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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

India: The West

Gujarat and the Rann of Kutch

Sunday 24 November to Saturday 7 December 2024
with Paul Holt as leader
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White-naped Tit is one of the prizes on the tour. Photo: Kannan AS

The northwest Indian state of Gujarat is ornithologically one of the subcontinent’s richest and at the same time one of the least well-known.  Huge mixed flocks of flamingos, pelicans, waterfowl, waders as diverse as Crab Plovers and White-tailed Lapwings, gulls and terns occur alongside desert specialities such as Macqueen’s Bustard, Grey Hypocolius, and Asian Desert Warbler. Regional specialities like White-bellied Minivet and White-naped Tit will add extra spice to our birding. 

Gujarat, even by Indian standards, has a particularly ancient and tumultuous history. It has suffered numerous foreign incursions, hosted frequent battles and been ruled by innumerable cultures. The State was also an early point of contact with the west and the first British commercial outpost in India was in Gujarat. It boasts a varied environment including a 1000 mile coastline, inundated every year, first by tremendous monsoon tidal surges and later by the monsoon rains themselves, superb desert areas, and extensive grasslands. For those with a sense of adventure, Gujarat offers a true wildlife experience and one that perfectly complements our other tours to the Indian subcontinent. 

NEW: We are now offering a pre-tour option to join our India: Forest Owlet in Maharashtra short tour to search for this recently rediscovered bird. Details on this exciting extension are available at the proceeding link.

Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Ahmedabad, one of India’s more vibrant state capitals. On arrival we’ll transfer to a nearby hotel for the rest of the night. Night in Ahmedabad. 

Day 2: From Ahmedabad we’ll have a two-hour drive south towards Bhavnagar, a bustling textile and cotton trading city in southeastern Gujarat. An hour and a half north of Bhavnagar is the beautiful savanna grassland reserve at Velavadar. Better known as Blackbuck National Park, the 13 square miles covered by the small sanctuary of Velavadar provide a worthy introduction to Gujarat’s abundant wildlife. The sanctuary holds about 4,400 Blackbuck, the males particularly gorgeous in their black and tan dress and conspicuous white goggles. Velavadar is also one of the last remaining refuges of the severely threatened Indian Wolf, and one of the best places on the subcontinent to see Striped Hyena. The park also boasts the world’s largest harrier roost, where a massive 3,000 birds have been estimated; Montagu’s Harriers dominate, but impressive numbers of ghostly Pallid and Western Marsh Harriers also occur, and we’re sure to see an abundance of all three. Among the many other birds we’re likely to encounter at Velavadar are Ashy-crowned, Rufous-tailed, and Bimaculated Larks; Isabelline Shrike; and both Sykes’s and Paddyfield Warblers. Our extremely comfortable lodge is right beside the reserve entrance.

Day 3: This morning we’ll return to Velavadar for another game drive and the chance to pick up any species missed the previous afternoon. In previous years we’ve seen Indian Wolf and Striped Hyena here. We’ll then drive on, heading northwest and pausing at several bird-thronged pools and wetlands as we travel. Birds here could include our first Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans, Greater Flamingos, a wealth of waterfowl and shorebirds, and possibly even Sarus Crane. Greater Spotted Eagles are fairly common winter visitors to this part of Saurashtra (the central portion of Gujarat), and we should encounter a few. Following a morning here, we’ll drive on to the famous Gir Lion Sanctuary and National Park. This reserve covers some 540 square miles of wonderfully unspoiled rugged hill country. Night in a comfortable lodge just outside the sanctuary.

Days 4-5: We’ll have two full days at Gir, with a game safari in the morning and another in the afternoon, during which we’ll explore the rich forests of this attractive reserve. Asiatic Lions—once widespread across northern India—are less sociable than their African counterparts, and differ in their shorter manes and a prominent fold of skin on the underside. Today, Gir is the last refuge of these animals, decimated by chronic overhunting that reduced their numbers to just 12 individuals. Thanks to the farsighted Maharaja who established the sanctuary, lion numbers are now increasing, and many authorities believe that the reserve is too small for the 420 lions it reputedly supports. With a total of five game drives inside the sanctuary, we stand a good chance of encountering this magnificent predator. Large populations of Spotted Deer, Sambar, and Nilgai form the lions’ prey base, while other mammals in the park include the even more elusive Leopard. We’re sure to see an array of new birds, too, perhaps including Spotted Sandgrouse, Indian Black Ibis, Crested Hawk-eagle, Rock Bush-quail, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Tawny-bellied Babbler, and possible even White-bellied Minivet. Night just outside Gir Sanctuary.

