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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Gujarat 3-15th February 2009 ,
Gujarat in NW India is a large state of mainly flat desert and salt pans. It has an excellent road system. Birds are present in large numbers with some specialities. There is the added attraction of Wild Asses and Asiatic Lions.
Made through the India based company of Indian Panorama. We have used this company several times and totally recommend them. http://www.indianpanorama.in/
The arrangements made included a new air-conditioned vehicle with driver; all accommodation; most meals and drinks; Entrances fees to parks. Cost per person £695
Booked through Expedia. We flew from Heathrow to Ahmedabad via Doha with Qatar Airlines at a cost of £427 each. Good airline and no problems once we had beaten the heavy snow at Heathrow.
Arrived Ahmedabad at 04:30. Picked up the vehicle and drove straight to Rann Riders, Dasada, approx 2 and a half hours. The “camp” consists of chalets dotted around a large garden. After breakfast we went for our first jeep drive with a Naturalist/Guide/Driver called Juned. This was an open jeep and you need to wrap up as it’s quite cool first thing in the morning. We went to a large lake surrounded by fields. Large numbers of ducks, waders, pelicans and cranes present with passerines in the fields. Flocks of Chestnut bellied Sandgrouse were flying around.
A walk around the “camp” produced numerous birds including Red Breasted Flycatcher, Hume’s Whitethroat and 2 Sarus Cranes on the pond across the road.
In the afternoon we went around another lake with similar birds plus Desert Wheatear. Juned then said he knew a site for White tailed Lapwings and we found 2 birds. Another field had 4 Cream Coloured Coursers and 1 Indian Courser (our only Coursers of the trip).
After dinner we went spotlighting and had very close views of Sykes Nightjar about 1km from the camp.
CHESTNUT BELLIED SANDGROUSE
A long drive into the Little Rann of Kutch. This is flat dry saline desert with no roads just track marks. Greater Short Toed Lark were very common with Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark, Long Legged Buzzard, Peregrine and Hoopoe seen. We then saw 3 Macqueen’s Bustards on the track in front of us. Further driving across the desert took us to a salt works where Juned said he guaranteed Hoopoe Lark. However the guarantee ran out and we dipped on this species.
Driving back to camp we started seeing Wild Asses in large herds. They are quite skittish and moved away from the jeep from at least 200 yards. By using some bushes as cover I managed to walk to within 100 metres to get some photos before they moved off.
In the afternoon we went to another lake, again with large numbers of ducks, including Ferruginous Duck, flamingos and pelicans. At dusk we saw Pallid and Montague’s Harriers coming to roost amongst some low bushes. A puncture then ended the birding for the day.
Another jeep ride in the morning to the nearest village, Dasada, where we walked around watching the locals starting their day. Very interesting with lots of birds in the locality. Baya Weaver, Wire tailed Swallow, Jungle Babbler, River Tern, Open billed Stork, Brahminy Starling.
After breakfast we drove to Bhuj. This took above 4 hours. A light vulture was seen at distance above Maliya, possibly White backed.
Black shouldered Kites were common on the wires. At one point the road goes through a salt works for several kilometres. The pans held Western Reef Herons and a few Slender billed Gulls as well as Pelicans, Flamingos, Ducks, Stilts and waders.
In Bhuj we stayed in Hotel Ilark, an excellent modern hotel, for 1 night.
It was here at Hotel Prince we got our liquor licence and stocked up with beer for the rest of the trip.
Continued to Centre for Desert and Ocean (CEDO) camp near Nakhtrana.
This is run by Jugal Tiwari. The accommodation is in the villa and was simple but adequate in a large clean room with shower and toilet. Food was made locally and brought in. It was excellent and plentiful.
Some reports have seen Variable Wheatear on the wires along this road but we didn’t see any.
