Larks of Tent City
I still have things to say about India. Can you believe it? This dragging-your-feet-on-doing-anything stuff is paying off. I still have, at minimum, two posts in addition to this one.
Our lodging for the Global Bird-watching Conference was Tent City, an itinerant lodge in the middle of a desert near the town (and I use “town” very loosely) of Dhordo. Here are some things I learned about this site while staying there. First, the entire complex is set up specifically to serve as a site for a several week long festival called Rann Utsav, about which I know absolutely nothing. My best guess is that it is some sort of west Indian Bonnaroo with dancing and music and sleeping in tents without bathing, but I could be way off there because that sort of sounds like normal India to me now.
Anyhow, the remarkable thing about this site is that once Rann Utsav is over the whole place, 400 sleeping tents and a dozen big tents and countless other small buildings, is packed up and sent into storage till the next year. All of it. That completely blew my mind until the very last day of the conference when I watched these things come down with a speed that I did not expect from anyone in this country given my previous experiences. It was remarkable, but I get ahead of myself. Here’s my accommodations while I was in Kutch.
We were all there for a conference, but get any number of birders together and they’re going to find opportunities to look at some birds. So on a couple of the mornings before the sessions were to start I headed out with a few other, mostly english-speaking, birders (3 Brits and a couple South Africans usually), to look at stuff. And most of the stuff we saw were larks. And most of the larks we saw were Greater Short-toed Larks which apparently winter in this part of India in huge numbers, most of which, it seemed, were on the outskirts of the Tent City.
Like most larks they were tough suckers to get a photo of because if you spook one you spook the 250 closest to that one, but I did manage to get close to a few.
I’m told that there was the possibility of Bimarcated Larks as well, which the Brit birders awesomely called “Bimarks” and which took me at least 45 minutes to realize what they were referring to (note to self: lay off nick-names of birds when around new birders), and I hadn’t realized were possibilities. This is one of the things you have to realize when you’re birding Central Asia, that the distribution of birds is not as hard and fast as it is in North America. We know are birds well and we know generally where they are supposed to be. Not many people bird Central Asia, particularly once you get into the -stans, so the field guides that you’ve come to accept as the biblical truth of status and distribution are really just suggestions at best. Long story short, I probably should have studied up on my Bimarks so I could have been more useful. Instead I stood there cursing the damn larks for spooking again. But you live, you learn.
As cool as the Short-toes were, and they are pretty sharp little birds, the coolest lark by an enormous margin were the Crested Larks, which I was totally stoked to see a ton of after missing them at Chhari Lake the day before. Crests are a fine feature for birds, and more species should try to get some, but they really make this bird because without it they would be sort of a streaky, dare I say boring, species. But then there’s that crest and you’re like, now this is a bird that knows where it’s at. Now I will continue to look at you.
I was fortunate to get several nice shots of a Crested Lark as it strutted around in this field amongst the dead grass and cow patties (dear god I hope they were cow patties). Enjoy.
See? Crests = super great. Without a crest it’s just a big-billed pipit which, I feel as a birder on a continent with significant pipit deficiency, I just can’t appreciate the way I’m supposed to.
More on birds around Tent City to come. Eventually.