For the pic impatient: For all the pics of the trip (many more than posted on the blog ) >>> Click Here
Back in November when I went to Bandhavgarh, I had planned to visit the park in the peak summer. The hot summer pulls the cats to the water holes and hence, there is a much better chance of sighting them.
21 May 2009: Day one morning safari , we sighted the Siddhibaba tigress in the tall grass at Siddhibaba itself. Since the tigress was in the tall grass, we decided to moved on. A little ahead at the Jamun junction, we spotted an Indian Rock Python which had caught an Indian roller and was lazily strangulating it. We waited a bit and then the python pulled out its head. What a start to our trip !
We tried the Rajbehra dam but not much luck on tigers. But enroute I did get to click some pics of a woodpecker. Back at Siddihibaba, I also got this Common Hawk Cuckoo. The cuckoo was hunting for worms right next to our jeep and when it landed, I was not able to focus because it was way too close !
At a park like this, one gets into the same rhythm as them tigers. Movement in the morning, back to room (cave) sleep and again movement in the evenings and sleep again 🙂 !!! I do love this rhythm 🙂
That evening we saw a Serpent Eagle with a snake. The bird was pretty far away and also, the light fading. So not much from a photo op point of view but, super to observe. By now it was almost six and we rushed to Rajbehra to see the Jhurjura tigress relaxing in the water. Since we were a bit late, our jeep was pretty much at the back. So I initially used the 600 + D2x to gain the reach.
At 6.15PM I was already shooting 1/200 , F4 @ISO 800 . At that point I switched to body to the D3 🙂 and continued on to ISO 1600 & 3200 which gave me speeds of 1/320 and 1/500 . The D3 is a real dream to use in low light situations !
What an amazing day one, a rare python with a indian roller, a serpent eagle with a snake and a tiger in water !
Day two dawned and we took the “C” trail and ran into “Mr Bokha” . We followed Mr Bokha for a bit. I started with ISO2500 on the D3 + 70-200 2.8 lens. Then I wanted a few close cropped portraits so picked up the D2X + 300 2.8+TC14 combo. Try as I might , the movement of the jeep over the trail and the pacing of the tiger, I messed up the closeups. I was way to high on the focal length but, in the heat of the action one hardly thinks ( well I didn’t this time) . Hence the “very arty” almost full frame shots below ….
All I did above is, cropped from horizontal about 40% of the frame to the left.
By now Bokha was looking to cross over to the other side so I switched back to the D3, 70-200 combo and I got this sequence just as another jeep rounded the corner . What a sight to see a small “trot and skip” by this huge animal. The D3 nailed the shot. I wish I was a little pulled back on focal length. Just that I didn’t realise a fully stretched out tiger would not fit the current. Something to keep in mind for the future for sure. I did clone a bit of a jeep behind from these pics.
There was still time so we checked out Rajbehra again. Sure enough we saw the female cub come in to the water. Having just had the too much focal length experience, I played too safe this time and I used a D3 + 300 2.8.
I soon realised I was too short and switched to the D2X + 600mm+TC14 combo to get some tight shots.
As the cub walked back, I shot wide and then switched to the D2x 600+TC14 combo to try and get an image which showed the graceful walk of the young kitty. Since the dam has a concrete wall, I cropped tight in the frame with the foot just inside and left a large space to the tiger to walk into. The light was perfect and, I think I am pleased with this one below. Full frame and no crop .
We then went behind to the cave where this cub rests. There were a few vehicles already in the best position. But, even so I managed a few record shots of the tiger walking into her cave.
That evening I met up Meethil Momaya, Sachin Rai, Sandeep Desai, Abhijit & Shrikant Ranade. Evening ride was just Rajbehra. We got in early and positioned ourselves. It was just a little more hot that afternoon we thought. The Jhurjhura family had a kill in the morning and a few jeeps had seen them . Our guide surmised that in the evening there was a good chance that the tigers will come to Rajbehra for a drink. Sure enough at four thirty, much earlier than we had anticipated the female cub walked out of her cave to the water. I had analysed the morning shots and decided to use the D3 + 600mm which would give me enough reach and also, allow me to get all our kitties into the frame (should that happen at all). The D2x I setup with the 300 2.8 + TC14 for handheld action. The kitties would be on the far side of the lake and hence, I would need reach.
1630H : the light was from the front as the first cub, walked in.
As the cub approached it spotted a lone deer and started to stalk. It swam and crossed over neared he deer but and alarm call from the deers behind the cub made her abort her hunt. What a sight , what a sight it was ! In retrospect I should have switched to a wide to get the tiger and deer in one frame. But, I just wasn’t thinking at that moment. I was worried if I removed my eye from the tigress to change the lens, the tigress would launch her attack and I might miss….
And, the money shot !
Just as she aborted her attack, the rest of her family joined up at the lake. I was told that it was after 10 days that there was such a sight of four kitties in the lake. We were told that the forest guys had made hide ( looked like a gazebo to me) . The hide is bang on the path of the tigers and does not hide the humans inside one bit. Because of this hide, the tigers were now very wary of coming to their favorite water hole. We were told she had charged at the hide when there were people in in on the 10th of May. The momma tigress we noticed kept a wary eye on the hide. So much for park management…. bah! The light in the evening was pretty awkward with the sun almost in front and to the right. Rajbehra is a morning shoot site for most parts. But, I guess I would manage that bit in post processing. All in all an absolutely brilliant day !
