Rann Roadies – Part 3 – Bhuj and the White Rann

Bhuj is a small city in the Kutch district of Gujarat. It has great historical importance and is famous among tourists going to Dhordo for ‘Rann Utsav’. Besides the Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal, there is not much to see in Bhuj city. So, after spending some time there, we left for Mandvi in the evening.

Mandvi Beach

The scenes around Mandvi were totally different from those around Bhuj. The air was fresh, there was much less traffic and in the distance we could see hundreds of windmills. But all this was before we reached the city. Except for the ruins of the historic walls that once surrounded Mandvi, the city was much like any other city in the country. The beach was awfully crowded and thus there was not much scope for birding there. Black-Headed Gulls and Gull-Billed Terns were plentiful there, so, I photographed them and since they were used to humans, they didn’t mind coming very close to me.

Black-Headed Gulls
Gull-Billed Tern

We left Mandvi at around sunset and went back to Bhuj. The next day we left for Dhordo.

Chhari Dhand

On our way to Dhordo, we took a little detour and went to Chhari Dhand Wetland. We left the main road and started moving towards the wetland. There was absolutely no road, no signboards, no cars, bikes there. There was no mobile signal coverage there as well and we had no idea if we were moving in the right direction. After about half an hour we saw two camel herders in the distance. Dad went to them and asked where we were and where the wetland is.

In all this excitement, I managed to photograph a few species – Common Snipes, River Terns, Isabelline Shrikes, Isabelline Wheatears, a Desert Wheatear, a Tawny Pipit and a Grey Francolin.

Grey Francolin
Tawny Pipit
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Shrike
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Anyways the camel herders guided us to where the lake was and still not sure about it, we went where those two men told us to go. After about another 15 minutes of driving, we could see a watchtower near the horizon. At least then we knew we were headed in the right direction.

We reached the wetland in another 10-15 minutes. The first thing we saw there was a Common Crane family. After sending some time with them, we went up the watchtower. It was late noon by then and unfortunately there was not much bird activity in the lake. Far from where we were we could see a few Gulls and Cormorants in the lake. But, besides these there were pretty much no birds in the lake.

Common Crane adult
Common Crane juvenile

I went down and went for a little walk around the area. I found another family of Common Cranes there. I also saw Western Yellow Wagtail, Crested Lark, Eurasian Marsh Harrier and Long-Legged Buzzards there.

Common Cranes flying over the mighty Greater Rann of Kutch
Yellow Wagtail (thunbergi)
Crested Lark

While I was photographing a Crested Lark, I noticed some movement in the shrubs. I inspected the shrubs for some time, but didn’t see anything. As I about to leave the area and go back to the car, a family of Indian Grey Mongoose emerged from the shrubs not far from me. They paused for a brief moment in the open before disappearing again in the dense and thorny shrubs. I could only manage a few record shots because they stayed out only for a few seconds and I was standing against the light. But, I was happy anyways because it was my first encounter with these gorgeous animals.

Indian Grey Mongoose

It was time to leave, and the only problem was that we didn’t know exactly where we were and where the main road was. So, my father asked a cattle herder, who was there all this time, for directions. He had a bike and said that ‘Come, I’ll take you to the highway’. He then said that ‘The tall birds you were photographing a while back; I have seen them. There are thousands of them near the highway. Do you want to go there?’. Of course we agreed.

On the way, we saw a beautiful rufous morph Long-Legged Buzzard perched close to the path we were following.

Long-Legged Buzzard

A few minutes later we saw the flock and to say the least, it was HUGE! The cattle herder was right, there were at least 500 Common Cranes there. We simply had no words when we saw it. Dad got off, far from the flock, and slowly went towards it with the herder and I steered the car far away from it.

Wanna try counting them?

Before this we stopped for every Common Crane we saw, but since this sighting, we never again stopped for them.

After spending some time with the cranes, we got on the highway and started moving towards Dhordo. The landscapes there were just marvelous. A road running in the middle of nowhere with lakes and ponds and reedbeds here and there beside the road and tons of birds in them.

I saw my first Western Reef Heron there, in a roadside pond, along with a Purple Heron and a Great Egret.

Western Reef Heron
Purple Heron
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Dhordo (Rann Utsav)

The landscape started changing as we started nearing Dhordo. The scrubland environment changed to flat desert with no vegetation. Not far from Dhordo, a Great White Pelican decided to race with us. It flew parallel to out car not very far from it. After some time, when it had had enough, it overtook us and left.

Great White Pelican

Then came a Montagu’s Harrier male who was aiming to strike my window. It was flying very low and was headed straight towards our moving car. It was looking down on something and if I hadn’t made a loud sound to bring him to his senses, he surely would have hit. Responding to my call he made a quick and abrupt turn, flew ahead of us and left. We had a pretty good laugh after that.

Montagu’s Harrier male. This shot was taken when he went a bit far. The other photos as mentioned are out of focus, against light and head on shots

He came close to the point that my camera could no longer focus on it and for reference minimum focus distance on my setup is 6 ft! Just imagine a Harrier flying this close to you! He was against light so, I couldn’t get as marvelous shots as you would expect but that experience in itself was amazing.

We reached Dhordo a few minutes later and in the evening we went to the Salt Desert, also known as the White Rann. The Rann was not dry then because of tide that recently came in. After a few meters, it was basically just water only and as a result of that there was heavy crowd on the edges.

Sunset at Dhordo

We took a few shots at sunset, missed the moonrise, and went to our tents. The next day we came back for sunrise, took some photos, and left for Ahmedabad.

Sun rising over the Rann of Kutch

Checklist

Birds

  • Black-Headed Gull
  • Gull-Billed Tern
  • Oriental Honey Buzzard
  • Common Kestrel
  • Bay-Backed Shrike
  • Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse
  • Grey Francolin
  • Desert Wheatear
  • Isabelline Wheatear
  • Variable Wheatear
  • Eurasian Marsh Harrier
  • River Tern
  • Whiskered Tern
  • Isabelline Shrike
  • Tawny Pipit
  • Common Crane
  • Black Drongo
  • Ruff
  • Little Egret
  • Yellow Wagtail (thunbergi)
  • Eurasian Marsh Harrier
  • Crested Lark
  • Long-Legged Buzzard
  • Great Egret
  • Western Reef Heron
  • Purple Heron

Animals

  • Indian Grey Mongoose

and the main highlight of the day was obviously the flock of Common Cranes!


Also checkout – Rann Roadies – Part 1 – Phillaur to Khichan
Rann Roadies – Part 2 – Jodhpur to Dholavira
Rann Roadies – Part 4 – Ahmedabad, Churu, and Back to Base


__ Thank you for reading __

~Arjun Basandrai

5 thoughts on “Rann Roadies – Part 3 – Bhuj and the White Rann

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