Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Marine National Park - Bhuj

We drove just under 50kms to Marine National Park, arriving shortly after first light and headed out to the beach. Ahh the beach…. Mangroves – sort of…. And Crab Plovers, everywhere. Littered along the tideline which was still a long way out was a thin white line shimmering in the early morning sunshine. The tide is very shallow here and pretty soon the water was rushing in rather quickly and we eventually had very good views of several close Crab Plovers, and in particular an adult and immature we watched for quite some time. 

Crab Plover - one of the birds of the trip

This was a major target for several of the group and we lapped up the views. The majority of plovers were much further out and a quick count revealed at least 1600 of them! Wow! But there were numerous others birds around such as Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, lots of Terek Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstone etc. Some Lesser Crested Terns were loafing on the rocks, Gull-billed Terns constantly flew by, Steppe and Heuglin’s Gulls were in the distance, and just as we were leaving a couple of Pallas’s Gulls appeared with one bird flying right past us. 

Gull-billed Tern

Pallas's Gull

As we had another long drive we didn’t want to linger too long and returned to the coach, seeing a flyover Streak-throated Swallow and a Clamorous Reed Warbler in the bushes, as well as flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings. Oh and I’ve never seen so many Western Reef Herons in one spot before. 

Western Reef Heron

Driving out, a pair of Dalmatian Pelicans were close, along with another Red-necked Phalarope, some Black-necked Grebes, more Slender-billed Gulls and finally a Great Crested Grebe. And then we were off on the 7 hour drive to Bhuj.

We arrived at the Kutch Wilderness Camp around 4pm and after a welcome drink we had a walk around the area. This new lodge is sat on a ridge overlooking a large lake where we saw Western Osprey, both White and Dalmatian Pelicans, a flock of Greater Flamingo, Painted Stork, River Tern, and Great Thick-knee. A short walk along the lanes through acacia scrub produced Variable Wheatear, Jungle Prinia, Eastern Orphean Warbler, a Bluethroat and Paddyfield Warbler at a small reedy marsh, and finally a Streaked Weaver.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Gir - Jamnagar

We left Gir Birding Lodge at 7.45am and eventually arrived in downtown Jamnagar at 1.30pm. Along the way we made a few stops to check out some interesting sites and saw Grey-headed Wagtail (thunbergi), Little Ringed Plover, Red-naped Ibis, flocks of Common Cranes flying over and all the usual roadside birds.

So after a short rest at the hotel we drove just under thirty minutes away to check out the salt pans and marshy areas at the edge of the town. Our first stop was at some large, partially flooded lagoons where Lesser Flamingo’s, Ruddy Shelduck, Lesser Sandplover and lots of common shorebirds and ducks were present. 

Lesser Flamingo

New trip birds included Eurasian Curlew, Gull-billed Tern, Steppe and both Heuglin’s Gulls. We then drove further along and picked up a distant Crab Plover, much to Christine’s delight. A roadside ditch held lots of birds such as numerous Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Little and Temminck’s Stints, Marsh Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwit, and both Common and Pintail Snipe, plus a couple of Siberian Chiffchaffs

Marsh Sandpiper

Siberian Chiffchaff

Whilst on the other side of the road a closer Heuglin’s Gull was present, along with Pied Avocet and Western Reef Heron. There was a large flock of Black-headed and Brown-headed Gulls, Whiskered, Common and Caspian Terns, whilst it was a very impressive sight to see 100’s of Slender-billed Gulls. A distant Red-necked Phalarope was scoped, a pair of Dalmatian Pelicans were seen and some Pacific Golden Plovers flew over at the end of a long day.

Dalmatian Pelicans

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Gir National Park

We had 2 jeep safaris into Gir National Park, with the high hopes of seeing Asiatic Lion. This proved to be a very frustrating affair as we weren’t assigned either of the routes where the Lions had been seen the previously day. Needless to say, Lions were conspicuous by their absence during our safari along Route No 6 but we did enjoy seeing several White-eyed Buzzards, Oriental Honey Buzzard, a small group of Barred Buttonquail, Asian Openbill, Indian Thick-Knee, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Plum-headed Parakeet and Indian Paradise-Flycatcher amongst others. 

White-eyed Buzzard showed well today.

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Indian Thick-Knees

The crazy thing was that we began the safari at 6.30am and spent the first 40 minutes driving in the dark – how pointless is that?

