I had planned along with Nitin, a sneak day to photograph the brilliant Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (ODKF) this monsoon.
This is an extremely small and very colourful birdie that breeds in the western ghats during the monsoons.
Nandu Tambe has a hide setup in his farm at Shiravli village, Chiplun, Maharashtra. This location is of his cousin Shriram which is where you will stay and also have your meals. Nandu’s farm is a closeby.
The driving directions from Chiplun
Nandu’s farm is a protected area and he has made hides for photography, with minimal disturbance to the birds that go about their business as usual. He even ensures the photographers moves out of the hide from time to time and let the birds (ODKF) be completely on their own. Nandu started his conservation efforts after he hand raised a few abandoned chicks some time in 2012. That got him interested in the birds and conservation around his farm.
The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher nests in mud banks and breeds twice in every monsoon. Two sets of chicks are fledged. One clutch hatches in about 15 days or so and the chicks fledge in around 20 days. The only time/ season to see this birdie is July to early August ( monsoon onset / early monsoon time frame) since it breeds only in the monsoons and, can be seen easily. The male is smaller than the female. The female is slightly rounder in shape than the male. Dimorphism
The accommodation is super spartan with typical Indian style loo. The local vegetarian food served by him is extremely good. Do pack in your towel and soap as also mosquito repellent. Dress dull colours, wear full sleeves and a full trouser with shoes. Expect a lot of mosquitoes, water and mud pools ! Expect lots of rain 🙂 Take a poncho and a plastic bag to cover your camera gear. Preferably, make a hole in a garbage bag and slip it over your lens. This will be required if the hide is out in the open field. Take some small eats to munch while waiting and, carry a water bottle.
For me , one session is good enough for hide photography. I kind of find it a tad boring and prefer the open walk , bird and shoot. At the farm, I did spot a bunch of other birds too ! I spotted, Black hooded orioles, Babblers, Golden backed woodpecker, white bellied drongo, Indian pitta, Blackbird, Vigors sunbird etc.
To reach , the best is to take a train , Tutari Express from Mumbai (Dep-0005H) to Chiplun (Arr-0520H). And for the return one can grab another train the Janashabdi express Chiplun at 1730H which arrives into Mumbai at 2300H or there abouts. You can arrange an autorickshaw to Nandu’s farm which is about 30kms away. Route Chiplun-Guhaghar highway. Turn Left after Rampur at Gudhe Phata towards Pathardi village. Cross the village and keep going a km or so till you see a large tree on the right. Turn right into the dirt track at the tree and follow the road. Nandu’s contact +91 84080 66060. Alternatively call Rahul Belsare on +91 86050 14989 . You can get only BSNL and JIO cellular network at the farm ! Someone had a full blasting JIO LTE and was running a full blown guided tour of the property on a video call while, at the same time, we were having a hard time even sending an SMS !
For the return trip, one can also get a private bus , You need to catch it from here “Mehta Petrol Pump, Chiplun” See map below.
For hide photography at Nandu’s farm, even a standard 300mm consumer lens is fine, though anything larger will be great. The bird is very small and one does need focal length to fill the frame. Low ISO is good and use a tripod ( see the setup pics below!). But in lower light higher ISO would be a big asset. While we were there, it wasn’t too cloudy and we had intermittent sunshine. So overall the light was pretty good that day. But if it rains as it usually does, it would be quite low light. You would be quite near from the bird, say about 15 feet / 5 meters would be the subject distance. I was very near the Min Focus distance (MFD) for my 600mm. Had to actually, move back a bit.
Photo tips for what I did while photographing the ODKF from the hide
- Use a low/ medium ISO ( since using a tripod )
- Use a tripod
- Aperture F8 / F11 is best. This is because of the close focus distance, the DOF is very shallow. F8/ F11 helps keep full bird in focus.
- Lower speed is ok since you are on the tripod. Click when the bird is motionless
- Press on top of the lens while shooting, to stabilise the entire system.
- Leave space around the subject to be able to crop later
- Take both landscape and portrait shots
- You can increase the Exposure compensation by 1 stop (+1 EV) to get more light on the bird
- Focus on the eye of the bird
- A variation, focus on the prey in its beak using a wide aperture to throw the bird out of focus while, bird is facing you.
- I like some vegetation in the background to give a sense of the location and habitat
- Dont forget to grab a few videos ! I mostly forgot 🙂
View from Chiplun railway station
Room with the hide 🙂
The seating inside the hide. This is just one hide. There are other open area hides too. But at this time, this was the only place where one could see the birds.
All pics Nikon 600mm FL + Nikon D5 / Nikon D800 + Gitzo 1548 tripod with wimberly head
ODKF – Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher
Indian Pitta, wing stretch
Brown Headed Barbet gorging on papaya
Black hooded Oriole
Golden backed woodpecker
And my favorite image from the trip , Indian Pitta
And a screen grab from a video. These buggers are faaast !
Side note: If you want to experience some local Malvani food, you can try Hotel Abhishek at Chiplun for some authentic stuff.
All the pics in the gallery below