Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vast and exciting Gujarat

It's been a long overdue report/photo-blog of the Gujarat trip from January earlier this year. And it's going to be a loooong one, pull up a chair, grab a nice drink/snack please :D

Gujarat and especially it's water birds have been the object of many desires from us photogs, and mine too! Things sort of "fell in place", Vimal and I managed to get our leaves approved and here we were preparing for the 9 day fun ride filled with travel and loads of photography. We knew the weather would be pleasant, but would also be cold - a quick visit to Decathlon had this taken care of.

Logistics were worked on swiftly and we were all set ;)

First "risk" to the trip - the Cam's shutter failed and after getting the shutter replaced some shots would turn out unbelievably blurry :( That again was handled quickly thanks to my helpful friends - thank you! :)

January 20th Friday. Snaking our way through the mad afternoon traffic we just about managed to get aboard the flight to Ahmedabad - our first thrill :P
We were greeted by Rajbha at the airport - our driver who endeared and kept us entertained through the trip. Ran around a lil to get some rice filling for our ban-bags, and then went on to have some real yummy Gujarati thali. Enjoyed the pooris and the vast spread of sweets.

The roads were nice and we made some good ground. And that's when we began to think of the drop in temperature. The mercury levels dipped quick as we got away from the city, and we knew it would be worser in the Rann. The Rs. 50 hand-gloves from a roadside truck-stop took care of that (you always miss something when preparing!)

Reached Royal Safari Camp after fixing a puncture. Also helped us star gaze at that wonderful celestial spread. RSC's a wonderful place with some great ambiance and hospitality. Parvez bhai greeted us at the entrance with a large smile and a warm handshake. Tucked ourselves into bed with the alarms set for early morning and the anticipation of experiencing the Rann the next day.

Woke up with the first sounds of the alarm, with the sun yet to break out. The sounds of bushchats and warblers accompanied the chill in the air. Wrapped up a few pieces of cake for our breakfast and off we went to experience the Rann, and have our date with the "Gudkhar" (Indian Wild ass)

Vimal geared up

The first views of the Wild ass sanctuary are awe-inspiring. Flat lands with very little vegetation. For us city dwellers, just seeing an endless span of land was soothing and refreshing - and so was the super pleasant weather.

The little water body in the midst of this harsh landscape was a magnet for the Lesser Flamingos, Pied avocets, Pochards, Teals and Dalmatian pelicans

Flocks landing / taking off everywhere - we were a lil over-awed!
Made some images sneaking up behind the tufts of tall grass.

And here's introducing Vimal, shoots to thrill :D

The backdrop of the Rann made it pretty dramatic.

The air-space here is ruled by the harriers. Spotted a lot of them, but unfortunately not many were willing to come close / co-ordinate.

The heat haze affecting shots over a distance a great deal :(

This common kestrel male kept getting driven away by the harrier

Spent time till lunch (and a little beyond) tracking other ground birds including the Lesser thick-knee.

And also our first view of the large group of Rosy starlings - which we would see throughout the trip.

Our driver - Sadiq bhai was pretty hungry by now and we didn't want to push him too much. Our minds were occupied with shooting, but him - nothing to distract.

Lunch back at RSC and we emptied our memory cards for the afternoon session.
This yielded us a few chestnut bellied sandgrouse, shrikes and the desert wheatear.


Desert wheatear

And this super confident Black drongo

Stonechat, female

Driving around in the late afternoon sun saw groups of Common cranes fly by in formations, and also this family with the youngster in tow.

Sadiq bhai mentioned the area had some Short-eared owls. Then he parked up and pointed us to the base of a grass clump, and we were still trying to "See" what he saw. The SEOs are just so well camouflaged, only the well trained eyes of a spotter could've picked up the owl from that distance.

The SEO finally obliged us by coming out in the open - yet kept it's distance

Got to shoot the wild ass, here a youngster with it's mother

The sanctuary also is home to a good number of Nilgai

We had plans to go back to the lake to shoot at sun-down. Reached there to be disappointed seeing the place over-run with tourists all over the lake bed and not one flamingo to be seen :( Had to settle for the sunset shots.

Sadiq bhai who enthusiastically drove us around

Being winter, the light dies down pretty quick and we went back to RSC eagerly to transfer and check our images from the day. The sanctuary is super dusty and that ensured we were covered in layers of dust - our bathroom smelled of wet sand once we had dusted off!! A quick cleanup of the equipment and we finished our dinner before resting for the day.

Reached Navtalav early next day with a good congregation of Ruddy shelducks, teals, grey-lag geese and black winged stilts. The only issue was these were extremely skittish, managed to get some records from a distance.

