A Birding Touch At The Rann of Kutch

The beauty of Nature comes alive on paper in a bevy of words that capture and convey its myriad shades, moods and landscapes. However, sometimes descriptions aren’t rich but the experience is. It was a vast, parched and cracked earth yawning in the wintry sun, its hollow and thorny bushes were craning up lazily and some ravenous falcons were lurking for their prey. Then an open jeep entered, with us mortals and hulking camera lens hungry to capture the entire wilderness. Well, this is the wild song of Nature at the Bajana Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch. 
I am the type who admires the serenity of nature in relaxed body and mind tones. So when my husband, an ardent birder and nature lover, fancied going to the Rann of Kutch to revel in the migratory season of birds, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. This enjoyment of nature demands both patience and alertness in good and equal measure. But in hindsight, I am so glad to have acquiesced. Driving from Jamnagar to Bajana, we alighted at our destination in about 4 hours. What a boisterous drive it was with four couples and six kids! Our accommodation at the Royal Safari Camp was quite comfortable.
Having settled and rested, we set off for our first safari at 3.30 p.m. A few of us had been introduced to the art of bird watching by my husband but some in the group were first timers. I was rather apprehensive of how all of us, apart from my husband of course, would go through this four hour safari in the desert. But as we started and entered the Bajana Wild Ass Sanctuary my doubts began to rest.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk

The thrill of furious winds slapping your face in an open safari is unbeatable. Our first major sighting of the safari was the migratory Common Crane, an elegant white and black bird which arrives from the Northern parts of Europe and Asia. The beauty of birds comes to life ten folds when looked through the binoculars into their minute details. As we got into the birding mode, somebody spotted a Common Kestrel while someone else looked straight into the eyes of the Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The whizzing shutter of the camera captured the finest features of this winged beauty. Its bright yellow piercing gaze was wowing us all.

Indian Wild Ass

Going cross country in that rustic jeep bumping all the way and the wind hissing in the languid sun was rather exciting and this excitement climbed notches when we spotted a whole herd of Indian wild asses grazing in the sparse bushes of the desert. Yup, the Little Rann of Kutch is the only place in the world to sight these endangered species. And to speak colloquially, these asses are a very cute species. A combination of white and tawny coloured patches on the body and a coat of short chestnut coloured hair on the neck make them quite distinct from the donkeys.

Flamingoes in flight

Time was ticking quickly in our zesty adventure and it was near sunset. The jeep now took us to another breathtaking spectacle of nature. The setting sun was orange in its crimson- indigo backdrop and below it in waves of pink were thousands of flamingos lifting and landing rhythmically in the salt pans. Just watching the graceful movements of these birds can soothe all frayed nerves. In their pink and black leotards, it’s like a ballet in the air. And their curvaceous body and never ending legs would put all the supermodels to shame.

The safari had been very fruitful so far and we just longed to sight some lone fox or hyena for a hook line and sinker finish. But the desert wind had now turned nastily cold. And we huddled against each other with teeth chattering and palms rubbing hard. The dark and frigid desert had mellowed our spirits somewhat when we chanced a leaping shadow ahead of our jeep. The thrill returned suddenly. Guided by the headlights alone we chased the sprinting figure through the bushes but it hid itself too quickly for us. The guide guessed it was a hyena based on its profile. What a remarkable safari and start to our two day wild retreat!

Marsh Harrier at Nava Talaab

 The second morning, the lesser enthusiasts like me chose to burrow in the blanket while the motivated ones left to explore the other parts of Bajana like Nava Talaab and Odu. And their four hours of patience and humble sacrifice of sleep paid them well when they sighted the Short- eared Owl and eventually spotted the rare Macqueen’s Bustard, a globally threatened bird species. What you and I would probably feel at spotting Johny Depp or Catherine Zeta Jones is how my husband feels about sighting the Macqueen’s Bustard. To me such excitement seems madly misplaced but that’s the love affair between the birders and their birds.

Short-eared Owl

However, let me confess that the essential fun of such safaris or trips is in the company of passionate and knowledgeable guides or co-passengers. Otherwise it is not much different than a long drive in an unusual terrain and vehicle. The same evening we went on another safari and this time a sizable herd of Nilgai was waiting for us. Poor fellows were strolling idly till they saw us approaching then started jogging like in a marathon. We were also lucky to have sighted some big beautiful eagles like the Imperial Eagle, Steppe Eagle and the Indian Spotted Eagle. You can’t help but admire that glint of superiority and savageness in the eyes of these birds of prey.

Peregrine Falcon
Striped Hyena

As we retired for the day, it was New Year’s Eve. And while partying in the remoteness of Bajana under the moon’s wintry chill we made a resolution to plan more such trips and explore the wild side of Nature and its rustic beauty. On that note, a toast to the Little Rann of Kutch.

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