The 2019 edition of my Tiger Marathon photo safari series just concluded in Bandhavgarh National Park. A fortnight filled with tiger action as we worked with Dotty and Solo – the two devoted mothers of Bandhavgarh who have been raising their litters in the park this season. From cubs playing to some charismatic males, Bandhavgarh always throws up surprises every day. Here are some of the many moments witnessed in the past 15 days.
2018 has been a year of adventures, some stupendous wildlife action, some exotic species and some great wildlife moments. As we end this wonderful year here is a brief recap of the some of the images that are my personal favourites for this year.
Making effective use of light and its play is a key feature of my work and this handsome male tiger in Ranthambore stood perfectly in a lush green monsoon forest in October this year.
A dream came true in November as I along with my guests photographer a clouded leopard in the wild in Borneo.
Tracking cubs is challenging and as a wildlife photo guide I love that challenge. The moments spent with Bahati and her little one in Masai Mara tops the chart for 2018
The young price of Paar was shaping up as a legendary tiger of Corbett before he had a painful end as he was mauled by an intruding tiger. His memories will remain in our hearts forever.
Snow Leopards cuddled up in the freezing wind of Spiti. The time we spent with this family on multiple occasion was chilling and thrilling.
2018 marked my introduction to Infra Red photography and Corbett was my favourite playground for creating some dramatic IR images with my newly acquired toy.
I deployed a few camera traps in various habitats but the Satpura leopard at Reni Pani Jungle Lodge was special as it was a quick turnaround image. This female was trapped within 24 hours of deployment.
Kaboso has been the key entertainer at Masai Mara in the past few years and our guests spent some special moments with her during the 2018 edition of Migration Uncut.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year. May 2019 get loads of success and happiness for you all!
We started a brand new tiger season in a green rejuvenated Ranthambore. The park was in a bad state during the last season because of lack of water and animals were in distress and a good monsoon was critical for Ranthambore. September turned around the fortunes of Ranthambore as the park received heavy rains filling up all the water bodies of the park and the dazzling green vegetation along with the rain water accumulated in every corner of the park made Ranthambore gorgeous like never before. The tiger sightings gradually picked up and the highlight of the first week was the mating of the ever charismatic Noor (T39) and T57. Will the reigning queen of Ranthambore gear up for her 5th litter in the coming months?
The tigers seen in the first week were T8 & cubs, T97, T98, all 3 of Noor’s separated daughters. Machali Junior (Arrowhead), T19 and cubs, T41 and cub, T34 and T73.
Good news poured in from Bandhavgarh as well we ended week 1 as Spotty’s new litter of 4 was seen. With multiple breeding females Bandhavgarh would surely be a park teaming with tiger action this season.
Here are some images summarising the first week of the new season in Ranthambore.
15 years ago when I started working in one of India’s most stunning forests, the damp smell of the leaves that dazzled the forest floor overlooking a magnificent saal canopy and the musical sounds of crystal clear water cascading down the white rocks shining like jewels, as the first rays of morning rays kissed the Ramganga, were some of the first soul touching moments of Corbett which continued to draw me back to this magical landscape in various professional capacities.
The blue waters of this spectacular river and the presence of glittering coat of a shy and elusive Corbett tiger trespassing the divine landscape always made me skip a few heartbeats. Years passed by and then emerged a tigress from this river as a goddess and with the attitude of a bold mermaid who loved the rich blues of the Ramganga. She became a showstopper and for the first time Corbett was known because of a tiger called Paro. Having followed the stories of various tiger families across tiger habitats of India I always waited for an opportunity to observe a tiger family that ruled the rivers of Corbett. I anxiously waited for her future generations as I was curious to see a river denizen raising her young in the dramatic yet challenging terrain.
Over the past many years I followed various tiger families in various tiger habitats of India. As Paro walked out with her tiny borns dangling in her mouth last summer, I was geared to document a special story I had been waiting to work on for over a decade. A perfect character and the perfect family in some grand backdrops. The monsoons swept away half of her motherly aspirations and she was left with one male cub – the chosen one.
