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Old 30th March 2012, 02:07   #1
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Smile Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

With the Republic day falling on Thursday in 2012, it opened up an opportunity to do some trip by taking the friday off and getting 4 days free. A few tiger reserve options were considered but I knew that most of them would be packed with people given the possible long weekend. Then came the idea of visiting Bharatpur since the winter migrants would still be around.

Bharatpur is mainly famous for the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary which attracts a lot of migrants during the winter, in addition to the resident birds that are found throughout the year. It's a birding haven and for folks who get thrilled by the bird counts, this can be one place that would give you goosebumps. Anyways, my main purpose of the trip was to explore the area and hopefully get some good pictures. This was going to be a solo trip since the stay options were not all that great for a family outing, plus my wife had already gotten an overdose of birding from the Rann trip (Khushboo Gujarat Ki - A road trip to the birding paradise). Add to that the rising costs of flight tickets especially when I have to buy a full ticket for my 2 year old daughter

So the plan was finalized and my tickets were booked. I was taking a flight to Delhi and then a train to Bharatpur to reach by late afternoon. I checked online for stay options and apart from one ITDC hotel which is inside the park, everything else was mainly guest house type accommodation. I did find a couple of other options like Birder's Inn, but the rates seemed high for a single traveler. Based on some travelogues/feedbacks I called and booked Falcon Guest House for approx INR 400 per day. Given that I planned to spend most of my day at the park, I didn't really care about the facilities at the guest house.

The biggest challenge I had was to manage my luggage and keep it as concise as possible given that I'd be using public transport all the way. Some might say, it's not a big deal, afterall, how much would a single guy need for a 4 days! The problem I had was fitting in my photography equipment in a single bag rather than my clothes which would have fitted in a small shopping bag itself. Add to that the tripod which caused complexity of having a check-in bag since that won't be allowed as cabin luggage.

These were the main items that needed to go in apart from various accessories like chargers, card reader, hard drive etc.
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The initial struggles led to a 3 bag scenario, one check-in bag with the tripod and clothes, one for the 600mm and another for the rest of the stuff. After a lot of combinations, I did manage to fit both my cameras, lenses and the notebook in my Computrekker Plus AW bag which now weighed in excess of 14 kilos with all the stuff in it (thankfully, in India they dont ask you to weigh the cabin luggage on domestic flights atleast!). Though this wasn't the best way to carry everything in a backpack that wasn't built for such load and given that all my gear wasn't as protected as it should be, I still decided to go with it since lugging 3 bags was not an option!

This is finally how most things looked, cramped!
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So with everything taken care of, I was ready to go the airport for my 6AM flight. My wife volunteered to drop me which was a good thing since I could get ready at my own pace. The flight was pretty uneventful and I was at Delhi well in advance for my train that wasn't going to start until 1pm so made some good use of the Terminal 3 (T3) ambience and finished off all social media obligations. A quick taxi ride gets me to H.Nizamuddin station and the train was right there waiting on the platform already. The journey to Bharatpur wasn't going to take too long and in about 2.5 hours I was out. I made friends with the guy sitting next to me and it turned out to be a good thing since we chatted quite a bit and he was kind enough to give me a drop to my hotel.

The guest house looked quite okay to begin with. The owner, a lady quickly asked one of the guys to show me to the room. She looked in a bit of hurry with some folks who looked like some personal guests rather than paying guests. The room was pretty basic but had clean sheets and the loo was decent, but I was in for a big surprise. The ceiling of the room was full of mosquitoes, easily around 200 of them waiting for their next meal. I was petrified by the sight and decided to run out and come back with either a plan to kill all of them or to change the room if possible. I quickly offloaded my stuff and went out to the tea-stall on the opposite side of the road for some refreshments since the owner told me that she and her staff were busy attending to the guests that evening. It looked a bit odd that she was ignoring my request being a new guest, but she wasn't being rude. A little bit of probing revealed that it was infact her daughter's engagement ceremony that day and the guests were from the groom's side, so there were no hard feelings. Next to the tea-stall was a small grocery shop where he had all sorts of ammunition to combat the mosquito attacks. I decided to have atleast 3 levels of protection to be safe, first was a high power mortein mosquito coil, second line of defense was the good knight mats and third was going to be a layer of odomos. While talking to the store owner who was a teenaged boy, he made a very funny remark about the three famous things of Bharatpur viz. the Jats, the Ghana National Park and the mosquitoes.

