Monday, August 3, 2009

Unforgettable Trip to Tal Chhappar



Tal Chhapar, the Birder's Dream Destination.

Some things happen only once in a lifetime. And these are event you cherish long after they occur. My birding trip to Tal Chhapar is just one of this type, ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’.

When three of us fretired folks from Delhi decided to make a weekend(31st July – 2nd Aug, 2009) trip to Tal Chhapar to pursue the lead given by Mr. SS Punia, Range Officer, Rajasthan Forest Department, Tal Chhapar we (Anand Arya, Wingco Sethi and yours truly) did not have the faintest idea that we are just about to create history and to be part of it!

We left Delhi around 1.30 pm Friday afternoon in Anand Arya’s Tata Safar 2.2 VTT Dicor 4X4 from Siri Fort and headed for Tal Chhapar via Gurgaon, Dharuhera, Behror, Kotputli, Neem-ka-Thana, Sikar, Lakshmangarh, and reached Salasar, 20 KM short of Tal Chhapar by 9.30 pm. The stay at Balaji Dham Vikas Sadan was very comfortable with clean rooms, cheap rates, wholesome veg thali meals at unbelievably affordable rates and the general atmosphere of the whole complex. Salasar is a very important pilgrimage town in Rajasthan. The Hanuman Mandir in the town attracts hordes of pilgrims. The Dharamshalas have been built by generous Marwari businessmen and the Samiti which looks after the development of the mandir and township.

Like every birder habitually does, woke up early and left for the sanctuary hoping to see a dozen or so buzzards in one day, setting a personal record of sorts. To say we were totally unprepared for what was in store for us would be an understatement. From the approach road, which skirts the periphery, we were watching some rosy starlings when Wingo pointed to some large bird sitting on the ground and making occasional sorties with stretched necks held low and straight forward. A close inspection through the binoculars revealed the bird to be pale necked buzzard, which for want of any trace of white in the eyes we thought was long legged buzzard. Then we noticed another on its left, then another left of even that one, and another to the right, and another in the front, and another behind and another and another... By now we were dumbfounded. ‘This is not true!’, said Wingco. Anand was squealing with thrill. I was too overwhelmed to do or say anything. The whole field ahead of us was literally peppered with scores and cores of buzzards.

We rushed to the office of the Ranger, where Shri Punia gracefully offered tea and joined us in a round of the sanctuary. Everywhere and anywhere you looked, the whole flat grassland was full of black bucks. From a capacity of 800, the population has now grown to well over 2000, forcing the Forest Department to acquire another 200 hectares to accommodate the explosion in population. Chinkaras and Blue bulls were also in plenty. But today was buzzard day and we had no time for the larger species. Any direction we looked, there were within 50 yards at least a dozen white eyed buzzards, most in the pale headed juvenile plumage. Like the Charge of the Light Brigade we progressed,

Cannon to the right of them,

Cannon to the left of them,

Cannon in front of them

…boldly they rode and well..

As per Arya, it was Nikon to the left of them, Nikon to the right of them and Canon in front.

We saw a Steppe Eagle majestically perched on a pole and approached for a close shot. That is when our attention was drawn to a darker coloured Buzzard which Anand and Punia thought was a Laggar falcon. While looking at that, we noticed behind it, in the fresh tall grass something with a grey thin long neck and a longish head and beak with a black clump of feathers on the crown. Even though the stance and the peculiar shape left no doubt about its identity, especially after one noticed the peculiar brownish body and its shape, at first we could never believe what we see in front of us is really an INDIAN BUZZARD! I shouted “#@!%$#, An Indian Bustard! Holy Jesus! is this really an Indian Bustard”. Anand confirmed and Wingoc strongly agreed. Poor Punia was struck speechless. He kept mumbling incoherently. After all, he has been in charge of the sanctuary for over three years and he knew every inch of the area. His personal attention and care of the zoo has resulted in visible improvement. And now there three old fogies land up from Delhi and show me a bird that every director of any sanctuary would be proud to claim! Long lenses and cameras came out and clicked away furiously to get a decent record shot. Out then came the books. Yes! This is indeed an Indian Bustard, female adult in very good form. After seeing this, we did not even mind the braking of the rear glass of Anand’s Safari, while trying to photograph a pair of Steppes on a tree, or the dozens of Laggar Falcons and other birds.


