As winter bids farewell to Bandhavgarh, mild showers continue to breath a fresh life in a forest which is all set to face a tough summer ahead. The mahua bloom is on the swing and damp smell of the mahua along with the fresh budding on the saal tree tops adds a fresh flavor to the park just before the onset of the summer.
Having said this, Bandhavgarh springs are fascinating to shoot the striped wonders of this tiger country. The soft morning and evening light along with breathtaking backdrops of colorful saal, tesu and cotton silk flowers give the edge to images which are normally very bland during summers.
Here are some images from the 2013 Bandhavgarh spring:
Tiger sightings in any national park of India have fluctuating cycles. There are times when multiple tigresses start breeding cubs and as a result sightings flourish as the summers approach. As the cubs grow up and start forming their own territories and females become solitary again & there is a brief dip period and the situation takes some time to normalize.
It was during this season of dipping summer sightings when I along with my friend Gautam Pandey visited Bandhavgarh National Park in the warm summer months of 2011. The tiger dynamics of the park were not very encouraging at that point of time as none of current cubs were around and queen Vijaya was still trying to find her ground in the Chakradhara meadows.
As we started our first drive in what was going to be a marathon run inside Bandhavgarh, little did we know that our tiger luck would be at abysmal levels in the days to come. After a few days of dry dusty drives, clouds of negativities surrounded us and we were just waiting to wrap up the shoot as soon as possible.
The heat made us ignore a basic thumb rule – when with nature, it is imperative to be positive and absorb nature in all its forms and shapes. Our 6th day started in a rejuvenating fashion as we stuck to some basics. Something was good about that morning as we started with no pre-defined strategies. In an unusual relaxed fashion we started a bit late and despite of the deliberated 15-20 minutes delay we were the first vehicle to enter the park gate. For a change the desperate cat-seeking prayers transformed into a mere ‘thank you’ to mother nature for making us experience this wonderful forest.
The sunrise over Ghodademon was refreshing and the rocky patterns on the upper reaches of the fort dazzled in morning light. The soft chirps of bush birds were live music to the ears at the vehicle sped leisurely across a forest buzzing with cheetals and langurs busy in their morning chores. Our days of disappointments were in the back-burner and the beauty of nature was touching our souls.
As we moved towards Mirchiani, a sudden movement across the stoned parked boundary attracted our attention. As soon as we breaked, a huge black ball of hair emerged out of the wall peeping right into the vehicle. The beautiful looking male sloth bear then climbed the wall inches away from our vehicle and took the comfort of a tree right next to road. He rolled, scratched himself against the hanging bark and spread inside the bamboo thickets.
The four minutes of bear action was not the best from a photography perspective but was enough to make up for the last 5 days. Nature is full of mysteries and spectacles that keep unfolding in every corner of wilderness. As children of this planet, the onus is on us to respect natural wonders rather than keep expecting and wishing that nature will fullfil all our demands.
New Delhi, December 8, 2012 : Nature Wanderers – the leading wildlife photography training organisation – launches Nature’s Touch : A wildlife photography show that would showcase the work of a talented bunch of 25 photographers from across India at the Lokayat Art Gallery in New Delhi from December 8th to 13th, 2012.
The exhibition is the first of its kind to promote wildlife and nature photography in the capital city of India. The exhibitors are a mix of senior corporate executives, school kids and entrepreneurs who have seriously pursued wildlife photography as a passion and have worked really hard in creating these wonderful images across forests like Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore, Corbett, Tadoba, Yala (Sri Lanka) and Masai Mara.
Leading wildlife film-maker Mike Pandey would be inaugurating this show in the presence of top notch nature photographers of India.
Venue : Lokayat Art Gallery
Opening Ceremony : Dec 8th at 5pm
Exhibition Timings : 11am to 8pm from Dec 9th to 13th
For Queries Please Contact
Kahini Ghosh Mehta – email@example.com, +91 9871367945
Attika Jain – +91 9953240242
A small island midst the calm backwaters of Bhadra Tiger Reserve was glowing white as I was approaching this piece of land in my small motor boat. The sky was deep blue with a painting of thin cloud layers that made a compelling formation. I was wondering what the whiteness was all about. As soon as the boat neared the shore, the clouds in the sky had some company for a cloud of river terns took off in all directions. Their numbers were in thousands. With a flurry of chicks around it was apparent that they were breeding out here. The backdrop was a carpet of fresh green grass with a mixture of rocky and muddy banks to add to beauty. Here are some of the images that I created during the River Tern fiesta at Bhadra Tiger Reserve this June.
