Mara Migration 2022 Edition - A Journey that never ends!
Approximately every 30 minutes or so, a plane lands on an airstrip (example: Mara Intrepid) Watching the flights fly that close across the plains, I love seeing the new enthusiastic arrivals hopping out of the planes to take over the action from those who were getting into a plane to get back home.
The enthusiasm, excitement and craving to experience, feel and be part of the Mara Legends over-powers the sad and “if I could stay for few more days” / “what would happen to the action I left behind” feeling that is just un-explainable. I get this feeling right from the day one each time I saw a plane land. I am typically thinking about the hard-time I would battle with my emotions when I will be on my way back. Like a kid reluctantly going to school, misty eyed, emotions choking up his throat - this is what I go through every time I pack my bags from Mara and watch the plane land on the muddy strip, to take me back home. The only thing missing was a handkerchief tied to my shirt. Guess, I always need a towel.
For the first time, I had a nightmarish experience at Bangalore International Airport. Because of a sandstorm in Sharjah, my Bangalore flight was delayed by 3 hours. Upon that, I didn’t realize my camera tools were kept in my carry bag (I had taken collars off my lens) only to have the security confiscate it. Without which I couldn’t leave Bangalore - Thanks to #airarabia staff who graciously helped me all through to get things sorted. Phew! Finally, departed Bangalore by 630am and no surprises, my entire day/events were in shambles. I almost missed my Nairobi flight! Nonetheless - All went well with touch and go affair. Only after I landed in Nairobi, I told myself - My trip is on!
I stayed in two camps - Mara Simba and Osero Sophia River Camp. I must say, Osero Camp blew me away! Dileep and Remya - Partners of the Osero - were extremely courteous, delightful and great hosts to me all through. I was in for a surprise with all south-indian food, delicacies and not to mention my birthday celebrations! Couldn’t have asked for more. Made my heart flutter 😊. My special thanks to Janardhan, my friend and well-wisher who took utmost care through out my entire trip with top notch planning! Here is one of the frames I'd dedicate to Janardhan!
One of the things I did this time was not to move around but to stay-put in a zone from where I could track the Legendary Lion Prides of Mara - The Salas Boys / Topi Pride, Rokero Pride and Fig Tree Pride. With heavy rains lashing out in the plains and for some reason, the migration was a dull affair (at least during the 10 days I was there); It rained heavily but in pockets, the sun shone sharp and was cruel. No surprises, it was nothing but Lion’s outing during my entire stay. Lions, Lions and more Lions. But Of-course, tracked Luluka and Faulu - Daughter of legendary Leopardess Lorain - besides watching Tano Bora Brothers (2 of the 5 ) hunt down a Topi and Wildebeest on two occasions while witnessed 3 other successful hunts by other Cheetahs. There is always “that” image that comes to my mind if I look back. An emotional one, that talks about a mother and cub! No other jeeps in the vicinity, it is only me and this mother with her cute little toys, one following while she is carrying the naughtiest in her jaws! Here is the most fearsome predator, holding her cub, cajoling and with utmost care, taking her up-hill!
The Prized moment of my trip!
Wet and crazily gold-lit mornings, far across, a column of Cape buffalos, the known bad and temperamental asses of the plains sauntering in a single column, surprisingly taking a restrained approach – perhaps aware of the fact that there were predators all around. Buffalos are known to attack and can be quite lethal. But I am sure we all agree, they can be good posers as well! One of the males had lost one of his horns and as I was watching him, wondered if he lost in a battle with his fellow contestants – Of-course, that also means, he lost his berth, hence named him as – Dethroned King
The Tankers of the Plains
A Typical Scene with Cape Buffalos
As we sped up the hill that is a known spot for the Topi Pride, it may be 2 to 3 days since they had any kill. They were extremely active, their ears and eyes stretched wide - scanning their surroundings while the adolescent and cubs played around without a care in the world. The first day, I spotted all 4 Salas Boys over a buffalo kill but none of them were together. One of them was sleeping while the other turned its face off, wandering down-hill. The other 2 continued to feast. A huge personal disappointment for me was to miss having all 4 Males in a single frame. Alas a box stayed unticked.
The Legend - One of the Salas Boys!
When I gaze across vast lands of Mara, I get a feeling of being a part of its history. 4 Musketeers, Black Rock Pride, Bahati - The Veteran Leopard, Kabusu - The queen of Double Cross, Lorain - The beautiful Leopardess, Tano Bora —5 Cheetah coalition - Legends have come and gone - Every season and year, there is a dynasty that get usurped while a new legend is born. There are some who continue to rule the plains of mara for years holding their ground and territory, fighting through every single day - the heroes who have carved out a name for themselves and their pride. I look back as I am writing these lines - watching these legends year after year - History of Mara being written and re-written - it gives me a huge feeling of belongingness, a sense of pride, to be a part of the legendary script that goes on forever and ever.
The Legendary Bahati - Close to her retirement - An Extreme close up shot
For some reason (unknown) this year’s migration has been off-color. Lot of gossip around why the wildebeest herd have not been getting through Mara crossing, the grass shoots that have come up within Tanzania or the grass that got burnt on either sides or may be the heavy off-seasonal rains - you can never know the real reason for they are the best judges before the leap of faith by their leader. I did witness a few jumps on twice however in thin and weak numbers. I did get lucky to catch upon two crocodiles chancing upon a wild beast, but it was sheer heroic effort, grit and determination that made her survive the brutal attack. She was caught in the neck on one side while her legs were held by another crocodile - I almost thought the game was over for her, however to my surprise, she fought tooth and nail, with all her might, shook her head and legs not before giving a mild kick to one of the reptiles before she sped to safety. In life we all get caught in a whirlpool of problems and painful situations. The more we give into it, the more we get eaten. The more we fight and showcase determination, we survive - against all odds!
The Prey and Predator - Mara Crossing!
Mornings were brutally cold, my jeep speeding through the waterlogged roads and small streams, early morning sun coming out in all glory with golden rays spread across the Savannah - it has always been magical and a pure delight. I always look for the Walking towers of Africa - Giraffes - A perfect subject to make some fine images and memories with the rising sun. They seldom disappoint. I had got news about a Leopard but didn’t want to miss the morning date with these giants. After capturing rising sun with them, we sped across to the eastern side of the plains to check on the Leopard we heard few moments back.
