Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vetnai : The playground of Black Buck

‘Black Buck’ and ‘Orissa’- how could these to be pronounced simultaneously and be connected together!! This was the first impression to my astonished mind when I came to know that a small unknown village of our neighboring state is providing a safe play ground to hundreds of black bucks since years. Being inspired by ‘now or never’ philosophy, I rescheduled my Mangalajodi trip, two more days were added immediately to the itinerary.

After birding at Mangalajodi we boarded in the train to Berhampore (Bramhapore) from Balugaon in the morning. The view of moving Chilka on the left and the undulated topography on the right was so refreshing that I couldn’t realize that I was traveling in an overcrowded unreserved compartment. We reached Berhampore by 10, took an auto to reach the old bus stand and arrange a shelter for the coming night. By 10.30, we were again on our way to Aska, but this time by private bus. Excellent road, non-stop express bus journey without any jerk, window seat and cool, soothing breeze, all the elements for a successful script of a nap were present. But before I reach the climax, the shout of the conductor broke my drowsiness, “get down sir, you are at Aska”. Vetnai was still 12 km away. We left the high way and tried to board in a small vehicle, which I don’t know what to be called actually. It was bigger than a jeep but smaller even than a mini bus. Everywhere, other than the footboard was packed with people and their luggage.  I had no other choice but to hang on the footboard with my camera bag and tripod. After almost 20 painfully struggling minutes we reached Vetnai. Mr. Amullaya Upadhyaya, the president of ‘Blackbuck Management Committee’ received us at the bus stop. The last lap of our journey was still remaining. We rode in his motor cycle o reach the other side of the village. We took off the shoes, crossed a ‘nullah’ and walked about 400 mts too have the first sight of an isolated male Black Buck in the field.

Cautious Observation

We were standing at the beginning of a huge open ground, partially cultivated and partially barren. The piles of harvested crop in some places produced a visual relief in the vastness of the field. 8-10 male and around 100 female could easily be seen from a distance of about 200 meters. A slight try to have proximity to get some better shots created a panic and a whole herd vanished towards the horizon in no time.


Herd of female Black Buck

I got my first lesson- over enthusiasm and uncontrollable excitation will spoil the game, patience is the key to success, so I decided to wait with a hope that they would bear our presence. I had to wait to be accepted by them, so that they allow me to explore their kingdom. Though it was just last week of January, yet the midday sun was showing no sign of kindness. There was not a single tree in the neighborhood. So, I had no other choice but to wait under the scorching heat sweating all along.

Mr. Upadhyaya had to leave as he had some prior appointments. But, he committed to pick us up whenever our job is done. I positioned myself behind a hump of that undulated field. The hump and the long grasses on it were partially hiding my gears and me. Time was passing at the slowest possible rate. Every single moment of waiting was an acid test for my patience. To make my waiting a bit tolerable I tried to concentrate on things around me. The small bluish hillocks at the farthest corner made the topography quite interesting. Flock of flying milky white Cattle Egret on the backdrop of hill was helping me a lot to ignore the sun, at least mentally. Some other birds, butterflies also kept me a bit active. After almost an hour or so, they again started to come to the open field again and the distance between us was gradually decreasing. I too tried to move by crawling through the ground. What a wonderful world it was!! Not just one, two. Three, or so, hundreds of male, female blackbuck were roaming around the field. They grazed, fought, played in front of my pierced eyes. I was so spellbound that some times forgot to press the shutter and thus missed to capture a lots of unique moments. I was wondering that whether we were in India or in an African safari.
                                                                       Blackbuck male


Let's Play



Meanwhile, the sun began to go down, the dusk was approaching. Few farmers were still working in an isolated part of the field. Their silhouettes in front of the red fire ball will remain be vibrant in my memory for years to come.

