19
Apr
09

Ranthambhore Diaries…

Sheer desperation to capture the majestic, but elusive, wild cat through our lenses drove Alwan and myself to make a rather hurried trip to Ranthambhore. A long weekend at the end of March, provided the opportunity and with some quick online bookings for air/rail/safari tickets (logistic details at the end) we set off. The mood was optimistic yet tense. This was my first (and hopefully last) trip leaving Neelu behind, who could not join us for personal reasons.

 

A flight to Delhi, followed by an overnight train took us to Sawai Madhopur at the wee hours (4 AM to be precise) that Thursday morning. An early check-in into Anurag Resort allowed us to freshen up and get ready for our first safari. Since we had booked rather late, it meant we could only manage three full day safaris. What we had not realized then was that full day safaris only go through a single zone – Zone 5. Thankfully, on two of three days during our stay, with not many tourists opting for the full day safari, the department offered to split it into separate safaris for morning and evening. As an incentive, they offered to let us pick our zone for the evening safari (on both ocassions), an offer which we gleefully accepted. Thus began our tryst with beautiful Ranthambhore !

Day 1 Safari 1 – It was zone 5 to begin proceedings. A customary mobbing by rufous treepies at the gate and we were into the forest. The landscape was enthralling, nice rocky hillocks followed by dry grasslands. We were straining our eyes hoping to get a glimpse of any wild cats. We saw fresh pugmarks of a leopard but nothing besides that. A pair of peacocks put on a brilliant display, but as time went by our hopes of seeing a tiger/leopard faded. We were still optimistic and looked forward to our evening safari. We returned back to the hotel to get some much-wanted sleep having had a very early start and a very bad back due to the gypsy ride through the bumpy terrain.

 

Day 1 Safari 2 – We chose Zone 3 for this safari. This is the rather famous zone with the lakes where Machli2 and her amazing cubs were photographed last season. With the cubs having grown now and one of the daughers (T18) now relocated to Sariska, the situation isn’t quite the same. Nevertheless we were really looking forward to this one. This zone is quite picturesque with the two lakes – Rajbagh and Padam Talao supporting amazing bird life. The light and settings here are divine – this indeed is nature’s studio at its very best. We got some shots of Sambhar deers here, but the big cats still shied away from us. Birds sighted included Eurasian Thicknee, Painted Snipe, Osprey, few sandpipers, redshanks, egrets amongst others. Day 1 over and disappoinment was slowly but surely settling down on us.

Day 2 Safari 3/4 – Today we had a full day safari. Since two guests had not turned up, our trip was slightly more comfortable. It was another foray into Zone 5 and to fast forward a bit (by 2 hours), the sightings were very ordinary – exceptions being Grey Francolins with chicks and a pack of quails. We almost gave up any hopes, and were totally crestfallen, when the most unbelievable drama unfolded before us. A jeep preceding us sighted a leopard on a tree (unusually high for me). As we clicked hoping to get a decent shot, our driver sighted another leopard on an adjacent tree. This individual was a sub-adult and seemed very very scared. There was a semblance of tension in the air, as it hesitatingly started descending. The sub-adult leopard panicked and slipped from its perch. What followed was most unexpected. A tiger was waiting below (that explains the nervousness of the leopard). It pounced on the leopard and killed it in a matter of seconds. The pandemonium gave way to a eerie silence as we witnessed something few locals had ever seen before. The first jeep had to leave (since they were on a half day trip) while we stayed back. Our full day safari setup now turned into a blessing. We tried really hard to peep through the bushes and managed our first glimpse of the tiger (we could only hear it till now). It was feeding on the leopard it had just ambushed. We saw this with some disbelief. The guide told us that this could be a sign that the tiger is really hungry. Meanwhile, the first jeep informed a forest guard who came and drove the tiger away so that the leopard who was perched high up the tree, growling with fear, a mute spectator of the entire drama unravelling before itself, could scamper and run away from possible death. With no photographs but with extreme satisfaction at an unbelievable sighting, underlined by deep sorrow at the loss of the young leopard, we proceeded for our mid-day break.