The park was a walkable distance from the hotel and I made a quick visit there to fix up things for the next day. The park does not allow vehicular traffic and the modes of transport include, bicycles, cycle rickshaws and/or walking. Given that there are no big predators in the park, it's quite safe to walk around in most areas. The forest department has a few cycles that you can hire for a very nominal cost. With my equipment, I could neither cycle nor walk, so I booked a cycle rickshaw for the full day and also a guide for one of the days. Even though the cycle rickshaw guys are pretty knowledgeable themselves, they are restricted in their movement away from the designated paths while a guide can move freely anywhere in the park. So if you want to go looking after some specific species of birds or the pythons, it always better to get a guide. The cycle rickshaw guy was going to pick me up from the hotel at 6AM next day while the park opens at 6.30AM, so I was all set.

Back at the hotel, I had to fight a different war. I lit up the mosquito coil first and then just burnt a couple of those good knight mats. The mats are super effective when burnt, but they also make you feel nauseatic with the strong smell. In no time, I could see my enemies drop down dead and after a while there were only a handful of them who were still hanging on to the ceiling. Just then a lady knocked the door and invited me for dinner saying it was on the house and some very special things cooked for the occasion. At 6.45pm, it was a bit early for dinner, but I hadn't had proper lunch so this was just what my tummy needed. After a delicious dinner, I made sure every last one of those mosquitoes was dead before I slept that night. The temperature dropped significantly in the night and the water was freezing in the morning.

At 6AM the guy was outside the hotel gate and I was on my way to the park, my first ride!

Here's a quick teaser image. This is one of the three Sarus Crane couples that reside in the park. One of the pair has been raising two chicks which were in the sub-adult stages and soon will be fully independent.

At around 6ft in height, these are the tallest birds in the world and a symbol of monogamous relationships too.

Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!-bharatpur-029.jpg
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Old 30th March 2012, 03:18   #2
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Default Day 2 - My first day at the park

The morning was very chilly and even with gloves on I was finding it difficult to use my hands. The park opened at 6.30AM and I was in with Hakam Singh who was my friend, guide and cycle rickshaw driver for the next 3 days.

Right as I entered, a big group of Northern Pintail ducks was swimming reasonably close to the shore along the road. The morning light wasn't too bright as yet but the birds were simply beautiful. They are named after their tail which does look really pointy. The intricate art work on the feathers is stunning and even though they aren't as colorful as some of the other species, they still are truly special!

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As I was watching the Pintails, this small little fly catcher came and perched on a tree stump. I would have loved a bit more light on it, but the friendly attitude of the birds really caught my attention.
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At a junction point Hakam Singh parked his rickshaw and thereon I was supposed to go on foot since the cycle rickshaws weren't allowed off the road. As I started walking a pair of Sarus Cranes landed right in front of me at a distance. Due to the morning cold, there was quite a bit of mist/fog which made it difficult for the camera to focus correctly due to low contrast. I did manage to get some shots, but they were quick enough to fly off to some other location.