Yet another day of struggle ends

Returning home


We again crossed the nullah on our way to return to the road where Mr. Upadhyaya was waiting for me with his motorcycle. He took me to his home where his family gave us a cordial welcome with tea, banana, curd and the traditional and famous Oriya sweet, the ‘Chana Poda’(baked yogurt). He told me that nobody knows from where and when this black buck came actually. This region of Orissa is a very drought prone area. Long ago, during such a drought, one day a small group of black-buck arrived here. Incidentally the village received a heavy shower next day. The villagers started to believe that those black-buck were sent by God and they had brought the most desired rain. Since then the black-bucks became a beloved member of this Vetnai Village and grew in number. After the adaptation of organized conservation effort, presently almost 1600 black-bucks can be found over an area of 40 sq km around Vetnai.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The 2010 Photocrati Fund competition

The 2010 Photocrati Fund competition is now open. Deadline for application submissions is March 15, 2010 (by 11pm GMT).

What is the Photocrati Fund?

The Photocrati Fund offers $5000 grants to non-professional photographers to undertake important humanitarian and environmental photography projects. Our goal is to identify outstanding, up-and-coming photographers and give them the resources necessary to pursue projects that will have a tangible and positive effect on the world.

We will offer one grant in 2010. The application deadline is March 15, 2010, and the award will be announced in June 2010. Awardees become Photocrati Fellows for the calendar year from the announcement of their award until the announcement of the following year’s award.

Award decisions will be made by the Photocrati Fund Board, a prestigious panel that includes some of the world’s best-known environmental and cultural photographers. The Photocrati Fund Board and judges for the competition are:
Steve McCurry
Michael “Nick” Nichols
Art Wolfe

Note: The Photocrati Fund and are administered by Frontier Digital Media, LLC. Photocrati and the Photocrati Fund are sometimes hereinafter referred to collectively as Photocrati.


Applicants must be non-professional photographers who derive less than 50% of their income from photography or photography-related activities. The grant is open to photographers over 21 years of age from any country worldwide, but applicants should have a proven ability to produce outstanding imagery, as well as the background necessary to carry out their proposed project. If you are someone who has studied photography or done paid photography work, that does not disqualify you. You are only ineligible if you are an established working professional photographer who already gain the majority of their income from photography related activities.

Application Submission Guidelines

Application Deadline: Monday, March 15, 2010 at 11pm (GMT).There are no application fees for this grant.

Each submission may contain only one project proposal. Each applicant may apply only once per submission cycle. Applications are not carried over to the following year. All applications must be submitted in English, online to the following email address: Please proofread to avoid typos and grammatical errors.

Only applications that meet ALL SUBMISSION CRITERIA will be judged. Once the application and proposal has been submitted, content changes are not allowed. Please double check all of your materials before submitting your application. The Photocrati Fund is not responsible for misdirected submissions. Applicants should keep copies of their application for their own records.

Only applications submitted according to grant application specifications will be considered. Applicants should not send any hard copies or printed materials (no prints, books, CDs/DVDs or transparencies). The Photocrati Fund Panel will not review any of these materials, and they cannot be returned to applicants.

The application consists of just two items: a one-page project statement and bio, and a link to your online portfolio submitted via email to:

Project Statement and Bio

The project statement should be a maximum of 1-page in Microsoft Word (or compatible) format. Please include the following information, in this order, in the heading:

* Applicant’s Full Name:
* Project Title:
* Project Location:
* Applicant’s Email:
* Applicant’s Phone (including country code):
* Applicant’s Home Country:
* Web Address of Online Portfolio:

The personal statement should describe the proposed project in detail, including:

* Who or what will be photographed?
* Why is this project important? Include historical, environmental, or cultural background to the project as appropriate. You should display good substantive knowledge of your subject matter.
* What positive consequences might result from this project? We are interested in projects that will have a tangible impact or contribution.
* What background and preparation do you have that will enable you to carry out the project? This should include a description of your photographic training or background as well as your knowledge or training related to the subject matter of your project (i.e., language or cultural study, previous experience in the specified country or location, environmental or biological background, and contacts with a specific local organization or experts with whom you wish to work, etc).
* If the proposed project will take place in a country other than your own, please describe your preparations for working in the proposed project location (i.e. visa preparations, local contacts, health vaccinations, language training, etc.).
* How do you plan to spend the grant funds? Please include a rough budget.

Note: In our experience, many applicants underestimate the amount of time and preparation that is required to prepare a good one-page project statement. The fact that this statement is only one page means you must work even harder to make sure that all the relevant information is included in a concise and still-readable way.

