Monday, October 14, 2013

Rann Diaries - A full day in Rann!

Gujarat Diaries so far...


An early rise and we were off early passing the numerous salt pans, salt dunes, salt loaded trucks, salt refineries and the Patdi railway station (mainly used to transport salt) into the Rann, deep into the Rann to be witness to some amazing moments and sight some wonderful species out there that needs an experienced eye to sight the birds and no better person than Pratap himself. Some distance into the Rann and all you can see is the mirage of water over the distant horizon making you believe the coast is near but the farther you go, the farther the Rann extends and the mirage never ends. There are no tracks or paths inside Rann, where you go is where the track path created, an ideal place to get lost in the salt desert.

But, there is some charm in the Rann, a place of solitude and peace the heat notwithstanding, you just want to keep going chasing the mirages, sighting the birds, following them on a wild goose chase, be yourself and live for yourself and live your moments in the Rann. Water, is precious, and no better place than Rann to learn it the hard way, the seething hot sun and the hot weather sucks out every ounce of water from your body and you feel the thirst every now and then, also, its important to keep yourself hydrated sipping water frequently to keep you going…

We went in search of the elusive Macqueen’s Bustard that visits the NW India during winters and is a species whose number is going down drastically. These are large birds found on the ground and are found in grasslands or scrub forests. Habitat destruction and hunting are the primary reasons for the decline in their numbers. We were greeted to open spaces first when we scanned the area and after a couple of rounds here and there we first got to see the bird flying away from out of nowhere to deeper areas, such is its camouflaging nature its very difficult to spot the bird especially when its roosting or squatting on the ground (see image below)...



Thus, started the hide and seek game with us in pursuit to see the elusive one, and the bustard running amok. We were patient and completely at the mercy of the bustard, when it chose to sit/squat, we would lose sight of it and had to just wait for it to come out of its hiding. For the initial hour, the bustard never came close and was very skeptical of our presence. Slowly, as we patiently waited without a movement, biding our time the bustard started moving around and after more than an hour of us being there started appearing in areas much closer to us and in complete visibility. I didn’t get any super close-up shots nor didn’t I want it and so after more than a couple of hours, we left the place in search of other species.


Till date, I never understood why the Kestrel has the name ‘Common Kestrel’ as its hardly visible everywhere and sparser around the place I live. But in Rann, I could see them everywhere and so commonly, there would be a Kestrel on every other tree hiding itself or scanning for potential preys but I never got a good shot of it from Rann. All that I was engrossed in was trying to identify whether is was the more rarer ‘Lesser Kestrel’ among so many seen.


Pallid Harriers were more visible than in Velavadar, but again I never saw one perched or roosting on the ground, so all that I saw them was soaring high above scanning the grasslands.

Shrikes, Wheatears, Stonechats, Larks, Plovers, Pipits were all around the place and in good numbers, and the best part was I would see them all take-off only when the vehicle was closer to them, thanks to their super camouflage or my lack of trained eyesight! Roaming deeper in the Rann, we came across a pregnant Desert Fox that ran for cover on sighting us. One of the flagship species of the Rann is the Greater Hoopoe Lark and which also top of my wish list to see and I was lucky to see them up close and happier to see them in good numbers. Their flute-like-whistles song is a must-watch for all bird lovers and the way they do it is just amazing. They sing with rising and falling notes consisting of whistles and clicks, rising with fluttering strokes and then nose diving, wish I had a video to record the same, amazing display of behavior.



As we moved ahead, the next sighting was another first timer for me, the Merlin belonging to the Falcon family. Usually hunts in low flight with fast wing-beats and short glides and normally found singly. I was more than happy to sight this species that’s only common in these regions and uncommon elsewhere.


Next up was an interesting sighting sequence that will be shared in a separate post… 

With the sun battering hot, we took a much needed break at a temple located at a far end of the Rann (Sigh! I forgot the name) with people and kids interestingly looking at my attire and equipment. Past 2pm, we resumed our journey back into the Rann and Owls kept us busy for a long time. Also, our search for the hyena’s and wolves bore no fruit as there were no signs of them in their typical habitat in Rann!


As we traversed along the nook and corner of Rann, and me happy and contended with whatever I got to see rather than having an unfulfilled wishlist, we came across a big herd of Indian Wild Ass or locally known as Khur, probably the biggest herd I was seeing since stepping on to Rann. Why? The answer lay within, this being quite remote with minimal human interference and their population was thriving and in good numbers, great to see that! Hope, the flagship species of the Rann prosper and with it prosper the beauty of Rann for time to come! Wish!

wait for more to unfold...
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