The Oriental Faunal Region is not particularly well known for its desert fauna. After all, it encompasses all of Tropical Asia where areas of lush green forests are comparatively, for now at least, a shrinking dime a dozen. However, these harsh desert regions are not only rich in biodiversity, but are also under significant threat, not just from an ever-increasing population but from introduced species as well. As birders, inspired by James Eaton & Rob Hutchinson's successful trip to this region of NW India earlier this year, and fuelled by a desire to observe such rarities like the Asiatic Lion, Striped Hyena and Great Indian Bustard, we swapped our leech socks and umbrellas for sun-cream and sun-hats and ventured into unknown territory- the arid interior of Northwest India, and managed a pretty respectable haul of about 290 species.
For easy reading, the detailed itinerary of the trip is outlined below.
November 29- Arrival in Delhi at 6am, then 2 hour drive to Sultanpur. After some introductory subcontinent birding, long 6 hour drive to Jaipur. Overnight in Hotel Ratan Haveli,tucked away in a quiet alley away from the city centre and excellent value with nice rooms and a good restaurant.
November 30- Free-and-easy in the "Red City", visiting tourist traps such as the Hawa Mahal and Amber Fort. After dinner, we caught the 2255 overnight train to Bikaenar.
December 1-Arriving in Bikaenar at 0725, it was a long 7 hour or so drive to Jaiselmar, with numerous birding stops enroute. Overnight in Himmatgarh Palace,situated on top of a small hill just off the main road into the city and the perfect place to enjoy the setting Sun against the backdrop of Jaisalmar Fort in true "Arabian Nights" fashion.
December 2-A long boring day as we got the permits for DNP sorted. AM visit to Fossil Wood Park 15 mins out of Jaiselmar. Thereafter a obligatory tour of the Fort. 2nd night in Jaiselmar.
December 3-An early morning (6am) start in high spirits as we were finally on our way to Desert National Park (henceforth DNP). 4 hours and many birding stops later, we reached the 7kmx5km fenced core area of the Park, alas with nothing in sight. The situation was very much different in the evening though. Overnight in Rajesthan Desert Safari Camp, a nice resort out in the desert offering alfresco dining and live Rajesthani dancing and music.
December 4-Our second full day around DNP. Our Mop-Up Operation was generally successful. 2nd night in Rajesthan Desert Safari Camp.
December 5-A long drive back down a familiar road, back to Jaiselmar and onwards to Kheechan. Arriving at 930am, there were no shortage of cranes in the village square. After that, a brutal 8 hour drive into the hills of Kumbalgarh. Overnight in Kumbhal Castle, a run-down establishment in spite of its name but with clean rooms nonetheless.
December 6-AM birding around the forested hills of Kumbalgarh. Thereafter another long 7 hour drive to Mount Abu, arriving in time for Sunset Birding filled with lots of Green! Overnight in Rising Sun Retreat, a passable establishment in the worst hill station I have ever visited in the Orient.
December 7-After a bout of morning birding in Mount Abu, it was off to the Little Rann of Kutch, another 7 hour drive (see a pattern here?). Overnight in Rann Riders, most certainly NW India's equivalent of Borneo Rainforest Lodge, luxury in no-man's land.
December 8- A full day in the bird-filled desert regions of the Little Rann. Overnight in Rann Riders.
December 9-Following a morning safari at the Little Rann, it was ANOTHER 7 hour drive to Bhuj, or more specifically, the town of Nakhatrana, an hour or so west of Bhuj.Overnight in JP Resort, 1 of the few hotels in the town.
December 10-Full day birding around Nakhatrana. Overnight in JP Resort.
December 11-Second full day of birding around Nakhatrana. Overnight JP Resort.
December 12-After a brief bout of morning birding, we started on the Mother Of All Drives, an epic 9.5 hr drive across the entire Gujurat state to Gir National Park. Overnight in Gir Birding Lodge, probably the best place we stayed in the entire trip.
December 13-Full day of lion-hunting in Gir National Park, although the same could not be said for the birds here. Overnight in Gir Birding Lodge
December 14-After a brief bout of morning birding, another 7 hour or so drive to Velvadar Blackbuck Reserve, arriving in time to witness the Harrier Roost. Overnight in Nariyani Heritage Hotel in the the town of Bhavnager, an hour away from Velvadar.
December 15-An eventful day thanks to our flight from Ahmedabad being brought forward without our knowledge. A 7 hour drive to Ahmedabad only to find out about this which ultimately costs us our 2315 flight back to Singapore from Delhi. Thankfully, we managed to catch the next flight the next morning.
Logistics & Guiding:
As with most visiting birders, ground arrangements were made through Asian Adventures, who came highly recommended from several trip reports and friends. As a first-timer on the tour with no prior dealings with the agency, I would agree that overall, they did a commendable job in running the ground logistics of the tour, especially considering that NW India is a less-travelled birding destination compared to the Northern or even the NE circuit. However, taking into consideration that each of us paid almost USD2400 each for the tour, there was room for improvement in the standard of local guides allocated to us. Given that we were paying for their services daily,some of them were great value for money while others fell short of the standards that AA are known for. We were otherwise very well taken of in the aspect of accomodation, food, efficient and safe drivers (important in the chaotic streets of India) and I would still rate them overall as the ground agent of choice for birders heading in that direction. They can be reached at email@example.com.
The only logisitics arrangements we made on our own was to book our return flight to Delhi from Ahmedabad via IndiGO Air. The reason being it takes 20 hours overland between the 2 destinations, so flying back is the best bet for travellers hoping to catch their connecting flights in a hurry.
However, as is always the case in India, things are never this simple. We reached the airport only to find out that IndiGo Air had actually pushed forward their flight from 3pm to 9am that same day. They had spammed my email with a new itinerary but as I had no access to it, I was blissfully unaware of this. In their defense, I really should have called the airline to confirm it beforehand. As it stood, we had to book a new flight on the spot via SpiceAir, only to be caught napping again. This time, we found out that Ahmedabad Airport is a airport of delays. As flights into the city and onwards to Delhi are always coming from elsewhere, they are prone to traffic conditions at the other airports. As it were, although our flight was due for 1920, it didn't come until 2045. The same was the case for even high end domestic airlines like Jet Airways. There was a traffic jam over Delhi Airport as well, ultimately resulting in us missing our 2315 connecting flight back to Singapore on Singapore Airlines. Thankfully there were ample seats on the next flight at 8am the next day, so after spending a restless night in the Visitor's Lounge, we were on our way.
