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Birding in North
Western India: A Mix of Green Hills, Salt Pans and Marine Park (12 nights / 13 days)
Natural Highlights: Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary, Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, Little Rann of Kutch, Marine National Park, Khejadiya Bird Sanctuary, Gir National Park.
Cultural Sights: Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Junagarh
Options Possible: Modhera (Sun Temple), Velavadar Blackbuck Sanctuary, Goa (colonial Portuguese Churches, Beaches and Mollem National Park), Sanjay Gandhi National Park (Mumbai)
Recommended Period: (Best / Regular / Off )
Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary:
The forest in Dandeli is typical moist deciduous and semi evergreen types. The undulating streams, swaying bamboos, abundance of wildlife, sylvan surroundings and trekking tracts make Dandeli sanctuary a unique holiday destination. River kali and its tributaries, Kaneri and Nagajhari, meander through the forest. Altitude varies from 100m to 970m and annual rainfall varies between 1250mm and 5000mm, averaging at 2500mm per year.
The commonly sighted wildlife species are Spotted Deer, Sambar, Gaur, Wild Boar, Mouse Deer, Barking Deer, Mongoose, Porcupine Jackal, Common Langur, Giant Squirrel, Flying Squirrel, Civet Cat, & Crocodile. The lesser seen species are Black Panther, Elephant, Sloth bear, Tiger and Leopard. Black Panther is one of the scariest animals in the wild, which is the most common form melanistic leopards which are selectively bred for captivity in zoos, due to its selective breeding; the number of black panthers found in the world is limited. Official records say that there are few of them existing in Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary. Sighting the animal is very rare and mostly depends on tourist’s luck but there are people indeed who have actually seen the mysterious black big cat glide through the forest. The dark coloration of the panthers gives them a huge hunting advantage.
The Main Bird species include Magpie Robin, Blue headed ground thrush, Golden Backed Woodpecker, Indian Cuckoo, Crested Serpent Eagle, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Grey Hornbill and a large variety of other Birds (recorded over 250 species).
The reptilian and amphibian fauna of the region include a variety of ruffles and frogs.
Nalsarovar (near Ahmedabad):
The Nal region is a low-lying area between the plains of the Central Gujarat and Eastern Saurashtra. Owing to its low lying topography, it is believed to represent a filled up sea link, that previously existed between the Little Rann in the north and the Gulf of Khambat in the south. Remnants of this sea are thought to be represented by the Nalsarovar. Here, thousands of migratory birds spend their winter away from their nesting grounds Central Europe. The lake attracts a large variety of birds like plovers, sandpipers and stints and has a remarkable list of nearly 200 species. Spread over 120 sq.kms, the lake and the extensive reed beds and marshes are an ideal habitat for aquatic plants and animals.
Little Rann of Kutch (Wild Ass Sanctuary):
The Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch covers an area of 4954 sq km. The Sanctuary is named after a sub species of wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), the last population of which it harbours. The Rann is one of the most remarkable and unique landscapes of its kind in the entire world. It is a vast desiccated, unbroken bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains.
The present saline desert of the Little Rann (saline desert-cum-seasonal wetland) of Kutch is believed to have been shallow sea. The Rann can be considered a large ecotone, a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems. During monsoon, the Rann gets inundated for a period of about one month. It is dotted with about 74 elevated plateaus or islands, locally called 'bets'. The vast cover of saline mudflats in the Sanctuary has no vegetation, except on the fringes and bets. The Sanctuary is habitat to 4 species of amphibians (frogs and toads) and 29 species of reptiles (2 species of turtles, 14 species of lizards, 12 snakes and 1 crocodile). The mixing of tidal water from the Gulf of Kutch with the freshwater discharged from the rivers takes place in the Little Rann of Kutch, making it an important spawning ground for prawns. Metapenaeus kutchensis is the most dominant and important prawn in the area. The sanctuary provides an important feeding, breeding and roosting habitat for a large number of birds due to its strategic location on bird migration route and its connection with the dynamic Gulf of Kutch. According to an estimate about 70,000-75,000 birds nests in an area spread over 250 acres. Nine mammalian orders with 33 species/subspecies have been reported from the Little Rann of Kutch, including the world’s last population of the khur sub-species of the wild ass.
