Thar Desert
Trip Report

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Trip Report symbol © Sumit SenTal-Chhapar, Jaisalmer and Desert National Park

by Gaurav Bhatnagar & Harkirat Singh Sangha
5th - 10th September 2004



© Gaurav Bhatnagar
Indian Bustard at Desert National Park


Two of us had six days of intensive and very interesting birding in the western regions of Rajasthan. We birded mainly in the districts of Churu and Jaisalmer catching the birds in autumn passage. The trip included some very remote areas of western Rajasthan right up to the Pakistan Border. That's probably as west as it gets in India. The highlights include Alpine Swifts, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Spotted Flycatcher, Great Indian Bustard and Long-Billed and White-rumped Vultures. The trip included 17 species of raptors. Apart from the avifauna, some good mammals and reptiles were also sighted. In mammals - Desert Fox, Indian Fox, Chinkara, Long-eared Hedgehog and Desert Hare were seen; whereas in reptiles Spiny-Tailed Lizard, Indian Monitor Lizard, Desert Monitor Lizard and a Pakistan Ribbon Snake were seen.


  5.9.    Jaipur to Tal-Chhapar WLS
Tal-Chhapar WLS to Jaisalmer via Bikaner
Jaisalmer - Ramgarh - Tanot - Shakti - Tanot - Longewala - Ramgarh - Jaisalmer 
Fossil National Park and Desert National Park
Jaisalmer to Tal-Chhapar WLS
Tal-Chhapar WLS to Jaipur

Detailed Report:

Day1:  Jaipur to Tal-Chhapar WLS

Day 1 Started on the NH 11 itself with good number of Baya weaver colonies on both sides of the road, mostly on Babul (Acacia nilotica) and Khejri (Prosopis cineraria). The nests were still green indicating the freshness of construction. Sometimes 18-20 nests were observed on one single tree. The more common species were also observed during the journey: Green Bee-eaters, Black-shouldered Kites, White-throated Kingfisher, Golden Oriole, Black-rumped Flameback, Southern Grey-Shrike, Bay-Backed Shrike and Red-rumped Swallows. All were briefly viewed from the Gypsy. The first of the Rosy Starlings were observed on the road to Salasar feeding on the fruiting 'kair' (Capparis decidua). It was on the road to Sujangarh, 10km before Nechwa, that a group of 30 swifts caught our attention. The swifts had apparently white underparts and seemed bigger in size than the common house swifts. On closer observation with binoculars, a white belly and chin and a conspicuous dark on the breast was seen. The swifts were identified as Alpine Swifts. They were flying in groups sallying at a height of about 15-60 ft above the ground catching flying insects. We watched them for about 10 minutes. The first of the Rufous-tailed Larks were seen 20 km before Sujangarh besides the road. 

The evening at Tal-Chhapar was exciting with a flypast of 23 Demoiselle cranes just as we entered the gates- the first ones to arrive. 4 Eurasian Thick-Knees and 3 black ibis were also seen in the grass which was still green and 3 inches to 2 feet in height. A Eurasian Wryneck was also viewed briefly in an acacia tree. Rosy Starlings were seen in excellent numbers (groups of 100-200 at a time) as were the blue cheeked bee-eaters filling the sanctuary with their sweet 'trilling' calls. Among larks, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Larks, Rufous-tailed larks were seen intermittently while Greater Short-toed larks were present in large numbers. Raptors included Common Kestrels, a Laggar falcon

© Gaurav Bhatnagar
Laggar Falcon

Montagu's Harrier, and an unusually large congregation of White-eyed Buzzards. They were seen mostly perched on the ground and were running in the grass, flushing out insects and feeding on them. One solitary Eurasian Marsh harrier was also seen. There was absolutely no sign of vultures anywhere. Mr. Brijdan Charan, forest guard at TCWLS said that he had observed Indian Coursers also but they were not seen that day. Chestnut bellied Sandgrouse were also seen in small groups of 6-8. There was no sign of European Rollers; only an occasional Indian Roller was seen, mostly amongst flocks of Rosy Starlings. A Rufous-tailed Shrike was photographed perched on acacia trees.