Our guide here was Vaibhah and the driver Jairam. Both were excellent. We went out after lunch to the Banni Grasslands and the first bird seen was Sykes Lark. Yellow wattled Lapwing, Black Redstart, White cheeked Bulbul soon followed. We went to a large flat area with small bushes and saw up to 20 Steppe Eagles and 1 Bonelli's Eagle coming in to roost. Whilst watching these I saw 4 Grey Hypocolius atop a bush which was a surprise! A rocky outcrop produced Blue Rockthrush and a Red tailed Wheatear. We moved on to Fulay village to meet Mohammed who, for 200 rupees, took us across his fields to see Grey Hypocolius coming in to roost. We had another 6 birds here with a Long legged Buzzard, Rufous fronted Prinias and White cheeked Bulbuls, Southern Grey Shrike and Bay backed Shrike.
Some of the House Sparrows seen could be Himalayan House Sparrows (parkinii)
YELLOW WATTLED LAPWING
An all day trip in the Naliya Grasslands with Great Indian Bustard as the target. We had a long drive to up near the Pakistan border, stopping at a reservoir on the way. Nothing new here but very cold! An area of low bushes had roosting vultures and we saw 15 Eurasian Griffons and 2 Cinereous Vultures. Isabelline, Desert and Variable Wheatears were seen. Also Tawny Pipit.
According to Vaibhah and Jugal, Bustards are down to less than 30 birds despite “official” figures being higher. The problems are fragmentation of the land by farmers causing loss of habitat, and the numerous dogs. The future for Bustards is not good. While searching we had good views of Grey Francolin and the stunning Black Francolin.
After 5 hours searching Vaibhah stood on top of the jeep and said he could see a white neck about 300 metres away. With nothing to lose we set off across the scrubby landscape and saw 3 Bustards about 100 metres away under some bushes. Trying to get closer we flushed the birds and 5 flew out, 4 males and 1 female. I managed to get a record flight shot. They are impressive birds.
GREAT INDIAN BUSTARD
After lunch at a local restaurant we started back with several stops for birding. We eventually got Indian Bushlark, Marshalls Iora, Dusky Crag Martin, Silverbill, House Bunting and Grey necked Bunting. Three Minivets appeared and I was sure they were White bellied – the target bird – but didn’t look too closely as I tried to photograph the birds. When we got back they proved to be Small Minivets so we dipped on the White Bellied.
INDIAN BUSH LARK
White naped Tit had proved elusive so Jugal said he would take us out next morning as Vaibhah was engaged elsewhere. Jugal knew where they roosted. We needed to be in place at dawn as the Tits call at the top of a bush then fly off to feed. This duly happened and we had a 5 second view of one bird. Jugal then suggested moving a kilometre to another site to see if we could locate feeding birds. I was a little sceptical but, sure enough, Jugal heard the Tits call and 2 appeared in a low tree and gave great views for 5 minutes.
After breakfast we set off for Jamnagar. This meant retracing our route across the salt pans which again held many birds. Painted Storks, Gull billed Terns, Red rumped Swallow, Black necked Ibis added to the list.
At Jamnagar we stayed at the Hotel President. This is a basic city hotel but probably the best in the area.
Late afternoon we walked around Lakhota Lake. This is a large lake in the centre of the town. It is a smelly, litter strewn, cess pit!! However it attracts a large number of birds. Many ducks, Pelicans, Storks, Ibises and Black tailed Godwits present. Towards dusks thousands of Rosy Starlings swirled around the sky above the lake – quite a spectacle!
Morning visit to Khidajiya reserve. This is a large reserve with a 5km track down the middle. Fresh water one side and salt marsh the other side. Again large numbers of birds present. Caspian, Gill billed and Whiskered Terns, Curlew, Black necked stork, ducks, pelicans, Painted Storks, Little and Great crested Grebes, Bluethroat, White eye, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Purple Heron, Hoopoe, Rufous tailed Shrike.
GREAT WHITE PELICAN
Later we went to a coastal site near an army training camp (Balachadi) . The tide was coming in so we walked across the mud to the birds. A single Great Indian Thick Knee flew across the mud. 500+ Crab Plovers and 1000+ Great Sand Plovers with a few Great Knot, Terek Sandpipers, Little Stint, Turnstone, Curlew, Black tailed Godwit, Redshank and Greenshank.
