I had always wanted to start the Wildlife Sanctuary rounds and this August over the Independence day weekend (Aug 12-15th 2006), we decided to join Adesh Shivkar and gang to see the Great India Bustard at the Nannaj Wildlife Sanctuary near Solapur, Maharashtra, India. A welcome outing to a rainshadow region, given the near constant rain and overcast conditions in Mumbai especially during the monsoons.
This ramble is an effort to log the photographic opportunities and experiences that I encountered.
Weather conditions during the three days we were there was generally overcast skies with intermittent thundershowers. During the trip I wanted to try out my new Sekonic 308s Flashmeter. I wanted also to try out watching the three channel histogram and tweaking white balance by watching the three channel histogram. Frankly, I did not have much expectation on the trip (photographically speaking) since, I knew that the weather would be cloudy and force me to use much higher ISO values. Besides of course, wildlife is always a chancy proposition !
First day we moved to the Sanctuary’s watchtower area after lunch. There is a nice hut with viewing slits that can be used for photography. We saw a Grey Shrike and a few Silverbills in the trees near the hut. There was a herd of Black Bucks in the far distance. Photography was tough due to the distance and more importantly the haze, which gives a kind of shimmering look in the far distance. But, I did get a good sunset shot where I used a 2 stop graduated ND and also dialed down white balance to 4300K so that I do not blow my Red channnel. After dinner we ventured out to see the Spotted owlet which roosts in the area of the Forest Office which is across the road from the forest rest house. Tip: Use the â€˜Red Eyeâ€™ mode on the camera for night shots!
Day two saw us back at the watchtower in the early morning but ,nothing more that the Black Bucks in the distance. The route upto the sanctuary gave us sightings of quails, partridges, larks, lapwings to name a few. We then decided to skirt the boundary of the sancturary in a clockwise direction. The hike turned out to be long and the weather overcast. The only photographic opportunity arose at the rear of the park where there is a small pond. Baya weavers were busy building their nests. They were visible in full bright yellow breeding plumage. The light was flat and, in the excitement of finding a subject to shoot, I forgot to set a higher ISO value. I thus ended up getting a lot of shots with motion blurs. Lesson, set a check, check, check before you click and maybe its a good idea to keep the setting higher at IS 400 especially for wildlife. When I shoot something at lower ISO , after the shoot, immediately dial back to ISO 400 so that any â€˜grab opportunitiesâ€™ that occur later, have a higher shutter speed to freeze motion.
That evening, we walked to the area behind the forest rest house to watch an Indian Courser pair with chicks. The birds were very wary and were too far even at 500mm. I saw a thundershower approaching and quickly grabbed a picture. Just as soon as I put the camera back in my backpack it started to rain. I pulled out the spare plastic bag that I carry and put my 50-500mm lens in it. I also deployed the raincover on my Lowpro Mini Trekker AW. Totally drenched in the twenty minute shower, we trudged back to the watchtower. Enroute, I learnt what a gravid (carrying eggs or pregnant) lizard is. Shot off a few frames with the 70-200 VR of this beauty. At the watchtower area we spotted a Bonellies Eagle which was tussling with a buck for its perch on a termite mound. Tip: Always carry a large plastic bag with you. Never know when you may need it !
The resthouse front yard is a good place to spot and photograph Grey Babblers, Indian Robin, Minivets, sunbirds and Bulbuls in the morning.
Day three morning I was pretty much trashed out from hauling my gear from the previous day so decided to check out the area just behind the rest house. We spotted a few Small Minivets about 25 meters ahead of the hand pump location. Luckily, the sun came up intermittently and, we had a relatively bright sunny morning.The minivets probably had a nest nearby and, after watching them intently, we figured out a good spot to photograph them. I think the 70-200 with the TC 17E-II in good light conditions was a good handheld option. This spot would have been a great place to set up a hide to photograph unobserved. I did get a few good shots of the Minivets by using my Sigma and the tripod but ,could have used more reach/ got closer. We did not get closer so as not to disturb the birds. We also spotted larks, the green bee eater and silverbills in the area. All in all, a photographically satisfying morning.
Adesh even though was running a slight fever, went out a little late chasing the elusive Great Indian Bustard (GIB). Only about 500 if these majestic birds remain in the wild today and Nannaj records mention that there are some 24-27 individuals in the area. In the evening I was quite tired and decided to stick at the resthouse but, a call on the phone had us rushing for our first sight of the GIB. We were able to see this magnificient bird thru the spotting scope. The bird was way too far to photograph, and soon disappeared into a dip in the ground. A little later the GIB took flight and flew off. I got a shot off and, at full magnification Adesh confirmed it was indeed a GIB.We also saw a few wolves stalking a goat herd but, the dogs chased them off eventually. What a way to end the trip. We had to catch the train back that night and in the last few hours of the day we sighted the elusive GIB !
By Road from Mumbai via bus to Solapur.
By Train from Mumbai (Siddheshwar Express) to Solapur and then via hired cab to Nannaj.
You can get to Nannaj vilage by bus from Solapur. To get to the forest rest house you will have to walk almost 1.5KM from the highway.
Note: Good idea to get the mobile number of the cab so that you can call him up for the trip back.
There are no hotels at Nannaj. Your best bet is the forest resthouse which you need to book in advance at Pune. No guarantee that even if you have a booking you will get a room !
The resthouse guys do provide food, if you get a room. Since we were a large group, we had to get food arranged to be delivered from the village.
I’d suggest staying at Solapur and hiring a cab for the day and getting back to Solapur in case the forest resthouse cannot be managed.
There are a few excellent blogs on our visit
A detailed reoprt on the Indian Bustard can be found here
Basically, be ready to rough it out.