A Perfect Morning - Up in the clouds!
There she was! Faulu - She is the daughter of legendary leopardess called Lorraine who was killed by Lions few months back. Incidentally, in 2019, I had great time with both Lorraine and Faulu (who was 8 to 9 months old cub). She was playful, ran all around, showing all the antics one could imagine. Always a mama’s doll and she was doted upon! When Lorain was no more, all of us were worried if Faulu would survive. When I saw her, my guide disclosed that this leopard was Lorain’s daughter it was such a great feeling - feeling of getting back - getting back into time – Oh boy! She had grown, showing off her confidence and yet being playful. I couldn’t express how happy I was - this is what happens when legends and their tribe are followed - One becomes part of their life - their family tree. Unknowingly I realized I had become part of their life. This is how my story goes - being part of Mara, being part of the kingdom, being part of the world that I long to keep watching. Yes, Faulu - An adorable girl - Her eyes shining like a star, her inexperience was visible, but she has come of age! I am sure she would be missing her mother but now she is capable enough to defend herself - As I saw her vanishing into the bushes of Double Cross territory - it gave a sense of relief - I do hope she rules this terrain forever! and until I visit her next, she thrives through the day-to-day survival challenges
Faulu - The Wonder-kid!
In 2019, I had a great time watching Tano Bora males. Coalition of 5 Males - They ruled the plains of Mara - growing in confidence. Hunting had become easy. They were not challenged. I spent a few evenings with them back then. Fast forwarding to this year, 3 males are gone and now, there are only 2 left. These two brothers are so closely knitted - I am sure deep inside, they know, their time is up with age catching up - They seemed to be tiring up fast. Even though they are hunting quick and eyeing large prey such as Topi and wildebeest, they seem to have lost a step or two. Life goes on in the wild as well as in general. With every passing day, we are slowly getting into time. Watching them both, cuddling, nuzzling, and just playing around - the bond between them, or do they get a feeling about their survival or what will they go through if one of them goes missing? At times it is so abstract. As I watched them groom one another, it made me shudder to think how it would be if one of them is no longer there? How will the last one in line cope up with the emptiness? It is always a vacuum I go through when I think of the past and how it is now - Time and tide waits for none. Cut to the chase, we tracked these brothers for 3 days, made some memorable images, waited for hours together for them to hunt down - I do hope when I am back in Mara in 2023, I still have chance to spend time with these running machines.
Tano Bora - The Legendary Coalition - 2 of the 5 brothers
Tano Bora - A successful hunt!
Causing a commotion!
Whether it is migration or not, game is on all through day and night in the endless plains. It is the game between Predator and the prey. Predators get their life while Prey loose theirs. After the big ones have their fill, Jackals or Hyenas or the vultures clean up the dead. But the remains of the dead have a lot to say! Orphaned with their remains, their spirits tell a different story. The spirits that are unseen - the spirits that are blind, dumb and numb. Each one of them had a part in the history of these plains. Each of them fought for their survival, they fought for their herd or clan or family. They would have stood tall to defend while shielding the young ones. Time in these plains run with these spirits. It runs with these souls that are long gone. We got a call that Rokero Pride had made a kill, so had to take the shortest route from Topi Pride territory. The drive was so beautiful with thick vegetation all around, puddles of water from previous night’s rain, the sound of the tyres sloshing past these water holes even as my heart beat a thousand times thinking if I’d get the best of the frames or if I’d get to spend time with these majestic cats. While we zoomed past, I saw something stared at me - something that took my attention - those two eyes that caught my attention was trying to communicate — I asked Ben to stop for a moment – they were the remains of a Cape buffalo. The entire setting was quite eerie. With scattered clouds floating over, the emptiness in those eyes, life that was taken away, life that was meant to live, was it a sacrifice or was it a hard-fought battle or may-be it was surrounded - in the end, no one heard the story nor seen nor felt. When I stared, those two eyes kept staring back at me. Right into me, right through me. So many untold stories, forgotten tales, hard-fought death and just silence. The remains have no words to share. It is the silence of the dead. The moment I made this frame, I wanted to name this image as “Silence of the Dead”.
Silence Of The Dead
With rains lashing through the evenings, the setting sun ensured to play hide and seek. The imaginations and visuals I had in mind were long gone but it still offered lot many opportunities to me. When I am in the land of legends, there are just a few things to complain about. When lights are low, clouds are heavy, mind thinks differently - uniqueness or how to be creative. It challenged me once again. Besides my tryst with big cats, I had loads of time I could spend with other subjects. While Impalas are quite common, their fights aren’t. I was lucky enough to snatch a few frames. Another incredible moment was a Black Backed Jackal family (with Pups); It is quite rare of them to showcase themselves. Or a Chanting Goshawk with a kill (Lizard); In fact for the first time, I happened to see a mother Giraffe nursing her little one! I must say, I looked around only to see Mother Nature blessing her mortal ones. These were straight lifts for me, from the documentaries I watched a zillion times - The Animal Kingdom.
A Dream come true!
A dream come true -
Since my childhood days, I have been watching the eternal foes of the plains on Television. The Lion and Cape buffalo! Arch rivals. In the last 15 years or so during my wildlife trips, unfortunately, I never witnessed a live battle. Their fights, kills, gorging one another to defend their family, feed their family. But this time, I was lucky. Watching a live battle was one of the best experiences of my life. That fateful day, as usual, after having a sumptuous lunch, my typical routine was to go up the hill, me and my guide take our afternoon siesta for 45 min and then resume our game drive. We took a decision to go towards Topi Pride (We had been following Rokero Pride that morning). It was cold - the air was moist - Black clouds hurriedly moved on. Upon reaching the downhill, we saw the Topi Pride Male and his entire gang of 28 lions huddle around a bush. Nearby there were 2 Bulls (Cape buffalo) in the waterhole. Besides our jeep, there was one more.
