Sunday, January 22, 2012

Birding at Elephanta

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) had organised a trek to the Elephanta Caves island for a bout of bird watching. A motley group of people gathered together at the BNHS headquarters in Fort and boarded a boat for the island from the Gateway of India. I have not yet uploaded the pictures of the Gateway as it is on my Coolpix and frankly I am too tired to do so. We were prohibited from taking snaps of the area as it has been restricted by the Navy. The action therefore started once we were a distance away from the Naval docks. Shown below is an example of the boats that ferry passengers from the Gateway of India to the Elephanta Island. Notice the upper deck. The seats on the upper deck are called balcony seats and the crafty boatsmen charge about INR10 extra for the view and the sea breeze. Being a landlubber I prefer the airy confines of the lower deck. In any case the passengers on the upper deck of our boat played an important part in the following part of the journey.

Passenger ferry anchored off Elephanta Island

The first birds to visit us were the Sea Gulls. A few souls on the top deck very thoughtfully started dropping wafers into the water and the gulls could not resist the treat. The following pictures are the better ones from the lot.

Turning in before swooping down for a snack.
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 105mm, 200ISO, f/4.5, 1/2000s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa


Cruising past the wake searching for a snack.

Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 105mm, 200ISO, f/4.5, 1/2000s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa


Yippee!!! I can see wafers!
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 105mm, 200ISO, f/4.5, 1/1250s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa

Look! I can turn!
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 105mm, 200ISO, f/4.5, 1/2000s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Watermark addition in GIMP

Flying away.
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 78mm, 200ISO, f/4.5, 1/1600s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Watermark addition in GIMP
Where are the wafers??
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 200ISO, f/5.6, 1/1000s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa
Alas, these were the best shots of the day. As you would have noticed I was packing Nikon's 70-300mm G lens. Very soon the limitations of the 300mm maximum reach started becoming painfully obvious. You will be able to make out from the shots of birds that would follow. You will also see from the following picture that the day was quite sunny. This unfortunately would lead the birds hiding in dense foliage. Birds and animals out in the open would have to be captured in harsh light with not too pleasing results.
Getting off the boat, to do the real work.
That is Sudhir, a good friend and the one who introduced me to the BNHS way.
There is a toy train that takes you from the drop off point to the start of the trek up to Elephanta Caves. But being good trekkers we passed up on the opportunity and decided to walk instead.

White throated kingfisher
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 200ISO, f/5.6, 1/1250s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa

White throated kingfisher
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 200ISO, f/5.6, 1/250s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa

Black Drongo
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 400ISO, f/5.6, 1/125s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa

As you can notice, the reach of the 70-300mm lens is not good enough to get good details of the birds. Cropping is not a very good solution as the subject becomes very blurred. Time for a birding lens? Maybe. I saw a gentleman lugging around a Sigma 150-500mm. I was envious, but the key word is lugging. The lens is big and intimidating. It also seems to require a tripod. That would be a pain to carry around. The following image is that of the flowers of a Ghost Tree. The tree is called so because its white bark makes it stand out like a wraith during dark nights.

Flowers of the Ghost Tree
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 400ISO, f/5.6, 1/500s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2


Rhesus macaque
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 400ISO, f/5.6, 1/500s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2
We encountered a number of Macaques on the trek. Pictured above is one of the more cheeky ones sitting by the roadside without a care in the world. According to the guide on the trek, the Narmada river separates two different sub species of macaques in India. The ones to the North are stockier with smaller tails as they have to traverse longer distances on the plains. The ones to the South are arboreal and thus need to have slimmer bodies and longer tails. However a mixing of populations of the these two sub species has occurred on account of monkey tamers. Therefore it is not surprising to see a number of different looking specimens within a troop.
Black eared kite circling
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 400ISO, f/5.6, 1/2500s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa
The kite is a common raptor in my city of Mumbai. On the trek I got to know that the correct name is the Black Kite. Pictured above is a sub species of the Black Kite, which is called the Black Eared Kite. It is a migratory bird and is present in the locality during the winters. The distinguishing feature is the couple of white patches underwing.

I also noticed a few butterflies during the trek. As the sun was up these beauties were full of energy and not settling. I was also not able to get good shots. The following are the best I could do.

Possibly a Yellow Orange Tip (Ixias Pyrene)
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 400ISO, f/5.6, 1/4000s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa
Yellow orange tip (Ixias Pyrene)
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 200ISO, f/5.6, 1/2000s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa
Common Wanderer
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm, 300mm, 200ISO, f/8, 1/320s
RAW file processed in ViewNX2, Cropped in Picasa

These were the last of the 'wildlife' pictures that I took. We did walk up to the jetty on the other side of the island and had to walk back to the place where we started. The following pictures are just a few that I took as keepsakes. I should be coming back here again better prepared.

Flower blossoms
Elephanta Island Jetty
Brightly painted boat, Elephanta Island

So what did I learn or understand on this trek? I will conclude this post with some take-aways:
  1. For birding, you require a focal length in the range of 400 to 500mm (equivalent to 600 to 750 mm on a DX format camera)
  2. Good shoes are a must for trekking / walking about
  3. One needs to be in shape and walking up and down is a good way to get there
  4. It is better to get to see wildlife when the sun is just going up. Too late in the day means that the birds are in dense foliage and insects are pumped up and do not wait around to be photographed
Till next time, which should be in about three days.

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