Day 6: We’ll leave Gir after final morning game drive and head west to Jamnagar, another of Gujarat’s major cities, rarely visited by tourists but overflowing with old buildings and colorful bazaars. Time permitting, we’ll stop at the impressive Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary, less than an hour’s drive from the city. This wetland reserve is unique in that about half of water is fresh while the other half is saline; consequently it harbors a staggering variety of wildlife. Huge numbers of flamingos and cranes, often including impressive numbers of Demoiselle, winter here, as do large numbers of pelicans and shorebirds. Indian Nightjars breed and we might be able to find a few, while other species we’ll look for include Baillon’s Crake, Small Pratincole, Black-necked Stork, and Indian Reed-Warbler. Night in Jamnagar.

Day 7: A full day around Jamnagar will give us ample time to explore other areas near the city, including the Marine National Park at Narara. If we can time our visit to coincide with a high tide, we might be treated to a real feast of shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Our principal quarry will be the over-sized and rather striking Crab Plover, present in large numbers and assuring us of some great views. Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers and Terek and, with luck, Broad-billed Sandpipers should be mingling with Great Black-headed and Heuglin’s Gulls, Lesser Crested Terns, and Western Reef-Herons. Time permitting, we’ll possibly make a second visit to Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary. Night in Jamnagar.

Day 8: Leaving Jamnagar, we’ll head west, pausing to look for Demoiselle Cranes and the now-rare Laggar Falcon as we leave the Kathiawar Peninsula and drive to Bhuj, capital of Kutch and an area that is transformed into an island during the summer monsoon. Night near Moti Virani, south of Bhuj.

Days 9-11: We’ll devote our three full days south of Bhuj to the quest for the region’s specialties, chief among them the enigmatic Gray Hypocolius. A difficult species elsewhere in the world, hypocolius are particularly partial to berries of the “toothbrush tree,” and with small numbers wintering south of Bhuj, we should be able to find a number of these attractive desert birds. The globally vulnerable White-naped Tit is also here, and this not-to-difficult-to-see attractive Indian endemic will be high on our wish list. On one day we plan to travel south to another grassland reserve, where small numbers of the little-known White-browed (or Stoliczka’s) Bushchat winter. That reserve also holds White-bellied Minivet, large numbers of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, and a few rare Macqueen’s Bustards. Eastern Imperial and often impressive numbers of Steppe Eagles spend the winter in this area, and with luck we might be able to find a Sykes’s Nightjar roosting near our guest house. Nights near Moti Virani.

Day 12: After a final morning south of Bhuj we’ll retrace our route north and then east, re-crossing the mighty Gulf of Kutch as we head to the Little Rann of Kutch. Our destination will be Rann Riders, a comfortable lodge at Dasada, right on the edge of the Little Rann of Kutch.

Day 13: Spending a full day here, we’ll only have time to explore a small fraction of the vast Little Rann. At first glance an unforgiving, stark, barren, and often blindingly white area famed for its desert mirages, the Little Rann actually has much to offer the keen naturalist willing to pause and enjoy its serenity. Home to India’s last remaining Asiatic Wild Ass, a majestic creature we’re virtually guaranteed to see, the Little Rann also harbors an abundance of bird life. Tidal surges in advance of the summer monsoon flood the Rann with huge amounts of salt water that the ensuing rains do little to dilute. For the entire summer the area is a huge, impenetrable mud bath and swamp. But when the rains cease, the area rapidly dries out and the mud bakes to create vast expanses of pancake-flat, iron-hard earth punctuated by brackish lagoons with impressive numbers of birds. Both Greater and Lesser Flamingos are common and conspicuous, as are flotillas of pelicans and millions of wintering waterfowl.

The salt makes the land xerophitic and largely barren, but there are scattered “islands” of coarse grass where we’ll be looking for Macqueen’s Bustard, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Hoopoe Lark, and Asian Desert Warbler. A few critically endangered Sociable Plovers sometimes winter in the fields around the edge of the Little Rann, where they can occasionally be found in the company of the gorgeous Indian Courser. Large numbers of Common Cranes and even more larks frequent these same areas. We’ll use open-topped jeeps to explore the Little Rann, and will spend our night back at the Rann Riders near Dasada.

Day 14: After a final morning in the Little Rann, we’ll have a leisurely, and relatively short, drive back to Ahmedabad. We expect to reach our hotel around 4pm for an opportunity to freshen up and have dinner before transferring to the airport where the tour concludes this evening.  

Updated: 27 August 2020


  • 2024 Tour Price : $6,650
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $610


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Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 10 with one WINGS leader and a local guide. 

This tour alternates with India: The South and the Andaman Islands.

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