After an uneventful break, we started back on our afternoon safari hoping to see the tiger again. We however were told that the forest dept had scanned the entire area but could not sight the tiger. We had no expectations now and almost all of us in the gypsy were sleeping. We waited at the same spot for almost an hour with no luck. With unanimous opinion on returning, we were about to start, when our driver sighted the Tiger. T2 was back. It scanned the area for almost 45 mins giving us great views and some decent shots (it was cloudy and there were a few drops of rain). It searched all around for its kill (which was taken by the forest dept for a post mortem) and subsequently happened to find the first leopard (who had survived the ordeal earlier in the day). The leopard climbed up the tree to save its life. The tiger tried going around it, climb higher from the hill but to no avail. We again had to get a forest guard to help the leopard run away to safety. What a day it had been. On the way back we got a glimpse of another tiger sleeping just off the track but with no photography opportunity. We returned back with a HUGE smile on our faces. A quick shower and we headed to Ranthambhore Bagh where Aditya “Dicky” Singh had been very courteous to invite us for dinner. This gave us an opportunity to meet another renowned INWian Dhritiman Mukherjee amongst other guests. A great interaction with the stalwarts ended an incredibly fascinating and eventful day.

 

Day 3 Safari 5 – An early start and with luck on our side, we sighted a Tiger just past the entrance. It emerged out of the bushes and circled us with a degree of nonchalance. Light had not set in as yet to get good shutters speeds. As it started ambling on the track, a senseless piece of sheer stupidity cut short our experience. The tiger was walking carefree, when the driver of the other gypsy wanting to impress his foreign guests overtook the tiger to offer them opportunities to shoot it from the front. With a gypsy in front and a gyspy behind, the tiger left the track and disappeared into the scape. With around 10 gypsys and 3 canters full of vocal tourists waiting in anticipation, we left the scene. An hour into the safari, we came across fresh pugmarks in the Lakarda area and could also hear warning calls of Chitals and Sambhars. A tiger was surely around. We briefly sighted one in the distance but not for long. A couple of canters joined us and with some amazing co-ordination between the drivers/guides we got a short but very close sighting of a huge tiger as it crossed the track to disappear once again into the bushes. A quick break at a forest post allowed us to shoot images of Treepies on the ground. On our return we sighted a beautiful Scopps Owl, one of the few avian lifers on this trip. An early (and delicious) lunch and we began preparations for our final safari.

 

Day 3 Safari 6 – We again chose Zone 3, having been mesmerized with the beauty this zone had to offer. Having seen 4 tigers so far, 3 of them rather close, we were no longer desperate to see another. But it would be a good way to sign off, more so if it would be along the lakes. The safari started with an unusual sighting of a Turtle (possibly Indian Flapshell Turtle), which seemed shy initially but then nicely posed for all cameras opening into a hug seemingly welcoming all into his/her forest. More sightings of sambhars, wild boars, nilgais and chitals followed but no tiger was to be seen. Everyone had given up any hope and were observing sambhar deers sparring for mating rights, when ….someone sighted Machli‚Äôs daughter (T17) on the other side of the lake. What ensued was an incredible melee, with 9 gypsys and 3 canters trying to outpace each other to the other end to get a good glimpse of the tigress. We waited for the dust to settle and hoped that she would cross over to the other side. When she did not, we too approached albeit keeping some distance from the crowd. And there she was, she emerged from the bushes, behind all gypsys right in front of us. She crossed our gypsy, paused momentarily, contemplating to go for a kill or not (I missed a golden opportunity to click her and a spotted deer fawn in a single frame, with my numb fingers failing to click). She decided against the hunt, as she ambled across and climbed on to the remains of this old fortress and settled down like a Queen in her Throne. She rolled over and then gave a regal look as innumerable clicks could be heard attempting to capture her glory. This drew curtains on our incredible tryst with wild cats in Ranthambhore. Fantastic experience, some memorable frames and lot of satisfaction….as we headed back.

For more images from this trip click here or the Photo Gallery link (sidebar).

Logistics

  • We booked all our safaris online. Apparently, not all seats are offered online. Some are reserved for on-the-spot bookings at the office counter. However, It is recommended that you book your safaris online well in advance to avoid last minute hassles/disappointments. The website URL is http://www.rajasthanwildlife.in/make_your_trip/Ranthmbor/planyourtrip.jsp
  • Indian Airlines/Jet Airways fly BLR-DEL with an afternoon flight around 4 PM. This suited us best.
  • New Delhi Airport to Hazrat Nizammuddin Rly Stn took us around an hour.
  • Intercity Express to Indore stops at Sawai Madhopur (scheduled arrival at 3:15 AM). If short on time, this is ideal.
  • We stayed at Anurag resort. Basic accomodation at reasonable rates. Located right opposite the Safari Booking point, so very convenient. We would always be the first to board the gypsy.
  • We would have loved to stay at Ranthambhore Bagh. Probably the best place to stay for photographers. Has amazing online reviews.
  • Do not miss any opportunity to try out the amazing tea at Manisha Tea Stall, just besides the safari booking point. It is simply out of this world. Try their fulka-subzi too. Awesome taste and VFM. You can pamper yourself here after a tiring safari and not feel any pinch on your wallet.