The afternoon session was rather tame with only about 600 or more buzzards, a pair of what we thought were peregrine falcons and a good sighting of Indian foxes.(Vulpes bengalensis)


The morning of 2nd August, we had only one mission, to see if there are more or only the female we spotted. A binocular scan of the grassland revealed a possible Bustard standing cleverly among Wooly necked Storks, but close examination showed it to be another specimen, possibly a male Indian Bustard. W called it a day happily after polishing of a dozen or so freshly fried Kachoris, which Anand has a penchant for locating from miles away. It is another matter that Wingco spotted and photographed a magnificent specimen of Red-necked Falcon at fairly close quarters sitting on a fence wire (the Falcon not Wingco). Arya’s attempt to retrieve his bazooka from the boot, were in vain as the falcon promptly flew away the moment Dr. Arya took his big lens out.

A very rewarding, exhilarating and historic birding trip indeed. A few observations might not be out of order here.

The tender loving care (TLC) with which Mr. Punia, the Range Officer in charge of Tal Chhapar Sanctuary tends to his park has rejuvenated the National Park. The appearance of the new inhabitants is a tribute to his selfless and sincere efforts.

Those who propose to visit the sanctuary may please note that there is severe restrictions on vehicular movement within the park. Please contact Mr. Punia in advance and find out the rules.

The best route from Delhi is Gurgaon-Kotputli-Neem ka thana-Sikar-Lakshmangarh-Salasar-Chhapar.

The long awaited rest house is coming up in the sanctuary and should be ready by next season if not late this season itself. The building is grand and rooms and facilities should be good.

Till then, the best bet is the dharamshala in Salasar. There are two very good ones with clean rooms and air conditioning. At least one more is coming up.

Eat and collect all the food and water you need en route well before Kotputli as there is nothing between Kotputli and Sikar. At sikar as you enter the town, at right on the first roundabout before the flyover, there is a decent multi-cuisine restaurant, strangely named “ICE”. Good, clean cheap food!

The canteen at the dharamshala sells genuine packaged water and cold drinks. Carry only what you need on the road journey. It is advisible to stick to bottled water. The tea at the Guest House (Dharamshala is good, but nothing to beat the sweet thick masala cha of Chhapar bus stand. By the way, the Dharamshala does not provide towles, except for a small face towel. Remember to carry your own towel and chappals.

The list of important birds sighted are given below:

Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps)pair

White eyed Buzzard (Between 600 and 1000)

Saker Falcon single specimen

Laggar Falcon, over a dozen

Kestrel a pair

Steppe Eagle two

Egyptian Vultures two

Twany Eagle two

Oriental Honey Buzzard at least one, two sightings

Red Necked Falcon one

Rosy Starling over 5000

Wheatear, Isabelline and Variable

Shrikes, Long-tailed and Southern Grey

Wooly-necked Storks over 30

Black Ibis over 50,

Spoonbill, just one, though Punia says there are a dozen of them

Larks, Crested, Rufus-tailed and Ashy-crowned Sparrow

Bee eaters, green, blue cheeked and one possible blue tailed

Black bucks over 2000

Chinkara 100 – 200

Bluebulls 50 -60


These Buzzards would feed on crickets, grasshoppers and locusts the whole of August, but would soon move out to the Southwest. Their place would be taken over in September by Harriers.

Go out and enjoy, the unspoilt, goldmine!

2 comments:

Gaurav Bhatnagar said...

Koshy Sahab.
I had already read your wonderful report through Delhibird and Suresh Sharma. Thanks for visiting the sanctuary at this crucial juncture and giving this wonderful record from this amazing place called Tal Chhapar. Heartiest Congratulations on the sitings.
BTW, I had checked on the Falcon pictures and they are juvenile Laggarand not Saker.

BIRDS-CHANDIGARH said...

You are a lyrical enthusiast of nature.

Suresh C Sharma