Toehold Outdoors: November Pench Group-Trip Report

Tiger portrait, Pench

The second ‘Toehold Outdoors’ Group Tour was indeed a special one as it was specially crafted for students. What made this Tour more special was that the students from a Pune-based school approached Toehold and requested to craft a wildlife tour (which for them was a ‘camp’) as per their preferred dates and requirements. This clearly shows that not only adults but also school children have a strong belief in our team and the quality of service, which we take great pride in providing!

Since this was a Pune-based group, all the travel arrangements began from Pune and ended at Pune. Considering the participation of youngsters in the group, we at Toehold arranged for their domestic travel insurance as well. For us, safety is more important than any other thing when it comes to planning and executing any Outdoor program.

The group was of 16 students and was led by two members from our team. The group stayed at Pench for three nights and explored the forest on five jeep safaris and a walking trail.

We started with the walking trail (around the resort in which we had stayed) and came across various signs of mammals which frequented the stream bed near the resort. Kids were surprised to see the scratch-markings of a tiger on the bark of Arjuna tree. Some non-vertebrate members, like the giant wood spider and funnel web spider were also spotted on the trail.

The next day, everyone geared up for the very first jeep safari in Pench. Some of the students were fortunate to track the legendary female tiger, Collarwali. This tigress, a true superstar and supermom, has given birth to more than 25 tigers till date! Seeing this undisputed queen of Pench was the best moment for the wide-eyed students.

The second ride became interesting as a sub-adult tiger cub blocked our safari track and refused to move away. We were thrilled to see the bold cub resting at ease right in the middle of the safari track. This continued for about 40 minutes. The cub later decided to move and join his siblings in the bush near a water-body.

Since the first two rides yielded really good tiger sightings, we decided to search for other predators and some rare birds as well. Most of the time of this safari was spent waiting at different parts of the jungle and listening to the calls of the birds. All the members were lucky to see the rare mottled wood owl on the morning as well as the evening safaris at two different locations. Some of the members could also see the ‘whistling hunters’ – dholes or Indian wild dogs.

On the first two evenings, we had different interactive sessions with the kids, including an introductory session on Pench and another on the herbivores seen in the jungle. Our team also conducted a session on tiger, during which many important things about our national animal were discussed, like the lifecycle, identification, habitat, threats etc.

Next morning was our fifth and final safari of the Tour (camp!). On this safari, again, our tracks were blocked by two sister tigers. We were fortunate to see them for more than an hour. Some members also saw one more tigress while returning to the main gate of the jungle.

The Toehold Outdoors Student Group Tour to Pench was thus a rewarding experience in the wild both for the students and our team who were able to learn different things from one another.

Tigers of Bandhavgarh: Bamera Junior (T37)

Bamera Junior, Bandhavgarh

This is the third of a six-part series on the tigers of Bandhavgarh. To read the first part, on Spotty, click here and to read the second part, on the Banbehi female, click here.

Bandhavgarh has been one of our most beloved tiger destinations. And we have had the fortune of following the lifestories of individual tigers over the years. In this series, we share with you what we have learned about the current feline beauties from our frequent visits to this national park.

Meet T37 Bamera Junior, or Kankati’s son. He’s my favourite among the present dominant males of Bandhavgarh.

He’s a son of our beloved Bamera: And hence he carries a precious legacy.

He’s seen in Magadhi.

His mother was the fierce and maverick Kankati.

I first saw him in November 2011 when he was barely two months old. He was born to Kankati’s first litter, which had two females as well.

In 2013 one of his sisters was killed by a new male. He was seen with the other sister till June.

After the season reopened that October, save for a couple of stray sightings, he remained largely incognito for more than two years.

In February 2016 he made a dramatic comeback when he was seen mating near Magadhi’s Arariya fireline by Sachin Rai.

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His consort was a ravishing daughter of the Rajbehra Female. Coincidentally, her name too was Kankati (T35).

Thereafter, they lived together without cubs, often being seen in and around the Arariya waterhole, popularly known as Tadoba.

Towards the end of 2016, Kankati birthed three cubs. They were seen regularly in the summer of 2017 at the Arariya waterhole.

Incredibly endearingly, T37 would spend significant amounts of time with the whole family, often sharing the waterhole with Kankati and the cubs.

When the season reopened in October 2017, Kankati wasn’t to be seen.

A partial skeleton was soon recovered in her home-range.

T37 became seperated from the cubs, as the department constructed an enclosure for the young ones around Arariya.

The fairy tale was over.

Later, T42 Solo was seen spending some time with him, and she has since been reported to have had cubs.

But we don’t know if the cubs are T37’s.