The bottom line is, as many probably already know, that sometimes even ample buffer time isn't quite enough. However, having said that, I found my dealings with www.makemytrip.com, which allows travellers to book internal flights anywhere in India, to be very professional. Following this unfortunate incident, all I needed was to send them a email explaining the situation and requesting for a refund and the amount was refunded to me within a week. I would still recommend them as the best way for independent travellers to book internal flights around the country.
Environment & People:
When the word Desert comes to mind, many people at once think of rolling sand dunes of at times incredible heights and a completely barren, treeless landscape as typified by the deserts of Africa. In the case of NW India, we only encountered a small section of desert on the way to DNP that had sand dunes. The area, known as Sam's Sand Dunes, is a big tourist hit where stopping for any length of time entails hordes of camel riders, mostly men in their early teens, running out from their makeshift huts and tents by the roadside as they compete with 1 another to sell you a camel ride into the desert. Aside from that, the desert regions of the NW are generally very rocky with areas of sometimes extensive rocky outcrops that can rise several dozen metres above the surrounding landscape. Thorn scrub such as Acacia is also common especially around the fringes of these habitats and in rocky seasonal wadis (i.e. river valleys). For more specific habitat information, refer to the individual places section.
The only places we encountered any form of evergreen forests were the teak forests in the hills of Kumbalgarh and Sashan Gir. Interesting mention must also be made of the forests around Mount Abu where we encountered species of Eucalyptus as well. At Phot Mahadev, the site for the White-naped Tit near Nakatrana, the rolling hills of thorny Acacia forests was unique for the trip as well, and according to Jugal Tiwari, the resident ornithologist of the region, covered an area of approximately 25km square.
The state of Rajesthan and Gujurat, the 2 states this tour covered, are some of the more prosperous in India, thanks largely to tourism, mining and remittance from overseas. The infrastructure was reasonable to say the least, although as with all driving in India, 1 still needs 3 things that drivers all over India would tell you. A Good Horn, Good Brakes & Good Luck. It is interesting to note that the condition of roads near the border is excellent compared to the surrounding countryside. Hence, first-timers will be slightly bemused travelling towards DNP and Bhuj as to how all of a sudden pothole-filled 1-lane roads opened up into well-marked and well-tarred motorways. As we were to experience 1st-hand, the Indian Army has an entire division dedicated to preserving these roads in the interest of National Security, and travelling along them just 3 days after Mumbai 2008 meant truck and trainloads of towed anti-tank guns and artillery pieces, grim faced soldiers and tanks rolling onwards to the Pakistani border to the sound of attack helicopters and the Indian Air Force overhead. Certainly not the most comforting road trip at that time!
The people of the region come across as quiet and resilient individuals. While they are generally inquisitive of birders roaming around their farmlands and deserts, they don't tend to speak very much. We found locals to have an uncanny knowledge of road navigation and many a time our driver would simply pull over and ask random locals for direction, and they were spot on everytime. English is generally understood by a few people everywhere we went, with the numbers increasing at more touristy destinations like Sashan Gir and Jaipur.
Winter does not really do much for this dry and arid region. Diurnal temperatures can still rise up to the low 30s, although the relatively low humidity means that it is nowhere as uncomfortable as the tropics. Temperature wise, with the exception of Nakatrana, it was pleasantly cool at most places after dark, around 20 degrees or so. For some reason, Nakatrana seems to be a wind tunnel of sorts after dark, with chilly winds constantly blowing through
the town at night and in the early morning, perhaps due to its more coastal location. First Light was usually around 6am, matched with a last light timing of around 6 as well. We found the best time for wildlife watching in general to be between 6-9am and 4-6pm. In the middle of the day, there is really no point in torturing yourself out on the dusty barren landscape as the mammals and birds seem to disappear into thin air.
Just a word of thanks to Mr Mohit Aggarwal and Mr Iqbal Ahmed from Asian Adventures for their prompt email replies and assistance during the tour itself.Thanks also to Mr Jugal Tiwari, the resident ornithologist in Nakatrana for sharing his knowledge and experience with us during our time there. Finally, a word of thanks to Rob and James for publishing their trip report on their website which first inspired us to follow in their footsteps.
Summaries for each site are outlined below in chronological order as we visited them. Not all species for each site are documented with attention being given primarily to perceived target species or noteworthy sightings. Where possible, local guides and park entrance fees and other costs (accurate as of the time we are there) are given so as to assist future travellers. Asian Adventures does not include park entrances in their tour costs so we thought it would be helpful for future birders to have some idea beforehand as some places were ridiculously expensive for foreigners.
Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary:
We arrived at this destination slightly jet-lagged and no doubt sleepless from a typically restless midnight shift flight. The local guide Mr Ganesh allocated to us just for this area, seemed ok although he disappointed us greatly by claiming that there were no Sind Sparrows here at this time of year. We were baffled by such comments given that the species was supposed to be resident here. We eventually got tired of trying to persuade him to bring us to areas where the Sparrows had been seen before and just decided to do some introductory birding in the area. At least he found a vocalising Brook's Leaf-Warbler easily enough, so that was a half-success.
The waterfowl at the Lake were there in numbers, although nowhere as mind-boggling as I thought. The ducks consisted predominantly of Gadwalls and Common Teals, with lesser numbers of Pintails thrown in, but that was about it.Our time of arrival probably didn't help much either, as we arrived at 9am and only had 2hrs there before we had to move on.
Sultanpur Entrance Fee: 71 INR Per Pax
Brook's Leaf-Warbler: Sultanpur appears to be a regular and accessible location to see this localised winter visitor. As with all Phylloscopus warblers, its easier to save yourself the agony of physical differences and just tell them apart by song. We didn't have a sample recording with us and thus had to depend on the knowledge of our guide. They do sound different from the Common Chiffchaffs and Hume's Leaf Warblers at any rate, the other 2 dominant species that occur in the dry acacia woods around the lake. I dare say that given the circumstances, we did place a fair bit of trust in Mr Ganesh's call and visual ID skills for this one, as he tried to point out the subtle features of the individual we saw well about 300m down the main trail from the entrance gate.
Indian Spotted Eagle: Our first encounter with this species was perched on a dead snag along the banks of the Lake.
Plum-headed Parakeet: 1 male was observed perched in a dead tree.
Pallid Harrier: 1 juvenile was seen low over some paddyfields near the Bird Sanctuary.
