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Trip Report:

and the Wildlife
of India
Trip Report


What we all want to see, but getting a good tiger shot is more a matter of luck than patience, but equal amounts of that certainly helps. Our Group did extremely well with a variety of wildlife, including many tigers.
After a fantastic and extremely successful trip to western India for Asiatic Lions, Leopards, Desert Foxes, Wild Asses, and more, we were hoping to have an equally wonderful wildlife safari in central India. We did, with a wide-variety of subjects..

Forgive the spelling, but this sign in Bandhavgarh tells it all.

Although most of the images in this Trip Report were made by Joe and Mary Ann McDonald, we are especially pleased and humbled by including several of the really great images made by our participants. Those images are credited throughout.

tLeft: Kanha Tiger by Greg Pierson

After a fantastic and extremely successful trip to western India for Asiatic Lions, Leopards, Desert and Indian Foxes, Wild Asses, and a variety of birds, we were hoping for an equally successful Tiger and Wildlife Photo Tour to central India. We were successful, with a number of tigers, some of the best Sloth Bears ever, Leopards, and a host of other subjects. In all, we spent 7 weeks in India, and despite the craziness and the bureacracy, we love India.

Tigers are the trophy animal, with less than 1,700 in all of India, and the 'tourist zones' of each park generally have less than 50 in each area. In 2012 the government agency in charge of tiger conservation almost stopped tiger tourism, and although they were not successful in doing so, the agency did create annoying limitations on tourism. For a few years afterwards, as park management tried working out these rules, photographing tigers was tough, and although we were successful, we worked for our tigers!

This year we did extremely well, although in our favorite Tiger park, Bandhavgarh, routes and sectors are assigned in a rather random way. Consequently, tigers might be sighted in one location, but a jeep may be assigned to a different sector, or route. Nonetheless, although a few of our participants had some frustrating game drives, either in Bandhavgarh or elsewhere, everyone ended up with great shots. In fact, the two photographers who had the fewest number of sightings ended up with the best shots when they finally scored, and scored big!

Tiger family in Bandhavgarh by Val Ascencio
Look carefully to see all three cubs!

Tiger detail by Jack Funamura

Although we did quite well with tigers, as you can see, as you read on, you'll discover all that India has to offer -- a great variety of subjects! Here's the report.

Day 1. Delhi to Panna.
Instead of over-nighting at Khajuraho and visiting the temples, after arriving in K we headed to Panna National Park, only a 45 minute drive and a welcome break-up for the long travel day. We arrived in time for lunch, and afterwards, since a game drive wasn’t scheduled, we planned on doing a boat ride for birds and crocodiles. We walked to the boat landing, following the sandy shoreline and negotiating the rocks, meeting the boatmen and the rowboat-like crafts. They didn’t look especially stable for photography, but the matter was moot, as a storm was looming and I decided to cancel the trip. I didn’t want to be on the water if it rained, or worse, if it started to hail, and as we headed back to the lodge it began to sprinkle, justifying the decision. It never rained hard, but we did have a severe electrical storm and it would have been unsafe, and probably very scary, to be on the water with lightning everywhere.
We spent the time productively, however, in being able to give a very thorough orientation while people were fresh, and not exhausted from a six hour drive. Prior to dinner we saw a BBC film, Tigers of the Emerald Forest, which profiled not only the tigers of Panna but also the owners of our lodge who, at the time of the film, were doing tiger research in the park. Over the next few years, however, nearly all of Panna’s tigers were poached, and as the owners called attention to this they fell out of the good graces of the park management and today, sadly, they do not go into the park.

pDay 2
. It looked stormy and gray as we started our morning game drive. As in all parks, we had to show our passports but Panna’s bureaucracy is among the worse. We had to personally present our passports and sign in, and before entering the park the head man checked them once again for validation of names. It wasn’t a big deal, but it ate up time and seemed quite unnecessary.
Panna was a beautiful park, however, reminding me at times of Bandhavgarh, Pench, and especially Satpura, with the bamboo thickets, teak forests, and multiple hills and mountains. Panna now has around 32 Tigers, as well as a good population of Leopards and Sloth Bears, but we didn’t expect to see any, as only Leopards are regularly sighted. Instead, we viewed this game drive as a wonderful shake-down for getting accustomed to how the trip works, and without the pressure of tigers, would also give everyone a chance to photograph the other Indian wildlife without distraction.
dShortly after starting, however, we did have alarm calls, and virtually all the vehicles in the park headed to a river overlook to scan for tigers. Our vehicles didn’t stay long, and later, we were told, people did see a tiger, but it was far off and only a sighting. Instead we drove and photographed, and did well with Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, some birds, and great Langur Monkeys. Several got shots of a Spotted Deer standing on his hind legs, knocking fruits down with his antlers, while some photographed Spotted Deer mating. Several female Langur Monkeys with babies were close to the road and tame, and a nice group of juveniles jumped, wrestled, and played in a mixed field of high grass and short, and afforded a lot of great shots. The topography here is unique, and the most stunning of all the parks we’ve visited. We had our field breakfast (the best we’ve had in India) at a huge waterfall and crater where Himalayan Griffon Vultures and Peregrine Falcons nested, and where, in the BBC film, a tiger had raised her pcubs on the crater floor. At this time of year the rivers are dry, but in the wet season the scene would be quite spectacular.
Afterwards, we had lunch, and then drove on to Bandhavgarh, about a 4.5 hour drive. Except for a few sprinkles in the AM game drive our travel to Bandhavgarh was dry, but the road was puddled, evidence of a hard rain earlier. When we arrived at our lodge we were told that it rained heavily yesterday afternoon (the drive here would have been awful), with hailstones the size of dimes, and that it had rained this morning as well, only clearing up at 3:30PM. When we left Bandhavgarh 12 days ago it was dry, but it had rained for several days after we left – quite unusual weather for this time of year when, at best, one might expect one or two afternoons of the odd showers. The weather, world-wide, sure seems to have changed, and I’m reminded that on our Tanzania safari in February we saw a tornado in the Serengeti – an unheard of weather event. As I write this at 7PM the skies above us are clear, but distant thunder still indicates some unsettled weather.
We had Langur Monkeys in every Park, but in Panna we had one of the best shows when juvenile Langurs played and wrestled, and mother Langurs seemingly juggled their babies.

Day 3. Bandhavgarh

It was cool and cloudy, and the skies looked threatening enough that my driver wore rain pants and jacket to start the game drive. Luckily, we never had rain, and by mid-morning the stormy skies had vanished and the day turned warm and sunny, without a cloud in the sky. No tigers were seen yesterday or today, and with no potential locations all of us drove slowly, stopping often to enjoy and photograph all the wildlife. For me it was a real pleasure to cruise comfortably, shooting subjects that we’re sometimes forced to neglect because of the need to race to a known locale.
oSome of the morning highlights, at least for my vehicle (with Scott) included a very good view and shoot of a Brown Fish Owl, a Crested Serpent Eagle, Vultures, Green Bee-eaters, Common Kingfisher – again at the quiet forest pond where we had the bird last trip, and Spotted Deer, including bucks shedding their velvet and fawns with their mothers. Mary and Jack had a nice sequence with an Elephant and mahout strolling down a tree-lined trail, and Val and Nancy had a Golden Jackal soaking in a waterhole. It was a productive morning.

PM. All of our vehicles went to Jon Two, and our five vehicles were the first ones lined up at the gate. The mother Tigress and her four cubs had been spotted this morning, and so we drove straight towards that area. Unfortunately, either because of a route assignment (most likely) or a hunch, one of our vehicles branched off and …
tWe found the Tigress, just seconds after she had crossed the game track in front of us. Luckily she walked parallel to the road, towards us, and although there were some obstructing grasses, and clumps of bamboo, everyone had a view or shots. Moving about 50 yards off the track she settled down, first sitting Sphinx-like, then flopping to her side. Periodically she’d rise up and look around, and once we thought we were about to see a hunt when a Spotted Deer moved towards her, but veered off before anything could happen. Charles and Greg’s vehicle remained a bit longer when our other vehicles headed out to: one, look for the cubs; and two, to avoid getting in trouble from the Rangers since there was a large cluster of vehicles at one spot, obviously not following the route assignments. The rest of us never saw the cubs, and the Tigress, after a short rest, rose and walked up hill, although Randy, riding solo today, got off some shots when she stood to go. Our total, two Tigers for the afternoon, and the ice has been broken.

