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Old 29th July 2013, 13:02   #1
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Arrow Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat

How it all started.

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Every year in December, we plan our year end trip to take advantage of the company shutdown that mandates us to utilize a week of time-off. Last year we had the Rann Of Kutch trip planned out well in advance and the bookings were confirmed in August/September timeframe. (http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...-paradise.html (Khushboo Gujarat Ki - A road trip to the birding paradise)) This year was a bit different though! After the long vacation in August (http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...himalayas.html (The Ladakh Chronicles - 5 years of soul searching in the Himalayas!)) we didn’t really want to spend another two weeks out on a driving holiday. We were not even sure we’d want to go out in December, so we just kept our plans open and had no bookings etc done.

It was only in the early part of December that we finalized that we’d go out at least for one week if not two. Now it's a known fact that getting a booking for the last week of December is a big deal. Most places are usually running full and pricing is at its peak. Not that we didn’t know it already, but we still wanted to give it one last try and see if there’s any economical and good holiday destination for us to visit.

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A lot of places were taken into consideration, from Goa, Kerala, Assam, Andamans and even Sri Lanka, almost everything we wanted to cover was evaluated. Either it was going beyond budget or there was simply no availability at almost all places. Sri Lanka was a strong contender since tickets were still going cheap, but stay options weren’t all that cheap (atleast the ones I could find on the internet). If it were any other time of the year, I wouldn’t mind taking a chance and landing up without prior bookings, but last week of December isn’t a good time to do that so we decided to drop the plan.

Something that’s very peculiar of us while choosing holiday destinations:

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  • It must be very obvious by now that we prefer remote locations to busy hill stations or crowded cities – the lesser the number of people, the better the location!
  • I personally like natural creations versus man made wonders – I feel mankind has basically ruined the landscapes with what we think are aesthetic structures and marvels of engineering etc etc.
  • The holiday should preferably have some element of wildlife – definitely not the zoos but not just the national parks either. Any natural habitat where we could enjoy watching and/or photographing birds, mammals or reptiles in the wild is good.
  • There is no fun in leisure vacations – if you’re going to be in the room or resort for the full day, we might as well do that at a resort in Bangalore. Vacations are to explore and experience, not to laze around all day and watch TV or float in the swimming pool.
  • The stay has to be hygienic, comfortable and more importantly economical. We hardly spend time in our hotel rooms so all the luxury things are a wasted effort.
  • The food has to be basic– we’re no food aficionados who have their menu charted out in the minds even before the meal break.
  • If there’s a place we can drive versus fly or go by train etc – driving takes precedence. There is no substitute for the freedom of being able to choose what you want to do and when.
  • Lastly, there is always a plan and then there’s Plan B.

Ok now, back to the story telling. Around the same time in early December we saw that Tata Motors Full Throttle team was arranging a desert expedition starting at Delhi and ending at Jaipur from 22nd-25th . (http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/street...-tata-uvs.html) It was a four day event organized for Tata UV owners and the stay options and the pricing was really good. My wife, Gozu, was a bit excited about this event initially since we were getting a chance to explore Rajasthan (which has been on the list for a while) on a guided but self-driven tour.

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Owning a Safari and the Thar is going to let us experience the best of both worlds as the TMFT and Mahindra Adventure teams compete in their own ways to put up some really nice events for their customers. I am pretty much sold on the Mahindra Adventure off-road and TSD events and plan to participate to the extent possible in 2013. On the other hand, we’d always prefer solo driving expeditions rather than being a part of a convoy while exploring places and thus the Tour-de-XXXX or Conquer the YYYY type programs are a big no-no. Not that they’re bad, but just that the element of thrill is missing plus you always end up choosing to go with the flow to avoid conflicts.

Everything seemed okay with the TMFT plan except maybe a couple of things:
  • Driving to Delhi for a 4 day event was a really boring idea. There’s absolutely nothing on that route to keep us excited, plus the event was ending on Christmas eve. The following week is the busiest time everywhere and especially in Rajasthan. That meant we may not be able to extend the holiday unless we’re prepared to pay through our nose for the hotel bookings. Besides, except for Jaisalmer where I’d want to go for the sand dunes and the landscapes devoid of people, the rest of Rajasthan though culturally rich with the havelis and history and all of that, it’s a crowded place I think.
  • All our vacations have been with an open agenda for the next day, we never get fussy over following the plan. We only have a rough draft of what we’d like to do and then we just let things flow freely. This is one of the big reasons why we love to drive versus make advance bookings for flights/hotels etc on our vacations. This event was going to be a bit restrictive in that sense as we’ll have to follow a schedule and we were a bit nervous about it.

Anyway, we weren’t ready to commit to a schedule as yet and so decided to drop the idea for now. May be we’ll need to start with smaller events and see how that goes.