Just a quick note, we paid a visit to the Fossil Wood Park like most visiting birders to try for Plain Leaf-warbler there. We not only dipped, but saw very little there as well, with only first sightings of Desert Lark and Graceful Prinia of note. We saw the first of many Long-legged Buzzards soaring low over Jaiselmar Fort.
Fossil Wood Park Entry Fee: 100 INR Per Pax
Desert National Park:
This park is famous for the bureaucratic barriers it takes to get there. Like Rob and James, we found the process relatively straight forward but as with all Indian Red Tape, needlessly time-consuming as we need to spend 1 whole day in Jaiselmar to get it sorted. At the end of it all, it was all worth it as the birding within the 7kmx5km core area of fenced-in ungrazed grassland as well as along the road leading to this site was excellent. For ease of
documentation, the 2 sites and the noteworthy sightings are covered separately.
Journey To DNP:
This journey is a 2-2.5hr straight drive from Jaiselmar along an excellent road which bypasses the tourist district of Sam's Sand Dunes and where all the Safari Camps are located. Staying in any 1 of these camps, as we did, would reduce the daily journey to DNP to about 45 minutes or so. Thereafter, 1 is required to present the permits to a police post and its another 20km or so along a 1-lane road to the core area itself. Nevertheless, the agricultural fields and scrub along the main highway itself warrants investigation and we spent 4.5hrs on roadside birding alone even before stepping into DNP proper.
Cream-coloured Courser: These localised residents proved to be a real handful to locate as we scoured ploughed paddyfield after ploughed paddyfield enroute to DNP. Eventually, we counted up to 10 of them in a large expanse of stubble not far from the entrance to DNP at around 10am in the morning. These handsome birds were decidedly skittish and preferred to run away from danger. They are noteworthy because apart from DNP and the surrounding agricultural lands, we never saw them again at any other point in the trip.
Bimaculated Lark: Interestingly, we only encountered this species once in 2 weeks in NW India, albeit in a massive flock. There were at least 250 birds feeding in a recently ploughed paddyfield along the main highway between Jaiselmar and Sam's Sand Dunes.
Desert Warbler: This species appeared to be common in the general area between Jaiselmar and DNP with up to 8 sightings of singles or occasionally a pair foraging in the scrub in 1 morning along the road to DNP. They were shy and decidedly difficult to approach, and like most desert specialists appear to have no qualms foraging on the ground. This is again put in this section because once we left Jaiselmar, we never recorded this species again.
Trumpeter Finch: Another winter visitor which we did not see once we left Jaiselmar. We encountered several small flocks of 6-10 individuals feeding unobtrusively by the roadside in the early morning. They were also present in DNP itself with a flock of 25 located on the rocky hill to the left of the entrance gate.
Laggar Falcon: This species appears to be genuinely scarse with just a single individual located on roadside power cables not far from our Desert Camp in the afternoon of our second full day. Good Scope Views were had by all present nevertheless.
Common (Punjab) Raven: Several sightings usually of pairs or small groups clustered around water troughs or squabbling over roadkill were noted on the journey enroute to DNP. Easily distinguished from the abundant House Crow as they are almost twice the size and have a much stronger bill.
White-rumped Vulture: 2 were observed landing in the evening on an acacia tree in a wadi not far from the Safari Camp. This was only 1 of a handful of vulture encounters we had on this trip, almost certainly in line with their catastrophic plunge in numbers all over the subcontinent.
Egyptian Vulture: Perhaps in a self-fulfilling prophecy on their potentially dire plight, this species, which was uplisted to Endangered, was only regularly encountered in the villages between Jaiselmar and DNP. Usually seen in small groups on the ground or thermalling, we hardly recorded them once we reached Gujurat.
DNP Core Area:
The core area of this park, which is where most birders ultimately go to see the Great Indian Bustard, features a rapidly declining habitat in India consisting of ungrazed grasslands interspaced with acacia trees and numerous small sandstone hills. It is interesting to note that the actual fenced area is remarkably small, at just 7km x 5km as forementioned. You could literally scope out the entire area from the viewpoints erected on the hills. However, it is also interesting to note how well the Bustards and other wildlife blend and move in and out of this landscape. When we first arrived here at 930am on our first morning, despite a long sweaty walk along the western end of the park, we turned up hardly anything of note. However, in the evening and early morning the following day, the situation was completely different as the bustards and other wildlife came out in numbers.
Walking is certainly not the best way to get around the park. Although it is basically 1 large rectangle, the clumps of grass are tall in some areas and the thorn scrub can wreck havoc on both clothes and morale alike. On top of that, the wildlife in general is wary and does not allow close approach. We found that riding on the back of a camel was a much better way to get good views of both the birds and other wildlife. As there are wild camels which roam freely both within and out of the fenced area, the wildlife seemed much more accustomed to their presence and riding on the back of one allowed much closer approach particularly to wary species like Bustards then we were able to on foot. These camels can be arranged by the local rangers in advance and the rental cost is calculated on a day-to-day basis, meaning that payment allows you access to a camel safari both in the morning and evening. The rangers do not speak much English although they have an uncanny ability to pick out Bustards at range even without the aid of optics, certainly no mean feat in this featureless landscape.
Another noteworthy feature of the Park is the presence of numerous artifical water troughs scattered throughout the core area. We were pleasantly surprised to find that these troughs were actually powered by a rather sophisticated pump system which ensured that they would never run dry. These troughs, although not particularly obvious, can often be found in close proximity to small observation hides made out of dry grass and other plant materials. These small hides, although uncomfortable for tall indivduals to squat in, allowed for excellent wildlife watching opportunites. Of interest to birders would be the regular presence of large flocks of sandgrouse which descend on these water sources in the mid-morning and late evening to drink.
Camel Cart Price: 500 INR Per Day
Great Indian Bustard: Pride of place of the highlights of this area must certainly go this bird, the avian icon of NW India's arid region. This stately species is rapidly declining throughout its range as a result of hunting and habitat loss, and its not hard to see why. The individuals we observed were often reluctant to fly, often preferring to keep their distance but never once sprinting or rushing into cover. This sort of behaviour would undoubtedly make them easy targets for projectiles. Furthermore, the sight of cattle foraging within the fenced area of the park shows just how much livestock farming is encroaching on their habitat and how powerless the locals are to stop or reverse such trends.
