Colours of Winter in Gujarat

Text : Kushankur Bhattacharyya………. Gujarat

Text and Images : Kushankur Bhattacharyya

Kushankur is an amateur wildlife photographer and a wildlife enthusiast. He is currently doing his PhD on the nesting behavior of ants from IISER Kolkata. He has been a part of an NGO working for nature conservation and awareness named Ecocampers. 

14th – 22th January, 2017

Gujarat, the westernmost treasure-house of Indian bio flora and fauna is always alluring for any wildlife photographer and nature lover due the variety of habitats and the uniqueness of the biofauna over there. The state has a wide variety of habitats consisting of the longest shoreline in India, deserted and arid habitats and the grasslands as well. Gujarat is the only place harbouring the healthy populations of Asiatic Lions (a subspecies to the African Lion) and the Asiatic Wild Asses. So in the January, 2017 I grabbed the opportunity that came forth from Wandervogel Adventures to set out for Gujarat will my very well known colleagues. In a chilly morning of January seven of us including our tour skipper and well known wildlife photographer Mr. Siddhartha Goswami, we flew in an early morning flight from Kolkata to Ahmadabad. After reaching Ahmadabad, we headed towards Jamnagar, a coastal district of Gujarat harbouring thousands of enigmatic waders in its beaches, with breakfast and lunch enroute.

crab plover | gujaratAfter reaching Jamnagar, we straightway went to the salt pits near the Navy Base, from where there were frequent reports of the sighting of Red-necked Phalarope, a rare wader, seldom found in the west coast. Though we were not lucky with Phalarope, but I, for the first time got a chance to witness hundreds of Flamingos (both lesser and greater) from a very close distance in vibrant evening light along with Brown headed Gul, Slender Billed Gul, Black winged Stilt etc. Wandervogel made our stay very comfortable in the Hotel President, in the warm hospitality of Mustaq Bhai. The next morning we roamed around the surrounding areas of Jamnagar town and framed Flamingos, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Marsh Sandpiper, Eurasian Spoonbill, Pied Avocet, Dalmatian Pelican, Ruff, Indian Skimmer, Sanderling and many more waders along with Flamingos. In the afternoon we boarded a boat from Balachari beach to frame the Crab Plovers. Kutch area is probably the only place along the coasts of India, where Crab Plovers can be seen in such a huge number. We saw almost 300 of them sitting together there and managed to get some decent shots. The next morning we started early to reach the Marine National Park, Narara, which is around one and a half hours drive from Jamnagar. It is an amazing destination where during low tides one can observe loads of waders along with huge variety of corals, puffer fish, jellyfish, starfish etc. It was a chilled windy morning though the movement of birds was pretty satisfactory. I could witness some of the birds which were very high in my wish list, like Dunlin, Terek Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Western Reef Egret (both morphs), Curlew Sandpiper, Pallas’s Gull etc.

asiatic wild ass | gujaratThe next morning we started early to reach Dasada, a small village very close to the Wild Ass Sanctuary aka Little Run of Kutch. We stayed in the beautiful eco friendly lodge the Run Riders in the great hospitality of Mujahid Bhai. This lodge has an amazing ambience and it gives the local people a platform to earn their livelihood. That afternoon we took a stroll in the nearby areas and found Black headed Yellow Wagtail, Eurasian Spoonbill, Laughing Dove, Common Snipe and many more commoners of Western India. The next morning we had our first safari and that was a great experience. The experience of our driver cum guide Ayub bhai explored the beautiful denizens of this place and we managed to frame Short Eared Owl, McQueen’s Bustard, Pallid Harrier, Bengal Fox, Asiatic wild Ass with cubs etc. In our three nights stay, we had five safaris in which we got to see some amazing bio fauna like Greater Hoopoe Lark, Desert Fox, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Lagger Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Common Crane, Common Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard, Grey Mongoose, While-tailed Lapwing, Common Kestrel, both Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Chestnut bellied Sandgrouse, Bengal Monitor, Sykes’s Nightjar, Great White Pelican etc. Among the commoners of deserted habitat, we saw Desert Wheatear, White eared Bulbul, Laughing Dove, Rosy Starling etc. On the last safari we enjoyed a glorious sunset in LRK.

black buck | gujaratThe next morning we travelled to Velavadar Blackbuck National Park, which harbours a wide variety of wild animals in its widespread savannah and happens to be the largest roosting site of Harriers in whole Asia. Velavadar is an excellent place to see Indian Wolf and Stripped Hyena along with many other carnivores like Jungle Cat, Desert Fox etc. We had three safaris in Velavadar in which we saw a Stripped Hyena for as long as one and a half hours from a very close distance. It was lazing in the morning sun and we had amazing fun observing the behaviour of this gracious species. Among the others we saw Montagu’s Harrier, Short toed Snake Eagle, Booted Eagle, Blue Bull mating, Rain Quail, Grey Francolin, Jungle Cat etc. The Blackbucks were plenty in number and we witnessed various behaviours like milk suckling by infants, grazing, fighting of young males, and jumping of the group while road crossing. We stayed for a couple of nights in the Government Forest Bungalow which is just outside the periphery of the park and one can easily see wildlife just sitting in the balcony while having a cup of tea.

After the morning safari on the 9th day we started our return journey as the days were numbered with a heavy heart towards Ahmadabad International Airport which is around 5 hours drive from Velavadar and had lunch enroute. This trip gave me a great opportunity to observe the wildlife of the unique wildlife residing in the semi deserted, arid, savannah and coastal habitats of Western India, the experiences of which will last long in my memories.

Some more Images from Gujarat: