India: Gujarat’s open spaces
It takes approximately 12 hours to travel from one end of Gujarat state to the other. This is the sort of thing you don’t realize until you’re 10 hours into a ride on this bus with questionable shocks on questionable roads. We left Ahmedebad later than we intended, which means that by the time we rolled into the Royal Safari Camp in Bajana for breakfast, it was time for lunch. The bus barely squeaked through the vaulted entrance, and we unloaded, none of use exactly sure what we were doing here and for how long we’d be doing it.
Our group was a strange mix of birders, travel writers, and photographers, each of whom had quickly found each other and acted accordingly. For the birders, into whose group I had fully attached myself, the meal was taken quickly in lieu of a quick walk around the grounds. Gujarat, particularly this part of the state, is mile after mile of open scrubland. The soil is sandy and the plants generally don’t rise above waist level even where they occur. On top of that, it was starting to get hot, but even those few birds that were out were new to nearly everyone there so we were willing to bear it. And the singing Purple Sunbirds were as strong an endorsement as any.
Easrly contender for best bird was a male Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark perched nonchalantly atop a stone fencepost. This was the only individual of this striking species we had over the entire trip, so not a bad stop.
Other good birds in the area included Plain Prinia, Pied Kingfisher, two kinds of wheatear (Variable and Desert), and a surprise Short-toed Eagle, which illustrated the much less cut-and-dried definitions of “hawk” and “eagle” in the Old World. Short-toed Eagle looks more like a Buteo than anything we call an eagle.
The few power lines in the area hosted a few birds too. It was here that I got my only good look at Laughing Dove (the sunnier version of our North American Mourning Dove, I guess), and a Red-tailed Lark, one of about a million species of larks in the area. Thankfully, this one is big and dark.
This part of the state is home to one of India’s largest wildlife preserves, of which the Bajana Safari Camp is considered the gateway. Indian Wild Ass is an endangered species that’s found in the scrublands of central Asia and none of us really expected to come across one. But when brunch was over and we headed again towards the west, I spotted one walking along near the road. Pardon the poor photo, it was taken out the window of a bumping bus. Good enough for a record shot though, and the coolest mammal we’d see the whole time.
So it was a great stop, and only 8 more hours of bus travel to go before we reached our destination.