I waited for the cat to try and shake water in an attempt to capture the water droplets. It did do it but in a real cute manner. This is one pic I absolutely love ! Click the image to view the big size.
Techs: ISO 2000, 1/1250th shutter speed to freeze the droplets @ F6.3 . I pulled the exposure down -0.7 EV so as not to let the bright background overwhelm the camera meter.
Day three (23 May 2009) I was a contented man and not expecting or wanting much. Our guide told us that the it was time for the “New Male” the son of B2 the famous tiger to do his round of the Tala area. We were told he has a 7-8 day beat when he turns up. Sure enough at siddhibaba, we spotted the young lad lazing in the grass. He watched us with a lazy one eye as we clicked a few frames. We then decided to move ahead to find the Rajbehra family knowing fully well that this “New Male” wouldn’t move in a hurry.We then checked “Climber Point” where we spotted the Rajbehra family along with Bokha. Too far into the woods but, Sandeep Desai got some shots of Bokha mating and others did hear roars.
As expected, we came back after an unsuccessful search (photographically) to find the the” New Male” still there. Since we had checked into the centre point first and hurried back to Siddhibaba we got the first elephant ride. Not much from a photo op. The New Male had chewed up two buffaloes the previous night and had a, very visible grass eating tendency that morning. We were told that the tiger would eat grass and vomit to clear his stomach. We sat a long while on the elephant since there were no other vehicles. All had stopped to glimpse this tiger and were still checking in at centre point.
We decided to wait till the time was up to see if the “New Male” moved. He had to since he was in the sun and the heat was building up. Slowly but surely the trickle of vehicles increased to see the tiger from elephant back. As we waited, I got a few shots of a common hawk cuckoo in that area. By nine fifteen the tiger moved, walked back towards the trees and enroute retched after eating all that grass earlier. Since he moved much away from the road , I used the D2x + 600+TC14 to get a few shots of this handsome guy. While we were waiting, we saw Olympus contract photographer John Issac speak with the ranger. John had introduced himself to me while we were waiting to enter the park earlier.
New Tala Male or The Bamera Male.
The evening was our last safari of this trip and we lined up early right behind Sachin Rai. Rajbehra it was but, to our dismay we found the hide occupied by our Olympus man. All the guides and the drivers were aghast since we had been told that since the charging incident , the hide would not be used. The fear was that the tigers would skip Rajbehra and the best sighting in Bandhavgarh would not be possible. The drivers, guides & Sachin Rai told me that since the hide incident it had taken ten days for the sightings to re-commence at Rajbehra and the fear was if the tigers felt uncomfortable, it could lead to another “dry spell”. Well no fault of John for sure, just that his naturalist and guides did not guide him correctly. Also, the park management is to blame as well.
The UNhide ( An apology for a hide looks more like a garden gazebo )
I was happy to chill the rest of the evening but our driver and guides wanted our last ride to be a memorable one. Off to Mirchiani we went, where some vehicles had spotted tigers ( two tigers the Mirchiani brothers) in the morning. No sign and we waited. Soon one of the other vehicle drivers spotted what looked like a tiger. In the dappled forest light, anything and everything looked like a tiger 🙂 I took a pic and zoomed in all the way, all I saw was a rock. Meanwhile John Issac came by in his vehicle (so he was out of the hide…thank you) . A little later , a chital made an alarm call, so there had to be tigers in that region. Maybe they had moved. We checked ahead and got back , no luck. Just as we were waiting the jeeps in front rushed and we followed. Narayan our driver did some deft, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton kind of tricks , and we were aligned. I got a few nice frontals with the D2X + 300 2.8 + TC14.
One of the tigers went up to the road and sat right down. I wonder how these kitties manage with all the shouting and noise that happens to see these beautiful cats. The vehicles that came afterwords from the opposite side had a great frontal view. Crazily, one of the tourists from the newly arrived vehicle got down from the jeep leading to a lot of yelling for him to get on back to his vehicle. Crazy guy, he could have got into a bad situation, pretty quick. Amazingly the kitty was pretty calm all throughout this commotion. By now, Sachin’s driver had very intelligently parked so as not to allow any vehicle ahead and disturb the cat. We were in a depression and the cat was ahead and when I shot , I was at perfect eye level 🙂
The second cat then ambled ahead and I waited to get this frame below.
Now for the yucky part. As the sitting cat got up and started to walk, before I could instruct, my driver raced ahead and the cat briskly hopped into the undergrowth on the other side. Ideally the driver should have paced the cat allowing it to walk. I then got a few hurried side shots. Basically an experience that was a kill joy after the previous safari rides. I do love the driver and guides enthusiasm but, I think we need to check them at these instances.
On the way back we met John Issac’s vehicle again and his naturalist mentioned tigers at “Climber Point” . But we knew, photographically it would not be too good so didnt go there at all. Besides “Climber Point” had a stream nearby so chances were that the tigers wouldn’t come to Rajbehra. We did check Rajbehra but, as expected, no luck.
Its indeed tough to get creative @ Bandhavgarh given the “F1” type of vehicle driving and, the almost obsessive interest in tigers. All these are more or less documentary shots and not very particularly creative. All the same, I am sure I will get my vision in a few trips ….the trouble is that one is usually not there long enough for the mind to start “seeing”.
All in all an amazing trip in every sense of the word. Bandhavgarh, I will be back 🙂
For all the pics of the trip. Lots more there than on the blog. Be sure to take a look! >>> Click Here
My long lens case in action. Note how its strapped securely to the seat.