Birdwatchers' Haven

Jessica Luis

Birders engrossed by the flamingoes at Little Rann of Kutch
Pic: Jessica Luis

You don't have to look very far to see birds in Gujarat! This makes it one of the best places to hold the Global Bird Watchers' Conference, where people from all over India and the world come to see these winged wonders. We too attended this fourth edition of the Conference and it did prove to be a grand experience!

The first thing you see (and hear!) when you step out of the Ahmedabad station is hundreds of noisy Rosy Starlings. These tiny birds that come here for the winter, fly around in huge flocks that look almost like a small tornado; and we all stopped to admire this show of aerial acrobatics. It’s amazing how they fly almost in synchronization, without banging into each other in midair! Even the trees were FULL of Rosy Starlings, and so are the corners of station roofs.

Looks like a cloud of black, but is in fact a flock of birds! The Rosy Starling special airshow when you touch down in Gujarat
Pic: Jessica Luis

Last year we were lucky enough to see a flock of critically endangered Sociable Lapwings, Devyani had written about it on the GreenLine blog. This year we were wondering what surprises awaited us. Or lifers, birds you see for the first time ever!

This year, for the first time, there was a bird race at GBWC for all the participants. The participants had to race against each other, (and time!) as we tried to spot the maximum number of birds. Everyone was divided into teams of fours; ours was called the Indian Skimmer (our team member Parveen’s favourite bird). We also had Pamela Rasmussen bird book as an extra team member to help us identify birds.

The handy birding guide, Pamela Rasmussen
Pic: Jessica Luis

Team Indian Skimmer!
Drawing by: Parveen Shaikh
The first day we headed to the Little Rann of Kutch (Rann means desert), and it has some of the most amazing wildlife that you can find in very few other places. We were told that Amitabh Bacchan had been here the day before to see the thousands of flamingos that fly down here. The Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) is also one of the few places on earth where you find the last surviving populations of the Asiatic Wild Ass. These, now endangered animals, are found in semi-arid deserts in places like Mongolia, and we’re lucky enough to have a population of them in India.

At LRK you find a herb call Suaeda nudiflora. It’s also food for wild asses, like all desert plants it has modified leaves so it doesn’t lose water. You can eat the leaves too, they’re salty and taste a bit like amla!

Suaeda nudiflora: For when Wild Asses get the munchies!
Pic: Jessica Luis

The bus full of birders was chattering with activity… Everyone kept poking their heads out of the window on the way to LRK. The photographers who came armed with huge lenses kept their cameras ready. And we yelled 'stop' to the driver if we saw anything extraordinary! Someone spotted a black and white shape on a rock, which turned out to be none other than the fastest flying bird in the world, the Peregrine Falcon! It stayed put for a few moments before flying off.

The Peregrine Falcon flying off in a blur :P
Pic: Jessica Luis

But there were more birds! We stepped out of the bus and saw a SEA of flamingos. It was enough to make everyone gasp and forget about the bird race. There were Pied Avocets swimming among the flamingos. And we tried to play "Where’s Waldo?" and spot a Black-headed gull who kept appearing and disappearing among the crowd of birds.

Nice landing!
Pic: Jessica Luis

We had to move on, but luckily we made an unplanned stop at a lesser known place called Navartala which turned out to be a treasure trove of birds! There were Pelicans and Greylag geese, and Marsh Harriers probably waiting to pick on distracted ducks.

A gaggle of Greylag Geese...and an Egret
Pic: Parveen Shaikh

Some people went into the thorny bushes to look for birds there (the bird race was still on!) Legend has it that it’s not the colourful huge birds, like but little brown birds that win you races. These “little brown puzzles” are hard to spot and harder to identify.

Little Brown Puzzles :)
Pic: Jessica Luis

One of these are the Warblers, which are all small and brown and really hard to tell apart. We could hear ‘chuck chuck chuck’ noises from the bushes but we couldn’t see the warblers. Then one came out and it was still hard to identify so we took pictures.

One of the puzzles: A Paddyfield Warbler
Pic: Jessica Luis

In Nalsarovar, the “chuck chuck” noises turned out to be Clamorous Paddy field warblers (after asking a lot of experienced birders and looking into Rasmussen!

Clamorous Reed Warbler finally comes out in the open at Nalsarovar :)
Pic: Jessica Luis

Sunset at Nalsarovar!
Pic: Parveen Shaikh

There were also Jacanas, swimming, thy looked like ducks from afar but we could n tee their wide feet, which help them walk across leaves on water easily.