A little prince did not hesitate to take the first bold steps in a river rubbing shoulders with her mother. His antics made him a heartthrob as he braved the winters, climbed tree stumps and exhaled breaths of gold in the misty golden mornings of the Ramganga. He was always a little slow in catching up with her mother. But eventually he did make it every time.
However the night of May 27th was tough for our entire team as we knew the young prince had strayed a little too far and he was in danger. It was a night when a grieving mother battled an intruder and her cries echoed in the vast grasslands she owns. It was a night where we waited every minute for the sun to throw the slightest of light on a small water puddle which was the last refuge for a Prince who dreamt of ruling the river.
RIP “The Little Prince of Par” …
Your tales will be embedded in the soul of the rivers which have been your playground in the past one year. I pray for your the future generations of stripes who will continue to rule the rivers like you aspired to in the years to come.
The Dissection Technique for Portraits
The Cement Issue
I have been on the road since the first week of March. From a fortnight in high altitude terrains of Himalayas in search of Snow Leopards to shuttling between Corbett & Ranthambore guiding guests from South Africa, United States & United Kingdom. Here is a quick round up for March 2018.
The Snow Leopard Expedition was a memorable experience with 6 sightings of 8 individual cats. The tender mother and cub moments enthralled our guests and the bold male gave some excellent photographic opportunities.
Paro’s young cub in Corbett has been looking in great shape and being the lone cub he is growing up fast. His antics around the river and river beds of Dhikala would be etched in sighting records of Corbett for years to come. Ranthambore on the other hand has been going steady and the major turn of events has been the sudden surge in sightings of Krishna (T19) and cubs post March 2018. Machali Junior or Arrowhead littered in the last week of February but the cubs have not been seen post the first report and the survival of the young cubs is questionable. The other consistent sightings have been Laila (T41) and her Blue Eye male cub. Noor (T39) and her female litter of 3 cubs are now showing signs of separation. Ladli (T8) and the cubs have been regularly seen along with the separated male cubs of T60.
Stay tuned to this space for some more exciting summer reports from Wild India in the coming months.
Planning for a wildlife expedition in 2018 with a focus on wildlife photography?
Join Shivang Mehta for an exciting line-up of photographic safaris in various destinations of India and Africa. Here is a brief list of programs you can register for:
Migration UNCUT 2018 Photo Safaris
Migration photo safaris at prices like never before. Register before December 31, 2017 to avail the special early bird offer in order to be there for the biggest wildlife spectacle in the planet at Masai Mara in Aug-Sep 2018. 3 back-to-back photo tours with small batch sizes of 4 photographers per batch in unbeatable stay locations in the Mara.
Batch 1 – Aug 14-20, 2018 – Register Now
Batch 2 – Aug 21-27, 2018 – Register Now
Batch 3 – Aug 28-Sep 3, 2018 – Register Now
Tiger Marathon 2018
Are you willing to boost your tiger portfolio by maximising field time doing tiger photographic safaris this year? Be a part of Nature Wanderers annual Tiger Marathon photo tour series. Tiger Marathon is a back-to-back series of photo safaris where you can pick one tiger location or club multiple locations enabling you to customise your tiger safari schedules as per your convenience.
Every year we at Nature Wanderers carefully analyse the tiger dynamics of various tiger hotspots of India in order to plan the popular Tiger Marathon series. A lot of factors go behind this planning and presence of tiger cubs is one of them. For Tiger Marathon 2018 our focus parks are Corbett National Park and Ranthambore National Park – 2 of the most prominent tiger habitats of India teaming with tiger cub action in the summers of 2018.