09
Apr
09

Ranthambhore Diaries… coming soon

Ranthambhore Diaries

Coming Soon….

10
Aug
08

Daroji Revisited

Bears

Our previous visit to Daroji was awesome, but had us wanting more. This place thus remained on our must-visit list. This time around we chose to do things a bit differently. We drove down instead of taking the train. (Note: Having one’s own vehicle is really useful). Our friend Alwan (fellow INWian) joined us. Santosh Martin (fellow JLR NTPian) helped with accommodation and logistics. Samad Kottur’s guidance too was invaluable. Thanks Santosh/Samad.

Contrary to our apprehensions, the drive was rather smooth. The total distance from Bangalore to Hospet is around 330 kms – 200 kms of excellent roads (NH4) to Chitradurga and 130 kms from here on to Hospet. Barring a 10-15Km stretch, the roads were fairly good. End to end, it took us 7.5 hours (including breakfast/birding breaks). We stayed at the Kamalpura forest rest house, ~15 kms from the bear sanctuary. The food provided by the rest house staff was really good and economical. The stay was comfortable indeed.

Highlights of the trip were:

  • Excellent sightings of the bears inside the sanctuary from close quarters. We even got a glimpse of a cub piggybacking on the mother. Piggybacking behavior can be seen in Feb-Mar but apparently, there were a couple of late cub arrivals this season. Good for us :) Did not get too many shots though since it was very very brief. Inside the sanctuary, we also got to see and make images of the Ruddy Mongoose, Peafowls, Painted Spurfowls, Grey Frankolins, Jungle Quails and other birds.

  • Visit to Hampi(Mathanga Parvatha in particular) in search of the Yellow Throated Bulbuls. We saw quite a few of them but they were very skittish and not easy to photograph. Also got to see many other birds such as Grey Hornbill, Shikra, Common Hawk Cuckoo and others. Hampi looks so nice that probably should make another trip just to visit the ruins of Hampi.

  • A drive along the High Canal road on the first evening led to the much-awaited sighting of the Eurasian Eagle Owl (same as Great Horned Owl and Bubo Bubo). The road is not tarred and the ride was bumpy, but the was really beautiful with the canal on one side of the road. We also sighted a Barn Owl along this road.

  • The lake along the main road in Kamalpur yielded excellent sightings of Pied Kingfishers and Pheasant Tailed Jacanas on all the days of our trip.

All in all, a very enjoyable and relaxing trip. The weather was very nice and the lighting was good enough to make many memorable images.

 
Birds Gallery

Laughing Dove Brahminy Starling Grey Francolin
daroji daroji daroji
daroji daroji daroji

 
 
Mammals Gallery

daroji daroji daroji
daroji daroji daroji

 
 

21
Jul
08

Maidenahalli


 

On June 28th, we joined Alwan, Sreeraj, Mandar and Shrikant for a trip to the Jayamangali Blackbuck Sanctuary in Maidenahalli. The sanctuary is around 140 kms from Bangalore. We left very early at 4am. Supposedly, it is easy to get lost on the way but the others had been there before so it we reached the place easily at around 7am.

Most blackbucks we saw were in the grasslands before entering the reserve gates. They are very skittish and run away at the first sight of humans. We realized later that they best way to photograph them was probably from within the car itself.

Later we came across the carcass of a male backbuck. The body seemed fresh (suggesting a recent death) and did not have any wounds/marks. We could not ascertain the cause of its death. As we waited, a pack of dogs (7-10) started circling this body and one started feeding on the body. We were wondering whether the dogs had killed the blackbuck. Later, experienced INW members suggested that the death could be because of the snake bite. Apparently, dogs are known to chase blackbucks but they can’t physically overpower an adult blackback. They do manage to kill/maul fawns though.

While stalking a group of blackbucks to get a decent image, Sachin saw a fox run across the grassland. He managed to get a few record shots as it paused momentarily before disappearing into the bushes. As he went into the bushes in search of the fox, he came across two black-naped hares. The fox was not seen again though.

We were hoping to see some raptors but were not very lucky. Just managed brief sightings of the Egyptian Vultures (circling over the carcass) and a solitary White-eyed Buzzard. We left the sanctuary in the afternoon and reached Bangalore in the evening. It was tiring but a very satisfactory trip.

