Gujarat Road Trip, Part 4 – Birding at the Bajana Wetlands

I return to the series documenting our trip to Gujarat in November 2021 after a slight delay in between posts. We were still in the Little Rann of Kutch and had 3 safaris in the arid part of the Rann. The main attraction of the arid part of the Little Rann are the raptors and we had great luck in spotting and photographing a range of raptors. (Gujarat Road Trip, Part 3 – Birding in the Little Rann of Kutch ) So for a change we had requested Bechar to take us to the Bajana wetlands for our last safari in the region.

In our last trip to this region we had spent all of our time in the Bajana Wetlands. (Little Rann of Kutch – A Birders Paradise ) Quite frankly I had not researched enough and didn’t know about the arid part and it’s raptors at all. So this time we had concentrated most of our efforts and time on those regions in this visit. At the same time we are always interested in seeing our favourite birds – Flamingos. So we decided to go visit our pink feathered friends on our last morning in the Little Rann of Kutch instead of searching after the elusive McQueen’s Bustard. That must have disappointed Bechar, but he begrudgingly agreed to our wishes and off we went at dawn!

The Bajana wetlands are 10 kms from Patdi where we were based. So after a short detour to pay for our visit and cameras at the forest office, we were inside the Wild Ass Sanctuary at Bajana. This was perfect timing as the sun came up just as we reached the wetlands. Dawn is the time when Eagles and other raptors are on the ground. So it was no surprise that the first bird we stopped to photograph was a greater spotted eagle sitting and waiting for the sun to come up.

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A spotted eagle waits for the sun

I was concentrating only on the Eagle as Bechar asked me if I had seen the White Stork slightly farther away. Obviously I had been firing away at the eagle and by the time I trained my lens on the stork it took off. So I got decent photos of this beautiful bird in flight albeit in poor light.

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A white stork decides to fly off

As the Stork flew away we got our first glimpse of the flamingos as the lead members of a huge group of flamingos started giving us a fly by. The D500 is an amazing camera and though mirrorless cameras are the latest technology in photography nowadays, I was satisfied at the burst photos this camera gave me.Paired with my new 300mm PF lens, I must have clicked at least 4 or 5 bursts of 10 photos of the fly by and to my pleasant surprise, inspite of the bad light most of the photos were in focus. For an enthusiast like me who does this only for fun it is as good as it gets!

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Flight photos of flamingos – courtesy my amazing D500

To get an idea of the sheer number of flamingos that inhabit these parts just take a look at the photo below. All of those birds are Greater Flamingos! This is just a fraction of one huge mega flock that gave us a fly by that morning. So you understand why we just had to pay them a visit, going to the Little Rann and not witnessing this amazing spectacle of nature is criminal!

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Those are flamingos in the sky not mosquitoes

I was so engrossed with the flamingos that I had ignored the Shikra that was perched on the tree right in front of us. The Shikra had turned his head around almost 180 degrees as if wondering why it was being ignored. So I quickly corrected that and took some photos of this bird hunter before it got offended and flew off!

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A Shikra waits for me to give it some attention

As soon as we moved on from there we got a fly by from a group of White Pelicans. Bechar had told us that there were a lot of Pelicans in the wetlands this year. It had been quite some time since I had seen these huge birds in Bharatpur almost half a decade ago and I was excited at the opportunity to spend some time with them here.

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Pelicans flying overhead

In the water below was a group of painted storks standing serenely. The setting with the storks and their reflection in the golden dawn light was like a painting itself.

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Painted storks looking like a painting

As the light got better we came to a pair of Common Cranes who were feeding in a patch of vegetation just besides the track. These birds are found aplenty in these parts in winter, but finding them close is always an opportunity to take more photos. especially when the light is so soft and ideal for photography. They posed beautifully for the camera before launching into their running take off and flying farther away.

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Common cranes in beautiful morning light

We had just left the Cranes behind when Bechar got excited. That meant an uncommon raptor was close by. Sure enough, it was a red necked falcon. The petite little raptor was sitting on a low dry bush. We got as close as the notoriously skittish bird would allow and the camera fired away to glory. After a few photos we did try to get closer but the bird lived up to its reputation and flew away, and to Bechar’s immense disappointment showed no signs of landing again. But I had gotten a few decent shots of the redhead and I am always happy with even one!

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Red necked falcon says hi!

