We just got Phalaroped :P ;)

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Red-necked Phalarope

The Red-necked Phalaropes in the picture above were clicked on my trip to Pt.Calimere, Vedaranyam in Tamil Nadu back in October 2012. We had spent 6 days at BNHS’s bird migration and research study center learning under the able guidance of Mr.Ranjit Manakadan and Dr.Bala, both of whom had been lucky enough to work and learn under the guidance of the great ornithologist Dr.Salim Ali.
I remember going around exploring the wetlands and forests in and around Pt.Calimere sanctuary with everyone. It was on one of these birding mornings scanning the salt pans, wetlands and marshes that I saw my first Pacific Golden Plovers thanks to Ranjit sir. Right after that we had moved ahead to an area full of Stints, Sandpipers, Plovers and other such Waders. It was here that Ranjit sir again spotted these two Phalaropes hidden amongst a sea of other waders. He had asked us to observe them thoroughly as it was a regular but uncommon winter visiter and although I didn’t have a decent camera back then, I’m glad I took this snapshot of the birds as I haven’t seen any Red necked Phalaropes anywhere else since 2012.

 

red necked

Red Phalarope

The number of rarities spotted around Pune this season has been astoundingly amazing. One of these rare beauties is the Red Phalarope who decided to rest and spend some time in a pond at Bhigwan near Pune.

The Red Phalarope is a vagrant to the Indian Subcontinent. According to reports it has only been sighted five times in India since the 1900s. It is a bird which spends the breeding season in the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia and winters around western South America and south-western Africa. This was mainly the reason why the bird was treated as an absolute celebrity as soon as it showed up during the festival of Holi, in the back waters of Ujani dam in Bhigwan as no one knows that when will be the next time that this bird decides to show up on our part of the world. 

I am glad that I made the trip to see this amazing bird which is not a regular visitor around the Indian subcontinent. And thanks to the bird that I decided to take my 150cc FZ-16 out for a 140 mile round trip, because I can’t remember the last time I decided to push my bike to its absolute limits 😉

Special thanks to Sandip Nagare, Ganesh Nagare and their team for patiently showing me around the backwaters of Ujani dam and keeping a vigilant watch out for such extremely rare and wonderful beauties. It was surely one helluva birding trip! 

 

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The Mystery of ‘Curiosity’ ;)

Astronomy is for everyone, believe me. Before we invented electricity and realized the potential of the motor, before we had computers and and before application software started guiding our every move, before we had modern cities and the technology of today, we used to rely on stars and patterns in the night sky and the changes that occurred in these patters with time to make our day to day decisions. Civilizations have been built, have grown, flourished and evolved just out of observing patterns in the night sky ,such was our relationship with stars and with the Cosmos. Today technology has taken over and so we have to some extent lost that link that we had with the sky and the stars. But, astronomy is for everyone, for anyone who is interested in it ,because amateur astronomy in its simplest and most basic forms is just about observing the night sky. And why not be interested and inquisitive about it, after all we are but the stuff of stars, literally!
My interest in it was built up by reading articles about meteor showers in the news paper until I finally decided to stay up one night to actually observe one. It was the annual Geminids Meteor shower of 2014 and that is when it all started for me. It was also after this that I started reading up about meteor showers and their origins and I realized what actually all the fuss was about shooting stars that fascinated our young and innocent minds. Today, astronomy is one of my favorite hobbies.

