Monday, May 24, 2010

A 'guftagu' with Ibisbill

Nameri has a number of different opportunities to shoot. It has dense pristine forest, small scrubby patch and a wonderful river bed. This river bed holds some very nice opportunity to shoot one of the very beautiful birds found in India - Ibisbill. The second day morning was mostly dedicated for the ibisbills which are normally found only while rafting.

The rafting starts almost 14km upstream and the total duration would be around two and a half hours. The currents are not very strong except at couple of places rest of the waters is quite calm. A bit care is indeed required to protect the camera gear from becoming wet but it is manageable.

The landscape of the region is very picturesque. The morning was bit cloudy which had dual effect on our photography. For certain type of images it helped and for some other it didn't. There were two people who were guiding the raft and one of them was a local expert on birds. He was very good in locating the birds in the highly camouflaged environment and identifying them.

The river bed was a calm and quite place and no wonder why the bird density was so healthy. There were large cormorants, river terns, Stone Plovers, river lapwings, king fishers, brahminy ducks, mergansers and of course the ibisbill.

River terns were having a nice morning fishing so as the pied king fishers. Photographing through the raft is quite a difficult task especially if you are using a fixed focal length lens. Zooms are perfectly suited for this condition where you will never know from where the bird approaches you.

After covering about half a kilometer our guide pointed towards a group of stones are called one of them as - Ibisbill!! I was baffled! I checked 3 - 4 times to see the characteristic long red bill of the bird but failed. I started doubting his spotting capacity.

But he was right. There WAS an ibisbill among the wet rocks which was so well camouflaged in between the rocks that for any first timer it was almost impossible to spot them. The difficulty manifolds because of the movement of the raft as well. At the second look I was able to spot the bird and spent next few minutes to help my other two team mates to spot the bird. I was very much impressed by the spotting ability of the guide and thanked him.

We spotted few more ibisbills just after that and one gave us a good opportunity to make some images of the beauty.

They are  very beautiful birds and at the same time they are very shy and sensitive too. A bit of disturbance and they are gone...After that very less chances that you will be able to see them again on the downstream.

Not only ibisbill gave good company to us but also couple of huge flocks of great cormorants and couple of pied king fishers well.

We finally saw the mergansers from a bit closer than the last evening. For our luck one flew quite close.

The riverbed offered us some more interesting opportunities. As we moved along we saw a huge monitor lizard just entering a hole on the bank. As we moved further we were able to see only a part of its head stretched out.

Then we came across a barking deer (Muntjac) on the bank of the river. On the white rock the deer was looking amazing. Whatever mammal you get on those white stones is a bonus.

The experience of the rafting was simply amazing. Even though it doesnot come anywhere near to the actual white water rafting, but as this was added with photographic opportunity this was a unique and nice experience for all of us.

We were back on the ground by 10:00AM. Headed straight to the eco camp and started packing our stuffs.

A visit to the pigmy hog conservation camp was pending in the last. We completed that one as well just before the lunch.

By the time we started back to Guwahati it was 2:30PM and my mind was still hearing the voice from within which said - 'One and a half days are no where enough for this wonderland called NAMERI'.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Meeting the elusive White Winged Wood Duck at Nameri

Nameri - situated on the banks of Jia Borheli river it is regarded as the most beautiful national park of North Eastern India. Though I didnot find many pictures of its landscape on net, I had good hope that it will not disappoint us.

It was afternoon when we started from Kazi towards Nameri. Kunwar accompanied us till Nameri as the driver of our vehicle didn't know the exact route. We reached Nameri eco camp at around 6:00 PM. It is around 3 hour drive from Kaziranga.

As it was already evening, we could not explore around the place. The person in charge (Mr Pradeep) has made all the arrangements of our stay and he showed us our hut in the campus. The stay in Nameri is in eco camp which is very neat and clean. It lies in the buffer zone of the National park and the core are is at about a kilometer walk from that place. One has to actually cross the river Jia Borheli to enter into he national park. The crossing is via a boat, driven by forest guards. Meenaram was our guide for the trip in Nameri and Pradeep had told us that he is one of the best guides of the region.

After having a very nice dinner, by the time we hit the bed plenty of owlets were calling all around the place.

The next morning Meenaram arrived at 5:30 AM and we were ready by that time. After having a cup of tea, we picked up the packed breakfast and started walking towards the river.

As we were nearing the shore the view started opening up more and more and there it was..... huuuge range of mountains till your eyes can see with the river flowing in front of you. Ah! It was a sight to behold. No wonder it is regarded as the most beautiful national parks of NE India, I thought.

As we moved closer Meenaram shouted -"Merganser, merganser".... I was thrilled. I always wanted to see that beauty ever since I saw its image by Dhritiman and here I am, seeing that fast flier in front of me. It was flying at a very low level, almost touching the water surface! But it was fast....very fast.

As I was recovering from that thrill, there was another surprise waiting! Within few minutes, we spotted a group a Wreathed Hornbills flying from that side of the region high in the sky. I skipped a heartbeat and almost choked! It was a dream for me! I had always heard about them seeing them in the skies is like a dream come true!

