- With JungleHike Tours (Avinash Bhagat)
- 26 to 29 Dec, 2019
Team at Khijadiya
Group capturing the Birds
We stayed there for about half hour and then decided to approach the skimmer area. Luckily there was a drivable road leading in that direction. As we were discussing about going there, the skimmers as well as gulls suddenly decided to fly but fortunately, they all circled back in next 5 minutes to the same area. Had they decided to fly away, we would have missed a big opportunity.
As we were heading to that part of the port, we had to stop on the way. One Reef-egret was very close to the road and I just could not resist that opportunity. I quickly got down from the vehicle (others decided to raise their cameras from the vehicle itself). The egret did not disappoint me at all.
As we moved along, we even saw the greater flamingos from a very close distance. So we had to make another stop there too.
Western Reef Egret
Western Reef Egret
We went by vehicles to the farthest point and then had to walk in the sand (and dried mud). We walked as much as we could and stopped only when the soil below was wet. Walk any further, and there was danger of getting stuck in the mud. Avinash still attempted a few steps bur Chetan bhai warned us against it.
The skimmers were still far but that was the best possible we could reach to.
On the way back, we once again stopped for Flamingos. There were a few Ruffs also seen close by, along with Redshank and few other waders.
By now it was 2:30pm, but before taking the lunch break (delayed off-course), we went to another nearby spot (around the Bedi bandar area itself). On the way, we saw a nice pair of Brahminy kites as they decided to perch on a cement stump. Obviously, we all got down from vehicles and put our tripods on. At far end of the muddy area, there was a Whimbrel seen foraging but it was too far for any meaningful photograph. As we were busy clicking the kites, one of them suddenly took flight and went in the direction of the gulls near-by. Within that fraction of a second, all the gulls got alerted and started flying but the kite was probably not in hunting mood. It flew away and the gulls settled back.
Brahminy Kite pair
Kite preparing to fly
Scare caused by the Predator
As we moved further, there were more birds on display. The gulls were flying all across and some were even seen swimming near-by. Avinash asked to look at those little closely and mentioned that these were the “Slender-billed Gulls”.
As we were about to start back, Avinash asked us to quickly take some more snaps of the larks roaming near-by. He identified them as the “Sand Larks”. Both these were lifers for me (and probably to many other tour members as well).
After lunch, at max we had an hour of light left (for photography), so we went to yet another port (further away from the Bedi port). Here in the fading light, we were lucky to see another rare variety that is Jamnagar special, the “Great Crested Grebe”. Suddenly all of us zoomed our cameras on that single bird which kept going underwater very frequently (as all Grebe species do that), thus allowing only limited opportunities to capture it before it swam far away from us.
In that fading light, we clicked a few more birds and then drove back happily to our hotel rooms.
Little Ringed Plover
Great Crested Grebe
The day was still not over as we had to get into a small meeting after dinner to discuss over the species we had seen today and also some gyan session with Clara and Avinash. They explained us the habitats in Jamnagar and what can we expect in the next 2 and half days.
Black-necked Stork with Nest
Black-necked Stork - in flight
This short detour turned out to be very good for us but we had spent a lot of time there.. it was already 10:15 and we had to still reach Khijadia sanctuary.
By the time, we entered the Sanctuary gates, it was 11:30. Our guides had taken this call (of reaching late) because of the increased water level in the park. Because of the excess rains throughout the country, all the lakes/parks this year have lot of water and that means the birds are now spread over larger areas. In fact, the birds can now easily stay in remote (from human interference) areas thereby avoiding human contact.
Because of this, there were not many birds seen in the sanctuary area. That is why Avinash decided to visit other area first and then come to the park.
But the park visit wasn’t that bad. Immediately on entry, we saw a group of “Common Teals (Ducks)” nearby. It was followed by the graceful flight of the “Eurasian Marsh Harrier”. While this was happening on the left-hand side of the path, Avinash pointed to the right side, where a Dalmatian pelican was landing in the waters. Near it, there was a “Common Greenshank” and few other waders too. We could also see “Comb Ducks” & “Flamingos” at some distance away from us.
100 meters further, we came across another “Great Crested Grebe”, it kept floating/swimming in the vicinity and kept all of us engaged for next 15-20 minutes.
