Birding in Xinjiang Day 2 新疆石河子-乌尔禾-福海

This was a long drive from Shihezi (石河子) to Fuhai (福海)! After our breakfast, our driver took us to some deserted pond in search for litte bittern! The pond was just next to some gas station…but reeds were ripped off for some reason, and needless to say, we couldnt see the bird! Moving on, we made stops on the highway…in particular, we saw a few European Bee-eaters (黄喉蜂虎)! Its about time they’ve arrived in this part of Xinjiang, and we’re reassured we’ll see loads more!

On both sides of the highway were semi-desert, and we took a detour! We made a short stop at one area hoping to scan for some raptors, but only managed to see a lizard at the beginning! But as we moved along the sandy, bumpy trail, we saw Isabelline Wheatears, Crested Larks, Desert Wheaters, and highlight was a pair of Saxaul Sparrows (黑顶麻雀)! 😛

saxaul sparrows

saxaul sparrows

The toll station was just a short distance away, but since we’re off the highway, we twirled round the toll fee station and that saved us 10 yuan..! LOL!

After a quick lunch, we headed for a forest in Urho, Karamay (乌尔禾)! We were told this forest is called the “Magic Forest”. As we got off the car, immediately we saw a White-winged woodpecker pecking on a tree next to our car! What a delight to see this beautiful bird at such close distance… 🙂

white-winged woodpecker

white-winged woodpecker

Moving deeper into the forest trail, Azure tits (灰蓝山雀), Turkestan tits (西域山雀), Hume’s warbler (淡眉柳莺) were seen prancing around in mid-noon! We also heard intricate songs from Nightingales but spotting them was a challenge! As we followed the song, we encountered Lesser Whitethroat (白喉林莺), and Sykes’s Warbler (赛氏篱莺) who loved the shrubs but for us to move in closer was more than difficult as the trail was muddy..! Nightingale (新疆歌鸲) finally made a brief show for us, but soon popped back into the bushes!

Azure Tit and Olivaceous Warbler

Azure Tit and Syke’s Warbler

 

Lesser Whitethroat and Turkestan Tit

Yellow Wagtail  and Turkestan Tit

When we headed back to the car, our driver babbled about seeing a pair of raptors and had messaged us…but we only received the message after we caught up with him! Talk about China mobile network…. :-/

Before we head to Fuhai county for the night, our last birding spot was a ranch (国营二牧场)! Here, the Bluethroat (蓝喉歌鸲) was very tame and sang in the open! We tried to search for Short-eared owl here but didnt see any..! Other birds included Demoiselle cranes, 蓑羽鹤 (probably over 200) and flying Pallas Sandgrouse, Great Cormorants, Grey-headed Buntings and a Black-Throated Thrush (黑颈鸫)!

蓝喉歌鸲 bluethroat

蓝喉歌鸲 bluethroat

It was 6pm when we began our journey to our hotel in Fuhai. As we drove along the highway, an Upland Buzzard (大鵟) was spotted! How cool is that!

upland buzzard in Xinjiang

upland buzzard in Xinjiang

We finally checked in to a not so dodgy hotel at 9pm! 😛 The highlight for the day was not the birds to me but a very funny event that happened over dinner, which kept me grinning till this day…I am really tempted to share my story here…but I think birding Guru will *KICK* me if I do! 😛 😛

PS. This was our quickie lunch shared~~”

20140511_134204

 

West India- Rann of Kutch, where the thrill begins!

Maybe it’s a tomfoolery act to venture into the desert just like that, but being adventurous and all, I really wanted to venture into this little known area in West India, Rann of Kutch! 😛 In the early months of planning, I tried to contact a local tour operator to help cater to my accommodation and transportation needs…but the countless exchange of emails (language barrier) was a painful ordeal! I finally gave up and directly contacted Mr. Muzahid Malik, owner of Rann Riders and he took care of everything.
Just as I thought everything went well as planned, my flight from Kerala to Mumbai delayed (Grr…)! I was totally frenzied at that time! I could miss my connecting flight from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and the thought of it was enough to put me in panic mode! The frantic wait at the domestic airport was a nightmare…my eyes were practically “glued” on to that electronic flight departure board while I clutched my hands, and waited fervently for that magic moment! The torment finally ended when that “magic” electronic board announced that the plane would leave in 2 hours! Very quickly, I tried to do the maths…it seemed I would have to run to catch my connecting flight…if it waits for me!
The flight time from Kerala to Mumbai was about 2 hours. Upon arrival, I dashed to the transit hall to catch my flight…luckily, the plane waited for me… haha! 😛
After a mere 50 minute flight, I landed in Ahmedabad and was soon picked up by the driver arranged by Mr. Muzahid! The lengthy 2 hour ride to Dasada was horrendous as the driver drove with speed without using his brakes! Yikes! Anyway, as the car drove deeper into the vast empty land in sheer darkness, the clear skies let the stars shine gloriously! Those huge clusters of stars looked like fine-cut jewels, and some even like chips of ice that left me overwhelmed with awe and amazement!
It was already past midnight when we arrived at the hotel, and I was immediately greeted by some ducks, a goat and a dog. 😛 The nights were cold at the Rann of Kutch in January, but thankfully I was kept in “mint” condition as duvets were provided at Rann Riders! 😛

As the jeep sped towards the desert in the morning, I saw some birds on wires but the driver had no intention to stop! I had no choice but to call out to him several times to stop so I could take some shots of the birds! Apparently, the driver assumed that those birds on wires are very common and hence not worth for a stop! XD
By mid morning we arrived in the desert. This place is almost a monochromatic visual; no trees, just shrubs, barren landscape and plenty of Wild Ass!
But before I could get any decent shots of Wild Ass, my driver alerted me.

” Look, Indian wolf! It’s rare!” He exclaimed.
” Where, where?” I asked.
” It’s there over the white border…!” He replied.
” You mean that dog?” I asked naively…it looked like one to me, it still does! 😛

Indian wolf

Indian wolf

The Indian Wolf was a nice surprise, but we were actually looking for the Houbara Bustard at that time! We finally found 2, but these bustards were fast runners, we had to chase after them to get some decent shots!

houbara bustard (macqueenii)

houbara bustard (macqueenii)

As we sauntered across the land of sand, a long-legged buzzard caught our attention-it had captured a short-eared owl (sniff)! Despite we were so close, the buzzard refused to leave as he firmly guarded his catch of the day!

long legged buzzard captured short eared owl

long legged buzzard captured short eared owl

By the time we began our journey back to the hotel, it was nearly mid noon and I was a little parched by then….what a morning! 😛
Below were some of the birds and Wild Asses seen on that day!

sand lark and demoiselle cranes

sand lark and demoiselle cranes

Hoopoe, black winged kite, variable wheatear

Hoopoe, black winged kite, variable wheatear

desert wheatear and short toed lark

desert wheatear and short toed lark

Indian roller, crested lark

Indian roller, crested lark

rosy starling

rosy starling

Wild Ass

Wild Ass

 

rann of kutch

rann of kutch