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Old 13th February 2019, 17:03   #1
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Default Kabini - The Dark Lord

By now, you all now how it goes with me. Two months after my previous visit, the lure became too much to bear (pun intended, you'll see). My friend did the booking and off we went. This time we decided to do a Sat/Sun/Mon trip instead of our usual Fri/Sat/Sun trip as both of us had some official commitments on Friday. There is no point in going to Kabini for only one night, as you can do only two safaris that way. Two nights is a minimum allowing you four safaris, thereby increasing the chances of sightings.

Same gear, the Nikon D500 and the Nikkor 200-500 mm. I've come to believe that this is the best combination for wildlife photography as of now, at least for me. On to the photos.

Our first three safaris are a total washout, as far as big cat sightings are concerned, although we manage to sight a very rare Sloth Bear (see below for photos) on the first safari. In fact the third safari is a literal washout as it rains so heavily on the 5 KM road (those familiar with Kabini will know this road) that we are scrambling to cover our equipment and protect them. We are totally drenched within minutes and can barely see 10 meters. Obviously, all forest animals (having better sense and senses) will have retreated to some warm, dry place. We return to the resort in a very disappointed mood. If it is raining like this now, tomorrow's safari will be a total waste as none of the animals will be out. But our safari driver, Prakash, advises that one should always have hope. "Asha bhavane irbeku saar" is what he says. Translates as "you should have a hopeful feeling sir". Life lessons from someone who has seen everything the forest has to offer. But we scoff and settle in the bar for a consolation drink or three.

Next day is a Monday. Our final safari of this trip. We are the first to enter the forest, having skipped the morning coffee and biscuits. Zone A. Zilch at Tiger Tank, nothing near the Power Line, heading towards KV tank. We have entered Blackie territory, but I have no hope of seeing him today. I have resigned myself to returning from yet another Kabini trip without a darshan. There are no alarm calls anywhere, not even a squeak from the spotted deer hanging around. Not much hope and the "asha bhavane" is at an all time low. We turn a long sweeping bend in the path and Prakash hits the brakes hard. "Saar Kariya" he whispers. Probably the sweetest words one can hear when in Kabini. (Kariya is Blackie in Kannada) We all jump up but we can't see him anywhere. "Elli Prakash?" I ask. "Where Prakash?". "Saar alli marada mele nodi" he points. "Up there in that tree".

I sincerely don't know how Prakash manages to spot him, we would have missed him completely. He is so well hidden that we are still not having a clear visual of him. And then he moves. Lo and behold! Finally, I get to see the Dark Lord of Kabini. The "asha bhavane" has worked!

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219154.jpg

All of these pictures of the Dark Lord are heavy crops of the original images. He is not close by, at least a 100-120 metres away. I am at full stretch 500 mm, wishing I have a few hundred more. He is also up in the tree which means the background will be a washed out white, as it is quite hazy and there is a light mist floating around. It is still 7 AM in the morning. The camera is having a tough time focusing on him, but it still does a phenomenal job of achieving and holding it. I'm really impressed with the D500's ability to hang on to the focus once achieved.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219162.jpg

This animal is simply majestic. No other word will do justice to him. He has grace, he has power and most of all, he has presence. Everything we look for in a car, hey? He has such gorgeous yellow eyes, doesn't he? No wonder the lady leopards are falling over each other to mate with him!

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219251.jpg

I'm clicking away at a crazy rate here. It is not such a good photo opportunity as these things go. He could have been closer, the light could have been far better, there could have been much less clutter in the background, etc., etc. The standard wildlife photographer's cribs. But I'm still clicking away.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219277.jpg

After all, one doesn't get to see the Dark Lord often. By the way, Prakash tells me this is the 73rd time he has seen Blackie. He's keeping count. Seventy Third! But then, Prakash does two safaris a day every day of the year, while I have to satisfy myself with a measly four safaris every two months. I'm still clicking away. The shutter makes a sweet sound at 10 frames per second and the XQD card in the D500 keeps up to the manic rate with no pause for breath.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219340.jpg

He yawns, stretches, does a few Baba Ramdev poses to loosen up those lithe, rippling muscles. It looks like he has just woken up, we have disturbed his sleep.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219378.jpg

After a few minutes of lazing around, he decides that it is time to go about his business for the day.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219412.jpg

We are begging him to stay for a few more minutes, we are not satisfied yet. But he is not listening. "I've given darshan no? Come back some other time".