Day 4. Bandhavgarh
The skies were clear and the air was, as expected, cold as we started the game drive. We were back in Jon Two, and soon after starting our drive we found signs of a fresh kill, where a tiger had dragged a carcass across the road. Further on we found more tiger tracks, but all led towards the kill, and therefore opposite our direction of travel, and I suspect the tiger periodically followed the road, then cut into the brush, and then returned, before finally stalking and killing a deer.
Within the hour we did see a Tiger, a male, about 60 yards off and in the bamboo, but there was no real window for shooting and the cat soon stood and walked off. Greg got some shots, as he was the first there, but again, with a lot of vegetation in the way. We circled around, hoping to see the tiger again but we did not, nor did monkeys or deer, as there were no alarm calls all morning.
The morning, for shooting, was extremely slow, and Val and Nancy, in Jon Three, reported similar inactivity. Our best, perhaps, were some Langur Monkeys that charged across the Sal tree branches, leaping from one tree to the next before shimming down a tree trunk and vaulting horizontally, arching before reaching the ground and running off.

. In the morning, tigers were seen in Jon One, and as everyone was assigned this zone all of us headed to the general locale where the cat had been seen. Although we had numerous alarm calls, we did not see the tiger. Langur Monkeys occasionally gave just one small bark, as if the tiger was rolling over, but occasionally the monkeys would erupt into a ‘kak-kak-kak,’ the more serious alarm call, and a Sambar periodically gave its explosive ‘hooo’ and Spotted Deer their ‘eeooo’, as if the tiger was moving along the hillside. If it was, we didn’t see it. Highlights were modest – a Little Cormorant for some, and simply waiting out the tiger for the others.

Day 5. Bandhavgarh
We only had a half-day session today, as the park is closed in the afternoon on Wednesdays. Greg and Jack had an all-day permit, and when we met them, around 7:30AM, they had had one of the female Tigresses cross the road in front of them. It was a very brief encounter, but Greg got a true trophy shot as the Tigress snarled angrily as she walked by. They also had her at a more distant waterhole, and later boarded an elephant for more tiger hunting in the forest.
No one else saw a tiger in the AM, although both my vehicle and Charles’s had fresh tiger tracks soon after we entered the park. Unfortunately the tracks were headed in the opposite direction than we were going. Mary, near the end of the morning, had fresh tracks too, and she figures they missed that cat by just seconds.
Our best shooting this morning was of Langur Monkeys. Along one of the roads monkeys gather to lick and chew salt from the road, and I did some video and a lot of stills as Langurs gathered roadside, or on a large boulder where young and babies gathered to play. One baby continually hopped about on his back legs, while older juveniles wrestled with each other, and this precocious baby.
Most interesting, perhaps, was one very young baby that seemed to be abandoned. It was so small and uncoordinated that has it hopped about it would often flop to its side, and it kept up a piteous mewing and screaming as it went from one adult to another, or to juveniles, all of whom basically ignored the baby. It would be easy to see how a predator could rush in and grab a baby like this, as I doubt the mother, if around, could rush in with enough time to snatch a baby to safety. sEventually this orphaned was claimed, with the mother sitting nearby and the baby cuddling in to her chest. The baby had difficulty finding a drooping nipple to nurse, so I wondered if the baby was healthy, and the mother’s inattention, and the baby’s screaming, was indicative of this.
As we drove back towards the gate a Lesser Adjutant Stork sailed in, legs hanging and wings et, flying quite close. I grabbed my 100-400 and, luckily, had the right exposure for quick grab shots which ended up being the best images I have of this unattractive bird.

tPM. The park is closed in the afternoon on Wednesday, so all but Greg and Jack relaxed, edited, or went for walks. Greg and Jack returned around 6:45, reporting success! Besides the Tigress that crossed the road early on (Photo Left, by Greg Pierson), they also had the four cubs from the other tigress. They found and photographed the cubs from elephant back, after the elephant climbed a steep hill where they were in danger of simply slipping off the back end, the angle was so acute. At times they were as close as 15 feet or so from one or more cubs, lounging on rocks or sleeping. Eventually, each of the cubs got up and walked away, although one returned two different times for additional views. They estimate they were with the cubs for around 45 minutes, and their comment was ‘worth every penny.’ They were quite happy and satisfied.


Jack Funamura's Tiger cubs from his All-Day Permit. He and Greg did quite well on their one-day permit, photographing these Tigers from Elephant back.

Greg's Tiger cub, below, was one of his favorite images of the trip.

Day 6. Bandhavgarh
The morning started cool, with clear skies. All of us were in Jon Two or Three, and as we made the 15 minute drive to the gates the wind chill made the drive quite cold. En route, Val and Nancy’s vehicle had two Tiger cubs off the road, but the tigers were some distance away and, of course, it was still too dark for any shooting. They were in Jon Three, and missed seeing a tiger, although a male tiger had walked down a road and a cub (one of three with the female there) was briefly spotted.
The rest of us were in Jon Two, and although we saw tracks and heard alarm calls most of us saw nothing. Charles had one encounter, with a Tiger walking down the road ahead of him, turning briefly for a better view, although somewhat distant.
Randy and Scott are on an all-day permit, and apparently in Jon One, or in the no-man’s land in between, as no one saw them in the AM drive.

PM. We were back in Jon One and once again there were no tiger sightings. Jack and I passed very fresh tracks in the mud of a small pond, and alarm calls sounded on a hillside, but nothing developed. The highlight for most of us was a cooperative Wild Hog that walked into the road and across a clearing, close, for nice shots, and Jack also shot a female Barking Deer that cooperated well.
Randy and Scott had no success with tigers on their all-day permit, although they did have a good Jungle Cat, and mating Indian Rollers, but otherwise it was a long, hot, unproductive day. They did enjoy their elephant ride excursion, a three hour trip where they hunted hard for tigers, but without any luck.

tDay 7. Bandhavgarh
Four of our five vehicles went back to Jon One, while Val and Nancy were assigned Jon Three where, yesterday, a Sambar Deer carcass lay close to the road and a waterhole. The deer had died mysteriously, and we hoped it would remain and not be taken off, as the carcass could attract any number of different animals. Unfortunately it was removed, and it was reported that the carcass was burned. Val and Nancy reported nothing of interest on their game drive.
Mary, who missed yesterday because of a sinus infection (from me, from Leh), sat out this morning as well, still recovering. Randy was with me, and early on in our drive we had evidence of a tiger lying on the road (body impressions) and fresh tracks that were headed in the direction we were going, but as we followed the tracks we could see they had to be a few hours old, as Spotted Deer and Langur Monkeys fed along the route, unconcerned, with the tiger long gone.
At the Center Point we were told that there were alarm calls on our route, so we headed there and waited, but aside from plenty of barking Langur Monkeys we had nothing. One of our driver/guides suspected the monkeys had seen a leopard. We continued, and I commented to Randy that we had not seen Greg, Charles, or Jack on any route, which sometimes is a clue that they’ve been held up – with a tiger.
As we drove along, climbing one of the mountain routes, we encountered their vehicles, and learned that they had spent the last two hours waiting for a Tiger, which finally appeared and crossed the road in front of them. They were ecstatic, and had great shots. They told Randy and I missed this action by about five minutes.

tWe continued on, driving more slowly now, and as we crested a hill I spotted the same Tiger as it walked along a low ridge nearby. Eventually it walked down to the road, and turned, and settled upon a rock only about forty feet away. It remained clear, in the open, for around 17 minutes before yawning, rising, and crossing the road, where it descended the hill and crossed one of the small canyons that lead to grottos where tigers are known to rest.
We drove on, heading back to the main gate, and close to the entrance had a great Red-headed Vulture perched high on a snag, close enough that it just barely fit within the frame with an 800mm. The bird looked as if it would take off, but didn’t, and with time running out we left the bird and headed to the lodge.

tPM. Four of our vehicles were in Jon Two, while the fifth was assigned to Jon Three. Earlier in the day the dominant male, New Male, was discovered after having a battle with one of the four and a half year old males, still somewhat below his prime, but New Male is a bit passed his prime. At any rate, in the fight New Male was bitten badly, and Val and Nancy saw images another photographer made showing his ripped up face. The news we heard (somewhat contradictory) was that New Male’s muzzle and nose were nearly ripped off, and if so, he is in danger of dying. This battle, however, has completely disrupted the normal pattern of the tigers in that area, and consequently, no one saw a tiger in Jon Three today.
There was a sighting earlier in the day of a Tigress (Patiha, the mother of Doti and Spoti) at a waterhole. Three of our vehicles headed in that direction, fast, while for some reason Mary’s vehicle, with Jack, made a turn, and two hundred yards later came upon a male Tiger lying beside the road. They got great images before the Tiger stood and walked off. At that point, their vehicle did a 17 minute race to try to get in front of the Tiger walking down the road, and they missed being successful by about one minute! Unfortunately, an open bus filled with school children drove down that track, and their screams and general noise pushed the tiger from the road, and it disappeared into the brush.