The best way to observe this species must certainly be to scan the grasslands from the top of the various viewpoints or on the back of a camel through the grasslands. We encountered 2 individuals, a much larger male and a much smaller female, on our first evening and watched them under the glow of the setting Sun as they took a stroll through the grasslands, always keeping their distance. The next morning, we encountered up to 4 birds feeding in an area of tall grass near the edge of the fence and managed to get within 100m or so without so much as to flush them all. We even managed to observed 2 males displaying briefly to each other, presumably a territorial display which involved a fair bit of tail cocking. Mega! Apparently, just a week prior to our arrival, a high count of 12 birds was reported one evening according to the local rangers.
MacQueen's (Houbara) Bustard: A much smaller relative of the preceding species (it is even smaller than a Florican!), this species proved much harder to track down thanks to its size and its preference to scurry around like a rodent, probably a defense mechanism against aerial predators, which were abundant here. We eventually saw a maximum of up to 3 birds feeding in a comparatively open area with scattered clumps of grass alongside some Cream-coloured Coursers. Unlike the preceding species, this species appears to prefer the more open grasslands characteristic of the boundaries of the core area. Once again, a camel proved instrumental in getting close to these trip targets. Things can't get much better when one is able to view both threatened Bustards in 1 binocular view.
Stoliczka's Bushchat: Another victim of habitat destruction in this part of the Subcontinent, this Bushchat is globally vulnerable and restricted to areas of ungrazed grassland such as this one. We found them to be a low density species even in protected areas like this. Despite much scrutinising of passerines perched in the scrub (most were some sort of Wheatear), we only located 1 female on our first evening and a handsome male the next morning which allowed close approach.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse: Another local speciality. Within the NW Indian Circuit, this appears to be the only place where 1 has a good chance of encountering these large and beautiful sandgrouse. The irony of it all is that, at least in our case, all our encounters were of flying individuals. Nevertheless, the clear blue skies and good lighting particularly at sunrise allowed for excellent flight views of this species. We noted 3 flocks of 16-18 birds each over the entrance of DNP on our first afternoon, and a pair much lower over the same area the following morning. In flight, they are easily told apart from the more common Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse by their pinless tails, much larger size and white wing-lining contrasting sharply with black flight feathers.
Short-toed Snake-Eagle: We encountered 1 individual perched on an acacia tree not far from the entrance to the park in the late afternoon.
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse: These may be locally common Sandgrouse but the sight of 200 of them coming in to an artifical water trough to drink in the mid-morning heat was a spectacle in itself. The local rangers know the troughs they frequent and are able to guide the camel cart skillfully to these sites where they pose for excellent photo opportunities. In flight, they resemble sand-colour pigeons with their fast and direct flight patterns, with their pins trailing in their wake.
Wheatears: We observed 3 species of Wheatears in and around DNP, with Red-tailed the only species we would catch up with later on. Of the 3, Desert and Variable appear to be equally common, with only scattered observations of the much less numerous Isabelline.
A world-famous site thanks to the incredible numbers of Demoiselle Cranes which winter in the area and congregate to feast on the massive amounts of grain put out by the villagers in the courtyard. Just a few weeks prior to our arrival, an incredible count of 10000 birds were noted in the area.
The site itself is about 2.5hrs out of Jaiselmar, and is nothing more than a village in no-man's land surrounded by sand dunes. I was miserably ill by the time I got here, no thanks to falling to the oldest trick in the Indian Medical Taboo Journal by eating some curry chicken at the buffet the night before. I almost fell off the roof of the neighbouring building while watching the cranes as a sudden wave of nausea overtook me, before having to graciously use our kind host's toilet and returning to the car for some pills.
All things considered, it was still a spectacle to behold, in spite of the fact that we only arrived at 9am in the morning. We counted about 300 cranes within the fenced courtyard in the centre of the village, and possibly up to 2000 in the sand dunes surrounding the village. The cranes seem to have a orderly pecking order when it comes to the free lunch, as flocks of 200 or so birds took turns flying in and out of the courtyard during our time there. We learnt from the villagers that as the day heats up, most cranes move on to a un-named salt lake near the village once they have had their fill, before returning in the evening. The courtyard itself is no larger than the size of a outdoor basketball court, and is tended to by a select team of villagers, who unload the grain there every morning.
10000 cranes equals a mammoth appetite, and one cannot help but wonder where all this grain is coming from, considering the barren landscape for miles around. We made a donation to the village, as most birders do, to aid them in continuing to provide grain for the cranes, but it certainly must be quite a mammoth task to keep 10000 of these birds fed and happy through the winter!
Grain Donation: 190 INR
An overnight stop at this site was meant as a journey break on the way to Mount Abu and also 1 of the few opportunities to scout out a few species found in the hill decidious forest of the Aravalli Range. Kumbalgarh is famous for its majestic fort etched into the hill slopes and the 36km wall which encloses it. We did not have time to secure permits to enter the Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, and thus had to make do with some average roadside birding as we tried in vain to look for Red Spurfowl, a local speciality. The roadside forest birding was generally disappointing, with most species being recorded elsewhere, except for a handful of species outlined below.
Grey Junglefowl: Ding Li was ectastic to have completed his Junglefowls of the world, but it didn't carry as much weight for me considering it was a group of 5 females. First spotted by our driver in some riverine scrub, we followed them as far as the terrain allowed in hopes of finding a male, but to no avail. Our only encounter with this species on this trip.
White-capped Bunting: 2 observed drinking from a roadside puddle alongside 2 Crested Buntings was also our only encounter with the species during the trip.
River Tern: These handsome terns, probably 1 of the best looking terns of the region, were locally common in the reservoirs of the numerous agricultural dams which dotted the landscape here.
Eastern Orphean Warbler: Our only definite sighting of this species was here, where we observed a male low down in an area of thorn scrub about 20km downhill from Kumbhal Castle while trying to find White-naped Tit.
This site is probably the easiest place in the world to see the globally threatened Green Avadavat. All that is required is to park yourself in the Lantena lined fields next to the Peace Park near the summit of the Hill Station either in the late evening or early morning and before too long the high pitch "tzip" signalling the arrival of flocks of these birds will precede their quiet foraging for grass seeds on the ground.
Apart from that though, there is not much reason to come here. A favourite holiday site for Rajesthani honeymoons, weekend getaways and family holidays, the hill station is almost certainly pass its prime. Chocolate-coloured water flows through the streams here, garbage piles up along the roadside and slums are everywhere. This must be the worst Hill Station I have visited in the Orient to date and in a travel magazine I read during the trip a panel of Indian Travel "Experts" actually rated this place as the top 5 worst hill stations in India! The roads around the hill station are also perpetually busy with the honking of horns and speeding drivers, make them hazardous for birding as a whole.