Batch 1 – Ranthambore – Apr 28 – May 2, 2018 – Register Now
Batch 2 – Ranthambore – May 3 – 6, 2018 – Register Now
Batch 3 – Corbett – May 7 – 10, 2018 – Register Now
Batch 4 – Corbett – May 11-14, 2018 – Register Now
You have experienced African destinations like Kenya and Tanzania with Nature Wanderers over the past decade and with that experience, you must be aware that Africa is the mecca of wildlife with loads of photographic opportunities. We have been asked questions by a lot of photographers like you on how to diversify your African portfolio beyond Masai Mara and Serengeti. We feel a key difference in images can be changing the backdrops and trials with new photographic techniques like usage of external light sources in order to bring about a uniqueness in your African portfolio.
Join Shivang Mehta (Canon Photo Mentor) for this unique tour to experience the highlights of one of the most diverse photographic destinations in the world – Namibia. This tour offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes together with an unbelievable bird and wildlife spectacle. Expect some of the best photographic opportunities imaginable both day and night..! Shivang will be accompanied by BBC award winning photographers who have worked extensively in Namibia as their home turf to give you the opportunity to boost your portfolio of African images using techniques seldom used in Indian scenarios.
Ranthambore National Park and multiple tiger reserves opened for tourism after a 3 month monsoon break on October 1st. I just wrapped up my first photo safari session in Ranthambhore and week 1 was very exciting as we saw the first few tigers post the monsoon break in lush green backdrops of Ranthambhore. The monsoons this year were bad and unless it rains in winters, Ranthambhore water sources would be drying up very soon this season.
Machali Jr. / Arrowhead was the first tiger to be seen for the season. Noor (T39) and cubs have been seen regularly in the last week and the young brigade looked in great shape. T8 and cubs have been sighted consistently in the monsoons as well and the trend continued in October first week. T57, T41 and cub, T73 and cubs were some of the other tigers that were seen during this week.
It has been a hectic but productive June till now. We started our work in Ranthambhore working on T60 and cubs when a news from Bandhavgarh caught our attention. A tigress called Spotty in the Tala zone of Bandhavgarh had given birth to her first litter. Weighing various pros and cons we changed gears and rushed to Bandhavgarh to start some extensive tracking for the newly seen cubs. A 7 day project resulted in some brilliant images of 2 month old tiger cubs for our guest who showed remarkable patience and perseverance in extreme weather conditions.
Monsoons showers have started hitting tiger parks and as we enter the last 10 days of the season lets wish the wild denizens of India a safe monsoon.
Experienced Tadoba summers after a gap of 4 years. May 2012 was the last I spent a fortnight in the blazing sun and scorching heat of Tadoba. 4 years down the line, I led a small group of photographers who braved the heat to spend hours with the Sonam and Maya family – the current heartthrobs of Tadoba. The cubs have been shaping up quite well since I last saw them in December 2015. It was also a first experience for me with the majestic Bajrang male who is fathering Sonam cubs. He for sure is a charismatic tiger and would be instrumental in propelling the dynasty of tigers in Tadoba.
Recharging at home after a hectic 45 day travel schedule. Stay tuned for June diaries as we enter into the last month of the tiger season in India before the monsoons…
The 2016 edition of Tiger Marathon – the annual back to back tiger photography tours by Nature Wanderers – ended this week with some exemplary sightings in Ranthambhore and Corbett National Park. While the lakes were productive again in Ranthambhore, we also got the opportunity to photograph the newly crowned mother T60 and her 3 cubs. Sessions with Noor (T39) and T57 were equally intense and productive.
Corbett on the other hand along with expected elephant action was ruled by Paarwali sightings as the river mermaid of Ramganga gave multiple opportunities for photography in typical Corbett habitats. Here are a few images created in the past fortnight.
Winter photography in tiger parks is always special. The magical morning mist and the soft light filtering through the forest canopies makes you as a photographers look of images rather than tigers. I just completed a 1800 km marathon in central India covering various parks of Madhya Pradesh. The experience was not just about the Rajbehra cubs in Bandhavgarh or the Baghin Nala cubs in Pench but creating some awesome images in the stunning winter backdrops of central Indian forests.
A lot of work is yet to be seen and processed… sharing some of the images. This would probably be my last post for the year 2015. Wishing you all a very happy new year and great luck and light for 2016!
