Bird-watching begins, but poor monsoon still haunts

Birding and wildlife photography groups and nature resorts have begun to see the arrival of both domestic and foreign visitors attracted by the annual bird-watching season in Gujarat.

But low monsoon rains over Kutch and north-western Saurashtra, including at the famous birding destination of Khijadia in Jamnagar district, have resulted in low numbers and limited diversity and could possibly lead to less birding activity there.

Bird-watching has been one of Gujarat Tourism's favourite sell-pieces since the state, with its many wetlands, supports and attracts hundreds of winged creatures; teaming up with industry body FICCI, the tourism department has organised two international bird-watcher's conferences in as many years, with the first one hosted at Khijadia and the second in January this year, taking participants to three different regions in the state.

With the onset of winter, this year's bird-watching season has begun hatching; at the Royal Safari Camp at Bajana in Surendranagar's Dasada taluka, which borders the Little Rann of Kutch, both professional and amateur birders have filled up most rooms, and foreigners — mostly scientists or wildlife professionals — from Hungary, England and the New York have already arrived, said owner Parvez Khan.

At the Rann Riders Resort nearby, "rooms are packed", said owner Muzahid Malik. Hoteliers and resort owners as well as birding trip organisers say that the domestic tourists are usually largely from Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, with a few from Kolkata and some northern Indian states.

"There were low rainfalls this year but the scene looks good, maybe the rains won't affect the season much. Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary has good water thanks to Narmada waters and I saw many cranes and water-birds on my recent trips to the LRK and the Bhal region (regions bordering the Gulf of Khambat where Bhal wheat is the main crop). There seems to be no abnormality there," said Bharat Jethva of Wetlands International, who is also off on a birding trip with a group of enthusiasts this holiday season.

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