Brothers in arms – Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)    Leave a comment

Jackal Cubs 2_sRGB.jpg

Some posts take longer than others. This one is one of those.
My trip to Kenya, last year, was a journey in self discovery. An opportunity to spend nearly sixteen hours a day with my family for twelve days at a stretch and that too in very close physical proximity. We were confined to a land cruiser or a tent, for most parts of this trip and no one was beyond earshot – this was an experience in itself. Keeping that aside for a moment, I had never been in the wild for so many days on the trot.

We spent on an average ten hours a day, in a Land Cruiser, through out this trip – a prospect that I myself was dreading, when I was planning this trip. My kids weathered the harsh conditions like pros and my wife turned into an ace animal spotter. We used bottled water to brush our teeth, lived in a tent by the Mara river with no barricades separating us from the wild animals that frequent the river, flew over giraffes in a hot air balloon, went to sleep with the roaring of lions and hippos in the background and the list just continues . The planning itself was unique in the sense that I booked my tickets nearly six months in advance. I went to ludicrous lengths to ensure no office related assignment materialised during my scheduled travel dates. Luckily, in the end it all played out like a song.

The trip started with oohs and aahs at the sight of a Zebra and ended with almost a scant disregard for herds of zebras passing by. Saturation point for the ungulates had been reached. However, it’s the carnivores that whet your appetite and the cravings just never subsides. I guess it’s their size, savagery, speed and their sinews that cease to captivate. It’s indeed a humbling experience to see these predators in the wild. They remind you of your frailties, as a human being, and our place in the food chain – sans our guns.

However, we also got to see the gentler side of some of these fierce species. Despite, strong advise to make it to Kenya before mid of September, we could only do it in early October. That’s when the children get their holidays. We paid the price in terms of missing the great migration of Wilderbeasts but the Gods more than made up for it. The seasonal drizzles had subsided just before our arrival, the grass had started turning green – making the sightings that much more pleasurable, and more importantly there were a lot of cubs around. Watching the lions, the Cheetahs and the Jackals with their cubs is a delight that’s hard to express. A philosophical reminder of the gentleness around their wards, that unites all the parents of this world.

This delayed post will not be complete without recording our heartfelt gratitude to our guide James Muchina and for the advise of Kesavamurthy, founder of Birdwing Travel and Photography. Their enthusiasm and helpfulness made all the difference. When the trip came to an end my younger son asked me whether we could go back to Kenya again -the next year. As a father that was more than the reward I was seeking for all the background planning that went into making this happen.

Tom, the Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)   Leave a comment

Yawning leopard_sRGB
Everyone, I guess, loves the Tom and Jerry shows. One is either in Tom’s camp and empathesizes with him or one belongs to the mischievous Jerry’s camp. I have for long been waiting for the day when Tom pulls off a fast one on Jerry. Unfortunately, I have waited for decades far too many, without any luck on this score.

Now, what’s the link between this picture and Tom and Jerry? Look closely, and you are likely to see a happy Tom in here. Zoom in and the association becomes all the more stronger. Though the leopard was yawning, it almost seems like a gleeful cat having a hearty laugh – a la Tom.

Maybe I am hallucinating about a childhood fantasy but that’s the first thing that struck me, when I saw this picture. And it’s a thought that simply refuses to fade away.

For those who don’t believe in it, it’s a Srilankan sub-adult leopard, that’s enjoying an afternoon siesta in the Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka 🙂

Siberian Symmetry – Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola marus)   4 comments

Siberian Stone Chat_sRGB1

Last Saturday, I travelled forty kilometres in search of this traveller from Central Asia. Hesaraghatta lake bed is around 4-5 square kilometres in area and this bird is smaller than a sparrow.    To make matters more difficult, only a few individuals seem to have migrated to Hesaraghatta this year. Realistically speaking, the chances of my finding this bird was quite low. Yet, I went ahead, weathered the rising heat of Bangalore and at the end of it all, was rewarded with a closeup with this female of the species.

The male Siberian Stonechat has a prominent black head and is visually more striking of the two. But it remained elusive. Given their small size it’s almost impossible to fathom their ability to make such long distance migrations. However, they indeed do! Being insectivores, I guess they get enough and more food supplies along the way, to keep them going.

In Bangalore, summer is nearly upon us. April and May are the hottest months. So it’s nearly time for us to bid adieu to these beauties. May their tribe prosper and we look forward to welcoming them back again in the winter.

The beauty and the beast   Leave a comment

The stars of Wilpattu are definitely the leopards. However, it also has a treasure trove of winged beauties. The Chestnut headed bee eater (Merops leschenaultia) being one such colourful beauties.