Scott Large's Tigress (left)

tMeanwhile, my vehicle and two others (Scout, Greg and Charles) arrived at the Tigress, who was lying in a thicket of bamboo. Several vehicles were stacked, double-parked, along the road looking in at the butt end of the Tigress, and my vehicle was the last in the line. Rather than staying, I had my driver back up, giving us time to check out the large waterhole where we guessed she’d go at some point. No other vehicle was there, allowing us to drive back and forth, picking the spot where the foreground grasses were open enough for a view of much of the waterline. Picking that, we waited, and waited about 1.5 hours until the Tigress left her resting spot, climbed the embankment, and appeared.

At that point she put on a show, first sitting half-hidden, then walking along the embankment, pausing to lie down and roll, then going to the shoreline for a quick tap with a paw in the water, and then settling on the opposite shoreline where she laid down, rolled, and sat in a Sphinx position long enough for everyone to get a good view. Eventually she stood, and walked directly to the water, and our scouting paid off, as she drank directly in front of us. Afterwards she stood, and walked along the shoreline, providing nice reflections, and then turned and walked towards us in the grass. Finally, she dropped, rolling into the high grass again and disappearing, and with our time to reach the exit gate now critically brief, we raced out of the park in time to meet the deadline.
Day 8. Bandhavgarh
Randy, and Val and Nancy, did an all-day permit today, leaving at 5:15AM. The rest of us were in Jon One, where no tigers were reported and consequently the pace was pleasantly slow. Because of the screwy permit system India parks follow, Scott and I had jeeps to ourselves, while Greg, Charles, and the camp staff guy were required to be together. We tried using common sense and having the officer allow us to switch, but of course they were inflexible.
Randy Gephardt's Tigers from the All-Day Permit (Top).
Val Ascenio's Tigers on a different elephant on his All-Day Permit (Below)


nI had D route, and shortly after making the turn on to this route we met up with three other vehicles, all parked on a Sloth Bear scratching and sitting at a tree about 50 yards off the route. The light was low and the angle, for me, coming in late, so there was no shooting and soon the bear ran off. The other vehicles continued on, looking for tigers, but we backed up, and found the Bear about to cross the main route. The bear entered the road, running away from us before cutting up a bank where it stopped and allowed us to approach closely. The bear was in easy reach of a 100-400, and stood at one point, for a classic shot, giving a huffing growl as it did so. Soon after it climbed a high hill and disappeared.
We drove on, finding tiger tracks from last night, the same tiger we had yesterday morning, but we had no luck. We drove slow, about 22 kmph, which was a refreshing change and allowed me to stop, easily, for subjects. Consequently it was a productive morning. When we arrived at the central meeting point few vehicles were present, and we wondered if there was a jam-up with a tiger. There was not, and no cats were spotted through the morning. Val, Nancy, and Randy boarded elephants, following tracks of the mother and cubs, and we hope they were successful. We’ll know this evening.
mThrough the course of this leisurely morning I shot nice portraits of baby Langur Monkeys, Rose-ringed Parakeets, four species of vulture – King, Himalayan Griffon, Asiatic Griffon, and Long-billed, and all frame-filling and the best I’ve ever had, and my best of a Ruddy Mongoose. We’d stopped to check a pond for kingfishers and spotted the Mongoose on the opposite shoreline, with the animal moving along the bank, passing in front of a termite mound, and finally crossing the road, for the longest session I’ve ever had with this mongoose.
Langur Monkeys were feeding on the flowers of the Red Silk Cotton Tree, carefully negotiating thin limbs to pluck a Magnolia-like flower, then munching on the center where the most nectar would be stored. They were messy eaters and dropped several flowers, and each time one dropped a Spotted Deer would trot over and consume the flower. I tried getting a shot with a flower in a deer’s mouth but most times the deer lifted its head and gulped down the flower petal in a single motion. Despite no tigers, it was a great day.
bPutting tigers in perspective, Scott did an interesting calculation based up the size of the park, the kilometers of roads in the tourist area, the average distance one can scan left or right from the road, and the amount of area that actually covers. Here’s the figures:
The Park Core Area comprises 624 sq Km. Only 20% of this is available for tourism, or 125 sq km. There is approximately 150 km of roads that traverse the three tourist zones. We are assuming that, on average, one has about 100m of viewing area from the road, with 50m per side. Actually this is probably an over-estimate, but we’re considering the couple of large fields that give views extending for a few hundred yards in one direction. Using the generous 100m figure, however, gives about 12.4 sq km of viewing area, about 10% of the entire tourist zones.
Supposedly there are 35 tigers in total in the three tourist zones, giving a densite of .3 tigers per sq km, but only .03 tigers in the viewable area. This, amusingly, btranslates to about .0024 tigers in the viewing zone at any instant, so if you did 500 game drives you would have a single tiger!
This statistic isn’t meant to frighten away people hoping to see a tiger but it does point out how different tiger viewing in India is from lion, cheetah, or even leopard viewing in Africa. There, especially on the savannahs of the Mara or the Serengeti, one may have hundreds of yards of viewing area on either side of the game track. I’ve spotted lions and cheetahs, using 18X binoculars, at over two miles away in the grasslands, and anyone intent on seeing a lion in either of the above locations has a near 100% chance of doing so each day, if not each game drive. That cannot be said for tigers, since tigers live in forests, and often the viewable area is far less than 40 yards, and that’s between trees or bamboo or high grasses. But with enough game drives virtually everyone is rewarded, and when one finally sees a tiger, or photographs one, the experience is treasured, appreciated far more, valued far more, than one has for the African cats as every sighting is precious.


Vultures are becoming critically endangered in both India and Africa, but we were happy to see four different species at one time, and the most vultures we'd seen in India on this trip. Above, Egyptian, Red-headed or King, Himalayan Griffon, and Long-billed Vultures.

vPM. Once again, we had barely started our game drive when my driver suddenly turned and said ‘Leopard!’ Ironically, it was almost at the exact location where, on the morning game drive, I had asked my guide and my driver when was the last time they’d seen a leopard in that area, as the rocks along this section of the route is known for leopards. They said it had been a while – perhaps November, when my driver last saw one here. Now, this afternoon, we had one. The cat was shy and disappeared before I even had a chance to see it. Apparently there were two (this is near where I’d seen a juvenile on the last trip) as Greg had a brief glimpse of one on the opposite side of the road a few hundred yards further along. When we passed his vehicle, I thought I saw something in a tree, which hunkered low behind some leaves when I looked in that direction. As I reached for a lens to check, the Leopard knew it was spotted, and jumped down and ran off.
Langur Monkeys gave alarm calls as it disappeared, and to my ears the alarm calls sounded a bit different from that which they give when barking at tigers. Although some of the barks were the typical ‘kak, cha-kak, kat,’ most of the calls were a bit softer and more mellow or deeper – certainly not as harsh. The monkeys also gave a call that I’d almost define as a squeak, sort of rubber toy sounding, that my driver said they only do with leopards. I mention this because behaviorists studying African Vervet Monkeys know that that species has definite different vocalizations for pythons and snakes, eagles, and leopards – discernible with sonograms, and perhaps to the human ear as well.
No one had shots of the Leopards, and afterwards most everyone spent much of the afternoon driving around madly, looking for a sighting of a Tiger. I was alone, and went slow, but had little except for a White-throated Kingfisher and a Peacock, until we reached the center point where we learned a Tiger was on the road. We did a quick turn-around and sped towards the area, meeting Mary en route, who was watching a distant Tiger lying on her back. Randy, who had seen her earlier on the all day permit, told her the Tigress had been in that position since 11AM. While we watched, another female, from this Tigress’s first litter, appeared in the forest, walking our way. We were doing well when a mob of vehicles charged down the road, piling up and screeching, and forming a visual barricade for the Tigress’s progress. She had been heading right to us, and now turned and walked away.
Most of the vehicles turned, too, and chased after her. Mary and Jack, and Charles and Greg, followed, and moved ahead of the group, arriving at a small dam before the Tigress appeared, walked down a wooded bank, and crossed the cement dam abutment. Part way, she paused, looked back, and snarled, before continuing on. The guides had never seen her cross that dam before, so it was an exciting view.
tMeanwhile, I stayed behind, hoping that the other Tigress would get up and walk towards us, where we were told her cubs were, somewhere in the forest beyond. She did rise, but only walked a hundred feet or so before dropping to her side and sleeping until it was time for us to leave. On Mary’s way home, she and Jack had a Jungle Crow feeding on the top of the head of a doe Sambar Deer, a very unusual sight, and the highlight of their afternoon.
The three who did the all day permit, Randy (his tigers, above and below), Val, and Nancy, had a great day. When our group had last seen them they were disappearing into the forest on the elephants. Over an hour went by before they saw the tigers, but they were lucky enough to find the mother Tigress and her four cubs, and followed them as they moved into the forest and into rocks, where they had great shooting, including one session when all five were together.


