Friday, November 21, 2008

Birds, lenses and photoshop

Purple SunBird Male
Purple SunBird Male - Manchinbele

I want to take this opportunity to thank my visitors, subscribers, friends and family who have visited this blog and provided kind comments. Thanks guys!!! Criticism and suggestions are welcome, please keep them coming.

I'm not really into Photography for the pictures, I'm really just in it for the birds, the butterflies etc. It is virtually impossible to identify a bird from memory (at least for me). A quick glimpse is not enough to note the details which make all the difference esp. among the smaller feathered wonders.

I took to photography so that I could learn to identify the birds I see. So I don't know a lot about Aperture Priority, Shutter speed etc. I shoot with a non-SLR which makes life simple and keeps the camera light in weight and small in size. I use a Canon Powershot S3 IS. I upgraded around 1.5 yrs ago from my S2.

I did however feel the need to invest in a Tele-converter lens for the S3. A trip to Bandhavgarh and Kanha (my first jungle outing with my Camera) was enough to convince me to upgrade.

One of the laws of birding - the most interesting bird always sits on the tallest possible tree, usually against the sun and with its back turned to you.

So 12x zoom just wasn't enough reach. I use TC-DC58B by Canon. My teleconverter adapter is from Lensmate. Canon makes plastic adapters and I wanted a metal one, since the adpater is grooved and the plastic adapter grooves can get warped if wrongly screwed in.

Later trips to Ranthambore and Bharatpur have convinced me that the reach I get with this combination is sufficient to keep me satisfied for sometime at least. A prosumer camera can never beat a SLR, but it can make your travel lighter and make sure you don't develop biceps. I would need a caddy. ( Keshav, pls note ;) )

Lessons I learnt with the TC

Initially there was great disappointment in store for me with the TC. The pictures were soft when hand held, the shake was amplified (I don't have steady hands) and the clarity just wasn't there.

To beat this problem, I used a tripod with considerable success. Tripod is as tall as self so I don't have to stoop ( like Keshav does ). First field trial was in Katpady Village in our backyard. Since the area to be covered was limited (1 acre), I simply set it up each morning and waited for hours. This strategy produced some amazingly clear pictures for the first time with the TC. The tripod eliminated shake, so I was able to get my first clear photo of a fidgety purple rumped sun bird as it sat on a flower larger than itself.

Let there be light!

On a trip to Madivala lake, on an overcast day, the tripod+camera+TC combo flopped, the photos were ok but soft. I have discovered that for optimum clarity one needs full sunlight. This is clearly not good for ones complexion, but its sadly the only way I have for now.

Tripods are a problem to carry around (for me), setting them up takes time and it means no flexibility in movement. As I got more familiar with the camera I found that I could do without the tripod. Sure, the photos wont be as great, but at least I'll get more photos (since I'm in it for the birds and not great photos)

Using the Car

On recent trips, we have been birding from the Car. This gives great camouflage and its great to use the door to steady the hand. The purple sunbird photo at the top of this post was taken handheld from around 5 feet from the bird; from the car.

I have also found that I can climb out and sit on the door (with my feet inside, on the seat) and rest my elbows on the roof of the car to get a better picture. The following photo was taken this way, since the bird was on the driver side and on a electric wire, it was very awkward to shoot.

Red Rumped Swallow
Red Rumped Swallow - Manchinbele

The holy trinity - The Camera, the lens and the photoeditor

I first used Picassa to process the photos - I would usually just crop and straighten the horizon (I can never get the horizon straight) and add a border.
Keshav introduced me to ACDSee PhotoEditor I use ver 3.1. and members of INW introduced me to Neat Image ( to filter out noise ).

I tried Gimp, but the complexity put me off since the time taken to master it was too great. Photoshop was complex too, with the manual being bigger than the executable. Recently though after closely watching Keshav use Photoshop (marriage has its uses) I find its not that hard.

Verditer FlyCatcher - Unprocessed
Filtered and sharpened With Neat Image
Verditer Fly catcherProcessed by me using ACDSeeVerditer FlyCatcher2Processed by Keshav-Photoshop

How one processes the photo is a matter of taste, the possibilities are endless.

