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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Handsome Male of Bandipur!

It was the 20th August 2010, a peak monsoon season in south India. During this time sightings are normally dull & it is believed that the wildlife makes its appearance when you least expect, not sure how true this can be. I was all geared up to take up the morning safari ride, I had Kiran as my driver. I was checking and making sure if I had carried all my accessories related to my camera equipments. It has happened with many of us that we realize in the middle of the forest that the battery is running out and there’s no spare one or probably the memory card is full. I ensured that everything was intact, so we were all set to drive into the forest of Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Fortunately there was only a light drizzle, the light also seemed fine. As I boarded the jeep I asked Kiran to drive towards Mulapura area, I remember once I and my cousin Jaideep Siddannavar had sighted a tiger in Mulapur water hole but it was just a glimpse, as soon as it heard our jeep it disappeared in the undergrowth, so it was a big miss.

Our drive continued & we passed through the famous surle-katte that is lucky for me as I have sighted leopards on several occasions. I remember earlier this year I had spotted 2 leopards in courtship mood, unfortunately the leopard couple was too far and I only managed few records shots. It is a nice feeling to remember the sightings that had happened in this area. As we drove past this area I spotted a Muntjac (Barking Deer), this a shy animal and luckily he was grazing in the open at a distance. I asked kiran to stop and switch off the engine, fortunately the barking deer didn't notice us.

I quickly took this opportunity to photograph him, after couple of minutes the deer realized our presence so he turned towards me and I clicked another shot. I love these images simply because of the habitat, lovely lush green grass & the wild colorful lantana flowers. A perfect setting to shoot any animal.

It was about 7am we were about to reach the Mulapura water hole & were driving past through a dense bamboo tree on our right.

I suddenly whispered see Tiger!, everyone in the jeep were like where… where. Look there near the water hole. No one could easily spot it as only the head of the tiger was visible through long grass.

Wow! I couldn’t believe my luck, tigers are so elusive & getting one in the open is a rare moment. I immediately asked Kiran to switch off the engine as the jeep would roll over some distance in neutral gear & also this time I didn’t want the tiger to disappear with the noise of our jeep. The tiger was cooling off itself in a muddy pond, now all of them in our jeep spotted it.

One of the guests in our jeep was really emotional, the reasons for his emotions were that he has been visiting forest for past over 15 years, and after such long wait finally he sighted a tiger.

The tiger’s 3/4th body was soaked in the murky water & he was almost dozing and hardly opened his eyes. To me photographing any animals without eye contact is worthless. The tiger looked at us once and started to doze again, I knew that it is a waiting game here and one needs to show lot of patience. Our persistence paid off & the tiger turned towards us & I grabbed the opportunity to take few shots. The tiger probably had made a kill either early morning or the previous night & in such cases it is natural for the tiger to be exhausted and he has to cool off in water due to excess heat generated in the body.
After a while the tiger realized that he is being watched by us and I also noticed that he is being irritated with a group of flies sitting on his nose and forehead. Since the tiger had made a kill and some part of the meat was stuck on his face hence he was attacked by the flies.

Until now ours was the only jeep so there was no disturbance of other tourists else some general tourists make so much noise on not only seeing a tiger but keep chatting in the jeep as if they are in a public garden. I kept myself busy clicking the tiger images and suddenly I observed that the tiger was just about to yawn and I quickly changed my camera setting to burst mode.
The yawn began and it was quite a big one, it is a treat to watch such a natural behavior in tigers. The tiger was quite far but I was glad that I got some decent shots. Another interesting observation in the tiger yawning image is that you will notice that the group of flies fly away as he yawns. I continued to shoot more images, and suddenly my attention was diverted towards a White Breasted Kingfisher on our right. I loved the way this kingfisher was perched in the open so I managed few images of her.

After about 15 mins the tiger decided that he had enough of mud bath so he got up & headed towards the dense area. I was happy clicking few more shots and later the tiger disappeared in the bushes.

The World in Her Stride!

A day that I will never forget, a moment that will be cherished until my last breath. Many of us have seen tigers in the wild, but I had completely a different experience on 21st Aug'2010. I was put at Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Bandipur. I was excited to hear about a kill made by a tiger around the Kadamattur Katte area.

