Archive for the ‘Gujarat’ Tag

Western India part 6: CEDO and the Bhuj area, Gujarat – 24th – 26th January 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers our two and a bit days in the Bhuj area of Gujarat, specifically three outings arranged by CEDO, the Centre for Desert and Oceans. We arrived in the mid afternoon and immediately boarded their jeeps for an excursion in search of the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing.

IMG_3493 Sociable Lapwing

Sociable Lapwings breed on the steppes of Central Asia and pass through the Middle East to winter in north-east Africa and western India. Once plentiful, habitat destruction has reduced the population to 5,600 breeding pairs, but winter counts in the Middle East and Turkey suggest that this might be an underestimate. They are scarce in India and this flock consisted of just seven birds.

IMG_3486 Sociable Lapwing

In spite of their global rarity this species has turned up in the UK as an autumn vagrant with some regularity. There have been about 40 records in the UK since 1958, although none in the last few years. I have seen this species five times in Britain, in South Wales, Kent, Hampshire, Dorset and Scilly between 1984 and 2008. I have also seen it in Oman and Kazakhstan.

IMG_3469 CB Sandgrouse m

We also had good views of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in the same area.

IMG_3499 marsh sunset

The day ended at a very birdy marsh but there were few places where we could get a view unimpeded by vegetation, and although the sunset was glorious it did little to aid the viewing conditions. In spite of this we saw many Common Cranes coming into roost, lots of waders, pelicans, a Red-necked Falcon and several Paddyfield Warblers.

IMG_3509 Crested HB

The following day we were at an area of scrub soon after dawn and found a couple of Oriental (or Crested) Honey Buzzards still at their roost.

IMG_3515 Grey Hypocolous

It wasn’t long after that our main target appeared, the enigmatic Grey Hypocolius. This a much sought after bird as it is placed in its own family (although thought to be most closely related to the Waxwings). As it breeds in Iran sightings come mainly from wintering areas, especially Bahrain (where I have seen it before but only in flight) and here in Gujarat. This is a male ….

IMG_3516 Grey Hypocolius

….whilst the female lacks the black mask. There were quite a few family collectors in our group so this species was voted number 2 in the ‘bird of the trip’ contest – after Great Indian Bustard of course.

IMG_3546 RT Wheatear

Other birds we saw that day included more Red-tailed Wheatears ….

IMG_3569 YW Lapwing

…. Yellow-wattled Lapwings ….

IMG_3573 Syke's Lark

…. Syke’s Lark, which was a life bird for me ….

IMG_3603 Indian Bush Lark

…. the bulky Indian Bush Lark ….

IMG_3604 Indian Bush Lark

…. with it’s very well-marked breast  ….

IMG_3578 White-naped Tit

…. and the rare and elusive White-naped Tit (another lifer).

IMG_3588 Indian Courser

We got better views of Indian Courser ….

IMG_3593 Green Bee-eater

…. and great views of Green Bee-eater. The new Lynx Illustrated Checklist treats Green Bee-eater as three species, the all-green viridissimus in Africa, the blue-headed cyanophrys in the Middle East and the blue-throated orientalis from southern Iran eastwards.

IMG_3616 Yellow-fronted WP

We only saw a few woodpeckers on this trip, this Yellow-fronted Woodpecker only posed briefly.

IMG_3609 selfie time

The selfie craze has reached India, these girls knocked on the door of our vehicle and asked for a selfie with Heidi.

IMG_3620 crossing the beach

The following day we left early and arrived at the coast to the west of Bhuj at dawn

IMG_3623 the beach

The rising sun soon backlit the flats. Crossing the channels was quite hard for those who didn’t bring suitable footwear as we sunk well past our ankles in the soft mud, however the going was easier closer to the shore.

IMG_3632 the beach

Behind us was a vast expanse of mudflats full of waders and gulls.

IMG_3628 Little Stints

Wader/shorebird species included Little Stints ….

IMG_3695 Sanderling

…. Sanderlings ….

IMG_3683 Lesser Sand Plover

…. Lesser Sandplovers (and the occasional Greater) ….

IMG_3703 Tereks

…. and Terek Sandpipers.

IMG_3672 Grey Heron

Whilst herons were represented by the familiar Grey Heron (which I hope doesn’t get tangled in the discarded fishing line)….