It was literally freezing. We decided to go for a quick inspection only to find out that one of the Matriarch - named Winter - had died. She had a huge hole in her hind legs. Apparently, one of the buffalos had gorged her (all these happened when I was taking my nap). After looking around a bit, we saw two Cape buffalo near-by but in a waterhole. There was a lot of unrest. One could feel tension in the air. In deep anguish, the Pride Male roared few times and snarled at his family. The entire pride surrounded Winter - as though it was their ritual to pay respects to her - they stood for a minute or two before breaking away towards the buffalos. The next 48 hours were nothing but a battle. Until 645pm - the two buffalos worked together to defend the Lion Pride (Total 28 Lions); Every time, Lions surrounded, one of the bulls came out of the waterhole to defend with attitude and determination.
Finally, one of the bulls squandered and moved on leaving his partner all alone to fight it out. Incidentally, time was up, and we left for the night. I kept on wondering - did the Lions get the kill? Or did the buffalo managed to escape from the clutches of certain death? I didn’t sleep that night. 5am Sharp, we left our camp - I was hoping the action would continue. By the time we reached the spot, it was as-is. The buffalo was still in the waterhole and lions had surrounded. Seems like the battle had continued through the night without an outcome. The sun was sharp, and both parties were confident to go for the kill. Every time the buffalo stepped out to walk few meters outside, the inexperienced cubs harped on to the buffalo only to see it get back into the waterhole. This continued. Even the male and the experienced females couldn’t do much - There were close to 12 to 15 Cubs that literally spoilt the scene. Neither they gave enough time for the buffalo to step out nor they showed patience. It hung in mid-air. I didn’t move an inch from morning through evening. On one occasion, the bull walked through the creek for few meters when the Topi Pride Male saw a window of opportunity to pounce but alas, the timing was bad. Hurriedly the bull jumped into the waterhole. Lions do not like to get wet and the Bull took that as an advantage for 2 whole days! To me, it was a battle of titans - 28 Lions Vs. 1 Cape Buffalo. If I would carry a point or two from this epic battle - Mental Strength, Determination, Positive Attitude and Never Give Up thoughts - stood out. Can’t imagine how excruciating it was, lasting for 48 hours with neither of them budging. The match swung both-ways, but it was completely spoilt out by the cubs. Sadly, it was my last day at Mara. At 6pm, I told Ben - guess I remain unlucky to witness the outcome of this battle. I almost cried knowing the fact, I may not see such an event ever again. Staring at the waterhole, I took a heavy breath and with a shaken voice, I said, Well, I am calling it a day and trip. Let us head back now. May be to cover up my tears, it started to rain. On one side I was deeply disappointed about the fact I couldn’t get to see the final battle but on the other side I appreciated what I got to see. It was the final night of my stay.
Battle between the Titans!
And still the Cape Buffalo held his fort - Until I departed.
Next morning when me and Ben were having Coffee, he reluctantly told me - Magal - Lions made the kill last night. I didn’t smile - I didn’t laugh. I just bent down my head for a minute. He said, Next time! We got into the jeep heading towards Keekrok Airstrip. All the events unfolded in front of my eyes; it was heavy. I was behaving like a school kid who does not want to go to school. I didn’t want to leave Mara. I wanted to drive up-hill, stop the jeep under an acacia tree, with gentle breeze blowing, wanted to sip a hot cup of coffee and may be lay down. Feeling as though the entire plains are mine. It is mine. I belong here. Mara Plains call for me. Ben nudged to let me know that it was time for me to leave - After hugging him tight, thanking him - I made my way into the flight – for my journey back home.
Year after year, I make these trips, but my hunger never seems to have satisfied. From the window of my seat, I looked down - even as my flight soared high, those roads that we used to drive, those water holes that we crossed, the tricky Talek River we crossed, the long roads became small, the entire plains could fit in my airplane window as my flight kissed the damp clouds. I let go a heavy breath as we landed in Wilson Airport and from there on, my mechanical self-became active or hyper-active. My emotional self said, it is okay - Until next time!
Mercury Rising - Ranthambore
4th to 8th April 2021 - Mercury Rising Series, Edition-1
This was quite a nostalgic trip and an emotional one too! It had been two years since I visited RTR but then it was hosted by my dear friend, Ashish Parmar which was nothing but an incredible one! I am sure Ashish, you must be some where here in RTR or Kabini or in Tadoba, watching me drive through the roads that you drove for me in our earlier trips! The coffee sessions, Jogi-Mahal Lunch, Tea at Bakoola and the whole lot of chit-chat sessions, jokes, banters. Chief - You have gone too soon, you have left a huge void in our hearts and life. Me and Vijay Singh Meena talked about you many a time - We miss you a lot. Every time i go the places where you took me along, I am sure your spirits are right there, smiling, and as you see me struggling with something or other, you say, in your inimitable style, Magal, let me help you...; I am sure you are in a better place than we all are.
I was about to cancel this trip because of increasing number of C-19 Cases. My biggest fear was what if I get struck in Jaipur ? Quite a lot of ifs and but’s lingered in my mind. It was now or never , so had to take that final decision. After much deliberation, I hopped into Indigo with all paperwork and yes Mercury Rising Edition -March21 was on! Watching the world from the Airplane window, I felt anxious, happy and yet had this hollow feeling all through. It was an empty flight (or almost empty) and the entire 3 seats in the first row that was for myself gave me a comfort of not to have got sandwiched between fellow passengers.
4th April 2021- 5:45pm - Jaipur was buzzing as-usual and the evening sun didn’t give much respite. After multiple checks at the Airport, I got out to an amazing welcome by my good old friend, Jeetu! As we exchanged pleasantries, I was looking at the city, people in their own world - Masks or no masks, their lives continued. One thing that this city exudes is Color! The turbans, colourful clothes donned by both Men and Women, The camel cart, houses that are scattered far from one another but oozing with a distinctive pull. I decided from my next trip, I will do some candid photography besides wildlife too. Coming back, The setting sun was cruel and far across, I saw him disappear across the horizon, slowly. I was desperately wanting to take a tea-break but somehow didn’t get the courage to stop by at the usual place. After couple of hours, Jeetu, took me to a Dhaba - The tea I had was one of the best! Clean & well maintained I slept on the cot that lay outside watching the trucks with their lights on, screaming through the darkness even as the night spread too fast. It was a rolling stone feeling, careless, not a thought about tomorrow - Just watching people chit-chat on the other cots spread across, village people gathered to talk about the day’s happenings, kids looking at me curiously while my eyes were struck on the moon that was shining bright - It had been a very long time since my mind acted like a vagabond but it was cut-short when Jeetu asked me if we could move on! We entered Sawai Madhapur at around 845pm. It was a quick check-in at Ranthambore Heritage Haveli - A huge one - true to its name, it was a palace. Amazing ambience, well maintained property. There weren’t much guests - I had a quiet dinner before calling it a day.
