Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Nalsarovar (October 2019) - A Bitter(n) twitch in the tale!

The few months immediately post the monsoon are always filled with anticipation for a birder, for it is the season of surprises. It is the time of year when vagrants and rarely seen birds seem to magically manifest in places across the country. Not a week goes by without a record of a rare sighting somewhere in this vast avian paradise that is our country. And this October threw up two such beauties: an enigmatic Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in Delhi and a Little Bittern at Nalsarovar in Gujarat. The former made one cameo appearance, but the latter provided a patient audience to hundreds of interested subjects, yours truly one of them.

One weekend in September, the ever-resourceful Latif bhai posted a picture to his WhatsApp friends that had many of them sitting up in surprise and no little delight. It was a Little Bittern, a bird otherwise found in regions further west of India with only scattered sightings across the country. And many made the trip to Ahmedabad and then onwards to Nalsarovar. The temptation of a trip was too much to resist for Sriram and me,  and so, the following Sunday, we joined the rest of the followers. 

A red-eye midnight flight to Ahmedabad was on the menu since we needed to reach the location by dawn. At the airport, we were picked up by the effervescent Kunal bhai, bright eyed and bushy tailed at 2:30 a.m. On being asked how he was so perky at such an unearthly hour, he revealed that he'd come to pick us up straight from an all-night dandiya programme. I'd forgotten that Ahmedabad doesn't sleep for a whole ten days during the Navratri festival in October! He took us to an all-night jalebi-fafda joint and duly fortified, we set forth towards Nalsarovar. And reached there well before dawn so we all took a bit of a snooze before Latif appeared.

So, this Little Bittern is a vagrant to India; in other words, while it's been reported reasonably regularly across the country, it does not appear in numbers like other migrants and the locations are varied and sightings sporadic. Hence the celebrity status. And what are celebrities without the attendant paparazzi? And we added ourselves to this list along with at least 20 other people from far and wide, that Sunday morning. Of course, the bittern does not think of the photographer while taking residence; for the little swamp and reeds that it took up bordered a house and the spot where we took up positions adjoined their washroom. So the locals were a bit bemused by the extent to which this bunch of 'looneys' would go to get one bird! And that too in their backyard, right next to their loo.

Black-breasted Weaver
Anyways, the star was reluctant to get out early that day and it did test our patience a bit. The first appearance was amidst the reeds with just a head here and a neck there, before it vanished again. Then, a flock Black-breasted Weavers entertained us for a bit while we waited. We then moved out to give the family some privacy to finish their morning duties before resuming our vigil. Being the diva, it needed play that part so it led all of us a merry dance, appearing in one place while we focused on another and then promptly vanishing into the reeds as we laboured to change position. All said, it did give us some decent photos, albeit in not the best light, but to get to see this exceptionally rare bird was a treat in itself.

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse
We headed out from the spot and went for a spin in the adjoining areas to search for some others. Nalsarovar always throws up something new and we were hoping for the resident Red-necked or Laggar Falcons to make an appearance. These two didn't make an appearance but  Latif and Sriram got good photos of Sarus Cranes and then a flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse turned up in decent light. A lovely local lunch and we were sated, done for the day. And that was that. A short and very sweet trip to a place that always throws up a surprise or seven every year.

Nalsarovar Lake Trip Guide

Nalsarovar Lake is a 120 sq. km. lake that sits between Central Gujarat and Saurashtra. Declared a Ramsar site in 2012, it is one of the finest wetland habitats in Western India and home to thousands of migratory birds in the winter. 
However, a lot of the birding happens outside the waterbody itself. And a superb guide like Latif knows all the spots.

How to get there
Ahmedabad (approx. 65 kms, 1 1/2 hours) is the closest metro, airport and large rail-head. Sanand (now a virtual satellite of Ahmedabad) is the closest town. Cars can easily be hired at Ahmedabad for the drive to Nalsarovar.

Where to stay
Again, your best option would be to stay in Ahmedabad and maybe make a day trip to Nalsarovar. As Gujarat's commercial hub, the city has a superb variety of accommodation to suit every budget. 

There is also a resort at Nalsarovar itself now. Though we didn't stay there, we did a tour of the place and it seemed quite clean and nice.


Look no further than Latif, a fantastic guide and lovely human being. He and his family pretty much cover off the guiding in that area. You can reach him on +91 91065 21394

At the wetland, the Parking lot has a small snack bar which has chips and biscuits. The village nearby has some snack stalls along the highway. Latif took us to an excellent dhaba with some delicious local food, which has now become a default on every trip.

Other tips
Nalsarovar can also be combined with a trip to the Little Rann of Kutch, barely 70kms away. The road from Ahmedabad is common up to Sanand, so those going to the Rann can easily make a day stop on the way.

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