On my trip to southern India last month, I saw quite a few chital, the spotted deer that live throughout the country’s forests. Sometimes appearing solitary, sometimes in herds of 10 or more, they were distributed in a variety of environments from the thick forest of Mudumalai National Park to more open scrub land.
Like most mammals, the chital are much more active in the early hours of the day. They seemed most relaxed just before sunrise – however that was a much more difficult time to photograph them due to the lack of light. Unfortunately, the closer subjects were extremely skittish, diving into the dense trees as we slowed our vehicle.
Chital are endemic to the Indian subcontinent and can be found as far north as Nepal and Bhutan. A small herd was introduced to the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the 1860s, and can today be found on the island of Lanai.
I’ve posted previously about some of the birds I had a chance to photograph on a trip to India last year. No spot was more prolific than the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary just outside Mysore. Although I was there off-season for migratory birds, I was able to get up close to a variety of the resident species, through the cunning use of a wooden rowboat.
On the other hand, most of the sightings were brand new for me, and very different from home. We were able to get quite close to this mugger crocodile in the boat. Luckily, he seemed busy sunning himself and didn’t pay us much attention!
One of the less common birds for that area was the river tern. We lucked upon a pair engaged in courtship ritual. A male and female were sitting on separate rocks when the male flew off to find food to give to the female. Although we didn’t get a chance to witness it before we floated on, the pair engages in a food exchange as part of their courtship.
Even from low in the water, we got some decent views of black kites circling high overhead. One landed in a tree growing out of the top of a nearby cliff. My 800mm lens came through and allowed me to get reasonable shots even from far away.
And yes, it was much more than just birds. In addition to the crocodile, I was able to see a cluster of fruit bats trying to sleep away the morning. I found and photographed a couple that weren’t completely sealed up in their wings.
Finally, after departing the boat, we lucked upon a white-spotted fantail. He was quick and difficult to photograph, staying under bushes most of the time and rarely coming out into the open. But when he finally did, I was low to the ground and ready for him.
In all, I loved the variety and experience of shooting in a different part of the world.
One of my favorite birds I photographed on a recent trip to India was the Red-whiskered Bulbul. In particular, I liked its head feathers and distinct red cheek pattern. I saw a few glimpses on my first day of photography at a wetland bird sanctuary, but got my best views the second day at the top of Nandi Hills in more of a jungle environment.
The photography here was much harder than the more open wetland location. Most of the birds stayed high in the forest canopy, only offering quick glimpses in the dark, filtered light close to the ground. Here, shooting at a high ISO (ISO 2000) helped, which my 7D Mk2 was able to handle capably.
The photo above was a rarity in this thick jungle. In this shot, I had the benefit of shooting into a clearing instead of from a clearing. In this way, I was lucky to have the background foliage far away from the subject, creating a solid green background instead of distracting leaves and branches. Most of the time however, I was standing in a clearing (giving me the ability to move around) shooting at a wall of jungle.
My main takeaway from this type of photography is that the biggest secret weapon you can have is time. Without luring the animal with something like food, you need to have time and patience to photograph the amazing diversity of these jungle habitats. Unfortunately I only had a single morning, just long enough to give me a small taste of what a longer expedition could achieve.
I captured this photo of an oriental white-eye after a difficult (and sometimes frustrating) morning of bird photography in the Nandi Hills, north of Bangalore, India. I was situated in a clearing in the middle of a small area of jungle. While beautiful and diverse, jungles can be incredibly difficult to shoot in, especially if the target is small birds. Due to the density of the foliage, you have to practically be right in front of the birds in order to get a clear shot – there always seems to be something blocking you. In addition, so many small birds spend a great deal of their time high in the canopy, making them all but invisible. The cacophony of their calls only increases the frustration, knowing they are there but out of sight.
However, as usual in wildlife photography, time and patience pays off. Toward the end of the morning, I was photographing on one edge of the clearing, a wall of green in front of me. This little white-eye flew in and started preening, occasionally hopping from one perch to another. I tracked him as best I could through the leaves, until finally he flew onto this open perch. While he was only there for a few seconds, I was ready and was able to capture a couple of frames.
It is always a good idea when traveling far from home to pick only a few spots to do photography, allowing yourself the adequate time to spend in each. I would rather come back from a trip with a few stellar shots than visit more locations but settle for shots that are just okay.