Here again, loads of dust and cattle greeted us

Black winged stilts

Ruddy shelducks

Heading back we got to see the Collared pratincole

Went back again to the Ass sanctuary to try our luck with the raptors. The weather turned cloudy and dull - not good for my f8 lens :(

The flat lake bed and the lack of birds around, Said bhai let the gypsy rip. Was fun with the cold air swishing past and was a perfect "wind in your face" experience.

Visited a few waterbodies in hope of birds. Saw a marsh harrier cleaning up a flamingo kill, followed by the Peregrine falcon and a few harriers in the fading light.

Our time at LRK, Bajana was over(can one be satiated ever with places like these?). Caught up with Nirav bhai and Vishal bhai at Surendranagar before driving out at night towards Gir. Enjoyed the Ganthiya (will write about the fascination later) and hot jalebis at a roadside joint.

Reached our stay at Gir and got some shut-eye before heading out to get our guide and into the jungles of Gir. It was still dark when we started off, with our drive enriched with the calls of peacocks and chirps from the birds. Drove around with not many sightings barring the lone Sambar deer and this Cheetal who was chewing on a bone - even herbivores do it for the calcium.

And this beautiful doe!

Ran into the Maldharis who inhabit the jungles of Gir along with the king. Amazing to see them live side-by-side with their cattle.

A small settlement got us some Petronia, Red wattled lapwings and the first view of the black redstart, and a lone asian brown flycatcher

Just as we were about to lose hope on spotting atleast one of the 400+ asiatic lions that remain in this last stronghold of theirs, our guide managed to get location of a pride (Wont talk about the so called "trackers" here)

The morning light lent some nice lighting on some of the pride with females and few youngsters which were still lazing around. These are pretty majestic to watch!

And this lil one taking a "cat nap"

Heading back chanced upon the flame of the forest. Knowing this is a magnet to all the tiny birds, stopping here gave us a few purple sunbirds feasting

The evening session was pretty slim pickings, and towards the end got to meet the male lion. Managed to fire off a few decent closeups in real low-light!

The next morning Safari was rather uneventful as we passed through fields inside the sanctuary and a few settlements. The flame of the forest again was the saving grace. Watched the rose ringed parakeets feast on the flowers.

A peacock brought the curtains down to the Gir forest visit

Back at the stay (which was at the edge of the forest) spending time outdoors yielded a few images of the babblers - which to me look the "true" Angry birds

The flameback woodpecker

Just as we were about to turn around, noticed the Flame of the forest - and yes as you'd know by now, it was THE magnet

Made some decent images of the Oriental white eye foraging

Hesitantly knowing that we need to get to Jamnagar by night we left Gir. Stopped en-route at a brackish waterbody which allowed us to get close to the egrets and herons with some great light.

The female oriental magpie robin greeting us at close range

Pond heron

With a shakedown

Western reef egret

Intermediate egret, the evening sun with the reflections from the water making this really special!


Splash n kill!

Against the setting sun

Checked into Hotel president and synced up with Kunal Joshi for the next day's schedule.

Early morning and we were off to Khijadiya bird sanctuary - a nice vast swamp/marsh with loads of waterfowl.

Started the day with the Khijadiya specialty - Great crested grebe. Laid low in the reeds with elbows and the pant covered in a nice layer of slush ;)

Was wishing to make the ultimate image of these with their courtship dance on water, but this wasn't the right time of year, plus with their young in tow they were unlikely to cozy up :D
The young though did pester them for food - the light was magical

Got some great white pelicans flying by

The dalmatian pelican at a distance

The colors on the Teal were awesome to watch

And so were the colors/sheen on this darter

The little blue KF on his thorny perch

A group of lesser cormorants soaking it in

And so was this laughing dove

Caspian tern fly-by

Saw the Black necked stork chase a black ibis around - giving us some nice BIF shots

Moved on to track the Jamnagar specialty - crab plovers. Were hard to approach..had to squat walk and take the watery route to get to them. This to us was the most satisfying stalk/shoot (and the resulting muscle pain!).

Kunal snapped a quick one of mine while he was watching us go about our shooting

Managed to inch closer giving them enough time to get used to us

And then the group decided to move on to a different "island". We'd have sat there all day long! :)

Terra firma yielded a few more closeups

Crested lark

Green bee eater

Back in the hotel, a quick hot shower and in bed ready for the next day.
An early morning start to Narara marine national park (India's only "aquatic" national park)

Reached there during low-tide with a cold wind blowing in from the sea at one side and the sunrise at the other. Met Vikram Potdar - a fellow INW-ian here, and later ran into Falguna shah too.

The morning hues were a treat to watch

The play of light with the wavy patterns left by the receding tide were awesome to see

The water was COLD and we let out a few oooohhs each time we waded through the ice cold water. Watched a few stints, sand plovers, western egrets going about their foraging.

A few showing how they prefer to hunt around the stones

Having a strong aquatic inclination, began exploring life under the water too..the low tide helping a great deal! A lot of soft corals around, with some octopus and few other invertebrates.

