Despite seeming at first glance somewhat inhospitable in places, the ever-diminishing desert, natural scrub and grassland environments of India’s arid western region support a remarkable diversity of species, including some increasingly scarce subcontinent endemics.
This region west of Delhi is dominated by the vast state of Rajasthan. Extending southwest of Delhi, the rugged Aravalli Hills form the southern boundary of the Thar Desert where during the Indian monsoon, dry plains become lush, green grasslands. In this setting, somewhat at odds with the preconceived notion of the Rajasthani desert, the highly endangered and otherwise secretive Lesser Florican, among India’s most endangered birds, can be seen engaging in extravagant monsoon courtship displays around Sonkhaliya. This region hosts large swathes of semi-desert and acacia where two big cats make their home among atmospheric ruins – Tiger at Ranthambhore and Leopard at Jhalana, with the delightful Green Avadavat into the hills at Mount Abu. In contrast, some superb wetlands host sizeable congregations of waterfowl, none more famous than the man-made lakes of Bharatpur where 150 species in a day is not out of reach.
Further west, the landscape becomes increasingly arid and dryland specialities begin to dominate, including Indian Spotted Creeper in the acacia scrub of Tal Chhapar, and Yellow-eyed Pigeon wintering in good numbers around Bikaner. At India’s western extreme, in the sand dunes of the Thar Desert, Desert National Park is home to the bulk of the remaining population of Great Indian Bustard, a critically endangered species that in the absence of any rigorous conservation program seems regrettably destined for extinction within our lifetimes.
To the south, and jutting out into the Arabian Sea, the state of Gujarat hosts an incredible richness of birds and other wildlife in habitats that extend from salt flats of Kutch in the north to deciduous forests in the south. The Great and Little Ranns of Kutch hold resident and migratory avian specialities including Sociable Plover, Cream-coloured Courser, Grey Hypocolius, White-browed (Stoliczka’s) Bushchat and Macqueen’s Bustard. In contrast, vast seasonal wetlands host spectacular congregations of cranes, pelicans and flamingos, with waders including Crab Plover along the coast. Gujarat hosts an important selection of endemic large mammals – Asiatic Wild Ass at Dasada, Asiatic Lion at Gir and the striking Blackbuck at Velavadar, alongside Indian Wolf, Striped Hyena and Desert Cat. Southward still, close to the city of Mumbai, Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary is among the best pleces to encounter the extremely localised Forest Owlet, restricted to lowland forests of west-central India.
In the extreme northwest, a series of rivers flow down from the Himalayas into the fertile alluvial plain of The Punjab. Here, between the Rivers Sutlej and Beas, the extensive marshes of Harike host range-restricted specialities such Rufous-vented Grass-babbler and the scarce White-crowned Penduline Tit among a rich selection of waterbirds, raptors and more widespread north Indian birds.
Key species across the region: Great Indian Bustard, MacQueen’s Bustard, Indian Courser, Cream-coloured Courser, Sociable and White-tailed Lapwing, Variable and Red-tailed Wheatears, White-browed (Stoliczka’s) Bushchat, White-tailed Stonechat, Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Whitethroat, Brooks’s Leaf-warbler, Grey Hypocolius, White-bellied Minivet, White-tailed (Marshall’s Iora), Rufous-fronted Prinia, White-naped Tit, Green Avadavat, Trumpeter Finch, Sand, Rufous-tailed and Greater Hoopoe Larks, Rufous-vented Grass-babbler, Jerdon’s and Striated Babblers, Sind Sparrow, White-crowned Penduline Tit, Indian Spotted Creeper, Yellow-eyed Pigeon, Painted and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Crab Plover, Collared, Oriental and Small Pratincoles, Demoiselle, Common and Sarus Cranes, Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Great White, Dalmatian and Spot-billed Pelicans, Painted, Woolly-necked, White, Black and Black-necked Storks, Asian Openbill, Red-naped and Glossy Ibis, Laggar and Red-necked Falcons, Sykes’s Nightjar, Pallid Scops Owl, Rock Eagle-owl, Asiatic Lion, Asiatic Wild Ass, Blackbuck, Striped Hyena, Indian Wolf, Desert Cat, Jungle Cat, Desert Fox, Leopard.