Day 2: Tal-Chhapar WLS to Jaisalmer via Bikaner

Day 2 was spent mostly on road, stopping at places that showed promise for birding. 10 km from TCWLS at Padihara, the first sighting of the day was a very interesting flock of 16 Indian coursers on a green grassy patch. One young bird was also observed and gave obliging views to the camera. Little Ringed-Plovers were also seen with the flock. An Indian monitor Lizard was sighted close to Bikaner. The rest of the journey was uneventful except for some occasional Egyptian Vultures and 5 Red-headed Vultures which were recorded near Ramdevra. Two of them were sitting on a telegraph pole while the others were soaring. A White-eyed Buzzard was also seen on a tree 30m from the road. A Tawny Eagle was perched near a small leak of water near Pokhran and a Steppe eagle on an electric pole near the same area. We checked out a small water body 30Km before Pokhran which revealed Little-ringed Plovers, Black-winged stilts, River Terns and an injured Indian Courser sitting close to the water. After that the harsh climate deterred any birding activity in the afternoon, however Rufous-tailed larks were plenty and about. They were perched on the road as if waiting for the vehicles to come and flying off just in the nick of time. About 70-80 of them were seen from Bikaner to Jaisalmer. We reached Jaisalmer at 5:00 PM famished after a terribly hot day on the road.

Day 3: Jaisalmer - Ramgarh - Tanot - Shakti - Tanot - Longewala - Ramgarh - Jaisalmer 

Day 3 started at 8 am as we started from Jaisalmer towards Ramgarh. The landscape had totally changed with the only vegetation being grasses and desert plants interspersed with very scarce trees here and there where a natural stream was. The vegetation included mainly "Sewan" (Lassiurus sindicus), "Bui" (Aerva tomentora), "Kair" (Capparis decidua) and "Kheep" (Leptadenia pyrotechnica). A lot of area here has been totally destroyed by limestone mining which is supposed to very high-grade smelting quality. There were no birds wherever mining was going on. Traffic has also increased by trucks taking limestone. At some places digging has been done to about 30' - 60'. The excavated earth of the large area has been kept around in mounds and disturbs the landscape even more. Plenty of Rufous-tailed larks and Short-toed larks were observed along with some Black-Crowned Sparrow larks and a single Desert Lark walking right in the middle of the road. A Short-toed Snake Eagle was seen soaring near Baramsar. 5 Egyptian Vultures were observed at Mokal. Rosy Starlings were seen in plenty with at least 15-20 in every 'capparis' bush. They were the most common birds seen throughout. Variable and Isabelline Wheatears were seen on both sides of the road. A flock of 15 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse was seen drinking water from a small artificial water hole. The Indira Gandhi canal comes till Ramgarh to supply for the LPG electric power plant situated there. It was full with water and surprisingly a common Kingfisher was sighted close to the water. Red-rumped Swallows, Plain martins, Little Grebe, green bee-eaters were seen near the canal. The canal is certainly bringing birds that earlier did not belong to this area. In fact trees have sprung up on both sides of the canal and have become very dense. A similar small and dense acacia scrub just after Ramgarh looked very interesting. We left the gypsy and explored the area on foot. Some years back some 20 Eurasian Nightjars were observed roosting in the same plantation. A flycatcher immediately caught our attention fluttering in the bushes, with streaked breast markings and streaking on the head, the flycatcher was identified as a spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata). A good photograph however could not be taken then. As the day progressed the birds were few, except at small water bodies which also served as good photographing spots. 2 Yellow Wagtails, Greater Short-toed Larks, Black-crowned Sparrow larks, House Sparrows were all seen at a similar water body. Common Ravens were fewer and only 2 individuals were observed. European Rollers were now seen regularly in loose groups of 2-4. Tanot, famous for its battle in the war in 1965 was the last civilian post. After Tanot the area was totally under control of the BSF. Tanot to Shakti Border out post (BOP) and back was interesting with the sighting of a Chinkara (Gazella gazella) and a lone Desert fox (Vulpes vulpes pusilla), also known as the White-footed Fox, with its distinguishing white tail tip. Birds of interest were Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, and a European Roller perched on one of the watch tower of the Shakti BOP. We were pleased to meet DIG Rajeev Dasot of the BSF, who is a keen birder himself. He is instrumental in making "Pakshi Vihaars" or Bird Homes in each BOP, which provide shelter, shade and food to the birds in the area. The Jawans themselves have built small huts for the birds with "Kheep". 

Along with nesting House Sparrows, which were present in good numbers, a Variable Wheatear, and a Rufous-tailed Shrike was also seen enjoying the shade. However, very surprisingly, despite the human activity no house crow was seen. The conditions became extreme in the afternoon with 42 degrees centigrade and extremely strong and hot westerly winds. Any shade had become premium and hence all were occupied. Feeling the heat ourselves on way to Longewala, we took refuge under an old and magnificent Khejri tree where a common Hoopoe shared the shade with us. It was probably one of the migratory ones. A village pond in the same spot attracted Desert Larks, Rufous-tailed Larks, Singing Bushlark, Yellow Wagtails, Common Raven and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.

