Walk on the Wild Side
Avid nature lover, conservationist and award-winning lens man Niranjan Sant responds to the call of the wild with evocative portrayals of the natural world. In this issue, he shares some of his most memorable frames with our readers.
Born and brought up in Belgaum, on the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka, Niranjan Sant is today one of India’s most acclaimed wildlife photographers. With a huge following on his webpage at India Nature Watch, Niranjan is known for his unique compositions and eloquent photographs. A mechanical engineer by profession, he has been an avid bird watcher since early childhood and a nature photographer for the past three decades. Each of his images is a study in detail and has a unique composition and setting.
Niranjan is also a passionate wildlife activist and conservationist. His photographs find pride of place in several national and international publications. With no less than 30scientific papers to his credit, he is the co-author of several books on birds of different parts of India, and was part of two pelagic bird survey teams along India’s vast coastlines. He has helped compile a comprehensive guide on the orchids of northern Western Ghats as well. Niranjan regularly conducts exhibitions and educational programmes to create awareness about the environment. A successful photographer, he has won several awards and prizes in national and international photographic salons.
Indian Sundew (Droceraindica):These very tiny plants are highly fascinating. While some plants use insects for pollination, others attract them as food. These insectivorous plants grow in places where sufficient nutrients are not available in the soil. Small insects get attracted to the droplets on the plant that is actually glue, thus getting stuck. The finger-like branch then curls and sucks up the nutrients from the insect. This image was taken near Belgaum, Karnataka, just after the rains.
Canon camera with180 mm macro lens. F – 22, 1/10 second shutter and 200 ISO.
Sri Lanka Frogmouth (Batrachostomusmoniliger): These are nocturnal birds, and till recently, they were considered to be very rare, thus sought after by birders and photographers alike. But now it is clear that these birds are quite common in their ideal habitats. This is a male bird, the female is rufous in colour. He was perched very quietly and was not bothered by my presence. I clicked a few images with flash, but was not satisfied with the results. Hence, I used a torch toil luminate the bird and get the desired result. This image was taken near Chorla Ghat in Goa.
Canon 1DX, 300 mm lens + 2X converter. F – 5.6, 1/160 second shutter and 1200 ISO.
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (Ceyxerithaca): This is probably the most colourful bird in India. They are found everywhere in the lower Western Ghats during the peak of monsoon season. Unlike other kingfishers, they feed on almost anything they can catch – small reptiles, crabs, insects, spiders, etc. Though tiny, they are capable of hunting quite large prey. Here, this male bird has caught a skink.
Canon 1D M4, 500 mm tele lens. F – 4, 1/125 second shutter and 800 ISO.
Indian Skimmer(Rynchopsalbicollis):I wanted to photograph these birds for a very long time, primarily because they are beautiful, and secondarily, their hunting method is very fascinating. As the name suggests, they skim over water with their specially evolved beaks, where the lower mandibles longer than the upper. The lower mandible is also very sensitive and while skimming, ifit touches a fish, the bird catches it. Their numbers are dwindling due to loss of ideal aquatic habitats. I took this image on the Chambal river.
Canon 1DX, 500 mm tele lens. F – 4, 1/6400 second shutter and 800 ISO.
Chambal scape: The light was fading and it was almost time to leave. I had clicked ample images of the skimmer by then. I was about to pack my equipment and looked around one last time as it was my last evening at Chambal. It was then that I saw a few skimmers circling around a sand bar and there were two Gharials sunbathing there. This was an opportunity to capture the wild essence of the mighty Chambal, and so I clicked a few images.
Canon 1DX, 500 mm tele lens. F – 4, 1/2500 second shutter and 1000 ISO.
Indian Cormorant (Phalacrocoraxfuscicollis) in flight: During the rainy season, a lot of paddy fields get submerged and a huge water body is formed near my hometown. Waterfowl congregate in huge numbers around this seasonal water body. The area is a treat for any birder and photographer. Hundreds of storks, ibises, egrets, coots, cormorants and herons gather to feast on the aquatic life. This particular cormorant species hunts in groups and it is amazing to watch them dive synchronously to corner a school of fish. After a few minutes of feeding frenzy, the flock moves to another corner of the water body to repeat the strategy. This image is one from the many that I had clicked of the species.
Canon 1DX, 800 mm tele lens. F – 5.6, 1/4000 second shutter and 800 ISO.
Shikra (Accipiter badius) on a kill :One morning, I had an opportunity to watch a complete hunt made by this Shikra. It followed the pigeon and caught it right in front of me. The pigeon gave a great fight and it was mesmerising to watch it struggle between life and death. The Shikragrab bed the neck of the pigeon with one claw and held on to it till the pigeon was lifeless. The victim’s head was immediately devoured. Till this time the Shikra was unaware of my presence, but it realised soon after, hearing the click of the camera. The Shikra then carried the whole pigeon to a nearby tree. This image was clicked while the Shikra was deciding which tree to fly to.
Canon 1D M3, 600 mm tele lens. F – 4,1/400 second shutter and 400 ISO.
Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) at sunset: Bonelli’s Eagle is a common eagle of India in suitable habitats. I had a great opportunity of documenting this particular eagle when I was part of the study team of this species. We observed and studied its hunting behaviour, breeding behaviour and biology, distribution, etc. One fine evening, I saw this female bird perched on a ledge. She was rim-lit by the setting sun and I took a few images.
Canon 1DX, 500 mm tele lens. F – 4, 1/800 second shutter and 800 ISO.
This article was first published in the 2015 March Saevus Magazine.