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2 WEEKS RAJASTHAN & GUJARAT BIRDING

DAY 1: The first day of the trip – the day when we whisk you from the airport to the loading place in Delhi where you will have the best of amenities plus a short session on what you will be experiencing through these 14 days. On this day we also brief you about the Do’s and Dont’s of the tour. And after this the guests usually retire for the day, since our real trip which begins next day will require the body batteries to be fully charged up.

Day 2: The next morning is about reaching the Sultanpur Bird sanctuary by day-break with packed meals and water. This is from where I will guide them to the next destination. Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary – an amalgamation of scrubby woodland, dry fields which make up, marshes, reedbeds etc – offers an excellent list of birds. The stars of the show are White-tailed Stonechat and Striated Babbler, two riverine species with very limited ranges, but Red-naped Ibis, White-tailed Lapwing, Striated Grassbird, Oriental Skylark, Orange-headed Ground- Thrush, Common Hawk-Cuckoo and personata White Wagtail are all worthy of mention. It is late morning before we return to the hotel for a quick shower before heading to the Delhi Airport from where the birders need to catch the flight to Jaisalmer. The local guide from Jaisalmer joins us right at our Lodging places which is usually the Hotel Himmatgarh Palace which has lush-green environs for birding in the vicinity. If time permits, I take the birders for an early evening birding in and around this palace.

Day 3, 4: Although Jaisalmer synonymous with the Thar Desert might be a sandy and scrubby desert-scape that seems rather lifeless, it is actually a veritable hotspot for birding. This is the region to spot the spectacular Great Indian Bustard, a subcontinental endemic species. You will be astonished and sad to know that it once almost became India’s national bird, but now at the brink of extinction. And the huge Desert National Park (DNP) is the Great Indian Bustard’s stronghold. And with the break of dawn and packed meals & water I take the birders to the DNP via road. Enroute I take to them to various stakeouts for birding in the region. Like birding between Jaisalmer & Sam Sand dunes means spotting the Striolated Bunting, Red-tailed Wheatear & Desert Lark. By the time we reach Sam, it is lunch hour and time to gobble some local desert cuisines which are very different from the other Rajasthani cuisines found in the non-desert regions. Post lunch we resume our trip to DNP on the Pal Rajah Resort including Sudasari area, where one can spot the Asian Desert Warbler, Plain Leaf Warbler, Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, vultures. Also Bimaculated Lark and Greater Short-toed Lark in the thousands. When we reached Sundarsari, I led the birders to a Camel Safari for the rest of the journey to DNP since the camel cart allows a taller lookout and faster coverage; and also because cars are not allowed inside the DNP. The trip had not produced any birds till early evening, just when two Barbary Falcons appeared overhead. Further along, we had Laggar Falcon, Punjab Raven, Cream-colored Courser & Indian Courser. Unfortunately no sign of Stoliczka’s Bushchat till late evening. We return the the Sam Sand Dunes where the tourists spend the night amind local folk music, dance and food. Early next day, I took the ten birders via road to Netsi and waited till the Sandgrouses started showing up. In this region of the national park, water trucks pump in water at various water holes and shallow lakes. And once these trucks leave, many a thirsty birds fly in to quench their thirst and also for a quick dip. A sight to pity, sight of joy…mixed feelings for the human race. Birders captured Trumpeter Finch, a lot of larks and doves; few Short- toed Snake Eagles attempting to hunt etc. It was lunch time by the time we captured a few rare species of the region. Post lunch I took the ten birders to Sudasari and picked up Urassh, spotted Stoliczka’s Bushchat, once again spotted few Trumpeter Finches. All this takes a lot of time in this arid region, so by the time we had captured all these, it was time to drive back to the tents for another musical night at the Sam Sand Dunes.

Day 05 DNP TO SIANA VIA KHEECHAN
On the fifth day I take the tourists for a final birding trip of Jaisalmer, but this time close to the vicinity of the lodge only, since by late morning we have to leave for Kheechan. Kheechan near Phalodi in Rajasthan (Jaisalmer – Bikaner route) is a famous breeding ground for Demoiselle Cranes especially in the Winter season. Every year though, around the month of August, is the turn of Demoiselle Cranes of Eurasia and Mongolia to migrate to Kheechan. And all the ten birders could be seen clicking non- stop and gaping in awe! I really felt proud as a guide leading them all to such amazing sights. Here we also caught sight of a Eurasian Sparrowhawk bathing in one of the waterholes. After a hearty tour and a sumptuous meal, we resumed our road trip to Siana. And by the time I reach the camping sight with the birders, it is already early evening. Since most of them are tired, after a short briefing on what we will do here next two days, I send them off for dinner and sleep.

