Gujarat has been a birding hot spot in India with a stupendous variety and number of birds for any enthusiast. My earlier trips to Gujarat have been to Lesser Rann of Kutch (LRK) and Thol both of them near Ahmedabad. I wanted to do LRK once again along with Greater Rann of Kutch (GRK) and Jamnagar. So plans were made to go to these magnificent places around early December, when the winter migrants are supposed to have arrived. Initially, had decided to take trains and hire cars to travel in between destinations, but then as the travel day approached, I made up my mind to do a road trip and so drove all the way to Gujarat and back for over 2500 kms in my tried and tested Ford Figo (Indian Ford Fiesta hatchback).
I decided to take my heavy duty birding gear for this trip and this included my Nikon 600 F4.0, Jobu pro Gimbal, Gitzo 5541LS, Nikon 200-500 5.6E, Nikon D800E, Nikon D7200 and the 1.4 TC. These, along with all accessories like memory cards, 2 pairs on binoculars, spotting scope and tripod, batteries, chargers, filters and my Olympus 9-18 F4.0-5.6 attached to my Panasonic GX-1 were packed in my Think Tank Airport Security V2.0 and the Tamrac 5591 roller bags.
The plan was to stop at Ahmedabad for a night cap and then proceed to GRK the next morning. The evening at Ahmedabad was spent in a village themed restaurant, Vishala that serves traditional Gujarati food in dried leaf utensils (Patravals) with some local folk entertainment thrown in. The highlight of the meal is freshly made white butter in small Kullads (earthern pots) that goes very well with Rotla and the various other local breads. They also have a lovely traditional utensils museum that is worth a visit.
Next day early morning, the drive to GRK via Bhuj was a very scenic one with birds seen all along the way and giving a glimpse of things to come in the week. We were going to stay at Center for Ocean and Desert (CEDO) at Moti Viranai, a few kms ahead of Bhuj. Mr. Jugal Tiwari who runs this lovely little home stay, is highly recommended for birding around the Great Rann. The stay at CEDO was very comfortable with Mr Tiwari and his crew taking great care of us. Food is contracted out to a local guy who serves simple home cooked food so all concerns of oily, spicy food are taken care of. They pack a lovely little hamper for breakfast which is had at around 8 AM in the open grassland area called Banni. Banni is famous for a lot of grassland and scrub land birds like Larks, sandgrouse and common cranes.
This place is also famous as a good site for finding fossils, especially oceanic fossils. Mr Tiwari also has a neat collection of fossils that is worth seeing at his home stay. The next 3 days were spent birding in the different habitats of the region and we got to see a number of lifers here including Stolickzas Bushchat, Red tailed Wheatear, Indian Courser, Sykes Nightjar, Marshall’s Iora, White Naped Tit among the star species. We missed the Grey Hypocolius which was a must see for us, but then we are already planning for another trip here in Feb 2016.
After 3 days of amazing birding at the GRK, including a visit to the White Rann, we were ready to see what the Little Rann had in store for us. We were booked for the next 2 days at the Royal Safari camp at Bajana.
The folks at the resort took great care of us and we enjoyed our stay here. The first afternoon safari on a Mahindra Thar Di, was at the Bajana grassland for some excellent sightings of the Short Eared Owl, Wild Ass, Hyenas along with countless Common Cranes.
Next day early morning safari was at Udho area for McQueens Bustard. The Mcqueens Bustard like all Bustards are quite rare and very shy and hardly come near the safari vehicle. Anyway was able to get a few shots albeit at a distance.
Evening was for water birds and Harriers. I enjoyed photographing all of these and a Wild Ass fight between males for dominance.
The next morning safari was for raptor watching and I was obliged with excellent sightings of the Greater spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagle.
After a satisfying 2 days at LRK, we hit the road again for our trip to Jamnagar. Jamnagar is often know for effortless birding. this is due to Lakhota lake that is right in the heart of the city that houses a huge number of birds including some big ones like pelicans, storks and Ducks.
The murmurations of thousands of Rosy starlings in the evening is worth a visit. We visited Balachadi and Narara marine sanctuary to see marine wildlife and crab plovers. Crab plovers are one of the specialties of Jamnagar and people all over India come to see these beautiful white birds.
Thus 10 days of traveling and birding came to end and Gujarat was amazingly satisfying as a birding destination and I just cant wait to get back next year.