As a fan on T37, I hope he’ll pass on his genes and keep the B2-Bamera lineage alive.

Tigers of Bandhavgarh: Banbehi

Banbehi Female Bandhavgarh, Santosh Saligram

This is the second of a six-part series on the tigers of Bandhavgarh. To read the first part, click here.

Understated and heroic are adjectives that usually don’t coexist, and yet, that is precisely what the tigress under today’s discussion is. For today’s tigress is no ordinary cat, but the venerable Banbehi Female.

 

Banbehi female - habitat

For us, writing about her is like writing about a person. She has a distinctly human presence. She’s seen in Tala but has permanent residence in our hearts.

 

Banbehi female - profile

She was born in late 2007 or early 2008. She’s a daughter from the last litter of the Old Banbehi Female.

 

Banbehi female - strolling

Her mother died in May 2009, when baby Banbehi was a little over 12 months old. She has survived being orphaned at as a cub. That’s why she’s a hero.

 

B2 tiger

We adore her also because she’s one of the last direct progeny of the iconic B2. (She even looks a lot like him.)

 

Banbehi Female resting under a rock

Her habitat is breathtakingly vintage-Bandhavgarh.

 

Banbehi Female - on the verge of a leap

I first saw her in May 2010.

 

Kalua tiger

She was mating then with her nephew, the famous Kalua.

 

Bamera tiger, Bandhavgarh

But she didn’t have cubs with him. Instead, she did with the adorable Bamera.

 

Tiger cubs of the Banbehi Female, Bandhavgarh

Her first litter had three cubs: two males and a female.

 

Male cub of Banbehi Female, Bandhavgarh

One of the males was very bold…

 

The female tiger cub of Banbehi Female, Bandhavgarh

…and the female, extremely pretty.

 

Banbehi Female litter, Bandhavgarh

Her second litter, of four cubs, didn’t survive long.

 

In her third litter, only a male survived. He was called Samrat.

 

She then had a fourth litter, of two males and a female.

 

Banbehi Female - closeup

She had a fifth litter in the summer of 2018, but the cubs didn’t survive.

 

Banbehi Female in Bandhavgarh

In October 2018, we were thrilled to learn she may have given birth again. If true, this would be her sixth litter!

 

Banbehi Female portrait, Bandhavgarh

All tigers are special, but Banbehi is a beloved.

 

Banbehi Female, Bandhavgarh, India

Tigers of Bandhavgarh: Spotty

Spotty - the suave Bandhavgarh tiger

Bandhavgarh has been one of our most beloved tiger destinations. And we have had the fortune of following the lifestories of individual tigers over the years. In this series, we share with you what we have learned about the current feline beauties from our frequent visits to this national park.

 

Spotty - Bandhavgarh tiger

Today’s featured tigress is Spotty, probably Bandhavgarh’s most famous tigress right now.

 

Spotty, Bandhavgarh tigress

Bold and beautiful, she is seen mostly in the southern end of Tala.

 

Spot-T - Spotty, Bandhavgarh tiger

Spotty’s name derives from the ’T’ mark above her right eye. (‘Spotty’ is a corruption of ‘Spot-T’)

 

Sukhi Pateeha female, Bandhavgarh tiger

She is the daughter of another of our favourites, the Sukhi Pateeha female.

 

Blue Eyes, Bandhavgarh tiger

Her father was the handsome Blue Eyes.

 

Spotty, the Bandhavgarh tiger

Spotty is around six years old. She was born in mid-2012 after Blue Eyes killed Pateeha’s first-litter cubs and sired his own litter.

 

Dotty, Bandhavgarh tiger

Spotty shares her litter with a sister, Dotty.

 

Mirchani, a Bandhavgarh tiger

In 2015, Spotty ousted the Mirchahni female and took over much of her home range.

 

Spotty tiger litter, Bandhavgarh

She then had a litter of three females. They’re all grown up now and moved on.

 

Mangu, Bandhavgarh tiger

Her mate is Mangu, the dominant male of Tala.

 

Bandhavgarh tiger Spotty

Spotty had a second litter in October 2018. A legend in the making, she promises to be the torchbearer of Bandhavgarh for a long time to come.

This is the first of a six-part series on the tigers of Bandhavgarh. To read the second part on the Banbehi Female, click here.

Kamchatka – A Life-changing Experience: Hymakar Valluri

Kamchatka brown bear

A year-long wait to visit this magical land in the Far East proved to be worth every minute of it when I set my foot on its pristine soil – a paradise graced by snow-capped mountains, lovely-hued lakes, and breathtaking endemic flora and fauna.