Ram and Ram (Driver and Naturalist) greeted me at sharp 540am while I was having masala chai in the hotel lobby. A quick greeting and getting to know one another, we were on our way! It was quite cold in the morning but I knew it was just a matter of an hour before mercury would rise. My curiosity rose as we drove into the fort, the familiarity of the surroundings made me even more anxious. Mandatory check-in and we sneaked in - on our way towards Rajbagh - She wouldn’t let us go beyond - The Queen of Lakes, Arrow Head lay there, relaxing! Rather, she showed how to relax and let go off all the worries!
This is how Arrow Head Tigress welcomed me!
From there she slid into an uphill and we took a de-tour and waited for her to come out at her usual stop. And boy-she did! The entire world rose up to greet her! Early morning light was brilliant while she enthralled all her followers to a road-show! She walked with such a grace without knowing the chaos and commotion she creates, every time, she appears!
The Legend and her followers
After a while, something diverted her attention. A herd of deer made her to change her path as she jumped into the main rajbagh area, into the tall golden grasses. An eternal wait of 30 minutes, we realised she wouldn’t come out, moved towards Mallik Talao where Riddhi, Daughter of Arrow Head and apparent heir to Rajbagh was resting. She had just got off the water-hole was in quite a serious and intense mood. Not many jeeps around, while I was looking at her, her ears twirled and basis on her behaviour I thought, she was upto something. Few minutes later, she stood up again, walked right next to my jeep - I would be lying to say if my heart skipped a beat - She is beautiful, determined, fierce and deadly! She has had few confrontations with her mother and I hear, she will be the Queen of Lakes in days to come (defeating her mother); There were few deer in a distance - She looked at them before slipping into the bushes. Our wait didn’t result any action so we moved on.
The Heir apparent to Rajbagh, Riddhi (Daughter of Arrow Head Tigress)
Date with Laadli’s Cubs!
The next few days, I would have frequent audience with Laadli’s cubs. While it was disappointing I couldn’t see the mother but had good opportunities to hang around with 3 Sub-Adult cubs and few minutes of running-around with the female sub-adult cub. Both the male sub-adult cubs are absolutely beautiful while the younger one is quite timid. With temperature soaring to 38’c - it made perfect sense for them to cool off in the water hole.
Laadli's Cubs - Sub Adult Males
That evening didn’t bother me much as i missed few tigers here and there. Deep in my mind, I was worried about my return journey (because of C-19 cases being on rise along with speculation of lock-down); It was quite depressing for me since I was caught in between. However i was lucky enough to spot a very rare Egyptian Vulture at a water hole. They are hard to be seen and is considered as critically endangered. They are migratory species.
The Egyptian Vulture
The next morning I chanced upon T102 who is nursing 4 cubs. She came out (and I was extremely hopeful to get a glimpse of her cubs but it was not the case) alone, she sat for a while, quenched her thirst before lazily walking back to her den, up the hill. While I waited there for a while sipping coffee enjoying the morning hour, got to hear that Riddhi, Arrow Head’s daughter was resting near Malik Talao. It was near-by, so within the next few minutes we reached. She was resting on a bund, watching herd of deer at the other side of the waterhole.
Wanting to experiment on few compositions, I tried few tricks before heading to another zone where a surprise awaited in form of a Leopard that was resting with a spotted deer kill! This was the first time for me to have spotted and it was quite an achievement for me!
The most elusive cat in Ranthambore!
A late lunch, under the shade of a tree - Vegetable Biryani, Salad, Curd and a bottle of Butter Milk followed by my afternoon siesta. Watching two sub-adult tiger cubs sleep under the tree, I slept while my driver and naturalist kept an eye on the cats. Both brothers shouldn’t mistake me as their next meal! It was 3:00pm, a blazing afternoon, we decided to check one of the greenest & coolest places in Ranthambore forest - Bakola. News was T103 (female) & Jam (Male) were mating or in pre-mating rituals. There was just another Jeep when we reached the spot. Took few close up shots that came out well while framing few extreme close up ones that didn’t result any frames as out of the blue, the female walked into the frame and I didn’t have time to take my 70-200 Lens resulting in pathetic shots. I still swear and cry because those could have resulted in some out of the world frames! I still get up in the middle of nights, cry for a while and get back to sleep.
T103 Tigress, moving into the bushes.
The final day of stay in Ranthambore! I slept well the previous night since I got my C-19 Report (negative) that also meant I could safely get back home. We decided to head straight to Zone-6 to check on mother and 3 sub-adult cubs. The first hour was quite dry as we tried looking for famous Noor, her daughter Noorie but came out empty handed. Day-long safaris can be taxing at times - With the hot sun beating down, empty searches, pug marks, bumpy rides and long roads can at times make you feel a bit uncomfortable. I always end up in looking for photo opportunities ensuring my mind is occupied - Admiring the forest, mother nature’s so many surprises, checking on the trees for any movements, scanning the forest floor for any reptiles and if you have patience, lot of close-up portraits of Deer, Langur, Sambhar Deer and Blue-Bull are at your disposal.
A pit-stop, refuelling myself with break-fast, we discussed about our next move. We reached one of the check-post and got to know that mother and cubs were up on the fort (This is towards the end of Zone-6); By the time we went there, the family had dispersed. After scanning the area we could see the three cubs were sleeping under the shade of a huge tree while Mother was not to be seen. To me, I was literally in tears - Guess I missed them walking together by few minutes - On top of it, it was my last day. After consoling myself, I thought it is best to sip the last cup of morning coffee and contemplate our next step. After circling around we came to the same spot only to see the three tigers weren’t there! God! I yelled. It was around 1200 noon as we moved towards the gate and had to cross the fort. We stopped for a second just to feel the shade and to my surprise, one of the sub-adult male tiger walked into the fort and got into one of the verandah inside the ruins! Can you believe it? I couldn’t believe my own eyes! I took my 16-35mm for some unique compositions, got some close-ups. Just when I decided I had got some good frames, he went inside for his afternoon nap! And yes, it was time for me to head for lunch!