Day 9. Bandhavgarh
We had a final game drive before heading to our next destination, Kanha. One of our vehicles was scheduled for Jon Three, where earlier the two male tigers had a battle. Today, our vehicle did not see a tiger, nor shoot anything on that drive although the female Tiger of that area, and her four cubs, were seen by at least two vehicles. As is the norm, reports were conflicting, with one report saying the tigers were by a waterhole and good views, while another reported just a fleeting view.

The rest of our vehicles were in Jon Two, and several of us headed to the pond where two days ago we had a Tigress. Alarm calls from Spotted Deer indicated that a tiger might be moving about, and my vehicle parked close to the dam breast. We waited only a few minutes when I spotted the head of a Tiger breaking through the vegetation, before walking across the top of the bank and moving down into the same stand of bamboo where the tigress had previously lay. Almost immediately, my park guide and the one in Mary’s vehicle started hooting out alarm calls to alert other drivers that the tiger was spotted. Of course, doing so triggered a cascade of vehicles, resulting in jockeying for position, noise, and disturbance. We moved back and forth, trying to decipher where the tiger would cross, as the tiger, disturbed, changed directions twice. Eventually it settled on a spot, and as my driver tried backing into position Mary’s driver, who was facing the direction, scooted in front, forcing my guy to break or to have a collision. Mary and Randy stayed low, and we were able to shoot over them, and their driver, to his credit, did what I’d expect him to do, and that is aggressively for the shot for his passengers. Still, I’d have positioned my vehicle slightly differently, had I have had the chance. It happens.
The Tiger never reappeared, and we covered much of the park looking for more tiger sign. At one waterhole an Indian Roller perched above the road, completely oblivious of anyone driving by. We passed on the shot, as Charles had shot the bird from several angles yesterday, but Mary and Randy shot the bird, producing a great image, and a surprising one for me. The bird was in shade, and I thought the background would be too contrasty, but that wasn’t the case and the image was wonderful. I did shoot a very good Racquet-tailed Drongo, one of the few times I’ve successfully shot that bird here (if ever). Most times, this species of drongo flies off as soon as one stops a vehicle. This one stayed, long enough at least, for a couple of frames.
mAs we passed a forest camp and food kiosk, the only such venue in this section, the workers signaled that a Tiger was at the cement waterhole where, last trip, we had luck. When we arrived many of the good shooting spots were already covered by a cluster of vehicles, but we found an opening, and one of the park guides, who was blocking the view, graciously stepped clear for us, enabling a clear view. The male Tiger laid on its belly, its head nearly in the water and facing somewhat away from us, but periodically he would lift his head and look around, and we shot at those moments. Inevitably, the Tiger stood and turned, walking off into the bamboo where he remained. We waited for a short time, but with closing time near, and packing, brunch, and a long drive ahead (and high, bright light) we headed back to the lodge.
With that, our time in Bandhavgarh was complete. Two in our group had at least 11 tigers, while Mary and another had 7, and two people had 9 or 10, but only had successful shooting on the all-day permit, when they had the Tigress and all four cubs! I had 7, and got usable shots of each, and three or four of those encounters were very good, if not great. Bandhavgarh proved quite successful for us, and in addition to the tigers we had two Leopard sightings (no shots), and one Sloth Bear (great shots).
We arrived at our lodge in Kanha in late afternoon after an uneventful drive. While we waited for an orientation meeting two photographers came in, having just completed their game drive. They stopped by our group to report that they didn’t see a tiger, and hadn’t done so yet, having been to Pench and Tadoba earlier. I was surprised at that, as both parks can be good for tigers, and one is usually great. We wondered if they were solely focused on tigers, and if so, they could be in for a very bad trip. Tigers come when they come, and otherwise, a wise photographer would capitalize on all the wildlife these parks have to offer. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to talk with them tomorrow.

Day 10. Kanha

We departed at 5:45AM for the short drive to the park gate, entering the park at 6:15 under clear and cold skies. After our tiger experiences, we were not too worried about finding tigers and hoped to make the most of all that Kanha has to offer. Scott and I photographed termite mounds in the early morning light and Spotted Deer rubbing their antlers on trees. We were about to do another series on deer when we heard alarm calls and off we went, and for much of the rest of the morning we checked locations where we hoped to find tigers. At the end of the drive we stopped for some decent Black Stork images, but otherwise the morning was somewhat slow.

PM. Two of our vehicles headed to Sarhi, one of the zones of Kanha, a nearly hour long commute. The rest of us were back in our regular zone, and Mary, Greg, Val, and Nancy had two Tigers, a male and a female, that crossed the road in front of them, good for about 30-40 frames. The cats appeared out of the grass, crossed, and disappeared once again.
sScott and I did extremely well with birds, getting two sessions with Shikras, an accipiter hawk similar to our Sharp-shinned Hawk, and two different Jungle Owlets, both perched quite in the open. Our driver and our guide were somewhat obtuse for following directions, particularly the driver, who did not seem to comprehend a basic motion to go in reverse, or to move forward slightly, even when I used the Hindi words. Each time, he’d look at the guide for confirmation, and he reminded me of a puppy looking for a clue from a trainer. Still, they meant well, and the issue was just poor communication, and I don’t know Hindi – so the fault lies with me.
At the cross dike where we overlook a large pond we had excellent luck with a herd of Spotted Deer that were approaching, then ducking down to the lake shore to race by us. Doing so, we had several series of shots as deer bounded through the water or leaped high into the air. We checked all the waterholes for tigers but no tracks, and no alarm calls, were seen or heard.

Day 11. Kanha

This morning was perhaps the slowest I’ve ever had in Kanha. Val and Nancy had the permit to drive to the center of the park, the Kanha Zone, while the rest of us, as usual, did game drives in the Mukki Zone. Val and Nancy enjoyed the center zone, finding it the prettiest location they’ve seen so far, and I would agree. They had nothing significant, deer, birds, peacocks, but they had something. The rest of us had very little, with Greg reporting nothing, others some species of bird, Mary an infra landscape, and me, a cormorant. Only a few alarm calls were heard, and no one saw a tiger.

. One vehicle had a great Sloth Bear, who came right up to the road and scratched its back against a tree right beside their vehicle. Unfortunately, the vehicle wasn’t one of our’s! Otherwise, although we had alarm calls and waited at Baba Tinka and another pool for tigers, nothing materialized, and no cats were seen this afternoon. For most, a Crested Serpent Eagle perched along the cross dike, right beside the track and in good light, was the highlight. I had a Barking Deer in the same location I’d seen one in yesterday, and later in the game drive Mary had the deer there, too, so this must be its territory. Oddly, the deer walked across the grasslands and through some large Sal trees, far from any real cover, and after doing so, turned around and walked back nearly the same route. We did see more Gaur and Barasinga Deer this evening than we’ve had previously, but few shots.
Day 12. Kanha
Being Wednesday, the park was only open a half day, and since it was March and the time of the full moon, the holiday Holi should have been celebrated this day. We planned that, arranging for tickets for Thursday, but either intentionally (giving the park people 1.5 days off) or by accident, Holi was calculated for Thursday, giving us 1.5 days of no game drives. Although this was annoying, twice in the last number of years the US government closed down because of budget fights, and all national parks were closed during that time – so the US is as guilty of this as India might be.
The game drive began relatively slow but I was riding solo because of the permits, and brought along Jai, the 11 yr old son of the camp managers. We had a great time, and after breakfast at the center point, a Tiger was spotted. We arrived too late when it crossed the road, but the direction it seemed to be heading had another road, and we headed there. The tiger, a female, had doubled back, and recrossed the road, heading towards the center point. The harsh alarm calls of Barasinga Deer alerted us of the move and we raced to another road, where we had a brief view of the cat in the open before it turned once more into the woods. We headed to a new location, hoping to intersect.
tSeveral vehicles were already lined up, with the Tigress resting beneath a tree about forty feet into the deeply shaded forest. As we pulled up, I read the situation, figuring that the tigress would either circle widely, in front of us, or do the reverse, and head in my direction – if I could only have had my driver and my guide stop the vehicle! Instead, they ignored my quiet shouts to stop, and the shoulder pulling I was doing to the driver, and headed into the thick of things. As he stopped, other vehicles came in behind, and we were locked in place. Luckily, Mary and Charles were further back, closer to where I had wanted to stop, and went the Tigress stepped out of the forest she walked in their direction. In truth, our shots were not too different from each other, but it was frustrating to be ignored, and to have guides that think ‘tiger’ but never think strategically. Val and Nancy arrived late, and had a distant view as the tigress disappeared into the grasses.
mThis type of situation is not uncommon, and nearly impossible to avoid. Jeeps, and ‘naturalist-guides,’ are assigned on a rotating basis, insuring that everyone gets some employment. On some drives, and in some parks, the driver and guide are quite good, but at other times it can be quite the opposite. In Kanha, both Mary and I have had guides who got into our vehicle, slouched down, and immediately fell asleep for the entire game drive! That type of behavior is very rare these days, but one can still have a lemon for a driver. Fortunately, at our camp, we have the manager, the head naturalist, and a very experienced driver for all of our drives, and only have to contend with random chance with one or two vehicles, and of course, the park naturalist.