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I had clicked this picture above in July 2012, when I woke up early one fine morning to go birding. At that time, Astronomy to me was an alien field and the only celestial body I ever slightly took interest in was the Moon, Earth’s natural satellite and the most prominently visible celestial body in the sky after the sun. It was the Moon after all, I knew about it, everyone knows about it even if they don’t want to, unless they are some creature who was born , nurtured and continues to grow and survive in some dark underground city away and aloof from surface dwelling ghouls,oh! I mean humans. Alright, coming back to the surface, something about what I saw this morning in the sky was different and it enlivened me, I saw two very bright objects in the sky along with the Moon and their perfect conjunction with the Moon made me wonder and had me curious enough to click a picture so that I could later investigate into what was it that I was looking at. Time flew by, I didn’t know whom to ask about what I had seen and I didn’t try and find it out myself as well :/ Alas, the question and inquisitivity generated out of this event got stored in a secluded corner of my mind maybe never to be explored again.
Two years and a well articulated and informative newspaper article later, meteor showers happened, they re-kindled my curiosity about celestial bodies and events. I started reading about stars and planets and patterns in the sky. And with time I knew enough to realize that meteor showers were annual and thus I waited for the next one and observed and the next and observed and tried photography experiments and read up more on the topic and started observing planets and patterns and so on and forth until today when we’re being treated with the sight of a phenomenal planetary conjunction where all five naked eye planets are visible in the sky in the northern hemisphere just before dawn.

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Jupiter and the Moon

During this time, I was going about observing Jupiter rise over the horizon in the night and this time particularly because it was in close proximity to the moon. I took out my camera and started clicking pictures and bang! then it hit me, I suddenly remembered clicking similar pictures back in 2012 and completely forgetting about it 😀 I was very excited as I switched on my computer and started searching up and opening old picture albums and looking for a particular folder. I opened a picture folder named Tamhini 2012 which itself brought back a lot of memories as it was my first jungle trek with Foliage Outdoors, but this folder didn’t just have pictures from the trek , it had pictures I had clicked a month and two after the trek as well, which including some birding outings and, voila, it also included THAT very picture ,clicked out of curiosity. I’ve thought of naming this picture ‘CURIOSITY’ today ,I like the sound of it :D, and no it has nothing to do with NASA’s exploratory rover which is currently busy clicking selfies on Mars .
But the most amazing thing happened when I opened the picture this time around because ,this time I knew exactly what those two amazingly and characteristically unique bright balls of light were just below the the waning gibbous moon, this time I realized that I had observed a unique planetary conjunction of Venus and Jupiter with the Moon. I was amazed when the realization of how the story of this image had come full circle and hit me with a bang!

There is also a star in the picture and I wanted to find out which one it was. Now this was going to be a very difficult and if it would not have been for an amazing App known as Sky Maps by Google, I would have probably never found out which one it was. I knew that Sky Maps has an amazing feature known as Time Travel, where you enter the date and time of the night sky from the past that you want to look into and this App literally takes you back in time. I remembered that I had clicked the picture early morning and I confirmed the date and time using the photo’s EXIF data. This data confirmed that the photo was clicked on the 15th of July 2012 right around 6.30 am. I entered this data into the time travel feature of the app and this was the result.

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Google’s Sky Maps helped me to not only confirm that the planets were indeed Venus and Jupiter, but also that the star visible in the picture is Aldebaran, a resident of the constellation Taurus 🙂

I felt so satisfied that after three years I was able to solve the mystery of the photo ‘Curiosity’ without having to ask for help from anyone else and that joy and satisfaction whispered in my ear to write a simple post about it, something that said…
ASTRONOMY IS FOR EVERYONE! 🙂

Indian Spiny-tailed lizard,Desert National Park.

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It is amazing to see how animals of a certain habitat have evolved to be able to survive in harsh environments, camouflage being one of the survival techniques. These lizards get beautifully camouflaged within the dry and arid habitats of North-Western India, which includes the Thar Desert Region and Kutch. You don’t notice it early on because the eyes take time to adjust to any new habitat but once they do, you realize that there are colonies of these lizards almost everywhere as you start scanning these areas for signs of life. These lizards attract a lot of Raptors too and hence we get to see a good variety of Raptors in North-Western India. This was one of the many big individuals that we came across, who seemed to have accumulated a good amount of fat to be able to survive the cold and harsh desert winter, going into hibernation.

Star-trail on Quadrantids night.

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This star trail was made at home while I was observing the Quadrantids Meteor Shower and clicking photos. I did time lapse photography in two batches between 3 am and 6.30am which resulted in a group of 200+ photos. I used 100+ photos from the second batch to compile and create the image. Starstax, a software available for free on the web was used for doing this, thanks to the Starstax team too! 🙂

 

The Geminids Meteor Shower 2015!