Mount Abu Entrance Fee: 70 INR (You need to pay to enter this Hill Station)
Green Avadavat: Easy in the fields near the Peace Park, 2 flocks numbering about 40 individuals in total were observed in the late evening and the following morning foraging actively on the ground. Confiding and easy to approach, although they were quick to retreat into the Lantena when Accipiters were about.
Indian Scimitar-Babbler: At least 2 were heard, 1 distant individual heard from the Avadavat area and another heard lower down in an inaccessible gully.
Crested Bunting: Common in the same fields as the Avadavat with up to a dozen individuals noted included 1 cracking male in all its glory.
Little Rann Of Kutch:
This proposed World Heritage Site covers a whooping 4954km square and was set aside primarily to protect the last population of the khur subspecies of the Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur). However, the reserve also hosts an astounding array of birdlife, thanks to its varied habitats and unique geographical features.
What makes this area unique is that it is believed to have once been a shallow sea which over time due to plate tectonics and sea level changes has dried out. In the wake of all these changes what is left behind is a vast saline desert dotted with numerous elevated plateaus or islands known locally as "bets". How is this of interest to birders then? The "bets" are the main areas within the Sanctuary that are salt-free and support vegetation growth such as Acacia and other thorny scrubs. It is on these "bets" that you will find both the Wild Ass and MacQueen's Bustard. However, 1 has to travel into the heart of Little Rann as well, the barren and seemingly lifeless saline desert, to seek out the Greater Hoopoe Lark, probably the main avian target for this region.
This is not forgetting the seasonal wetlands that dot the area as well. These wetlands get flooded during the monsoon every year from June to September and cum winter provide an important wintering site for hordes of waterfowl. Interestingly enough, although the whole area is dotted with wetlands, the majority of the waterfowl seem to congregate only in a select few of them, for reasons unknown to us.
As mentioned earlier, Rann Riders proved to be an extremely comfortable base to explore this region. We found the local safari manager, Mr Rizuan, to be extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the birds in the region, although on the downside he seemed to be the only guide in the resort who was familar with all the stake-outs for species like the Hoopoe Lark. Most of the drivers had only passing knowledge of some of the more common waterfowl species.
As an aside, we met Tom Stephenson, a regular columnist for Surfbirds, and his wife here, both of whom were on a birding cum cultural trip around India before he returned to Bhutan to train the local guides there.
Little Rann Of Kutch Entrance Fee: 1050 INR (Per Safari)
Sociable Lapwing: Call us blissfully ignorant as you will, this was the most unexpected write-in on the trip. We subsequently learnt from Mr Rizuan that since 2006, small numbers of this critically endangered species have been "discovered" wintering in the farms around Dasada (the town where Rann Riders is located). This year, there were 8 birds wintering in the farms, and as of our time of arrival, had been feeding in the same patch of ploughed farmland for 2 straight days. We went down there on our 2nd afternoon in the area and were treated to excellent and prolonged views of this species. True to their "gregarious" nature, they were feeding alongside other lifers for us as well, in the form of Indian Coursers and Rufous-tailed Larks, not to mention our first sighting of 4 Common Cranes overhead while we were viewing these species.
Sykes's Nightjar: This must be the easiest place in the usual NW India circuit to see this local winter visitor. The fields opposite Rann Riders hold good numbers of them after dark and brief night safaris can be arranged with Mr Rizuan to drive out there to spotlight them. Although Indian Little Nightjar (C.asiaticus) is also present here, we found that they were easily to distinguish both through physical appearance and behaviour. Not only were the Sykes's a much lighter shade of grey with no obvious markings on the wings, they were also remarkably confiding and allowed very close approach down to a couple of metres! The latter, on the other hand, were much more flightly, and often flew the moment the spotlight was placed on it. We counted 3 birds during our brief night-drive, and all of them showed very well.
MacQueen's Bustard: We had a chance encounter, this time almost running 1 over, with this beauty on 1 of the "bets" at 10am in the morning. We soon realised that it was actually running from a Common Kestrel and didn't notice us, giving us brief but great views as it sprinted away into an area of dense thorn scrub with the Kestrel in hot pursuit. We didn't stay to watch the spectacle although, as we had yet to catch up with the next species...
Greater Hoopoe Lark: This was truly the 11th Hour Mega of the trip, and we all but attributed it to divine intervention which allowed us to ultimately leave Rann Riders in peace.
Initially, Mr Rizuan had guaranteed us a sighting of this species. We were honestly shocked when he mentioned this, as this was probably 1 of the most difficult birds to track down in the lifeless heart of Litte Rann. As it turned out, he actually knew of a nest site for this species that had been in use up till 5 days before our arrival. What none of us could have predicted was, an unseasonal bout of rainfall had hit the area shortly before our arrival. When we arrived at the nest site, the ground around it had actually subsided, leaving it as an exposed mound atop this barren landscape. There were 2 eggs in the nest, but strangely no birds were in sight. This was when we really started getting anxious, for we would have to leave the area in 2 hours from the time we reached the nest site and it was our final safari before moving on to Bhuj.
After driving for another hour in vain, Mr Rizuan had no choice but to suggest turning back. Incredibly, within 5 minutes of that suggestion, he stopped the vehicle in the middle of nowhere, peered through his binoculars, and said the magic words "I got it". We followed his gaze and incredibly, where there was once just a heat wave hovering over the barren, saline land, there was now a bird, and a true oddball at that. The bird had the long tail of a Thrush, the hooked bill of a Scimitar-Babbler and the gait of a Courser. On top of that, it was doing the most peculiar thing, using its hooked bill like a pickaxe and pecking away at a lifeless white rock, like a miner mining for some exquisite gem. After about 10 minutes of foraging in this manner, it faded back into the mirage, never to be seen again, and along with it, the excitement, expletives, and handshakes and high-fives between birders and guides that epitomises all birding tours.
I am personally intrigued to understand how desert species such as this would abandon nest sites due to abnormal rainfall events. Mr Rizuan had not visited the area since the rains, and he was sure that they had done so because the ground had subsided after taking on water, yet the eggs, which most likely had long since cooked given the diurnal temperatures we were exposed to, had not been eaten by predators, which illustrates just how lifeless the area is. When we returned to the nest site an hour later, nothing had changed and as biologists we could only wonder what had triggered this bizzare event.
