Raining of species in the desert - Kutch

If someone calls a desert just a “dead and dry” place full of only sand …..then must visit Rann of Kutch ! There is so much happening every minute in Banni and Naliya grasslands of Kutch that it leaves you astonished and redefines the concept of a desert land ! Honestly this can better be experienced than described in words !

Moreover, the showering help of people like Jugalbhai Tiwari, his co-host Vaibhavbhai and the great sumo rider Laxmanbhai makes the visit to this desert a pleasure indeed !

After the Delhi Ahemdabad flight and then train journey - as we arrived at Bhuj Railway station, Jugalbhai picked us up along with an interesting breakfast of “Kachories”. En-route we scanned a lake full of Pelican activity and loads of waders dotted on the edge. This was certainly an exciting curtain raiser to the area that we were going to be in next three days.

The only curse to this wonderful place is the charcoal making by locals which is not only a severe eco degradation act but also a very highly dangerous activity to the human life. The local tribes camping around Fulay Village are indulged in converting a species of plants called Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) into charcoal through a crude process of smouldering. The smoking surroundings and the hell of carbon is a slow death to humans as well as the ecology in this whole area. This surely need an urgent action from the concerned authorities.

Day’s start was with some sightings Grey Hypocolius – a significant species of Kutch. Mohammed the local person at Fulay village took us to the Salavadora persica bushes to show these Hypocolius..as if they are his pets !

Later the visit to Thorn forest fetched us with the long awaited sightings of White Naped Tit, White Bellied Minivet which are the specialities of this area.

And then a different world was unveiled on a place called “Banni Grasslands” !! Talking of this miracle grassland - I am simply amazed by the sense of direction the locals have in the middle of this “nowhere” and my hats off to the vehicle drivers (like Laxmanbhai) who drive without any track laid out in front of them in this endless terrain…….it not only vast…but it is hugely random…..its an ocean of soil…its un-limiting …no widths measurable ..no length estimations ! The camera exposure meter and the autofocus gets a bit tricky with the mirage and all that light brown expanse.

While we were amidst this wonderland, a lunch at the ethnic Shaam-E-Sarhad was an added pleasure in this extravaganza. Second day’s lunch to a Punjabi Dhaba was another enjoyable affair as well.

Lined by a continuous series of Mirages, we had as superb time with Imperial Eagles, Eurasian Eagle Owls, Short Eared owls, While Storks, Ruff & Reeve, Isabelian, Desert and Variable Wheaters, six species of Larks, Common Carnes, While Storks, Pelicans and Black Eared Kites.

A careful watch around the “Pakkhi bheet” rewarded us with Eurasian Eagle owls, Francolins, Wheaters, Mongoose and Jackals. At a few places. ..the blooming Flame of the forest (Butia) is a host to Rosy Pastors, Bulbuls, Sunbirds & Warblers which queue up for a few drops of “floral squeeze” in this dryness.

During the day…moving through the expanse of sandy soil with interspersed growth of Suaeda fruticosa, we had excellent sightings of Short Eared owl, Imperial, Steppe, Tawny and Short Toed Snake Eagles, Common Cranes and the climax was a Desert Fox spotting ….which indeed was a rare catch.

In a single day - the unbelievable scores of 11 Owls, around 40 eagles, More than 10 Jackals, hundreds of Francolins….Hundreds of Storks, Loads of Harriers & Numerous Waders…was something like an unrealistic account coming true in front of our eyes !

One of the unique experience was the Eurasian Eagle Owls activity around dusk when these were seen in “flocks” of four-five perched atop the reddish rocks overlooking the setting sun, the red orange hues reflect into their eyes and the widened iris displays a peculiar shade of color.

Naliya Grassland is another amazing area where you can witness the grassland ecology in its true sense ! We were gifted by some excellent spotting here……Indian Coursers in big flocks….numerous Spiny tailed Lizards all around….Jackals and Foxes feeding on them…Jungle Cats ….Chinkaras….Chestnut and painted Sandgrouses …Francolins…Doves….hundreds of Harriers roosting …..and …the grand finale here was a “Wolf” Crossing our path just a few meters of our vehicle !

And while the sun was already set, our vehicle stopped suddenly to find something quite unusual…a Hedgehog very near the front tyre…immediately turning into a rigid ball of thorns !! We displaced it to the grassy side of the road and moved on.

Adding a different dimension to this desert depiction, a visit to the sea coast at Pingaleshwar gave an excellent opportunity to be with some lifers and rarities like Broadbilled Sandpiper, Huglins Gull, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Osprey, Juv Lesser Flamingo, Bar tailed Godwit, Gull Billed Tern, Greater Thicknee and many more. The mudskippers here formed a staple diet for all these coast dwellers.

The last morning before departure turned out a misty surprise – something unusual in such a dry area – and we still decided to give another try for the White napped Tit and White Bellied Minivet in the thorn forest area near Mahadeo phod and these couple of quick hours yielded another good sighting of both these species.

On a small stop dam here…holding my 7 Kgs of equipment on a wimberly head & Gitzo tripod, one of the naughty boulders under my feet slipped away….and within a split second …there I went …rolling down the slope….banging my biggie on the ground with a loud hit…my elbow scratched on the rough gravel… and…Thank the almighty… in addition to the optical quality …my new 500mm lens got tested for the mechanical build quality as well ! Intact as it was before…no damage at all …Surprising..isn’t it ?

Finally after a quick visit to the local handicrafts shop, Laxmanbhai dropped us at the Bhuj airport …an end of a wonderful saga ! While on the return flight …I confessed that the earlier concept of “dry desert” in my mind was completely washed out by this wonderful “Rain of experiences” !


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