PM. The park was closed, and several of us went with Jai on a nature walk to the river. Jai is only 11, but knows his natural history, and gave a great walk. We all learned a lot.

wDay 13. Kanha area
Today was the ‘official’ Holi holiday, and at 6:30 we headed to the Buffer Zone for another walk, following the Bungar River where, last year, Jai’s mother had a 20’ encounter with a male Tiger. She thought she was going to die, but the Tiger eventually turned and walked off. We had no tigers today, although Mary did see some tracks. The landscape was beautiful in the early morning light, and it was a joy to walk and experience the forest on foot.
After a late breakfast the camp celebrated Holi, and it was the best one we’ve ever had. We started by painting our hair and faces with colored powder, but that tameness soon disintegrated into a fun riot, where everyone threw colors, or squirted water jets, while the staff ambushed people with jugs or entire buckets of water. During our group photo, as we all stood there at attention, our faces painted and our clothes a riot of color, two of the staff snuck up and poured water over all of us, just at the photo was snapped. It made for great expressions.
bIn the late afternoon several of the group headed to an Indian Fruit Bat roost tree, while Mary and I remained behind to work on the slide show that would conclude the trip for Val, Nancy, and Randy, who were leaving the group to tour culture or to return home.
The bat shoot was successful, with good views and plenty of shooting. At this point I haven’t seen images, but I was told bats were flying, and if so, flight shots might be possible and quite good. The drive only took 15 minutes or so, and the walk was short – a welcome underestimate in contrast to the usual hype that proves disappointing.
PS: Later on during the trip I saw the bat photos, and they were excellent. I wished I'd had gone, but next year, we'll certainly have the group there for a great bat shoot! (Bat Photos by Jack Funamura).


Our Group on the walk. Top: Greg, Scott, Jack, Joe, Randy
Bottom:Val, Nancy, Charles, Mary

lDay 14. Kanha
The park opened on time and we headed into the forest, in theory to head to Baba Tinka, the pond where tigers had been near the last few days. Despite my guide’s suggestion we head right there, he had us stop to view distant birds, etc., that defeated the original plan. Getting into the spirit of it, Scott and I stopped for Spotted Deer bucks whose antlers were still in velvet and that glowed, backlighted, by the early, slanted light.
Several Tigers were spotted today, with Greg and Charles seeing one that crossed too far ahead of them to be photographed, and another, a Tigress, that an Indian photographer living in New York did quite well with, as the cat walked down the game track straight towards his vehicle.
Scott and I hadn’t had luck and our plan was to reach the breakfast center point, hit the bathroom, and head back out, as a male tiger was spotted early near the large pond that borders the elevated game track/dike. We headed in that direction, and found two mahouts with their elephants moving through the forest. They were following the tiger, and oddly, for mahouts, they were taking photos. We waited, and the Tiger appeared, walked leisurely towards the far edge of the pond, turned around, and stepped backwards into the pool, where it settled, soaking. The movement reminded me of a warthog entering a burrow, as these animals also usually back into their hole.
The tiger rose and walked into the grasses, and the mahouts followed, but after a few minutes the Tiger turned back and crossed a clearing again. It did a U-turn, and settled down under a tree, hidden from view for us by high grasses. The mahouts directed the elephants back to the road and home. We stayed in the area, checking spots where the tiger might pass if it got up and started walking, but saw nothing else, and with the heat cranking up we, and everyone else, headed to the park gate and the lodge.

Photo above by Greg Pierson - his favorite of the trip.

PM. The group, those remaining – Greg, Jack, Charles, and Scott, struck Gold this afternoon. At the same waterhole where one of our vehicles had the best tiger of the trip, Greg and Charles came upon a 4.5 yr old male Tiger just after it had been soaking. It was still standing atop the pond embankment when they arrived, and Greg and Charles got shots as it stood and sat, with a beautiful diffused background. Afterwards, the Tiger settled in the grass, providing quite open viewing, and stayed there for 45 minutes. Jack and Scott arrived a bit later, but still had wonderful views and Scott, who had had the worst luck so far, finally got his full-frame face-on shots, and shot over 700 frames in the process!
Meanwhile, Mary and I went with the lodge manager to check out a different park, Phen, that will either be incorporated into Kanha or become a park (as usual, the story was a bit confused). It took us 70 minutes to reach the gate, the first part traversing an incredibly bumpy road, intentionally kept that way since it travels through the park, and the second half on a good paved highway where we were one of the only vehicles, the rest being motor bikes. To reach the gate we passed through a small village on what looked like a footpath, and I was amazed when we finally came to the gate where a small building, and several people, were stationed.
Phen was beautiful, with great hills, orchard-like parkland, a huge Banyan tree, and scattered fields. Sloth Bears are supposedly common, and about two weeks earlier four, presumably a mother and grown cubs, encircled a vehicle as they fed, then attacked. One tried climbing in the vehicle, which then sped off to escape. Or so that version of the story goes.
The park was surprisingly barren of ungulates, and although the habitat seemed perfect we saw no Sambar or Spotted Deer. We had some surprisingly tame Wild Boar, but absence of deer in what looked like ideal habitat was puzzling. No tigers reside here, although two pass through at times, and these must be eating boar. Our manager said he’d seen plenty of Spotted Deer three months earlier, and 18 Dhole or Wild Dogs, and a Leopard with two cubs, so he too was surprised and disappointed.
cThe forest officer who was with us, functioning at the guide, spotted the glowing ears of a Jungle Cat in the high grass. The cat stood upright watching us, which surprised me, and finally hopped into thick, tall grass where it disappeared.
Our drive home was a long one, brightened only by the news that the group had a great tiger viewing. I spotted a snake on the road – the first time I’ve ever seen one on a road in India, but we ran over it! The snake wasn’t killed, and with a side-winding motion glided off the road when we backed up to investigate.

dDay 15. Kanha to Pench
We left at 8AM for the 4 hour drive to Pench, arriving in time for lunch, a short break, and a 4PM game drive. I’ve been frustrated by the drivers and guides in Pench, but the lodge made sure that this year we had top quality people, and the drive was great. Mary saw a Tigress with cubs, the daughter of the Tigress that was featured in the BBC film, ‘Spy in the Jungle.’ One of that tigress’s brothers (from the film) was later darted to be radio-collared, but ran off and died (drowned) in a pond. I hate radio-collaring predators!
My vehicle, with Greg, had great luck with Peacocks displaying, and later, we joined Scott and Charles at a wonderful Dhole (Indian Wild Dog) shoot, where three adults and five pups played in a broad nullah quite close to the road, completely ignoring us. The dogs eventually moved off, then started hunting, and the Spotted Deer, upon seeing the dogs, raced away, tails up, flaring. Oddly, two Sambar does in the brush merely raised their tails in alarm but did not run off, perhaps knowing that the three adults were too few to do damage.
At dinner tonight we were told that four Dhole had killed a subadult male Tiger a few weeks ago. This surprised me, as I didn’t think four could do so, but the tiger was only 24 months old or less, and apparently still small enough to be fatally injured by the dogs.