Waterfowl: This was definitely a highlight of the region. The area we were taken to consists of 3 seemingly interconnected seasonal lakes. Although the numbers were not as high as we thought they would be, the diversity was undeniable and with the aid of a telescope it was a lifer bonanza as we challenged ourselves to sift through the dirt for the gems. Some of the highlights:
Greater Flamingo: This species is put here to point out that although the local guides like to insist that both species occur here, this is not always the case. Despite careful scrutiny, we came up with only 300 or so of this species, and ZERO Lessers. This was supported by Tom's report as he was taken to the same area the day after us and also reported a lack of Lesser. The flamingoes here had a tendency to form loose flotillas of about 30-50 birds, although a particularly large flock of 150 or so were noted.
Pelicans: On the particular day we were here, we managed to connect with both species but not in the numbers we had expected. We counted only about 6 Dalmation Pelicans and a single Great White Pelican easily distinguished by its pink facial skin. Nevertheless, we did encounter much larger pelican flocks in some of the roadside lakes around Dasada and later on in Bhuj.
Pratincoles: Careful scrutiny of a flock of 40 Collared Pratincoles perched on a sand bar yielded a single Small Pratincole, which conveniently mopped up both targets for us here.
Ducks/Grebes: This was the main challenge here and was conveniently left to me, being the "gunner" who was carrying the scope, while Ding Li sneaked off into the reedbeds to flush birds. Bugger! Nevertheless, I did have my moments. The flotilla of ducks here was nothing short of incredible and numbered literally in the thousands. Disappointingly, we failed to find any Marbled Teals or Comb Ducks, which ruined the moment for me as some of the ducks were in areas where neither my scope or my body could reach. Nevertheless, highlights included a single handsome Great Crested Grebe, 10 Ferruginous Ducks amidst the more common Tufted Ducks, small numbers of Eurasian Wigeon and both Greylag and Bar-headed Geese. Ruddy Shelduck was also present. Aside from that, it was the usual mix of Shovelers, Pintails, Common Pochards and Gadwall whose only function was to distract the observer from the rarer cousins lurking in their midst.
Miscellaneous: In addition to the above, Ding Li conveniently flushed a single Jack Snipe which I missed while scoping ducks. Common Snipes were abundant in the reeds and we did manage to locate a small flock of Dunlins. Little Stints were also common although only a single Temminck's Stint was observed. A pair of Heuglin's Gull and about 10 Black-headed Gulls were the only representatives of the family present. 6 White-tailed Lapwings were also counted, often foraging singly and unobstrusively.Pied Avocets and Ruff vied for the dominant wader of the region while Black-tailed Godwits and Eurasian Curlews were present in small numbers.
In the reedbeds, passerines dominated with Indian Reed(Clamorous) and the smaller Paddyfield Warblers, Bluethroats, and small numbers of Black-breasted Weavers.
Bhuj/Great Rann Of Kutch:
From the east end of the Rann Of Kutch, we now moved west into the Kutch Penisula itself, making forays to the Great Rann of Kutch as this great
birding tour drew to a close. The town of Nakhatrana was to be our base for the 2 full days of exploration in this region.
It was here that we had the privilege to meet up and spend time with Mr Jugal Tiwari, a passionate ornithologist who has been working in the area for some time now. His base of operations, the Centre For Desert and Ocean, basically summarises our birding here in a nutshell! On a more serious note, it offers accomodation for visiting birders and naturalists and is used as a base for students visiting the area on nature camps and other activites. The Centre is located just 5 minutes away from the JP Resort, Nakhatrana. In fact, the rooms and public areas of the Resort are adorned with wildlife photos, especially birders, taken mainly by Mr Jugal over the course of his field work within the region.
We would once again like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Jugal and his assistants for their assistance in making this leg of the trip as successful as it was. For people visiting the area and in need of information, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to the variety of habitats found here and the unique birds restricted to these habitats, I have decided to arrange the summary for this leg in order of sites visited, to give readers a feel for the different habitats visited and the avifauna associated with them.
#1:Salt Pans Along The Bridge Crossing Into The Kutch Penisula
We found this area to be exceptionally good for gulls. We crossed this area twice, once in the evening and once at around noon, and both times had excellent views of all the gull species known to occur around Kutch literally by the roadside. Although the area looks like the salt-pans of Samut Sakhon, perhaps due to its inland location it doesn't harbour many waders. However, there was no shortage of gulls as we observed Brown-headed, Black-headed, Palla's, Slender-billed and the tricky Heuglin's complex all feasting on the easy pickings of fish exposed by the drying salt pans. As their larger size suggests, the Palla's frequently engaged in piracy, stealing the catches from smaller gulls. Western Reef-Egrets were also abundant in this locale.
#2: Fulay Village
A famous site for the monotypic Hypocolius. According to Mr Jugal this is one of the most easily accessible wintering area for this species in Kutch, as Fulay Village lies right at the end of a decent paved road. An estimated 300 or so individuals are believed to winter in Kutch every year.We were probably closer to the Pakistani border here than at any other point in the trip, with the distance estimated at 60km as the crow flies. Anyway, we were met by a local guide here Mr Mohamed, an elderly man who has been assisting in monitoring the wintering Hypocolius here for many years now. After a brief walk into the agricultural fields surrounding the village, we quickly came across a flock of 8 Hypocolius associating with the abundant Chestnut-shouldered Petronias and White-eared Bulbuls as they foraged among the fruiting shrubs which bordered the fields. The Hypocolius were very wary however and often disappeared for long periods into the dense shrubs along the boundaries of the field plots. We observed 4 males and 4 females during our time here, with an average number of 10-12 birds recorded visiting the village each winter.
On our way back to the car, we had good flight views of an unexpected Red-headed Falcon over the village, apparently a good record of this increasingly scarce bird in this area.
Payment to Mr Mohamed: 200 INR
#3: Chhari Lake & "Bird Rock"
Both of these sites are not far from Fulay and thus are often set aside as a morning circuit for visiting birders. "Bird Rock" is basically a sedimentary rock outcrop which rises out of the largely featureless desert of the Great Rann of Kutch. Geographically, it is an important landmark for travelling nomads as it orientates them to the nearby Chhari Lake, a vast seasonal freshwater lake which is innudated during the mid-year monsoon every year and subsequently dries out, providing an important water and food source for livestock and wildlife alike, a literal oasis in the desert.
For Birders, "Bird Rock" is a regular site for observing 2 species associated with rocky outcrops. Red-tailed Wheatear, the most localised of the 4 known to occur in the region, was easy here as we found 3 individuals at various points around the outcrop without too much trouble. Sadly, we dipped the Rock Eagle-owl for the trip, a supposedly common endemic usually associated with such habitats although despite much effort and outcrop clambering we failed to locate any over the course of this trip.