13
Jun
08

T.G.Halli

Spot Billed Duck


 
 

This has been a long pending post. We had visited Thippagondanahalli (T.G. Halli) dam a few times in the months of Jan & Feb. This was the time when the Kestrel migrates to this place. It was probably the most photographed bird in Bangalore at that time :) Giving it company where the Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, the very cute Little Ringed Plovers, Yellow & Grey Wagtails, River Terns, Egrets, Herons, Larks, Pipits and many more. Along with spending quality time sighting the birds, we also happened to sight/meet many photographers (probably more than the number of birds) with top quality equipment.


For directions, please visit Rohini’s blog. It was very helpful to us.

Yellow Eyed Babbler Kestrel

Little Ringed Plover Little Ringed Plover

Jerdon's Bushlark Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark
16
Mar
08

Dandeli – Birding into the new year

Landscape - Kali 

Having seen wonderful pics from the INW07 meet at Dandeli in Feb 07 (before we started birding), we decided a weeklong birding trip to Dandeli/Kulgi/Ganeshgudi from 25-30 December. We travelled to Dandeli via Kumta and thus did not have our own vehicle.

Ganeshgudi – Hornbill extravaganza

For the first couple of days we stayed at the Hornbill River Resort (6 kms from Ganeshgudi, adjacent to the Bison River Resort). The location is unbelievably beautiful and offers amazing view of the Kali river. The morning views are stunning when the mist from the river creates a magical effect. True to its name, this place offer excellent sightings of the Malabar Pied Hornbill and Malabar Grey Hornbill. Both are seen in abundance within the campus feeding on fruits. Another must-watch here is the Hornbill Crossing – a routine of these majestic birds crossing across the Kali river every evening. Across the river one often can see the Lesser fish eagle and the Black-capped Kingfisher (amongst other birds). These are best seen on a boat/raft ride. Besides birdwatching we also experienced the adrenaline rush of river rafting here, traversing through some 10 rapids (3+ grade) on the Kali River.

 

Kulgi – Camping in nature’s lap

Kulgi nature camp was our second destination where we camped for 3 nights. This is probably the best place to camp around. The camp is situated in the forest and is a great location for birdwatching. You can see birds practically everywhere (behind the tents, enroute the watch tower, Inspection Bungalow). The best experience we had were with the mixed hunting parties when for 10-15 mins birds of different species are seen in large numbers. Typically this includes Drongos, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Starlings, Babblers amongst others. In addition to these we had good sightings of Woodpeckers (Greater-flameback and Yellow Crowned Pygmy) and our favourite – Asian Paradise Flycatcher right behind our tent. The forest department offers jungle safari here, but ours (like most evening safaris here) did not prove very productive. Our lone sighting was a Gaur (which most others did not). Though one can supposedly sight the black panther and the tiger in this sanctuary, we did not come across a single deer/chital.

Besides the surroundings we visited the backwaters of the Bommanahalli dam and the Dandeli Timber mart. The former did not yield any special sightings and was a bit of a letdown having walked 7 kms in early hours of morning. The later was a great place to sight the hornbills but our experience was slightly truncated by heavy fog early morning. Nevertheless this place offered great sightings of the Roller, Barbets and a number of small (still unidentified) birds.

Some things to note

  • For birdwatching, it really helps to have your own vehicle here. Not having one imposed a major constraint for us.
  • Private transport (typically Jeeps) is exhorbitantly expensive. Public transport is cheap but intermittent.
  • Distances are long. More often than not distances are much greater than those indicated by locals.
  • Hornbill camp offers tree house, log huts, rock huts and rooms at the same cost (please verify). Try to book the tree house, it is excellently located. The standard rooms are a pithy in comparison.
  • Bookings for the Kulgi Nature Camp need to be made through the forest department in Dandeli (Phone-, Fax-). Advance payment towards accomodation must be made via a draft drawn in favor of “The Deputy Conservator of Forests, Dandeli”. State Bank of Mysore has a branch in Dandeli.
  • Kulgi Nature camp is very economical. It offers standard/deluxe tents in addition to dormitories. The deluxe tents come with attached toilets. All tents have electrical points for charing camera batteries/laptops.
  • Though cheap, Kulgi Nature Camp offers very clean accomodation. Remember to carry your own towels and toileteries. Reasonably good food is available in the campus at a additional cost.
  • There is no mobile network/phone connectivity at Kulgi.
  • The temperatures at Dandeli, Ganeshgudi and Kulgi can vary. For us, Ganeshgudi was very cold in comparison to Kulgi.