But the highlight of the park was the “Indian Paradise Flycatcher”. It was relatively bold bird, flying very close to us and was also seen perching in open for few moments.
Great Crested Grebe
Western Marsh Harrier
Indian Paradise Flycatcher
We spent couple of hours in the park, took our group photo there and then decided to break for lunch. Although there were some other areas of park that we had not explored, our guides had other plans. They wanted to take us to a secret spot (a beach actually) where we could possibly find 2 more lifers the “Crab Plovers” and the “Oystercatchers”.
After lunch, we headed to that beach. The approach to it was also special. Our vehicles were stopped on a road suddenly (both sides there were mangrove plants) and we were asked to get down. We then followed Chetan bhai thru the mangrove bushes, within 5 odd minutes we came out into a clearing and there was the beach in front. The afternoon light was shining brightly in the waters but other than that we could see no activity there. After close examination, we could spot some bird activity far away from us.
Clara and Chetan bhai scanned the entire beach with binocs and were little disappointed as there were no Oystercatchers anywhere. But way ahead to our left, they could see a big group of “Crab Plovers”. Walking there with heavy cameras mid-afternoon in the sand, was really an effort but we hardly had a choice. If we wanted to click the Crab Plovers we better to be walking and that too, quickly (needless to say, without making much noise).
When we were at about 200-300 meters from the flock, the entire flock flew away one-by-one. As soon as Chetan bhai saw it, he instructed to us sit down wherever we were and make no movement. All of us followed and his instinct was right, after some time, the birds did come back onto the beach. It happened 2 more times in next 10 minutes but fortunately they remained. Apparently heavy movement/noise from our end would have disturned the birds and then they could then have flown away completely. Chetan bhai was aware of this, hence he guided us correctly.
While we were waiting for the flock to settle, we had an impromptu meeting to discuss our strategy (how to approach the birds without unsettling them).
Crab Plovers at the far end
It was always risky to walk straight towards them, so Chetan bhai suggested we get back into the mangroves, he knew a small path from inside that would lead us relatively closer to where the birds were at that time. So we followed him one-after-the-other in a single line for another 100 meters. He then signaled us to walk around the next set of bushes, get on our knees and then take photos. It was fascinating to watch all of us following the instructions. Some of us got on knees, some were crawling on the sand (me included) and some decided to stay back a little but stood tentatively and took photos.
We managed to take decent photos from that distance and then even attempted to walk/crawl little further, but not much. As we came into the open, the flock flew away one-by-one within seconds, none were left.
But as we were moving back to check the photos and walking leisurely, my attention was drawn to a single individual plover that kept standing just 50 meters away from us. Once again, we started approaching it. This time our crawl was lengthy and arduous (because the bird allowed the approach and did not move till we came very close to it).
Plovers in sight
Little close to the group
Solitary Crab Plover
The Crawl to get better photo
Looking into Eyes
This was done but now we again had to walk back all the way to our vehicles, there was no shortcut. Fortunately, on the way back, we could see a few more species like the “Lesser crested tern”, “Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers”, “Kentish Plovers”, etc.
Lesser Sand Plovers
By the time we started back it was nearing 5pm but Avinash planned to take us to the “Lakhota lake” (this lake is situated well inside the Jamnagar city and seem to have a good population of migratory ducks there). But we were so tired that before reaching the lake, we had to take a tea break.
This obviously meant we reached the lake little late; the light was already fading when we entered. But there so many ducks, plus a pelican and some other water birds there. In fact, we also managed to get some nice landscape shots as the Sun was going down.
Northern Shoveler - Pair
Darter (Snake bird)
Lakhota Lake - Evening Light
As the Sun went down completely, we returned to our hotel. Dinner in the city followed by customary sighting-meeting to end the day.
But the journey back from dinner places was nice too. We had let our vehicles go by then and we all came back in the local autos. 5-6 of us could easily manage in 1 auto (2 at the back, 3 normal seats and 1 with the driver was quite normal).
Brittle Star Fish
Typical scene in the waters
While all this was happening, we did not realize how far we had walked. It is only when our guides asked us to start the return journey that we looked back at the beach. That back journey was very tiring (especially on empty stomachs as we thought of having breakfast after this trail).