At the nearby Chhari Lake, we would finally catch up with Lesser Flamingoes here. This time, they were easily to tell apart from their larger cousins as most individuals were distinctly shorter-legged and had an all dark, sometimes crimson red bill. Breeding adults also had a lovely crimson-pink plumage unlike the more faded pink worn by their larger cousins. We counted up to 150 birds here, although there were easily more at the lake's centre which was out of optics range.
There were also alot of Pelicans here. We observed the overwhelming sight of 100 Great White Pelicans taking off in unison at the sight of several hunting Steppe Eagles, which were common around the lake. Also of note were 2 foraging Black-necked Storks which towered over the surrounding waterfowl here. Alas, the ducks here were scattered and hard to scope and we turned up nothing unusual amongst the loose flotillas.
#4: Phot Mahadev
This was 1 of my favourite birding sites in the whole tour, thorns aside! According to Mr Jugal, this is 1 of the last remnants of the original thorn scrub forest which used to cover much of this area. The forest here is dominated by 2 species of Acacia, with massive thorns to match! The average tree height here was very respectable as we walked through rolling hills covered in largely pristine habitat. Phot Mahadev itself is a temple built on a small hill and yet another visual landmark in the generally featureless forested hills that cover the area.
For birders, this is the best site for seeing the stunning and globally threatened White-naped Tit, especially in the early morning. We tried without success with a late afternoon soujorn and saw most of the area's specialities save for this bird, but saw it very quickly the next morning. We christened the Tits "The Sunshine Birds", for just as Jugal had predicted, the moment the Sun peeked its head over the horizon, the forest would burst out in their beautiful song, perhaps signalling the end of a cold desert night and the start of a bright sunny day. THe tits are easy to see at this time, as they perch on the tops of the Acacia singing merrily, before dropping much lower down to feed with the mixed flocks that move through this area. We had excellent views of up to 2 birds, with at least 2 others heard at different parts of the forest that same morning. The tits have a unique feeding behaviour which allows them to survive in this harsh environment. We observed them skillfully extracting seed borers from the seed pods of the Acacias found here, a behavioural element not observed among the other insectivores during our time here, perhaps indicative of a ecological niche carved out by this particular species.
Sirkeer Malkoha: The culmination of 6 years of work for both of us. This was our final Malkoha of the world and it was not as easy as we expected. Rare in Gujurat but uncommon at this site, we came across a wary individual that was loosely associating with Small Minivets and Common Woodshrikes, the nuclear mixed flocks species in the area.
Painted Sandgrouse: The most difficult of the 3 Sandgrouses and the one I most wanted to see. Ding Li was fortuitous enough to have a confiding pair land right in front of him, and thankfully despite taking the time to hunt me down in the thorn scrub they hung around and we were able to enjoy excellent views of this species. The males are in a league of their own, truly crackers in a desert where most birds are various shades of brown and grey. As with all female sandgrouses, the females are cryptic and blend right into the landscape.
Marshall's Iora: To be perfectly honest, I had expected this bird to be common in habitat like this. However, we found them to be very low density birds with only a handful of sightings, all of single non-breeding plumaged individuals, foraging low in the acacia shrubs.
Grey-necked Bunting: The shrubs and open fields around the temple are a known roosting spot for this species, and we also observed a handful in the Acacia forest as well. At dusk, they were easily found perched in the cacti around the temple compound.
Sykes's Lark: Another species that had us waiting for a long time. We finally caught up with a flock of 10 foraging in some stubble not far down the road from the temple.
#5: Modva/Arabian Sea
This idyllic seaside fishing community, looking over a pristine sandy beach and the tranquil Arabian Sea, was the perfect place to go wader hunting. With Crab Plover a trip target, but no time to detour to Jamnager, Jugal suggested that we visit this area to track down our quarry and some other waders which Ding Li needed. According to Jugal, there is a guaranteed site about 120km out of Nakhatrana, but he painted a horror story of human excreta lined beaches, unfriendly fishermen and generally a bad experience, and we quickly shelved that option, as getting there alone was hassle enough, never mind the other distractions.
This area on the other hand, was the exact opposite. Modhva, a small seaside community about 7km out of Mandvi, a comparatively large port town 2 hours south of Nakhatrana, was not only rich in birds, but was surprsingly pristine with clean white sand and thousands of small mollusc shells which lined the high water mark like little gems. Finding Crab Plover here was extremely hard work though, even though wader counts in the past have turned up 300 birds here. Against all the odds, and a fair bit of divine intervention again, we found them at last light during low tide, which made for a fair bit of walking across loose sand. There were large numbers of Greater Flamingoes here as well, and we literally had to walk amongst a sea of pink on more than 1 occasion. At high tide, wader activity was concentrated around small areas of reef flats found scattered around the beach.
Crab Plover: Ding Li and I agree on this one. We have never worked so hard for a wader ever! We first arrived at this location at around 11am in the morning, and trekked across miles upon miles of loose sand in the hope of encountering a roosting flock in 1 of the numerous bays that dot this extensive coastline. After stopping for lunch at 3pm, we came back again, for a second shot at low tide. Finally, at 545pm, we found 6 of them feeding along a stretch of coastline. Unlike the other waders, these plovers appear to be feed right along the low water mark where the waves meet the beach, which meant distant views through the scope. Nevertheless, it was the culmination of 6 hours of work along this coastline, covering about 20km easily across the loose sand back and forth. Probably 1 of the most satisfying lifers to have seen on this trip.
Eurasian Oystercatcher: 1 of Ding Li's targets, these were common here, with singles seen at various points along the coast and a small flock of 12 roosting at high tide.
Great Thick-Knee: Another of Ding Li's targets, it was noteworthy to have observed a flock of 15 gathered around an area of reef flats.
Sykes's Nightjar: 1 of the most astounding records here was to observe this species sleeping on an area of reef flats right alongside foraging oystercatchers. Jugal's reaction when we first spotted this bird was difficult to put in words! Suffice to say, in all his years working in this area, he had never observed behaviour like this. Eventually, the nightjar appeared to tire of the attention it was receiving and flew into the coastal sand dunes which bordered the beach.
Dalmation Pelican: Likely to benefit from the fish traps laid out by the fisherman and other fishing activities here, 6-8 were observed feeding in the shallows, usually within the fishing traps themselves. The locals don't seem to persecute the birds though, based on what we were told.