I wrote this after coming back from Masai Mara last year and thought of posting it today because a lot of our participants accompanying me to Mara this year wanted to know about the equipment preparation to be done for the much awaited tour!
Photography in Masai Mara was a subject of my research as soon as I firmed up my plan to lead a group of photographers for the Migration Uncut camp in Aug 2011 along with my dear friend Aditya Dicky Singh from Bagh Safari. Aditya had been constantly giving me his briefs on photography in Mara from his 2010 visit and in December 2010 I started seeing the works of a lot of photographers who have covered Mara and specially the Great Migration in the past. Some of the internet articles were quite informative but what really helped were the photo stories as it was great to see the frames, compositions and perspectives taken by photographers from across the globe.
After all this research, I landed in Nairobi with 2 Canon 7Ds and a Canon 50D along with my Canon 500mm f4, a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 and my 10-20mm wide (these were the broad level basic equipments I carried). I was actually in two minds whether to carry the 24-70mm f2.8 rather than the wide for the ultra wide habitat perspectives but preferred the 10-20mm fir I thought it would be useful for landscapes and I would use the 70-200 for the habitat shots.
I learnt my first lesson on photography in Mara within a few hours of my entry in Masai Mara. My first safari started a bit late and as I took a short round under fading light conditions, I was shooting at an ISO below 1000 (around 500 to 640 to be precise). Though the sun was touching the horizon, the Mara terrain is never short of light. The savannah is open landscape and light falls directly on the subject unlike forests of India where the light is diffused because of the thick vegetation.
My second lesson was within the first 2.5 hours as in this short span I had already exhausted my 8GB card which I thought will last because I was going for a short round. It will be wrong to say that you can’t afford to be trigger happy in Mara. You can’t avoid it! For there is just too much of action around you and you just can’t resist the photo opportunities. Especially in the months of Aug and Sep, if you are staying at the right location (which enables you to be in the heart of the action areas) the action eats away all the tucked up memory! The main culprit is migration photography. A big river crossing comprising anything between 5000-10000 wildebeests has the potential of consuming 8GB of memory in 10-15 minutes. Using 4GB cards in Mara is not a good idea for you lose crucial moments while changing of cards. Safer bets would be high speed 8, 16 or 32 GB.
Crossings are tricky to shoot for the action is fast and you don’t get time to review your photos. But the flip side is that if you quickly glance through your shots to check if the exposure, focus and frame is right you can get back to work since the herds give you opportunities to shoot again. Typically you may mess up the first crossing you witness because if you witnessing the phenomenon for the first time in your life the excitement of coming face to face with the one of the biggest wildlife spectacles on the planet overpowers your photography and you end up with screwed up pictures. Yet again, if you are staying at the right location in Mara, there are high chances that you will witness more and more crossings and with each crossing you gradually realize the dos and don’ts as far as crossing photography is concerned.
It was after 3 hours that I pulled out my second body with the 500mm to shoot a lion pride that because that was the first subject at a distance. Mara is probably the best place in the world to create stunning habitat perspectives. The accessible terrain increases the proximity to your subjects including big cats thus opening doors of experimentation and innovation. Having spent a week under such shooting conditions I realized that 60-65% of my wildlife shots were taken using a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I used my long lenses at times to create tight compositions and for taking those tight river crossing shots but the variable zoom was the pet lens for me. I used it to high effect while shooting critical action sequences like lion hunting as well.
In our group of 12 Nature Wanderers participants, we have as many as five 100-400mm users and I am very happy with the quality of images that all our participants have produced.
Essentially Mara as a location has the potential of giving great image to photographers using all sorts and all strata of equipments. So just carry enough batteries and cards so that you don’t run out of ammunition.
It was a dark and gloomy evening in the Mowgli land and with the onset of monsoons, the weather was looking great for a drive in the forest but unfortunately pleasant driving weather doesn’t go too well with photographers because of our over-dependency on light sources which keep our trigger fingers happy. To the naked eye (because of the absence of light) Pench which I feel is one of the most picturesque parks of Madhya Pradesh when it comes to landscapes was looking pale and colorless. So I decided to experiment with some monotone perspectives and fortunately the denizens obliged making a supposedly dry drive very productive and interesting. Here are few of the images created during the last 2 days in Pench:
Nature gives signals… there are many times we ignore it but on that warm day of June it was hard to overlook them. As I was sipping a cup of tea in my camp in Corbett Tiger Reserve, a pair of white-backed vultures was displaying an extraordinary aerial combat. Moments later, a brown headed barbet perched itself on a tree next to me and was tossing small seeds and flower buds in the air as the food was landing straight in its mouth. As I was observing this pleasing moment, a crested serpent eagle flew and rested itself on a branch right over my head. I changed position to save my tea and saw that the magnificent raptor was feeding on a rat as the filtered sunrays were lighting up its fiery eyes.