Marine National Park, Jamnagar:
In the Gulf of Kutch, there are many islands fringed by coral reefs, sandy beaches and mangrove swamps. These islands are a treasure-trove utch in 1980 and 1982, respectively. The sanctuary covers 458 sq km, of which the park covers 163 sq km. It is an archipelago of marine species and a paradise for birdwatchers. India’s first Marine Wildlife Sanctuary and first Marine National Park were created here in the Gulf of Kof 42 tropical islands along the northern coast of Jamnagar district and the southern coast of Kutch.
The sanctuary lies in the intertidal zone, between the lowest and highest tide levels, the area that lies below water in high tide, and is exposed during low tide. This gives us a chance to observe the richest diversity of marine habitats in the country, including saline grasslands, marshy areas, rocky shores, mudflats, creeks, estuaries, sandy strands, coral reefs, and mangroves. The latter two are an essential part of not only the local environment, but also the stability and diversity of the planet; they are unfortunately severely degraded in many parts of the world.
There are 52 coral species, 42 of them hard and 10 of them soft. Coral is made of millions of colorful little animals called polyps, bound together by algae and other plants, in a variety of intriguing shapes and formations. The rock-like formations provide shelter and safe breeding grounds for various tiny marine species in hiding from larger predators.
There are 7 species of mangroves here, performing vital functions such as maintaining the balance between salt and fresh water systems, and protecting the coast from erosion. The mangroves are breeding grounds for colonies of near-threatened species of birds such as Painted Stork, Darter and Black-necked Ibis. Other species are waders, such as Avocets and Phalaropes, usually found in shallow waters. A third category can be seen over the open waters, swooping down to catch fish, birds such as Gulls, Terns, Kingfishers, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Palla’s Fish Eagle. There are about 80 recorded species of birds on these islands. Every day at low tide it is a thrill to watch the overwhelming numbers of coastal birds that assemble on the banks to feed on the beached marine life. At low tide wading in the shallow waters you will also meet giant sea anemone, animals that look like flowers, and harbor shrimp in its folds, the two life forms exchanging food for protection in a heartwarming symbiosis, more than 40 species of sponges, variously colored, starfish, some of whom have a disconcerting ability to drop their arms when handled, sea cucumber, a creature that ejects its body parts to distract a predator, octopus that changes color for camouflage, puffer fish that swell up in defense, and suddenly deflate to escape when trapped, the occasional dolphin in the waters further away, and other charming local residents such as lichen, jellyfish, mollusks, sea-slugs, sea urchins, echinoderms, crabs and other crustaceans, mudskippers, worms. Many of these are decorated with brilliant colors and intricate designs.
Khijadia Bird Sanctuary, Jamnagar:
This protected area packs in an incredible diversity of ecosystems into the relatively small area of 6 square km. The sanctuary is formed from two man-made dykes that separate fresh water from sea water, creating the opportunity to simultaneously observe species that belong to each ecosystem, and some that share both. Along with the marine and fresh water habitats, there are also marshy lands, mangroves, Prosopis areas, mudflats, salt pans, creeks, forest scrub, sandy beaches, and even farmlands bordering the area. This provides a haven for more than 220 species of resident and migratory birds, including globally threatened species such as Dalmatian pelican, Asian open bill stork, Black-necked stork, Darter, Black-headed ibis, Eurasian spoonbill, and Indian skimmer, and provides birdwatchers with a delightful chance to sight rare birds in large numbers. There are watchtowers, trails, and paddleboats (depends on water-levels), to help visitors engage with this diverse community.
Gir National Park:
Gir National Park is most famous for its lions, and the park is one of the most diverse places in Gujarat, both in flora and fauna. Most of the area is rugged hills, with high ridges and densely forested valleys, wide grassland plateaus, and isolated hilltops.
