Twin Tiger Safaris - May'19
- With NatureClicks (Abhay Kewat)
She missed it. Now what? Already there were cancellations earlier and Abhay could not afford one more.
"Jungle has its own rules and there are things that cannot be forced. Our plans included at least 1 trip to the Khitauli zone but there was a natural hurdle. The zone had an influx of wild elephants from adjoining jungles and because of that, the forest department cancelled all bookings there (they were diverted to Tala, Magadhi)"
“For those of you who are not aware.. normal safaris happen twice in the day, a morning safari, typically between 5:30 to 10:30 am and afternoon safari, typically between 4 to 7pm. But there is a special class of vehicles that are allowed entry 15 minutes before morning and then can continue in the jungle till 15 minutes after the evening safari.. they don’t need to come out of the jungle in between and they have no restriction on the zones either”
We continued to wait there for the tiger to move. By now, we were aware of it’s name. It was called “Bamera son”, a hefty male tiger in his prime. (Bamera happened to be his father who had lived in the jungle few years back)
Bamera-son was in no hurry, he continued (twisting and turning and sleeping all the while) for next 90 odd minutes. By 6:30pm, he showed some signs of getting up and suddenly there was frenzy of movement. All gypsys once again wanted the best shots and everyone wanted to be there first.
Abhay turned out to be the smartest of the lot, he anticipated the direction well in advance and had already instructed their driver to turn the vehicle and be ready to speed when the tiger starts moving.
We also followed them soon. The tiger continued to keep distance from the road and walked towards a waterhole. We got to see it with the spotted deer flock in the background (but the light was poor from photography point of view).
Moving thru shrubs
Deer in background
We continued to chase it for next 10 minutes but the time was running-out, we had to come out of the forest gate by 7pm, by then all gypsys were anyway rushing back to the gates at full speed.
Back in hotel we quickly assembled at the snacks point. We discussed the day’s proceedings over bhajiya and tea. Not a bad-deal at all, first day-first show and we were able to see a tiger. We also got to know little bit about the new members during that time.
Dinner was at 9:30 but Bharat was very enthusiastic (desperate is the right word actually) about using his Macro lens and oh-boy, he did get his chance. The staff there had spotted a big scorpion on a tree. That got us hooked for next 20 minutes.
Bharat in action
Scorpion on Tree
Quick dinner and we got back to our rooms.. we had to be up by 4pm for the morning safari, so a good sleep was a necessity (after the long journey and back-breaking safari ride).
Solo on kill
Tired but eager faces
Little later, we saw a couple of elephants. These were under forest department captivity and they were helping the filming crew in positioning their remotely controlled cameras. We were hoping that with the elephant movement around, the tigress will come out but she did not move out of the cave (maybe because of the kill that she was having). In fact, this could have prompted her not to call the cubs
After a wait of more than 2 hours, we got little impatient and asked our guide to move to other parts of the jungle (but many other gypsys including Abhay’s continued to wait there).
Our departure brought us decent results as we saw a very bold Roller (that was not bothered by our gypsy’s presence and was easily perched within 5 feet of us. Little further, we even saw the Indian Pitta.
We went further towards the central area where we could get down for breakfast, we finished it really fast; back of the mind, we didn’t want to miss the chance if the cubs had come out by then. This made us hurry back to the cave spot, on the way we saw a lovely little deer fawn and also a little usual monkey mother with her 2 little ones (normally we see only 1 baby with each mother).
Back at the cave, we once again had the endless waiting game… We continued till it was time to close the safari but the tigress maintained her position inside. Only one event that excited, two jackals suddenly appeared on the scene (from the other side of the road, opposite to the cave). They probably had smelt the sambar kill and were trying to assess the situation. They waited for 5 minutes and then retreated back (possibly they smelt the tiger presence too). Our wait that morning did not yield anything further.
For the evening safari, we once again reached the same spot (3rd safari in a row). Now the cave was occupied by the cubs and the tigress was located sitting a little distance away from it. The full-day guys told us that once all of us had gone in the morning, the tigress called the cubs and they were now enjoying the meal peacefully (but all the gypsys by then were back in the huddle).
Another 1 hour wait but this time at least the cubs were showing some movement (not coming out though) but soon the tigress started walking away from the cave, now we had to make a call whether to follow her or remain with the cubs. Our other gypsy stayed put and they were able to get good shots when the cubs came out of the cave a little while later.