With the Rajasthan plan out of the contention, we started searching for some more alternatives for a week’s vacation. Spending time with extended family in Mumbai and Pune was an option, but that usually turns out to be very dangerous on our weight management practices and at the end of it we’re so exhausted with doing absolutely nothing. Moreover, we’ve had 3-4 trips in this year for various occasions so this plan could be parked for now.

Just before we gave up on our choices, another idea came up, why not go back to Gujarat again and spend some time only at the Little Rann of Kutch instead of doing a full-fledged trip like last year. We had skipped a couple of places last year (mainly the Sun Temple and Dholavira), and it would be good to explore them this time around. A quick call to Dhanraj who owns Desert Coursers yielded a positive response and we were now booked for 4 days at Zainabad. We went from no plans to having clear plans within 5 minutes!

About a week later I received an invite from the Saevus magazine folks for the Bird-A-Thon that was planned in Jamnagar. Now this was an event originally planned for November, but had gotten delayed and I had no clue that it would pop up now. Luckily, the dates for the event matched our checkout date from LRK and a quick check on Google maps showed Jamnagar to be just under 240kms from Zainabad. This meant that we could leave LRK after breakfast and comfortably make it to Jamnagar by lunch time and participate in the event next day.

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The Bird-A-Thon was a bird race organized by Saevus magazine along with the Gujarat Tourism and sponsored by Samsonite and Olympus. For those who are new to the bird race concept, it’s not exactly a race where you have chickens running to a finish line. It’s about a group of people roaming through the city limits, trying to spot and identify as many bird species as they can between a 6AM-6PM time window. The team with the highest bird count wins and there may be other awards such as for the rare species that someone has seen or the best picture etc. This is however not a photography event and is mainly focused on getting you to explore the bio-diversity of the region and using all resources to identify a bird species so that you can note it down correctly in the log book. The annual HSBC bird race is quite a familiar event and is conducted in a lot of cities. The Bird-A-Thon however, was the first such event being held in Jamnagar and the Saevus team was going to organize stay for the outstation participants, provide cars to move around the city as well design teams with atleast one person familiar with the areas in and around Jamnagar. This was definitely going to be a new experience for me since whenever I’m out for bird photography, the focus has never been to spot as many birds but to spend time with only a few and make sure you have atleast 2-3 shots that you’d be happy with at the end of the day. The new plan was that I’d book a separate room for us and Gozu and Pozu can chill and relax on the day I’m out for the event and we leave for home next day morning and make a stop at Mumbai or Pune if possible.

This is exactly what I love about being independent on our vacation, we could easily make amends to our original plan and accommodate the Jamnagar event without any issues. Now, we didn’t just have a vacation plan, I also had a mission for the trip which made it more exciting!

Here’s the final plan that we had chalked out:
  • Dec 22: Leave early morning 2AM and be in Pune by lunch time, reach Mumbai in the evening for meeting friends
  • Dec 23: Spend some time in Mumbai meeting family and reach Ahmedabad the evening/night
  • Dec 24: Reach LRK in the morning
  • Dec 25, 26 and 27: Stay in LRK and explore the Rann. Visit Modhera temple and Dholavira.
  • Dec 28: Leave LRK and reach Jamnagar by lunch or evening
  • Dec 29: Bird-A-Thon
  • Dec 30: Reach Mumbai by evening and rest
  • Dec 31: Leave early morning 2AM and reach Bangalore before the evening mad rush begins

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Old 29th July 2013, 13:08   #2
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Default Finally, the trip begins!

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As the vacation time comes closer, most folks are either already out of office or are in no mood to conduct too many meetings. I realize that I could easily take a day off on Friday (Dec 21) to make preparations for the trip and that would also give us the opportunity to plan an early departure than the Dec 22, 2AM schedule. I had a quite few things to take care of before the trip could start. First and foremost, the car hadn’t been checked for readiness and even though it was serviced only a while back the clutch wasn’t feeling all that good. So I took it to the service center in the morning and got it checked thoroughly and had all the fluids topped up as well. The clutch seems to have suffered a normal course of wear and tear with almost 56k on the odo and though there is no risk of failure it does feel a bit hard now. The SA told me that I could choose to replace the clutch for about 16k but it would need a day, so I can finish the trip and then leave the car when it’s due for the next service.

Then there was a lot of packing to do, get all my camera gear cleaned, batteries charged, choose accessories that I needed etc. An 8-9 day trip meant a lot of munchies had to be stashed in the car since we don’t usually stop for meal breaks. I usually carry a 20 liter water can and a 5 liter smaller can for daily use along with wide mouthed pet bottles, that way I don’t have to trash the place with plastic bottles. By the time I finished all of this, it was already evening and so we decided to leave between 9-10pm so that we can grab some quick dinner and be on our way out of the city. I had a quick lie-down for an hour which is nothing but keeping your eyes closed no matter whether you’re actually fallen asleep or not followed by a refreshing bath that is enough to keep me going till we reach the destination.