Day 06: SIANA
Renowned for its Leopard sightings, Siana is a birders’ paradise in Rajasthan. After a quick breakfast, we started the Birding Tour of the region early morning with the Sunrise – the best time to spot Pallid Harrier which flew past ver close to us; Punjab Raven and there were 100’s of Greater Short-toed Larks. Another stop in lovely warm Sunrise gave us Red Collared-Dove, several Asian Desert Warblers and Rufous-fronted Prinia. And then our hearts skipped a few beats as a Leopard pair and its three cubs crossed our paths! We were in open jeeps, and they just 300 meters away. They stared at us, paused for a while and then crossed the trail to hide away in the dry-high grassland. And then I guided the birders for a quick glimpse of Rock Bush Quail, Indian Vulture, Indian Thick-knee and Sirkeer Malkoha. After a quick gobble of the packed lunch we were carrying for the birders, I guided the birders’ jeep to an area of Acacias to look for White-bellied Minivet. They also got great shots of White-browed Fantail, various flocks of Small Minivets and of course the Yellow-throated Sparrow, 12 Painted Sandgrouse. Everyone was delighted to see this species, especially Keith from Nicaragua who had come to India for the first time! The Sun is setting by the time this adventure is complete. And then it is time to capture some great shots of the Savanna Nightjar, Indian Eagle Owl and, best of all, 2 Striped Hyenas to end the day on a high. And luckily we got them all and more.

Day 07: Siana – Abu Road
It is the day when the birders have to bid adieu to Siana post an early morning jeep safari to look for leopard and birds. It is late morning when we return to the Siana camp for a quick lunch. Post that the local guides and I lead the birders for another road trip – this time to the only hills region of Rajasthan – the Mount Abu. To be precise I take them to Abu Road which is has a very long birding trail. And this is the stronghold of the White-naped Tit and the very beautiful Green Avadavat plus Marshall’s Iora among others. Once we reach Abu Road I ask the birders to get down the jeep and walk into a small village by the road. At times we have to walk for hours to spot the Green Avadavat, but this time we got lucky and spotted a pair within half hour. The birders also captured Crested Bunting, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Plum- headed Parakeet, Indian Yellow Tit, Brown Rock-Chat, Indian Scimitar- Babbler, Ashy and White-bellied Drongo, Red-whiskered Bulbul, among others. After a half day adventure it was time to call it a day and retire at the hotel Rising Sun Retreat, which suits its name. How? The next day’s adventure will detail that.

Day 08: Abu Road – Little Rann of Kutch
Talking about the hotel Rising Sun Retreat – it nestles among the most green area of the Abu Road, where several bird species can be seen hopping around in the gardens itself. So when the day breaks, I take the birders for an early morning trip where you can easily spot local species of Owls that have just returned to the nest. Seina Jacob from Italy was elated to click the Indian Scimitar-Babbler, the White-bellied Drongo, Brown- headed Barbet and Scaly-breasted Munia. Red Spurfowl was also spotted skulking inside the bushes – and all this in the vicinity of the Rising Sun Retreat hotel…thus justifying its name! Post an early lunch, around 12pm we headed to Little Rann of Kutch – a sanctuary for the Indian wild ass. An ancient seabed, the Rann has grassy patches that offer good bird-watching. We reach the Little Rann by early evening and after a quick shower all the birders assemble in the lobby of Ranna Riders. Here I introduce to the two local guides who will accompany them through the next two-days bird-watching tour of the Little Rann. Moreover I brief them about what we will spot and where. For instance – Crested and Sykes larks, Oriental skylark, bimaculated lark, greater short- toed lark, singing and Indian bushlarks, ashy-crowned sparrow-lark, are likely sightings and greater hoopoe lark is possible. Desert and variable wheatears, southern grey, long-tailed, rufous-tailed and bay-back shrike, common woodshrike are also likely sightings and the desert warbler is among the many winter visiting warblers. We will also look for chestnut- bellied and spotted sandgrouse, Indian courser (cream-coloured visits occasionally), quails, yellow-legged and barred buttonquails, grey francolin, wryneck, brown-rock chat, pied bushchat, rufous-tailed scrub robin, blue- headed rock thrush, black redstart and buntings in the scrubby areas. In the Little Rann of Kutch, at Sunsets, it is possible to watch marsh, Montagu and pallid harriers, aquila eagles, falcons and buzzards heading for their roosting sites. Among the mammals of the Rann other than the wild ass, there are chances of seeing nilgai, chinkara gazelle, white-footed desert and Indian foxes, the wolf, jungle cat (occasionally also desert cat), pale and long-eared hedgehogs and hare.