 

Brown bear family, Kamchatka
© Hymakar Valluri

 

Kamchatka in Russia had been my dream destination, especially so because I wanted to watch and photograph the mighty brown bear.

The dream finally came true in August, when I signed up for the Toehold Wildlife Photography Tour to Kamchatka, led by Santosh Saligram. I was able to see and make images of a lot more geographical beauty and wildlife than I had anticipated.

This journey involved almost all modes of travel, and not knowing Russian proved to be adventurous enough on the first day itself, when I arrived in Moscow. Because there was a 10-hour layover for my next flight to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (PKC), I decided to explore Moscow. Saint Basil’s Cathedral had all my heart while I was there, before leaving for my next flight to PKC.

After a nine-hour flight, we arrived in PKC, a beautiful and clean city. You cannot miss the Koryaksky Volcano as it can be seen from anywhere in the city. We were briefed about the Tour, down to every little detail, and we called it a day, looking forward eagerly to our visit to the Kurile Lake.

The next morning, at around 10:30, we were in a helicopter, taking off to Kurile Lake. I was eagerly waiting for a long time to see this paradise to photograph brown bears fishing salmons, and that’s precisely what I did, along with the group of photographers I was travelling with.

On day two at the Kurile Lake, the weather changed dramatically, for the better, and it was looking much better the previous day. We had not seen a salmon push and were hoping to see some salmons today and also get some bears in action. Bears are known to come out of hibernation after the winter and they start feeding on berries, mushrooms, flowers etc., and then get to hunting for salmons and eat them for the fat and protein, to eventually keep themselves warm and safe during hibernation in the following winter.

As the temperature keeps increasing, they shed their winter coat by brushing off against the trees. And salmons, every year during summer, swim back from the sea to the lake, upstream, to hatch their eggs. Bears wait for the Salmons to return to Kuril Lake and to catch them during their journey upstream.

We were allowed to stay in the open but with rightful strict rules about photographing the bears from a safe distance. The push was not strong and there were few salmons, but we still got some brilliant action between the bears.

 

Brown bears, Kamchatka
© Hymakar Valluri

 

On day three at the Lake, we wanted to catch the morning light as the weather was looking better and hoped that the sun would show up. We got some action shots clicked and got back to the camp and rested till noon. After lunch, we walked to a nearby watch tower and saw a salmon big push happening. There were hundreds of salmons pushing their way through in a hurry to the Lake, fighting against the stream. The whole place turned from green waters to red salmons!

We started walking towards the Tundra along the river and saw lot of bears and hundreds of salmons on the way. After spending sometime in Tundra and understanding the history of the place from the Ranger who had accompanied us, we returned to camp and relaxed for the day, and it was our last night at the camp.

On the last day at the Kurile Lake, we had a few hours to make the best of our time photographing the bears. I tried wide-angle close-ups, capturing the habitat of the bears. We headed back to PKC in the noon and it was time to go to the Bering Sea for the next two days.

 

Kamchatka brown bear
© Hymakar Valluri

 

As we set sail for our next destination, we headed towards puffin colonies. We were asked to get into the Zodiacs and we spent almost two hours making images of thousands of puffins, kittiwakes, skuas, guillemots and other seagulls.

 

Kittiwakes, Kamchatka
© Hymakar Valluri

 

We also got to see spotted seals and sea otters. I was delighted to see my dream-bird horned puffin as well.

 

Horned puffin, Kamchatka
© Hymakar Valluri

 

We headed further into the sea looking for whales, and we got to see a mother and two calves of humpback whales.

 

Whale, Kamchatka
© Hymakar Valluri

 

After photographing the whales to our hearts’ content, we headed towards the islands where we could see sea lions.

 

Sealions, Kamchatka
© Hymakar Valluri

 

By evening, we reached one where sea lions were resting and decided to anchor close by to photograph them the next day in the morning light.

As planned, we woke up at sunrise, got into our Zodiacs and headed towards the rocks on which perched the sea lions. The sea was choppy, so we got back pretty quickly to our boat and as we headed back to the town, our Captain waved to me asking me to scan the hill-top for the Steller’s sea eagles and we were lucky to see a mother and her chick atop that hill. And with that, our wildlife photography had come to a satisfying end.

 

Tufted puffin, Kamchatka
© Hymakar Valluri

 

Kamchatka is an experience I will remember and cherish for a long, long time. Its pristine beauty has only left me thirsting for more adventures into untamed wildernesses across the planet and I hope to travel and photograph more in the days to come.

 

Sea otters, Kamchatka
© Hymakar Valluri

Puma Paradise – Patagonia Wildlife Photography Tour

Puma portrait, Patagonia

There is beauty in the crimson clouds and mystery in the jagged peaks. There’s mindrest on the flaxen grass and life depth in the azure pools.