Every day as I accompany photographers on the field, the sight of a tiger makes cameras go ballistic as triggers are pressed with sheer madness. Sitting in the hotel room when I see the days work of people the hard disks are full of similar looking images and then the ‘I wish’ list begins… I wish I had shot like this… I wish I had done this better…
I always wonder that when you as a photographer pick your camera to shoot say a spotted deer a lot of thought goes behind that image. You take the pain to place the deer properly in the frame, you experiment with compositions. Why does that happen? It is just because you consider the deer as a subject. Yes subjects like tigers are rare to find but the moment you get a control on your mind and start treating them as subjects you will end up maximizing your field productivity and make best use of the opportunities that nature presents in front of you.
Have you ever tried pondering on the following points?
- Removing your eye from the view finder to see the subject with your naked eyes and scan for elements which can be added or removed from the frame?
- You may be using the biggest prime lens in the world that will give you a razor sharp image. However are those sharp images needed every time? How about experimenting with varied focal lengths to create 4-5 different images of a moment as simple as a tiger sitting under a tree.
- Reading the light and pre-visualizing images for a certain light situation. You may end up forgoing some images but you will be better prepared for that particular lighting scenario
I got hold of the new and revamped Canon 100-400mm IS2 and rested my Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS2. I used it extensively in Ranthambhore throughout last week. Here is an example from Ranthambhore where a tiger sitting under a tree was shot in 5 different ways as varied focal lengths.
Climates change patterns are being witnessed globally and Ranthambhore has not been spared in the past few years. The park received scanty rains and though the forest looks lush green post monsoons, the water in the park should dry up soon. The first week of Ranthambhore post monsoons has witnessed some decent tiger sightings. While the dynamics around the lakes is changing with Krishna cubs moving towards the road of independence, Noor (T39) has managed to keep her cubs safe through the monsoons and both the families have given photographers some decent photo opportunities in week one. The tall grass has been a challenge for shooting though the greens do give a punch to the images. During the Canon – Nature Wanderers Ranthambhore Opener photo tour, our participants got some good photographic opportunities with T19 and cubs, T39, T28, T8 and T74. While the participants created some magical images, here are some which I could manage in the last week…
Incidentally all the images below are taken using the Canon 100-400mm IS2. I loved using this focal range after nearly 6 years and hardly used the Canon 400mm f2.8. It was fun playing around with compositions using a 100-400 focal length without worrying about the image quality.
It is the end of season and as I look back at the hectic 9 months, some of those glorious wildlife moments keep flashing in my head. With more than 150 game drives in Ranthambhore, the focus of the season was on Krishna and cubs. My brief fortnight-long stints in Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Corbett and Sunderbans were rewarding as well. Escorting some of the best photographers in business, it was a great knowledge sharing experience on the field. Though in most of the game drives I wasn’t shooting much since I was escorting and mentoring photographers, I did squeeze in time for some personal drives in Ranthambhore and those were the times my camera was in action the most.
Presenting a compilation of my top 14 wildlife moments for 2014-2015.
1. Krishna & Cubs – October 2013
The season started with Ranthambhore and the first glimpse of Krishna and her cubs in the band of golden morning light at Rajbagh remains edged to my memory till date. The experience lasted for not more than 10 mins but our gang of photographers created some dream images that by far are the best images of T19 and cubs from that time from October 2013.
2. The King & The Fisher – Nov 2014
Amidst the hysteria around T39 (Noor) and her cubs one fine morning in November 2014, a tiny kingfisher caught my attention. The background was a typical Ranthambhore habitat and resulted in this image. One of my favorites from the season. Worked on similar concepts whenever the opportunity was right. Infact over the next many months after shooting this, I did a lot of birding around tigers – from Kingfishers, the stone curlews, drongos, peacocks, robins. The first creation is normally the best creation and rest are more of duplications in order to better this.