We started at around 9.30PM after having some quick frankies for dinner. My friend Elly decided to join us till Mumbai since we had some college friends gathering for a small reunion of sorts. Given that we were leaving early meant that we’d be skipping the stopover in Pune since we may cross it really early in the morning for the folks to be awake. It would be better to directly halt at my parents’ house in Navi Mumbai and rest till the evening before we head out for reunion party.

Getting out of Bangalore was pretty okay except for the traffic jam in the Mahadevapura to KR Puram area where we spent almost 30-45 mins crawling in 1st gear. The highway was busy with the buses that leave the city around the same time but with the wide roads, it wasn’t so much of an issue to overtake them and make sure we were ahead of that crowd. The BLR-MUM roads are now pretty much like driving in your backyard since we’ve done this 4-5 times in the past year. Soon we were happily cruising at 100-120kmph and making good progress.

With no big stops on the way except for one tea break before Kolhapur, we stopped directly at the Datta vadapav just outside Panvel at 8.30AM for some nice sumptuous breakfast. Given the time delay we had exiting the city, we still had managed a decent time of 11hrs for a little over 1000kms. Reaching early also meant lots of time for rest before we head out in the evening and that’s pretty much what we did apart from filling our stomach to the brim with my mom’s super amazing food at lunch.

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The evening was fun and it turned out to be a very good idea to meet at a friends’ place at Vashi instead of a restaurant. The kids had all the freedom to run and play and leave us alone to talk about the nostalgic stories from college days. We were back home a little after midnight, and I could sense that my sleep deprived body was just waiting to hit the bed before I started snoring.

The next day was primarily divided between meeting some family for short visits and then a surprise meeting with a friend who’s had a baby recently. Then it was time for some resting at a friends’ house in Thane from where we’d take off in the night to reach Zainabad at or before lunch time. So the stay at Ahmedabad was reinvested in some quality time with friends, reaffirming the fact that having your own flexi travel option surely helps to make choices on the go.

The day went off pretty okay and we were running on time as we reached our friends’ place for the evening. Thankfully it being a Sunday we didn’t hit much traffic as we traveled from Navi Mumbai to South Mumbai, then to Andheri and finally settling in Thane. The rest of the evening went in chatting and catching up on updates etc, followed by some nice Chinese for dinner. It was well past midnight by the time we hit the bed, the departure time was adjusted to 4AM instead of 2AM and the alarm was set accordingly.

The alarm went off on time and I had a quick bath to freshen up for the morning drive. Pozu was still sleeping and it was good to keep her that way since otherwise her full day’s schedule gets upset. We were ready to leave by around 4AM which was a very good thing but I had to lug around 15-20 kilos of my camera equipment and laptops to the car. I hate it when I’m carrying my camera equipment on my trips and have to park my car outside a secure area. Not only do I have to carry all the stuff with me, it also takes time to get the car ready when it’s time to leave. Unfortunately, in Mumbai there’s no way you can find a secure parking for a visitors’ car and except for my parents’ house I end up lugging all my stuff up and down a few times. At 4AM in the morning, I walk down with all my gear for about 300m to get to the car and that breaks me in sweat even with the rather cool weather for Mumbai. Anyway, we were finally on the road and were placed comfortably to make it to Zainabad by lunch time.

I drove for the first 3-4 hours and then passed on the wheel to Gozu who did a pretty steady 90-100 kmph until we crossed Bharuch. Now the bridge at Bharuch as it has been discussed numerous times can be a nightmare if you don’t know that you can actually go the wrong way and then use the older bridge to avoid all the jam. We crossed it in about 15 mins which is not bad, but the main bridge seemed to have pretty slow moving traffic and I could see quite a few cars stuck in between those the trucks. I remember the first time even I had almost gotten myself stuck but I managed to reverse for about 100m and move over to the older bridge else I would have been in for hours as there was a truck broken down in the middle of the bridge and the traffic was basically going nowhere.

The rest of the stretch was pretty uneventful and after tackling a little of the Ahmedabad traffic, we were on our way to Zainabad. The good thing about Gujarat is that the roads are pretty darn awesome everywhere and there is no frustration that sets in during long drives. We reached Zainabad at around 3PM and quickly got ready for our first jeep ride into the Rann at 4PM.

The vacation had officially begun and the next four days had only nature and photography on the agenda!

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Old 29th July 2013, 13:23   #3
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Default Exploring the Little Rann Of Kutch!

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The 2012 monsoon hasn’t been great across the country and one can easily make out the impact of it in LRK. The water bodies that were full last year and had a lot of ducks and other waders had just ankle deep water and were now flooded with flamingos who prefer that habitat. The ducks had to move to the creek side which had some water but not as much as the last time. There was some water released from the Narmada which had an impact on some of the access roads and the only option to go the creek side was from Bajana which is 20kms from Zainabad whereas last year there was another road midway.