The most successful statements are those that have received a great deal of attention. Applicants think carefully about what to include, revise their statements through multiple drafts, perhaps have friends or colleagues provide feedback, and they take special care to ensure that there are absolutely no typos or grammatical errors.

This single page is all we have to evaluate you, your preparation, and your project, so please give it special care and attention.

Each applicant should include on their Project Statement and Bio a URL (web address) to an online gallery of a coherent set of 20-30 images based around a theme or project (preferably related to the project or theme/concept proposed in your application). Carrying out an effective photography project requires not just creative and technical mastery of photography, but also the ability to focus on a single project over time. You need to take time to develop knowledge about your subject matter, build any necessary relationships, and to invest the time to be present when the best photo opportunities present themselves. Your portfolio should display these qualities. We are not looking for a hodge-podge of individual photographs of sunsets, flowers, or travel scenes.

Images displayed in the online portfolio or website MUST BE TAKEN BY THE APPLICANT. Any applicant receiving a grant on the basis of images taken by someone else will be liable to repay the grant’s full amount to the Photocrati Fund.

As with the personal statement, please recognize that the images on this site are the sole basis on which we will evaluate your photographic talent. You should display your best work, and avoid displaying work that is not your best.

Selection Criteria

Following the application deadline (Friday March 15, 2010 at Midnight GMT), Photocrati Fund staff will compile all completed applications that adhere to all submission guidelines.

Photocrati Fund staff will screen applications and remove any that do not meet the application criteria or which are unlikely to be competitive. The remaining applications will be submitted to the Photocrati Fund Board for consideration.

* Selection of the grantee will be based on the Board’s determination, in its sole discretion, of the following:

* Photographic skill and promise of the applicant (in terms of photographic vision and technique) based on the applicant’s images in his/her web portfolio.

* The degree to which the applicant’s non-photographic background and training has prepared him/her to undertake the project.

* The environmental, cultural or humanitarian significance of the project and its potential contributions.

* The feasibility and viability of the completion of the proposed project within the projected timeframe and with the grant funding.

* The quality of the overall application packet.

Notification of Award

Winners of the grant will be notified after the judging, which should be completed by mid-May. Grant winners may share the news of their winning proposal with others involved with the project, but are asked to keep news of their award confidential until the public announcement at the Look3 Festival (and on the Photocrati website) in June.

Disbursement of Funds, Project Report, Photo Essay and Deadline for Completion of Project

Photocrati Fund Grants are in the amount of $5,000. The funds are intended to cover the costs of travel, lodging, and expenses for up to one-month of full time photography. If you are doing a project close to home, then the funds do not need to be spent on travel and lodging, but a case must be made for how they will be spent. Your project may also be longer than one month – just make a case for the appropriate duration for your project.

The funds will be disbursed in two portions. Photocrati Fellows will receive $4000 up-front prior to the project. The remaining $1000 will be disbursed to the Grantee upon completion of the project and upon receipt of a Project Report and an image portfolio from the project.

The Grantee is expected to provide a brief follow-up report upon completion of the project that describes how the project progressed, and which provides a detailed explanation of how funds were used. Receipts should be provided for all expenditures over $50. Grant recipients are advised to keep conscientious records of expenses.

Along with the Project Report, the Fellow should submit an Image Portfolio of 20-30 images. These can be presented in an online gallery or sent to Photocrati Fund staff via email or FTP. These images should be 800 pixels in the longest dimension and they should be accompanied by detailed captions. The resulting Photo Essay will be displayed on for at least one year following the project.

The Grantee will have 12 months from the announcement of the award to complete his or her project and to provide Photocrati Fund staff with a Project Report and captioned Photo Essay of 20-30 images from the Photocrati Fund project.

Copyright and Use of Images

The Grantee retains all copyright and ownership of images resulting from the project, including the right to sell, print, or distribute images as he or she sees fit. By accepting the grant, the Grantee also agrees to give Photocrati a worldwide, non-exclusive right to display images included in the Grantee’s Photo Essay on the website. The Grantee also grants Photocrati the right to use the resulting imagery on its website, in printed materials, or in galleries for the purpose of promoting the Photocrati Fund.