It is always fascinating to witness a celestial event be it a meteor shower, a lunar eclipse or planetary conjunctions etc, but my personal favorites are meteor showers because these eventually got me into learning more about and observing similar celestial events.

The Geminids meteor shower comes around in December annually. I have particularly good memories of Geminids from last year as I got to see about 21 really bright meteorites within the first hour of its peak and many of my friends were witness to it as well as I had informed them about the event in advance. The best part was that the visibility last year was so good that I did not have to think about going to a place away from home and I observed the event from the terrace of my building, which is well within city limits. The weather was chilly as well and having read in an article that cold weather helps with the visibility during such events, I’m sure that the weather during that time had a part to play a part in it too.

This time though, I wanted to do more than just observe the meteor shower. This time, I wanted to attempt to capture a falling meteorite on camera!

Having read about capturing star trails and meteorites on camera, I knew that it was going to be very difficult to try and capture it on my standard Canon bridge camera, as many photographers had mentioned that it is difficult to capture meteorites on SLRs itself as they remembered having spent an entire night photographing the night sky and getting meteorites in just five or six of their photos among hundreds of photos clicked during that night.
Here I would like to thank the folks who designed CHDK (Canon Hacker Development Kit) which is a unofficial firmware that helps enhance your Canon bridge camera’s functionality well beyond the factory firmware that comes with the camera.

So then, I decided that I’ll observe the sky and operate my camera in intervals between 9 pm to 2 am as It was said that the meteor shower would peak during that time.

I experimented with various camera settings using CHDK firmware to settle on the best suitable settings to capture the event (the visibility last night was horrible as compared to last year and it was warm taking mid-December into consideration). I regretted not going away from city lights and from the pollution this time around.

Having said that, I was pretty happy as this time around I observed around 31 meteors (within a span of two nights) and I’m glad to say that I was able to get decent shots of the night sky, delighted to say that I captured a meteorite on camera! 🙂

Read the description of every individual photo to try and locate the meteorite. If you can locate it without reading the description, then nothing like it! 😀

Capturing a meteorite was the icing on the cake, the cherry on the icing was a Barn Owl in the night who seemed happy to spend some good fifteen minutes with me 😉

The next good meteor shower is Quadrantids which is going to peak around the 4th of January 2016. I hope that everyone will try and observe this event with as much enthusiasm! 😉 😀

If you’ve made it till here then I’d like to thank you for being patient and taking out time for reading this and I hope that you have a great day!

Enjoy the photos! 🙂

World Photography Day! :D

There is almost always a story behind every good photograph. Magical moments are always a part of your endeavors to discover new places, they happen like meteors in the night sky. Like meteors appear for barely a second but the sight of them leaves you breathless in amazement, same is the case with these moments, they complete your journey, they add a sparkle to your story.

Birders and Photographers travel thousands of miles to discover new places and to reveal its avian diversity through their photos. I had once traveled to Sattal for the same reason as Himalayan bird life fascinates me. We remember spending entire days walking around or waiting patiently to get a glimpse of a Whiskered Yuhina or a Speckled Piculet or a Chestnut-headed Tesia, what I’m trying to say is that photographing birds is not an easy thing to do!.

But one evening in Chafi, this Common Stonechat appears right in front of me, almost like telling us that he knows that we’ve come from a far away place just to see them, so here I am, watch me, and don’t forget to use that camera too 😀 Believe me when I say that this individual was almost at arm’s length distance away from me and it stayed there for a very long time 🙂 I was left gleaming with joy after this particular evening and this was one of my moments of the Sattal trip.
Glad that I could make a photo for it 🙂

Common Stonechat

Common Stonechat

Common Stonechat at Chafi, Uttarakhand.

Happy clicking to you! 🙂

Wasp vs Spider

I had witnessed this incident and recorded this video during my very first visit to Jim Corbett National Park in the year 2012. I had seen something like this for the first time in my life and I doubt that I’ll ever get to see anything like it again. Have a look 😀