For spectacular bird watching look to Gujurat, India

King Fisher
Birding at dawn
Sarus Crane
Sarus Crane

What’s the fasting growing outdoor recreational activity in the United States? If you guessed birdwatching, you’d be correct. Birders love to travel. The latest region to capture their attention is Gujurat, India. One reason for Gujurat’s appeal to birders is that it is forbidden by religious law to kill birds in this region. The requirement for nonviolence has helped in protecting many endangered species of birds and has meant that birds are often friendly towards humans, which makes for some up-close and personal sightings.

According to the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment over 35 percent of people 16-years of age or older in America participate in bird watching. The state of Gujurat in the north west of India is fast emerging as an eco-tourism hot spot for birders. Gujurat is strategically located between two traditional bird migration routes, one from Central and North Asia to East Africa and another from the Middle East and Europe to peninsular India. These two routes contribute to the vast variety of bird species that pass through Gujurat. It is estimated that over 1 million migratory waterfowl visit Gujarat’s wetlands every year.

With all the buzz surrounding this activity, I couldn’t wait to experience what all the excitement was about. When I read about how Gujurat was the latest region to capture the attention of birders, I sought out an organized trip to the region. This experience changed my life and has given me a fresh appreciation for nature.

India’s bird sanctuaries are untapped by commercialization and still not fully exploited by the international birding community. Gujurat is home to several species of birds, both indigenous and migratory – which makes it a paradise for bird watchers. During the monsoon season which runs from July through September, the heavy rains replenish lakes and ponds and regenerate grasslands, creating a perfect habitat for migratory birds. Given this climate, the best months for bird watching in the region are October to March, with peak times being the months of December and January.

The vast variety of terrain for bird watching in Gujurat, ranges from desert to marshlands to both sweet and salty water. Other types of terrain include grasslands, the coastline along the Arabian Sea, the mangroves and the National Parks. Such terrain is home to flamingos, cranes, storks, the endangered Indian bustard and the tawny eagle – just to name a few.

On my visit through the marshes, we take a 6-8 person canoe from a tiny local village. The canoe is navigated by a young villager who paddles through the shallow, murky waters for several hours as he points out the unique species in broken English.

We also experience a bird watching expedition in the desert (Rann of Kutch) where we are escorted in an open-air jeep to spot unique bird species that thrive in the desert. The ride is bumpy but beautiful with nothing between us and nature.

One need not be a seasoned bird watcher to visit Gujurat and to participate in this fast growing recreational activity. All one needs is a pair of binoculars, a good camera and off you go.

Tips for beginner bird watchers:

  • The best way to start to recognize different species is to tag along with a seasoned birder;
  • Peak times for bird watching are sunrise and sunset;
  • Best color for clothes is earthy tones that blend in with the natural landscape;
  • It’s important to remain quiet so as not to disturb the habitat;
  • Smoking and plastic are prohibited at all eco-tourism spots;
  • Do not act in any way that may appear threatening to the birds; and
  • Keep a diary of all new species you encounter.
For more information on bird watching tours in India contact the Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat www.birdsofgujarat.net; also for information on arranging a private or group tour contact Uttej Rao at RN Travel in Ahmedabad, India, uttej@jnraoindia.com.

Donna Salle is a freelance travel writer and can be contacted through her website at www.TravelsWithHeart.com.
Source = Donna Salle, Travels with Heart
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