The environ

Sea urchin

The octopus moving from one hide to another

Octopus move

Here's a video Vimal shot as I was handling the Octopus - they are SLIMY!
Slimy octopus

The hairy/Wolf crab

Neptune crab

A few soft sponges and brittle stars under the rocks

An anemone

Eggs of a nudibranch

Also chanced upon the pufferfish

These tubeworms were in plenty
Click for video

Soon it was afternoon and the tide began to come in, was an awesome sight to watch
Another video from Vimal with this ubercool sight
Arriving Tide

Spotted a few whimbrels along with the oystercatchers on the shore.

With empty stomachs, and some great experiences we moved onto grab a quick meal. Went to check out a favorite hangout of the Demoiselle cranes in the evening light

Kunal with some nice backlight

The fields nearby

On the way back stopped over to see the Lesser flamingos, pretty much in the heart of Jamnagar

A lot of camels with their owners returning

The low-level lake provided some interesting frames with people at the tank bund

The next morning was to be fun filled "shoot all you want" with the ducks and gulls at Lakhota lake. The early morning light lending some nice light

People come here to feed the birds, and just like the people the "Ganthiya" is a huge hit with the birds too..they feed right off the hand!

Brown headed gulls

Will let the pictures do the talking in terms of volumes :D

Tufted duck

Common pochard, female


Gull scape

Landing! Pity I could not back off, would've been one of the "top" images from the trip

Spot billed duck, preening

Some crazy closeups too!

Bank mynah

Rock pigeon

Rosy starling enjoying the Ganthiya

Vimal hinted at us getting an eye examination of the gulls, went for it since they were co-operative (slight crop ;) )

Satisfied and with multiple cards filled, we moved back to a final try at one of the waterbodies. Spotted tons of dalmatian pelicans, Painted storks, teals and spoonbills. Vimal captured this beautiful video of a youngster pestering the parent for food.

Eurasian spoonbills

Back on the road towards Surendranagar via Rajkot we reached past evening. Tried our best to find a room, and oh boy! was it tough. Looked like all of Gujarat wanted to get wedded on that day/weekend. All hotels filled to the brim and we were wondering if we should head to Ahmedabad instead. The cab owner pulled a few strings and got us accommodation at a decent place.

Early morning check-out and we headed to Nalsarovar.

It was a cold morning again, the green bee eaters sticking close for body heat

This "cross-billed" babbler sunning itself

With our arrival starting a fight, the so called "guides" fighting for rights to take us around. I guess they expected a big "tip" seeing our lenses.

Saw a good number of Glossy ibis - the sheen and color on them is incredible

Purple moorhen

and again large groups of Rosy starlings.

Took the boat ride but found nothing great. A Brahminy duck in flight

Brown headed gull

The marsh harrier trying it's luck on the coots provided for some action and a few resulting coots-in-flight

Bar tailed godwits

Here again got to see how the boatmen woo the birds closer using Ganthiya (packets are sold to tourists)

Thol lake turned out to be a big let-down, the water level was high and not many birds seen around either :(

Turned to clicking with the cell phone and made these (had left the wide-angle back in the cab :( )

Found ourselves a stay in Ahmedabad and prepared for one last shooting session for the final day, before heading to the airport.

Deepak helped us with a location to find egyptian vultures. This was to be a place where they bring in dead cows for "skinning" for leather. The carcasses were left for the vultures to scavenge on.

Locating them wasn't that easy, a talk with the locals was very disappointing. They've seen a steady decline in the numbers and types of vultures - owing to poisoning and pesticides :( :(

Located them at last and the scene was straight out of a macabre movie. Carcasses everywhere!!

Got some in flight as we were approaching.

And one which went too close

Had this visualization while seeing the carcasses of dead cows that an egyptian vulture would come and land on a perch like this. Missed the landing but here's a shot I'd take :)

The vulture on the macabre throne

The babbler doing a "reindeer"

Rose ringed parakeets feeding along with the pigeons

Tracked and got the bluethroat robin too!

Caught up with Jaival and his cute cockatiel before heading back to the airport.

WOW! you're still reading, but trust me time sure flew and we were wondering where all those 9 days went while we waited for our flight back :)

The trip was filled with a whole lotta traveling, good food (Gujarat is amazing with it's sweets and flavors), tons of shooting (Close to 180GB!), waiting for the cards to transfer images onto the external drives and great company - thanks Vimal!

EDIT: Since folks did ask for gear - Canon 500D, Sigma 150-500mm OS for all wildlife, Canon 18-55mm for landscapes :)

Vimal's gallery from Gujarat

All video credits - Vimal Stan. More on his video playlist

Gotta thank Nirav bhai, Vishal bhai and a host of other folks who made this possible. Special mention to our super driver - Rajbhai without whom it wouldn't have been this much fun!