© Gaurav Bhatnagar
Common Raven

Shortly afterwards an Egyptian Vulture was photographed perched on an electric pole. On close observation, the Vulture had a yellow bill which was distinctly black at the tip and the yellow head showed more wrinkles than usual. It was identified as the sub-species Neophron percnopterus percnopterus (Linnaeus). (Ref: "Raptors of the World" by James Ferguson-Lees and David Christie). Compared to the resident Indian species, Its distribution is more widespread which extends from Europe and Africa and comes as east as NW India. The resident Indian species being N.p ginginianus, which was photographed 10 minutes later on the same road. Other than that no significant sightings were done. The landscape was terrific with fantastic dunes and their rippling patterns all around. There were no trees to be seen for long distances. It was about 4:30 PM, some 10Km after Longewala post, that bird activity started for us again with a Short-toed Snake Eagle, seen perched on a small hillock. Subsequently 4 more individuals were seen on the same road in a span of about 20 minutes. A pair of Laggar falcons were seen perched on an electric pole and gave excellent views posing with a dead Desert Gerbille (meriones hurrianae) in its talons. A lot of Dung Beetles were also seen carrying dung balls to their nest. A water channel on way to Ramgarh had a Eurasian Marsh Harrier and several Green Bee-eaters. At a lot of places these small sub-canal branches of the Indira Gandhi Canal have failed since they get filled up with sand. We approached a small village on the dunes and a Common Raven was seen perched on an electric pole. It gave very good close-ups to the camera. 10 Km before Ramgarh, almost at sunset, in a cultivated area, 1 Long-billed Vulture and 3 White-rumped vultures were found.

Day 4:  Fossil park and DNP (Jaisalmer - Khuri - Sudasri - Sam - Jaisalmer)

Day 4 started with the visit to the fossil park 17 Km from Jaisalmer on Barmer road. The highlights were a pair of Bonelli's Eagle, small groups of Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse, Indian Silverbills, Desert Larks, and Rufous-tailed Larks. Apart from this a Desert Hare (Lepus nigricollis dayanus), and a Spiny-Tailed lizard (Uromastix hardwickii) was also seen. Permission to enter the Desert National park is to be taken from the forest department in Jaisalmer. We were informed there that the staff had rescued an injured bird from a nearby road. Looking at the bird and after going through the books the bird was recognised as a juvenile Little Bittern much to the dismay of the forest staff who were sure it was a baby bustard. We started off for DNP at 2:00 taking the road to Khuri with excellent desert vegetation on both sides mainly 'Aak' (Calotropis procera), Calotropis gigantea along with a lot of Cacti. A dead Long-eared Hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus) on the road and shortly afterwards a Monitor lizard was also seen. We stopped to explore a small seasonal pond of water some 10 Km before Khuri. 

Some years back a Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin was seen here. To our great surprise the bird was there fidgeting around the acacia trees near the road. With a white supercillium and a black eye-stripe it was fanning its Rufous tail quite like the fantail. The rufous tail had white trailings and black sub-trailings. The beautiful bird was documented photographically. 

© Gaurav Bhatnagar
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Other birds on the same track were a young Laggar Falcon and a pair of Egyptian Vultures. A Desert Wheatear was also seen near to the road. We turned right from Khuri towards Sudasri and after five minutes or so; two Chinkaras were seen sitting in the shade of a bush. Soon afterwards, an Indian Fox (Vulpes bengalensis) was seen to the right, diagnostic with its black tail tip. A Steppe Eagle was seen perched on a small dune which eventually flew away as we approached. After another 10 minutes two female Great Indian Bustards were seen on a small water leak near the road. A Eurasian Collared Dove and a juvenile Egyptian Vulture were also present at the same place. Shortly afterwards a male bustard was also sighted.  

The sun was getting low and we wanted to get to Sudasri before nightfall; so we headed on. Sudasri is a small hutment of the forest department where we reached at dusk when all birding activity had stalled. However some of the reptiles were out in the open. A small (about 3 feet) dirty yellow, slender and striped snake with a very thin and long tail was seen at the entrance. It was moving very fast on the ground. The snake was identified later as a Pakistan Ribbon Snake (psammophis leithii). After a refreshing cup of tea, we headed back to Jaisalmer via Sam. It was after nightfall and nothing much could actually be seen except a fantastic population of Desert Gerbilles along with other rodents which were seen on the road in the headlights.