dDay 16. Pench to Satpura
Last year my experiences in Pench were such that we only scheduled one overnight, two game drives, here, but we wish, now, that we had planned for more. The park has been good, and once again all three of our vehicles had the Dhole or Wild Dog. When Mary’s vehicle found them the Dhole were quite close to the road, and at one point the female, in urinating over the male’s pee, stood up on her front legs to scent mark on top of his. They also defecated in the same spot, one at a time and on top of each other’s scat, and then proceeded to scoot along on their butts, presumably smearing more scent into the area.
dWhen Greg and I found the Dhole they were out in an open field, running along a stone embankment of a dam. The five pups and three adults circled back, and at a distance a bit further than I’d have liked, played vigorously, rising on their hind legs and playfully hugging and biting each other. Fortunately the background was even further away, so the dogs stood out wonderfully against the soft background.
Mary’s vehicle also had a fairly good Leopard. Jungle Crows were picking at the remains of a deer and the Leopard had left when they arrived, but they stayed on, figuring that with the Crows present the Leopard would reclaim its kill. It did, picking up the carcass and facing them for a front-on view before taking the carcass higher into the rocks where it disappeared.
dWe had a brunch when we returned to the lodge and headed out for Satpura at 12:30PM, under increasingly ominous looking clouds. Last year, we were swamped in a terrible storm on our PM game drive in Pench, and we were quite happy to miss that experience this year. A storm was brewing.
lWe drove on to Satpura with a driver who lost his way, and after we snaked our way through increasing narrow, busy streets, with dark clouds building, we arrived at a quarry. At this point our driver recognized the obvious. He called the other driver, we called our Delhi office, and our camp manager from Kanha gave the driver an earful on the phone. Greg, Jack, and Charles waited 30 plus minutes at a restaurant for us to catch up, and much of the rest of our drive to Satpura was in rain or heavy skies. Lightning split the sky frequently, and one bolt, as we neared the crest of a hill, lit up our vehicle with the flash, with the thunderclap occurring simultaneously. We were glad we were driving, and not on a game drive.
Closer to camp we passed an open jeep with tourists aboard, all wearing ponchos and looking completely miserable as a pounding rain smashed down around us. Twice, wheat combines blocked our road, requiring some tedious maneuvering to get passed, and the second time, in backing up off of a dirt road, we were afraid our driver would go too far, taking us down the opposite embankment. He didn’t, and without further incident we reached camp, as the rain stopped, allowing us to unpack the vehicle in dry weather.

dDay 17. Satpura
The skies cleared overnight and our game drive was under cloudless skies. We were looking for a Sloth Bear with cubs, the same bear that we filmed last year when the cubs were still riding the back of their mother. We found fresh diggings, and a few minutes later spotted the bears in a gully near the road. There were no shots, but soon the mother bear climbed the hill and walked to the road where she sat, waiting for her cubs. Finally she turned, facing us and huffing, calling the cubs. One joined her immediately and the two started off, trotting down the road, and the second cub soon caught up and joined them, moving off into high grass and far from the road.
The Sloth Bear, I learned, was named because of an error, as the long claws of the bear had naturalists in English believing that the claws belonged to a type of Sloth, and certainly of some type of tree-climbing animal. Believing this, they called it a type of Sloth, and then modified it to a Sloth Bear when the true relationship was known.
Meanwhile, Mary’s vehicle had a Leopard, and as her vehicle arrived for the Bear Scott and I headed to the mountain where they had had the Leopard earlier. We had one of the lodge’s naturalists with us, David, and he spotted the cat in thick bamboo, aided by the alarm calls of the Langur Monkeys. Langurs give a specific call for Leopards, something like a one-note gulping yelp, somewhat high pitched, and these monkeys gave that call nearly continuously. Only when the Leopard moved did they add the more commonly heard ‘ki-acck, kaakk, ka-ackk’ that is almost a snarling bark.
The Leopard had made a monkey kill and while we tried for a position where we could more clearly see the cat the Leopard grabbed the monkey and climbed a tree. We repositioned, and after much effort got another view. I ended up standing on the rails to get a clear view with my 800, but the cat was shy, and by the time I had the lens in position the cat had moved, presenting a clear view of her hind end seconds before she descended the tree and disappeared.
We had a great morning, with wonderful reflections of a male Peacock, a nice Indian Scops Owl, and a full-frame Wooly-necked Stork. Mary’s vehicle did well with the Giant Squirrel, another target species for here.

bPM. I broke a rule that I usually preach when in Satpura, and that is, ‘stay with the bear.’ We had heard that a bear had been seen, but we were about twenty minutes away, were having a good time shooting, and since it was still early in the afternoon, we decided to continue our game drive. Our plan, then was to reach the bear closer to the time that it was likely to start foraging. The rest of our vehicles reached the bear early, and waited.
In this case, I didn’t get burned, as we had a rewarding game drive with the Wooly-necked Stork standing at its nest, Sambar Deer backlighted in the late afternoon sunlight, and a Mottled Wood Owl sitting on its nest atop a broken off snag. We returned to the Bear, the mother and her two cubs from this morning, just as she started foraging.

We followed, and at one point the mother and cubs walked up a bank directly to our vehicle. Sloth Bears can be unpredictable and aggressive, and as the bears neared, our guide told us to sit down and not move. We sat, as that gave Scott and I a better shooting angle, but we still moved, our fingers snapping away as the bears cleared the grasses and walked on by. Over the next hour we had some incredible opportunities, including one where the mother bear faced us as she dug into the earth for termites, finally lifting her head for a few seconds before turning away and digging elsewhere. At times the cubs were scattered, and once one of the cubs ended up on the opposite side of the road from the mother and its sibling. The mother bear couldn’t see it, and when the baby spooked and ran, it gave a small cry and the mother charged forward towards Greg’s vehicle, just a few steps, but a scary moment nonetheless. In all it was the best Sloth Bear experience we have ever had.

Day 18. Satpura
No Sloth Bears were reported this morning, but we were well occupied. Scott and I were together, again, as we had elected early on to have one of the lodge’s guides with us (everyone else passed on having a third passenger) and we had a successful morning. Minutes after starting our game drive an Indian Eagle-Owl flew by, landed on some rocks where it was hounded by birds, and flew to a tree nearby giving us a completely open view. The light was low, and I tried both high ISOs at a reasonable shutter speed, and ISO 3200 and 1600 where I hoped a motor drive burst with the slow shutter speeds might still catch a sharp image.
We ran into a large herd of Gaur, including the yellow morph that is found here. Great portraiture, and some sparring, and wonderful views. The dominant male Gaur is near Volkswagon in size, and either from a testosterone fix or from an absence of body hair, the hide glistened as if it were oiled. The bull gave a mooing moan at times, declaring his dominance, and eventually stalked off, looking for a blond-colored bull that was nearly the same size. The blond followed the herd, with the black bull trailing behind, and both bellowed on occasion, but both disappeared in the teak forest before any fights or skirmishes developed.
cCharles and Jack had been following and tracking a Leopard, doing so at times by the warning moos of Gaurs. We arrived soon after and the cat, which we hoped would come to a nearby waterhole and drink, was shy and instead moved off, finally coming to rest on a cluster of boulders. Although shooting was very tight, focusing through leaves that were often glowing with backlight, we made have got something. Scott, at lunch, showed one of his shots, and I was surprised to see how clear his view was – resulting in a great shot. After breakfast, Mary and Greg returned to the area and found the Leopard as it crossed the road, and managed a series of shots at this very large, and very shy, male Leopard.

Some of the birds from Satpura. All but the Wooly-necked Stork were shot
by Mary on her canoe trip on the lake. She loved it.

BPM. No predators were seen this evening, but we had several good drives. Mary and Charles took canoes, with one of the lodge’s naturalists in each, and a park guide paddling, as photographed 25 species of birds of the 27 species they saw. Their shots towards dusk were particularly interesting, with a fireball sun reflecting a long streak in the lake waters, with River Terns backlighted as they dove for fish.
Scott and I, with our guide, had a really rewarding afternoon with the best Barking Deer I’ve ever had. Normally this species is somewhat shy, or at the best doesn’t stay around in an open spot very long, but the buck we had this evening was close, in the open, and on two different occasions approached the vehicle. A 100-400mm lens was all we needed. Another highlight was an incredibly tolerant Crested Serpent Eagle that we shot from several different angles, barely fitting into the frame, vertically, with an 800mm, and a perfect frame for a 600mm (had we had one along).

Day 19. Satpura

Mary and Jack took a lodge guide along, and we kept our lodge guide, who has added immensely to our shooting here. Scott and I had a great day, probably setting the all-time record for photographing an Indian Giant Squirrel (formerly grouped with the Malabar Giant Squirrel) in a variety of poses as it fed upon flame of the forest flowers, and some type of leaf bud of a tree. The squirrel would pluck a cluster of buds, standing or stretching horizontally, then almost always hang head-down to feed. Scott shot an entire 32gb card, and I probably shot as many frames as well.
NOther highlights included two different Nightjars, one a definite Savannah Nightjar, and the other likely to be a Gray (Indian) Nightjar, and both were right beside the game track. Both my vehicle and Mary’s had an encounter with the same Four-horned Antelope, which was in thick brush and bamboo but may have presented some useable shots – but difficult.
Greg and Charles elected to stay two to a vehicle and to not have a guide, and they had some very good luck with the Golden-backed Woodpecker and a few other bird species feeding on termites at a log close to the road. Scott and I stopped for the Scops Owl again, and our guide spotted a Fan-throated Lizard, which like our American species, the Carolina Anole, has a dewlap the male displays for territory and for females. This specie’s dewlap, however, is huge, and extends from the base of the jaw to a point beyond its forelimbs. 