Anyway, we returned to the lodge for a 9.45am breakfast and then hopped in the coach and drove to a nearby scrubby area where we looked in vain for White-bellied Minivet. We had a mystery quail sp. that defied i.d as it initially skulked inside a bush before flying off. Intial id’s ranged from Jungle Bush-Quail to Yellow-legged Buttonquail…! We did see Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Jungle Prinia and an Eastern Orphean Warbler.

The afternoon safari along Route No 1 was a bit flat and I was suspicious as we were the only jeeps on this route. Where was everyone else? Bird activity was low and it seemed like a waste of time. The attitude of the driver and the compulsory park guide wasn’t too inspiring and they made no effort to look for pug marks and I even had to tell them about the Chital alarm calls we heard at one stage. 

This pair of Oriental Honey Buzzards were near the entrance to the park

We did see Spotted Deer (Chital), Sambar, Wild Boar, Northern Plains Grey Langur and a few more Oriental Honey Buzzards.


Spotted Deer

At 5.20pm we returned along Route No 3 feeling deflated but the following half an hour was pure magic! As we rounded a corner we were beckoned by some Park Rangers and taken to where a Lioness and her two mature cubs were feeding! And they were only 25 yards away and way too close for me to photograph the whole body of the female. The two cubs were obscured behind a tree but that didn’t matter. 

Asiatic Lion

The feeling of pure relief at finally seeing Asiatic Lion was intense. It would have been a disaster coming all this way and to dip on it. So after a few minutes we left and drove to a large lake where a pair of Painted Sandgrouse were spotted right beside the track, much to Keith’s delight. 

Painted Sandgrouse

What a stunning bird and this was definitely the views we all craved for. If that wasn’t enough, Chris spotted a Great Thick-Knee at the water’s edge to round off a typically crazy day in India!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Moving on to Gir National Park

Started out o the long drive to Gir National Park, stopping at an arid hilly area en-route for a walk and found Paddyfield, Long-billed and Tawny Pipits, Sykes’s Warbler, Sykes’s Lark, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Indian Bushlark and other commoner species.

Eastern Orphean Warbler

Green Bee-eater

We eventually arrived at Gir Birding Lodge around 3.30pm having had to take a long detour, but it was a relief to finally reach this lovely lodge. After a nice cup of tea and dumping our luggage in the rooms we went out for a walk down to the nearby river. 

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

Here we had nice looks at several Greenish Warblers, White-browed Wagtail, Eurasian Wryneck, Brown-breasted, Tickell’s and Verditer Flycatchers, White-browed Fantail, Common Kingfisher, a brief Yellow Bittern, Common Iora, Cinereous Tit, and 3 dark-phase Crested Honey Buzzards. The bird guide from the lodge, Raman Singh, was very knowledgeable and helpful here.

Little Rann of Kutch - Velavadar

We began the day with a Pallid Scops Owl teed up in the scope – not a bad way to begin the day huh? Thanks to the kind generosity of Desert Coursers Lodge we managed to gain entry, have a cup of tea and check out their grounds - oh and ultimately see this cracking owl. At least the staff here are aware of these birds.....

Spot the Pallid Scops Owl

Just a shame it wasn’t roosting in a more open place, rather than behind leaves. Leaving here we set out on the 6 hour drive to Velavadar and, as usual in Gujarat, there were plenty of roadside birds to note en-route. We picked up a pair of Sarus Cranes, Black-headed Ibis, Sand Martin and a little later a party of 4 Indian Coursers and a group of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse along the way, thanks to the sharp spotting of Keith and Kevin, with large flocks of Rose-coloured Starling also seen along the road. 

Once at Velavadar we birded the area around the entrance and picked up Grey-necked Bunting, 12+ Sykes’s Larks, Oriental Skylark, many Rufous-tailed Larks, possible Hume’s Short-toed Lark, our first Sykes’s Warbler and a Hume’s Whitethroat was a bonus. 

Our first Sykes's Warbler

The endemic Sykes's Lark

Rufous-tailed Lark
The jeep safari was late taking off, due to severe incompetency on behalf of the park staff – say no more! But we did get two different Wolf sightings of animals walking through the grassland between herds of Blackbuck and a few Nilgai

We really enjoyed seeing this Wolf today

Both Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers were quartering the grassland, a Red-necked Falcon flew close past us and a Short-toed Eagle was perched on top of a tree. There were also a few Long-billed Pipits, Oriental Skylark etc and we ended the day with a pair of Indian Thick-Knees.