IMG_3668 Great Egret

…. the almost cosmopolitan Great Egret (which should really be split into three species New World, Old World plus SE Asia and Australasia).

IMG_3635 Western Reef Egret

Western Reed Egrets are mainly dark phase here. In winter they occur as far east as Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, further east Eastern Reef Egret replaces it.

IMG_3707 Pallas' & Heuglin's Gulls

Most large gulls were Heuglin’s Gulls, currently treated as a subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull, but probably worth species status. The bird on the left is a Pallas’ Gull, a winter visitor from Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Tibet.

IMG_3713 Pallas' & SB Gulls

Here two Pallas’ Gulls in near adult summer plumage pose with a group of much smaller Slender-billed Gulls. Pallas’ Gulls used to be called Great Black-headed Gull but that invites confusion with the similar sounding Great Black-backed Gull and requires that the familiar Black-headed Gull’s name is given a modifier, usually Common Black-headed Gull (which in turn invites confusion with Common Gull). Pallas’ Gull also celebrates the life of Peter Pallas, a great explorer of Central Asia in the late 18th century.

IMG_3700 Brown-headed Gulls

We also saw a small number of Brown-headed Gulls, quite like Black-headed Gulls at rest but with a strikingly different wing pattern in flight.

IMG_3663 Gt Thick-knees

Two birds stood out in our exploration of the coast. The first was a group of eleven Great Thicknees (seven seen here), a relative of the Stone Curlew.

IMG_3646 Gt Thick-knee

Only present in rocky area, they gave superb views, far better than I have had before.

IMG_28951 Crab Plover FL

The second highlight was Crab Plover, another species in its own family. Several were seen some way off but as the tide came in they left the distant sandbar and flew towards us. At that moment my camera battery died and I found I had left he spare in the vehicle. This photo and the next were kindly given to me by tour leader Frank Lambert.

IMG_28772 Crab Plover FL

A Crab Plover with two Little Terns in winter plumage. Photo by Frank Lambert

IMG_3634 the beach

Well that was that for the shining sands of Kutch. We headed back to CEDO making a few stops on route.

IMG_3763 village scenes

We passed through many settlements on route with their hard working villagers ….

IMG_3762 village scenes

…. and inevitable cattle-jams.

IMG_3731 Indian Fruit Bats

One village had a large colony of Indian Fruit Bats. In many part of the world fruit bats living so close to people would have been eaten but in India there is a respect for nature in spite of its burgeoning population.

IMG_3727 Indian Fruit Bats

We were able to get excellent views of the colony from the roadside

IMG_3758 Indian Fruit Bats

…. and watch the bats fly over the village as we enjoyed a glass of tea.

IMG_3765 dipping on owls

Our final stop was this gorge where we tried to improve on our earlier views of Indian Eagle-Owl, but to no avail.

That ended out time in Gujarat. The following morning we left early for a flight to Mumbai. Here we had several hours to kill before we took another flight to the city of Nagpur in the state of Maharashta, pretty much in the centre of the country. That will be the subject of the seventh and final post on Western India.

 

 

Western India part 5: The Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat – 22nd – 24th January 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers the first site we visited in Gujarat, the Desert Coursers camp near the Little Rann of Kutch.

IMG_3261 cattle on the road

After a final morning at Mt Abu we descended to the plain and continued south-westwards towards Gujarat. We met many cattle-jams on the road ….

IMG_3295 village scenes

…. passed through many traditional Indian villages ….

IMG_3454 villagers Little Rann of Kutch

…. and makeshift camps of migrant workers.

IMG_3367 village scenes

Rubbish tips beside the road were a frequent sight ….

IMG_3429 Peacock on dump

…. although it was quite surprising to find Peacocks foraging amongst the trash.

IMG_3299 Bhraminy Starlings

Among the many birds we saw on route were these Bhraminy Starlings …

IMG_3264 Streak-throated Swallows

…. and under a bridge we found a large colony of Streak-headed Swallows ….

IMG_3285 Streak-throated Swallowsjpg

…. although it was a job to get decent flight photos of them over the water.