“Seems to be a lucky day,” I thought and headed off for a short drive in the buffer zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve. For years, I had dreamt of a close encounter with one of the most ferocious and supreme rulers of the forest. Not a tiger, not an elephant but a reptile that rules the waters of Corbett. A reptile that on any given day can even give a tiger a run for its money when it comes to power. These seemingly lazy monsters can surprise you with their agility and their powerful jaws can crush the heaviest of preys like Sambhars in split seconds.
The mugger crocodiles and gharials have been ruling the sparkling waters of the Ramganga and can be frequently seen resting in the cosy banks of the river from various vantage points inside the national park. However, on multiple occasions, I tried my luck with them by visiting stretches of the Ramganga outside the national park. My attempts were to approach them carefully so as to get a close shot of these aquatic beauties. Most of these attempts failed as crocs are extremely sensitive to sound and they tend to disappear in the river with the slightest of disturbance.
As I was heading towards Marchula crossing the dense saal cover, I was wondering if the luck I was enjoying since morning would favour me. Forest superstitions plague your mind at times. “If I sight a cheetal somewhere in the next 2 minutes, this is certainly my day,” I told myself. I had hardly made this statement when a slight movement on the road bend caught my attention. A full grown cheetal stag walked out on the road looked straight at my vehicle and sprinted towards the other side. I was thrilled and marvelled at the signals that nature was giving me.
On reaching Marchula, I approached the river with anxiety and apprehensions. As I was descending from the hill, I saw something that seemed to be a log of wood. I inspected the area closely using my binoculars and the mighty jaws were wide open. A giant mugger croc was lying on the bank of the river… and luckily the bank was the same area I was approaching. I noticed that the beast was almost 20 meters away from the river.
Today was the chance for be face to face the monster of Ramganga – was the though as the distance was reducing while I was approaching the croc with steady and soft steps ensuring that I do not make a single sound. The slightest movement from his side and I would stop and stay still till I felt that the animal was comfortable with my presence.
I was now 20 meters away from the beautiful crocodile which was nearly of the same size as the distance I was maintaining. Sweat was dripping down my face and I could feel a cold shiver down my spine as those intoxicating green eyes were checking my every move. I don’t know whether it was because of fear or excitement… but I guess it was a mixture of feelings.
The handsome croc with its fiery eyes had now started give me the most nerve chilling experience in the wild as it started advancing towards me. I guess nature was now signalling that the time had come for the retreat and I slowly started backing off leaving behind the croc in that pristine valley that draws me back every time in search of the river prince!
It was my 18th consecutive drive in Bandhavgarh National Park. Excessive VIP pressure in the premier Tala zone of the park had disturbed my tiger cub hunting project which had started with a bang during the first half of my visit. The development unleashed the explorer in me as I spent considerable time exploring and discovering lesser tracked areas of Bandhavgarh. The satisfaction of emerging with first photographic records of unrecorded stripes in these areas was immense.
The Easter weekend got the Nature Wanderers (NW) and Canon photography shutterbugs in the tiger land. A group of super enthusiastic photographers across the country and across age groups and since over the last 2 weeks my risks were paying rich dividends I decided to ride my luck again. With over 70 vehicles expected to crowd the Mahaman area during one the evenings of the Easter weekend because of the guaranteed presence of mating couple in the Mahaman dam area, I was wondering if it was a good idea to go after this couple.
The tourist pressure in the area forced me and my team to lay down a strategy of entering the Makhdee zone from a less accessed gate quite far of from the main entrance. Reports of the Blue Eyed male being sighted in the afternoon by the forest post further reinforced the decision to take the risk for if we manage to catch hold of the male it would be an exclusive sighting away from the crowd. The NW group was cooperative and agreed to jump into this plan and we all entered the forest with anxiety and anticipation.
I always believe that Nature plays an equalizer and 2 weeks of positive decision making and risks that were hitting the bulls eye backfired that evening. The Blue Eyed male had walked out of the park area to the nearby village. Vehicles around the Mahaman dam had a good sighting of the mating pair of tigers. However the spirits were still up because when in the wild, you need to be prepared for failures.
