24 Jan 2014

24 Jan 14 - Antelopes & A Long Wished For Pigeon

After a long & very dull day of driving from Mount Abu on the 23rd, we arrived after dark at Ratangarh, the nearest small town to the Tal Chappar sanctuary: our birding base for the next 2 days. A few Bank Mynas around a hotel food stop was about the only noteworthy bird sighting during the day.
Bank Myna: A trip tick
The hotel didn't do breakfast & there was nothing open the following morning close to the hotel that looked like it would provide food. While we had found an excellent restaurant in the middle of the town it was time consuming to get to & parking would be difficult. But we didn't think it would be open for breakfast anyway. So the plan was to try to get some food closer to the Tal Chappar sanctuary. There was nothing there, so back to the bus pull in in the nearest small village & the small cafes there. The local street sellers were cooking fresh vegie pakoras & we could get tea from the small cafes. The pakoras were one of the best breakfasts I had in India & happily returned there the following morning for another breakfast. It was cold & misty first thing so we weren't missing much birding anyway.
The bus pull in in the local village
The pakora stall: All looks very basic, but the heat of the fresh cooking should hopefully kill any germs (well we survived the food without problems for 2 days)
Happiness is: A plate of hot pakoras
The chi stall: I realised I had been in India too long, when this cow joined us for chi & I barely bothered to do anything more than look at it
Having had breakfast it was back to the Tal Chappar sanctuary. We tried to sort out accommodation here & were shown the rooms (which looked fairly good, but at £25/room it was more expensive than the £8/room in Ratangarh). There were a number of vacancies. We said we would sort it out later in the day as we were keen to get birding by this time. However, when we actually tried to check it, we waited for at least 20 minutes & the guy still hadn't come, despite saying he was on his way. In the end we decided that it would be quicker to drive back to the previous nights hotel in Ratangarh (30 minutes) than wait for something to happen. At least we knew there was a good restaurant there & were wondering how long it would take to get food at the Tal Chappar sanctuary. The joys of government run places. 

Tal Chappar is a grassland area, probably only about 4 by 2 miles in size. Its dry arid grassland with a few small waterholes surrounded by Acacia trees. Apparently the average rainfall is only about 1 foot each year & that's fairly erratic year by year. The sanctuary is fenced in to keep the cattle out, but the fences aren't a problem keeping the native mammals in & it's fairly common to see them feeding outside the sanctuary. You need a vehicle to get around the park & Shiva's car was fine, albeit we had to get out occasionally where the track went over some of the bumpier parts of the dirt tracks. There is no problem walking around once in the sanctuary, however, I'm not sure they would let you in on foot. But that would be a lot tougher as you can get a lot closer to the birds & mammals in the car.
A typical view of Tal Chapper
The roads are all dirt & there is the occasional inedible bush
Once all the paperwork had been obtained & we had paid the entrance fee, we were finally ready to start birding, but there was no great rush as it was still quite misty & cool. The sanctuary is run by Mr Pooni who knows the birds & mammals well. However, be warned he gave us directions to look for a Stoliczka's Bushchat 3 times over our stay & each time the directions changed & appeared to improve (until we tried to looked for the area with the revised directions). Each time we failed to find the correct area. Eventually by chance, we did work out the right area late on the second afternoon, which confirmed he had been trying to sent us to the same bird. Turns out his distances were about 1/3 of the actual distances. What we should have done was asked him to accompany us in the car, but that wasn't possible.
The only groups of trees were around the deep waterholes
Tal Chappar is primarily a reserve for the impressive Blackbuck & the smaller Chinkara. These two Antelopes are easy to see & can be seen without entering the reserve, but the main numbers are in the reserve.
Blackbuck: Male. Some impressive horns for rutting
Blackbuck: Male
Blackbuck: Females & a young male
Blackbuck: Female. A good view of the big white eye ring
Blackbuck: This female started to walk towards us
Blackbuck: Assume she must have been one of the handful of orphens that the reserve hand rears
Chinkara: Family party. Note, both sexes have horns
Chinkara: Females. The back one is eating the thorn bush which is pretty impressive
Chinkara: Females have smaller horns than the males
The main target species at Tal Chappar was Yellow-eyed Stock Dove. They are Winter visitors to NW & Northern India & they breed in Iran, Western Afghanistan & further North to parts of Siberia & NW China. So the best area to see them is on their wintering grounds. However, despite having a wide wintering distribution in India, there are few sites where there is a good chance of seeing them: Tal Chappar is one of the best sites. Although I wanted to see them in 91, we didn't have any sites at the time. So I was pleased to read about Tal Chappar when I preparing for this section of the trip. Mr Pooni said there were a few around & the best place to check was the trees around the watering holes. But first we needed to get our eyes in on the local Rock Doves again. I rarely get to look at proper Rock Doves as home as it means a trip to the Northern Isles of Scotland. I have a strong dislike for the feral crap that masquerades for Rock Doves on the streets of the UK & ignore these completely. But the Indian race of Rock Dove looks pretty pure across peninsula India. Interestingly, despite having the 2 strong black wing bars (like UK birds), they have a grey rump (sometimes with a very small white patch), instead of the UK bird's large white rump. In contrast, the Yellow-eyed Stock Doves have a narrow black wing bar and a large white rump (compared to a grey rump of Stock Doves).
Rock Dove: Nesting around the entrance buildings
Yellow-eyed Stock Dove: Note the pale yellow eye ring & the small single black wing bar
Yellow-eyed Stock Dove: The extensive white rump separates this from the local intermedia subspecies of Rock Dove
Collared Doves: With a Red Turtle Dove behind