The guide we had here was not very good – really a Forest Ranger not a Naturalist. We would have done better to use Yashodhan Bhatia and his group. Contactable via Hotel President or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the afternoon we drove to the Marine Sanctuary. The tide was receding as we walked about 1 kilometre to the birds. Some large Gulls present – A few Pallas’s and Heuglin and Yellow legged. Also Lesser Crested Terns, Curlew, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. Reef heron Great Egrets, Oystercatchers & Grey Plover. The drive towards the entrance of the sanctuary has salt pans and fields along the road. They had 5 Black necked Grebe, Flamingos and 6 Demoiselle Cranes. There were no guides at this sanctuary but we did not need one.
Jamnagar to Gondal
Morning spent on the drive. In Gondal we stayed at the Orchard Palace Hotel.
Went to a large lake which held all the usual; birds plus Purple Swamphen, Wood Sandpiper and Comb Duck. In a field there was a small flock of Black headed Munias.
Gondal to Gir via Porbander and Junagadh. Porbander is the birthplace of Gandhi so we visited the house and it’s free! However we were subjected to the most aggressive begging we have encountered anywhere in India. Women and children were constantly pulling at our clothes and demanding money and then banged on the side of the vehicle until we drove away. We didn’t give them any money. I’m sure it’s a scam.
A brief stop at a small lake in Porbander had the only Garganey of the trip.
At Junagadh we stopped at the Mahabat Maqbara mausoleum. Very ornate and worth a visit with several Black Kites overhead.
Along the road we passed a large lake which had, around the shore, 50 Black Ibis and 10 Ruddy Shelduck.
We arrived at Gir mid afternoon. We stayed at Gir Birding Lodge. This is a great place with individual chalets dotted amongst a mango orchard. A camera permit cost 500 rupees a day if 5m pixels or greater. We picked up a jeep/driver and compulsory guide. As mammals are the target here it is important to tell the guide you are interested in birds. Our guides were surprisingly knowledgeable. The afternoon drive produced Brown capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Yellow napped Woodpecker, Tawny bellied Babbler, Common Woodshrike, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher and Spotted Dove as new species for the trip. Spotted Deer are numerous with a few Sambar and Langur Monkeys.
Early morning start and very cold! Fleece, sweater and woolly hat needed as the jeeps are open. A Leopard was glimpsed moving through the trees. Peafowl very common but no lions seen.
Afternoon game drive started about 4 and more new birds. Spotted Owlet, Common Iora, White browed Fantail, Shikra, Short toed Eagle, Oriental Magpie Robin, Grey Wagtail and Rufous Treepie.
We then got a report of lions. This entailed a high speed drive to get to the site. We could have taken our time. Three lions were laying in a sandy gully digesting a large meal. They appear a little smaller and less aggressive than African Lions. People were getting down from their jeeps to take photos (including me.) and were making lots of noise. This did not apparently interest or disturb the lions.
Another early morning drive. We had good views of a Jackal walking along in front of us. Plum headed Parakeet, Flameback, Petronia, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Coppersmith and Yellow footed Green Pigeon all showed well.
YELLOW FOOTED GREEN PIGEON
Afternoon drive. This turned out to be the drive of a lifetime. We took a new track and stopped for photos of Rose Ringed Parakeets feeding on a Flame of the forest Tree in beautiful sunshine and very close.
ROSE RINGED PARAKEETS
A Paradise Flycatcher flitted around some trees. We then went to a large lake and saw a large Crocodile and Great Indian Thick Knees. Also Little Ringed Plover plus great views of Crested Serpent Eagle. A Crested Tree Swift flew over.
