By now everyone is tired of this godforsaken pandemic and I am no different. Being a medical professional the choice of working from home doesn’t exist, so we have to just take all precautions, grit our teeth and hope for the best. Once in a while writing these posts provide me with a welcome escape from the grim reality of the world around. It has been an added motivation that people have been reading my “Random Musings” series and actually given me a great deal of positive feedback about it. So after collecting my thoughts for a couple of weeks after the last post I think I finally have something to write about that I will enjoy writing about (and hopefully you will enjoy reading!).
Wildlife photography is something that I enjoy the most out of all types of photography. It was the primary reason for me to start photography as a hobby. It is what I consider the most difficult of all sub genres in photography and also the most satisfying if you get a photo right (In my humble opinion – yours might differ!). My Nikkor 300mm f4 AFS lens is my most prized possession and it goes with me on every trip and is carried with me on almost every day of the trip (On a few of my earlier trips I didn’t carry it on a few days and regretted it each time!). Most people leave their telephoto lens at home when they go to Europe or to any non wildlife vacation, for me it stays on my back. It stayed with me even when I had gone for my cousin’s wedding in Goa. ( You may call it my precious!) If I didn’t have it I would have missed capturing all the wonderful moments of finding wildlife where you least expect it.
Europe is by no stretch of the imagination a wildlife lovers paradise. While it is my go to vacation destination for the past half a decade for reasons I have mentioned a lot in the posts gone by, going there for its wildlife is not one of them. (Random Musings – Why we keep returning to Europe year after year) Landscape photography in Europe is a pleasure as when there is not a beautiful snowcapped mountain, pristine lake or picturesque beach around, there is always a beautiful square, monument or park around every corner in the cities. But in addition to this urban wildlife has a habit of providing a memorable moment every now and then and thanks to my habit of lugging a 1.5 kg lens around, I have an opportunity to capture it!
European lakes are beautiful & peaceful places, having been to a few in our 5 trips there I have noticed that there are always certainly a few mallards, coots and graceful Mute Swans around (all different types of waterbirds for the uninitiated). Every now and then there is a new species that makes a guest appearance but it is always worthwhile to carry the 300 mm around. The beautiful lake town of Annecy was the first European alpine lake I visited. I spent more time than I should have at a canal near our hotel at the edge of old town just taking photos of mallards, common coots , the omnipresent mute swans and the odd wagtail that was hanging around.
The omnipresent & graceful Swan
The always ready to pose – Male Mallard
A wagtail entertains me at a canal in Annecy
Even when at the beautiful lake itself I couldn’t help but start taking photos of the water birds. So after a few photos of the lake and the beautiful park at the old town end of it I quickly changed lenses and turned my attention to a lonely crested Grebe at the edge of the lake. This is a bird that is a migrant to India in the winter months but I have never seen any in my numerous birding trips back home. So it was natural that one swimming nonchalantly at the edge of lake Annecy would get more attention than the lake itself! (Annecy – A Beautiful Alpine Lake Town)
The Elusive in India – Crested Grebe
Our next Alpine lake stay was in the beautiful town of Varenna on Lake Como in Northern Italy. We stayed at the beautiful Villa Torreta right at the edge of the lake.(Varenna – The Perfect dreamy little town on Lake Como) The Villa owner had a beautiful cat and I got a few photos of the feline without getting close. Even though most of our time was spent sightseeing around the lake, I still managed to take the 300mm and just sit on a bench at the lake side and taking photos of the ever ready to pose Mallards and Mute swans. On the beautiful passarella (wooden walkway) at the edge of the lake I even got a bee to pose for me on one of the many beautiful flowering plants. A welcome variation to the beautiful photos that I took of the towns around the lake itself.
The actual owner of Villa Toretta in Varenna
A pair of Mallard bros pose for the 300mm
A bee on one of the numerous flowers in Varenna
A year later we visited the Austrian lake town of Zell am See ( Which incidentally is my mother’s all time favourite European destination for some reason!). That was when I had my second and last sighting of the Crested Grebe. I have done a birding trip every migration season in India but somehow the bird has never made an appearance here but has done so twice in Europe! But since I always have my 300mm on me I have decent photos from both occasions.
