Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ranganthittu Diaries

Last Sunday, 5-6 of us photogs decided to give Ranganthittu a peek to see if the birds have started coming in. So as per the plan, I picked up Nagaraj (Fellow member of the Bangalore Photography Club and Bangalore Weekend Shoots) and Adi (fellow member of Bangalore Weekend shoots) at Satellite Bus Station in Bangalore on the Mysore Road at around 0430 hours. The idea was to reach the sanctuary by 0600 hours and take the first boat in. 4-5 more guys were supposed to join us there.
It was little early to find breakfast on the road. As we got nearer to the Ranganthittu junction on Mysore Road, Nagaraj mentioned that once we get in the Ranganthittu approach road, getting breakfast would be a dream. So, we decided to scout out some locations on the highway itself for some hot idlis. There was a shabby looking joint just beside the road where avaialbility of hot idlis and Vada was confirmed by the hotel owner.
And hot they were, albeit the plates came inj slightly late. Would the sunrise just pass us by as we have breakfast here...this was the lingering thought as I enjoyed the hot breakfast. The sunrise was good but was not spectacular that day, somehow probably becuase of the clouds and the fog.

After the breakfast as we entered the Ranganthittu bird Sanctuary approach road, just a few metres away, was parked a blue Maruti Zen. Unusual parking place...So, naturally, as I looked around, I saw a photographer immersed in taking a shot. After his shot, we shared the pleasantries. Gurudeep, he said, his name is. He was also there for the birds and said he has been doing this for quite a while.We decided to club uo to get a good bargain during the boat ride. He seemed to know quite a lot about the birds (has been birding! for 2-3 years now !!). Knowledge always acts like a magnet. I started soaking in as much information as I could on birding. I had to. I had very meagre knowledge on birding. I had gone birding only twice before and both in Bangalore- one in Hebbal Lake and one in Lalbagh. And both the times, I shot pelicans and was not getting the satisfaction of the shoot-out. Why? Please allow me to share the results of both here:
1. Hebbal Shootout: 14th Sep, 2008: I had gone there to shoot the birds and all I could get were these.
Pelicans were really far away for me to capture them in my 70-200 F4. This is the best which I could manage and after post-processing this woould be around 60% crop. Clearly, I wouldnot be able to print this. Totally, frustrated with the Pelicans, I tried the little winged creatures.
Got a couple of good ones, but too less number of frames from a two hour shoot-out. So, totally frustrated by the shoot-out, I also shot this. This was a dilapidated little walk over-bridge which helped people cross the marshy portions near the lake. Even this shot didn't come out properly because a tweed got in the way because of the wind.

2. Pelican shoot-out at Lalbagh botanical Garden Lake:4th Dec, 2008.

This time the Pelicans and the Ergets came out better and the time spent invested was also less. I was a little satisfied but the yearning for getting better shots was getting the better of me. So Ranganthittu it was. Now lets come back to the Ranganthittu diary.
As we reached the checkpost, the counter was closed but there always seems to a 'jugaad' in India. The gentleman in charge of the checkpost mentioned that if we pay him, we can go in to shoot the birds and that already the first boat has gone in. Gurudeep mentioned that this is the way the bird photogs get in and get to shoot before the
crowds come in around 0800 hours. The monies were reasonable- INR 30 per person, INR 30 per camera, INR 20 per 4-wheeler (While inside each boat-ride would be INR 500 per hour and each
boat can handle 6 people confortably. So, all of us decided to club up). We promptly made the payment and entered. As we were walking towards the main water body, Gurudeep showed us two places where a kingfisher normally perches. But the Kingfisher got to know our plans and even before I could ready my camera, it flew away. We had to wait for our guide and boatman to come, I took some test shots of the early morning at Ranganthittu. The environment was very peaceful and all I could hear were the sounds of the water, birds chirping and some talks amongst us. I was getting ready to face the shoot-out in anticipation. Soon, our guide/ boatman arrived and we set out to shoot (Ajay also joined us. he had travelled separately). The first birds that we saw were open billed storks, some grey herons. I couln't believe my luck and thanked god for it. Seems like my 70-200 would hold up. I was happy. There were many flocks of Black headed Ibis on the tree tops and one set of peacocks. All measures of stealth techniques failed while trying to capture the peacocks. Strange, I had seen peacocks from very close. They seemed like pets in the BITS Campus. Incidentally, there were so many of them in the campus, that they used to act as our wake-up callers in BITS. I suddenly felt a jab of sadness that I didnot have the SLR back then in BITS. Well, never mind. I think I got a good shot of an Ibis and we moved on. Then, came the highlight of the day- a couple of pied kingfishers. After much going back and forth, we realised that there are three perches where the move around. Our guide/ boatman was a skillful stealth rower. After about 4-5 trials each per perch and about 50 shots or more from each photog, we finally managed our shots. I got some good ones. But, capturing the pied kingfishers while taking off or flying is one helluva task. I bow to all those who have managed this. While doing this back and forth, we managed to catch some shots of a River Tern, who gave us a couple of closeups. While trying the River Tern, the beauty just stretched its wings long and I was too slow to capture that in my frame (the wings on the top got cropped...). This was my biggest rue of the day. We saw one Eagle, some Pariah Kites, a couple of Brahminy Kites, more peacocks. And then we saw a Snake Bird otherwise also called a Darter. I didnot want to repeat the mistake that I had done during the River Tern shooting. I composed the frame and waited for the snakebird to take off.
And take-off it did and I was ready this time. It was almost two hours that were shooting and we decided to call it quits for the day when we started seeing the visitors boats coming in. While in the way back some moody shots helped the cooling down. We reached the banks, paid up and joined in for tea/ coffee/ juice at the lake cafeteria before driving back.
It was a very fulfilling experience. I had never seen birds like the snake bird, Pied kingfishers, Thickknees, River Terns. The firs thing I did when I went to Landmark couple of days back, was to grab " The book of Indian birds" by noted ornithologist Mr Salim Ali.
Well, a long post, but I got slightly carried away :-)
Well, goodbye for today then :-)

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