We were feasted to a sight of four such bee eaters, including a juvenile, going about their business, by the side of a muddy road. Our attempts at getting one, with a catch in its beak, didn’t quite succeed. We eventually gave in to the lure of sighting a leopard and moved on from the spot.

We did find the supreme beast of this jungle – a crown prince and not quite the king yet. Got to photograph its many moods and poses. May its tribe prosper.



Slumburing Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)   2 comments


Leopard with tilted head3_sRGBLast weekend, I managed to steal a brief trip to the beautiful Wilpattu National Park, in Sri Lanka. It all started with a, hurriedly planned, business trip to Colombo and culminated in a two night’s stay, at one of Srilanka’s oldest national parks. Though I managed to spend just about thirty six hours or so, in this reserve, I have brought back indelible memories of the trip.

The planning was brief and execution was almost in real time. My friend Avinash, introduced me to Mevan Piyasena, a wonderful Sri Lankan wildlife enthusiast. Quick decisions were made, and I found myself in Mevan’s company, in the outskirts of Wilpattu, within twenty four hours of first speaking to him !

My original plan was to try and visit Yala National Park. But the time at hand did not permit it. So we settled for Wilpattu, which is also Mevan’s happy hunting grounds. Yala has now been consigned to the future.

Wilpattu, is around three and a half hours drive to the north west of Colombo. The roads are good and the view, for a large part of the stretch, is very scenic.To give you an idea, the road runs along sea shores and a number of lakes in the run up to the destination. The dense greenery of the park quite belies its location in a semi-arid region. It is like no other park that I have seen, till date, with immensely different landscapes all co-located within its perimeter. There are dense forest regions, there are vast grasslands, sandy beaches, open plains and lakes galore. Many parts of the park are inaccessible, but what I did manage to see was simply breathtaking. It is maybe the only place in the world, where one has the tantalizing prospect of photographing a leopard, with the sea in the background. I was not that lucky, this time around.

Leopards are the apex predators in this park. Unlike the parks in India, there are no tigers in Srilanka. Hence, unlike in India, leopards here are less likely to spend more time atop trees. They are comfortable roaming the plains as they rule the forests, in these parts. So sighting leopards was top of our agenda and we were not disappointed.

We started our safari at daybreak and by noon, we came across two sub-adult males – resting by the side of the pathway. They were not too far from the road but the dense foliage was not conducive for taking clear pictures. In Wilpattu, private vehicles are allowed inside the park and one is allowed to stay in the park the whole day. So in no time an army of vehicles descended on that spot. I was blessed to have a very smart driver. He managed to manoeuvre our vehicle into a position, where I had a clear and eye level view of one of the cubs. We stayed put at that one spot for well over four hours. This low lying tree trunk was definitely the cubs’ favourite. They kept lazing around and engaging in friendly fights all around this tree, while I clicked away.

This shot of the leopard, while it was looking lazily at me, is one of my favourite pictures, of this trip. Will post some more in the days to come.


Sweet Nectar -(Cinnyris dussumieri)   Leave a comment

Seychelles Sunbird sucking nectar_sRGB.jpg

This is the male Seychelles Sunbird (Cinnyris dussumieri), one of the dozen or so endemic birds of Seychelles. Sunbirds, found in India, are usually quite colourful, so to that extent this bird looks quite sun-burnt 🙂

They were abundant throughtout Mahe and seem to have adapted well to the man made changes to its environment. The female of the species is lot more brownish and lacks the glittering violet patch on its throat. These birds have a long downward curving beak, that are ideal for sucking nectar from flowers, like in this picture.








Banded Cutie -Madagascar Fody (Foudia madagascariensis)   Leave a comment

Madagascar Fody Male_sRGB

I found myself in the beautiful islands of Seychelles, in the early part of this month. The island was pretty, and the visitors even prettier, but my sights were set on some birding action. Seychelles, on its part, also didn’t dissappoint.

Seychelles are a group of islands in the Indian Ocean region, scattered between India and Africa. These islands broke away from mainland Africa along with India around 100 million years ago. The Indian landmass drifted further and eventually joined Asia.

This country has very unique flora and fauna with many endemic species. I was in Seychelles as part of my company offsite. So, technically I didnt have much free time to devote to birding. I had roughly around thirty six odd hours to capture as much of the endemic species, as I could. However, something must indeed be said about beginner’s luck. I managed to photograph four endemic species, within the first two hours of setting foot on Seychelles. Considering the fact that it took me around one hour just to get to our hotel, after landing at the airport, that was quite an achievement. All my research didnt quite point to the fact that the Kempinski hotel is a magnet for many of the endemic species of birds. I sighted the elusive Seychelles Krestel besides the Seychelles Sunbird, Seychelles Bulbul and Seychelles Blue Pigeon, within the hotel property, and that too without much effort.

