BIRDWATCHING IN GUJARAT
Day-1: AHMEDABAD- RANN RIDERS SAFARI RESORT, DASADA (Approx two hours drive)
Arrive Ahmedabad by morning flight or overnight Rajdhani Express, and have breakfast at the river-facing Cama Park Plaza, where your birdlist will begin with many garden birds in the hotel premises and waterside birds along the Sabarmati River. Travel to Dasada, two hours away, to arrive in time for lunch at Rann Riders. The road to Dasada is interesting as you pass cattle graveyards where white-rumped, Egyptian and griffon vultures could be seen and wetlands that are good for resident birds. This eco-friendly safari resort is imaginatively designed using local materials and has extensive grounds with a water-body, ponds, gardens, plantations and agricultural fields. Red necked falcon, shikra, blue throat, rosy starling, black ibis, white pelican, grey and pond heron, pied, common and white-throated kingfisher, and other birds come into the property. After lunch, depart for a drive in the Little Rann of Kutch, a sanctuary for the Indian wild ass. An ancient seabed turned by geological forces into saline desert plains, the Rann has grassy patches that offer good bird-watching. Crested and Sykes larks, Oriental skylark, bimaculated lark, greater short-toed lark, singing and Indian bushlarks, ashy-crowned and black-crowned sparrow-larks, are likely sightings and greater hoopoe lark is possible. Desert and variable wheatears, southern grey, long-tailed, rufous-tailed and bay-back shrike, common woodshrike are also likely sightings and the desert warbler is among the many winter visiting warblers. We will also look for chestnut-bellied and spotted sandgrouse, Indian courser (cream-coloured visits occasionally), quails, yellow-legged and barred buttonquails, grey francolin, wryneck, brown-rock chat, pied bushchat, rufous-tailed scrub robin, blue-headed rock thrush, black redstart and buntings in the scrubby areas. At sunset, it is possible to watch marsh, Montagu and pallid harriers, aquila eagles, falcons and buzzards heading for their roosting sites. Among the mammals of the Rann other than the wild ass, there are chances of seeing nilgai, chinkara gazelle, white-footed desert and Indian foxes, the wolf, jungle cat (occasionally also desert cat), pale and long-eared hedgehogs and hare.
Morning drive to the bets, elevated patches in the Rann covered with scrub and grass. In winter, this is a likely area for Macqueen’s bustard. Long-legged, common and white-eyed buzzard, booted eagle, Bonneli’s eagle. short-toed snake eagle, are often seen during the drive.
Evening visit to Nawa Talao, a lake where demmossile and common cranes gather in large flocks during the winter months. Greater and lesser flamingo are seen in large numbers as are great white pelican with spotbilled and dalmatian recorded. Painted, openbill, wooly-necked, white, black and black-necked stork could be seen as also black, glossy and black-headed ibis. Northern pintail, common teal, spot-billed duck, mallard, gadwall, wigeon, garganey, shoveler, cotton pygmy goose, pochards, tufted duck, lesser whistling duck, brahminy and comb duck are among the many visitors to the lake. Waders include pratincoles, lapwings, sandpipers, ruff and other birds in good numbers.
Day-3: DASADA – HOTEL PRESIDENT, JAMNAGAR
Morning walk in Dasada village. This can yield a reasonably good bird list including yellow-legged green pigeon, paradise flycatcher, fantails, red-breasted flycatcher, white-eye, prinias and warblers. After breakfast, depart for Jamnagar, six hours away. This is an interesting route passing agricultural fields and lakes. Birds of open-country like roller and black-shouldered kite could be seen. Arrive at Hotel President in time for lunch. On this day, we will also try to get permits to enter the Marine National Park the next day.Evening visit to Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary, where there are fairly good chances of seeing Indian skimmer. This sanctuary is a breeding area for many species of birds that do not nest elsewhere in peninsular India. Great-crested grebe, black-necked stork, Caspian tern and many other birds can be seen besides most of the species recorded in the Little Rann area. Stay at Hotel President.
Visit coastal areas along the Gulf of Kutch, one of the finest birding stretches along the Indian coastline. You are likely to see crab-plover, Kentish plover, oystercatcher, ruddy turnstone, broad-billed sandpiper, sanderling, dunlin, curlew sandpiper, black-headed gull, Pallas’ gull, temmincks stint, lesser-crested tern, gull-billed tern, common tern, little tern, black-bellied tern, whiskered tern, whiskered tern, darters, western reef egret and other birds could be seen on this route.
