Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Birding in Kutch Wilderness (GRK)

Kutch (also spelled as Kachchh) is the second largest district of India. It is situated in Gujarat state, northwestern part of India. The drive into the land of deserts was earlier planned for December (peak birding season), however the trip had to prepone to October end. We knew we were going to be early and miss out on sighting few species, that arrive in the region only in winters (passage migrants).

Kutch has these large and dry salty alluvial mudflats, extensive grasslands and great coastal stretches along the Ocean. Dry thorn forests and small hillocks punctuate the flat endless stretches of land. Due to its unique geographical location and habitat, Kutch is considered to be at the crossroads of Palaearctic migration streams, hence a great variety of birds find refuge in these regions.

We reached CEDO Camp by noon on 21st October 2014, which is based in the town of Moti Virani, about 4 kms from Nakhatrana. Its run by Mr. Jugal Kishor Tiwari and his team. The safari for the afternoon was planned by them for Chhari-Dhand.

Mr. Veer Vaibhav Mishra, the naturalist from the CEDO team accompanied us. Within few minutes he gave us good insight on the habitat and the birds we would probably sight. Chhari-Dhand, is a seasonal wetland in the Banni region. This season the monsoon did not seem good as the water body had lower water levels. We could still see flocks of common crane roosting (around 100) in different patches.

We drove very close to the water body and waited for the sun to set. Large flocks of common cranes kept coming to roost along the periphery. On our way back, in the late evening we sighted Indian Eagle-Owl who seem to breed in the region.
Indian Eagle Owl (Bubo bengalensis)
Our trip in the wilderness as suggested by Mr. Jugal Tiwari (CEDO Birding) covered five distinct regions till the evening of 25th October 2014 (totally 4 and half days):-

(i)   The Grasslands of Banni.
Habitat - Banni Grasslands
Banni Grassland has vast grasslands with scrub vegetation. Small flocks of Common Cranes were sighted again. Around rocks we sighted the Red-tailed Wheatear, Desert Warbler, Variable Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear and Desert Wheatear which were the most common.
Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis)
Asian desert warbler (Sylvia nana)
Steppe Eagles were seen roosting in the afternoon under the shade of shrubs. Sandgrouse's were busy foraging in the vicinity.
Painted Sandgrouse Pterocles indicus   - Male
Grey Mongoose
Today, we were to head back to the camp from Banni after sunset. Though the area is under the forest department, there are no restrictions on night safari.

We moved very slowly on the tracks with the search light being swayed from left to right and right to left. The breeze was getting cooler, the skies were getting darker. In the dark we sighted the Golden Jackal, Indian Fox, Sykes's Nightjar, Indian Eagle-Owl. The experience was exhilarating.
Golden jackal 
(ii)  Dry tropical thorn forests.

The tropical thorn forest (Scrub forest) had these layers of golden coloured grass (speargrass) and thorny shurbs. The place was buzzing of calls of the endemic and vulnerable White-naped Tit.
White-naped tit
We could also sight the Marshall's Iora, Small Minivet, and the white-bellied minivet. Many European rollers were sighted enroute apart from other common birds of the region. (refer check-list)
Marshall's iora 
European Roller Coracias garrulus
While we were finding our way into the forest, dodging the different types of thorns, sighted the Indian Hare. The moment he noticed us sprinted and saw him disappear into the harsh thorny background.

(iii) The Grasslands of Naliya.
    In close proximity to the Banni grasslands is this place called Naliya, also called as Kachchh Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, one of the very few places in India where the Great Indian Bustard is still found. We drove around the tracks which transited through fields which seemed to have encroached into the habitat. The destruction of the habitat was the reason why the Great Indian Bustard are nearing extinction and could not be sighted by us.  Watching a pair of Chinkara sprint and cross the road was delightful.

Chinkara  also known as the Indian gazelle
The grasslands is part of the Thar desert, an excellent habitat for the Spiny-tailed Lizard, who moved very swiftly on hearing the vehicle. 
Spiny-tailed lizard
Just along the fields, a flock of about 8 Indian Coursers were seen foraging. They not only camouflaged very well but also posed well for us. Montagu’s Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite, Marsh Harrier and the long-legged buzzard were seen hovering over the grasslands.

Black-shouldered kite (Elanus axillaris)
To our much delight, the winter migrant Stoliczka’s Bushchat had arrived and we felt excited seeing it.

Stoliczka's bushchat
(iv) Coastline along the Arabian Sea with mangrove creeks adjacent to Modhva Coast.