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The number of birds this year were less as compared to the previous year and what I got to know was that the flamingos on the way to Dholavira were no longer there in this season. Last year, I was told that there was a huge gathering of 1.5 to 2 lakh flamingos on that side of the Rann. We missed it because we thought we’ll go to Dholavira from the GRK side and unfortunately that road access was closed when we went there. Now Dholavira is about 5 hours from Zainabad and is one of the sites where you can see the remnants of the Harappan civilization, but my main aim was to also go there for the Greater Flamingos which are not found in LRK otherwise. We made plans and we dropped the plans, that’s pretty much what we did and end of the trip, we didn’t really take off for Dholavira. May be someday when I visit the place again, I’ll keep this on the itinerary.

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We did go to the Modhera Sun temple which is quite a brilliant depiction of how ancestral Indian man was knowledgeable about subjects ranging from history, geography, science, mathematics to sex education. The temple is no longer a place of worship since it was desecrated and is now a well maintained archaeological site. Our guide kept telling us intriguing stories about how Mahabharata was depicted in the sculptures and how the temple was built based on the sun calendar etc. Overall, a nice visit and there’s always something you learn from such places.

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During the course of the 4 days at Desert Coursers, we made friends with a lot of people and surprisingly one of them was a family from Bangalore who stay just about 7-8 kms from our place. Their son and Pozu immediately took off and what followed was a couple of days of sheer playing madness between the duo. Given that LRK isn’t really a place that has too much to offer for a general tourist, usually the people who visit the place are wildlife enthusiasts and that has helped keep the crowds limited but the overall region can definitely be kept a lot cleaner than what it is today. Plastic trash is seen almost everywhere and can easily be avoided through proper regulations and education.

My favorite photography subject in LRK has been the Lesser Flamingos and even this time I spent most of the time sitting at the edge of Nawa Talav waiting for these beautiful creatures to accept me and close in for a nice shot. Finally, persistence paid off and I was able to get a few shots that were satisfying enough to call it a successful day.

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While I was busy photographing the flamingos, Pozu was keeping her Mom busy with her insistence to use my other camera. She also wanted to try her hand at some shots of the flamingos and finally managed to work her way out.

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A Greylag Geese couple also happened to pose nicely for the camera, though they maintained safe distance at all times. No amount of hiding helped in getting close to them and they’d take to the sky at the slightest hesitance from anyone in the group.

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The LRK special for this visit was the encounter with the nightjars, we spotted both the Sykes as well as the Indian nightjars after sundown. The only challenge was to get a nice picture of these supremely camouflaged birds, the search light surely helped in spotting these beauties, but the harsh light didn’t make it easy to get a pleasing picture. Still after fiddling around with the exposure and dialing it down to soften the light, I was able to get a few pictures that are worth posting here.

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The Eurasian cranes were found almost everywhere but I was glad to document some aggressive behavioral shots in a siege. I couldn’t make out whether the two males were either fighting for dominance or it was mock ritual, but it went on for about 10 minutes while the other cranes were seen cheering the fight.

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The Demoiselle cranes were missing last year during our trip, but this time they made a good special appearance and during the evening golden light hour and it more than made up for their absence.

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The sunrise and sunset are the two most beautiful events in the Rann where you can see the big orange ball of fire just rising from or sinking into the perfectly flat horizon. One of the evenings we were lucky to witness a really beautiful orange glow reflecting off the shallow waters, introducing a magical effect into the whole landscape. We positioned our jeep to get a classic silhouette shot of the curlew sandpiper in the orange waters and after a couple of tries, I was happy with what I had gotten.

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A day before we were supposed to leave for Jamnagar, I called the Saevus organizers to check on my stay arrangements since I had asked for a separate booking. I was told that they have blocked the room for me separately, but since there was a cancellation they offered my wife to join the event as a participant if she was willing. Given that there was basically nothing that she was going to do except babysitting Pozu, she was ready to join but we wanted to make sure that it was okay to have our daughter along with us all the while. We were happy to know that there wasn’t any issue in having Pozu with us if we were okay with it and so now all three of us were going to participate in the bird race which was quite exciting.
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Old 29th July 2013, 13:35   #4
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Default A Rewarding Experience At Jamnagar!

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Today was the day we were leaving for Jamnagar to participate in the Bird-A-Thon. Pozu had skipped dinner last night and thus it was decided that I’ll go for the morning safari while Gozu and Pozu will finish all morning activities and be ready for departure by the time I come back. A futile search for the Short Eared Owl delayed our morning jeep ride and by the time I was back at the resort, the mother-daughter duo was all set for us to leave. We made a quick departure from Desert Coursers after all the customary bye-byes and were on our way to Jamnagar. There is no major highway connectivity between Zainabad and Jamnagar and a good part of the road is through smaller towns and villages. Though the roads were decent, the average speed wasn’t all that great since we had to slow down every now and then for the slow moving vehicles and pedestrians. We reached Jamnagar at about 4PM and caught some rest before joining the team for the briefing and dinner party.