Luv, Laadli's Sub-Adult Cub - The Caretaker of the Ruins!
Back at the hotel, I was completely in distraught. The next morning I had to leave while opportunities were only getting better in the forest. I was literally torn apart. How I wish I could have extended my trip by few more days but life has to move on. A sumptuous lunch and a quick cat nap, I was in the jeep but somehow the last game drive was ordinary. I got few close up shots of Siddhi and in the end, closed my trip with Arrow Head. I began my trip with Arrow head and ended with her - That was something.
My Dream Shot of Tigress Arrow Head - The Trip Pack-up shot
Light dinner and packing up, it was the hardest thing to do. But good things come to an end with a reason that, I will be back at it once again. Early morning, 5:00am, even as the birds were still in their nest, sipping Tea, my mind raced to all the events that unfolded over the past few days. My car was there and the next few hours was filled with chit-chatting with Jeetu. As we were near the Airport, we both had a Kullad-Chai talking about my up-coming trip. A good hug, smiles and Jeetu left for his home while I walked towards Indigo Terminal, 8th April 2021
Misty Morning Mystery
The day is still a mystery to me, with multiple possibilities that could have taken place without knowing the end result. Guess, that’s why it is called as Mystery.
Entire sequence (images) was shot during extreme low-light (combined with heavy mist) conditions.
26th Feb 2021, a morning that made me feel desperate, angry, emotional and yet fortunate to have experienced one of my greatest moments in wildlife. Woke up in an upbeat mood, almost springing up from the bed, anxiety loomed in large wondering how the game drive would pan out. The path I took thousand times earlier, looked new and fresh yet made me comfortable like every single time. Mercury had been spiking up since last few days and the moisture had surely bottled up - The entire camp and the forest filled with mist, one could barely see let alone recognise who’s who! With all the magic, we entered into the woods. The onset of summer had made sure to turn the entire forest brown as I saw it was nothing but huge blanket of mist. It was nothing but puffed up clouds scattered all over while the early morning sun didn’t have much of a choice. Birds flew all over getting on with their morning chores chirping all along. The roads filled with fallen leaves, brown twigs even as the jeep moved on. I had covered up myself so firmly except my curious eyes that were looking for any movements. We reached a clearing. A Stag (Male Spotted Deer) looked through the mist, silhouetted against the rising sun who could barely be visible through. The mist was spreading too fast and too soon. I barely managed to make a frame or two as we moved on to a potential spot where we had seen a Leopard from previous evening’s drive.
We stopped at a place to check for any predator movements, pug-marks but it was all normal. No tell-tale signs. Far across, there was a spotted deer alarm call but it faded away unlike our hope. We moved on with our jeep cutting across the brittle stones on the path, creating a sound that I enjoy and find it treacherous sometimes, thinking how our path in life is. We managed to move on and after 15 minutes or so, we stopped at a curve to investigate a situation. A pack of wild dogs was running around in hyper-active mode. I was least interested though. Something made me to check on them as one of them was looking up quiet curiously. The dense fog had engulfed the entire woods so it took time for me to look up and something was on a tree, higher up on a branch. Split second, I exclaimed - Leopard Cub!
While I was busy checking on the cub, our naturalist, said Cub's mother! up on a different tree but both trees were entwined & twisted with their dry branches spread across. With so much of mist, I had to literally isolate multiple branches and even trees to figure out where was the mother. Two trees right next to us - Mother Leopard was atop while her cub, was on the highest branch –shaken up with the wild dogs intimidating her. The cub with all its might snarled, growled - I could easily see her getting completely disoriented. One of the wild dogs tried to latch on to the tree with both its legs. I wonder what would the cub be going through in its mind? It looked at its mother - it looked around - It wanted some respite, it wanted some help but nothing would come. The mother watching her carefully but yet shockingly chose not to react at that time. The cub once again, climbed up to the next branch that was dry and the leafless branches looked like time that chose not to help. Each of the branch looked closed to the cub, disowned, it merely offered no respite nor any shelter looked like claws of death surrounding the cub. One of the two dogs manipulatively approached from the other side of the tree and the cub was even more terrified. At one point, it started growling - snarling but would it make any one scared? But yet, that was a good try. I made a frame of the cub in one of those moments.
Mother Leopard looked, obviously, worried & concerned, studied the situation carefully. She wouldn’t want to make any move nor her cub to make any mistake. While the fragile cub, completely shattered in fear, was in a hysteric mode. She moved up, climbed down again, hid herself behind a branch. The wild dogs after a while lost interest and moved upwards. Both mother and cub watched them with their eyes peeled. These Apex Predators stood on the famous “Black rock” watching something. They were very attentive and held on to their attention for a while. After few minutes, they came back once again to check on the cub. This time, the cub moved closer to her mother but interestingly neither of them chose to comfort one another or to cuddle up or even huddle together. I wondered why? The wild dogs circled beneath like how vultures circle the dead. The difference is, here, both Leopards were alive.
The cub, unsure what was running in its mind, was even unsure of its actions. Instead of sitting tight, it was delusional. The wild dogs by then had moved few yards into the bushes that had huge trees, may be, 10 to 15 feet away from the Leopards. After 20 minutes of wait, the cub, with all its immaturity, came down few branches, slid into the open part of the tree that was right next to her mother, gingerly balanced while the entire forest was watching this drama. The mist melting painfully slowly, guess, knew the outcome. The anxiety bit us more than the wetness of the morning breeze. The canopies hung themselves in disbelief and the brown leaves on the floor didn’t move a bit wondering what would happen next. The cub balancing with its skills, came half way through the tree, guess 20 to 25 feet off the ground, looked at us. My heart beat raced, my pulse shot up and whispered - Don’t. Please don’t. Folks in my jeep uttered in unison. Mother was watching the cub that was in confused state. To my utter disbelief, this cub jumped from the tree - a clear 25 feet minimum off the ground, straight into the ground welcomed by the pack of Wild Dogs. The flying leopard's suicidal jump.
