get the exposure right if there is bright light. On the other hand, a cloudy day really helps in keeping the highlights from blowing out and at the same time, can be used for some brilliant hi-key portraits like this one.

These raptors would usually perch high up on a bare tree which gives them a good vantage point and clear visibility too. Photographing them against the sky is a challenge if the sun is shining bright, but a cloudy sky can make a huge difference.

Make sure that you intentionally dial up the exposure on such hi-key images since otherwise the camera would want to bring down the whites into grays and the resulting image would have some loss on the shadow details due to underexposure.

Tech Specs:
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/1000s, F4 and ISO 800

Changeable Hawk Eagle

My Little Jungle Queen

Last year we (Pozu and me) did a trip in April to Pench, Kanha and Tadoba National Parks. It was indeed a memorable trip with my 16-month angel who put up with me for a good 10 days and at the end of it had almost forgotten her mommy. Detailed trip log from that trip can be found here.

This year, I had a trip planned to Bandhavgarh National Park and wanted to spend a full week at just one park rather than hopping through different ones. Everything was okay until we entered into April, that's when plans changed and the trip had to be called off. I had mentally prepared myself for a week of wilderness and hope shined upon us with a 5-day booking slot at Bandipur National Park.

Bandipur JLR is a familiar place for us and I was pretty sure that I could pull off a solo trip with Pozu. Wasting no time, I made the bookings! Since I was traveling alone, I had to pay additional single occupancy charges, but that was okay since their rates are always on twin sharing basis. Then came another surprise when they announced an additional camera fee of INR 500 per DSLR camera per safari. Now, I wasn't really prepared for this and after some dialogue with the JLR guys I was finally relieved when they deferred it to start on May 16, 2012. The camera fees discussion got a lot of negative attention from most folks and emotions were running high, but that's a totally different story and need not be discussed here!

The safaris occupied most of our time during the morning and evening hours and I had non-stop entertainment with Pozu for the rest of the day. She had a gala time throughout the trip and I can see her transforming into a wildlifer soon given all the field knowledge she's absorbing at this young age. Being alone also gave me some good opportunities to photograph her during the walks around the resort. Here's one of my favorite shots from the trip.

My two trusted companions

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