Driving further west we passed through the town of Mandvi and reached the Modhva beach. The beach seemed untouched by tourists and was the clean and one of the best we had seen so far. It had loads of Gulls, Waders, Western-reef Egrets. 
Grey Plover
Eurasian curlew 
We could also sight the much desired Oyster catcher and Crab plovers.
The drive from the coast to the camp was around two hours.

(v)  Cross country drive from the Great Rann of Kutch into Banni Grasslands (via Chhari-Dhand)

Great Rann of Kutch
The drive towards GRK was planned via Kala Dungar, the highest point in Kutch. It was a delightful drive along straight strectches of roads, which passed through the "Tropic of Cancer"".

Enroute we sighted Painted Storks, Ducks and Waders. The road uphill to Kala Dungar was narrow. There was a large flock of Eurasian Griffon-Vulture and a loner Red-headed Vulture hovering in the vicinity.
Eurasian Griffon-Vulture
After spending time and taking the 360 deg view of the Great Rann from the mountain top, returned back to check-point and after obtaining the permissions from BSF, headed  towards the Great Rann, also know as the white desert. Along the sand we sighted the Greater hoopoe-lark.
Greater hoopoe-lark
We left by early afternoon from Great rann to drive back towards the camp via Banni grasslands. The drive was excellent and we kept sighting species of birds including common kestrel, who had just had a kill  (probably a lark) under its claws.
Common kestrel
The CEDO Birding Team (headed by Mr. Jugal Tiwari and Mr. Veer Vaibhav Mishra) took excellent efforts in ensuring we sight the birds, that normally are seen in peak season only. The staff is courteous and the hospitality is very homely. The safaris normally started at day break 6AM and ended around 8PM depending on the location. Within the birding sights, there are no roads, only tracks and a local driver and guide is highly advisable. During the rainy season some parts may not be accessible.

The region apart from birds has lovely landscapes.

On our way to Kutch from Mumbai, we did spend a day in Jamnagar.

We visited Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary in the morning. Lack of rainfall, there was hardly any water in part-one, however part-two did have water and large number of great-white pelicans.

In the afternoon we visited Narara Marine National Park, the place as usual was buzzing with waders, Gulls, Terns and the Crab Plovers.
Curlew sandpiper
Crab plover
Common greenshank
Enroute to the city a large flock of Greater Flamingos were seen in the back waters.
Greater flamingo
With about 170 birds, had 23 lifers. The best time to visit is between October to March, peak season would be December. Our check-list of mammals and reptiles also had some lifers (See Bottom).

Happy Birding!
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SIGHTINGS : (Check-List)

 1 Grey Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus)
 2 Barred Buttonquail (Turnix suscitator)

 3 Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus)

 4 Lesser Whistling-duck (Dendrocygna javanica)
 5 Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)
 6 Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha)
 7 Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

 8 Common Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
 9 European Roller (Coracias garrulus)
10 Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)

11 Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
12 White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
13 Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

14 Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
15 Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (Merops persicus)

16 Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea)
17 Sirkeer Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus leschenaultii)

18 Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis)
19 Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
20 Alexandrine Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria)

21 House Swift  (Apus affinis)

22 Indian Eagle Owl (Bubo bengalensis)
23 Spotted Owlet (Athene brama)

24 Sykes's Nightjar (Caprimulgus mahrattensis)

25 Common pigeon (Columba livia)
26 Laughing Dove  (Streptopelia senegalensis)
27 Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
28 Red Collared Dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica)
29 Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

30 Common Crane (Grus grus)

31 White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
32 Purple Swamphen (Gallinula chloropus)
33 Common Coot (Fulica atra)

34 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus)
35 Painted Sandgrouse (Pterocles indicus)

36 Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
37 Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
38 Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)
39 Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
40 Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)
41 Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
42 Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
43 Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)
44 Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
45 Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
46 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
47 Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
48 Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus)
49 Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
50 Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
51 Crab-plover (Dromas ardeola)
52 Indian Thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus)
53 Great Thick-knee (Esacus recurvirostris)
54 Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
55 Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
56 Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
57 Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
58 Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
59 Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dublis)
60 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
61 Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus)
62 Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)

63 Yellow-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus malarbaricus)
64 Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
65 Indian Courser (Cursorius coromandelicus)

66 Heuglin's Gull (Larus heuglini)
67 Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei)
68 Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)
69 River Tern (Sterna aurantia)
70 Lesser Crested Tern (Sterna bengalensis)
71 Little Tern (Sterna albifrons)
72 Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus)

