Thursday, 18 February 2016

Desert National Park and Little Rann of Kutch, India - 10th February (Day 3) - Part 1

We were up at 05:15 and after a fine breakfast of fruit, baked beans and hashed browns were on our way to Desert National Park. A delay as we left Jaisalmer was as a result of the return of an army training exercise on the outskirts of the town. We passed through scrubby desert habitat dotted with acacias, dusty towns and sand dunes scattered with camels at Sam, well known as a party town. We picked up a few birds including Indian Spotted Eagle, Bimaculated Lark, Large-billed Crow and more Variable Wheatear from the car. We then turned south on the road to Desert National Park and the pace slowed as we began scanning for Great Indian Bustard on the approach road to the park, two male Pallid Harrier showed briefly and the fields contained thousands of Bimaculated Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark and House Sparrow. A smart Southern Grey Shrike (or race lahtora sometimes known as Indian Grey Shrike) perched atop a telegraph pole and more Variable Wheatear (all of the morph piccata, some treat the three morphs as races or others as two species but HBW treat these as morphs of the same species) but there was no time to stop as we needed to head for the park and the best chance of the bustard. At the gate we paused to pay the entry fee and speak to the park guards on the most recent sightings of the bustard and the news was positive, one of the guards knew of a location where a pair were seen yesterday, still, these are flighty birds that can fly for several kilometres after being flushed and they could have moved a long way since the sightings from yesterday. We headed south and after around 5km turned south-west (just after the observation tower) on a dust track and headed through the scattered scrub and grassland. We stopped at a rocky pinnacle and scanned the landscape, we could see for approximately 5Km and it was evident from here that while we were in a park there was a great deal of cultivation and cattle, goat and sheep grazing and therefore much disturbance. We headed a little further seeing many more Bimaculated Lark and Greater Short-toed Lark often in large mixed flocks of several hundred birds and smaller numbers of Black-crowned Sparrow Lark. We reached another larger hillock and drove up this to scan once more, a perched Indian Spotted Eagle, two Griffon Vulture and then, through the scope, I picked up two distant Great Indian Bustard picking their way through the grassland – a male and female and looking very stately. Around them were cattle and sheep and people not too distant. We watched for a while and then after speaking to the park guard who was accompanying us we headed, in the car, along dirt roads and sandy tracks until the birds were around 400m away and were showing well as they fed in the grassland. Without any closer approach the birds took flight but only flew a short distance and so we approached a little closer and we had better views but these wary birds kept their distance and slowly walked away. We saw the male pick at some vegetation and feed the female and then again the birds flew (probably due to the fairy close approach of a Shepard, see image below) and headed around 400m east to an area of native desert scrub and away from the cultivated land that they were feeding on. We decided to leave them in peace.

Pair of Great Indian Bustard, the male in the foreground the female to the rear

Male Great Indian Bustard

Female Great Indian Bustard, note the cattle and Shepard  in the rear of the image

Great Indian Bustard pair

Great Indian Bustard pair, note the heavy wing moult in the male

We then headed back towards the entrance gate where we could walk an area of grassland to the east of the entrance gate to a site where Ganesh had previously seen Red-tailed Wheatear. We walked the track and then headed through knee high grassland to an outcrop of gravel and rock. We added Long-billed Pipit, Desert Wheatear, Cinereous Vulture, Common Babbler and Black-bellied Sandgrouse to the list but there was no sign of the Red-tailed Wheatear. 

Bimaculated Lark

Isabelline Shrike of race arenarius or tsaidamensis, sometimes known as Chinese shrike

White-eared Bulbul

Greater Short-toed Lark

Hoopoe of race ceylonensis 

Indian Spotted Eagle

Variable Wheatear of picata morph

Nilgai bull

Long-billed Pipit of race decaptus

  • Part 2 of this post can be viewed here
  • Part 3 of this post can be viewed here