Here's a silhoutte shot of the crane as they stood right against the rising sun.
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A little ahead, a pair of owlets were roosting on a tree right above the walk way. These cute little birds had chosen a tree where they would invariably be disturbed by the passing visitors. I spent some good time watching them while they tried their best to catch some sleep. Even though most people were respectful of the surroundings, there were instances where parents happened to be more noisier than their kids.
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As the morning progressed, more and more crowd started pouring in. The walk way became a lot more busier and noisier too. I kept walking ahead since most folks used to return back after a short distance where the paved road ended. After a while, I suddenly saw some movement in the bushes and a golden jackal emerged. It was a bit hesitant after seeing me, but a little later it crossed the road right in front of me.
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This was my first encounter with a predator of sorts while on foot and it was worth every moment that I stood there. A little later while I was returning back, I see that there was a big group of monkeys walking down the road towards me. I stopped and was letting them go past when I noticed that a jackal had made an entry in between of their group. It was a stand-off, not knowing what to do, both parties stood their ground waiting for the other to make the move. The situation looked tense and I was wondering if I should be the one who makes the hasty retreat, but instead I setup my camera to document what happens next.

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The drama continued for about a couple of minutes or so and the jackal finally conceded to the sheer number of monkeys that surrounded it on both sides. Right after the jackal's exit, one of the monkeys who was trying to confront the jackal seemed to be enjoying the victory. He was looking at another of his colleague and almost broke into laughter. I've never ever seen anything like this, later when I checked the pictures as well, it did look like he was smiling rather than the usual monkey snarls.

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Back to the rickshaw after a couple of hours and as we moved ahead, an Indian Sawback Turtle was enjoying the sun. A dead tree stump in the water provided the right platform for it to rise above the water level.

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Further down the road, the whole water surface was covered by this really colorful layer of algae that made it look like a carpet that extended for miles together. Hakam Singh offered to go and fetch a packed lunch for me from my guest house while I could hang around there and see if I get lucky with some good bird shots. So I parked myself under a tree where the Northern Shovelers were swimming and waited for them to come closer.

After about an hour of waiting, they did start moving in a bit. However, the sun was really harsh by this time and all I could do was relax and enjoy the moment.

This Little Grebe came in very close to where I was sitting and provided a good opportunity to capture these fast and silent swimmers.

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A female Northern Shoveler moved around the red carpet looking for her lunch.

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Soon after this, lunch arrived and it was a blissful experience to sit under a tree and eat while you have all these lovely birds flying around.

Rest of the day was pretty leisurely since most of the birds had taken up places away from the shore. A nilgai sitting on a mound made for a good subject.
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On a tree near the temple, just next to the watch tower were these four lovely spotted owlets catching on some sleep.
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Soon the sun began fading away and a peacock sat beautifully perched to get me this silhoutte against the orange sky.
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Old 30th March 2012, 04:36   #3
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

Dear amolpol,
Lovely photographs! Classic narration! Waiting for more. I will stay stuck to this thread
regards,
Ashok
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Old 30th March 2012, 06:45   #4
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Default

Amol, Super shots. I liked the owlets and turtle shot.
Nice writing skills too. Keep it coming.

Also more info of 600mm lens.
I am hooked.

Last edited by v&v : 30th March 2012 at 06:49.
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Old 30th March 2012, 06:47   #5
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

Hey amolpol, another beautiful photologue from you. The last shot of the peacock silhouette against the orange sky is awe-inspiring! Keep them coming.

I see a teleconverter in your kit. Did you use it for any of these shots?
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Old 30th March 2012, 09:00   #6
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

Wonderful, wonderful snaps!!! Especially the one of the 4 owlets catching up on their sleep. Waiting for more.
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Old 30th March 2012, 09:05   #7
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

Thanks everyone, glad that you liked it. Stay tuned for more happenings from the following days.

Quote:
Originally Posted by v&v View Post
Also more info of 600mm lens.
I am hooked.
It's the Canon 600mm F4 L IS and weighs roughly 6 kilos. It is big and heavy but does it's job wonderfully if you can point it in the right direction and keep it stable. Personally I feel it is a bit restricting on long walks due to it's sheer weight and you do need a lot of motivation and strength to lug it. When setup on the tripod, the whole combination weighs around 12 kilos and my shoulders hurt after carrying the rig for more than 10 mins at a stretch.

