Banni Grasslands, Kutch
Tucked away in the north-western corner of India and bordering Pakistan and the Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, Gujarat is a great bird-watching destination in India. From the deserts of the Rann of Kutch which melt into the arid Banni grasslands much of northern Gujarat is a wasteland which attracts a wide variety of wintering birds to the thorn scrub and great stretches of seasonal wetlands. Add to this a 1660 km coastline on the Arabian Sea, the famous dry deciduous forests of Gir and the moist deciduous forests in the south, in a landscape interspersed with ancient hill ranges of the Aravallis, Satpura, Vindhya and the Sahyadhris, and you have the perfect recipe for some great birding.
Kutch is the second largest district in India covering an area of 45, 612 sq. km.and is part of the Kathiawar Peninsula occupying the northwestern part of Gujarat. It is a land of deserts, dry salty alluvial mudflats, extensive grasslands and great stretches of water in the 'dhands' left by the monsoons. Dry thorn forests and mild hillocks punctuate the flat limitless stretches of land and a great variety of birds find refuge in these seemingly hostile surroundings. Kutch can be divided into 4 distinct regions: (i) The deserts of the Great Rann, to the north, (ii) The Grasslands of Banni, (iii) Mainland, consisting of plains, hills and dry river beds and (iv) Coastline along the Arabian Sea in the south with mangrove creeks to the west .
Due to its unique geographical location and habitat, Kutch is considered to be at the crossroads of Palearctic migration streams and witnesses great waves of migratory birds in winter.
Vegetation is mainly xerophytic with the ground cover predominated by ephemerals whose active growth is triggered by monsoon rains. 253 flowering plant species have been listed, out of which the number of species of trees was 18. Large areas have been colonized by the non-indigenous Prosopis juliflora, locally known as 'gando baawal' (mad weed) for it's almost manic ability to spread, the species is now used to make charcoal. Prosopis juliflora was introduced by the Forest Department to prevent salinity ingress from the Rann. The plant proved disastrous, as it gradually began replacing indigenous grasses and vegetation. Bets and fringe areas support a variety of indigenous plants like Suaeda spp., Salvadora persica, Capparis decidua, Capparis deciduas, Calotropis procera, Tamarix sp., Aeluropus lagopoides, Cressa cretica, Sporobolus spp. and Prosopis Cineraria.
Western Reef Egret
Great Indian Bustard
The Kutch area supports around 370 bird species (see Checklist) and is particularly rich in raptors, waterfowl, waders and larks. Specialties include the Grey Hypocolius (Kutch is the only known wintering site in India), White-naped Tit, Stoliczka's Bushchat, Sykes's Nightjar, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Merlin, MacQueen's and Great Indian Bustards. Over 30,000 Common Cranes, hundreds of Steppe Eagle, Marsh, Pallid and Montague's Harriers, Long-legged Buzzards, Sandgrouse, Pelicans, Flamingos and great flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks are a feature of any winter visit to the area.
Kutch Birding Hotspots
Banni Grassland and Chhari Dhand
Location: 69o24' E 23o42' N
Area: 3,847 sq. km
Habitat: Arid grassland interspersed with thorn scrub. The inherently saline soil, deposited by long lost river systems, is naturally suited for nutritious grasses. More than 20 grass species and 20 other herb and shrub species grow in Banni. ‘Banni’ comes from word ‘banai’, meaning made.
A Steppe Eagle surveys the seasonal wetlands of Chhari-Dhand, Kutch
Chhari-Dhand is a seasonal wetland in the Banni. 'Dhand' means a saucer shaped natural depression. Chhari-Dhand is an important wintering area for a variety of waterfowl and is also a roosting place for over 30,000 Common Cranes in winter. A list of over 250 species of birds have been reported from the areas around Chhaari-Dhand.
Key species: Great place for many types of raptors and water dependent birds. Other key birds include Grey Hypocolius, White-naped Tit, MacQueen's Bustard and Dalmatian Pelicans.
Great Rann of Kutch (GRK)
Location: See map above.
Area: The Kachchh Desert Sanctuary covers 13,540 sq.km.
Habitat: The Rann of Kutch was described as "a desolate area of unrelieved, sun-baked saline clay desert, shimmering with the images of a perpetual mirage" (Cubitt and Mountfort 1991). The Great Rann of Kutch, along with the Little Rann of Kutch and the Banni grasslands on its southern edge, covers some 30,000 sq. kms. of dry and desolate tabletop surface, interspersed with small uplands between the Gulf of Kutch and the mouth of the Indus River in southern Pakistan.
There are 13 elevated portions (bets) in GRK. Out of these Khadir, Pachchham, Tragadi, Sol and Kakida are well known.
Key species: Great place for many types of raptors and water dependent birds. The endangered Indian Bustard makes a home here. GRK is also a breeding area for Greater Flamingos.
Little Rann of Kutch: See page here
Naliya Grassland (Lala Bustard Wildlife Sanctuary)
Location: 68º 45' E 23º 30' N
Area: 500 sq. km
Habitat: The habitat comprises of dry grasslands mixed with tropical and desert scrub and thorn forests.
Key species: This is a breeding area for the threatened Indian Bustard and about 20 birds are known to reside here. Other species include Lesser Florican, MacQueen's Bustard, Stoliczka’s Bushchat and nesting populations of Tawny Eagle.
Other Birding Spots in Gujarat (see map above)
Gir Forest: Famous as the last refuge of the Asiatic Lion, Gir boasts a list of 300 bird species, which includes an impressive list of raptors and woodland species.
Velavadar: 170 kms to the south of Ahmedabad lies the 34sq. km. Velavadar National Park. Created to provide protection to the last large herds of Blackbucks, Velavadar is famous for its huge harrier roosts in winter and is also a good place to see Stoliczka's Bushchat and breeding Lesser Floricans.
Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary: Nal Sarovar is a large lake 65 kms southwest of Ahmedabad. Depending on water availability, Nal Sarovar can cover an area exceeding 120 sq. kms. Dotted with hundreds of islands, this large waterbody attracts large flocks of Common and Demoiselle Cranes, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans plus a variety of storks and wintering waterfowl.
Thol: Thol Wildlife Sanctuary is located 40 kms northwest of Ahmedabad, in Mehsana District. Thol lake, created in 1912, covers 7 sq. kms of mostly open water. There are small marshes at the edges and some scrub forest on the sides of the high embankments. Thol is well known for wintering Great White Pelicans, Flamingos, a variety of waterfowl including Mallards and good numbers of Greylag Geese, Sarus Cranes and the odd Spotted Flycatcher.
Gujarat Birding Help
1. Asian Adventures
B-9, Sector - 27, Noida 201301.
Phone: (+91)(120) 2551963, 2524878
2. North West Safaries
113, Kamdhenu Complex, Panjrapole, Ahmedabad -15
Phone : +91 79 26308031, 26302019
Email : email@example.com
3. Jugal Tiwari - for birding in Kutch
Moti-virani, Kutch, Gujarat - 370665
References and sources:
- Birds of the Indian Subcontinent - Richard Grimmett & Tim Inskipp. Helm Field Guide
- A Field Guide to the Birds of India - Krys Kazmierczak. Pica Press
- Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan (Vol. I-X) - S. Ali & S. D. Ripley. OUP
- Birdwatcher's Guide to India - Krys Kazmierczak et al. OUP
- Birds of South Asia - The Ripley Guide - Pamela Rasmussen et al. Lynx Edicions 2005
- Encyclopedia of Earth: Rann of Kutch seasonal salt marsh