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219385.jpg

And away he goes.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219422.jpg

It is now 7:24 AM. Almost half an hour with the most sought after big cat in India. I've taken nearly 300 photos in that time! Who knows when I'll see him again? Until then, I will treasure this memory and these photos of one of the rarest animals on Earth. I'm fortunate to have seen him at all. So we bid the Dark Lord goodbye and resume the safari. Any sighitng now will pale in comparison.

The forest is always a magical place to be in and there are so many things to see. In our rush and desire to see the big cats, we sometimes ignore the mundane yet still beautiful creatures. I always make it a point to stop the vehicle if I see anything interesting. Even if some of the co-tourists are not very happy about it.

Like this beautiful Malabar Giant Squirrel.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219011.jpg

And this pretty White Bellied Wood Pecker.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219059.jpg

A lovely Streak Throated Wood Pecker

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219060.jpg

A super cute Sambar baby that poses for me, while running gracefully behind his Mom.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219063.jpg

A Black Drongo (actually this was in the JLR property, right behind our room)

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219069.jpg

A Great Egret and a Little Egret keep a cautious watch on a juvenile Crocodile.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219110.jpg

A common Jungle Babbler. We hear and see these birds so much, this is first time I take a photo of one.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219141.jpg

Our national bird strikes a pose. He is calling to his harem somewhere in the bushes in front of him.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219439.jpg

A brilliant streak of blue, cyan and brown as an Indian Roller does a fly-by. These birds look so bland when they are perched on a branch, but when they spread their wings, oh, it is such a joy to see. No wonder it is the state bird of Karnataka. And a few other states too.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219498.jpg

A juvenile Sambar stag looks curiously at me.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219542.jpg

On our first safari, we see a Sloth Bear on the 5 KM road. Usually these animals are very skittish and disappear into the bushes almost as soon as you see one. They are also very aggressive creatures and will attack even big cats, let alone humans unfortunate enough to be within reach. But this time, he is on the road scrounging around for some tasty treats.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219040.jpg

He walks up the road, looking back at us every now and then, as though to verify if we are following him. Which we are, keeping ourselves a good 100 metres away at all times, with the engine switched off.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219045.jpg

One final pose for us and then he disappears into the bushes.

Kabini - The Dark Lord-kbn0219047.jpg

Another rare animal sighted. In all my visits to Kabini, I've seen a Sloth Bear only once before and that was at quite a distance. My first sighting of the Dark Lord. This has been a productive trip after all.

As ever, I hope you people enjoy these photos as much as I enjoy taking them. Until next time then, bye and drive safe.

Last edited by Stryker : 13th February 2019 at 17:14.
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Old 13th February 2019, 17:52   #2
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Default Re: Kabini - The Dark Lord

Mod's note: Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 13th February 2019, 18:01   #3
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Default Re: Kabini - The Dark Lord

Let me be the first to thank you for another amazing set of pictures, and for sharing this experience with us, Stryker!

These pictures really made my afternoon

Cheers
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Old 13th February 2019, 18:15   #4
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Default Re: Kabini - The Dark Lord

Awesome photos, so the stryker has struck again, great catch and that too for such a long duration. You were at the right time at the right place. Keep shooting, thanks for sharing such wonderful rare sightings.
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Old 13th February 2019, 18:18   #5
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Default Re: Kabini - The Dark Lord

Oh Wow, just Wow!!
This is indeed the holy grail of all sightings. Being a natural reserve enthusiast myself, I know how rare a leopard sighting is but to manage to capture the Phantom itself is just super amazing. This is indeed a super rare moment. I guess the only thing that could suppress this is probably a snow leopard sighting in Ladhak. But thats a different story.
What a majestic creature this is. Its however amazing that its even present there in the first place given its normal habitat of dense tropical forests. However, I ve been told it has adapted to his area in Kabini quite well and is now escorting a female.
Anyhow, amazing find.

Last edited by bigron : 13th February 2019 at 18:25.
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Old 14th February 2019, 11:35   #6
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Default Re: Kabini - The Dark Lord

Any plans to stay permanently at Kabini?

Brilliant shots of Kariya! So you've finally got him in frame after all these years! Unfortunately, my camera is still yearning for his "darshana" and with all the "aasha bhavane" one can muster, I may plan to venture out into the Jungle again this summer! It may also probably coincide when you start getting that itch again in the next 2 months! If timings work out lets plan another trip - you presence may have something to do with the amazing sightings you have got so far and who knows if we can spot him again?!

