• John Nat Arifin

Bird Watching and Photographing Wildlife in Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India


Bird Watching and Photographing Wildlife in Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India

Singapore to Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat,India Bird Watching and Photographing Wildlife in Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India. In January, we were in the 2nd Global Bird Watcher Conference in India to observe the exotic birds and wildlife of Gujarat starting with Little Rann of Kutch (a vast pale saline desert west of Zainabad). A five hour flight from Singapore to Mumbai followed by another hour to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, our nine hour journey was not all too shabby. After a night’s restful stay at a small hotel in Gandhinagar (a city north of Ahmedabad), we took a taxi to Zainabad, a town not far way from Little Rann of Kutch. The normal fare was 5.5 INR per km, however there would be an extra charge of 1.0 INR with air-conditioning. The trip cost about 1500 INR (S$38), which wasn’t too bad considering that the 130km trip through the flat delta country took us nearly three hours, moreover, there was plenty to see along the way.

On our way to Zainabad, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

Rabari communities near Little Rann of Kutch After lunch, we rode an open jeep to a nearby lake (just 20 mins away) to see the water birds. On that cool but also sunny afternoon, we were greeted by children waving and saying ‘hello, hello, hello’ while passing through the small villages. As we approached the lake, a herd of buffalos headed slowly toward us, stirring up the dust below. In the midst of the sun and the dust, a faint silhouette of a Rabari men dressed in white emerged behind the buffalos holding his staff. We turned our attention from the flamingoes in the lake to capture the magical moment of the tribe and buffalos. Rabari men were usually recognizable in their all white apparel, donning heavy earrings (toliya).

Rabari Tribe and Buffalos, Zainabad, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

Rabari Tribe, Zainabad, Little Rann of Kutch

Flamingos and wild ass Leaving at 9.30am, after 3 other visitors from Ahmedabad joined us for the flamingos expedition, it was another 1.5 hours to get through the barren desert with the sun beating down our backs. Cruising across the desolate land, we only managed to see two Peregrine Falcons, a lone Steppe Eagle (perching half a meter above the ground) and a dozen of demoiselle cranes flying above us. If not for the cool wintry air, this journey would have been baking hot and dusty.

Little Rann is flooded during the monsoon, when solar tides are forced into the desert from the Gulf of Kutch. It is during that season that the hills aka bets will turn to islands, doubling up as shelter for animals. In winter, however, it is completely dry like the surface of the moon. With 364 bets, the largest bet covers over 84 sq km. It is in this unique habitat that we searched for the colony of Greater and Lesser Flamingos.

Flamingos in Gujarat

Our jeep went as far as it could go down to where the birds were. Any further, the wheels would sink into the mud. Our driver and guide, Ikbar, mentioned that we had no choice but to walk bare footed to get close to the flamingos. In between squelching through into the sticky mud that went halfway between our knee and ankle, and balancing my Gitzo 3530LS carbon tripod above the mud, our eyes were nonetheless constantly looking up in marvel at the long alignment of flamingos.

Dhanraj, asked me over lunch back at the camp “ So how many did you see this time?”. I said “Definitely more than 30 flamingos, maybe even in the hundreds”.

Christine with Dhirubhai family just before sunset in Little Rann of Kutch

Short-eared Owl, Sykes’s Nightjar and Indian Nightjar We stayed in Little Rann of Kutch for one more night to observe the nightjars and to also hopefully get a better glimpse of the Short-eared owl. Indeed we were fortunate to come face to face with it in broad daylight while watching more flamingos in Banjana.

Short-eared Owl, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat.

In that same afternoon at the wild ass sanctuary, we encountered another short-eared owl just before sunset. As the cold evening desert night approached, Ikbar was very determined to spot the nightjar in the vast desert with a very powerful torchlight. Circling the “islands” for almost 45 minutes in the middle of the cold desert night, Ikbar then pulled the vehicle to a sudden stop and pointed the torch on the ground. It was an Indian Nightjar, in the usual nightjar motionless position. In the next 5 to 10 minutes, we found 3 other indian nightjars, however it wasn’t the one we were specifically looking for.

Indian Nightjar,Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

After the 4th nightjar that evening, the 5th bird was the Sykes’s Nightjar. Sykes’s nightjar is a smaller nightjar that is well camouflaged on the sand. Little Rann of Kutch is the best place to see Sykes’s nightjar in India according to Dhanraj. He said “If you don’t see it in Little Rann of Kutch then you have to go to Afghanistan to see it “. That evening, we spotted not just one Skykes’s nightjar but four.

Sykes’s Nightjar, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

Tips in Photographing birds and wildlife in Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India.

  1. The dust and the salt are the biggest enemies in the desert. Cover your camera and lenses with cloth or put them in camera bag when traveling in open jeep.

  2. Bean bag is great for shooting from vehicle.

  3. Tripod or monopod does have its use when shooting from behind vehicle while using vehicle as hide.

  4. Lighting is good in the desert during the day. Shooting even at ISO 200 was never a problem.

  5. Long lens of 600 mm range with tele-converter is still needed for those shy and small animals.

Personal Comfort in Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India

  1. Sun is scorching hot. Protection such as clothing, hat, sun glasses, sunblock is a necessity.

  2. Use a scarf/ mask to cover your face so that you wouldn’t be breathing in dust. Bring drinking water in metal bottle rather than plastic bottle.

Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat is truly a land of contrast. We saw amazing birds and animals adapting in the barren land and rugged local communities that added to the color and flavor of Gujarat. Bird watching and photographing wildlife in Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, have been a very rewarding experience for us as photographers and other travelers alike.

Women at work, Zainabad, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

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