After that great sighting we came upon a solitary wild ass / Khur. This specimen was least bothered with the vehicle approaching in his direction and continued at his own leisurely pace unlike the always sprinting Khur of the arid region. These Khur had become accustomed to the vehicles and appeared fatter and having more brightly coloured coat than their arid part cousins.

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A Khur ambles on unconcerned about vehicles around

Finally we reached the waterbody where a huge flock of Flamingos had descended and were feeding as they usually do with their head in the water. At such parts of the Wetlands you are allowed to get down from your vehicle. But you can only approach the waterbody upto a certain distance before dry caked land turns into sticky mud. It’s good for the birds in a way as it keeps the pesky humans at a fair distance. But it still makes for great photos of these beautiful big mixed flocks of Greater and Lesser Flamingos.

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A few years ago I couldn’t understand why photographers would go down and even sleep on the floor to take photos of birds in the water. Over the years I have learnt the hard way that photos from eye level of the creature always have a different and surreal feel about them. So I did what I never would have a few years ago and dirtied my clothes on the Rann to take photos of the Flamingos from ground level.

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Ground level photos have a different feel to them

When I had rattled off more shots than I would ever use I stood up and took more. At last a single pelican flew over the flock and reminded me that they were next in line for my attention.

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A solitary pelican flies towards the flock drawing my attention

We drove further ahead and at the end of the water body on a small island were a flock of Pelicans. We got off again and I went low and edged forward as the land was firmer here right up to the shore of the waterbody. I spent the next 20-25 minutes just squatting there and observing / taking photos of these majestic birds. There were White Pelicans and Dalmatian pelicans in huge numbers. They gave me all sorts of poses and at the end of those glorious 20-25 minutes I had a huge smile on my face.

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Amazing time spent with a flock of pelicans at the Bajana wetlands

Satisfied with my time with the Pelicans I turned my attention to a pair of Eurasian Spoonbills that had flown in and were now wading pretty close to my position. The pair were in a playful mood as they chased each other and gave me a lot of photos that were satisfying.

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A playful Eurasian spoonbill couple provides me with entertainment

With the sun now high in the sky the birds started moving more and more away from the shore and I turned my attention to photographing the more common birds in flight or wading through close to the shore. The River Terns, Gulls, Black winged Stilts, Sandpipers, Plovers are birds which are usually ignored in favour of more colourful / striking looking birds. So I took a few photos of these birds, promising to take more next time in better light.

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A ringed plover in the mud
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A pair of sandpipers on the island
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A river tern in flight
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A river gull flies overhead
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A black winged stilt close to the shore

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While photographing the common / smaller birds I was lucky enough to get a fly by from a painted stork and a bar headed goose giving me great flight photos of these birds.

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A painted stork in flight
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A bar headed goose shows its full wingspan

I was trying to look for more bar headed geese but instead found a flock of greylag geese flying right across the water and making for a pretty photo or twenty!

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A flock of greylag geese in flight

The only wader that refused to come closer or fly by this time were the Pied Avocets with their typical upturned beaks. I had to be satisfied with photos of these birds wading in front of the now dozing flock of spoonbills.

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As good as it gets for the Pied avocets this time

The sun was now blazing down which meant that the birds would move farther and farther away into the water and it was time for us to leave.

We were almost at the edge of the waterbody when we saw another amazing sight. A feeding frenzy and cacophony from a flock of painted stork and a flock of pelicans wanting to feed on the same patch of water. It was a chaotic scene with hundreds of birds trying to fly into the same area.

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A frenzied fight between flocks for the same patch of water

The pelicans eventually won the melee and the painted storks meekly gave up the patch through which the victorious flock of pelicans now paraded through.

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Pelicans start their parade after winning the short melee

After that superb ending to a great morning of birding we left the Bajana Wetlands but not before coming across another Spotted Eagle who was resting after a morning spent soaring up in the sky. I got a great photo of the eagle with its nictitating membranes closed.

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A spotted eagle with its nictitating membrane down over it’s eyes

We went back to Patdi to drop Bechar. It had been an immense pleasure being guided by him the past 2 days. Most of the photos, especially in the arid parts would not have been possible if it had not been for his brilliant eyesight and knowledge of the terrain.

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From left to right – our driver Ravi, our guide Bechar, us

We then proceeded to our next destination, the Blackbuck National Park at Velavadar. It had been a great couple of days in the Little Rann of Kutch and we hoped that Velavadar would be at least as good to us as the Rann had been.Whether our hopes would be realised is topic for another post some other time , some other day.

Till then,

Bye

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A photo with our pink friends in the far background

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