The imagery produced by the grantee may be licensed (and sold) to others by Grantee, with the understanding and explicit agreement that the images may also be used by Photocrati in the manner mentioned above.

Other Important Notes

The Photocrati Grant is considered compensation. As such, the amount of funding that the grant recipient claims for their expenses may be subject to withholding tax. American citizens or residents should be prepared to provide a US Taxpayer Identification Number shortly after their grant is awarded, before the Awardee can receive the grant.

Photocrati will provide grant recipients outside the US with information and assistance in securing this number if they do not already have such identification. Grant recipients living in the US will be supplied with appropriate reporting information in the form of a 1099. Grant recipients living in other countries will receive 1042 income reporting forms.


Photocrati and Photocrati Fund staff along with the Photocrati Fund Panel will make every possible effort to keep applications confidential and private. Applicant names and contact information will never be shared with individuals outside of the Photocrati Fund, without expressed written permission from the grant recipients.

Materials and ideas contained within the application will not be used by Photocrati, the Photocrati Fund, or by the Photocrati Fund Panel for any purpose other than the grant review and selection process, without expressed written permission from the grant recipients. Grant recipient images may, however, be used for publicity (as outlined in this document).

Communication with Applicant

The Photocrati Fund staff and/or Photocrati Fund Panel may contact grant applicants for further communication regarding their submitted application.

Updates and Changes to the Grant

As this is the first year for offering the grant, some small changes in procedures may be necessary. Photocrati reserves the right to amend grant rules and submission guidelines for the Photocrati Fund. If amendments are made, they will be posted no later than 30 days prior to the application deadline (March 15, 2010 – 11PM GMT).


All entrants by their participation, agree to be bound by these Official Rules. Photocrati reserves the right to disqualify any entrant who violates these rules, and any subsequent entries of the disqualified entrant. The laws of the United States apply to and govern this grant award and any claims must be raised and resolved in the United States. Additionally, entrants and the grant recipient agree to release, discharge, and hold harmless Photocrati, Photocrati Fund, and Photocrati Fund Panel, their affiliates, officers, directors and employees from any liability, claims, or damages arising out of their participation in the promotion and the acceptance, use, misuse, or possession of any grant. All grant recipients, by accepting the grant, agree to the use of their name or likeness for advertising or publicity purposes without compensation, and upon request, to provide consent to such use in writing.

Photocrati is not responsible for printing or typographical errors in any contest-related materials; for stolen, lost, late, misdirected, damaged, incomplete, illegible, or postage-due mail or entries; or for transactions that are processed late or incorrectly; or are lost due to computer or electronic malfunction. Photocrati reserves the right to cancel or modify the competition if fraud or technical failures compromise the integrity of the offer as determined by Photocrati in its sole discretion.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mangalajodi: The fairy tale of metamorphosis

It was a land of hunters. You could have found gun in every hut of that poor men’s village. They used to wait eagerly for winter when thousands (sometimes lac) of birds visit from areas miles away. Those hunters didn’t have any spare time then. With country boat and loaded guns they used to travel across the vast wetland to rummage for birds. The bullets, fired from the gun with perfect precision rarely missed the target. Yes, poaching of migratory birds was the main source of income here even a few years back. The poachers could have earned even up to Rs. 25000 per month till 1997 when a magician came here. He, by virtue of his great magical skill made the hunters foresee their future. He made them realise, if poaching is not stopped, there would be no bird to fire at, after, say, 20 years, and there would be no income at all. On the contrary, if they protect the birds, if they could provide a better home to the birds, tourist will come for the years to come and earning opportunities will be widened by promoting tourism in the area. The job of that magician was not so easy. Though some were easily convinced, many were not at all ready to wash their hands because in 1997 income of Rs. 25000 was not a matter of joke. But the magician was a fighter too. He was not ready to escape. One day he became successful to hypnotise all of them. The initial turbulence is over, the dust settled down. The notorious poachers are now very important of the “Shree Shree Mahavir Pakshi Suraksha Samity” and re ready to protect the birds at any cost. They still patrol the wetland with country boats, but not to kill but to save. It is a story of metamorphosis, transformation to Ratnakar to Balmiki, the former poachers are vigilance guards.