My evening safari ride had begun and this time I didn’t have to tell anything to my driver kiran, he had already made plans to go in search of this tiger around the area where it made the kill. We started quite early at 3:45pm, it had rained heavily on the previous day and the forest was flooded but it looked so beautiful with lush green leaves on trees and lantana had its colorful flowers. We drove around the KM Katte area several times, no sign of, leave aside the tiger we didn’t even spot any other animals except for few spotted deers.

With cloud cover and drizzle all through our journey we reached the anti-poaching camp at about 5:30pm, the forest guard over there said he didn’t see any tiger for past few days nor did he hear any alarm calls. But we had confirmed information about the kill, normally if a tiger makes a kill its movement is around the same area & in this case the tiger killed a Gaur, gaurs are huge weigh over 1000kgs and the tiger can't consume this for several weeks and it has been recorded that even an adult tiger will not be able to consume even 50% of the Gaur meat.

In our jeep we also had a family that were from Bangalore & it was their first trip to Bandipur, they seemed quite frustrated not that we didn’t see a tiger but no sighting of any animals. However I shared few of my experiences on Bandipur and kept their moral high. It was almost 6pm the light was fading and the park gates were about to close so we started heading back to the exit gate, I and Kiran said let’s take one last chance & take the route of Kadamattur Katte. The track was very narrow with thick bushes on both sides especially with the lantana.

I was in the front seat along with kiran and suddenly at distance we saw a tiger that took a huge leap from our left to right, it was so quick that others didn’t even notice and could not believe us. I asked kiran to stop the jeep and switch off the engine; the langurs on the tree noticed the tiger in the bush and gave alarms calls. By now we could just see part of the tiger’s body and head in the bush. I noticed that it was staring at us and I quickly realized that the tiger didn’t have a passage to go into the bushes because of the thick lantana.

I asked kiran to reverse the jeep a bit, with the hope that tiger will come out. I guessed it rightly & couldn’t believe that the tiger was just about to come out of the bush. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to photograph but my position/angle was not ideal I was in front seat with no opening above me and photographing through the wind shield glass was the last thing I wanted.

I requested kiran to reverse a jeep a bit more and park it in an angle such that I am able to shoot from my windown with bean bag support, he did it to perfection. I was all set & the tiger started to move out and I was in direct eye contact with the tiger, I was nervous but kept the focus points on the tigers eye/head area and started to shoot in burst mode.

Due to low light my shutter speed was hardly 1/50 sec and I had no time to change the settings, I continued to shoot. The tiger was staring at me & continued to walk slowly towards me I didn’t move and kept clicking. What a moment it was, call it face to face or head-on, the distance between me and the tiger was less than 50 feet, the family that were seated in the jeep were so scared that they closed the windows and in the excitement they didn’t click a single image.

As the tiger got even closer, the group seated at the rear screamed. From a sudden silence there was so much noise that the tiger that was heading towards our jeep changed its direction and walked on our right side again in the bush. It didn’t have any other way so it was patiently waiting in the bush. The time was almost 6:30pm and normally the forest officials starting closing the exit gates. So we had to leave the tiger in the bush and move on.

Friends believe me it is a lifetime opportunity for me to face a tiger so close & head-on. By far this was one of my best ever moment that I ever had; I felt I had complete control on the tiger movements & felt I was on top of the world. Even now as I am narrating this incident my hands are shivering, I can’t believe that I could face a tiger so close. A dream come true and surely some dream shots.

Magical Kabini - Born Climbers

It is always a pleasure watching any animal with cubs, and when the subject is Leopard it goes right on top. For past few days’ news amongst the wild life photographers in Bangalore spread that a Leopard was seen with its cub at Kabini (Nagarhole Forest) and was seen on two occasions. Leopards are the most elusive cats in the wild and hard to spot. I had never seen a Leopard with its cub despite visiting forests for so many years. On 13th April 2011, I along with few friends visited Jungle Lodges and Resorts,Kabini.

Our first safari ride in the evening was interesting; shivanand one of my favorite naturalist was with us. We sighted quite a few herds of elephants on the backwaters of Kabini River. The migration had begun and most of the elephants during this time migrate from Bandipur, Madumalai and Wayanad to Kabini. It was a treat to watch the elephants on the backwaters of river Kabini.

Honestly our interest was something else “The Leopard and her Cub”; shivanand did try most of the routes like the President road, Segur junction, Sunset Point, Niligiri Plantation & Mastigudi, where movement of the Leopard and her Cub was recorded, however we couldn’t track them.