We (this time Abhay was in our gypsy) decided to follow SOLO while she was walking thru the jungle, little ahead she crossed the road in front of us (but oops, no head-on shots as she kept her back towards us). She had walked away from the road and the vegetation there was little dense but we (and few other gypsys) kept following her. Our expert driver had an intuition about her possible moves and kept speeding every now and then. That was little tense, throughout the next 30 minutes, we kept standing on the seats and taking some record shots and suddenly the driver wanted to move ahead. But in the end his drastic moves gave us good results, we were able to get some head-on shots in good light. We also managed to get some nice back-lit images during the chase.
Cub on kill
Solo crossing road
At one point the drama was at it’s peak, when the tigress decided to hide inside the dry-grass while the spotted deer were grazing near-by. She seemed to be on hunt mode. We were really very excited at the prospect of a possible hunt, we were standing on an up-slope from where we had a fantastic view of the grassland and any hunt scene from there would have been fantastic luck.
Tiger & Deer herd
Pls Don't Disturb
I am Alert
Our other gypsy was in Tala zone that morning and they were able to sight a new tiger carrying a kill.
In afternoon all of us were in Tala zone. It so happened that within first 500 meters of entering the gates, I spotted some different stripes behind tree at some distance and on a hunch, asked the driver to reverse the vehicle. It turned out to be a tiger cub relaxing in the shade (it was almost hidden there but somehow I was able to sight it). Ours was the first gypsy to enter and naturally, everyone stopped looking at us. It was well hidden inside the trees making it very difficult to spot, but people kept on trying different angles anyway.
With tiger in sight, there was no question of moving away from there (worst case, we would wait till late evening and then return back from there itself, if the tiger doesn’t come out). Luckily 2 roller birds kept us busy, they were making fantastic sorties from the near-by trees and were catching prey in every round with amazing efficiency.
Tiger in Habitat
Roller in flight
For close to 1.5 hours we maintained at the same spot hoping for some movement, but other than making some twists, the tiger kept quiet.
During that time, we kept checking with our expert driver about the possibility of doing some birding in that jungle, but he was absolutely not interested. To the point that, he opted to change himself for the last ride tomorrow, so that we can look in the jungle beyond tigers.
But towards evening, we got little lucky. There were actually 2 cubs in that vicinity and pretty soon we were able to sight both, they were moving inside the jungle but they were walking parallel to our track and we could keep with them for some distance, thereby allowing some late-evening pictures.
We followed them till almost it was time to go out (we could do that since we had not got much inside the jungle and the entry gate was not even a kilometer away.
That was like a show-stopper for us and we then decided to look for other things in the jungle. A quick break for tea at central point (most jungles have a place where you can alight from vehicles, stretch a bit, have snacks, restroom breaks, etc.).
During the remaining couple of hours, we were fortunate to see a rare bird (Blue-bearded Bee-eater) and decent vulture activity.
Vulture in flight
That concluded our Bandhavgarh leg of the trip and it was a very enjoyable experience. We were back to hotel by 11, quickly had our breakfast and the plan was to do Bhedaghat sight-seeing on the way to Jabalpur. But we missed that as we took more time to pack and get ready. It was about 2pm when we left the resort after lunch.
Went straight to the railway station (Jabalpur), took night train to Nagpur from there and from there to our resort in Pench.
Grey-headed Fish Eagle
It was more than an hour we were roaming in the jungle but there was no sign of any tiger and then suddenly we saw couple of them. We saw one cub of tigress “Langdi” that was relaxing in the shade. We spent few minutes there but it was in no mood of any movement. And to our surprise, there were 2 forest guards on foot (haven’t normally seen them roaming on foot in any of the jungles, that too when a tiger was in vicinity), they were very particular in not allowing any vehicle to stop beyond few minutes. That made us move out quickly but that turned out to be a lucky break for us as within 500 meters we saw another tiger. At that time, we were told it was the mother “Langdi” herself and the guides even mentioned some peculiar walking style because of which she was named that way. But next day, we came to know, it was another cub of hers and not the tigress.
This cub was also relaxing near a small artificial pond but it was making (promising) movement. It did raise the head and also made some turns in the direction of the standing gypsys.
After some time, it started walking parallel to us, making us move too. We tried to follow its path as much as possible. After about 200 meters it found a monkey (not sure if that was killed by the cub but the body was lying close to its path), it turned and grabbed the body in its mouth and walked away with the trophy.
This show went on just for 20 minutes but it was fun to watch the tiger walking along peacefully.