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With the rules understood and the team introduced, we were told to be ready to leave at 6AM on the following morning. Each team was of 5 participants and had a good mix of novice to expert bird enthusiasts. There was a local Jamnagar participant in every team who was pretty much an expert at birding. Gozu and me were in the same team and we had one person from Mumbai and another one from Ahmedabad and last but not the least a young “veteran” bird watcher Chiku (Chirag Solanki) from Jamnagar.

It was going to be a bit challenging with having Pozu ready at 6AM since usually on all our trips we let her sleep till her usual time even though we leave at unearthly hours. However, going out on a mission meant that she had to be ready with all her morning rituals completed by 6AM. She also hadn’t had her dinner last night so we needed to make sure that she would eat a good breakfast meal. This is the part where I can’t stop admiring my daughter, at just about 3years of age her adaptability is unmatched. Not only did she wake up at 5AM and finished all her stuff, she was wide awake as we started and was really enjoying the whole kickoff event. The organizers had arranged for packed breakfast for all participants and that really helped in ensuring that she had proper meals through the day.

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I had been reading up on the birding scene in Jamnagar to prepare myself for the event and I was amazed to see how blessed the port city has been blessed with a vast bio-diversity of residential as well as migratory birds. The whole city is pretty much like a huge bird sanctuary and one can easily see a lot of bird species without making too much of an effort. Our plan was finalized based on discussions with Chiku and it was going to be the Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary – Narara beach – Lakhota lake – Valasura salt pans and if possible we’d go to the area near the railway station.

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The late sun rise at 7.20AM meant that we’d not be seeing much activity until the light comes in and the birds take to the sky. We utilized this time to reach Khijadiya and spot the elusive Indian Nightjar which was the first species to be recorded in our books for the day. The next 2 hours were spent at Khijadiya which yielded us 75-80 species on the list and that was a pretty good start for the day. We had some of the packed breakfast at one of the watch towers and then started towards Narara which was a little more than an hour away. The Narara Marine National Park was a very pleasing experience and I could potentially spend a full day in a place like that without feeling hungry or thirsty. Given that we reached there pretty much as the tide started moving in and water level was increasing fast, we could spot the Crab Plovers and who’re the stars of the area and an Osprey making attempts to find its food amongst the various other waders that thrive in this place.

With two major birding locations covered and more than 130 species on our list, we were now focused on finding specific species that weren’t covered yet. The cab guy we had was moving at a very slow pace and keeping the needle at a max of 50-55kmph even on open roads, he said he had gotten some work done on the engine and was running it in. While that cost us time to move between places, the fun thing about birding is that it can be done anywhere since birds are not restricted by boundary walls. The slow speed was a blessing in disguise as it helped in keeping a lookout and spotting several species that weren’t seen inside the sanctuary. On the way back from Narara we made a brief diversion to the Ranjitsagar dam where we found some of the common birds like the purple moorhen, the coppersmith barbet etc. By the end of the afternoon, we were comfortably sitting at a total of 150 odd species count and a quick visit to the Lakhota lake helped in adding a few more. It was still 5PM and we had an hour more to report back at the hotel so we decided to go towards Valasura and see if we can find some more and we did add 2-3 more to the list.

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The rough list had a little over 160 odd names and we were sure there will be some duplicates, we had started filling out the log book while on our way to Valasura and were glad that the duplicates weren’t too many. At the end of the day we submitted a total of 157 species recorded from all the places we visited. Now, I must admit that I’m a casual birder and even though I know most of the bird names and can identify the parent species of most birds, identifying a specific species and its sub-species is a difficult task. This is where our champion Chiku proved his mettle, an avid birder and a prospective Phd student, he’s been an active bird-watcher in Jamnagar for over 12 years and was able to describe the differences between sub-species very clearly. Moreover, he seemed to be an expert with the waders which was a definite plus as there were quite a few waders that we could spot and identify with his help.

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The contest required us to photograph as many birds as we could so that there is photographic evidence available if required in case of any questions etc. There was a special prize for the day’s best picture based on the jury discretion as well. Each team had to submit 5 photographs before 6.45PM to be qualified for the contest. Now, I had been lugging around my 600mm all through the day handheld to get record shots of most species that we saw. However, given that we were always rushing from one place to the other, there was absolutely no time where I could sit and photograph thinking about the picture contest. A monopod would have been best suited for this kind of jobs but sadly all I had was the tripod which was pretty difficult to carry and setup everytime. At the end of the day, we were scrambling to find suitable pictures for the submission and all I could manage was some marginally decent shots that I’d not be “happy happy” with. Anyways, the single-minded focus of the team was to make sure we put up the best count and we were proud of that, so this was nothing to be worked up about.

The award ceremony and closing out dinner was arranged at the Rotary Club hall nearby and we were all sitting exhausted from the day’s work hoping that we’d win something. One by one, all the awards got announced and everybody at our table was pretty much sitting quiet. Then came the announcement for last award which was the most important one too, the winners of the Bird-A-Thon with the most number of species count from the day. We had heard totals of 140 odd numbers so we knew that we weren’t too far off from others, but we didn’t know if someone had more than us. Then came the biggest surprise, everyone suddenly turned to our rather quiet table as the winning team was announced. We had won the first ever Bird-A-Thon and that too by a good margin!