Until the early 19th century, Asiatic lions roamed an immense area of South and Southwest Asia, as far west as Greece and as far east as modern Bangladesh. As humanity has lived in this region for millennia, people coexisted with lions for thousands of years, but in the last few centuries, the growth of the human population has come at the cost of the lions’ habitat. Like the Bengal Tiger and the Asiatic Cheetah, lions saw a dramatic decline in population as their preferred habitat of grasslands and semi-forested areas became overrun with humans. Beyond just habitat reduction, though, once guns arrived and became widespread, from 1800-1860, nearly all the lions remaining outside Gujarat were hunted and killed. The last Asiatic lions in India outside of Gir forest were killed in 1886 at Rewah (Central India), and the last wild Asiatic lion sighted the world outside Gir was in Iran in 1941. From a population reported to be as low as 20 in 1913, the lions have rebounded to now number 359 in the most recent census of 2005. This is due almost entirely to the Nawab’s (ruler of the erstwhile Jungarh state) conservation efforts, and the Indian Government’s post-independence ban on lion killing in 1955.
Locally called sher or sinh, the Asiatic lion is over two and a half meters long, weighs 115 to 200 kg, and can run short distances at 65 km/hour to chase down the sambar, chital, nilgai, and chinkara that are its preferred prey. However, when not hungry, it will never attack an animal; after a lion makes a kill, it will gorge itself on up to 75 kg of meat, and then not worry about eating for a few days, so it is not unusual to see a well-fed lion lounging calmly beside a herd of grazing deer. The lions prefer open scrub and deciduous forest areas, and are very bold, not shy around humans.
Around half of the forested area of the park is teak forest, with other trees such as khair, dhavdo, timru, amla, and many others. The other half is non-teak forest, with samai, simal, khakhro and asundro jambu, umro, amli, vad and kalam; mostly broadleaf and evergreen trees. The river Hiran is the only one to flow year-round; the rest are seasonal. There are also areas of the park with open scrub and savannah-type grassland.
This variety of vegetation provides for a huge array of animals. The most-sighted animal in the park, the chital, or Indian spotted deer, inhabits the dry and mixed deciduous forest, with a population of over 32,000. The more reclusive sambar, the largest of the Indian deer species, weighing 300-500 kg, lives in the wetter western part of the park. Both the sambar and the chausingha, the world's only 4-horned antelope (chau= four, singha= horns), are very dependent on water, and rarely found far from a water source. Another one-of-a-kind is the chinkara, the only gazelle in the world with horns in both males and females. The fastest of the Indian antelopes, the blackbuck, also lives in Gir and prefers open grasslands to forests.
The park is also home to other wild cats. There are around 300 leopards, though they are nocturnal and thus harder to spot. Of the three smaller wildcats, the jungle cat is the most widespread, and lives in deciduous scrub and riverine areas. The mysterious desert cat and spotted cat are tough to spot.
The top and middle canopies of the dry, mixed and riverine decidous forests are home to troops of hanuman langur monkeys. The striped hyena is usually seen scavenging alone in the grasslands and scrub forest, far more solitary than the African hyena. Wild boars rooting into the ground for tuber provide aeration of the soil. If you look closer, you may see smaller mammals like pangolins, pale hedgehogs, Indian hares, or grey musk shrews. The ratel or honey badger is renowned for its snake-killing exploits, earning it the “most fearless animal” title in the Guinness Book of World Records. Another snake-killer in Gir is the ruddy mongoose; the snakes they contend with include the common krait, russell’s viper, and the saw-scaled viper. The Kamaleshwar reservoir now houses the largest population of marsh crocodiles in the country. Other reptiles include the soft-shelled turtle, star tortoise, Indian rock python and monitor lizard (which grows to over 1.5 m long)
Gir is also home to more kinds of birds than any other park in Gujarat, while it may not have the half-million flamingoes found in Kutch during breeding season. Gir is home to over 300 species of birds, many of which can be seen year-round, from the Malabar whistling thrush to the Paradise flycatcher, from the crested serpent eagle to the king vulture, from pelicans to painted storks. The noted ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali said that if there were no lions here, Gir would be well-known as one of the best bird sanctuaries in western India.
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