3. In His Kingdom – Kanha – Dec 2014
Kanha in winters has always been special for photography. Not for tigers but because of the mist and the meadows. During one such game drive in Kanha, we bumped into the majestic Munna. My experiments with Tilt Shift lenses on tigers have helped me in creating some unique wide angle perspectives. The saal forest backdrop offered the perfect opportunity to pull out the glass from the bag.
4. A morning at Rajbagh – Jan 2015
There was something about that morning at Rajbagh. The soft morning light filtering through the mist was just enough for shooting this wonderful show put up by Krishna and her cubs at the edges of the lakes. Our gang of photographers were stunned in silence after this wonderful action packed sequence – probably the best action by this terrific family throughout the season. The soft light, the grand backdrops, the orange winter coats of the cubs… am sure the lensmen present that morning will vouch for this being probably the best tiger action of their lifetime.
5. The Winter Couple – Jan 2015 – Bharatpur
End of Jan, we took a small break from Ranthambhore and shot in Bharatpur for a few days. Despite of the low activity of birds in Bharatpur, I decided to focus on a subject I love to work with – the Sarus Cranes. Morning to evening sessions with Sarus led us to this beautiful pair of cranes that walked out in unison in the early morning mist of Keoladeo with the sun just popping out from behind deep in the horizon. As I looked through the view finder to shoot this image, I had goosebumps all over seeing this dramatic setting of the Keoladeo marshes.
6. Thunderbold Krishna – Feb 2015
The master hunter Krishna silently disappeared in the Rajbagh grasses one evening in Ranthambhore. Unaware of what is going to happen, my vehicle reached the spot and as I changed my equipments to focus on a group of cheetal grazing in a small patch of open grass, Krishna stormed out like lightning in the small patch of light dispersing the group in all directions.
7. Tiger Off-Springs – Ranthambhore – March 2015
It was a 30 mins sighting that morning at Rajbagh and not more than 5 mins of hardcore tiger action. Krishna cubs played like maniacs in that backlit set up. A storm of lenses surrounded them as the lake water splashed all around with the mother joining the play sequence.
8. Bears and Bears – April 2015
I remember this morning as one of my best game drives in the park. We were running after the mother T39 (Noor) while her cubs were already been seen by a flurry of vehicles in zone 1. In our pursuit we bumped into a different specie of a mother who walked on a forest floor bed full of palas (flame of the forest) flowers. Post this all the vehicles dispersed from the cubs location and we spent a nice peaceful exclusive time with T39 and her cubs.
9. His First Catch – Ranthambhore – April 2015
A moment which will be engrained in my memory till my last breath. The inexperience male cub of Krishna (T19) attempted to bring down a cheetal. He struggled for more than 40 mins to kill the cheetal. A power-packed sequence but it was painful to see this through the view finder. Read the entire photo story on this blog – https://shivangmehtaphotography.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/the-first-catch/
10. Stripes – The Extreme Portrait – May 2015
Over the past few years, I have developed this taste of shooting extreme closeups of tigers. Scaling up the focal length to around 1000mm+, composition needs to be really precise. This summer, inspired by some frames and compositions from Tiger Dynasty (by Nalla Muthu) I wanted to go tighter than usual. I had a discussion with Nalla on his certain ultra tight compositions. God was kind to gift me with a calm and composed T24 sighting soon after those talks with Nalla where I made effective use of a 1000mm focal to create a series of super tiger compositions.
11. The Ramganga Queen – May 2015
I normally don’t run after tigers in Corbett. However May 2015 was an exception. The Par tigress was obliging photographers with their dream Corbett images and I forced myself to join this race. A few misses and finally we caught her one morning in Dhikala.
12. The Cave Dwellers – Bandhavgarh – May 2015
The Patiha family has been controlling a major chunk of tiger sightings in Bandhavgarh throughout the season. We spent 1 morning with the 3 cubs in this cave set up which is one of the most unique habitat image series of tigers I have shot till date. The reddish rocks, the contours in the rocks, the gradients and patterns and the sparkling stripes made an interesting combo and the 10 odd images around this cave have been amongst the top backdrops for tiger photography for me.