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Everybody shook hands and hugged each other in glee and boy were we glad that the trip turned out to be so successful. They even announced that they’ll be sending a special prize for Pozu as the youngest birder of the event, she really deserved that mention coz she had been such a good sporting kid all through the day.

While sitting through the event, Gozu had a sudden urge to see if we can get some bookings at Gir and drive down on the next day. Now, that’s not something that I’d like to turn down and I immediately turned to my newly found friends in Jamnagar who got me in touch with a reliable source in Gir. Being a Sunday and the 30th of December, I knew the chances were bleak but my contact was determined to try his best and promised to give me a final update in the morning based on which I could decide to drive down to Gir or go back home.

After a sumptuous dinner which was infact the first proper meal of the day, the happy day ended with bidding farewell to our wonderful hosts and to our super-efficient team members.

That night we slept like logs and the only thing that woke me up in the morning was the alarm I had set to call my contact in Gir about the possibility of getting a safari booking for the evening. He had already told me that staying will not be an issue, but getting a slot in the safari will be a matter of chance. Unfortunately, that Sunday morning was swarmed with people at Gir and he was very polite in telling me that it may not work out to my satisfaction even if I take a chance. Well, you can’t always get what you want and Gir wasn’t even remotely connected to our original plan so there was no heartburn. We promised ourselves to return to the land of the Asiatic Lions pretty soon and started our return journey to Mumbai in the morning after breakfast.

The roads were pretty good till Limbdi post which we took the right turn to follow the path shown by Google Maps and that 150 kms stretch until Karjan slowed us down considerably. We passed through some small villages and the road wasn’t wide enough in most places, plus it was patchy in some places. Overall, we must have lost an hour or a little more doing this stretch. Once at Karjan, we joined back to the main wester express highway and continued our drive until we stopped at my parents’ house for a quick 4 hour rest before leaving for the final leg of our journey to Bangalore. We were back home by evening time and had managed to avoid the new year mad rush that would have begun a couple of hours later. We enjoyed the new year party hosted by a friend here with some nice barbeque and I was found mostly dozing on the sofa while the others danced and made merry.

Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat-3.71.jpg
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Old 29th July 2013, 16:25   #5
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let me be the first one to comment on your thread - and - Amazing is what i can say. Superb pics as usual with a hint of drama in the narrative, makes for a very interesting read.

Thanks for sharing. Let it be a nice long thread with loads and loads of pics.

Bring on the pics, eagerly waiting for more!


BTW - which vehicle did you use? I guess it was Safari?


P.S:- voting 5*

Last edited by sach.sri : 29th July 2013 at 16:26.
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Old 29th July 2013, 16:39   #6
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Default re: Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat

wow! Beautiful pics... amazing!
which camera is this?

~PK
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Old 30th July 2013, 08:45   #7
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Terrific set of frames, this would turn out be be a one fantastic travelogue.
Waiting for more to come.
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Old 30th July 2013, 08:54   #8
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Default re: Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat

amolpol,

Stunning pictures.
The Rann has always been on my radar and this will serve me well for my next plans.
Thank you very much for sharing this.
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Old 30th July 2013, 18:20   #9
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Default re: Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat

Quote:
Originally Posted by sach.sri View Post
let me be the first one to comment on your thread - and - Amazing is what i can say. Superb pics as usual with a hint of drama in the narrative, makes for a very interesting read.

Thanks for sharing. Let it be a nice long thread with loads and loads of pics.

Bring on the pics, eagerly waiting for more!

BTW - which vehicle did you use? I guess it was Safari?

P.S:- voting 5*
Thanks Sach.Sri

The trip was done in the Safari only since the jeep wasn't ready for highway action around that time (no rollcage, front-facing seats etc). Now that it's all done, it may be the right vehicle the explore the Rann without the worry of getting stuck at most places, though I've heard that the clay like mud is quite unforgiving even for jeeps at times. One of my dreams is to camp under the open sky in the middle nowhere in the Rann, but I'm keeping that one pending for a little later until I build an expedition vehicle.

Regarding the amount of pictures, it's funny that I don't have too many more to share. I had more than 100GB of RAW files when I returned back from the trip but have ended up with just about 100 odd images that made it through the gruelling self-critique process that I follow. What I had posted here were about 30 of those which I thought were just enough for the write-up. However, I'll try and put up some more from the rest of the images and hopefully you'll like them as much as you liked the ones I have posted already.

For me, 20-40 good shots are good enough to keep as memories from a trip this long whereas if I'm shooting for just a day or two, I'm usually satisfied if I get 3-5 images that are print-worthy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zinda View Post
wow! Beautiful pics... amazing!
which camera is this?

~PK
Thanks PK, most of these are shot with a Canon 1D Mark IV coupled with Canon 600mm F4 IS lens with or without a 1.4 teleconverter.