Pls Note: For those who wanted to know, the Barbet photo was not processed to eliminate branches/twigs/leaves. But I did have to remove a distracting seed pod in the Oriole Photo. I was in a hurry, so the job is not as neat as usual. :)

For those interested, we visited Bannerghatta Butterfly park last week on an impromptu visit, a post and few photos will follow soon.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Birding @ Bagmane TechPark

white cheeked barbet
White Cheeked Barbet

When cooler weather makes it increasingly hard to leave ones bed in the pre-dawn hours to go birding; one wishes that the birds would be kind enough to drop by home for a photo session.

Sometimes, they do just that. We're having a good run since the last week. For a previous post on the "wildlife" at bagmane, see this post - Nature at Work

Night Heron
Night Heron

In case anyone is wondering what happened to the Pied Kingfishers, I have seen them at the other lake (near the Oracle Building (formerly iFlex).

I was rather surprised to read in the TOI that the White cheeked barbet is endangered. Check this link for the article. I also smiled to note that the barbet was "tiny", it may be small, but compared to a sunbird, its a giant :)

Verditer Fly catcher
Verditer Flycatcher

The other day, while looking at a few parakeets that were creating quite a din on the terrace, we spotted a small blue bird in the distance. A bad photo identified it as a verditer flycatcher. A few days later, the little guy obliged us with a few pictures on a sunday afternoon. It sat pensively, looking at the lake, in the bright afternoon sun. It also caught a bee a little later.

I did a little research on the Verditer FC:

Breeding season ( March - October ) Breeding grounds are in the himalayan foothills
Can be seen in Southern India from October to February, and in the north from September to March.
Diet : tiny flying insects. Birds may maintain a feeding territory.

Source :

Golden Oriole
Golden Oriole Male

The Golden Oriole is a recent discovery as is the Verditer Flycatcher. The female was also present, but sadly was more shy, and gave poses hiding behind a very distracting twig.

A little research on it:
This species O. o. kundoo has its eye stripe extending beyond the eye in the male. It is a visitor to the northern parts of India in Summer and moves southwards from August to September. Breeds - May to August.

Source : Popular Handbook of Indian Birds By Hugh Whistler

Bird List

Golden Orioles - 3
Purple Sunbird
Purple Rumped Sunbird ( M & F)
Small Green Barbets (3)
Spotted Doves (Pair)
Drogos (group of 3)
Night Herons ( 4 at a time )
Egrets (seen at the lake)
Pond Heron 1
Rose Ringed Parakeets (4)
Verditer FlyCatcher - 1
Great Tit - 2
Tailor Bird - 1
Large Pied Wagtail
Pariah Kites
Bats (large and small)
Koel (M&F)
Cormorants (several)

All the birds here are photographed on the same tree that is on the edge of the lake. I would attribute the huge numbers of birds to near by DRDO, which has extensive green cover.

PS: The Oriole and the Verditer photos have been post processed.
Next post will include details on what was done. I'm also finally learning to use Photoshop after watching Keshav use it with great success. :)

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mydanahalli Blackbuck Reserve

Blackbuck Male
Black Buck Male

Mydanahalli is home to the Jayamangali Blackbuck Reserve. The blackbuck, made famous by the Salman Khan brouhaha can be found here in the hundreds (only if you get there early enough).

This was a long awaited trip, delayed by scary looking directions (see below) and the need for a bigger group to go with. We set out at 4:30 from home, delayed by half an hour by a malfunctioning alarm clock. We took along my parents so that with four pairs of keen eyes and we were quite sure it would be hard to get lost. We couldn't have been more wrong.

Choosing the auspicious day of Aayudha Pooja to make our trip, meant that most of the traffic was off the roads, we made great time till the road to Maghugiri. We made our first mistake at a Y junction; where there was a massive hoarding depicting a black buck and an arrow pointing Right. Our directions here said go left.

Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark
Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark

We somehow felt that the forest dept cant be wrong. Apparently they can. From then onwards it was great fun, we visited several villages, stopped and asked for directions. Emboldened by daddy's fluent kannada and ability to read sign boards, we drove on.

At every village we were told, "oh, mydanahalli? Just few kms ahead, straight road, cant miss it". Finally reaching the village, where a man told us, there is a road, but only a jeep can make it. He however gave us directions to a tar road, which meant turning back and revisiting the villages already passed.