There’s a paradise in Patagonia. And pumas in it.

Join our next Photography Tour to Patagonia to experience unique beauty!

For more details, visit:
https://www.toehold.in/phototravel/patagonia-puma-paradise/

Animal of the Week: Bornean orangutan, Borneo

Bornean Orangutan

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

Great place to see the Bornean Orangutan: Borneo, Malaysia

One of the genetically closest cousins of human beings, the orangutan can never fail to stir your soul when you see it. When your gaze meets that of the Bornean orangutan’s in the rainforests of Borneo, your rekindled love for nature will not only reach a whole new stratosphere but is bound to become boundless.

The Bornean orangutan has long arms and a distinctive body shape. Its grey skin is covered by a hairy reddish coat. It does not have hair on its face unlike most mammals except for the beard and moustache. It is more solitary than its Sumatran counterpart. The males and females come together only to mate. It feeds on more than 400 types of food including figs, leaves, seeds, flowers, honey, bird eggs, durians and insects.

The Bornean orangutan is the third heaviest primate and the largest arboreal animal alive today. It is critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. A range of serious threats to its existence includes deforestation (habitat destruction), bushmeat trade, hunting and palm oil plantations.

This primate, along with the Sumatran orangutan and Tapanuli orangutan, belongs to the only genus of great apes native to our continent, Asia. The Bornean orangutan, like other great apes, is highly intelligent, and is known to display cultural patterns in the wild along with tool use. It shares approximately 97% of its DNA with humans, and for these wonderful reasons, the Bornean orangutan is our Animal of the Week!

See this astonishing ape on our ‘Rainforest Revelation‘ Wildlife Photography Tour to Borneo!

Animal of the Week: Kittiwake, Svalbard

Kittiwake Svalbard

Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Great place to see the kittiwake: Svalbard, Norway

With its angelic white body and adorable form, the kittiwake is a bird cute as a button. In the grey-white spectacular landscape of Svalbard in Norway, see it perched on a chunk of ice or flying like a dream against a sleepy sky.

The name of this bird is derived from its call – ‘kittee-wa-aaake’. Colloquially, it is also called tickleass or tickleace. Its body and head are white, its back grey, its bill yellow, and it has grey wings tipped dark black. The sexes are known to be visually indistinguishable.

This coastal breeding bird dwells in regions ranging from North Pacific and North Atlantic to Arctic oceans. In contrast to the young ones of other gull species, this gull’s chicks are white and are covered with fine soft fur, and they take three years to reach maturity.

Kittiwake is the only gull species that is exclusively cliff-nesting, which lessens the threat of predation. And for this reason, it is our Animal of the Week!

See this beautiful bird on our ‘Pole Trance’ Wildlife Expedition to Svalbard!

Animal of the Week: Leopard

Leopard Kabini

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Great place to see the leopard: Kabini, India

Our reverence for this spotted feline being defies reason. If spotting big cats in the wild is an addiction you never want to recover from, we resonate with your steadfast love for them. And seeing the leopard in particular in the serene green environs of Kabini – or Bandipur or Gir among other places in India – is an experience we cherish with unabashed admiration. After all, it’s the kind of love that doesn’t await acknowledgement, much less reciprocation.

 
The leopard inhabits tropical rainforests, temperate forests and dry deciduous forests. Its skin is a gorgeous yellowish brown or gold or pale yellow. The spotted and rosetted coat makes it one of the most easily recognised animals. Its honey-gaze can pierce you like unmistakable clarity through the green daze when you spot one while snaking through the sinuous paths of the forest.
 
Not only is this stately cat elusive but also solitary and nocturnal, adding to its mystical charm. It is known to produce various vocalisations like roars, grunts, snarls, purrs, growls and meows. The leopard is also known to be a powerful swimmer even as it is not disposed to swimming. An opportunistic, multi-skilled hunter, its diet is broad, including deer, wild boars, langurs, Indian hares, nilgais and peafowls.
 
Its ability to climb trees is a spectacle to watch if you’re fortunate while in the wild. And its elegance while resting on a tree branch on on ground elicits only awe.
 
This surreal being is sprightly and graceful in each of its agile movement. It can run at more than 58 kilometres per hour. With its single leap, it can cover six metres of the ground horizontally, and it is known to jump up to three metres vertically! For all these astonishing reasons, for its phantom-like existence that makes it one of the most-loved mesmerising animal, the leopard is our Animal of the Week!
 
See this splendid big cat on our ‘The Leopard’s Lair’ Wildlife Photography Tour to Kabini!