Confusion and commotion seem to be an understatement of what I saw. Both on the battle ground and in my jeep. For a moment I couldn’t react. My eyes froze. My hands struck to my camera. My heart beat stopped. Holy shit! Is what I remember saying. When I realised what was happening, the cub after landing straight ran to the adjacent tree being chased by the wild-dogs. To add more complexity, the mother jumped from the tree, once again, straight into the circle of death. Wild-Dogs let go of the cub as they had to take the mother head-on. During this commotion, I could see a Leopard that was bigger in size moving up the same tree where the cub ran towards! At one point, I could see the Leopard that was bigger in size (it was a male) held on to the cub and climbed the tree half way through. But it got back to the ground for reasons unknown. The events unfolded in split seconds.
The above 3 images are blurred and shaken however I have used them for the purpose of this blog/story continuity.
A minute of snarls, growls and combating sounds I could see two leopards on the adjacent tree. I could spot the cub, quite high, resting beside her mother, who of course was completely shaken up. For now, both mother and cub somehow managed to evade death, alive from the jaws of Wild-dogs. Both were on top of the tree. The mother looked completely restless, looking down, moving up and down. The cub, with its eyes closed, for a moment I thought, it was dead. But figured it out, it was quite alive. In all these heart-racing moments, there were no signs of wild-dogs. I was curious yet confused myself.
There were lot of disturbances and noise coming from the forest floor, right under the tree bushes but I could see nothing. There was so much of undergrowth that it was left to my imagination. After exactly 5 minutes, I could sense something was not right. It was not adding up. I was expecting wild-dogs to come out or have moved on through a clearing but I didn’t see. The mother was looking down with certain small growls but i couldn’t figure it out. Despite all the show-down, the mother decided to climb down! Once again, I was telling myself - Please, no! Don’t do that. The mother glanced at her cub one last time. She looked around. Her sleeping cub was lost in a world that would change my life after the event. The mother’s eyes were full of anxiety, despair and puzzled look. While the mother couldn’t decide her next course of action, the little one, may be hurt or injured or traumatised didn’t even have an ounce of energy left to comfort her mother or being comforted.
As she got into the descending mode, she sat momentarily with cloud of anxiety. She was breathing fast, she was breathing heavily. Inside the thickets, there were lot of moments perhaps wild-dogs running or the male leopard chasing the wild-dogs but i could not figure it out the actual events taking place. I watched the distraught mother, the pain oozing out from her eyes, the emotional trauma of leaving her cub all by itself before jumping into a cross-fire, for a moment my hands trembled. My eyebrows frowned in disbelief. I did not even move an inch wondering where this will all end up. How this will end? And, guess, the time came. For few seconds, she looked up, guess at her cub that was sleeping up on a branch, my eyes were filling up. Seconds later, measuring up on her next move, and probable events that would unfold, she leaped towards the other branch of the tree before descending. She climbed down and jumped right into the bushes. The next few moments were disastrous. I couldn’t figure out what was happening but hearing nasty growls, snarls and howling, it was quite clear, a severe battle was going on.
The last nail in the coffin - I couldn’t even understand an iota of the happenings- Ten minutes passed like years, neither I could see the wild-dogs nor the Leopard but I knew, there was another leopard in the play. With the on-going battle, I tried looking at the cub that was resting far-above. It looked down, painfully, I guess it saw its mother fighting, fighting for her life, fighting for the cub’s life, it was an instinctive but instantaneous decision - In split second, the cub just sprang - It just stood up, and boom! It jumped from approximately 35 to 40 feet branch - straight into the ground! Oh my god! My heart start thumping - My hands trembling - My heart beat skipped a beat. I started sweating. Words wouldn’t come out. I was in a state of complete shock. Huge growls, sound of fights erupted once again for few moments. What was happening? The bushes was so thick that I couldn’t see but all I could guess was something terribly had gone wrong. And the entire forest became silent albeit for a minute.
I waited right there. I waited to see if the cub or its mother would come out. Waited to see even if the wild-dogs would come out; None did. Earlier I had seen a Male Leopard being in the play - I hoped at least he would come out- again none did.
I stood up and stared at the bushes, at the empty trees. They all stood like mute spectators. The leaves didn’t shake neither the wind blew. The dried leaves scattered behaved completely neutral. The canopies perhaps were blind enough to react to what just happened. The skies by then had opened up and the sun pretending to be happy, screamed past the clear sky, hinting as though, it was a brand new day. But it was not. Just then, I heard a wailing growl. It was a death growl. Some one was crying or some one was on their deathbed or wanting the pain to get over their life. It continued for few times. It hit my ears and heart so much that it was echoing right in my mind. That growl had despair filled all through; it had pain, it had blood, it had the wound that may have sealed life. It echoed through the forest. One last growl was agonisingly longer. It was as though, some one wanted to live for some one, it was as though, some one was cheated with unwarranted fight or it was for pure survival. It did not last long. That wailing growl became thinner like melting mist which was so heavy in the morning. After some time, it was silent. The sun started beating down, the summer breeze blew, the dried leaves on the floor started to dance off the forest floor…It was as though, nothing had happened. The few hours of the morning had become history. Life just went on like nothing happened. Our jeep moved on the path that we had taken thousand times before, the tyres screeching and breaking the hard-stones on our way, even as I looked back one last time for the day.
What started as a misty morning, turned out to me a mystery one. Until now, I could not figure out what happened? Why did the cub defy and jump into its death? Why did the mother after securing her cub, against all odds, jumped for the second time knowing the fact, it was suicidal? Where did the third leopard, the male, came from? What happened to the wild-dogs who were hell bent on killing the cub? Why none of them got off the battle ground? While I am no expert but I do assume or my theory says, right from the beginning, the male leopard was within the vicinity, waiting for the wild-dogs to retract or move on. It may have wanted to mate with the mother but since the cub was around, its motive may have been to kill the cub such that it stood chance to mate to have his genes carry forward. With mother and a rogue male fighting, the cub decides to distract or just lost its cool to be with its mother - After the second fatal jump, the rogue male killed the cub and injured the mother. And the mother’s death-growl could have been for her cub or my another theory is the cub died right after its second jump (the male may have given a quick death bite) and later injured the mother in their fight. And the death-growl from her just before closing her eyes was to walk away from the spot, thinking about her cub, wailing and crying before she found a secluded spot to depart from this beautiful yet wild world called the Woods.
