Saturday, April 18, 2020

Nalsarovar (Jan 2020) - This place keeps on giving!

The area around Nalsarovar in Gujarat is as unlikely a birding hotspot is is possible to be. It is not the classical rich habitat like the Himalayan foothills or the Western Ghats. Neither is it a classical aquatic paradise like some of the other places. It is one large waterbody (which yields all the usual migrant species) and a lot of scrub and cultivation around. And in these environs, the skill and industry of Latif Alvani and his fellow naturalists throws up some unbelievable birds. Almost every few months, they conjure up a rare bird or three. After the Little Bittern, this time it was a Red-naped Shaheen or Barbary Falcon that he dug out.

After hemming and hawing for a few days, we set out for Ahmedabad on our usual red-eye special. This time, we would have more company; friends and ace photographers Aravind and Ram from Chennai. What was going to be a trip to Mumbai for the Forest Owlet was hijacked into a trip to Ahmedabad. And we all headed to rendezvous with Latif early in the morning, but not before filling up on some awesome jalebi-fafda at our usual spot. Early morning fortification always makes for a great day's birding! With Latif in tow, we headed to the spot to wait for the Falcon. And, being a Saturday, there were a fair number of people with the same idea, birders from far and wide wished to make their acquaintance with this sibling of the Peregrine Falcon. The only problem? A big bank of clouds that appeared from nowhere to mess this up completely.

Red-headed Bunting
Nevertheless, we birders are made of sterner(?) stuff and a few clouds would not deter us or dampen our spirits. As long as it didn't rain of course! And so we waited till the star of the show made an appearance, but he was in a skittish mood and led us a bit of a merry dance. He then disappeared for a bit before returning with a lark kill. He proceeded to polish it off and then pushed off himself, for a  well-earned post breakfast rest no doubt. We'd got some average photos in poor light, but to see this beauty itself was a treat in itself. There were other specialities in store that day, so we moved on to them. And there was some frantic activity in the bushes near the falcon spot, right next to the road. A closer look confirmed that they were Red and Black Headed Buntings. Always a treat to get these beauties. We snapped a few quick ones and headed on because we had some other specialities waiting.

Black-headed Bunting

Common Ringed Plover
We tried for the Sociable Lapwings, a bit half-heartedly, I must admit because our focus was on something else. We were en route to get the rare Common Ringed Plover, a true oxymoron if ever there was one. On the way, Aravind and the others went to get some pictures of the resident Saruses while I rested my poor aching foot. And then we headed 35 kms away to the fringes of Nalsarovar Lake, where Latif and Co had spotted the Plovers. We got into a rather fragile looking contraption that masqueraded as a boat, but Latif was confident and that was good enough for us. We passed by a rather co-operative Small Pratincole who gave us good pictures, followed by a White-tailed Lapwing. And then we saw a couple of little birds flitting about at the edge of the water; they were a bit far and the mid-day haze made the sighting not ideal, but it was the plovers! We took a long and circuitous route around that little island and disembarked. And then it was all of us on all fours and then on our stomachs as we crawled to get closer to the birds without spooking them. And we did manage some decent photos, given the really tricky light. Once we'd had our fill of bird, we realised that we still needed to eat! Stomachs growling in protest, we hastened back to land and then onwards to the delightful little dhaba where we pigged to our hearts content.

Job done, we drove around trying to look for a couple of the other local interest items, Black-breasted Weavers, Sandgrouse and a couple of other Warblers. We got the Weaver and then decided it was time to mount another (photographic) assault on our friend the Falcon. We went back to the spot and waited. And waited. And waited some more. And then he came, with another kill. The light wasn't perfect, so we slowly tried to move into position, when another vehicle got just that little trigger happy and our friend didn't seem to like it. He legged it and we waited again. The light started to fade and so did our hopes. And then, on a whim, I asked Latif to check in the trees a little further down. And lo! there was our friend, without a victim this time. Light was a challenge yet again (a recurring theme that day) but we exited Nalsarovar with a memorable sighting of a couple of really rare 'uns.

And for that I shall remain eternally grateful. To this wonderful place that keeps throwing up these special birds and also to Latif, ever-smiling and ever-willing to help.

Can't wait for this situation to blow over and get that next call from him. Till then we wait in hope.

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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