Not sure if this is what you wanted to know, but feel free to ask if you have any specific questions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by C300 View Post
I see a teleconverter in your kit. Did you use it for any of these shots?
Yup, the TC was used 100% of the time. For birding, it's very rare that you can be satisfied with the reach and everything that could get you that few extra mm is always helpful. I use the 1.4x TC which has minimal degradation on the IQ but you can feel that the focusing speed drops noticeably.
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Old 30th March 2012, 09:48   #8
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Default General Info on Bharatpur

Before I move to the next day's account, I thought it may be worthwhile listing down some useful info for those who would like to visit the park.

- The wetland reserve was created artificially by the maharajas of yesteryears and used mainly for shooting ducks until it was converted into a sanctuary which is also a world heritage site.

- In the recent years, the park had very less water and faced a threat of going dry. In 2012, the park was irrigated through a 100km pipeline which draws water from Chambal. I was told that the water came in a bit late which did impact the number and species of birds seen in the park, but it was definitely better than the last 4-5 years. Next year, there should be no issues since the pipeline work is now fully completed.

- The park is open from sunrise to sunset and there is an entry fee of about INR 50 which is very nominal. You can rent bicycles, hire the rickshaw or walk all the way. The rickshaw guys are allotted on a queue basis, but you can ask for a specific guy if you know his rickshaw number. Most rickshaw guys can pick you up from the hotel if you intend to start early or hire them for the full day.

- The guides and rickshaw guys are very well behaved generally and you'd not find them being pushy. I felt this was a very unique thing when compared to most places where the guides will keep pestering you to hire them. They don't try to overcharge you and the rates are as per the govt norms. I hired the rickshaw for 12 hours a day for approx INR 900 (70 per hour) while the guide services are available for approx 100 per hour or so.

- To prevent cattle-grazing, the park is fenced on all sides with a wall. One of the first parks to have it since most of the other parks have porous borders. However, the nearby villagers do have their "jugaad" to send in their cattle through holes in the wall. However, I didn't find any menacing evidence of domestic cattle. The park has it's share of abandoned cows but they can now be termed as wild residents.

- The walkways are very nicely designed and help you move around most of the sections of the park. Walking away from these designated paths is not recommended since you could possibly disturb the birds and also coz there are quite a few snakes around. I did see a cobra sunbathing next to the path on the first day which confirmed this. In addition to the snakes, there are pythons which are found in large numbers. A baby python was found sunbathing just next to the center point almost every day and there are certain areas in the park where you can find several bigger ones as well.

- The Siberian cranes used to visit the park but not anymore. It's been more than 10 years that they were seen here and a lot of folks would mistake the resident Sarus cranes for the siberian ones. An orientation programme for beginners is sorely missed.

- The crowd seemed pretty decent overall with a large number of travelers from Agra which is just about an hour away. However, don't be surprised if you find a bunch of unruly teenagers who think it's cool to shout and call the birds.

- Though there are no big predators in the park, last year one of the tigers from Ranthambore did make an entry here. I'm not sure of what happened to him since I got different versions of the story, but now there is no more tiger threat and there are no leopards either. So you can move freely without fear of being attacked.

- In general, I found the people in the town very helpful and nobody seemed like they want to take you for a ride. I was personally impressed by the treatment given by Hakam Singh who cared for me as his own son. He offered to share his lunch on the first day if I didn't want to wait for him to get the lunch from the hotel. He made sure I got the autorickshaw on the day I was leaving. All three days, he made sure I was comfortable and all my needs were taken care of. And all of this with no expectation of additional money.

- There are quite a few places to stay available just around the park so you need not worry about getting a booking done in advance unless you're picky about where you stay. The guest houses are pretty small and basic, but they make you feel at home too.

- If you have additional days, you can plan day visits to the Taj, Fatehpur Sikri, Chambal and even to Jaipur which isn't that far away. The train connectivity is good both from Delhi and Jaipur and given that the park entrance is by the highway, you can even get a bus that will drop you right at the park gate.
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Old 30th March 2012, 10:49   #9
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

great pics and narration. The last post with details on the park is specially useful. Thanks.