13. Krishna Clan – Ranthambhore – May 2015
Over the months, it has been an experience the changing behavior of tiger cubs. The playful Krishna cubs were now displaying signs of independence by making their own odd kills and small fights showcasing dominance. But the attachment with the mother was seen time and again and during this morning in May 2015, 14 month old tiger cubs were caught suckling.
14. Star walked the ramp – June 30, 2015
The lakes of Ranthambhore can surprise you anytime of the day. Rains had an impact of the sightings of the park in the last few days of the park closure. It was the morning of June 30th and everyone was hoping for 1 final glimpse before the park closes for monsoons. We decided to take a final lap of the lakes before leaving and caught Star (T28) walking in the pristine backdrop of the fort and on a carpet of green. It was long and silent walk with no vehicles around. A befitting end to a season!
My focus on T19 (Krishna) in Ranthambhore kept me away from one of my favorite hunting grounds in central India. I am very found of Bandhavgarh for its habitat, tiger photography potential and the people… working in this central Indian tiger heartland is always great fun. Made up for the entire season in the last 10 days as I was escorting my photographer guest from the UK. Our focus was the Patiha female and her three 8 month old cubs. Working on tiger cubs outside the Tala zone was a challenge and a different experience from my past Bandhavgarh endeavors. However we got 3 exclusive photo opportunities with the family over the 9 day period which were good enough for an excellent portfolio. More than the images tracking the family in the Patiha area and understanding some new areas of the park was a great learning experience.
Post Bandhavgarh, we spent a few days in Panna National Park and it was awesome to witness the success story of Panna. T1 – the queen of Panna – is in great shape with her 4th litter of 2 cubs. The park has some tremendous potential and is an excellent tiger habitat. Photographers should watch out for Panna – another excellent location with great photographic potential.
It is the end of April out here in Ranthambhore and probably for the first time the forest is looking lush and green even as the temperatures soar up. The water table which had shot up because of the March rains is all getting dried up very fast and all this is giving us the unique opportunity to photograph tigers in a lush green semi-monsoon habitat.
While T19 (Krishna) and her cubs are keeping the shutters busy, T39 (Noor) and her 2 young cubs have also made an entry into the tourism zones. Even the other zones have seen some awesome tiger sightings in the form of T42 and T13 mating and T8 and her cub giving good photo opps in the Kundal area of Ranthambhore.
Here is a brief photographic journey through Ranthambhore through the month of April.
It is February and Ranthambhore has already started loosing some of its charismatic winter colors. Days are warm and sunny consistently and the dense fog and gloomy weather conditions have given way to golden morning mist over the lakes. All these dramatic changes in the last 20 odd days have had an impact on the sightings of the 2 devoted mothers and their doting cubs. While T19 (Krishna) has been keeping photographers busy around the lakes, T39 (Noor) made a reappearance in the park after a 20 day disappearance and if the weather continues to warm during the days, the sighting trends would surely improve further in the coming days.
The last 20 days, I was focussed on the lakes and had some memorable encounters with the lake denizens. The female cub of Krishna always surprised me with her antics. She is bold and independent and would climb on trees, induce the other siblings to indulge in play fights, stalk deer fawns and one fine afternoon she pulled off a stunner by swimming right across the Rajbagh lake like a Sunderbans tiger in the company of crocodiles who had literally surrounded her during a 50 meters lap. We had named her Machali junior because of a fork mark on her cheek which bears resemblance to her famed grandmom – Machali. She is certainly the dominant princess of the lakes.
News and rumors around new born cubs of T41 have also raised the hopes for summers and overall Ranthambhore is gearing up for some exciting tiger action starting March.