Another rare appearance by the Crested Grebe – The time at Zell am See
Even when we moved further up the altitude to a resort town in the Alps or the Tatra mountains we have always been surprised by the wildlife around. Our first mountain resort stay was in the French Alpine town of Chamonix. ( Chamonix – Dizzying heights of the French Alps) Even on the ride up the cable car to Aiguille du Midi the 300mm stayed with us. I had carried it primarily to take photos of the Mont Blanc. On our way down we stopped at a cafe at the midway point just to have a coffee and enjoy some more time there before we took the cable car down to town. Imagine my surprise to see a group of high altitude Alpine Choughs, so we missed a few more cable cars as I got busy trying to get a decent photo of these birds and a robin that was living this high up a mountain. I am sure people who saw me were wondering why I had the camera pointed in the opposite direction of the beautiful alpine peaks!
An Alpine Chough at Chamonix
A European Robin at Chamonix
Back in town we got fogged out on our second day in Chamonix, so while the peaks were covered in a shroud of grey the birds got their due! In addition to walking around the peaceful little town and enjoying some of the best baked products in the world, I got some great tits (They are birds, no misunderstandings please!), European Blackbirds and Robins to pose for me. That is another common thread joining our stays in the mountains. Whenever we had bad weather there were always the birds to keep me entertained.
A blackbird poses for the 300mm on a rainy day
The common but beautiful Great Tit
On a particularly gloomy morning in Kaprun in the Austrian Alps when there was literally nothing to be seen due to the foggy weather we had a great time walking around the town and taking photos of the great tits that seemed to not mind the bad weather and pose gladly for the camera. Even when we went on a car ride to the Grossglockner High Alpine road with our friends , the Thapar- Sanghvis my attention was more on searching for and eventually finding marmots, rather than only enjoying the breathtaking scenery around. Thankfully for me they did make an appearance and I got what I wanted, photos of fat mountain rats posing around! (Zell am See & Kaprun Part 2 – Riding the Grossglockner High Alpine Road)
A pair of Marmots pose for the 300mm
Even the thought of hiking up hills or through forests doesn’t make me leave the trusty 300 mm behind, it has hiked around the Cinque Terre with me. ( Vernazza to Corniglia – Hiking the Cinque Terre) Even though all the return it got for me was a photo of the European Goldfinch. It was still worth it as it is the only photo of the Goldfinch I have till date and that too isn’t one I am very satisfied with. So I may return to the Cinque terre, not for the beautiful little 5 villages but for another shot at the Goldfinch!
The reward for carrying a 1.5kg lens on a hike – The Goldfinch
The hike to Morskie Oko was the longest hike we have done in Europe (around 20 km) but even then the 300mm stayed on the camera all the way through. Merrily clicking photos of Song thrushes, robins and Chaffinches. Only when we came to the lake itself was it replaced by the ultra wide for a short duration before a nutcracker made me go back to the 300mm to capture its antics at a outdoor picnic table at a restaurant near the lake. ( Zakopane , Part 1 – The hike to Morskie Oko on a rare non rainy day in the Tatras)
A song thrush poses for the 300mm on the road to Morskie Oko
A Starling poses on a dreary morning in Zakopane
A chaffinch puffs up in the cold weather
A nutcracker regales us with its antics
Some might think the European cities might make me leave the 1.5 kg weight behind. Only when we have a museum visit scheduled where I would have to check in my precious in the cloak room does the lens stay behind in the hotel safe. Otherwise European cities have great parks where I am sure to get some winged wonder to pose for me. In the capital city of Paris we had walked through the Tuileries Garden after spending a great few hours in the Louvre (Highly inadequate, I hope to be back for a full day in the future) and I spent a good amount of time taking photos of the European Starlings there. These birds were now so used to the people around that they allowed for some great photos up close. (They must have been disappointed that I didn’t feed them for their posing!). I must admit I was more impressed by the Starlings than the Mona Lisa that we had just seen a short while ago.
The striking Common Starling in Paris
The Nymphenburg Palace at the outskirts of Munich was the first sightseeing activity on our trip to a small part of Central Europe. It was like a hidden treasure for the wildlife seeker in me.(First taste of Munich – A morning spent at the Nymphenburg Palace & Gardens) I knew that the palace had extensive beautiful gardens but no travel guide mentioned the sheer variety of birds in those gardens. Luckily even though we had just landed in Munich a few hours back I had removed the 300mm and carried it here. In addition to the aforementioned and omnipresent throughout Europe mallards, coots and swans there were a handful of species of Geese, ducks, wagtails, finches and starlings around. So we spent half an hour inside the palace and more than 2 -3 hours in the gardens around. Happily alternating between lenses trying to get as close to the birds as possible and having a gala time. It was by far one of the most fun the 300mm has had in Europe.
