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.
And this super confident Black drongo
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
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
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
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 octopus moving from one hide to another
Here's a video Vimal shot as I was handling the Octopus - they are SLIMY!
The hairy/Wolf crab
A few soft sponges and brittle stars under the rocks
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
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
Common pochard, female
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!
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.
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
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.