CRESTED SERPENT EAGLE
On the way back a shout of STOP from my wife in the back of the jeep caused panic. There, about 20 metres away, a large Leopard was lying on the ground amongst fallen leaves in dappled sunshine, very well camouflaged. It slowly got up after a few minutes, walked behind the jeep and along the track before moving off into the forest where we could clearly see it scent marking its territory. The guide said you never get that sort of view of Leopards in Gir . The best views he has ever had. We were very lucky!
Driving along we saw 2 antelope amongst the trees. These were the elusive 4 Horned Antelope. They looked at us for about 10 seconds before bouncing off.
Then we got news of a Lion by the road. Off we sped again, but coming round a bend a young male Lion came bounding towards us. Stopping quickly the Lion loped past the jeep and trotted into the wood behind us. Off we drove again and came upon a Lioness walking along a low ridge about 50 metres from us. She stopped and lay down like a large house cat and just stared at us. After taking photos we left her in peace to round off a great game drive.
All was not finished though as a large bull Nilgai appeared and walked along in front of us before standing in the trees just off the road.
Drive to Palitana for an overnight stay at Vijay Vilas near Adpur,Palitana. This was built by the Maharajah of Bhavnagar and is a heritage hotel. What a disappointment! The place is dilapidated, random, dirty with poor food. It cannot be recommended. There were some birds around and we went to a nearby lake. This had a number of ducks, the only Osprey of the trip, Pied Bushchat, Golden Oriole, Plain Prinia, Rufous Lark and Rufous tailed Shrike.
There is a large Jain Temple complex at Palitana which could be visited. However it is atop a mountain with 3,500 steps up the the temple! The walk up takes 2 hours or you can be carried on a Doli (rope chair). With limited time here and, to be honest the heat of the day, we didn’t bother. The ascent really needs to be made in the cooler hours.
To Ahmedabad via Velavadar.
The road to Velavadar is via Bhavnagar and this crosses a very long viaduct through salt pans. These held few birds and we didn’t stop.
The Black Buck sanctuary at Velavadar is small, 35 sq kms and two circuits can be done in 2-3 hours. The entrance fees are very high and you use your own vehicle. A guide is compulsory and attracts a fee as well! For us for car, driver, guide and cameras it came to 2,700 rupees (about £40).
Black Buck are easy to see and plentiful in large herds but are very wary and we never got closer than 200 metres. We looked for Hyena but failed to see one although the guide knew where there was a den.
Birding from a car with 6 people and luggage is not easy so was disappointing. A large lake in the reserve produced Avocet and we saw a single Sarus Crane among the usual birds.
In Ahmedabad we stayed at the House of MG. This is an upmarket hotel. Very large rooms, excellent food and expensive (£100 per night) but worth it! We did some sight seeing around Ahmedabad seeing a Jain temple, Gandhi’s Ashram and a Step Well from the 15th century. At dusk there were large numbers of Black Kite, House Swift and Rosy Starlings flying over the city.
Flew home after a very successful and enjoyable trip.
Total species seen 219
Not many Wheatears seen. None on wires.
No Tree Pipits seen
No Coursers seen other than 1 group at Rann Riders.
Black Kites only see over Junagadh and Ahmedabad.
Large numbers of many species present.
Dipped on Hoopoe Lark and White bellied Minivet.
Many good photographic opportunities.
High camera fees (500 rupees per day) at Gir and Velavadar.
No Hornbills seen.
No Stoliczka Stonechats could be identified.
Cranes only seen on the drive from Ahmedabad to CEDO. No Cranes along the drive from Bhuj to Gir via Porbandar.
Take warm clothing for early morning starts.
Food is mostly vegetarian but very tasty and not too hot.
Change money at the airport although money could be changed in the hotel at Bhuj at a better rate.
Liquor permits can be obtained at the Duty Free shop in the airport but it does not sell beer. We bought 2 bottles of spirits there. If you use the permit it cannot be used again for 10 days!! We had to get another permit in our wives name in Bhuj at the hotel Prince. We then got the beer to last the trip.
Travellingbirder.com. report by David Stanton
Gujarat trip report by Bill Harvey.