The next morning I decided to stick to the books and since the movement was evident in the Mahaman area we entered the forest in a routine manner. Within minutes of entering the park, frantic langur alarm calls at the Charger Point attracted our attention. I could faintly see a male tiger in the foliage and his trajectory was towards the road. The elephant mahout who was tracking the tiger had other ideas as he blocked the male and pushed him inside the forest. During the months of March and Apr this was the 8th incident I witnessed when forest officials obstructed the movement of a tiger without any reason.
As I was watching and cursing the dramatic turn of events at Charger Points a series of faint cheetal and sambhar alarm calls excited my driver. “Mahaman area sahib” he remarked. With just a exchange of glances we decided to quietly sneak off the area and rushed towards the Mahaman dam. A fully grown male and female were royally enjoying the early morning breeze. As more and more vehicles piled up at the location, the couple moved towards the foliage.
I had witnessed the legendary mating of Sashi (Bamera) and Vijaya (Kankati) last year but this particular act of mating looked very different. The female seemed to be disinterested and walked off as soon as the male made advances towards her. Every few minutes the female would walk away and for around a couple of hours we hardly saw any actual round of mating.
The identity of the pair was still in question. A section of the naturalist crowd present onsite felt it was Mukunda but the apparent body markings on the male were different from Mukunda (who later turned out to be the tiger blocked by the elephant early in the morning). The female was another question?
Tiger Nation reported later that the female is I9 (Indrani – last litter of Badhrashila female cubs). The male is reported to be Jobi (M9).
The sighting of the this couple continues to be prominent around the Mahaman area as I write this blog. Increasing tourist patrols and awareness levels definitely impacts wildlife positively. As the tiger season has progressed more and more new tiger identities have come into the limelight signaling the presence of stripes in the fringe forests of prime tiger habitats around the country.
My 50mm hysteria continued after the first bit of experimentation in Corbett and this time the decisions were bolder for the subject and opportunities in question were rarer and the risk of missing out superb tight frames was higher. However trying this on the striped cats was great fun never-the-less. The reactions of the people around me was very amusing whenever I mounted this mini-glass on my camera. I remember that while I was creating a 50mm perspective of the devoted one eyed beauty Vijaya (Kankatti), someone in the crowd of tourist was murmuring in the background – “Seems he has forgotten to put his lens in excitement !”
Pleased to share some of the images created during my recent trip to Bandhavgarh National Park:
(A note post the Nature Wanderers Bandhavgarh Photo Tour in May 2010)
I entered Bandhavgarh with a heavy heart as the Jhurjhura female death had shocked wildlife lovers across the globe. Had always admired her photographs and the beautiful moments that my fellow photographers spent with this majestic queen and her cubs were flashing in front of me as I was passing through the buffer zone of the reserve. The last thing I wanted was a phone call that disturbed my thought process. 2 things you can’t ignore in life – wilderness calling and wife calling!
“A leopard just crossed the road in front of me!” remarked Kahini who was leading a group of photographers a few kilometers from my vehicle. There couldn’t have been a better welcome for this group of shutterbugs who had flown from across India to shoot in Bandhavgarh National Park.
As I was getting ready for my early morning ride in Bandhavgarh, apprehensions were setting in. With half of the forest closed because of the Jhurjhura incident and a dry sighting period that had lasted for around 5-6 days (which is surprisingly high considering Bandhavgarh standards) I was wondering if the forest God would shower his blessings.
For tiger researchers and photographers nothing gets better than getting the opportunity to follow one tiger for a significant amount of time and closely observe its behavioral and character traits and thereby document them in the form of photos. There are some legendary tigers who do give you that kind of an opportunity and Bandhavgarh does boast of names like B2 and the late Jhurjhura female. However, this eventful morning had something else in store.
As we moved uphill crossing the thick bamboo forest amidst loud peacock calls and a few long billed vultures hovering over my vehicle, something distracted my driver as he slowed down the vehicle. A slight movement in the bushes around 150 yards from the vehicle and out walked a young striped queen. She bent down, gulped water from a water hole which was not visible. Her golden quote and prominent marking were shining brightly in the soft morning light as her back was visible from the point I was observing her.
She lifted her head and as soon as she started walking towards the left towards the open patch of dry grass, I was ready to shoot. Little did I know that this young tigress known as the Banbhai female would give me 45 mesmerizing minutes that I will remember for the longest time…
She walked gracefully and disappeared behind the rocks. Anticipating her movement and direction, I moved the vehicle near a nullah around 100 meters away from the spot from where she was quenching her thirst. I breathed a sigh of relief when a couple of cheetal called informing me that she was still on the move. My eyes were glued to a spot which looked like a tiger track and I expected to see her there. She however surprised me as she emerged inches away from my vehicle.