Keep the pics coming!
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Old 30th March 2012, 12:17   #10
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

Nice pics Amol. And you seem to be an avid birder, travelling alone all the way from B'lore to Bharatpur. Hope to see more pics in the thread.
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Old 30th March 2012, 12:24   #11
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

Quote:
Originally Posted by amolpol View Post
This was going to be a solo trip since the stay options were not all that great for a family outing, plus my wife had already gotten an overdose of birding from the Rann trip (Khushboo Gujarat Ki - A road trip to the birding paradise). Add to that the rising costs of flight tickets especially when I have to buy a full ticket for my 2 year old daughter

So the plan was finalized and my tickets were booked. I was taking a flight to Delhi and then a train to Bharatpur to reach by late afternoon. I checked online for stay options and apart from one ITDC hotel which is inside the park, everything else was mainly guest house type accommodation. I did find a couple of other options like Birder's Inn, but the rates seemed high for a single traveler. Based on some travelogues/feedbacks I called and booked Falcon Guest House for approx INR 400 per day. Given that I planned to spend most of my day at the park, I didn't really care about the facilities at the guest house.
I was there in Bharatpur in december 2011 and stayed overnight near Keoladeo sanctuary.

We stayed at the Lakshmivilas palace hotel. The place was pricey but well worth it with family. It's a heritage hotel which is basically a palace converted into a hotel. It's 5 star and is just a km away from the sanctuary.

The sanctuary itself was awesome.

Great pics Amol.
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Old 30th March 2012, 12:53   #12
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Default Re: General Info on Bharatpur

As usual great pictures Amol. Did you change your gear. In Pench, if I remember correctly you had a Nikkor 600mm with a Nikon camera.

We could have met if I had known earlier about this plan.

This renegade male Tiger was finally tranquilised and relocated to Sariska and christened ST 6.

Read all about it here - http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ml#post2260841

Quote:
Originally Posted by amolpol View Post

- Though there are no big predators in the park, last year one of the tigers from Ranthambore did make an entry here. I'm not sure of what happened to him since I got different versions of the story, but now there is no more tiger threat and there are no leopards either. So you can move freely without fear of being attacked.

Last edited by gd1418 : 30th March 2012 at 12:56.
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Old 30th March 2012, 13:10   #13
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

Amazing birdie pics, is that a 600mm? thats some serious equipment for birding, did you also use a TC?
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Old 30th March 2012, 13:10   #14
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Default Day 3 - Birding specials with the guide

The second day was going to be along with the guide who had promised to show me a couple of species that weren't found in the park. One of them was the Brown Hawk Owl and the other one was the Greater Painted Snipe. In addition to this we'd be going to see if we find the Dusky Eagle Owl which is a rarity and the pythons if we get lucky.

The Sun God wasn't very kind on this day and while initially there was a bit of fog around, the sky didn't look like it was going to clear up either. We waited for a while in the hope of getting some more light but it was going to be a highly overcast day. This meant that the ISO was going to be high and the images won't be as clean as desired, but you can't go against the forces of nature, you just accept them and move on!

The Brown Hawk Owl was regularly found in the nursery just across the road outside the park gate. Today was a good day since it was sitting without any obstructions in front, but it was a bad day with the light. After a brief shoot, I decided to return back later in the day hoping that it will still be there and the light may be better too.

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After a quick tea break, we proceeded to the next location which was a canal inside the city. This turned out to be a very interesting location for a bird shoot and I'm sure I wouldn't have explored such a place without the guide. The Painted Snipe is a wader and would mostly be found near water bodies, but this was more of a storm drain with a little water in it and the banks were used for morning rituals by the our fellow countrymen. Not a big surprise since our country is known for it apathy of basic sanitation facilities even though the urban-dwellers boast of the rapidly developing infrastructure.

Anyways, the birds were there and in fact there were three of them who were moving around which was wonderful. Now the question was on how to get to a location where I could get some pictures without disturbing the pristine nature around. After a careful review of locations I managed to settle the tripod, now it was all about waiting for the birds to pose for the shoot. Finally, the birds obliged and I managed to get some satisfactory frames before moving out from there. The overcast situation helped in getting some good even exposure without any shadows.

