11/12/17

Quick visit to Thattekad

On 10th Nov 2017, I decided on a quick one day overnight trip to Eldhose Birding Lodge at Thattekad, Kerala . My plan was to reach by afternoon, send the evening and the next morning session and leave Thattekad by noon. I called Eldhose and there was accommodation available. The accommodation itself is a a small neat cottage with an attached bathroom. Nothing fancy but very functional homestay with some delectable home cooked food.

The route map was quite a help. Just note that the navigation will lead you to a rocky area in the middle of a semi forest. At the place the navigation announces that you have reached your destination. On your left, you will see a “sort of concrete” track over the rocks leading into the woods further turning into a mud jungle track. Follow that track and, at any fork turn left and you will reach Eldho’s place after about some 700 odd meters.

From Cochin Airport , Eldhose’s place is about an hour and a half drive away.

I kept my bag in the room and came out to scope the area. I immediately saw a Heart Spotted woodie  flittering about near the hide area.

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At 3.30 PM we drove out to the river area and waited to see red pumped swallows. The swallows were flying south but no chance of getting a photograph. We say Blue tailed bee eaters, Green bee eaters, Black throated Munias,an Ashy Wood swallow and a few other common birdies. At 4.30 we turned back to Eldhose’s home to view the action from the hide.

The hide area

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Eldhose, put out some banana and some “meal worms” in front of his perches. We were four of us squeezed into the hide. We sat on plastic stools and poked the lens though the holes in the hide. The is pretty much a “Ganeshgudi” redux. A couple of Lesser flamebacks, Racquet Tailed drongos , Coucal Pheasants , Ashy Drongo and a few rufous treaties were the main actors that evening. The action is fast and furious. I wanted to see the malabar parakeets, but Eldhose said that August -Sept was the time to see them when they visit his perches. After the rains they get enough food in the forests , hence are seldom  seen at the farm.

At one point, the drongo made an imitation of a Shikra call and all the other birds scooted. Then this drongo came in for its own feast. What a smart cookie !

Ashy Drongo from krish photo on Vimeo.

Tip: Id recommend going wide and try to capture the various interactions and the “bullying” that happens to get to the feed. And also get a few videos!

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You can easily get by with a 300 – 400 mm. I thought 500 and larger was a bit too much focal length for this hide. I was using my 200-500 and yet again found it a laggard as regards autofocus for the kind of shots that I wanted to get. Got millions of “BOS” ( Bird on a Stick)  but, that don’t do much to me . I also tried out the Auto ISO and have a passable one at some crazy ISO32K !! Not the best IQ but, surely usable in a pinch as a record shot. This can definitely make an A4 size print with some good post processing.

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We finished the evening hide and grabbed a cup of tea. At 7.30PM Eldhose asked us to sit on neatly arranged chairs , just in front of his house steps. He went and fetched a few frogs and put them in a tray. We waited and in came a “Mottled Wood Owl” and sat on their perch near the frogs. Total garden birding this was. Eldhose highlighted the bird for a short time with his “torch” and we were able to get a few shots.  Tip: Set your white balance to Cloudy and ISO some 3200+  for this shot

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Next morning 0700H, Eldhose took us near his gate and chucked some meal worms . Out came a shy Pitta from the undergrowth. Pitta was barely a couple of meters away and at eye level. Very close. Tip: Go for the habitat shot

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We finished with the pitta in 30 mins and , Eldhose pulled out the jeep to take us to the “Grey Jungle Fowl & Red Spur fowl spot”. This spot is just outside the gate in the rocky area at the jungle edge, as you enter from the road. He spread out some grains and , “grated coconuts” as bait. Wait as we might, the fowls were initially shy and wouldn’t approach. All the time we were in the jeep. Finally a resplendent male in breeding plumage ventured in. Soon there were many more but , no Red Spur fowl. The spur fowls like the grated coconuts, Eldhose mentioned.

Grey Jungle Fowl from krish photo on Vimeo.

By now it was almost 0830 AM and we headed back to Eldhose’s house and sat on his steps. He set out some cut bananas for the bait and soon, there were a bunch of screeching barking Malabar grey hornbills . You can shoot them easily with a 300- 400mm again. Try as I might, for the short fast action, the 200-500mm was just not good enough to keep the AF. I finally settled for a few BOS shots.

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Blurry, hand held video but, you get the idea of the feeding setup to help plan your shoot.

Malabar Grey Hornbill from krish photo on Vimeo.

 

The Hornbill feed point . Thats Eldhos’s house in the background.

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After breakfast we left to spot a few owls in the jungle with his driver Vinod and guide Danish. Danish is an excellent spotter. A Brown wood owl was located but it was quite high up in the tree. Later at Cheekode , behind a house, we spotted a couple of scops owls. By now it was almost 11.30 and we headed back to base. For this first exploratory trip, this was all to be and by 12 noon I had packed up and was bidding goodbye to Eldhose.

Now that I have “recced” the place, I will plan a more thought through trip with the kind of images that I want.

Note: You need to ask Eldhose the next plan in advance every time. Don’t wait for him to tell you 😉

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The cottages

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08/8/17

Chiplun – ODKF Hide photography

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

  1. Use a low/ medium ISO ( since using a tripod )
  2. Use a tripod
  3. 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.
  4. Lower speed is ok since you are on the tripod. Click when the bird is motionless
  5. Press on top of the lens while shooting,  to stabilise the entire system.
  6. Leave space around the subject to be able to crop later
  7. Take both landscape and portrait shots
  8. You can increase the Exposure compensation by 1 stop (+1 EV) to get more light on the bird
  9. Focus on the eye of the bird
  10. 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.
  11. I like some vegetation in the background to give a sense of the location and habitat
  12. Dont forget to grab a few videos ! I mostly forgot 🙂

View from Chiplun railway station

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Room with the hide 🙂

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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.

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All pics Nikon 600mm FL + Nikon D5 / Nikon D800 + Gitzo 1548 tripod with wimberly head

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher from krish photo on Vimeo.

 

ODKF – Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher

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Other birds

Indian Pitta, wing stretch

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Brown Headed Barbet gorging on papaya

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Blackbird Female

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Black hooded Oriole

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Golden backed woodpecker

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And my favorite image  from the trip , Indian Pitta

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And a screen grab from a video. These buggers are faaast !

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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