After recovering from all these initial excitements we crossed the river and now on the other side of the river, in the core zone of the park. The speciality of the park is in fact White Winged Ducks. They are currently found only in this place and very less is known about their other whereabouts and behavioral aspects in India. Many people come to Nameri only to have a glimpse of that one specie and most of the times they return disappointed. We were there to try our luck, and Meenaram has told us that we have a good chance of seeing it as he has the news that there is a pair in the nearby pond inside the forest.

The forest was amazing! It was teeming with life all over. We sighted a peregrine falcon high up on a tree and many black headed bulbuls around the forest check post. The black headed bulbuls found there are in fact cousins of our Ruby throated bulbuls which we find in the jungles of Western Ghats. We also saw pintails and starlings. the trees around also had Blue Faced Barbet and coppersmith Barbets.

But the guy that that held us for some time was Yellow Bellied Fantail Flycatcher, a beautiful tiny bird which has glorious yellow color on its belly and a very cute appearance. It was coming back to the same perch and thus helped us in getting some good images of the bird.

We were on our way to the pond where Meenaram had got the information that White Winged Wood Duck has seen the previous day. To add to that we met a forest officer of the region who was returning from that place also told us that he has seen a couple that morning just half an hour ago. That really excited us.

But the way to reach the place was also equally compelling. Huge amount of life all around. Wonderful butterflies flying all around in the morning light. Too good to resist. As Adi had decided to spend some time in photographing them I too got into business. But we had to start as the Sun was going up quite fast. We were quite near the pond.
                         Sultan Tit, One of the Jewels of NE

As we approached the pond Meenaram alerted us to watch our step as those birds are very sensitive even for the slightest sound. Meenaram headed the team and went in front. As we went a few meters further for our misfortune we heard fluttering sounds of few birds flying off! Shucks! They were gone! We were as silent as possible but still something went wrong and the pond was now duck-less! :(

All four of us got disappointed as there is no one knows when will they come back again to the place. As we were dejected, Meenaram told us that there is one more pond couple of kms away where there are chances of finding another pair. With little options left we started stepping toward the new destination. Clock was announcing 11:30AM and the Sun was getting ready to get on top.

When we reached the second pond we made a strategy. Meenaram to go ahead and scout the area for any presence of the duck and if found he would come back to get us along. As he was an expert of the area and was very much aware of the care to be taken to find that bird everyone agreed upon this. Meenaram went a little further and called us. He had not seen any bird but was sensing that there could be a pair! We followed him slowly. "Wahan hai...wahan hai" he ushered slowly. Yes! There it was! The elusive duck of the forest pond - White winged wood duck!

Next one and a half hours we spent sitting on the bank very silently. The bird had moved up on the bank and was not visible now. But Meenaram kept telling us that it would come back. It normally takes sometime rest in the shade and comes back to water. As we had not heard anything flying around we were also confident that it has to come out. It was a waiting game there after, After about 20min, finally the time has come. A male slowly emerged out into the water, but on the far shore. It was in a way good as it could not see us because of the distance. When it went back after a round it was the turn of the female to get into the water.

They were very calm and enjoying. It was an amazing feeling having witnesed them in their habitat, which is very unique. They live in the ponds inside thick wooded area. They are not like other ducks which can live in almost any form of large water body. These birds need specifically this kind of habitat where the pond is surrounded by thick forest. This makes them very vulnerable under present conditions of deforestation and segmentation.

We spent almost one and a half hours and silently came back without disturbing them. It is very important to maintain the same level of caution while returning from such sensitive habitat also. It is the responsibility of a wildlife photographer to not to disturb the animal/bird ether while approaching or while returning after the shoot is finished.

At the end we were all very happy and shook hands for the success and thanked Meenaram for his excellent expertise in spotting them.

It was 1:30 by then and we had not eaten anything since 6:30AM! We reached the eco camp by 2:30 and Adi decided to stay back for the evening walk and Anush and self decided to have a small second round walk post lunch.

We started by around 3:30PM and waited for some time for the boatman to arrive to take us to the other side. While waiting we saw another pack of Wreathed Hornbills.

Meenaram had stayed back in the forest check post. We met him and he took us into a forest trail. As it was winter and the day was short in that part of India, we had very little time left. Staying inside the forest in the late evening may turn out to be dangerous because of the chances of wild elephant attack which sometimes proves fatal. So we had to get back soon. But the forest was very captivating.

 I have to go back to it in the future just to enjoy the sheer feel of it. We have only very few such protected areas left where one can feel the power of the forest.

We were back on the river bank by 4:45PM and a boatman helped us to cross the river. Meenaram came along.

                           You can see Meenaram at the center and Anush at the front

The day had ended for us. An amazing day it was. I had thoroughly enjoyed. The sad part was we had planned only one and a half days in this wonderland, which is absolutely not enough... :(

The next day was planned for rafting which as everyone says, was the most productive from bird photography perspective, Ibisbill - one of the beautiful birds of Indian Subcontinent was high on our list and they could be found only during the rafting...if one is lucky.... :)