WildZests: February 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Spotted Owlets of Bharatpur

As I walked leisurely on the trails across the park, I noticed a few spots where you can invariably find the spotted owlets roosting through the most part of the day. They're mostly seen in small groups of 3-4 owlets sleeping cosily until they're disturbed by some noise. They usually prefer to sit in places where they're not easily noticed but if you're lucky, you could get them without distracting backgrounds. Over the three days I made sure I visited these locations repeatedly to check if there was a better opportunity to photograph these cute little birds.

This little one was one of the three owlets who were sitting together until they were disturbed by the noisy onlookers and decided to split. The light was dull and I had to overexpose by 2/3 stop to get details on the bird without blowing out the highlights.

Tech Specs:

Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/400s, F5.6 and ISO 400


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Encounter With The Jungle Cat

As I stopped by a spot to look for some bar headed geese who were camping at a distance from the shoreline, I could notice that there was a lot of commotion near the bushes under a tree and the jungle babblers had gone awry. That's when I got a glimpse of a jungle cat who was hiding inside and that explained the alarm calls.

I setup my tripod and sat at a distance anticipating the cat to make it's move. A guide who was accompanying some foreign tourists had also seen the cat and wanted to wait there but his clients thought otherwise. So I sat there alone, watching the bushes and was getting the camera adjusted on the tripod when suddenly the cat made an appearance and walked down the trail. I was cursing myself for the missed opportunity since I could have gotten a really good shot of it coming out of the bush. But now all I could do was to follow it in through the bushes and see if I can get another opportunity.

The good thing was that it stopped after a bit and was watching something to hunt, that's when I got that little window of opportunity to make this shot. Again, this wasn't the best setting but I was happy that I could atleast get a record shot after the little mess up.

Jungle Cat

The Painted Snipe Couple

While at the park in Bharatpur, I had hired the services of a guide on Day 2 since roaming around by yourself in the park isn't always very productive, especially if you're a first timer to the place. End of the day, I was pretty happy with my decision since it did help me in spotting some of the beautiful birdies that I wouldn't easily find here. One of them was the Greater Painted Snipe!

The guide asked me a couple of times if I really was interested in seeing the Painted Snipes since we'd have to travel a bit away from the park and the location wasn't going to be all that great to talk about. So off we went through the streets of Bharatpur and onto this canal by the roadside. Now the canal isn't exactly a pretty place, it's quite filthy around and you'd need to step carefully to avoid getting your shoes with muck. But the painted snipes were there and I was happy about that. The only issue was getting a better angle to shoot, given the inaccessibility of the place, I had limited flexibility to choose my position. The only option was to wait for the birds to come to a better place so that I could get a clear shot. So we waited for them, and they obliged!

Inspite of the constraints, I was pretty happy with a couple of shots from there. Here's one of them where the couple posed together in a frame.

Tech Specs:

Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/500s, F11 and ISO 800

Painted Snipe - Couple

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bharatpur - A Birding Haven!

The Republic Day on thursday opened up a window of opportunity to do a solo trip to Bharatpur. Located in a small town in Rajasthan, it's well connected with Delhi by trains or buses. Agra isn't all that far too, and a visit to the Taj could be a done as well since it's just an hour away. But for this time, I wanted to keep it simple and decided against adding any other destination, so it was going to me just me and the birds in the park for three long days.

The park is quite different from the other reserves I've seen and the fact that motor vehicles are not allowed inside the park is a welcome change for someone who has been used to jeep safaris. You can choose to walk or hire a cycle inside the park, also if you're too lazy for either of that, you could hire a cycle rickshaw to take you around. Given the amount of equipment I had, I had to get a rickshaw for myself.

The main season to visit the park is from October through February when the breeding season starts and the winter migrants arrive as well. The park is host to a lot of migrant ducks that travel long distances as a part of their annual migration. The resident Sarus Cranes are also a known attraction at the park, however, I was told that there are only 3 couples in the park now and one of them have two young ones.

For those three days, I practically lived in the park from sunrise to sunset. My rickshaw guy used to get me packed lunch from the hotel so there was no need to go out anywhere at all. Spending time with the birds is an amusing experience, you really have to be patient and make them feel comfortable so that they can adapt to you as a part of the environment.

Here's a full-frame shot of a Black Redstart who was convinced that he had no threat from me. He was foraging on one of the trails and used to occasionally disappear in the bushes when someone approached his area. After sitting down for around 20 minutes or so, he came in so close that I had to actually wait for him to move a bit further to get him in the frame.

Black Redstart - Male

Crested Serpent Eagle - Juvenile

It's always a good thing to have a longer reach when you're shooting wildlife or birds. But, sometimes you find yourselves in a situation where fitting the subject in the frame becomes a big challenge and with fixed lenses it's you who needs to zoom in and out.

Shooting birds isn't an easy job:

- you got to be patient since they can fly and you can't!
- you need to maintain the right distance, too close and you'd have lots of difficulty framing the bird (like in this case)
- you need to figure out which is the best angle for the light and most importantly the background

This is a full-frame shot of this beautiful bird, probably one of three the shots where I could capture it from head to tail and get a decent background too. I wished to get some more space on the top and bottom but a different angle also meant a changed background and even though I do have other shots where the bird is comfortably placed in the frame, the background isn't as contrasty. So even though this is tightly framed, I still picked this one as my favorite from the series.

