Thursday, August 13, 2009

Trip Report of Tal Chhapar, Rajasthan (8-9 August 09)

(Photographs and text by Manjula Mathur)

I arrived in Jaipur at 1:00 PM on 8th August. Within an hour, I was on my way to Tal Chhapar, famous sanctuary for Blackbucks and a great place for viewing raptors. I was to reach T.C. on 9th morning, but on the insistence of Shri Surat Singh Poonia, Range Forest Officer, decided to try my luck on 8th evening itself. The exciting report of Delhi birder Koshy ji and the excellent photographs of Anand Arya being the catalysts.

On arrival at TC, found Shri Poonia waiting for me. Without further ado, we proceeded to the sanctuary and immediately encountered a group of Blue-cheeked Bee-Eaters who are summer visitors to Northern India. Their dark green plumage, green-blue ear-coverts and rufous throats gave them quite a jaunty look !

Within 100 metres of Shri Poonia’s office, we started seeing the White-Eyed Buzzards which had gathered in large numbers in Tal Chhapar prior to migration. On the ground and on tops of Khejri trees that dot the TC grasslands. In a matter of few minutes, we saw atleast fifty ! All the birds were juveniles, with pale heads, dark streaking on rufous breasts and dark iris. During my stay at Tal Chhapar, I did not see a single adult which was somewhat disappointing. Later we saw a pair of Lagger Falcons, both juvenile. Encouraged by the sighting of the Laggars, we drove past an area of salt mounds and scrubby vegetation where a pair of Isabelline Wheatears and a Southern Gray Shrike were birds of interest. Further on, a lone Desert fox and a family of Indian foxes were notable ‘finds’. As the light was failing, we returned to Base.

Next morning, I left for the sanctuary at 6:30 AM, in the company of Shri Sohan Lal, Forest guide as Shri Poonia had to leave Tal Chappar on some urgent work. A Laggar Falcon juvenile was making a meal of a hapless bird by the roadside. A juvenile Egyptian Vulture flew off near us and a few White-Eyed Buzzards were scattered over the grasslands. We passed the salt mounds and next to a Green Bee-Eater perched on the barbed wire was a bird with a red cocked tail ! I looked at it with binocs as it was quite far. It had a broad white supercilium and a prominent black eye-stripe. When we reached closer, the Bee-Eater remained on the barbed wire but the bird with the red tail disappeared into scrubby bushes. I waited for it to reappear much to Sohanlal’s dismay as he was eager to see Tawny Eagles, Laggar Falcons and here I was waiting for an ‘insignificant’ red-tailed bird to emerge from the bushes ! I told him that the bird could be a Rufous-Tailed Scrub Robin but as he had not seen the bird in Tal Chhapar, he was not too impressed ! Finally we moved on, with the resolve to return the same way, hoping for another glimpse of the Rufous-Tailed Scrub Robin which I had decided by this time that it was !! Much to Sohanlal’s relief we saw an adult Laggar on top of a tree. Perfect photo-op ! As our car inched closer, the Laggar had different ideas ! Later I did see a Laggar Falcon but alas ! the bird was a juvenile and it was sitting on the ground.

Four Chesnut-Bellied Sandgrouse sitting pretty on the sandy ground were the birds seen later along with many, many White-Eyed Buzzards. By now the sun was shining furiously from a relentless, blue sky and the Buzzards were busy making quick meals of Spiny Lizards who happened to venture out from their burrows.

It was time to turn back and we returned by way of the salt mounds. The bird with the red cocked tail was again perched on the barbed wire and this time I got a distant shot and lo and behold it turned out to be the Rufous-Tailed Scrub Robin. Going through Grimmett, I learnt that the RTSR is passage migrant through North-West India which accounted for its presence in Tal Chhapar in August. Birding Report of Jaisalmer by Gaurav Bhatnagar mentioned sighting of this bird in September. Jugar Tiwari has also sighted the bird in Kutch in September. Pamela Rasmussen writes in the Ripley guide that the RTSR passes through North-West India in autumn and breeds in Pakistan and Afghanistan . The Rufous-Tailed Scrub Robin which I saw was alone and had probably just arrived.

Rufous-Tailed Larks, Ashy crowned Sparrow Larks, Crested Larks, a Pipit which I thought was a Richard’s Pipit due to its longer hind claws, Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eaters, Southern Grey Shrikes and Isabelline Wheatears were the other occupants of the by now ‘famous’ barbed wire fence.

I had read about sighting of a Tawny Eagle in Tal Chhapar by Koshyji and I badly wanted to see one. Perseverance pays and near a water-body which had many Woolly-Necked storks was a magnificent adult Tawny in pale cream morph, sitting proudly on top of a tall tree.

After a delicious meal of parathas and curds in Shri Poonia’s house, I decided to try one last time for a photograph of the elusive RTST. It was almost noon and the sun was merciless. The desert landscape was lit up by a white, hot sheen. Poor rainfall this year has turned the grass a dull brown and the Blackbucks were seen sheltering under stunted trees. I crawled though the barbed wire fence (with help from the ever helpful Sohanlal) to reach the scrubby area where I could get brief glimpses of the Robin walking about hawking insects. We did manage to track it down as it gobbled up insects under the shade of a prickly shrub ! Took some photos and beat a hasty retreat into the shelter of the car and the AC !!

The Great Indian Bustards seen recently by Delhi birders were not to be seen. But sighting of the Rufous-Tailed Scrub Robin and other great birds of Tal Chhapar made my day ! My sincere thanks to Shri Poonia and Sohanlal.

Images of the birds including Rufous-Tailed Scrub Robin are being uploaded separately.


1. Indian Roller

2. Eurasian Collared Dove

3. Red Collared Dove

4. Rosy Starlings

5. Common Mynah

6. Brahminy Starling

7. Common Babbler

8. Spotted Owlet

9. Brown Rock Chat

10. Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark

11. Rufous-tailed Lark

12. Crested Lark

13. Isabelline Wheatear

14. Southern Grey Shrike

15. Coppersmith Barbet

16. Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouse

17. Black Drongo

18. White-throated Kingfisher

19. White eyed Buzzard

20. Laggar Falcon

21. Egyptian Vulture

22. Tawny Eagle

23. Wooly-necked Stork

24. Richard’s Pipit?

25. Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

26. House Swift

27. Cattle Egret

28. Red-wattled Lapwing

29. Indian Pea-Fowl

30. Indian Crow

31. Green Bee-Eater

32. Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eater

33. Black Kite

34. Black Ibis

Manjula Mathur

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