Grabbing the kill
Walking away with the kill
Crested Hawk Eagle
At the waterhole we even saw a small power-play between Juvenile Dhol (wild-dog) and a Monkey. The wild-dog mother and 2 cubs were seated near the water; a monkey and a sambar deer were approaching the water from the other side. After seeing their advance, the dhol cub mocked an attack, took few steps in the direction of the monkey, the monkey was probably aware that the threat is not so severe and it kept its stand. But in the end monkey did give up and went without drinking any water. That satisfied the dog and it retreated to its mother, allowing the deer to come to the waters in the process.
By 11 we had to be back at the entry-gate and our driver/guide gave us a deadline of 10:40 by which we have to start back. But as luck would have it, at exactly 10:36 we saw a tiger approaching the waterhole. And within 10 minutes it was joined by another cub, the guide was getting desperate now as we had to leave but we kept taking photos (although the light was not in favor and the heat-wave was causing further damage, but we still continued). By 10:50, we finally left and the driver speeded up to the gate in a hurry.
First cub arrives
Both in 1 Frame
Evening safari turned out to be very good for us, though our other gypsy missed out on some action. At around 5 o’clock, we first spotted the tigress, she walked coolly to the water-hole and sat in a typical pose (when tigers feel the heat, they seem to like this particular pose).
There were spotted deer and monkeys around her but she kept her pose nonchalantly. For next 15-20 minutes she continued to twist and turn and observe the surroundings from different angles. Then she suddenly got up, looked at a particular direction and then turned away to walk towards a small (dried) water-stream. As she was moving, there were some new vehicles that had arrived on the spot and we gave up our position (anyway the tigress was moving away) and stood a little further away (but the tigress was still visible, though at large distance).
All this while, Abhay kept on looking in that direction and he was handsomely rewarded for his vigil. As the tigress got little deeper into the stream, some inquisitive monkeys went near the spot to see if she has actually gone away, but their curiosity turned fatal for one of them. Within a fraction of a second, the tigress turned and jumped onto the monkey. He had no time to run and probably lost life instantaneously. The tigress walked away with the monkey in the jungle (opposite to our side). All this happened so fast, that by the time we turned out attention to Abhay’s call, the main action had already happened, we just saw the tigress walking away (no one could even raise our cameras either). There was little bit of commotion among the monkeys (just for a few seconds) and then everything went silent again, that’s life in the jungle, guys!
In Bath Tub
Close watch Behind
The unfortunate Monkey
Posing for Camera
Walking with Kill
With that action, we could have ended our day there itself, but that is all in theory. Practically, for any photographer, nothing is enough and we kept expecting some more action!!
And we actually did get to see another tiger (possibly another cub of Langdi). It was very far from us and was busy drinking water for a long time (hardly moved its head-up during that time). It was so engrossed that there were some pea-hens that passed-by near it and the tiger didn’t bother even looking at them.
Back to water
"For those of you who are not aware, all Indian jungles have the “core” area which is the main jungle and a “buffer” area, that is not part of core, but there still can’t be any industrial activity in that region. It typically is the forest-border where there are villages and you see paddy-fields and cattle around. By the way, In India, only 20% area of the core zone is accessible for the general public. Remaining 80% is only for the wild animals (and the forest officials)."So on our last safari, we diverged to a different jungle. It turned out to be really good, nice tall trees and more birds too. We did see fresh pug-marks at one location but the tiger eluded us throughout the safari hours (it so happened that on this particular day, even the other safaris in Turia did not see any tiger). Roaming around thru this dense jungle, we reached a small pond. That seemed to be abuzz with lot of avian activity. Kingfishers, Orioles, buzzards, shikra, lapwings, and many more….they were all present. The Oriental Honey Buzzard did modelling for us. It came for water and in the process flapped it wings so many times, that all photographers went crazy with the clicks.
Yellow-footed Green Pigeon
Indian Golden Oriole
Shikra at Water
Oriental Honey Buzzard (OHB)
We were all happy with the birding, but Bharat still wanted to give one last try for tigers, so before moving out we did try 1-2 water spots where there was a possibility of sighting but with no luck.
Prior to that, we managed to catch some action with the fan-throated lizards. The males were standing on the ant-hill and fanning their throats to attract the females.
That marked the end of a nice tiger-tour. There were lot of learning about the jungle, photography, post-processing and some plans for what can be done next year!
Return journey for each of us was from Nagpur, and we had the customary stop at Haldiram’s before departing.
Before First Safari
Tired but Happy
at Haldiram, Nagpur