We returned back to the resort and started discussing on are plans for next day’s morning safari. It was a misty morning; shivanand insisted that we try the sunset point on backwaters first as a tiger mating couple was spotted 2 days ago especially in the morning. We patiently waited at sunset point but no sight of any tigers, a powerful binocular was also used by shivanand to check every thicket on the backwaters but tiger didn’t make its appearance.

At the backwaters a forest official vehicle zipped in and I was happy to meet with Mr.MN Jayakumar – Chief Conservative of Forests (CCF), he told me that a pack of 20 wild dogs was sighted on the sunkada katte main road. We decided we will take a chance and drove towards that direction however no sign of wild dogs at that location as well.

We were getting little edgy as time was running out, we spotted a White Bellied Woodpecker at a close range and we started taking few shots. In the meantime shivanand got call from Basil another naturalist from JUNGLE LODGES AND RESORTS that a large male tiger is walking towards backwaters. Without wasting any time we drove towards the backwaters, it would easily take us about 20 mins or more to reach the spot, driver Muddu accelerated since we had very less time. Basil again called and informed that the tiger is now soaked himself in the water so asked us to reach there ASAP. We were still 15 mins away from the sunset point where the tiger was spotted.

As we were about to reach Segur junction, we saw a leopard crossing our way at a distance. We were in two minds whether to stop and shoot from distance or go little closer that had risk of leopard disappearing in the bushes. I asked Muddu to drive a little further; it was not worth shooting from some 300 mts distance. To our surprise the leopard that was gradually walking towards the bushes stopped, and turned back looking for something. Shivanand immediately guessed that this is the Mother Leopard we were after and he confidently said that the Cub is somewhere around and will join her mom. There is no way that the mother leopard would leave her cub alone.

Our excitement after seeing the mother was already high, I didn’t waste much time and started to shoot the mother leopard. Suddenly shivanand whispered sir the cub is hiding underneath the tree stump on our left, with so much excitement around, at first I couldn’t spot the cub, this was highly embarrassing, but these things happen quite often when these beautiful cats are around. I could barely see the cub as it was lying in the dry grass and camouflaged but I fired few shots blindly and fortunately it was spot on.

On our right the mother leopard was patiently waiting and then she called her little one. In no time the cub sprinted as it heard mom’s call. I managed few record shot of the cub sprinting towards its mom. Wow! What feeling this was “A Dream Come True”? As the cub joined the mother both started walking towards the bushes, again shivanand whispered sir the leopard will climb the banyan tree that was few meters away, he was spot on, and both mother & cub climbed the banyan tree. At first they both hid behind the leaves, and then mother peeped out to check if we were still there. Since she sensed no danger or threat to her and her little one, the action began.

The cub had license to move around, in no time the cub was in playful mood by descending and ascending the tree branches. This was excellent opportunity for us to record and document in form of photographs. We also noticed that the mother was training the cub on climbing skills; I managed to take few shots of this behavior.

We had completely forgotten about the tiger sighting at sunset point, Basil called again and this time he informed us that the tiger has moved from the backwaters and disappeared in the forest. We informed him about Leopard with Cub sighting and in no time 4-5 jeeps of JUNGLE LODGES AND RESORTS zipped in with so much noise & few tourists in other vehicles talking loudly both mom and cub hid behind the leaves and unfortunately the other vehicles didn’t get a clear view. Now that there was so much disturbance we decided to drive towards sunset point to take chance of the tiger, however there was no sign of the tiger so we returned back, it was laready 9:30am and we were already late to reach the exit gate. By now all jeeps had left, as we reached the segur junction same point where we spotted leopard and her cub. We again spotted mother and her cub on the same tree. since it was really late we had to leave the leopard and her cub and drive towards the exit gate, during this time I turned and looked back and saw that the mother leopard was still looking at us, this was really a touching moment and I felt we had built a close bond with these beautiful cats in a such a short time.

Friends this is one of the most beautiful moments and honestly a “Dream Come True & Dream Shot” for me. I had seen and photographed Leopards before, but not seen a Cub and God blessed me with this wonderful sighting & some worth sharing images. What a mother she is, you can’t image how difficult it is to bring up cubs especially in case of leopards that too in a Tiger country.

Info on Leopard Climbing Skills – Leopards are the best tree climbers in the big cat family. They spend a lot of time in the trees relaxing, looking around, playing, and even eating and sleeping. Trees keep leopards safe from their enemies, including lions, tigers, hyenas, and wild dogs.