Shooting from the safari jeep also adds to the complexity as you need to figure out whether shooting handheld is a better deal than using the bean bag since the angles differ significantly. I had to shoot this handheld since the beanbag wasn't really giving me an angle to get the background right.

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

Crested Serpent Eagle - Juvenile

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mock Fighting - Tuskers @ Kabini

The Kabini river bank is a very special place for watching elephants in large numbers. As the forest starts going dry the fresh grass along the banks attracts a large number of herbivores.

The young males in the elephant herd often engage in mock fights (or sparring) in preparation of their days ahead. The real fights are more of a display of strength but in rare instances can turn ugly and inflict injuries.

Tech Specs:

Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/1250s, F4 and ISO 400

Tusker Mock Fight

Stag Fights

When you're in the jungle, it's all about being in the right place at the right time. Nobody can guarantee you great sightings, but if you're patient enough, you will be rewarded.

Usually we just pass by herds and herds of deers since they're found in plenty everywhere. But there are these moments when a common sighting turns into a special one. Though, stag fights are an integral part of deer behavior as a show of strength and supremacy it isn't what you see everyday.

We were actually watching a Changeable Hawk Eagle when these two males suddenly took up the fight. Since we were already waiting over there, the herd was at ease and the fighting display continued for around 2-3 minutes. I just managed to squeeze them into the frame and freeze the motion.

Tech Specs:

Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS
Shot at 600mm, 1/320s, F4 and ISO 800

Stag Fight

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Flamingos of Rann

Apart from the Wild Asses that are special to the Rann, the other species that makes a visit to the Rann every year are the Flamingos. Now, there are two types of Flamingos that come, the lesser flamingos which are seen in the Little Rann and the greater flamingos who prefer to stay at the Greater Rann.

One fine morning we had taken off into the Rann all by ourselves (We did have a GPS though). After an initial couple of hours of getting lost, we did manage to reach the creek where these beautiful birds were seen everyday. I spent a good two hours at the shoreline waiting for them to come closer. After the initial hesitance, they did ease out a bit and I was finally able to make some decent images.

You can see the images from the Gujarat trip over here.

Tech Specs:

Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS with 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/1250s, F8 at ISO 200


Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Survivors of Rann

The Rann of Kutch is the only place left in the world for this beautiful endangered species of Wild Asses. Once at the near brink of extinction, their numbers are now ranging around a few thousand due to conscious conservation efforts.

Though the name suggests that they are donkeys, you'd be amazed to see how graceful these animals can be. They're known to be really fast runners and can easily attain greater than 60kph speeds. It's a treat to watch them run on the parched Rann.

Like any other endangered species, it's illegal to hunt or harm them but it's also illegal to chase them in the Rann. Given the secure environment provided by the wildlife protection act, their numbers are steadily increasing and you can now see them in places across the Greater Rann too. The "Kiangs" or the Tibetan Wild Asses are also related to the Asiatic Wild Asses but they're much bigger in size and can almost be considerd at equals with a horse.

Here's an Asiatic Wild Ass posing in the evening light:

Tech Specs
Canon 1D Mark IV + Canon 600mm F4 L IS with a 1.4x TC
Shot at 840mm, 1/160s, F8 and ISO 200

Asiatic Wild Ass - A Portrait

Mesmerizing Rann

The Rann of Kutch was always on my list of places to visit. I had planned to do a trip in 2010 but that couldn't be worked out since I tried to cram in too many things in the agenda. So this time, we wanted to cover fewer places and spend more time at each place.

The Rann is a vast expense of salt flats which get submerged under water during monsoons and have small elevated land masses which emerge as islands called "bets". Post the monsoons, the water recedes and what is left of it is a dry flat land with very minimal vegetation along the shorelines and as you move a bit interior to the Rann, all you'd see is flat parched land in all directions. It's an amazing feeling to stand in the middle of the Rann with absolutely nothing around you for miles. It has quite a few uncanny similarities (barring the altitude and terrain) with the Ladakh region for the sparse population, untouched open areas, hard lives of the locals and most importantly warm people who are wanting to make you feel comfortable all the time.

The shallow saline waters provide an excellent habitat for the Flamingos who are regular winter migrants to the Rann. The Asiatic Wild Ass is another species that is found only in the Rann and have been revived from the brink of extinction. Apart from these two major attrations, the Rann has a lot of other things to offer in terms of landscapes, a very rich bird life, lots of nilgais, cute little desert foxes, golden jackals and the elusive desert cats.

The Rann is divided into two parts, Little Rann and Greater Rann. The Little Rann spreads around 5000 sqkms and is home to the the Lesser Flamingos while the Greater Rann hosts the Greater Flamingos. In terms of other geo differences, the Greater Rann has a lot more salt deposit, dips atleast a couple of degrees lower than the Little Rann and has a lot of area in the restricted zone due to proximity to the Indo Pak border.

Gozu had a fair share of off-roading into the Rann and the black beast loved every bit of it.

Tech Specs:
Canon 7D + Canon 24-105 F4 L IS
Shot at 24mm, 1/50s, F14 at ISO 200

The Beast on the Rann Highway

PS> I'm going to try and catch up on the backlog and get current on my updates going forward.