73 Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus)
74 Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
75 Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus)
76 Red-headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus)
77 Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
78 Eurasian Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
79 Pallid Harrier (Circus Macrourus)
80 Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
81 Shikra (Accipiter badius)
82 Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
83 Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus)
84 White-eyed Buzzard (Butastur teesa)
85 Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus)
86 Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga)
87 Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis)
88 Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus)
89 Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
90 Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo)
91 Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

  92 Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
  93 Darter (Anhinga melanogaster)
  94 Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger)

  95 Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
  96 Western Reef Egret (Egretta gularis)
  97 Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
  98 Great Egret (Casmerodius albus)
99 Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
100 Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii)
101 Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

102 Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
103 Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
104 Black-headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)
105 Black Ibis (Pseudibis papillosa)
106 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

107 Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)
108 Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus)

109 Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala)
110 Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus)

111 Rufous-tailed Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
112 Bay-backed Shrike (Lanius vittatus)
113 Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)
114 Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)

115 House Crow (Corvus splendens)

116 Small Minivet (Pericrocotus cinnamomeus)
117 White-bellied Minivet (Pericrocotus erythropygius)
118 Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
119 Asian Paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi)
120 Marshall's Iora (Aegithina nigrolutea)
121 Common Woodshrike (Tephrodornis pondicerianus)

122 Indian Robin (Saxicoloides fulicata)
123 Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

124 Stoliczka's Bushchat (Saxicola macrorhyncha)
125 Eastern Stonechat (Saxicola maurus)
126 Pied Bushchat (Saxicola caprata)
127 Brown Rock-chat (Cercomela fusca)
128 Variable Wheatear (Oenanthe picata)
129 Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti)
130 Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)
131 Red-tailed Wheatear (Oenanthe chrysopygia)

132 Brahminy Starling (Sturnus pagodarum)
133 Rosy Starling (Sturnus roseus)
134 Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)

135 White-naped Tit (Parus nuchalis)
136 Dusky Crag Martin (Hirundo concolor)
137 Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
138 Wire-tailed Swallow (Hirundo smithii)
139 Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica)

140 White-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucotis)
141 Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)
142 Rufous-fronted Prinia (Prinia buchanani)
143 Grey-breasted Prinia (Prinia hodgsonii)
144 Ashy Prinia (Prinia socialis)

145 Booted Warbler (Hippolais caligata)
146 Sykes's Warbler (Hippolais rama)
147 Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius)
148 Common Babbler (Turdoides caudatus)
149 Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
150 Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana)
151 Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis)
152 Indian Bushlark (Mirafra erythroptera)
153 Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark (Eremopterix grisea)
154 Rufous-tailed Lark (Ammomanes phoenicurus)
155 Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes)
156 Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)
157 Sand Lark (Calandrella raytal)
158 Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
159 Sykes's Lark (Galerida deva)

160 Purple Sunbird (Nectarinia asiatica)
161 House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
162 House Sparrow - Migrant Variant (Passer domesticus parkini
163 Chestnut-shouldered Petronia (Petronia xanthocollis)

164 White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
165 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)
166 Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)
167 Long-billed Pipit (Anthus similis)
168 Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
169 Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)
170 Indian Silverbill (Lonchura malabarica)
171 Grey-necked Bunting (Emberiza buchanani)
172 Striolated Bunting (Emberiza striolata)

 1.  Blue bull (Nilgai)
 2.  Indian Gazelle (Chinkara)
 3.  Indian Wild Pig
 4.  Grey Mongoose
 5.  Golden Jackal
 6.  Indian Fox
 7.  Indian Hare
 8.  Indian Hedgehog

 1.  Spiny-tailed Lizard
 2.  Saw-scaled Viper
 3.  Camel Spider
 4.  Termite Hill Gecko
 5.  Indian flapshell Turtle


  1. Nice photographs and a good checklist

    1. Thank you so much Prathamesh, the place and the team there are simply amazing.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you so much for appreciating and commenting!!

  3. A very interesting report that makes me want to visit this region soon.

    1. Thanking for appreciating the location, indeed a wonderful habitat for nature lovers.

  4. Awesome ! When is the best time of the year for birding in GRK ?

    1. Thank you, the best time to visit the region is between October to March, peak season would be December

  5. That was an amazing tour of Kutch! Learnt a lot from your post, esp. the way you have listed down your sightings. Brilliant images, too.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and appreciating. Happy Birding !

  6. Wou !!! that's simply amazing ...classic photographs. ...greetings my friend

    1. Thank you again!! You are too kind my friend. Hope to meet up someday soon and go birding. Till then, take care, best wishes!

  7. Awesome share. Thanks. Wanna visit Kutch when I get time!

    1. Thanks so much for the lovely comment. Kutch is an awesome place and can we visited anytime!


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