Day 09-10: Little Rann of Kutch
Both the days at the Little Rann of Kutch usually kick start with the Sunrise. The Little Rann is a ‘desert’ habitat interspersed with patches of Acacia. Just outside the resort the tourists spotted the Pallid and a Hen Harrier along with the Greater Hoopoe Lark. We were extremely lucky that day! As we steered ahead, Kevin from Germany, picked up the Desert Fox before we saw the Eastern Imperial Eagle, a small flock of Lesser Flamingos, some Macqueen’s Bustards and a Rose-coloured Starling. On day one en-route ahead we stopped at a few pools. And here I took the guests out to look out for Cotton Pygmy Goose,Grey-headed Swamphen, Asian Openbill, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bluethroat, Siberian Chiffchaff, River Tern and even the Black-headed Wagtail. One of our jeeps also saw a Rufous-tailed Lark before we called it a day. During the afternoon safaris which would begin post lunch around 3pm everyday, I took the birders for checking out more wetlands. A small lake like structure threw amazing glimpses of Ferruginous Duck, Black- crowned Night-Heron, Purple Heron, etc. And then we would drive to the actual large lake of the region which is full of birds morning and evening. Ibis Bayern from Poland was delighted to capture some great shots in his camera of Greylag Geese, Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans, Garganey, Greater and Lesser Flamingo’s, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-headed Ibis, Isabelline Wheatear and others. In my camera in particular, I captured the Small Pratincoles, Slender-billed Gull, Richard’s Pipit, Crested Lark and Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark in the drier fields. Closer to Sunset when we would be driving back to our camps, we would get superb shots of Sykes’s Nightjar to round off a good day.

Day 11: Little Rann of Kutch to Jamnagar
After early breakfast, we bid adieu to the Little Rann and head to the Gir National Park via Jamnagar. Birds of open-country like roller and black- shouldered kite could be seen enroute. It is lunch time by the time we arrived at our lodging places in Jamnagar. This day is primarily spent in recharging our body as well as camera batteries, planning the next few days as well as exchanging notes about what and where will be seen on this particular Safari. We as guides, both me and the local ones also ensure that the permits are in place to enter the Marine National Park the next day. In evening I take the birders out to the Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary, where there are fairly good chances of spotting the Indian skimmer. This
sanctuary is a breeding area for many species of birds that do not nest elsewhere in peninsular India. So we spot the Great- crested grebe, black- necked stork, Caspian tern and many other birds nesting in the region.

Day 12: Jamnagar – Gir National Park
On this day early morning we resume our birding sojourn wherein we head off to the coastal areas along the Gulf of Kutch, one of the finest birding stretches along the Indian coastline. And here I am also joined by local guides to take the birders for a great view of Crab-plover, Kentish plover, Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Broad-Billed Sandpiper, Sander ling, Dunlin, Curlew sandpiper, Black-Headed Gull, Common Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, etc. After early lunch, we head off to the Gir National Park where we arrive in evening and check-in at Gir Birding Lodge for overnight stay.

Day 13: Gir National Park
This day is about doing an early morning and an early evening safari of the Gir National Park – the den of the Asiatic Lion. This region is a tapestry of dry deciduous forests, acacia scrub and grassland, fed by rivers and reservoirs. So the birders find ample and good glimpses of Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Laggar Falcon, Painted Sandgrouse, Quails, Black-hooded and Golden Oriole, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-rumped Flame back woodpeckers, among some 200 species of birds. Besides, the Asiatic lion Gir aloso has a thriving population of panther (leopard), sambar, chital (spotted deer), nilgai (blue bull antelope) and wild boar. Gir is also one of the major habitats of chousingha world’s only four- horned antelope and chinkara (Indian gazelle) that are hard to spot in the teak forests along the game drive trails. After two hearty safaris interspersed with a typical Gujarati breakfast and lunch, we call it a day and retire at the Gir Birding Lodge.

Day 14: Gir – Rajkot – Delhi
The penultimate day of the two-week birding trip is more about nostalgia and less about anything else. Every time I take the birders on the last birding trip at the Gir National Park (an early morning affair), I get to see them hugging each other bidding an early goodbye before the final one. And as a guide for me this is a badge of honour. In the afternoon I get the birders to be transferred to the Rajkot airport for a connecting flight to Delhi, from where they will head back to their respective lands.