Male Snipe
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Female Snipe
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The Painted Snipes are a bit different with their color schemes and the female happens to be more colorful than the male. Here, you can see a pair which clearly shows the differences.

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I had heard that the kachori and jalebis for breakfast was a Bharatpur special and had to be tried. Hakam Singh offered to take me to one of the oldest places in Bharatpur, and boy, what a delightful breakfast it was! I gorged on atleast 10 of the hot kachoris fresh out of the big kadai and then came the jalebis that were simply awesome. The big shocker came when I paid the bill, it was 50 bucks for 3 people having a sumptuous breakfast (definitely looked like one of the places which is still insulated from inflation!).

A heavy breakfast meant that the rest of the day was going to be pretty lazy and as we entered the park again we went around searching for the elusive Long Tailed Nightjar. We were lucky to spot it, but it was perched right at the top of the tree and getting a clear shot was next to impossible. Spotting these beauties during the day is always rare, most spottings happen in the night since they're found roosting on the ground and a search light can help in finding them in the dark.

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We made a visit to one of the hot spots where the Indian Rock Pythons were spotted regularly, but being highly overcast it was not a surprise that they were missing. While we were waiting for the pythons near the Hanuman temple, a group of monkeys were curious onlookers and they made excellent subjects given the diffused light conditions.
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The day seemed pretty lazy with the overcast sky but it was good to shoot some of the darker subjects since the soft light helped in getting good exposures on black. The Common Coot or Chinese Coot swimming on the red algae carpet looked exceptionally beautiful. Going down to get some eye level shots was really interesting.

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With the right kind of light, even the most simplest of life forms also look stunningly beautiful. This Brahminy Starling Myna foraging on the ground proved my statement right!

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After a tea break, we moved on to the other side of the park where I encountered a special cat, the Jungle Cat. This was a very special moment since I was alone out there and witnessed the cat walking out of the bushes and walking majestically away from me. There is something about the cat-walk which is mesmerizing, be it the striped or spotted or even the lesser cats.

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At a distance we could see a jackal walking down right in the middle of the road and as we waited for him to get closer, a white breasted kingfisher flew in on the branch nearby.

Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!-bharatpur-140.jpgBengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!-bharatpur-139.jpg

The Indian Spotted Eagle sat beautifully on the dried tree stump, looking for the next opportunity to hunt.
Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!-bharatpur-144.jpg

Further ahead, a flock of bar headed geese were seen. After some patient waiting, I managed to get one decent shot of the geese in flight. But this had to be cropped heavily and I needed to get something better than this.
Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!-bharatpur-145.jpg

On our way back, we heard feeding cries of a young painted stork that was really hungry. The young one followed the parent on the small island until the parent decided to fly away on the nearby tree. The guide told me that given the late arrival of water in the area, the amount of fishes aren't as many this year.
Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!-bharatpur-148.jpg

Given the weather, the sunset was hardly visible and soon it started getting darker. I was hoping that the next day would bring in better light since that was my last day of the trip.
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Old 30th March 2012, 14:42   #15
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Default Re: Bengalooru to Bharatpur - A solo birding trip!

Quote:
Originally Posted by amolpol View Post

It's the Canon 600mm F4 L IS and weighs roughly 6 kilos. It is big and heavy but does it's job wonderfully if you can point it in the right direction and keep it stable. Personally I feel it is a bit restricting on long walks due to it's sheer weight and you do need a lot of motivation and strength to lug it. When setup on the tripod, the whole combination weighs around 12 kilos and my shoulders hurt after carrying the rig for more than 10 mins at a stretch.

Not sure if this is what you wanted to know, but feel free to ask if you have any specific questions.
I presumed Amol. The photography "keeda" has not yet reached that height to carry around 12kilos which equally weigh your pocket too .

Guys like you posting super shots is enough to enjoy at present.
Beautiful shots. Yeh dil mange more...
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