WEST INDIA: Birds and Endemic Mammals of Gujarat
A 12-day bird and mammal tour through the arid west Indian state of Gujarat, exploring the rich diversity of species in semi-desert, savannah grassland and vast wetlands.
Our tour is an exploration of the various habitats found within the ecologically diverse state of Gujarat, which juts out into the Arabian Sea along India’s northwest coastline. We begin in the southern part of the Kathiawar peninsula, in large tracts of deciduous forest and tropical savannah grassland, before travelling north into areas of semi-desert and salt flats in the fringes of the Thar Desert. These predominantly arid environments are complemented by vast seasonal wetlands that simply teem with waterbirds in winter months. On foot and from open-topped jeeps, we’ll look for an exciting variety of birds and mammals in obvious abundance. Unequivocal dryland birds such as White-browed (Stoliczka's) Bushchat, Red-tailed and Variable Wheatears, Indian and Cream-coloured Coursers, Sociable Plover and MacQueen's Bustard are accompanied by some iconic large mammals including Asiatic Lion, Striped Hyaena, Indian Wolf, Blackbuck and Asiatic Wild Ass, plus one of the world’s largest harrier roosts, the prospect of waders including Crab Plover along the coast, and vast numbers of cranes, flamingos, pelicans and storks throughout.
Easy and productive bird and mammal watching in a fascinating mosaic of environments from rich deciduous woodlands and savannah grasslands to semi-desert and salt flats.
Several endemic mammals, most notably Asiatic Lion, Asiatic Wild Ass, and the striking antelope Blackbuck, with a chance of the notoriously shy Indian Wolf and Striped Hyena, plus several smaller felids and desert subspecies.
Numerous sought-after birds of the desert environment, including MacQueen's Bustard, Indian and Cream-coloured Coursers, up to four species of sandgrouse, four wheatears, White-browed (Stoliczka's) Bushchat, Grey Hypocolius, and numerous larks and buntings.
Incredible gatherings of cranes, flamingos, pelicans, storks and waterfowl in seasonal wetlands, plus small numbers of the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing, and Crab Plover along the Arabian Sea coast.
A glimpse of Gujarat's rich heritage and culture as we travel past historic buildings of erstwhile princely states and among the nomadic tribal communities of Kutch.
Day 1-3: Velavadar National Park
Arrivals into Ahmedabad airport in the morning of day 1. From here, we drive southwest to Velavadar National Park, spending the afternoon and following two days exploring the park’s extensive tropical savannah grasslands and acacia scrub. Besides a good population of the distinctive endemic Blackbuck, Velavadar hosts a superb assortment of mammals including Nilgai, Jungle Cat, Indian Wolf and more elusive Striped Hyaena. The grasslands here are also home to one of the world’s largest harrier roosts, and we will enjoy large numbers of Eurasian Marsh, Pallid, Montagu’s and smaller numbers of Hen Harriers as they congregate at dusk. In this valuable remnant of a once widespread habitat we will look for Variable, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears, Greater Short-toed, Bimaculated, Sykes's and Rufous-tailed Larks, Painted Francolin, abundant birds of prey including Laggar and Red-necked Falcons, and unequivocal grassland specialities including White-browed (Stoliczka’s) Bushchat.
Day 4-5: Gir National Park
On day 4, we make our way south to Sasan Gir in the southern part of Gujarat’s Kathiawar peninsular for a two-night stay. Here, we will spend the afternoon and following day exploring Gir National Park, one of the world’s largest tracts of dry deciduous woodland. This is the final refuge of the highly endangered Asiatic Lion, which we hope to find lazing in small prides beside the jeep tracks during morning and afternoon safaris. Besides lions, the park also hosts a high concentration of Leopard and an abundance of herbivores that make up the lions' prey base, including Chinkara (Indian Gazelle) and Chousingha (Four-horned Antelope). The forests are interspersed with grasslands and dissected by rivers, with the varied terrain supporting a diverse avifauna. We hope to see a good selection of species at Gir, key among them including Mottled Wood-owl, Crested Hawk-eagle, Brown Fish-owl, Painted Sandgrouse, Tawny-bellied and Yellow-eyed Babblers, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and Black-headed Cuckooshrike.
Day 6: Gir to Moti Virani, Kutch
A Today, we make our way north, across the Gulf of Kutch to Moti Virani, close to the town of Bhuj in Kutch district for a three-night stay. Before we leave, we may decide to take a final morning safari into Gir National Park, depending on our sightings so far and to give us an extra chance to see Asiatic Lion. Although today will mostly be a travel day, some en-route birding will no doubt turn up new species for the tour as we travel from undulating woodland into sun-baked alluvial flats.
Day 7-8: Kutch
Moti Virani will be our base for exploring this area of vast grasslands and shallow seasonal wetlands, punctuated by rocky outcrops and dry thorn scrub. We will explore these varied habitats on foot and by jeep, looking for a handful of rare, restricted range specialities. Our targets here include the monotypic Grey Hypocolius, Red-tailed Wheatear, Marshall’s Iora, White-naped Tit, Sykes’s Nightjar and the small numbers of Sociable Plover that overwinter in this region. We will also look for Cream-coloured Courser, Black-crowned Finch-lark, Rufous-fronted Prinia and the scarce and nomadic White-bellied Minivet, while grasslands host Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Whitethroat, Grey-necked Bunting, and up to four species of sandgrouse. We also have a slim chance of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, as well as a selection of mammals including Indian Wolf and Nilgai. Further afield, we will scan sandy beaches and mudflats along the coast for the striking Crab Plover, Lesser Sand Plover and Terek Sandpiper.
Day 9: Moti Virani to Bajana, Little Rann of Kutch
Today, we will make our way east and back across the Gulf of Kutch to Bajana for a three-night stay.
Day 10-11: Bajana, Little Rann of Kutch
On the fringes of the Little Rann of Kutch, Bajana will be our base for exploring an immense region of saline flats by open jeep, where birds are concentrated in salt-free ‘islands’ of higher ground, peripheral scrub and vast seasonal wetlands that simply teem with waterbirds in winter. Among our targets here are wintering MacQueen’s Bustard, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Pallid Scops Owl, Rock Eagle Owl, White-tailed Lapwing, Collared, Oriental and Small Pratincoles, Painted, Woolly-necked, White and Black Storks, Asian Openbill, Black-headed, Red-naped and Glossy Ibis, Bar-headed Goose, spectacular numbers of Sarus and Common Cranes, Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Great White, Dalmatian and Spot-billed Pelicans, and huge congregations of various waterfowl. In the Rann itself, we will also encounter groups of Asiatic Wild Ass, with Jungle and Desert Cats and Desert Fox all possible here.
Day 12: Depart Ahmedabad
Drive to Ahmedabad for departures from Ahmedabad international airport today.