After years of dreaming, months of planing, and a few weeks to book up, it was just 14 fantabulous days in Gujarat’s Little and Greater Rann of Kutch and Jamnagar. Towards the last week in December 2012, our Tour de Gujarat began. My father V.Ram Narayanan and myself flew from Coimbatore to Ahmedabad via Chennai.
Little Rann of Kutch
LRK, a pictuesque land located in Northern Gujarat is a place to be visited not just for the Raptors or the Wild Asses or the waders but for endless plains.
Landing at Ahmedabad at around 2:30pm, we drove to the Little Rann of Kutch. After a 3 hour drive we arrived at Rann Riders. A very quaint resort amidst a vast desert ecosystem. Rann Riders is a comfortable resort making it an ideal place for photographers to stay and explore the Little Rann. We had early dinner and hit the sacks for an early start.
This is how the Little Rann is. And the asses are just wandering about the vast plains where there is no water or grazing lands for miles. I really wonder what these wanderers would do all day and night. One evening, I came across this ass that was walking parallel to the direction we were travelling in. We just drove past. But then, I realized that it would make a great scape.
A highlight of the Little Rann is the Short-eared Owl that was top on my list. Unfortunately we could not find a single bird in the desert. So we headed to the fields where I saw about a half dozen birds. Initially these birds were extremely shy but eventually they got used to us. I was looking around for them and managed to see this owl sitting. We approached slowly and he starred as I got off the Thar, crawled towards him with my ground pod and lens and positioned myself in the right angle. This owl was too co-operative and gave me some good oppurtunities for images.
It was a warm morning and there was not much activity. This Steppe Eagle was soaring and it flew low and landed on this mound. We went in circles around this bird and slowly got closer.
Greater Rann of Kutch
Returning from our morning safari in the Little Rann we grabbed an early bite and started for the Greater Rann. After a 6-7 hour drive we reached Nakhatrana which I guess is the closest place to stay to explore the Greater Rann of Kutch. We checked in at JP Resorts.
The next morning a Trax cruiser picked us up before the crack of dawn and we headed to Banni. Met and picked up our Guide Mohammad on the way. Mohammad was a Camel herder turned Guide. He is extremely good in spotting.
It was my first hour in Banni Grassland, Greater Rann. The land was blanketed with fog. Photographing anything was just a waste. But soon the fog cleared and at a distance, I saw a black spot. Drove closer, couldn’t identify it. Yet I knew it was something which I hadn’t photographed. Got a little closer and I immediately identified it as the Cinereous Vulture. This was a species that was rarely seen even by my guide. I photographed this bird from my vehicle
Ever since I knew I was going to the Rann, I was dreaming to shoot the rare Sociable Lapwing. I did manage to find a pair in Banni, but was cautious as I approached, not to miss the golden opportunity. But the name says it all. They are not shy and allowed me to get to a considerably close distance. 10 days in the Rann had come to an end. Our guide Kunal from Jamnagar had come to Nakhatrana to pick us up for the last leg of our trip.
We left Nakhatrana early to reach Jamnagar for an evening session. Reached Jamnagar for lunch. We were put up at Hotel President. The outskirts and the heart of the busy city of Jamnagar is home to a multitude of wetland birds. Especially the Lakhota Lake is a paradise for Gulls and Ducks. The Narara Marine National Park situated about 45 minutes away from Jamnagar City is a place to visit atleast once in a lifetime. It is one of the very few place on the planet where you can see marine life on foot. The beach of Narara is home to large number of wetland birds. The Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary was very disappointing. There was no water in the sanctuary and so there were very few birds. The salt pans too are great birding spots.
There were a number of Tufted Ducks, Common Pochards, Great White Pelicans, Sopt-billed Ducks and Gulls at the Lakhota Lake. But there was only one pair of Mallard Ducks. Though the female is not very colourful, the male is strikingly coloured. I desperately wanted to get these birds at eye-level. But unfortunately the water level in the lake was low. And I was on the fort wall. Being at a height, eye-level photos are not possible. So I decided to jump into the dry lake bed. I positioned myself, had good light and was waiting. They slow moved towards me and gave me the oppurtunity I was looking for. Not just Mallards but the Tufted Ducks too came pretty close.
The lake was full of Black and Brown-headed Gulls and Slender Billed Gulls. The local people feed these birds with all sorts of stuff like peanuts & fried stuff. So all the birds are active during midday. As people throw food, these gulls catch them in mid-air and sometimes, there is a quarrel among them. I kept trying to get flight shots but the teleconverter slowed down the autofocus speed spoilt the images. So I went back to Lakhota lake the next day without my teleconverter. These gulls made my day. I was able to freeze the flights as I wanted.
We started from Jamnagar after an early breakfast and headed to Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary which was the most disappointing destination in out trip. We decided not to waste much time and left for the Narara Marine National Park. Had a quick bite on the way and we reached Narara by around 2:45. It was low-tide then. I was looking for the Crab Plover but they were too far away. Other waders kept us entertained for the rest of the day. One bird which fascinated me was this Ruddy Turnstone. These birds go around flipping stones to feed on what is under those stones. Ruddy Turnstones are extremely fidgety birds and never stop turning stones. They are constantly engaged in feeding giving the photographer a difficult time.
The TATA Saltpans are a great place for photographing Flamingos. The Lesser Flamingos are more brightly coloured than the Greater counter parts. I was never able to get a single flamingo in the frame with a clean background. But one afternoon this individual was feeding alone. I slowly approached. Lay on the bund with my Skimmer Pod and camera. I had a lot of time to compose the way I wanted.
My last day in Jamnagar and did not photograph the Crab Plover. We headed to the Balachadi Beach and to my good luck, there was flock of more than 50 birds. The moment they saw us, the flock took off. But eventually they came back. These cute little Plovers allowed me close. I was very much satisfied.
Our Gujarat trip came to an end. After 14 days of birding, I came back with 64 new species of birds that I photographed and over 90 species that I saw. It was a great trip with moments that will never be forgotten. We packed bags and drove over night and reached Ahmedabad at 4:30 for a flight to Bangalore at 7:00. Landed in Bangalore at 9:30 and drove to Coimbatore.
Author: Gaurav Ramnarayanan