Time permitting, walk to Lakhota Lake to watch brown-headed gulls and a variety of ducks.
Stay at Hotel President.
Day-5: JAMNAGAR – THE PALACES OF GONDAL
Depart at dawn with a picnic lunch for Porbandar, two hours away. This coastal city is good for watching and photographing birds at close range. Besides large flamingo and crane flocks, this area also receives yellow-legged gull, henglin’s gull, sandwich tern, black-bellied tern, etc. Travel three hours to Gondal and check-in at the Riverside Palace/Orchard Palace. These heritage hotels are good for birding with many species coming in to the orchards and on the river-shores. Drive to the grasslands where there are chances of seeing Eurasian eagle-owl, Montagu harrier, short-eared owl, rock bush quail, ashy-crowned sparrow-lark, southern grey and rufous-tailed shrike, pipits, pied bushchat, among other birds. The lakes of Gondal attract large flocks of demmossile and common cranes, white pelicans, ducks, and other birds.
Day-6: GONDAL – GIR BIRDING LODGE
After breakfast, travel three hours to Gir and take a mini-bus tour of the Interpretation Zone, an enclosed cross-section of Gir habitats. Dinner and overnight at the Gir Birding Lodge in a private orchard of Gir with a forest view.
Day-7 & 8: GIR BIRDING LODGE
A tapestry of dry deciduous forests, acacia scrub and grassland, fed by rivers and reservoirs, Gir is the last abode of the Asiatic lion and has a thriving population of panther (leopard), sambar, chital (spotted deer), nilgai (blue bull antelope) and wild boar. Gir is also one of the major habitats of chousingha (the world’s only four-horned antelope) and chinkara (Indian gazelle) that are hard to spot in the teak forests along the game drive trails. Among the many birds of Gir, changeable hawk eagle, crested serpent eagle, Bonneli’s eagle, shaheen peregrene falcon, laggar falcon, shikra, painted sandgrouse, quails, black-hooded and golden oriels, marshall’s and common iora, Asian paradise flycatcher, tickell’s blue, red-throated, verditer and Asian brown flycatchers, yellow-crowned, brown-capped pygmy, black-rumped flameback woodpeckers, green and blue-cheeked bee-eaters, coppersmith barbet, common, lesser pied and white-throated kingfisher, blossom-headed parakeet, hoopoe, black, ashy and white-bellied drongos, rufous treepie, large cuckoo shrike, small minivet, red-vented and white-eared bulbul, tawny-bellied, yellow-eyed, jungle and large grey babblers, grey-breasted, ashy, rufous-fronted, plain, jungle and graceful prinias, zitting cisticola, clamorous reed-warbler, booted warbler, greenish warbler, lesser and Hume’s warbler, orphean warbler and blyth’s reed warbler, are among the many birds that could be seen here. Those interested in herpetology can visit the crocodile breeding farm at Sasan.
Day-9: GIR – PALITANA
Travel four hours from Gir to Palitana and check-in at the Vijay Vilas, a family-run heritage hotel. Bird in the surrounding countryside or visit Bhavnagar for birding at Victoria Park (good scrubland birdlife), Gaurishankar Lake and near the ports where Western reef egret nest in good numbers. Those interested in combining culture with natural history can visit the magnificent Jain temple complex atop Shatrunjaya Hill.
Day-10: PALITANA – VELAVADAR – PALITANA
Early morning depart for Velavadar National Park with a picnic lunch. Known for its large blackbuck antelope population, Velavadar is also one of the few places where the wolf is proliferating in India though they are rarely seen in the daylight. Jackal, jungle cat and hare are more easily seen and Indian fox on the periphery. Sirkeer malkoha, painted francolin, chestnut-bellied and spotted sandgrouse, rufous-tailed, crested and sykes’ larks, red-rumped swallows, desert and variable wheatears and other birds are seen and many raptors visit specially short-toed snake eagle, imperial, steppe, tawny, greater and lesser spotted eagles, laggar falcon, hobby, common kestrel, red-necked falcon, peregrine falcon, white-eyed and long-legged buzzard, black-shouldered kite, shikra, Eurasian sparrow-hawk and occasionally northern goshawk. Rarities include the Stoilczka’s bushchat. In the evening, witness a massive roost of montagu, pallid and marsh harrier. Return to Palitana.
Day-11: PALITANA – AHMEDABAD/BHAVNAGAR FOR RETURN FLIGHT.