Finally found the tar road marked by a completely rusted board that declared that it was put up by a Sadak yojana. When we finally got there, it was just past 9.

Silver Bill
Silver Bill

Birding was fruitful, esp in the car. We stopped at the watch tower. Walked inwards for quite a distance, the area was rich in shy easily spooked birds. We found that we made more progress from the car.

We climbed into the bigger watch tower and had an early lunch before proceeding on the way. Finally reaching a gate which we assume was the gate to the sanctuary, we drove on finding lot of Bee-eaters, Drongos and Shrikes but no black buck.

In the distance we could see herds of goat being led to pasture. Finally deciding to turn back, we retraced our path. On our way back, my mom spotted 3 black buck, 2 male and 1 female. They were quite far away for good photos, but we tried none-the-less.

Small Gree BeeEater
Small Green Bee Eater

Bird List
Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark (2)
Grey Francolin (quick glance)
Bee-eaters (hundreds)
Rose Ringed Parakeets (several)
Drongos (several)
1 large raptor (too far to id, even from photographs)
Southern Grey Shrike (2)
Silver Bills (pair, busy collecting nesting material)
Bay backed Shrike (several)
Little brown doves (several)
White Eyed Buzzard (first time sighting)

Detailed Directions

This describes how we should have actually gone ( we came back the right way ).
Take Tumkur highway (NH4), 5 kms before tumkur take a diversion onto NH4 (bypass - Do not enter Tumkur City).
Continue on this road for about 10 kms, till you hit an under construction over bridge. Here, take a right turn and continue on this road for about 45 kms till you reach Madhugiri
Go past Madhugiri onto Hindupura Road.
You will reach a Y junction after about 5 kms. ( This is the confusing place - Go left here.)
Continue till you reach Puravara Village - around 17 kms
From here, continue on the main road for around 8 kms till you reach a temple on your left.
Slow down, go about a kilometer further and you will see a tar road bifurcating to the left (There is a completely rusted board in Kannada there - contents are unknown)

Take left here, continue for about a kilometer to reach another Y junction, take the right arm.
Continue on this for 1 km (you will pass a village, stay on the tarred road)You will observe a wide path.
The tarred road bends left here.
Get on to the un-tarred road (its hard to miss). You will see vineyards here.
About 300 mts further, take any mud road which your car can afford and pray.

No, really... pray like you mean it.

Blue Mountains

Tips - What you need to know

Carry along food, water. Its great if you can carry these in a large ice box, since its very hot and there is little cover to park under. Take along a pair of binoculars. A hat is an absolute must.
Take a long a kannada reader/speaker (abduct one if you must - after all its for a good cause) If this is your first visit, leave early ( you cant leave early enough actually! )
There aren't too many places to fuel along the way, fill up when you can. Most of the gas stations do not have restrooms, so be one with nature, pick a bush along the highway.
The villages along the way have interestingly descriptive names, one of them my Dad said could loosely translate as Dodda-pothole-ana-halli. (I'm not sure if he was joking)

Lake on the way to Mydanahalli

What I didn't like
Sadly, the place is most neglected, we found no forest guards or a proper entrance. We couldn't find a proper boundary, so we still don't know where the reserve begins and ends. The watch towers were not very useful in terms of watching anything. But it was a nice shady place to eat. Litter was all around.

Jayamangalli "River" is more like a trickle. I was quite disappointed.

What I did like

Villagers were extremely helpful all along, though a few did give misleading directions. A lady cutting grass at the reserve told us "Ginke" (deer) could be found on our way back, she said to look towards the right and she was spot on!

Black buck Male

The road to the reserve though carpeted with potholes is rather scenic, there are several huge lakes along the way. Our next plan is to just visit the lakes.

Lake on the way to Mydanahalli

Inspiration for this trip came from :

Lovely photos of maidenhalli from INW members.

I particularly liked several lovely ones from Kiran Poonacha.
I especially love this one, dont miss it.

A blogpost from Sachin and Neelu

Directions we followed (till we goofed up at the Y) were from Tumkur Ameen's excellent webpage.

Thanks everyone!
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