15 Jan 2014

15 Jan 14 - A New Nightjar To Celebrate The 50th Post

Well that didn't take very long to get to the 50th post (with the first only being on the 24th October last year). Hope you've enjoyed the blog so far as much as I have.
As we started out for the afternoon we got caught up in a local traffic jam trying to get onto the road
A local lady showing how easy it was to balance things on her head
After some lunch we were back out for the afternoon, but taking some warmer clothing as we were staying out late to look for Nightjars & nocturnal mammals. We visited a larger, but mainly dried up lake this afternoon. It's always worth keeping an eye on the wires on the way to & from the lakes. This afternoon a few stops were made for a very approachable Black-winged Kite, a Smyrna Kingfisher, a Bay-backed Shrike & more bizarrely, a Green Sandpiper. The advantage of having an open topped jeep was it allowing rapid photography whichever side the bird is on.
Woolly-necked Stork: Sitting tamely in a dry stream bed as the road crossed over it
Black-winged Kite
Green Sandpiper
Smyrna Kingfisher: This is the nominate smyrnensis subspecies which extends to the Western Palearctic & Arabian Peninsula
Bay-backed Shrike: The broad face patch extending onto the forehead & bright mantle are the main separating features of this cracking Shrike
Finally, we reached the Little Rann of Kutch reserve & handed over our permit. Permits are needed to enter the reserve & need to be obtained on a visit by visit basis. Once in the reserve we had a much larger open dry area to explore & very quickly we encountered our first Wild Ass. This excellent looking mammal is one of the highlights of the Little Rann of Kutch reserve & the reserve is its stronghold in India. The first one we saw was standing near to some bushes & ended up walking closer to us to get to the clear ground on the far side of the jeep. Clearly, it was uneasy being hemmed in between the bushes & our jeep. We ended up seeing about 10 before the end of the day.
Wild Ass: This one approached the jeep to get to the clear ground behind us & almost got a bit too close for photography as this uncropped photo demonstrated
Wild Ass: Another individual just chilling
Will Ass: Interesting to see a similar dark marking on the foreleg so perhaps closely related to the first Wild Ass
A lot of this area must seasonally flood given the amount of bare mud
While we saw some birds in the more open areas, the number of species were much lower than in the morning as there was no water & we mainly kept away from the bushes.
Montagu's Harrier: Male. The Harriers roost in the open areas of the Little Rann
Indian Grey Francolin
Pied Bushchat: Male
As it got later into the afternoon, we started to encounter parties of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flying in & finally settling on the ground. I never tire of seeing Sandgrouse which are one of my favourite families. I've seen all, but three of them (only Tibetan & a couple of Southern African species still to see).
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse: Great to see parties flying around
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse: In flight, the black primaries with white trailing edge on the upperwing & the dark underwings rule out the other Sandgrouse in range
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse: Here are the dark underwings. The males have the clear pale grey-buff breasts & buffy throats & the females have the spotty breasts
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse: Male
At last light, we arrived at a small local hut where the locals live on the Little Rann & make a living from salt production. Seems a very hard, poor & basic existence & it must be even tougher as the heat increases into the Summer. The others enjoyed some masala tea (where the tea, milk & sugar are all boiled together for ages) which I personally can't stand while we waited for the last bit of light to go.
Birding was from the open jeep: I preferred the back seat as it was easier to jump up & photograph over the other's heads or get in & out quickly
Near to sunset
Close up
The salt production lakes: They pump the saline water in & then allow the heat to evaporate the water to leave the salt
A local salt production hut: There were about 8 in the family who were living here
Finally, the moon was up & it was time for some spotlighting
After driving & spotlighting for a while, the driver found some eyeshine. It was a Sykes's Nightjar which is a Gujarat speciality. These small, pale Nightjars winter in Gujarat, before returning to Pakistan to breed. It was the only regularly occurring Nightjar on the Indian list that I hadn't seen before (somewhere in the world). I quickly jumped off the back of the jeep & walked towards it (keeping out of the headlights & spotlight so it wouldn't see me) to get some extra photos.
Sykes's Nightjar: One of my main reasons for visiting Gujarat
 Sykes's Nightjar: They are fairly common & we saw several more roosting during the day on the 17th, but they flew everytime they saw the camera raised
Indian Stone-curlew: This was the only other species we saw in a couple of hours of spotlighting