Some of the readers have surely guessed which place and whom I am talking about. Yes, ‘The land of hunters’ is Mangalajodi and ‘The magician” is Mr. N.K.Bhujwal.

Mangalajodi Guide Map as painted on the walls of office of M.P.S.S

Mangalajodi is a small village in the Ganjam district of Orissa,, where vast wet land over an area of provides wonderful homage to birds of almost 236 species most of which are migratory. Which includes Pintail, Northern Shoveller, Bar headed goose, Brahminy Ducks, etc. Not only that you can have a close observation to the nesting, breeding of some local wetland birds like Purple moorhen, Open billed stork, etc during monsoon.

Mangalajodi sky, covered with thousands of birds

Brahminy Duck(Ruddy Shelduck, Tadorna ferruginea)

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus)

When you reach Mangalajodi, the members of MPSS will give an one welcome and offer you a seat in there office. After fulfillment of formalities like payment for boat, they will guide you to the jetty from where the journey starts in a country boat and a guide equipped with books of Dr.Salim Ali. The water is so shallow that some times the bottom of the kisses the riverbed.

Mangalajodi wetland

You have to make your way clear through the weeds. From the beginning of the journey Whiskered Tern will accompany you very closely. You can see common coot, purple moorhen, different types of herons and sandpipers, black tailed godwit, black winged stilt at every nook and corner of the wetland.

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)


Take off : Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Brown-headed Gull, (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Birding at Purbasthali

Imagine that you are in a remote village of West Bengal to spend your winter holiday where words like “pollution”, “stress”, “ hectic life” are treated as trespassers, where your morning are covered with veils of mist, where thousands of migratory and local birds take the responsibility of playing the background music by continuous chirping. Would you then complain about the non-availability of amenities of a modern cosmopolitan city? I do have doubt..

Mystic morning at Purbasthali

Purbasthali is such a small village in the district of Burdwan near Katwa. The Ganges has changed her track here and the abandoned path is still there in the form of an ox bow lake, which is known as “Chai Ganga” to the local people.

Daily life in "Chari Ganga"

The shallow, still water of the lake helps in the enormous growth of aquatic plants which in turn serves as the source of plentiful food to the fish and aquatic birds. So during November-February you’ll find this “ Chari Ganga” decorated with multifarious wings of thousands of migratory birds like Northern Shoveller , Pintail, Gadwal, Red Crested Poachard, Common Coot, Lesser Whistling Teal and so on. Not only these winter guests, Purbasthali is permanent home of birds like Pond Heron, Red Wattled Lapwing, different types of snipes, Sand Pipers, Purple Heron, Gray Heron, Purple Moor Hen, Open Billed Stork, Kingfishers, Cormorants etc. A boat ride in the lake will take you to their colorful world. The water is so clear that you can see the riverbed.

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Red Wattled Lapwing: Vanellus indicus (Hattiti Pakhi )

Red Crested Pochard (Netta rufina)

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in flight

cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Though now a days it is a bit difficult to get very close to the bird. Fishing in the lake is one of the main professions of the people. They use a special type f net called “Chabi Jaal” for fishing. After installing this net they beat the water with such efficiency that the fishes are guided towards the net from their bushy shelter. But this turbulence also scares the bird. That’s why whenever you will try to have proximity they will fly away to land at a safer area. Picnics in the riverbanks and chaos thus generated have also caused in decreased in the number of these visitor birds.

Fishing with "Chabi Jaal"

Installation of Chabi Jaal

Driving the fishes towards the net

After the boat ride start to walk through the village paths. If you keep your eye busy, in the tree branches you’ll find Golden Oriole, Purple sunbird, Bee-eater, Magpie Robin, Babblers, Indian Tree Pie, Drongo, Crow Pheasant here and there. And if you are looking at the village huts to get an idea of village life of Bengal, you’ll get a chance to be acquainted with the cottage industry of Bengal. Yes, almost every family here is engaged in production of hand made Saree (famous Tant of Bengal),Gamcha(hand kitten thin towel). So there is chance to collect memento of the trip and some excellent gift for your dear one’s.