A leopard cub starts to learn tree-climbing skills as early as three to four months old to avoid attacks from enemies. After making a kill, the leopard may eat at the site, drag the remains of the prey by the neck in its mouth, and pull it high up into a tree. The carcass is hung over the tree branches so the food will not be stolen by other animals. The leopard will eat the remains of the prey in the next few days. It is amazing that the leopard can drag a prey, which could weigh two to three times its own weight, high up in a tree.

Sometimes, a leopard hunts prey from a tree by hiding in the tree branches and waits. When a prey passes by, the leopard drops on top of it. The leopard may hunt monkeys and baboons in trees. The long tail helps the leopard balance on the tree branches. The sharp claws make it easy for the leopard to climb trees.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Window to a Stealth Predator!

On 19th May’11 (Thursday) I got a call from my farm in Bandipur, the care taker Nagendra informed me that my German Sheppard Dog - Angel has littered 5 puppies, 3 males and 2 females. I am not a professional dog breeder and had no idea what to do next. I had no option than to call Anandhi our family friend who had gifted me Angel on my birthday and Angel was only 45 days old then (2nd Sept’2009).

Upon speaking to Anandhi I got a long list of do’s and don’ts and list of medicines, tonics and multivitamins etc… I had no choice than to travel to Bandipur, for a change I was traveling with some work and not on the usual jungle safari trip. However on the next day (Friday) I had some important meetings to attend coupled with some personal engagements in the evening so the earliest I could leave Bangalore was Saturday morning.

On Saturday I reached the farm by 11:30am and was excited to see the puppies & Angel, fortunately all of them were doing well. The father – Prince (male dog) had no clue what was happening. I handed over the medicines and other stuff that was needed for Angel and her puppies to my care taker, since this was a last minute trip I didn’t get a room at Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR). I had no choice than to stay at farm & manage with basic facilities. I am ok with this as long as I get safari rides from JLR.

I spoke to JLR & they were kind enough to accommodate me in one their jeeps of course at a cost. I was glad that despite having loads of guests due to summer vacation plus the normal weekend rush, they still agreed to accommodate me. I was waiting for my jeep, suddenly my friend Vinay and his wife Priya arrived at JLR. They had just returned after a week’s stay at Kabini and like me they too didn’t get accommodation at JLR, Bandipur. Hence they had made arrangements for their stay at Forest Hill Farms, Masinagudi ( Tamil Nadu) some 25 kms from Bandipur. Both Vinay and Priya seemed all over the place as their stay was at one end and safari rides with other resorts, but the Nature lovers don’t mind all this as long as they get safari rides. I and Vinay agreed to be in touch via phone & SMS during the jungle safaris, thanks to Airtel that we get signals at some places if not the entire forest.

Vinay and Priya are regular visitors to Kabini and have the best collections of Leopard images, by far the best ones in India. They wanted to add few leopards from Bandipur to their kitty.
Due to some unavoidable reasons my jeep left late almost 4:45pm, normally I am inside the forest before 4pm. I had Basavanna, Senior Naturalist who was driving the jeep & as usual I took the front seat. Upon asking Basavanna about sightings he said Sir nothing much for past few days, except that a leopard couple (M/F), probably a mating pair had made a kill & was sighted a day before. And surprisingly the leopard had killed a calf of a Gaur (Bison) and it was unable to carry the kill up the tree. I can imagine the even calf of a gaur can easily be 3 times the weight of the leopard.

As we entered the forest we took the Kare Gowderana Katte road, Basavanna was about to turn right, the route leading to a small water hole. While he was turning suddenly he whispered “Sir Leopard” where I asked him, he replied Sir on the tree. Which tree Basavanna???
Sometimes it is very embarrassing while sighting of Tigers and Leopards, despite them being so close one fails to spot them due to excitement. The guest at the rear had no clue about this, in the meantime I saw it and then we informed them about it and requested everyone to stay calm. Hats off to Basavanna for spotting this beauty, can you believe that this Leopard was fast asleep on the tree when I saw it. Interestingly we had so many jeeps pass by the same route and all of them went unnoticed of this leopard.

I quickly made some images of the leopard; it was quite close especially for my 500mm lens hence couldn’t get the leopard in full. As soon the leopard heard noise of our jeep he woke up to check of any threat, by now we got to know that this was the male leopard and also it was the same male that had made a kill. The evidence was the blood stains on the face and whiskers of this leopard.

