Stories from the Field: The Great Rann of Kutch, Gujurat

6 months after the Kaziranga trip, I started reading about the birds of India. I was very surprised to learn that we had more than 1,200 species across the country. I ventured out a bit, driving around Bannerghatta National Park and Hesarghatta Lake. Photographing birds isn’t as easy as one would think. They are flighty and fickle. I captured several images of “bird-less” perches and returned home with “bird-less” memory cards as well.

I was 56 years old and time was not on my side. I began to list out important birding areas in the country. This way, I could focus on numbers- my goal being to reach 500 birds before my health deteriorated. I chose birding locations that were easily accessible by car. Gujarat and Uttarakhand had large bird counts and winters were ideal for birding.

I decided to travel to the Great Rann of Kutch during November 2012. I didn’t want any delay seeing and photographing birds. I needed the right gear and I purchased a Canon 1D mark14 with a 500 mm f4 lens. A friend of mine drove me to Kutch, making it an easier trip for me. We chose a Homestay run by a famous conservationist and bird guide, Sri. Jugal Tiwari. All the rooms were named for beautiful local birds, which was very inspiring. I chose the Grey Hypocolius room just because the name sounded exotic. Most special was the fact that each room had books by the bedside,
mine had two about the world-famous birder, Phoebe Snetsinger.

Phoebe had seen and documented the unbelievable count of 8,400 birds around the
world.  She held a record at that point in time, for having seen the maximum number of birds in the world. There are approximately 10,500 bird species across the globe. It was difficult to imagine that such a huge number of species of birds even existed!

My two bedside books were “Life List” and “Birding on Borrowed Time”.
I picked the latter for its fascinating title and began to turn the pages. I couldn’t put the book down and stayed put inside the room for two days. The similarities to my life were very inspiring: My health was on a lean patch, and I had allowed bad health to dictate my life when I was told that no further treatment option existed. Here was this lady who had no relevant experience with birds, who was granted 6 months to live and defying a malignant melanoma went on to document 8,400 birds across several continents.
What an epitome of grit. I could not hold back tears as I read about Phoebe’s life.
Without succumbing to death, Phoebe lived on to document more species than anyone in the world, surviving brutal hardships during her travels. How she managed  to achieve this remarkable skill, passion, knowledge and commitment was both baffling and inspiring.

The answer was obvious. Her only choice was to let go and free fall into the lap of nature. After admiring the tiny Blackburnian Warbler through a pair of binoculars, Phoebe chose to chase birds. And what a chase she gave.

During my Kutch trip, I saw 74 species of birds. Having started birding very late in life, I pursued them at a frenetic pace. To date, after repeated trips to the region, I have seen most of the birds of Western India. One well-planned trip will net me the remaining lot. Sometimes I am more fascinated by the names and sometimes by the rarity of the species. For me, birding is similar to meditation- I try to put myself into the place of the bird, not just capturing their likeness in a photograph, but their behaviour as well. For example, when watching a Crab Plover I lie down on the shore and watch the bird seek out the juiciest crab and run towards the ocean clutching it, dropping it at the water’s edge, washing and rinsing about 4 times, run back to the sand with it and bite hard enough to pop the shell and relish the prey. Birds are true fighters. Some are almost driven to extinction and at times they rise back and establish their presence. Man-made disasters often claim their lives. Serious habitat loss is a dangerous trend all over the globe. There are times when the governments or NGOs decide to convert grassland into forests or eco-parks.

Mindless “solutions” must be replaced by meaningful discussion with conservationists and well-meaning citizen. There is an ongoing fight between conservationists and the government regarding saving the grasslands of Hesarghatta, on the outskirts of Bangalore. That is an important area for grassland birds and it is best to leave the grasslands intact.
There are several stories about birds that have risen like the Phoenix and some of them learn to survive after a long battle. Covid provided silent sustenance to several species of birds and mammals.

And like Phoebe, they learn to survive and carry on.


One thought on “Stories from the Field: The Great Rann of Kutch, Gujurat

  1. Pingback: Stories from the Field: The Great Rann of Kutch, Gujurat — Organikos | Forest Voices of India

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