IMG_3365 Pallid Scops Owl best rotated

Even before we had checked into the lodge we were shown this very obliging Pallid (or Bruce’s or Striated) Scops Owl in the grounds. The bird looked down at me at such a strange angle that I had to rotate the photo through 90 degrees for it to appear normal.

 

IMG_3293 open vehicle Desert Coursers

Like at Siana, transport was in these open-sided vehicles ….

IMG_3340 Little Rann of Kutch

which was fine in the afternoon sun, but in the early morning was very cold indeed ….

IMG_3353 Little Rann of Kutch

…. and extremely dusty as well.

IMG_3348 Heidi inLittle Rann of Kutch

Even so, I think it would be fair to say that some tour members rather overdid the protective clothing!

IMG_3343 Rainer Little Rann of Kutch

Most of the Little Rann of Kutch consists of barren mud flats. During the monsoon season storms force sea water over the area adding to the flooding caused by the heavy rain. As the water evaporates salt deposits build up over the millennia.

IMG_3344 Little Rann of Kutch

Temporary shelters spring up in the dry season as migrant workers harvest the salt deposits.

IMG_3345 salt pans Little Rann of Kutch

Salt pans can be seen in many places ….

IMG_3456 salt Little Rann of Kutch

…. and the product of their labour is piled up on the edge of the flats.

IMG_3349 Little Rann of Kutch

Much of the acacia woodland that surrounds the flats has been cut for firewood.

IMG_3303 Common Crane

To cater for the need for firewood the Mexican mesquite bush was introduced a few decades ago and has spread explosively throughout western India. However acacia is still prefered as firewood, so the native wildlife-friendly acacia has been replaced by a wildlife-adverse alien. Shame they didn’t plant acacia saplings instead! Wintering Common Cranes are quite numerous in the area and can be seen feeding along the edge of the flats or in long Vs across the sky.

IMG_3452 Onagers

The Little Rann of Kutch is one of the last strongholds of the Asiatic Wild Ass or Onager.

IMG_3449 Onagers

The Onager is not the ancestor of the domestic donkey, that honour falls to the African Wild Ass of the Danakil area of Ethiopia and Somalia.

IMG_3372 Onager

Once ranging from Israel to Siberia the range has contracted greatly and now only occurs in Iran, Pakistan and India plus parts of Central Asia.

IMG_3313 Syke's Nightjar best

As darkness fell we stayed to spotlight the restricted range Syke’s Nightjar.

IMG_3412 Indian Courserjpg

After a morning of bustard searching on the flats we visited a nearby lake and in the surrounding fields found the endearing Indian Courser.

IMG_3425 Indian Photographers

This group of Indian photographers were clearly watching what we were doing as within minutes of us finding the coursers they drove right  into the field for closer views.

IMG_3395 flamigos

The lake held good numbers of Lesser Flamingos. The Little Rann of Kutch is the only area outside of Africa where Lesser Flamingos breed.

IMG_3397 cranes flamingos

As well as Lesser Flamingos there were numerous other water birds, ducks, waders, Spoonbills and these Common Cranes.

IMG_3390 Nilgai

A few Nilgai were seen along the lakeside ….

IMG_3387 Onagers

…. as well as a number of Onagers.

IMG_3388 Onager & dogs

This stallion was getting hassled by feral dogs ….

IMG_3389 Onager & dog

…. but he soon gave them the boot (or should that be soon gave them the hoof?)

IMG_3544 RT Lark

We were just about to leave the Little Rann of Kutch when we found this Rufous-tailed Lark close to the road.

308 Turkestan0459

But one of the top bird on most people’s agenda was the increasingly rare Macqueen’s Bustard  which is now a scarce winter visitor from Central Asia. Formerly lumped with Houbara Bustard of North Africa and the eastern Canaries, this bird is the traditional target of Arab falconers and its numbers are dropping rapidly as a result. This bird was seen twice on the Little Rann of Kutch, both times briefly in flight and I missed it on the first occasion. Of course I didn’t get any photos so I have included one I took on the breeding grounds in Kazakhstan in 2005. This species is much smaller than the Great Indian Bustard, but just as hard to see and I only saw it on the final morning just before we headed off to our next stop at Moti Virani further north-east in Gujarat.

IMG_3310 sunset Little Rann of Kutch

Let’s be corny and end with another glorious desert sunset.