 

 Plum Headed Parakeet   Shikra   Black Eagle   Green Imperial Pigeon 

 Gold Fronted Leafbird   Bay Backed Shrike   Malabar Giant Squirrel   Indian Nightjar 

 Malabar Grey Hornbill   Malabar Pied Hornbill   Lesser Fish Eagle   White-bellied Sea Eagle 

 MalabarPiedHornbill3   PlumHeadedParakeet   PrayingMantis   Reflections 

 Greater Flameback Woodpecker    Common Wood Shrike   Malabar Giant Squirrel   Draco 

 

Sightings in Kumta, Ganeshgudi, Kulgi, Dandeli: (* first time sightings)

  • Golden Oriole
  • Pompador Green Pigeon*
  • Black Winged Stilt
  • Black Winged Stilt
  • Spotted Redshank*
  • Common Sandpiper
  • Asian Koel
  • Coppersmith Barbet
  • White Cheeked Barbet
  • Cattle Egret
  • Pond Heron
  • Tailor Bird
  • Black Kite
  • Brahminy Kite
  • Blue Rock Thrush
  • Chestnut Tailed Starling
  • Common Myna
  • Common Crow
  • Spotted Munia
  • Spotted Dove
  • Laughing Dove
  • Indian Roller
  • Green Bee Eater
  • Peacock
  • Small Blue Kishfisher
  • Stork Billed Kingfisher
  • White Breasted Kingfisher
  • Black Capped Kingfisher*
  • Chestnut Headed Bee-eater
  • Lesser Fish Eagle
  • Crested Serpent Eagle
  • Green Imperial Pigeon*
  • Gold Fronted Leafbird
  • Red Whiskered Bulbul
  • Yellow Browed Bulbul
  • Asian Brown Flycatcher
  • Asian Paradise Flycatcher
  • Warblers
  • Purple Sunbird
  • Purple Rumped Sunbird
  • Lorikeet*
  • Plum Headed Parakeet
  • Scarlet Minivet
  • Malabar Pied Hornbil*
  • Malabar Grey Hornbill*
  • Common Iora
  • Black Lored Tit*
  • Velvet Fronted Nuthatch
  • Greater Flameback WP
  • Lesser Flameback WP
  • Darter
  • Cormorant
  • Black Drongo
  • Hill Myna
  • Oriental Magpie Robin
  • Pied Wagtail
  • Tickels Blue Flycatcher
  • Tickels Flowerpecker
  • Greater Coucal
  • Rufous Treepie
  • Grey Wagtail
  • Bay-backed Shrike
  • Red-vented Bulbul
  • Puff Throated Babbler
  • Tawny Bellied Babbler
  • Jungle Babbler
  • White rumped WP*
  • Yellow Crowned Pygmy WP*
  • Brown-Capped Pygmy WP*
  • White Bellied Drongo
  • Ashy Drongo
  • Racket Tailed Drongo
  • White Breasted Waterhen
  • Red Wattled Lapwing
  • White Rumped Munia
  • White bellied WP*
  • Oriental White-eye
  • Swallow (Misc)
  • Swift (Misc)
  • Brown headed Barbet
  • Rose Ringed Parakeet
  • House Sparrow
  • Great Tit
  • Malabar Whistling Thrush
  • White Rumped Shama*
  • Common Woodshrike*
  • Dark Fronted Babbler*
  • Yellow Footed Green Pigeon*
  • Shikra
  • Indian Nightjar*
  • Lesser Yellownape WP*
  • Black-hooded oriole*
  • Black Eagle
  • Common Rose Finch*
  • Blue-capped Rock Thrush
  • Jungle Crow
  • Wooly Necked Stork
  • Small Minivet
  • Brown Shrike
  • Black Shouldered Kite
  • Blue Rock Pigeon
  • Jungle Myna
  • White bellied Sea Eagle*
  • Flying Squirrel*
  • Malabar Gaint Squirrel
  • Draco*
  • Praying Mantis*
  • Gaur

 

Landscape - Dam 

 


 

05
Mar
08

Birding at Kumta

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank

 

In December, on our way to Dandeli, we stopped at Kumta for a couple of days for a family function. Kumta is a town in North Karnataka, around 60kms from Karwar. We managed to spend a little time birding there. The main highlight was the salt pans in Kumta which provided very good views of big flocks of Spotted Redshanks, Black Winged Stilts, some Sandpipers and the other common water birds.

 

Pompadour Green Pigeon Golden Oriole
Pompadour Green Pigeon Golden Oriole

Common Sandpiper Tailor Bird
Common Sandpiper Tailor Bird