In the meantime I asked Basavanna to call my friend Vinay, he couldn’t reach him. Then I quickly sent him an SMS about the sighting with exact location and fortunately Vinay responded that he is coming. By now few other jeeps saw us & guessed that we had spotted something and drove quickly towards us, leopards are the most shy cats, in no time the leopard decided that he had enough all this non sense so he got down from the tree and disappeared in the under growth.

Vinay and Priya reached the spot, but they missed this sighting, we all tried to track the leopard again but couldn’t find him. Later we split our routes for spotting other predators and about 6:15pm while returning I asked Basavanna to take us to the same location where we sighted the leopard. Believe me the same leopard was again resting on a tree and this time much closer to the game track. This time he was more active and in a fraction of a second he jumped of the tree and disappeared. I couldn’t get any photographs this time, as the leopard was really quick.

Vinay’s jeep too drove here and missed it again; this is what happens to most of us many a times, missing such sightings by whiskers. The next day Sunday morning we again had very good leopard sighting and this time it was the female leopard, but luck wasn’t with Vinay/Priya, they missed even this by whiskers.

When Vinay missed it for the 3rd time, I was wondering & couldn’t believe that how can the luckiest man of leopards be so unlucky today? I said to myself that maybe God has something special for him.

Vinay and Priya didn’t give up, I had to return to Bangalore so I headed back by 11am. Vinay decided that he will have one more go at the evening safari and return late night to Bangalore. God really had something special for Vinay and Priya, during the evening safari they not only spotted the male leopard, but were blessed to see and photograph the male leopard carrying the kill that is the calf of the Gaur.

A Lazy Leopard on Sunday!

Another day in the forests of Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka State, India. It was Sunday morning during the peak summers and I was on my usual game.  We had Basavanna - Senior Naturalist of JLR with us, having heard about a kill made by a huge male leopard. I was keen to spot it and capture in my camera. However despite so much efforts we couldn’t track this cat. During our I was inquiring with Basavanna about tiger sightings he replied it was very dull for past few weeks, so it was pointless to make any attempt to go after tigers.
We approached the minister gutthi road and suddenly heard a langur (black faced monkey) alarm call. We stopped the jeep and were looking around in all directions; I and Basavanna kept a keen watch on every tree, the alarm calls went on quite loud and this time not by one langur but by a group of at least 5-6. The excitement began, we were quite sure that a predator more likely a leopard is around. The minister guthi route is surrounded by dense trees, and it was making all the more difficult for us to spot and then after a while we spotted the leopard on a tree, it wasn’t so easy to see it clearly as the leopard was resting on a tree branch in a dense area covered by leaves. It was a female leopard this time, she was sort of disturbed not by our presence but mainly by the langur alarm calls. She woke up and first thing she did was to stretch her body, typical a lazy stretch that we do on a Sunday morning.
And the next moves were even more interesting, just not the lazy stretch but like humans she closed her eyes due direct sun rays falling on her. As the langurs noticed that the leopard is showing signs of been active, the alarm calls went even louder. The 3rd action that I noticed and documented was the leopard clearly showing that she was annoyed with the langurs, so she gave a wearied stare at them, I was fortunate to capture these beautiful moments. Since the sunlight was falling on her face, the eyes were actually shining. And boy, look at those whiskers and eyes; just loving every bit of those special moments. I haven't actually seen such long whiskers of leopard/
We spotted the leopard on my right, so my position wasn’t that great to shoot. So I actually had to place my bean bag on the roof top of the jeep, balance on the foot rest of the door and shoot. Not at all a comfortable position, but when you have such a beauty in front these things don’t matter much. One needs to keep in mind to change the position of the jeep as required, here we didn’t do it because there was risk of leopard shying away and disappearing into the bushes.Since the leopard got up from her resting position the langurs panicked even more and now they were not only giving alarm calls but were seeing jumping from one branch to the other, typical monkey’ing all over.This is quite obvious; at times leopards are so quick and are quite capable of killing the langurs on a tree. And of course we have records of such kills both at Bandipur and Kabini.
I captured some annoying moments of this leopards that can be seen in images. The alarm calls never stopped, it went on and on, the leopard had enough of this non-sense on a Sunday morning.
So she decided to climb down the tree and disappeared into the bushes. While she was descending the I tried to click few images unfortunately the images got under exposed.