Sep 11, 2013

Rann Diaries - LRK special

Here are the Gujarat diaries update so far...

I would be presenting some photo blogs of some individual species interspersed with my Rann diaries travelogues to highlight their importance and beauty.

First on the list is the Globally threatened Macqueen’s Bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii) formerly treated as con-specific with Houbara Bustard. Bustard’s are primarily land birds and are low distance flyers and their population in total has decreased drastically owing to hunting and habitat destruction. The Great Indian Bustard (one of our pride species) is almost on the verge of disappearing owing to its habitat loss and pity it doesn’t receive as much attention as the Tiger.

They breed in deserts and other very arid sandy areas. Measuring 60cms long with a wingspan of 140cms, it’s a pretty big bird when seen in the field but very elusive and shy. Interestingly Macqueen’s Bustard is vocally almost silent. They typically lay 2-4 eggs on the ground and are omnivorous in diet.

I had to spend close to two hours in getting a good view of this species in the vast grassland, it being very elusive and shy. Small sounds from our end and it would disappear into the dry grass, typically sitting down amidst the tally dry grass and often putting its head up to observe the surroundings.

Finally, after persuasive tactics, and patience, got to see the bustard at viewing distance, probably once it got used to our presence in the area. But, in doing that, I had covered the entire grassland on foot, crawling, kneeling and running to catch a glimpse of it!

All episodes from Velavadar Diaries here...

Sep 1, 2013

Rann Diaries - Little Rann of Kutch

Apologies on the onset, this would be a series of posts, I'm trying to share as much as I can but it never seems sufficient...!

After a wonderful start to my Gujarat sojourn at Velavadar, off we came back to Ahmedabad with Falguna getting me dropped at the railway station to proceed towards Chote Rann or LRK. As I was traveling solo, I chose the public transport often hopping on to the rails and bus services to commute between the places I intended to visit and I had a gala of a time commuting by public transport meeting so many unique individuals and witness to the world pass by as the train chugged along.

Viramgam Junction is the nearest railway station to Little Rann of Kutch, just about 70kms from Ahmedabad, and the town Patdi (my place of stay) about 30kms further away from Viramgam railway station. I chose to stay at Bhavna Resort & Farm, a place not known to many and surprisingly located very close to the Indian Wild AssSanctuary, the sanctuary I had planned to visit. Also, by choosing to stay here, I chose to stay away from the regular jaunt of photographers/birdwatchers that prefer to stay at the Rann Riders / Royal Safari Camp or other places located a little far away from the sanctuary premises.

I boarded the Somnath Express and landed in Viramgam Jn at midnight and the vehicle from the resort was waiting for me at the station to take me to Bhavna farms at Patdi. With dreary eyes too, I was impressed by the appearance of the cottage and the interiors in particular, made up very well and I instantly dozed off after a long tiring day of travel.

Morning made me appreciate the property I was staying better, especially the cottages, locally known as Koobas, that were well equipped with a typical traditional appearance that would make you appreciate the efforts behind it. Geared up for Rann, met Prashanth, the owner of the property who briefed me about the plans for the day that sounded very promising. I was to have a jeep with me entirely for the 3 days I would be staying there and Pratap bhai (from the forest department) would be guiding me around and Pravin was the driver.

Armed with packed breakfast, all ready with battle gear, off I went on my first sojourn in the Rann, the Little Rann of Kutch with my permits inside the Wild Ass Sanctuary to sight new birds, birds and birds, all pumped up and excited.

With just a little distance inside the sanctuary, the jeep refused to budge ahead and conked off…! Well, the old Mahindra was showing its age with pomp and glee and my excited face was now turning into a hot red beacon. We tried to exchange our vehicle with another (driven by a more experienced person) from the same resort but will little success as the problem with the vehicle continued for the entire duration we were inside!

Well, the best part of the Rann sanctuary is that once you enter, you can stay in for the entire day without the need to come back and go again in the afternoon that helps save a lot of time but we chose to go back to the resort for lunch as the sun was too harsh and the erratic jeep helping no end and even Pratap suggesting taking a break from the hot sun.

Still, with the agonizing jeep, I got to see my first sights of the Common Cranes, Greater Flamingo’s and more than a couple of Tawny Eagle’s and many other bird species in Rann. Disturbed by the roaring of the sick jeep, we got to see a Desert Fox run for cover and safety from us.

Trudging slowly along, revving the jeep continuously, flamingo’s, harriers, kestrels, eagle’s, Wheatears, Whimbrels, and the star of the Rann – The Indian Wild Ass greeting us all along, and while close to a water source, got to see a couple of ‘Common Shelduck’s disappear into horizon (they are considered vagrant and elusive in Rann as I was told) and to add, the sightings of the Dalmatian Pelicans helped me regain my enthusiasm and excitement.

I came back to the resort with mixed reactions hoping the evening session would be rid of glitches. The food served was good with a menu of authentic Gujarati cuisine and I enjoyed the hot mouth watering food on all the days I stayed. A quick nap and I would again be back in the Rann. Evenings are considered more suitable for the raptors as they come back to roost and if there is good light you could get some wonderful frames with the setting sun in the background. Alas! The setting sun was probably miffed with me because for some reason or other, never got to see the famed view of sunset in Rann as the clouds played spoilsport all the days I was in Rann.

Again charged up and with the news that the vehicle was fixed and ready, got into Rann and the dry desert was buzzing with activity either with the sighting of birds or the charismatic Wild Ass. Sooner than latter, the jeep conked off again with now a problem with the oil filter made me go into a frenzy mood again, but was controlled better and there were no major stoppages for the evening.

As we roamed around looking for raptors and owls, the highlight of the day was the sighting of the Short-eared Owl at striking distance from the vehicle taking both of us by surprise, it took a few seconds for the birdie to realize and those few seconds were sufficient for me to capture couple of shots and then it flew away into thick growth that was beyond our vehicle’s reach and a ghastly view of bone littered ‘hyaena’ den area marked the end of the day for me as I came back with happy.

Oh yes!, I forgot about the Peregrine Falcon that put in a late appearance after dusk, just as we were racing to leave the sanctuary premises as it was late. I've always been fascinated by this beautiful bird of prey, the fastest flyer and an incredibly powerful bird. I've hardly seen it a couple of times and none have been long enough... awaiting my date with the powerful Falcon soon...

to be continued...