The Indian state of Gujarat offers some of the very best bird and mammal watching on the sub-continent. We began our 2017 tour in the unique landscape of the Rann of Kutch, a seasonally flooded wilderness which is astonishingly rich in wildlife. Here we watched MacQueen's Bustard, Pallid Scops-owl, Indian Courser, Painted Sandgrouse and the rare Stolicka's Bushchat, as well as enjoying frequent sightings of the Asiatic Wild Ass, here in its only home in the world. Next we visited the Sasan Gir Lion sanctuary, which has been instrumental in saving the Asiatic Lion from extinction. During our visit we were delighted to see this top predator on two days, with Leopard and Golden Jackal forming a highly respectable supporting cast. Last but not least, we moved to the grasslands of Velavadar, the best place in the world to see Blackbuck, a very attractive black and white antelope which is confined to the sub-continent. Here an Indian Wolf showed well one morning and who could forget the evening harrier roost which included well over 500 birds including at least 200 Pallid Harriers!
I hope you enjoy looking at the photographs below, all taken on this very successful tour by Ian Brookes, Chris Brooks, Marvin Cooper and Jack Stephens.
Tea and biscuits as the sun goes down; a wonderful way to end a fantastic day in the Rann of Kutch. The shallow ravine to the left hosted an Indian Eagle Owl during our visit.
An Indian endemic species with a small population, the White-naped Tit continues to decline due to fragmentation of its dry thorn-scrub habitat. Gujarat offers the best chance of a sighting, but even here the species is under serious threat from habitat loss and land degradation. Suitable scrub has been lost to the growth of villages and to the extension of agriculture, whilst other problems include provision of fuelwood for illegal charcoal making, and more surprisingly, the use of acacia twigs for disposable toothbrushes!
A species to see now whilst you still can!
Tickellís Blue Flycatcher
Stolickaís Bushchat lives in areas of sandy semi-desert with low shrubs. The only place where you can reasonably expect to see one is within the Thar Desert, along the borders of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It is thought to be a short distance migrant and ones and twos are found every winter in northern Kutch in Gujarat. Our bird was self found in an area with perhaps just the one previous sighting!
Almost nothing is known about its breeding habits, even the breeding season is unknown! Given large parts of the Thar Desert are now given over to agriculture, it is another species classified as vulnerable, so see it whilst you can!
This robust lark occurs throughout India preferring dry habitats with sparse vegetation
A little known owl preferring more arid areas than its close cousin the Eurasian Scops-owl. An uncommon wintering bird in Gujarat, the only regular state where you can see the species in India.
This sedentary species occurs in South Asia preferring bare ground with sparse thorn bushes, but it also occurs in more forested areas so long as these are rocky.
On safari looking for Indian Wolf
Male Montaguís Harrier
An exhilarating early morning drive across the flat expanses of the Little Rann.
Indian Eagle Owl
Sometimes known as Rock Eagle Owl. Although nocturnal, this species often perches out well before sunset on rock pinnacles and trees.
They feed by gliding down onto prey from such a perch, with more success the lower to the ground they are.
Clearly something very interesting!
A shy and unobtrusive resident of semi-deserts, it breeds from northern Iraq to western Afghanistan and winters mainly in central and eastern Arabia. Rarely is it seen anywhere else, though Gujarat hosts the only regular sites in India. This is a female, the males being more attractive with a black band to the back of their head.
Black-rumped Flameback (Lesser Goldenback)
Widely distributed in India, it prefers plains but can even be seen in urban environments.
This antelope is found mainly in India where it was formerly much more widespread. Today only small and scattered herds are to be found, largely confined within protected areas. The species finds the grassy plains and light forests of Velavadar much to its liking and the park remains the best place to find it. During the 20th century, Blackbuck numbers declined sharply due to excessive hunting, deforestation and habitat degradation, but numbers have since recovered to a recent estimate of 50000 in 2001. The antelope was introduced into Texas in 1932 where its meat is highly regarded!
This unmistakable black and white wader frequents sun-baked tropical beaches and coral reefs with an abundance of crabs. Globally rare, it breeds colonially in burrows in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and gulfs of Oman and Aden. Birders usually seek the species in its winter quarters which stretch south through much of the Indian Ocean.
They are the only wader to breed in self excavated tunnels, where chicks can be protected from the sun. The single egg is one of the largest of any bird in relation to body mass, (about 21% of body mass).
Purple-rumped Sunbird is not on the distribution maps for Gujarat, but nevertheless we saw them at three places, including at Rann Riders where Ian located a family group including this attractive male.
Indian Wolf, sometimes proposed as a separate species Canis indica, is an endangered animal with a population estimated at 2,000-3,000. It is slightly smaller in size and more lightly built than European Wolf with shorter fur and little or no underfur, a product of it living in warmer conditions. Packs are usually smaller, rarely exceeding eight individuals, and strangely they seem to howl less often. Prey includes antelopes, hares and rodents, so you can see why they live at Velavadar. When targeting antelopes, one wolf will often act as a decoy while the others attack from behind.
The Asiatic Lion is a subspecies that split from African Lions around 100,000 years ago. They once prowled all the way from the Middle East to India, but sadly, they were hunted nearly to extinction, with as few as ten individuals left in existence by the late 1800s. Thanks to a concerned Maharaja, the Newab of Junagarh, they were protected in the teak woodlands of the Gir Forest, where numbers of this magnificent animal have increased to about 600. Gir remain the only place in the World to see this animal.
Male Asiatic Lion
Lance has recently returned from a very enjoyable recce to Gujarat, the western most state of India. The weather, birds and mammals all performed admirably so we are now advertising a tour, the first to this destination. The images below offer a flavour of what can be expected.
Yellow-wattled Lapwing - a typical dry country species.
Colourful scenes from the roadside, here wash morning!
Asiatic Wild Ass, restricted to the Rann of Kutch.
Sykes's Nightjar, a nocturnal speciality of the region.
Another highly sought after Gujarati inhabitant - the very localised Stoliczka's Bushchat.
Somnath Temple, a place of significance for Hindus.
A male Nilgai.
Little Green BeeEater.
Asiatic Lion in the Gir Forest, their only home in the world.
Indian Wolf at Velavadar
The exquisit Indian Courser - now that's an attractive bird!
Grey Hypocolious, here a male.
there are an abundance of birds in Gujarat, here a flock of Brown-headed Gulls with a handful of Slender-billed amongst them.
Gujarat hosts the only site in India for Grey Hypocolius, here a female.
Demoiselle Cranes roosting in the Rann of Kutch.
Crested Serpent Eagle sunning itself in the early morning sun at Gir.
An eyecatching male Blackbuck at Velavadar.
Please note: The above photographs were taken on previous trips. Itineraries change from time to time and therefore you cannot rely on these photographs as being an exact representation of what can be expected on a future tour. For details of the each tour, you should refer to the brochure write-up.
click here for details of our next tour to this destination