Here's a picture of the rig from the previous year where my little one is playing the pro-photographer watching the flamingos
Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat-gujarat1.jpg

Quote:
Originally Posted by himadrimondal View Post
Terrific set of frames, this would turn out be be a one fantastic travelogue.
Waiting for more to come.
That's pretty much what I had for the TL, but I'll try and add a few more pictures based on public demand.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hemanth.anand View Post
amolpol,

Stunning pictures.
The Rann has always been on my radar and this will serve me well for my next plans.
Thank you very much for sharing this.
Thanks Hemanth.

The Rann will never disappoint you, if you're looking for a far away and alone type of place, look no further!

Last edited by amolpol : 30th July 2013 at 18:22.
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Old 30th July 2013, 18:49   #10
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Amolpol,Wow that was amazing planning and driving all the way covering 4000kms. Hats off to your wife and Pozu, you are blessed. I have taken part in the HSBC bird race in Bangalore about 3 times and have gained a bit of insight into birding.It usually takes place in January around the 14th, hope to catch up some time during the event.

Your photos are excellent and the best one goes for the sunset and the Temple.
Hearty congratulations on winning the Birdathon,must surely be double win for you since you were from a totally different region and special wishes to baby Pozu too for being the youngest birder.
Cheers and happy birding and driving
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Old 30th July 2013, 21:33   #11
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Amazing article. And the photographs are just mindblowing. I was there at the same time as you and I do believe i saw you and your family at the edge of Nava Talav. Dhanraj is a great guy and is very accomodating. I remember when we first went to him as students; he gave us a price which was very very low. Now that we are are settled and earning, he just charges us reasonably. Did you go to that Mandir, Vacchhraja 20 kilometers inside the desert? There is another lake near that temple which has quite a few flamingos nesting there.

Hats off for the mind-numbing the photographs! You are truly a wizard!
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Old 31st July 2013, 08:39   #12
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Originally Posted by majumon View Post
Amolpol,Wow that was amazing planning and driving all the way covering 4000kms. Hats off to your wife and Pozu, you are blessed. I have taken part in the HSBC bird race in Bangalore about 3 times and have gained a bit of insight into birding.It usually takes place in January around the 14th, hope to catch up some time during the event.

Your photos are excellent and the best one goes for the sunset and the Temple.
Hearty congratulations on winning the Birdathon,must surely be double win for you since you were from a totally different region and special wishes to baby Pozu too for being the youngest birder.
Cheers and happy birding and driving
You're right about me being blessed. My wife and daughter, both are very supportive of my crazy plans and enjoy them too. So all the credit for doing these trips goes to them!

I wanted to participate in this years HSBC bird race, but didn't have any company and then there were alternate plans for that day so never really worked out. The Birdathon was very coincidental and I could participate in it only because I was in the right place at the right time. I don't think I would have traveled to Gujarat only for that event, but maybe now I would give it a second thought.

Being unfamiliar to the region would have been a very big disadvantage, but the Saevus guys had done a very neat job in forming teams that were pretty much consistent in composition. So nobody felt that they were not sufficiently equipped with knowledge for such an event. My wife who hasn't been into birds was overwhelmed by the quantum of new names she added to her vocabulary that day. More so because since she couldn't help identify birds, she had gotten the job of documenting the names in the rough checklist. At the end of the day we all had a good laugh looking at all the spellings she had captured on that list.

It was true teamwork that got us the winning total, each one of us had a role in that victory. Even Pozu for that matter helped out in making sure there was no dull moment through the day!

Quote:
Originally Posted by rahul4321 View Post
Amazing article. And the photographs are just mindblowing. I was there at the same time as you and I do believe i saw you and your family at the edge of Nava Talav. Dhanraj is a great guy and is very accomodating. I remember when we first went to him as students; he gave us a price which was very very low. Now that we are are settled and earning, he just charges us reasonably. Did you go to that Mandir, Vacchhraja 20 kilometers inside the desert? There is another lake near that temple which has quite a few flamingos nesting there.

Hats off for the mind-numbing the photographs! You are truly a wizard!
Small world eh! Unfortunately we didn't get to meet and greet each other, but next time you know who I am so feel free. This is infact the second time someone has mentioned seeing me on my trips and noticing it only through my travelogues.

You're so right about Dhanraj. He is absolutely a gem of a person. This was my second time at Desert Coursers and both times I have felt the place to be equally warm and wonderful in terms of hospitality.

We didn't go to that temple even this time, mostly because the reports on flamingos were that the birds were seen pretty far off from the shoreline and Nava Talav was a more opportunistic place to be from a photography standpoint. The previous year there were reports of a pretty huge congregation of greater flamingos in that area around the temple, but since we were going to GRK that time we thought we could skip it - only to realize that it was a big mistake later on. We didn't get to go to the Flamingo city nor to Dholavira because the approach from GRK was flooded.
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Old 31st July 2013, 16:06   #13
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Although I may not have tonnes of pictures to post, I think what I could do is share narratives about the place and subjects from a photography standpoint. Hopefully, it would help someone preparing for a photography trip to the region.