Day 5: Jaisalmer to Tal-Chhapar WLS

Departure from Jaisalmer was early as we wanted an evening walk at Tal-Chhapar. The journey back was quite straight except for a few stoppages. Four dead Desert foxes were seen on the road back which was very disturbing and felt like a mass suicide by the beautiful animal. We stopped for a short while at a small water body near the road and saw Whiskered Terns, River Terns, Little grebe and a single Common snipe. 4 Black Ibis were seen 5 Km before Ratangarh in a small puddle of water besides the highway. We touched base at Tal-Chhapar around 4 in the evening and had a pleasant evening in the sanctuary. Sightings were mostly the same except that there were fewer White-eyed Buzzards than seen three days back. Instead there were plenty of Montagu's Harriers who were congregating in a group on the grassland, probably roosting together on the ground. A common Stonechat was seen on an acacia tree in the grass. The dinner at the FRH was followed by interesting conversations underneath a spectacular star studded milky way with Scorpius shining in the south. 3 playful Spotted Owlets feasting on the moths gave us company.

Day 6: Tal-Chhapar WLS to Jaipur

In the morning the visit was very short and sweet but extremely productive with the second sighting of the Spotted Flycatcher of the trip. This time however we managed to photograph the bird well. The flycatcher was feeding on ground insects by frequently flying to the ground, grabbing its prey with quick fluttering and then flying back to the trees. It would never perch higher than 6 feet above the ground. We watched the bird for 20 minutes or so. A good group of Indian coursers was also seen this time. In a Small water body Kentish Plovers, Common Greenshank and a Blyth's Reed Warbler were seen. Apart from this 2 Wooly-necked Storks and a single Pallid Harrier were also recorded in the grassland.

We returned to Jaipur after this excellent trip with 110 species which included some rare sightings. A complete list of species is given below for reference.

1. Little Grebe 2. Little Cormorant 3. Little Egret 4. Cattle Egret 5. Pond Heron 6. Little Bittern 7. Wooly-Necked Stork 8. Black Ibis 9. Black Kite 10. Black shouldered Kite 11. White-eyed Buzzard 12. Bonelli's Eagle 13. Tawny Eagle 14. Steppe Eagle 15. Red Headed Vulture 16. Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus percnopterus) 17. Egyptian Vulture (N.p ginginianus) 18. Long-billed Vulture 19. White Rumped Vulture 20. Pallid Harrier 21. Montagu's Harrier 22. Eurasian Marsh Harrier 23. Short-Toed Snake Eagle 24. Laggar Falcon 25. Common Kestrel 26. Grey Francolin 27. Indian Peafowl 28. Demoiselle Crane 29. Great Indian Bustard 30. Indian Courser 31. Eurasian Thick-knee 32. Little-ringed Plover 33. Kentish Plover 34. Red-wattled Lapwing 35. Common Snipe 36. Common Sandpiper 37. Common Greenshank 38. River Tern 39. Whiskered Tern 40. Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse 41. Red-collared Dove 42. Eurasian-collared Dove 43. Laughing Dove 44. Rock Pigeon 45. Rose-Ringed Parakeet 46. Asian Koel 47. Greater Coucal 48. Spotted Owlet 49. House Swift 50. Alpine Swift 51. European Roller 52. Indian Roller 53. Common Kingfisher 54. White-Breasted kingfisher 55. Green Bee-eater 56. Blue-cheeked Bee-eater 57. Common Hoopoe 58. Coppersmith Barbet 59. Black-rumped Flameback 60. Yellow-crowned Woodpecker 61. Eurasian Wryneck 62. Golden Oriole 63. Singing Bushlark 64. Rufous-tailed Lark 65. Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark 66. Black-crowned Sparrow Lark 67. Desert Lark 68. Crested Lark 69. Greater Short-toed lark 70. Plain Martin 71. Dusky-crag martin 72. Red-rumped Swallow 73. Black Drongo 74. Southern-grey Shrike 75. Bay-backed Shrike 76. Rufous-tailed Shrike 77. Common Woodshrike 78. Brahminy Starling 79. Asian Pied Starling 80. Rosy Starling 81. Common Myna 82. Bank Myna 83. Rufous Treepie 84. House Crow 85. Common Raven (Corax corax subcorax) 86. White-eared Bulbul 87. Red-vented Bulbul 88. Common Babbler 89. Jungle Babbler 90. Large grey Babbler 91. Spotted Flycatcher 92. Ashy Prinia 93. Blyth's Reed Warbler 94. Lesser Whitethroat 95. Common tailorbird 96. Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin 97. Indian Robin 98. Oriental-Magpie Robin 99. Brown Rock-chat 100. Isabelline Wheatear 101. Desert Wheatear 102. Variable Wheatear 103. Tawny Pipit 104. Long-billed Pipit 105. Yellow Wagtail 106. Purple Sunbird 107. Indian Silverbill 108. House Sparrow 109. Chestnut-Shouldered Petronia 110. Baya Weaver

Gaurav Bhatnagar / Harkirat Singh Sangha

© Gaurav Bhatnagar, 2004


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