BPM. The park was closed in the afternoon, giving us a well-deserved break that lasted until 5PM, when we headed to the Buffer Zone for an evening/night game drive. Most buffer zones, called such because they are supposed to be wild areas with limited human use that borders the core areas, protected and free of settlements and grazing (for the most part), are game-free, grazed until denuded, barren lands. This one was not much different, although a large male Tiger had been seen here recently, and we did find his tracks from a rain four days earlier. He was huge. We were hoping to find the world’s smallest feline, the Rusty Spotted Cat, which is often seen on these drives, but we had no luck.
We started the drive at a relatively silent vigil at a waterhole where we hoped to see the Tiger. As dusk intensified, Nightjars fluttered overhead, crossing the same space of sky several times before we got the idea to try doing a ‘baseball flight shot’ where we’d fire as the bird came into view, hoping to have focus and exposure correct. No bird appeared after that, so we waited in vain. Leaves rustled, and once a branch cracked, and I suspected Wild Boar, but oddly it was a small flock of Peafowl, both males and hens, that quietly stalked through the brush. They came close to drinking but passed, perhaps because of some noise from the vehicles, but I was amazed at how late they were still moving and on the ground, as leopards would be roaming then.
When there was no light to see we started our game drive, looking for the tiny cat, porcupines, or whatever else we’d find. A Palm Civet was spotted (both in my vehicle and also, separately, in our other vehicle), and everyone got shots of this darkish, raccoon-ish looking predator. We saw, but didn’t photograph, a small Indian Civet that our guide spotted, and as we drove home we did see two Jungle Cats, one of which we filmed, and whose eyes, at the distance, glowed gold so brightly that the shine spread around the face, making a Photoshop fix nearly impossible.

BDay 20. Satpura
Jack and I drove together this morning, and Scott and Mary, as both of us took our lodge guides along for help. Jack and I found a new Sloth Bear with a grown cub nearly as large as she, and we followed them along a waterway, hoping they’d pass close to a group of Gaur. Oddly, although Sloth Bears do not prey on adult Gaur (or any, perhaps), the Gaurs avoided the bears and swam across a small lagoon to avoid the bears. Perhaps the Bears nasty temper even applies to Gaur. Eventually the Bears approached the game track, and the mother, and then cub, stepped onto the road where they turned and faced us. The mother held her ground while the younger bear circled her several times, facing us each time as she did so. Greg and Charles had a bear encounter as well, but Mary’s vehicle missed the five bears spotted today, at least for photos.

PM. Our last game drive with the group and Charles and Jack took canoe trips for birds on the lake, while Scott and I, and Greg and Mary, toured the park. We were hoping for a grand finale with a leopard or a tiger, but we saw neither, and no bears either, although we had the best Rhesus Macaque Monkey shots I’ve had on the trip, and a great full body, stretched out, head down, shot of another Indian Giant Squirrel.
We had great luck with Gaur, too, with two different bulls mooing with a call that reminded me of elk, although it didn’t sound anything like the yodel of an elk the low pitched moans were haunting, and beautiful. The bulls approached, and we readied ourselves to shoot a battle, but instead the larger of the two bulls simply dfaced the other face-on, exhibiting total confidence, rather than turning side-ways to display its own size. Bulls normally size each other up by turning side-ways, exhibiting and showing off their bulk, and in doing so, obviously, they develop a self-awareness of themselves, knowing their status and, in some way, their size and power. Interesting concept, when you think about it – cows having an ego (joking), or at least an awareness of themselves and their size and capabilities. At any rate, the other bull, who was displaying side-ways, backed off and walked into the brush. Later, we saw a new-born Gaur, only hours old, still sporting an umbilical cord, curved like a comma, and walking on wobbly legs. We made some distant shots, but as we approached mother and calf walked into the high grasses where only the baby’s back was visible, trailing behind the massive rump of the cow.
bThat evening we did a slide show of the group’s second half of the trip – our last day in Kanha, our two game drives in Pench, and our time in Satpura, and it was simply amazing to see the variety we had. Satpura, for many, was the favorite park we visited, although Bandhavgarh (because of the Tigers), and Kanha (for the variety) was mentioned as first choices as well. Sadly, this was our last evening together, as the group flies back to Delhi tomorrow, and Mary and I drive on to our last destination, for five more game drives in what is known as a very busy tiger park. We’ll see!

Day 21. Satpura to the city
We said our sad good-byes to the group and the great staff at our lodge, before Mary and I drove on to Nagpur where we’d spend the night and, hopefully, catch up on internet business. We were only an hour out when we got a flat tire, and wasted well over an hour to have it repaired. I watched most of the repair, and it went like this.
The young, very thin man who manned the tire repair shop used a metal crowbar and a wedge to free the hub from the tire, before extracting the tube inside. He then used a file for a long time, smoothing or roughing up the location of the hole. Next, after removing his shoes, he applied two band-aide like rubber strips, one atop the other, over the hole, while cutting a rubber square on inner tube he rubber cemented to the inside of the actual tire. Meanwhile, he put the rubber tube under a press, that was apparently heated, to perhaps press in and seal the band-aides. An hour elapsed by then, and I lost patience with the process, and returned to our air conditioned vehicle. A short time later our driver appeared, rolling the tire down the road. We remounted the tire and drove on, arriving without further incident at 5, enduring some of the traffic of rush hour in Nagpur.
We were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded when we checked in to the Radisson Blu, staying in a suite that was embarrassingly huge, probably the three times the size of any of the staff attending the room. We didn’t have much time to enjoy it, having been out of touch for 12 days, so emails took up a good part of the evening.

Day 22. The City to The Park
We left Nagpur at 9, arriving in the park by 11:30, an uneventful drive but a shock, with the heat, when we stepped out of the vehicle. We didn’t have much time after check-in, as the gate we were assigned to for the afternoon game drive required nearly an hour drive, so we left at 1:30 for the 2:30 entry into the park.
We headed directly to a waterhole where our lodge guide, last evening, had a Tigress kill a Sambar deer. They spotted the tigress as she began a hunt, and raced to the waterhole viewing area, seeing the tiger as it struck the Sambar but before they could stop and photograph the act. It took 15 minutes for the cat to kill the Sambar, and our guide said she had bit into the back of the deer’s neck, rather than getting a throat hold, and ended up holding the deer’s head underwater and drowning it.
When we arrived at the waterhole the Tigress was hiding under a brushy tree on an island in the waterhole, but as we waited she, and her three cubs, stepped into the water and waded across to feed upon the deer. We stayed with the family until near sunset, when we had to leave for home.
Besides the tigers, we had great shooting of Sambar Deer, Spotted Deer, and Langur Monkeys that visited our side of the waterhole.

Day 23. The Park
We were scheduled for the same gate, and so we were supposed to leave our lodge at 4:45AM, but 20 minutes passed before our breakfast and our driver arrived and we started. We headed directly to the waterhole, arriving just after another vehicle arrived, checked out the waterhole, saw nothing, and drove off. We stopped, and used our lenses to check the area, and sure enough, we spotted the Tigress and her cubs in the distance. Over the course of the morning the Tigress and her cubs walked down to the waterhole, soaked, returned to the kill, and eventually carried off pieces of the carcass. We remained there the entire morning.
On the drive to breakfast (like most parks, featuring a mandatory check point) we had the best Honey Buzzards we’ve ever had. This raptor, that somewhat resembles an African Harrier Hawk, has what is sometimes described as a pigeon-shaped head, and usually we see them only at a distance. Here, birds perched near the road, and others drank along the shoreline of a lake.