A starling with its lunch
A wagtail poses at the Nymphenburg Palace
Waterbirds Galore at the Nymphenburg Palace, Munich
A chaffinch sings its song outside Nymphenburg
People visit Salzburg and come back with memories of visiting Mozart or The Sound of Music sights. I came back with the memories of a Weasel hunting for its lunch on the banks of the Salzach. If that wasn’t enough the next memory I have of Salzburg is of finding a beautiful Mandarin Duck on the banks of the Salzach and getting good photos of the bird that I had never seen out in the wild. (Salzburg, Part 2 – A Concert at the Mirabell Palace and a morning walk by the Salzach)
A Weasel / Stoat looks for its meal on the banks of the Salzach
The Mandarin Duck on the banks of the Salzach
At the Petrin park in Prague we were just walking around the huge garden when we came across a Eurasian Jay just sitting there on the side of the path. I was quick enough to change lenses and start clicking away to glory. I really have to commend the other people there who walked around me and didn’t disturb the bird. I would not expect such consideration back home even in national parks where people just scream and shout and have the least consideration for the wildlife.(Prague, Part 4 – Petrin Hill, Strahov Monastery Library & Vyšehrad)
Eurasian Jay at Petrin Hill in Prague
The habit of trying to find wildlife in Urban environments isn’t restricted to Europe. When we went to Thailand and visited the Ayuthaya temple complex my attention was equally divided in between the magnificent temples and the group of open billed Storks that have made the river beside the temples their home. Even though I have seen open billed storks and taken numerous photos of them back home, the opportunity for another good photo of a bird is just too much for me to resist.
An Open Billed Stork at Ayuthaya , Thailand
People visit the Angthong Marine national park in Thailand to indulge in snorkelling or kayaking. As a non swimmer all those activities are out of bounds for me. But I still got what I want in my visit there, a chance to take photos of the dusky leaf monkey that calls the forests on the islands there home. So while the rest of the tour member enjoyed their water sports I enjoyed my time with the monkeys.
A Dusky Leaf monkey and a baby at Angthong National Park, Thailand
Back home in India I have written a whole series about birding in Goa. It is one of the least appreciated wonders of a state that has so much more to offer than sand and alcohol. Those interested can check out Birding in the forests of Goa, Part 1 – The morning of the Blue faced Malkhoa and the full series beyond. But I have never written about my time with the 300mm in my temple of Ramnathi. Since childhood I have always seen kingfishers and other birds in the fields around the temple. So when I finally have the gear to capture photos of the same I make sure that I utilise it fully. In my most recent visit for my cousins wedding I spent the early mornings walking on the roads that are lined with paddy fields and being rewarded with a one on one with a crested serpent eagle and a family of Mongoose among other things. I have more photos of wildlife than of people for that trip.
A crested Serpent Eagle at Ramnathim, Goa
A family of Grey Mongoose at Ramnathim, Goa
At home in Mumbai too I have found out places which scratch my itch of trying to find wildlife wherever I go without travelling a lot. Thanks to my friend we have discovered the Bhandup pumping station ( Wild Mumbai 2 – Birding at the Bhandup Pumping station ) and the Nagla trail ( Wild Mumbai – Macro Photography at the Nagla Trail ) provide me with the dose of wildlife that I am always looking for.
I even get my daily dose of wildlife photography just outside my bedroom window thanks to the greenery around. Whenever I have free time the 300 mm comes out and I have taken better photos of species like the Golden Oriole, Greater Coucal, Barn Owl and Coppersmith barbet from my bedroom window than at a national park.
A male Purple Rumped Sunbird at Goregaon, Mumbai
A coppersmith barbet poses outside my bedroom window
A Barn Owl makes a rare day appearance
A Male Golden Oriole serenades me
A female Koel imitating the Winged Victory of Samothrace
The dainty and difficult to capture Common Tailorbird
A Southern Coucal shows me its meal
So as you have seen I have managed to get quite a few wildlife related memories where wildlife would not even be an agenda for most people. Obviously I give the beautiful landscape its due, I might have taken 1000s of photos of the landscape with the ultra wide 11-20mm lens that is my carry around lens for non wildlife vacations. But the 300mm is always on my back, urging me on to find some wildlife, itching to come out and capture it. It is my precious after all!
Till my next random post,