After reaching back, we wasted no time and quickly consumed the available breakfast. The tea tasted sweeter than normal. Our friends who had stayed back also managed to get some very good bird images from the beach.
Although the marine diversity was good, we had again missed out on one target bird specie, the “Oystercatcher”. It was then decided that we will come back again to the beach near high tide. Normally during high tide, the birds try to move near the shores and hence the likelihood of sighting them is better.
And so we had some spare time, we decided to explore the nearby water bodies (we had earmarked them earlier while coming to the beach). And our exploration was immediately fruitful. We found a rarity, the “Black necked Grebe”. Once again, we would have completely ignored the sighting if Avinash would not have been with us. Even the local guides were not aware. Luckily Avinash felt that the ducks looked little different and he got down from the vehicle. Guys in his vehicle had the advantage of clicking them from relatively close distance (the moment we get down from the vehicle, the ducks will start to swim away.. hence by the time we got down, they were already far).
We could see the usual flamingos, pelicans, gulls and terns in good number. So next half hour went into clicking them on both sides of the road.
At around 2:20, suddenly Avinash asked us to quickly get back into vehicles. He expected the sea water to rise and that was our only chance to catch the Oystercatchers. We quickly reached the beach and to our surprise, water was right there at the starting point (it was at least 2 kms inside when we came in the morning). And there appeared to be no way to go thru it in search of the birds. That is where the adventure began.
Chetan bhai then told us to follow him thru the waters (close to knee level). I just could not understand where he was going, but he said we will walk thru the mangroves to the other side where there is small patch of land that is little at height and the birds are likely to be occupying it. While he was saying this, we saw a bird flying from that direction and immediately Clara exclaimed “Oystercatcher!”.. that glimpse increased our confidence and we decided to wade the waters
One by one we followed Chetan bhai, carefully handling/balancing the tripod & camera along. The water was rising slowly and we could definitely feel the pressure. Few steps ahead, suddenly the guys in front took a left turn (piercing the mangroves) and were not to be seen. Luckily they called us out and we followed.. next few steps we were just maneuvering thru the mangroves (in the water).. after about 20 meters, we emerged on the other side and Chetan bhai again asked us to stop. Here we were asked to be careful (so as not to alert the birds) and try to remain hidden behind the mangrove bushes.
The moment we saw the target, all our cameras were in action.. I had carried tripod but could not risk putting it in the water, so I carried camera+tripod together and started taking photos in that awkward position. We barely got 5 odd minutes there and the guides immediately asked us to walk back. They wanted us to return back to safety (the tide was still increasing and with more water, going back on the beach would have been riskier). Once again, we started moving in a line, the water levels were definitely higher but still manageable. Gradually we were back on the sand.
The photo quality wasn’t good but the feeling of achieving the target was more than satisfactory.
Oystercatchers as we first saw it
Oystercatchers, Lesser Crested Tern & others
Increased water level within couple of minutes
Wading the waters..
Just get some record shots...
This adventure and the long walk in the morning meant we were all really tired. There was no energy left for any further birding and on top of that, we were yet to have our lunch. On the way back, we had lunch at a restaurant on the highway and got back to rooms for some well-earned rest. I was actually little feverish and took a crocin as well.
After couple of hours of rest, we got down for dinner and the subsequent meeting. Today Avinash gave a small powerpoint presentation on the species we covered earlier in the day and shared information about the bird identification aspects.
We were well within our schedule and reached hotel rooms before 11am. Quick shower + bag-packing and we were out of the hotel by noon. Now we just had to have lunch and then head for the train.
Train journey was the boring (total 15+ hours of journey time) part but we had the successful trip memories to carry. Luckily 4 of us were together in one coach and the discussions continued till night.
Reached Mumbai in the early hours and then the road journey home was peaceful (no traffic at that time of the day.. 5am).
That was the end of yet another fantastic trip with JungleHike. Super sightings and unmatched company made the trip a roaring success for me. Got more than 10 lifers in the 4 days.
I will be more than happy to answer any query about this tour. You can either put a comment down here or write to me on “email@example.com”.