#6: Un-named Rocky Wadi 40 mins out of Nakhatrana
Likely the same area Rob and James were taken to see House/Striolated Bunting, we were taken here on the same request and a last shot at the Rock Eagle-Owl. Our luck with owls continued to fail us, but it took us only an hour to locate a flock of 6-8 House Buntings feeding unobtrusively on the ground behind a shrine located on 1 of the taller outcrops. Given that we only spent about an hour here before the brutal drive south to Sashan Gir, we did not record much else of note here, although Grey-necked Buntings were common here as well. As far as I remember, a paved road leads to the shrine/temple situated on the top of one of the taller rocky outcrops here, if that is any help to future birders visiting this area.
Sashan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary:
1 of the few places we visited where the main attraction was mammals, not birds! This reserve is home to the last surviving population of Asiatic Lions, numbering only about 350 or so individuals. With an area of 1412km square, the park also contains 1 of the last remnants of decidious teak forest which used to cover much of Gujurat. The park is enclosed along it entire boundary by a wall made out of massive stone boulders, but as with all rocks weathering has taken their toll and in some areas to call it a wall is an overstatement.
We were fortunate enough to encounter 3 male lions in total during our 2 safari drives here, with 2 brothers in the morning and another individual in the evening. Gir Birding Lodge, which is owned by Asian Adventures, operates safaris between 7am-1030am and again from 330pm-6pm, with the remainder being free time which can be filled by doing some casual birding within the grounds of the lodge and the surrounding area.
For independent birders, take note that entering Gir Wildlife Sanctuary itself can be very expensive, especially if you have your own jeep. In our case, we were financially crippled after our brief stay here, mercifully arranged at the end of the trip. As with all Safaris in India, charges are levied on a per jeep basis, which explains why most locals and non-birders share jeeps. 1 jeep can realistically take 6 people, albeit in slightly cramped conditions. The camera charges here were also expectedly expensive, like everything else in this tourist trap, for foreigners. In our case, we were given our own private jeep to ourselves, which also meant that the cost was split among both of us only. The only advantage to this, was that we were able to stop as and when we wanted if we spotted something interesting.
Birding here was generally dull and unexciting. As with most deciduous habitats in the Orient, diversity is low and the inability to walk around freely affects birding negatively as well. As of our time there, the formerly reliable day roost of the Mottled Wood Owl no longer exists, having been disturbed by monitor lizards, and the local guides mentioned that they are currently searching for other sites. Nevertheless, the lions more than made up for it with their stirling performances, and we left more than happy with our encounters with the Kings of the Jungle. Nevertheless, 1 cannot help but wonder as more and more people encroach upon the Sanctuary, what sort of future will the lions face. As it is, there have been reports of prides moving out of the overcrowded reserve into the surrounding villages, and there have even been reports of lions within the Gir Birding Lodge itself(!), as it lies right on the park's boundary.
Park Entrance Fee: 2610 INR Per Jeep Per Entry
Camera Fees: 500 INR Per Camera Per Day
White-eyed Buzzard: A dry woodland species. This is a good place to find this bird and we saw a handful of them during our time within the park walls.
Tawny-bellied Babbler: A subcontinent endemic. A group of 6 seen flicking over leaves in some riverine vegetation just down the road from the Gir Birding Lodge.
Indian Black Ibis: Regular here and was seen in most other sites around Gujurat. 2 birds perched along the river down the road from Gir Birding Lodge.
Indian Pygmy Woodpecker: Common in mixed flocks within the park, with 1-2 amongst the Minivets and Woodshrikes, not likely to be encountered in the dry arid environments elsewhere on the tour.
Velavadar Blackbuck Reserve:
Our final birding stop of this great tour, this small (34km square) reserve is famous for its population of Blackbuck, surely one of the most handsome antelope in the Orient, and perhaps the World. It is also an important breeding ground for the endangered Lesser Florican during the mid-year monsoon, and during the winter months the spectacle of the largest harrier roost in the world is second to none.
We arrived here at the end of an long 7 hour drive from Gir to be greeted by expenses of lush, sandy-yellow grasses and majestic Blackbucks strolling through them with their harems in tow. Blackbucks can seen easily from outside the reserve as herds move into the surrounding grasslands to feed as well. However, if you are after Striped Hyenas and Harriers roost like we were, you have to pay the expensive foreigner's rate to enter this grassland.
The local ranger here was extremely hardworking and took us to numerous hyena dens to look for any traces of this rare carnivore. Eventually, at the last den we visited, an adorable almost fully mature Hyena cub with exquisitive markings came out to the sound of his squeaks and looked us straight in the eye. Almost certainly 1 of the most magical moments of the trip.
Thereafter it was off to the nearby harrier roost which didn't disappoint, as hundreds of Harriers congregated over a patch of dense elephant grass and took turns swooping down into the vegetation to roost. To top off the evening, we witnessed awe-inspiring flocks of Common Cranes as they formed massive V-shaped flocks at times covering the horizon as they returned to their roosting areas after a day of foraging in the grasslands. There was no better way to end this tour than witnessing such spectacles 1 after another.
Velavadar Entrance Fee: 1020 INR Per Pax
Camera Fee: 500 INR Per Camera Per Entry
Local Ranger: 100 INR
Harrier Roost: The sheer magnitude and beauty of hundreds of harriers congregating against the setting Sun must be seen to be believed. It is a pity that by the time they gather in numbers, the light is too poor for photography. Species wise, the dominant species, Pallid & Montagu's Harriers, are noteworthy as they are rare visitors to most other parts of the Orient. Males are very distinctive and easy to tell apart. Females/Juveniles, on the other hand, were more approachable as they perched readily on the tracks within Velavadar but telling them apart was a whole another matter and involved prolonged scope views as we studied their wing projections and how far they stretched beyond the tail. 1 thing is for sure though, there was no shortage of specimens to choose from!
White Stork: Another surprise write-in. This species proved common in the wetlands and salt lakes bordering the park and good numbers of them were often seen perching in agricultural plots adjacent to water bodies, including a large group of 22 enroute to the airport from Bhavnager and not far from the Reserve.
Red-headed Falcon: Another welcome sighting of this beautiful and scarce falcon, this time of 1 perched on power cables in the agricultural buffer zone bordering the Reserve which allowed scope views and some photo opportunites.
Long-billed Pipit: The only place we encountered this species during our tour. 1 bird loosely associating with a flock of Greater Short-toed Lark caught our eye just based on size alone!