Loved the shots of the Indian Roller and the other birds!

Last edited by vsathyap : 14th February 2019 at 11:37.
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Old 14th February 2019, 11:53   #7
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Amazing shots of Bagheera and Baloo. Looks like you've made Kabini your second home. This is your 11th travelogue on Kabini.

Thanks so much for sharing. Please keep 'em coming!
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Old 14th February 2019, 14:09   #8
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The way he stares back at the camera, it doesn't look as if the distance matters to him. He's as if "I'm looking at you mate! Yes, you, clicking away all those snaps".
It's so regal. He instantly reminded me of the scene from the movie "Apocalypto".
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Old 14th February 2019, 14:12   #9
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Stryker, strikes again! Kickass photos sir... Thank you for sharing.

Cheers!
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Old 14th February 2019, 14:37   #10
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Amazing shots of the dark lord

Thanks for sharing.
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Old 14th February 2019, 15:23   #11
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Amazing Amazing!
In Indian wildlife context (especially considering the big cats), dont think anything could be better than this sighting of the dark lord.
Unbelievable!
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Old 14th February 2019, 15:28   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joxster View Post
These pictures really made my afternoon
Thank you Joxster. I'm really happy that my pictures can make someone smile and feel awed by the wonder of nature.

Quote:
Originally Posted by majumon View Post
Keep shooting, thanks for sharing such wonderful rare sightings.
Thanks majumon.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bigron View Post
...I ve been told it has adapted to his area in Kabini quite well and is now escorting a female.
Thanks, bigron. Yes he most certainly is now romancing a female. In fact, our driver was pretty sure that the female would be around somewhere close by and maybe if we had waited a bit more, we would have seen her too. But even after 20 minutes of waiting (after 20 minutes of the sighting itself, that is) there was no sign of her, so we decided to move on.

Quote:
Originally Posted by vsathyap View Post
Any plans to stay permanently at Kabini?
Thanks Vishwas. I really wish I could do that I can Work From Forest!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by vsathyap View Post
If timings work out lets plan another trip - you presence may have something to do with the amazing sightings you have got so far and who knows if we can spot him again?!
Certainly, PM me when you are planning to go. I don't know if my presence has anything to do with it, but I would most definitely love to see the Dark Lord again. "Duraase?" (greed?) Maybe, but when this particular big cat is concerned, I gues I won't ever get enough.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gannu_1 View Post
This is your 11th travelogue on Kabini.
Thanks Gannu_1. Really? 11th? Wow!

Quote:
Originally Posted by rav11stars View Post
He instantly reminded me of the scene from the movie "Apocalypto".
Thanks rav11stars. I know exactly the scene you mean! There was even a baby black jaguar in that scene if I remember right. I read somewhere that for a black leopard to have a black baby, both parents must be black, since melanism is a recessive gene mutation. Not sure about this though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Venom_rider View Post
Stryker, strikes again!
Thanks Venom_rider.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prodigy07 View Post
Amazing shots of the dark lord
Thanks Prodigy07. He's even more amazing in the view finder.

Quote:
Originally Posted by abhijeetp View Post
In Indian wildlife context (especially considering the big cats), dont think anything could be better than this sighting of the dark lord.
Thanks abhijeetp. I fully agree, as far as Indian big cats are concerned, there is nothing else that can come close to him. Maybe the snow leopard which bigron was referring to above, but for me this one is it.

Last edited by Stryker : 14th February 2019 at 15:30.
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Old 14th February 2019, 16:01   #13
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Fantast write-up and pictures!

I have been to kabini 3 times and seen tigers two times. I never saw a leopard in the wild and it has always remained a dream to see a black panther.
Thanks for sharing!
Do you think the safari driver really matters in terms of the zones they select and take you to? or is it just pure luck ?
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Old 14th February 2019, 17:02   #14
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Oh wow!!! Amazing write-up and thanks for the pictures.

It's been a while since I last went to Kabini. I have seen the Sloth Bear once before, but never the big cats. Maybe next time when I will get lucky. Thanks for the pictures once again.
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Old 14th February 2019, 18:06   #15
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Wow, superb photographs with a nice write up to go with it as well - Thanks for sharing !
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