Crossing the fleet of 3 vehicles from a distance of 10 feet, she walked royally in the middle of the road, smelling and sent marking trees before disappearing in the bamboo. I backed my vehicle and waited for around 10 minutes and the cheetal again called.
Seeing a tiger emerging from a dense forest and walking towards you is the most amazing high for a wildlife photographer. The Mirchani female was not done with her territory patrol yet. She walked out, stopped and looked straight into my lens. Through my view finder, I could see the pupil of her eye shrinking and shining brightly as the sun rays fell straight on her face.
She took a few steps towards the vehicle and then slowly walked past. Minute by minute the distance between the majestic predator and my lens was decreasing. I was now finding it difficult to focus with my 500mm as she was getting too close and quickly swapped bodies to get a better view. She bent and marked her territory again this time using her scat. A slight movement in my vehicle attracted her attention. She snarled and with her eyes on the vehicle she slowly moved away and with a couple of leaps she disappeared inside a cave.
These are moments that remain embedded in a photographer’s memory for though we do miss seeing the wild drama through naked eyes, the lens and the camera acts like a amazing bridge that brings us closer to the unique and exquisite wilderness of our country. The Big Bs of Bandhavgarh are a photographer’s dream and I would like to dedicate these shots to the legend of Jhurjhura… may your soul rest in peace!
(Published in Deccan Chronicle, June 2011)
As my car passed through the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, the sight dampened my spirits. Massive mining and quarrying operations on the wild lands dents the buffer zone of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve – the Jewel of Vidharbha. The apprehensions died down as soon as I entered the reserve with the sun rays filtering through a lush green forest that was sparkling after the monsoon showers.
The highlight of my Tadoba visit could easily have been those 4-5 minutes I spent with the striped queen who walked in front of my vehicle marking her territory and majestically patrolling the picturesque Telia Lake. The highlight was not the pair of wild dogs that came out in the middle of the road from no where. It was not even the two sloth bears I saw on 2 consecutive days. The hours that followed these short and sweet sightings had something amazing in store which became the feature of the visit.
The weather was a bit cloudy and the trees and bushes were buzzing with activity as the avionic wonders of Tadoba had just started their daily chores. We passed through the scenic Tadoba lake looking for some traces of the big cat and the sudden cheetal alarm calls caught my attention.
Taking refuge under a huge banyan tree, I strained my ears for alarm calls that were slowly dying informing us that the predator has either settled down or left the area. The intensity of the anxiety of the cheetal called for a waiting game and we were holding our breath in anticipation.
In the midst of the excitement that a predator movement can cause in a forest, you tend to ignore the action going on around you. A flameback woodpecker suddenly took off from a tree towards the back of our vehicle and flew towards this peepal tree drawing my attention towards this chirping patch of vegetation where the woodpecker joined its companion perching itself on a nearby branch. As I was observing the hops of the woodpecker pair, a golden oreole darted inside the tree flaunting its bright yellow coat in bright sunlight.
Further scanning of the tree revealed a pair of black drongos calling each other on adjacent branches. The drongo conversation was intervened by their specie counterpart as a white bellied drongo perched itself right on the branch above. On the right hand patch of the tree, the tree tops were dominated by a parakeet family. In the beginning it was just a couple of rose ringed parakeets that were feeding in the golden morning light. Within minutes, a pair of plum headed parakeets joined the party and before I could take the entire family in one frame, an Alexander parakeet caught hold of the top most branch to make it a complete family picture.
With eyes glued at the top of the tree, I missed some action in the center where purple sunbirds were flying in and out of the bush in search of flower nectar in the bushes behind the tree. The buzz inside the patch forced me to lift my binoculars for a closer look. Oriental white eyes, red vented bulbuls, jungle wabblers were the reason for hustle and just as I was lowering the binoculars, a blackish silhouette perched itself on the left hand corner of the tree.
I caught hold of my camera and as the lens focused on the patch, a beautiful pied cuckoo emerged from behind in bright light with a caterpillar catch as its morning breakfast. Hoping from one branch to another, it relished its breakfast and finally came out in the open posing in front of me for some good couple of minutes.
The peace and tranquility of a tree for a few minutes made it a hot spot for birds around the location but the peace was momentary. The predator somewhere in the deep and dense bushes decided to continue its morning walk and the cheetal gave frantic alarm calls yet again. The drongos were the first to leave and were followed by the parakeets. Within seconds a tree that was sheltering around 40 odd species of birds stood bird-less… this was another form of nature I witnessed for the first time – natural shelters are momentary!