The next day we headed to Thol Bird Sanctuary for the whole day! Everyone was running up and down excitedly, either walking on the forest on one side of the road or looking for ducks on the wetland lakes on the other side. There were also two Sarus Cranes, the tallest birds in India. We were spoilt for choice, there for hours alternating between the two…wetland, forest, wetland forest! We scanned the lake looking for ducks and other things. There were two Black-tailed godwits fighting near the lake, two Ruddy Shelducks on the other side. We kept looking at them and almost forgot to click photographs!

Spotting ducks at Thol lake
Pic: Devyani Singh
A Painted Stork flies by!
Pic: Jessica Luis
Someone saw a sleeping Tickell's Blue Flycatcher in a tree at Thol. It had woken up by the time we got there :)
Pic: Jessica Luis

On the way back someone spotted a courser running around in a bush. Birds were not the only thing though. There was a herd of almost thirty wild asses, people ran out of the bus. They waited for some time before running off, (a drongo riding piggyback on one of them).

An impressive herd of Wild Ass at the Little Rann of Kutch
Pic: Jessica Luis

Then there was a fascinating thing we came across, ants with pets! Rahul Khot from the BNHS collection department who studies insects was with us, he showed us these minuscule strange looking creatures called “cow bugs” on some thorns. These small insects suck sap from the stems of these plants and give out honeydew. We noticed ants moving around the stems too. The ants who stay close to these bugs like this honeydew and keep them as “pets”. Clever, eh?

Ants and "cow bugs"
Pic: Jessica Luis

Then the last day in Velavadar Blackbuck Sanctuary, we saw blackbucks in acres and acres of grasslands! These near threatened animals are easily seen here, and they peacefully graze in hundreds.

Apart from the programme, we also went to Indroda, it has a dinosaur park which houses fossils found in Gujarat! This was highly exciting for the dinosaur nuts among us, there were statues of Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rexes and we had flashbacks of our childhood days when we watched Jurassic Park! We also saw a descendant of one of them, a Calotes sunning itself on a leaf. There were fossils of dinosaur teeth and dinosaur eggs. Our team, the Indian Skimmers also won in the bird race with a bird list of 166 species! The icing on the cake was seeing an Eurasian Griffon flying high in the sky at the last minute, which Devyani pointed out and which went on our list- it was a lifer for all of us!

Flashback mode! Fossils at the dinosaur park in Indroda
Pic: Jessica Luis

A green Bee-eater posing for the camera!
Pic: Jessica Luis

A Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher in the hotel where we were staying
Pic: Jessica Luis

These are some of the things we came across on our latest trip to Gujarat for the Global Birdwatchers conference. If you too have traveled someplace lately, let us know about the interesting things you've seen!

World Wetland Day

Kaustubh Bhagat 

Hi friends... Just wanted to ask, do you know what is tomorrow? Yes, I know it is a Sunday and you might want to laze around. But tomorrow is also 2 February, which is observed as World Wetlands Day. What are wetlands and why this day, you may ask?

Wetlands are areas like marshes, peats, estuaries or where water can be static or flowing. They can be artificial or natural in origin, as well as perennial or seasonal. These include areas with fresh or brackish water, as well as marine areas where depth of water does not exceed six metres in low tide. The wetlands include ecosystems like mangroves, coral reefs, flood plains and even rice fields.

The wetlands are one of the most productive ecosystems on earth. A study by Constanza and his team shows that the wetlands provide us ecosystem services worth USD 4.9 trillion. These services include fisheries, agriculture, water resource, flood plain control, just to name a few. However, wetlands are under tremendous pressure due to rising human population. The demand for freshwater itself has risen many fold in last decade. In addition there is demand for land to feed the ever increasing population. A UNESCO report points towards 70% increase in global food demand by 2050. The land demand for infrastructure projects is ringing a death knell for important wetlands like mangroves and lakes. These problems are not just restricted to a few countries, but are global. So, in 1971 an International convention called as ‘The Convention on Wetlands’ was convened at Ramsar Iran (popularly known as the Ramsar Convention). An intergovernmental treaty was adopted by the member nations of the Convention as a commitment towards sustainable use of wetlands within their territories. It was also decided to celebrate 2 February as World Wetland Day to commemorate the Convention and create awareness about wetlands.

This year (2014) the theme for the World Wetland Day is ‘Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth.’ The emphasis is on achieving cohesion between wetlands and agriculture for best outcomes as against their traditional roles of antagonist parties.

So, what are you doing tomorrow? How about visiting a wetland? Try organising a clean-up campaign for wetland near you. Too short a notice?? Try talking about wetland with your friends and families or even blog or tweet about them. Wish you a Happy Wetland Day!!!

Some wetlands in and around Mumbai
·         Sewri mudflats
·         Godrej mangroves
·         Thane creek
·         Vashi mangroves
·         Airoli creek
·         Talawe

·         Powai lake