Disclaimer: Always keep in mind is that Wildlife and bird photography is all about making best use of your equipment to capture the natural history moment on camera in the given shooting conditions. Altering the surrounding conditions is either not possible or in some situations unethical since that could mean damage to sensitive habitat. It's also about being in the right place at the right time, something that is a combination of common sense, knowledge of your subject's behavior and a lot of luck.

Like most places, even in the Rann, the bird spottings are based on water and food availability. It is important to understand how the environmental changes will affect your photography expedition and make changes accordingly.
  • In 2011 when we visited Nava Talav, there were absolutely no flamingos to be seen - reason being the higher water levels. The usual spottings at the lake were mostly ducks and other waders while the flamingos were seen along the creek and towards Bajana. The villagers were running huge diesel pump sets to draw water for the fields and the noise pollution used to begin as early as 6.30AM making it difficult for photography.
  • In 2012, the situation was quite different, the diesel pumps were quiet since there was hardly any water in Nava Talav. However, the habitat was now more relevant for flamingos and there were quite a few hundred of them in the shallow waters. The waders had now shifted towards the creek since that place had enough water for them to swim around.

Photographing Flamingos:
  • The two biggest hurdles in photographing the flamingos is to isolate a single bird and keep distractions away from the background. They're found foraging in the shallow waters in small groups and would usually follow each other around which is the best opportunity to find someone isolated in the frame.
  • The angle of shooting also matters since a usual eye level shot would mean the background is not going to be blurred because of the water that comes within the depth of field range. Similarly, a ground level shot also becomes a bit difficult since usually I'm shooting right at the edge of the marshy land and the clay like mud won't let you lie down in peace. I've been using a camping stool as shown in one of my earlier posts to get an in-between elevation which is pretty much inline with the height of these birds and that has worked well at most times.
  • Usually birds take to flight when you approach them on foot, and it is recommended that you either use hides or even a vehicle to approach them closer. However, in case of the flamingos, they simply start walking away from you the moment you start approaching them and you can't even take your vehicle where they're feeding. Given that these marshy terrains don't allow you to walk any further than 5-6 feet from the shore without getting really dirty, it is advisable to sit someplace and wait for these beautiful creatures to approach.
  • Even though you may be sitting still for an hour and the flamingos are now well aware of your presence and have accepted it as well - they will maintain a fair amount of distance at all times. This is where a longer reach lens comes in use. I would strongly recommend carrying a 400mm or higher focal length kit if you would like to get isolated shots of these lovely birds.
  • Another thing to keep in mind is the light and the place has to be chosen accordingly. For example, the Nava Talav area was best visited in the morning since the sun came up from behind. Post afternoon, the place would do no good for photography. The creek side was a better option for the evening with more angles available to shoot.
  • The clay like mud of the Rann is quite tricky to walk around and I would not recommend anyone to walk in the marshy areas without support. Moreover, if you're carrying significant camera gear, please bear in mind the possible risk of dropping it in slush which will render it useless.
  • If you are driving around on your own like we did, be prepared to get lost as well. The roads and tracks can be very misleading and there is always a risk of the ground sinking in because of potential under current of water. It may look dry and parched on the top but there can be a water channel below it which makes it risky. Stick to the tracks that are already made by other vehicles to be on the safer side.

Here are a few more pictures to put an end to all my rambling.

I just wished that the reflection in the foreground was a bit more clearer, but nevertheless I still like the transition of the water on this one.

Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat-gujarat-002.jpg

This one is a landing shot taken in the morning. If there is one thing that I have found very difficult with the 600mm - it is taking such action shots! The narrow angle of view and limited mobility means have always given me poor hit ratios unlike a handheld shot which is more easier to do (obviously with a lighter camera as well).

Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat-gujarat-003.jpg

A classic bird in flight shot of the lesser flamingo - the focus on this one was much more accurate than the previous image.

Yet Another "Rewardful" Birding Trip to Gujarat-gujarat-013.jpg
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Old 2nd August 2013, 11:55   #14
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A wonderful write up! Reminded me of my trip to LRK, GRK, Narana and Gir in the last week of December '12 with my wife, my friend and his wife. We were actually at Desert Coursers on the 28th of December at about 3 PM. I vaguely remember a safari (???) parked near the entrance and a couple with some heavy duty photo gear and in battle fatigues. I wonder if it was you!
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Old 2nd August 2013, 13:48   #15
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Amol,

Thought of holding back with my comment till you are forced to add more pics to this list and we enjoy them .Lol. But i guess i cant anymore.

Amazing work man. The lesser flamingo's are a beauty always to watch. Jamnagar seems to be the pardaise on earth. I am heading out there in Dec/ Jan and hope 3 -4 days should be enough to get all these beauties.

Keep sharing more and continue to do the good work
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