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!
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
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
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
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.
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!