The most beautiful of them all was indeed the male Madagascar Fody. It is not an original inhabitant of Seychelles but has now been successfully introduced into many of the Indian ocean islands. Its an extemely commion bird here – rarely would one find a common bird that looks so gorgeous. The male takes on this orangish hue, only during the mating period, otherwise it has a less dramatic brownish and olive plumage. As I said, lady luck was quite generous with me, and I showed up exactly at the right time to snap up this beautiful weaver.


Bold and the beautiful -Small Pratincole (Glareola lactea)   Leave a comment

Small Pratincole_sRGB_compressed

There are birds that fly away at the slightest of disturbances and then there are birds that let you come very close. This braveheart – all of around 15 cm in length, stood its ground as our coracle approached. Its perch, on a rocky ledge, in the middle of Cauvery river, remained unconquered as we eventually turned back.

It was also my first ride in a coracle, which is a small circular boat made of interwoven strips of bamboo. The boatman sits on a stool, at one end, and navigates the coracle with a wooden oar. The propulsion is noise-less as it essentially uses water currents. Its a very handy vehicle for birding, as birds don’t necessarily feel threatened by its presence. However, one needs to deal with the rotation of the coracle. At times -sometimes at critical junctures, when the subject has just come in focus, you may find yourself spinning !

I even managed to coax my wife and my kids to get onto the fragile looking coracle. It was by and large smooth sailing on the gentle waters of the Cauvery, with the occasional crocodile gliding past us, once in a while.

Galibore is around 100 km from Bangalore and easily accessible, except for the last stretch of around 10 km. The final leg takes one through the Cauvery wildlife sanctuary. The road is pretty bad but, if one is lucky, one can sight jackals, owls, grizzled squirrels and grey headed fish eagles, along this stretch. This time around we saw a pair of jackals and that essentially made the trip memorable even before we reached our destination. Hoping to go there again, before the migratory season ends and the beautiful Pranticoles fly away.

Living on the edge – Grey headed lapwing(Vanellus cinereus)   Leave a comment

Grey headed lapwing_sRGB

Enough and more has been debated by our generation about the suitability of Betty, over Veronica, as a life partner to Archie. I, for one, have always cast my vote in favour of Betty. Inspite of her plain Jane image, there is something about her that mesmerizes me. It still does.

Amusingly enough and, of course, in a completely different context, I have harboured similar feelings for the Grey Headed Lapwing. It’s not the most exotic of birds, it lacks the spectacular plumage of some of the other varieties and is quite common. Yet, for long I have coveted a closeup of this bird. They frequent the Chilika lake, during the winter months of India. However, my attempts at getting a decent picture of them, had not yielded much fruit.

Over the last few years, I kept scanning the lake bed and the surrounding marshlands, but this species would never oblige. My luck finally turned last November. November is the beginning of the migratory season for birds to Chilika. My friend, Avinash and I, had set out on a boat ride, hoping to watch some exotic species, before the large scale migration set in. Avinash had lent me his super sharp 600mm f4 lens along with a 1.4xTC. The stage was set and this time the Grey headed lapwing couldn’t resist the lens either.

To make it memorable the lighting was good and as we approached, the bird turned to give us a fleeting glance before going down the edge. Just enough for me to get a keeper of a snap.

On a different note, anyone with a serious interest in bird photography should definitely consider buying or renting Nikon’s 600mm f4 lens. It’s just awesome. One drawback however is the weight and it is quite impossible to handhold it and use. And once you stabilise an optical marvel like that on a tripod, one has to be really unlucky not to get some memorable pictures.

On the rocks – common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)   2 comments

Common Kingfisher on the rocks_sRGB

Indian companies have by and large shied away from using birds and animals as their brand mascots. The Tiger of course has always been associated with India and the Indian economy itself has often been compared to the slow but sure footed elephant, in popular business literature. However, the industry in general has not favoured animal mascots. The only meaningful exception that comes to mind is this cute little bird.

The Common Kingfisher is the mascot for India’s most popular beer – aptly named Kingfisher. Its a different matter that most Indians cannot distinguish between different Kingfishers and in any case it may all look the same after a couple of drinks. Much like the fate of this bird, the fortunes of the Kingfisher group soared high and at one point even included India’s premier domestic airline, before plummeting down. Continuous loss of habitats and pollution of water bodies has rendered this bird not so common in today’s India.

It consumes food equivalent to nearly sixty percent of its body weight daily and hence it needs to fish frequently. The presence of these birds can also attest to the quality of water in the water bodies. Since they dive into the water to catch the fish they have special “fovea” to enable them to see under water and to counter the impact of change in refraction of light while moving between the air and water mediums.

Luckily, it is still classified in the “Least Concern” category, as per IUCN. So cheers to the Kingfisher on the rocks.