dPM. We headed back to the waterhole, and found the Tigress and a cub almost immediately. The cub eventually settled beneath a distant tree where a large Wild Boar later approached. I think the Boar saw the tiger, and assessed its size, but nonetheless the Boar bolted when the Tiger woke and chased it. We were watching, and Mary had just finished photographing the scores of Sweat Bees swarming on my foot, and had 400mm ready. I was just going for the 800mm when the chase happened, and missed it all.
More Sambar Deer appeared, coming from behind the Tigress who was sitting in hiding next to a stand of bamboo. Interestingly, my guide told us that the Tigress wouldn’t hunt, that she would be ‘teaching’ her cubs by not feeding for three days or so, to not get them used to eating regularly. This was total nonsense, and I tried to explain that a predator would kill whenever it had the opportunity, especially a female that had nine month old cubs. Tigers can’t count, or plan, at least not in this way, and sure enough, the Sambar got spooked by the smell or movement of the Tiger cub and ran towards the Tigress. Unfortunately, they ran over the distant embankment and not along the shoreline, but the Tigress, as predicted, got up, stalked, and charged – but over the hill and out of sight for us. She missed, and later on walked across the bare waterhole base where she met her three cubs and disappeared into the grasses.
tIronically, a couple staying at our lodge did the route we had this morning, and they had a male Tiger walking down the road, and a Leopard drinking at a waterhole, then walk through the grass and coming within three meters of them! Another couple had three Sloth Bears! We, on the other hand, had a pretty unsuccessful photo shoot this evening, but we saw two chases, and one definite hunt, and had the Sambar ran along the shoreline instead of over the bank, the Tigress might have made a kill in full view of us. For that chance, and for the near-miss we had, I’ll take the observations we had. As this evening illustrated, you can’t be everywhere, and had we left the tigers we may not have seen any of the other animals, and perhaps we’d be hearing, tonight, that the tigress killed a sambar! One must be philosophical – not just for mental health but to understand wildlife photography.
On the drive home we filmed Sambar Deer sparring in the shallows of the lake, and further on, a doe Barking Deer that was quite tame and fed, facing us, for a few minutes before disappearing back into the bamboo.

Day 24. The Park

Our entry gate today was literally within a quarter mile of our lodge, making the start a bit later and the commute nothing. Our guide and I had disagreed yesterday on today’s plan, as I felt that the Tigress would be gone after finishing the kill. He wanted to return there to see if we’d catch the tiger crossing a game track – a rather remote possibility, I felt. At any rate, another Tigress had been spotted at a waterhole, and our guide’s plans had changed – we’d be going there. His ego was a bit too much to recognize any capitulation on his part and we didn’t care – we were just happy to see another part of the park.
We had a great morning, and as we drove we had a small family of Dhole (Wild Dogs) at a waterhole, with four large Wild Boars soaking nearby. Earlier, we were told, the dogs (7 in total) had chased a Boar, but they must have been just playing – that number would be too few for an animal that size.
We also had a Leopard, and missed a good, clear view by only a few seconds before it moved into deep brush.
tThat said, our guide does know the park, and has had incredible wildlife experiences over the years. Today, as we drove to the waterhole he said that this Tigress often arrives at 8:30AM, but he was wrong this time, as the Tigress arrived at 8:40! When we arrived we found that several vehicles were already parked and in great positions, and we were limited to looking over the top of the folks in a vehicle in front of us. Fortunately, another vehicle, just in front of that jeep, had a guide who didn’t have our guide’s knowledge, and we assume that they had arrived there much earlier, and got tired of waiting. So at 8:25AM or so they drove off, and we pulled up and settled into their spot. Fifteen minutes later, the Tigress suddenly appeared and walked straight down into the waterhole, turning at the last moment to back in, hind end first, as adults usually do. A few seconds later one of her 8-9 month old cubs joined her, and a minute or two later another cub came in. They soaked, the three of them up to their necks in the water, with the cubs slowly swimming about or occasionally nuzzling up to their mother.

The Tigers certainly caused a riot of activity among the on-lookers, and apparently a guy in another jeep tried climbing onto the back of a closer vehicle for a better look, and promptly fell off. Everyone heard the thud, and guides immediately jumped out of their vehicles to assist the guy. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt, but the commotion disturbed the cubs, and both quickly exited the pond and climbed out of sight over the bank. A third cub, who had joined the Tigress remained, even as the mother left, too. This cub, a young male, started calling, pulling back his black lips to reveal tiny canines, and producing a barely audible ‘yeow’ that we hoped would summon one of his siblings. It didn’t, but for the next ten minutes or so the cub swam about, completely submerging himself at times until only his eyes and nostrils poked above the water. Several times he’d then rise, and shake vigorously, water flying everywhere. Eventually he got up and left the water, too, and at this point, with our requirement to still hit the Check Point, we drove on.t
Interestingly, Langur Monkeys were nearby, sitting in trees at the opposite end of this fairly small waterhole, and not one of the monkeys gave an alarm call. In Bandhavgarh, earlier on our trip, we had had a Tiger resting behind a screen of bamboo by another waterhole. Monkeys discovered him, and started barking their alarm, but when the cat didn’t move they apparently lost interest and stopped, and soon actually dropped to the ground only fifty yards away and ran down the game track to continue foraging. Not long afterwards, that Tiger got up and walked back into the waterhole, giving us some of the best shooting for that particular safari. While alarm calls can be a great indicator of a tiger’s presence, tigers might be around, with monkeys nearby, and without alarm calls.


Even when alarm calls are given, it often seems that only the animals adjacent to those giving the calls are affected, or notice. I’ve seen Spotted Deer grazing or walking along, seemingly no different in appearance or alertness than they would be if alarm calls were not being made, either by Sambar or by Monkeys. Likewise, deer alarm calls seem to be ignored by other species, too, and only if both groups – monkey or deer – see the predator do the calls spread.
Interestingly, some folks from our lodge did go back to yesterday’s waterhole and did see the Tigress, who had been sleeping under the same bushes on the island where we’d seen her our first afternoon. Unfortunately their view was a brief one, as she got up and walked across the pond quickly and disappeared in the brushland.

tPM. We returned to the morning’s waterhole, hoping that in the heat – near 40 Centigrade – she would return with her cubs to soak. We’d taken our time getting there, photographing several species along the way, and when we arrived all of the best spots were taken. Our driver and park guide parked us on the opposite side of the track, giving a clear route for vehicles to pass (and staying legal doing so) but that put us another thirty feet away, and looking right into the jeeps blocking the view. They were reluctant to move, but other cars were coming and I was afraid we’d be blocked even further, so our lodge guide, to his credit, finally persuaded the two to double-park close to the other jeeps, creating a clear access for vehicles on the other side. We now had a clear, uncompromised view, and we waited.
A Bengal Monitor Lizard appeared, harassed a bit by a Jungle Crow, but our view was blocked by the people in front of us and we had no shots. Several Four-horned Antelope walked into view and provided some shots, and Sambar Deer, clustered at our end of the waterhole, teased us with tiger-bait, and at one point ran from the pond, sounding their deep, penetrating alarm calls. But the tigers never came, at at 5:45, with a long drive still ahead of us, we headed towards the lodge.
We failed to see Tigers on our last game drive, but we were nonetheless very satisfied with the shoot. In all, we had seen 8 different Tigers – two Tigresses and six cubs, and had fulfilled one of our dream shots – a Tigress and cubs, at a waterhole. We also had a wonderful opportunity to simply sit and wait at a waterhole, where we almost had a Tiger kill, and had we, we’d have had an excellent view.
Our guide, who was quite talkative, had some interesting experiences and we enjoyed his stories. In the Sunderbans, an area of mangrove swamps in coastal northeast India, Tigers are notorious as man-eaters, and he actually saw a Tiger take a man. He was in the second of two crab boats, and everyone was involved in stringing out line for crab pots, and consequently all were looking down and not at the waters around. A Tiger had entered the water and had swam towards the leading boat, and was quite close when it was spotted. Before anyone could do anything, the Tiger, who he said was swimming, lunged out of the water and onto the boat, grabbing a man by the shoulder and pulling him overboard, taking him to shore and dragging him into the mangrove forest. He screamed along the way, and my guide practically blacked out, shocked by the whole experience.
I asked him about Asiatic Black Bears, as he’s seen most of India’s cats – a Clouded Leopard twice (the only person I’ve personally met who has), the similar-looking Marbled Cat, a Golden Cat (a mini-puma virtually no one sees) and Caracal, but he said he wasn’t interested, he was afraid of the bears. He’d seen three different people mauled terribly by Sloth Bears, telling us that at least in some cases the bears stood up and did a swipe, whacking the victim in the head and practically removing their face.
Our guide’s closest near-death experience involved an Indian Elephant. The bull (we presume – he used she and he interchangeably) had been in a field and chased away by villagers. As the bull ran off, the bull spotted my guide and his friend, a good several hundred yards away, but on the same path. My guide and his friends turned and ran, and the bull gave chase. The people ended up inside some type of building, with the bull just outside, facing them, no more than ten feet away. He really thought he was dead, but apparently the villagers had continued the chase and with fire (was this in the evening? He didn’t clarify) and sticks they chased the elephant off.
While his stories were at times a bit disjointed, I believe all were completely true, and made our time a bit more entertaining as we drove.