This is the story of emotions, innocence, bravery and wild instincts. I could feel loads of excitement in the beginning that got turned to heartbreak, feeling of despair, one of unbearable loss, beating heart-beats and a painful but eerie silence all through. Even though the mother gallantly fought with Wild-dogs and the rogue-leopard, it is still a mystery to why it leaped into the bush for the second time. It was a kind of angst feeling, very uncomfortable, feeling cheated. The final moments of the mystery still haunts me. The death-growl. Was it the wailing mother crying for its dead cub or the final moments of the mother after being mauled by the rogue leopard or the last bit of the mystery is both the mother and cub may have survived the ordeal and walking to a much safer hideout - if that existed.
And i do believe, the mother leopard "was" a true hero (Hoping she proves me wrong with my "was" word by giving me an audience next time) And The True Hero!
As I looked up, it was 0930am and the sun was at his sizzling best. It was a misty but a mystery filled morning, a mystery that remained unsolved. A morning that was filled with dense mist, a morning that was filled with survival instincts, a morning that was filled with heartbreak. And yet, I could not figure it out what happened in the end. It remained a puzzle and it shall remain as an enigma.
Canon EOS IDX M-II with 70-200mm IS II, Canon R5 with EF 500mm IS II
My tryst with Canon EOS R5
After back to back trips to Kabini all these years, this one was a bit special. A new addition to my family- The #Canon #EOSR5! I was waiting to get my hands on it but had decided not to until I take it to my second home, Kabini. Couldn’t wait to explore and analyse results myself than reading it on the web! The beginners mindset kicks in all the time. Always had this dream of exploring such a camera, push its limits, review it extensively, within my strengths and limits. So glad that the day came, rather, running into me. Kabini has always given me more than I asked or! She always gave me more than I hoped for. Be it rain or sun-shine, it has given me unexplainable feeling – at times words does not do any justice. The thick woods, canopies hanging over my head, unseasonal and seasonal rains, heavy downpour, the sizzling sun and of-course, taking me to the state of Nirvana, every time I am there – It is just that I can’t get enough.
Back to the point, guess there is something to do with my trip and rains. The time I got behind my steering wheel to the time I got into Kabini – it was overcast weather– rained, drizzled and the next two days, it poured! In-between, the sun god didn’t show any mercy by burning me up all through. Upbeat about the game drives, I quickly assembled my equipment – R5 mounted on 500mm F4 and my ever dependable #IDX-MII on 70-200,f.28. I was all set. R5 came with an Adaptor Ring for #EOS Lens as a Kit. Keeping my feelings and emotions aside for another blog and focusing on the task at hand- after years of usage of Rebel, 550D, 70D, 7D, 1DX and IDXMII straight-away holding #R5 ( Note, I have a battery grip) – lightweight but yet, the structural design was easy to hold and didn’t pose much problems. I got the battery grip for two reasons. A)I have always used my other cameras with battery grip and it would have made some difference to my hand-holding. B) In my earlier reviews, I did hear about the challenges in battery/power draining aspect associated with R5. To cover both, battery grip made me feel comfortable. At home, I did dabble around withMacro subjects testing basic functionalities (AF Points, Mechanical Shutter Vs.Electronic Shutter, played around with Animal face tracking on few pigeons in and around my home, short-cut keys, and challenged lighting conditions to get some good frames), settings ( tracking subjects, power-saving mode, crop features, AF functionalities,) such that I could feel at ease out in the field. Q button I’d say has always #Canon’s go-to functionality as it lets you control almost all essentials in a single menu – The UI has gone through some change – While toggling from Left to right in moving from one functionality to another, one may get confused ( but with few tries, you will get an easy grip) – So even in R5, it lets you control or have all menu options on a single key.
The first game drive – I was anxious to use R5 more than spotting any Cat or mammal. Until 5:00pm, I could spot Deer, Langur Monkeys, a stray Indian Gaur and few elephants but didn’t take any pictures. I have the habit of keeping my lens in between my legs that rests on a cloth bag (floor of the jeep) and my hands firmly on the camera body. I accidentally pressed a button (the body was covered in dust proof cover)and something happened. I looked at it – I had pressed the Recording button unintentionally. Had to undo the damage and mentally tracked the position of the Recording key. Perhaps this could have been positioned elsewhere or an option in Q button would have been ideal. This was new as neither in my other cameras, Recording button was kept on the top of the body. A bit disappointed, I moved on. At around 5:30pm, typical time-frame in Kabini that sets the momentum of game drives, there were few alarm calls raised by deer close to a big water hole. We waited for 10/15 minutes – nothing happened.I was very bullish about spotting a cat for sure. We went ahead by around 150meters to look around. The sun was going down -sooner than I expected – Light started to fade just like the hope I had for that evening – I bumped the ISO suiting the need of the hour but with time ticking by, darkness enveloped the entire zone. Breaking the silence, all of a sudden there were fleets of alarm call given by Langur Monkey, Deer and Sambhar Deer. We drove back on the same road towards a junction and strayed hard at a place where the calls originated. After few seconds, I could see this male leopard walking just beside the bushes and into the clearing. I whispered – Leopard! Leopard! It was around 6pm.
ISO 3200, f4, 1/100, #CANON #EOSR5 Mounted on #Canon 500mm F4 Lens (60% Cropped)
He crossed the junction and walked beside the road. #R5 in my hand,I had assigned a key for Face Detection, so let #R5 track the face on a continuous mode. To much of my amazement, it worked just brilliantly. In my mind, I was worried on the low-light, noise and the final output of the work.He moved quickly, stood still and again moved along – All through, R5 tracked the Leopard face beyond my imagination. After giving us a good show, the Leopard quietly moved into the bushes and it was 615pm – We called it a day.
ISO 3200, f4, 1/100, #Canon #EOSR5 Mounted on #Canon 500mm F4 Lens (Cropped)
Day 2, a new beginning! Was able to put #R5 to use under extreme conditions – Misty morning, ISO at 5K, 10K and15K. Couldn’t have waited to look at the outcome. Few hours later, we spotted a Leopard on a tree but very far. It was sheer luck we could even spot him hiding under a thick cloak of branches. He was seriously far but the output was definitely better (I had imagined worse); Here is a cropped image of the Leopard.