Apparently this season wasn't that great with many migrants not arriving in good numbers, but what we saw / explored and experienced kept us happy.
Note to self: Reduce the number of locations and explore in depth.

Gujarat is sure to keep us coming back for more :)

Till the next trip/ride.



Vyas said...

Another great blog. As always a great treat to read and enjoy
!!...Keep them coming Mate

Ameen said...

Fantastic stuff!

Ajith said...

Liked the entire post with tons of pics - so much so that forgot its Monday morning (busy at work!) and got engrossed that I finished reading at one go :)

I only wish that you had spent more time at any 1 or 2 locations like you have mentioned yourself on the post. Looking forward to more such posts :)


Unknown said...

Nicely written.good pics!

Unknown said...

i lived in gujarat and still u know it better ;) grt capture.


Chai said...

Great blog with nice set of pics...


Deepak Balasubramanian said...

Nics pics.. tfs..

joe vimal said...

For n+1 time wonderful pics ,some Pictures were magical, dont have words to describe,Update the Info on gear used for this trip.

bmvbab said...

An overdose of good pictures :) Thoroughly enjoyed.

Arjun Haarith said...

Excellent blog Hayath bhai.
Incredible images of everything with excellent writeup. The photographs are jaw-dropping.

Sujani said...

Unbelievable pictures - Veritable bird book of Gujarat's desertscapes. Came here through bngbirds btw. Keep posting your links on the group.


Sujani said...

Unbelievable pictures. Veritable bird book of Gujarat arid landscapes.
I am from bngbirds btw. Keep posting these links on the group.


Thomas Vattakaven said...

Fantastic shots. Thanks for sharing

Deepak Rajanna said...

Followed the link that you posted on bngbirds. This is just unbelievably beautiful.

sugopal said...

Wonderful narrative and pictures. I took a few minutes off work and enjoyed Gujarat. Thank you very much

dr anil said...

fantastic shots

Santhosh Gujar said...


Jai said...

Amazing pics! It would great to estimate the number of species (birds) that you have captured in this trip and should be some sort of record for sure!

Hayath said...

Thank you everyone for the warm response, glad this was liked :)

Vyas - thanks mate!

Ameen bhai - thank you!

Ajith - concentrating on specific spots is definitely going to be the agenda next time. This trip was more of a "Recce", plus we made the classic beginner's mistake of trying to cover too much. Dont regret it though :)

Thanks Joe! Edited and added the gear info towards the end.
"EDIT: Since folks did ask for gear - Canon 500D, Sigma 150-500mm OS for all wildlife, Canon 18-55mm for landscapes :) "

Vignesh - thanks buddy! Too much of a good thing eh :P

Thank you Arjun.

Thank you Sujani for the drop-by, appreciate it. I do post on bgnbirds when there is something worthwhile sharing :)

Thank you Thomas, Deepak!

sugopal - nice way to beat work-stress ;) Thank you

Thank you Dr. Anil, Santosh.

Thanks Jai! There were many more which we could not document/explore. Gujarat does shatter most records when it comes to variety :)

Cheers folks!

Aravind Ruthvik said...

Amitabh Bachchan spoke and promoted Gujarat tourism as he has got the greatest voice. Your photos promote mutely as your pictures speak better!

chandrani said...

Awesome! Brilliant!


The chronicle is live.Wonderful photographs.Superbly professional, indeed.

Santosh bs said...

Splendid stuff and looks like you had a lot to travel, another post on the logistics would help :)

Sudarshan said...

This just made my day. :) Great photos... Makes me wish for trip there.. thanks for sharing :)

Hayath said...

Thank you Aravind, glad you dropped by. Those sure are flattering words being paralleled to AB! :)

Thank you Chandrani!

Thank you Pradeep :)

Santosh - Thank you :) Do let me know any info you need. Shall try updating with travel logistics.

Thank you Sudarshan, the pleasure's all mine sharing. It is a worthwhile state to visit!


Unknown said...

Nice informative write-up! Would you mind sharing contact details of your guides?

Sujani said...

The one photo of wild asses - 1245- showing a smoke belching factory in the background is slightly disturbing. Is the sanctuary going to be encroached upon slowly or it is in safe hands?

Sujani said...

The one photo of wild asses - 1245- showing a smoke belching factory in the background is slightly disturbing. Is the sanctuary going to be encroached upon slowly or it is in safe hands?

sanjaya said...

Fantastic pictures and write up!! Have been in Gujarat for >25 yrs!! Didn't know such beauty and diversity existed.

Can you share your itinerary in this trip?


sanjaya said...

Fantastic pictures and write up!! Have been in Gujarat for >25 yrs!! Didn't know such beauty and diversity existed.

Can you share your itinerary in this trip?