Birding Trip Report: Desert National Park, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India 10, 11, 12 Dec 2015 – By Pritam Baruah

The Thar Desert in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan is the westernmost frontier of India. Although its sandy and scrubby desert-scape can seem rather lifeless, it is actually a veritable hotspot for birding. In particular, there are some sought-after species here that are difficult to find elsewhere in India. By far the most important target here is the spectacular Great Indian Bustard, a subcontinental endemic. The bird that once almost became India’s national bird is now on the brink of extinction, with about less than 100 remaining (which some consider being an optimistic estimate).

The huge Desert National Park (~3100 sq km) is the GIBU’s last stronghold, with a little over 40 individuals calling its relative security home of recent times. The rest is in highly fragmented (and potentially unsustainable) populations elsewhere in peninsular India. Although a GIBU sighting in DNP is not guaranteed, the Sudasari area of DNP is still the best place for this mega bird across its entire range. Most of DNP is a mixed-use zone with large spaces used for agriculture and livestock grazing. However, there are grassy enclosures in Sudasari that serve as inviolate refuges for the GIBUs. The DNP, surroundings, and nearby Ramgarh hold a number of other dessert specialties such as Stoliczka’s Bushchat, Black-bellied & Spotted Sandgrouse, Trumpeter Finch, and Asian Desert Warbler, Plain Leaf Warbler, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Bimaculated Lark, Cream-coloured & Indian Courser, Barbary Falcon, and Punjab Raven. Meanwhile, rocky areas between Jaisalmer town and Sam/Khuri villages hold Desert Lark, Striolated Bunting, and Rufous-tailed Wheatear. And overall the open country is excellent for Raptors and vultures. The Houbara Bustard is a rare winter visitor sometimes seen in Sudasari. Some species like Rufous-tailed Lark and Greater Hoopoe-Lark visit during the summer to breed.

I initially planned to be there on the 13th as well, which would have been optimal, but eventually, I just couldn’t swing it. But although I had much less time than ideal, I was still able to connect with most species, including what I considered by far the most important, the GIBU. However, I did miss a few targets that are getting increasingly rare in India: Trumpeter Finch, Stoliczka’s Bushchat & Spotted Sandgrouse. That just leaves me with ample reason for a repeat visit to this amazing area. Among mammals, the Chinkara, Desert and Indian Foxes were easy to find but I failed to see the Desert Cat, which would be yet another great reason to revisit.