Here is a brief photo-diary of some Krishna and cubs moments in the last fortnight:
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Rules & Regulations-
1. Photo contest is hosted on Facebook, Twitter and WordPress.
2. Photo Contest starts from 9th August and will continue till Monday,18th August, 2014
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4. Participants to ‘LIKE’ Shivang Mehta (https://www.facebook..com/ShivangPhotography) and CNT India page on FB (https://www.facebook.com/cntravellerindia) to be eligible
5. Contest will also be shared on Naturewanders FB page-(https://www.facebook.com/naturewanderers)
6. Participants need to tag @naturewanderers and @CNTIndia on all twitter updates
7. Participants to upload best picture of tiger taken in the wild on Event Page in the last 12 months.
8. Each participant can share only one image
9. Image must be yours
10. Participants are required to give the location, date and EXIF details of the picture
11. All in all 3 winners will be declared
12. Each winner to get a year’s subscription of Conde Nast Traveller India
13. Final selection of winning images will be done by Shivang Mehta and Conde Nast Traveller India
Tiger Diary – Published by Tiger Nation
BANDHAVGARH, MAY 2012: Vijaya, like all mother’s, has up till now taken a careful approach to bringing out her gangly 6 month old kids in any formal way. She has preferred to keep them off roads skirting forests and meadows in her bid to protect them.
Not anymore. She set out to lead her family on a distinct Royal tour, sauntering contentedly along the very road that she has watched thousands of pilgrims move on high days and holidays, as well as countless visitors every day.
Her merry band of youngsters followed her quite contentedly, often stopping to play with one another, bite each other tail, or sideling up to mum to complain that they are bored of walking.
Mum though was on a mission, and from the Chakradhara meadows, she proceeded up the hill towards the fort’s main entrance and then up the 10th century carved stairs at Vishnu’s temple before vanishing into the forested hills behind.
Vijaya’s Royal walkabout suggest that she is perfectly comfortable with her ‘Princess’ status in the Tala range.
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:
Unseasonal rains, misty mornings and extreme cold were making Kanha National Park a tough destination from a photography perspective this January. The cat action had gone done considerably so I had diverted my attention to landscapes and swamp deers (barasingha). I was particularly interested in swamp deers as I was yet to get that good perspective of a swamp deer stag in the ever beautiful and scenic Kanha meadows. Unfortunately in my previous visits to Kanha, a stag was something which I had missed.
Seeing the weather and shooting conditions, I decided to focus my attention on the meadows and grassland and the hunt for swamp deers were on. Every round in the park yielded some nice swamp deer perspectives and it was a smooth sail. That particular evening drive however had something different in store.
With minimal cat expectations and engrossed in the thoughts of capturing Kanha’s in its mystic and damp spirit, Kahini and I set out for the evening round. We were as usual chasing the evening light in the meadows as I wanted to work on swamp deers in the typical evening mood of the meadows. As our vehicle speeded through the narrow forest tracks, I nearly dozed off post the heavy lunch. The sleep was however short-lived for the driver gave me a big jolt by putting the breaks on. The jolt in front of me was bigger!
Munna – the dominant male of Kanha meadows – suddenly emerged out on the right of the road ready for an evening stroll towards the Kanha meadows. The giant male lazily did a scat marking on the side of the road and strolled in grand fashion in front of the vehicle.
Rather than picking up the biggest lens to shoot the mighty beast, I decided to experiment with habitat perspectives which is something I always like to do. Unfortunately, this was a Nature Wanderers event and the participants have the first right on my equipments. I had given away most of my equipments to the Canon Wild Clicks equipments and was left with just 1 camera body to shoot. So the choice had to be swift…
The decision was in favor of a Canon 24-70 f2.8 and a 70-200 f2.8 and I juggled between both these lenses to capture the king’s walk. Shooting big cats that have ventured close to your vehicle with lower focal lengths capture’s the mood of the forest. It differentiates a Kanha picture from a Ranthambhore image for both are different terrains with their own unique features.
A tiger is a tiger… from a photographer’s perspective it becomes imperative to think and create frames that transports a viewer to that particular forest. I have seen some superb habitat perspectives of tigers in the wild taken by my counterparts and I respect the instant creativity shown by those photographers.
For now, dedicating this note the charismatic Munna and his majestic forest…
(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!