ISO 600, F4, 1/1000, #Canon #EOSR5 Mounted on #Canon 500mm f4 Lens (Heavily cropped image - "Fragment" of Original)
The 45MP added lot of value Vs. 20 odd pixels I had in #IDXSeries. Continuing the day, I worked in capturing as many moments under different conditions – Harsh light, low-light, shade, moving subjects, low ISOVs. high ISO – While I am still so emotionally attached to my IDX and IDXMII –I should detach myself on emotional grounds to say, R5 really worked well under duress. With a dry game drive that evening, I put a rest to my experiments while back at the camp, was busy in looking at the outcome of all the frames i shot under extreme settings.
Another cloudy morning with mist in certain parts of the woods.I was fortunate enough to run into three tigers (brothers) not wanting to share their deer kill.
ISO 12800, 1/1250, f4, #Canon #EOSR5 Mounted on #Canon 500mm f4 Lens (Noise Corrections done)
Extremely low-lit conditions, over-cast – at 650am – Wrong time to spot cats! Huh! But well, that’s how it goes. All three brothers were moving apart, so I had to isolate and shoot few frames of all of them. In low-speed & high-speed continuous mode – R5, literally cracked it. Imagine,at 10K ISO, shutter speed was 1/100 – Light was that challenging. Wrong time to experiment however I wanted a sharp image rather a distorted or shaken, so took huge risk – 20K ISO and took few shots. For few I had to use correction software to mitigate the noise but for some, it worked wonders as is! One can’t believe the output of certain frames I got – Of course I did my set of basic corrections in LR. R5 nailed it big-time. The Animal tracking mechanism worked supremely wonderful! There was never a point in time that I had to use AF points instead, moved the camera while R5 tracked the eye (I mean, it wouldn’t let go of the subject’s eye) – This takes composition to a different level altogether. Fortunately or unfortunately, most of the images that I made were either early in the morning or quite late in the evening (few exceptions though); Under both circumstances, it really tested the performance. Does the image have the details? What is the impact of high ISO ?
ISO 10000, f4, 1/800, #Canon #EOS R5 Mounted on Canon 500mm f4 Lens (Noise correction software used)
Can the details be retrieved? Fast moving subjects or subjects perfectly camouflaged still the AF & Face Tracking didn’t miss. Yes there were few shots that got blurred or I missed around 10% of the overall shots because of my own mistake or call it human error – I was switching between two AF Keys(One have it for multi-purpose back -button focus and the other exclusively forAnimal Face tracking). The only time it challenges is when you use AF Assist(multi-focus points) – it goes into a loop. It struggles especially in certain situations (when there is not much of contrast); Also for smaller subject, it gave up. I was lucky to have spotted an Indian Rock Python. I deliberately usedR5 but it didn’t give the desired results. May be because I used AF Assist at that time (in hind-sight, I realised I shouldn’t have); To salvage the situation, I had to immediately shift to #IDXMII with 70-200mm which did the rest.
My luck couldn't have got better! One of the evenings, after few hours of dry spell, got to hear that Black Panther was spotted atop a tree, far from the road. Well, irrespective of the distance, this was something I was waiting to hear. By the time i reached the spot, it was quite late and sun was hurriedly moving behind the clouds. Whatever light was there, it was melting away but good time for testing! That too working on the Phantom of the Jungle.
ISO 3200, f4, 1/500, #Canon #EOSR5 Mounted on Canon 500mm f4 Lens (50% Cropped)
Guess the above were all the goody-goody notes I made, but one thing that really made me feel very uneasy was the Battery Performance. I am not much into Videos. Even then, R5 gulped battery like I’d have drank water in a desert. This is one of the few things I seriously got disappointed with (It’s a different thing that I carried 3 spare batteries – FYI, the battery I use for 70D works for this as well );When we are using such a great equipment, it should equate with battery performance. I can only imagine my situation when I go to Africa or outsideIndia, guess I need a bagful of batteries for a day’s work – Jokes apart, was wondering all along if these batteries would last for a day or not – This is definitely not a good sign. It got me worried all through.The other point I mentioned was the Recording button – it is right adjacent to the shutter and dial. When I hold the body, it gives me the feeling what-if I accidentally push the button. This was my first outing with R5 and I just fell in love.
ISO 800, f4, 1/5000, #Canon #EOSR5 mounted on Canon 500mm f4 Lens (Full frame image)
The penultimate day of my trip, it was unusually warm, the sun was beating down on me! While it was a good sign, i was sweating it out. As i moved on, clouds got back, all of a sudden i could sense change in weather. Moving on, I could see few jeeps parked near a water hole and the sheer sight of few jeeps made my heart beat loud - Either it could be a tiger or a leopard! Ahead when we reached I was disappointed as it was a Crested Eagle but few seconds later I was happy - It had a kill (Pond Heron). But it was in shade and perfectly camouflaged. Prior to this, I was working on few settings but forgot to re-set. I shot the entire series with AF Assist mode and had a horrible time in getting the right focus. But then this is how i could test my camera! Be it a human error - I think I got few decent shots and here is one
ISO 1250, F4, 1/800, #Canon #EOSR5 Mounted on #Canon 500mm f4 Lens.(20% Cropped)
If you are a wild-life photographer or candid or be it from any genre, you will love this. I have always been a faithfulCanon guy and guess I have found my Zone w.r.t. MPs , AFs and combating challenging lighting conditions. Full marks but no. I will say, Canon need to do something about the Battery life or may be some upgrade in their firmware! I am heading for another trip early next month – So let me write more post that. Hope you all enjoyed reading this. I am not an expert in writing reviews, so you can consider this a maiden attempt from my side and excuse me for any gaps. The above is purely based on my experience and perspective! Keep the shutterbug on folks!
Before I sign off, here is "Elephant's eye" - All these years, I had many a opportunity to try this out but guess, I had to wait until now.
ISO 600, 1/1250, f4, #Canon #EOSR5 Mounted on #Canon 500mm f4 Lens. (80% Cropped)