Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Indian Savannas – Nannaj Wildlife Sanctuary


This being my third trip to Nannaj Wildlife Sanctuary (12th to 15th August,2006), many things including Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) were on my hit list. This was altogether different experience looking at the season and the company*, I had for 4 entire days in this Indian grassland.
We arrived at Nannaj village and started walking towards Forest rest house. A 1 km. birding patch where we sighted a Plain Prinia (Prinia inornata) carrying nesting material. The nest was too close to the road and there was human disturbance around so we avoided spending time at this sight. As we moved ahead, the village kids were excited to see us with binoculars and they enjoyed watching through them. Near the village we sighted eclipse male of Purple Sunbird (Nectarinia asiatica) feeding on Pomegranate flowers.

Large Grey Babblers (Turdoides malcolmi)

On our arrival at forest rest house, a noisy pack of Large Grey Babblers (Turdoides malcolmi) greeted us with cacophony. We checked our rooms and immediately headed behind the rest house. It was vast open land till horizon and one could see a green carpet, (as my earlier two trips were in dry season) a real treat to my eyes. Then Harshal spotted a herd of Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) females safely guarded by a male. Wow! What black shiny coat he had, the fellow must be in his prime. We entered a wooded patch (plantation) parallel to the rest house and spend some time resting in the shade of Neem trees (Azadirachta indica). I ventured alone in this patch and was rewarded by sighting of Eurasian Thick-Knee (Burhinus oedicnemus) – a lifer to me. Trilled with this experience I moved towards the rest house on the way flushing 2 Black Napped Hares (Lepus nigricollis).
Evening we marched towards the watch tower and on our way visited at water body where we saw a flock of Yellow-Wattled Lapwings (Vanellus malabaricus) about 18 of them, a pair of Indian Sliverbill (Lonchura malabaricus) quenching their thirst. Also pair of Red-Rumped Swallows (Hirundo daurica) busy collecting soft wet mud for their nest. We reached the watchtower and scanned for Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), Alas!!! No sighting of GIB – The TIGER of Nannaj grassland. Then we saw many herds of Blackbuck grazing in the core area. From the artificial waterhole we could see the Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus) in the dry grassy patch. I was tempted to walk closer as they were not clearly visible, but knowing the boundary of core area had to back off.

Day had set and after our dinner we went in search of Owls. Spotted Owlet (Athene brama) was sitting on the wire in front of our rest house and Ritesh could bag good snaps to this nocturnal predator. A few meters away on a pole we spotted a big owl probably a Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo). Before we could focus our binoculars on the bird, a vehicle approaching us disturbed it. I was personally disappointed, as I have not seen much of big owls.
We got an opportunity to meet a great personality of Nannaj that evening, Mr. Bhagwat Mhaske - Forest Guard. He has in-depth knowledge about this grassland. People like him are spreading awareness in tourist and localites for saving the vanishing GIB with its shrinking homes. It was a bad news for us as we heard from him the grace of the grassland was not seen for last few days.

Spotted Owlet (Athene brama)

Day 2:
Around 6:00 am we started birding towards the watchtower – kind of ritual for us. We heard Grey Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus) and Painted Francolin (Francolinus pictus) and also saw few Sykes’s Larks (Galerida malabarica) with their aerial acrobatic displays. On our way we saw a pair of Indian Silverbill (Lonchura malabaricus), holding a single cobweb in their beaks. The male tore apart the web and mounted on the female. This all happened in a fraction of second. Then male sat besides the female and their beaks touched each other, as if they were expressing their love by kissing. Now I know why Munias are called lovebirds.


Indian Silverbill (Lonchura malabaricus)

We headed to a hill bang opposite of Sanctuary’s gate in search of Sandgrouse. Our luck showered and I sighted Indian Courser (Cursorius coromandelicus) and that too with 2 chicks - the bird I missed in my earlier 2 trips. We then headed to the rest house for breakfast. It was surprise for our group as Adesh with a gang of 15 birders from Mumbai, Bangalore and Solapur joined us. Now we were 20 of us – all nature enthusiasts scanning the grassland for GIB and we were sure we won’t miss it in this trip. There was nothing unusual we saw that afternoon. Evening again we started birding with Adesh for larks. I thought of being little selfish, decided not to leave Adesh as he was carrying his spotting scope – a very must equipment on this grassy terrain. We again spotted the same pair of Indian Courser (Cursorius coromandelicus) with their chicks. As we left the Coursers, there was a heavy shower that drenched us completely. But the aroma of wet mud filled the place. On our way back to rest house, we saw nesting activities of Indian Bush Lark (Mirafra erythroptera), Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) and Scaly breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) all in the thorny bushes.

Indian Courser (Cursorius coromandelicus)

We again started in search of GIB and had walked towards the northern part of the sanctuary. Adesh screamed as he saw glimpse of GIB flying in the valley. All of us ran in the direction towards the hill at horizon but could not see any. We had covered a lot of distance by then and I was grateful to him, as we had explored much of the area around the Sanctuary, which was not possible else. We came back to the rest house empty handed. As the lunch was delayed, I decided to spend some time at watchtower. I dozed off on watchtower, as it was very windy and cloudy that afternoon. Woke up with a call from Parag, but I decided to skip lunch and spend some more time on watchtower observing the wildlife.
Then I saw some thing unique, a pair of Yellow-Wattled Lapwing (Vanellus malabaricus) was chasing a Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus). The eagle must have disturbed this breeding pair. Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus) is known as aggressive and huge predator, but it was no match in front of parental instincts of the Lapwing pair. Looking at this opportunity 2 Large-Billed Crows (Corvus macrorhynchos) joined the party of mobbing this predator. Later I narrated my experience to Adesh and was surprised to know about the brave act by crows of chasing, as this Eagle feeds on crows too.
When this entire drama was taking place I had kept an eye on 2 herds of Blackbucks (Antilope cervicapra) that were pretty close to watchtower. These 2 herds were very close to each other and well guarded by respective males. One of the male had shorter horns as compared to other and I saw him chasing females and was confused, as this was not the usual behavior. After returned to Mumbai and discussing this with experts I learned those could be young male who look like females.

Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps)

Our gang joined me at watchtower to see Short-Toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and we headed to same place where Adesh had seen the Bustard. On the way it rained for sometime and made the landscape look fantabulous. Then Kevin a fellow birder spotted the KING of Grassland – the Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), a solo male was walking gracefully in the core area. It was a lottery for us as we also saw Indian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) being chase by a watchdog of a shepherd. The entire group was thrilled with these two key sightings. Before we called of the day, we saw 2 Bustards flying away to plateau on the horizon and a pair of Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus) landed close by for roosting.

Indian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes)

Day 4:
Julius – our birding pal had left pretty early for wolves again and he saw 3 pups with adults Oh what a luck he had. We decided to venture near a water body – east of sanctuary gate. Our key sightings in this area were 9 Indian Courser (Cursorius coromandelicus), Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba), Yellow-Crowned Woodpecker (Dendrocopos mahrattensis) and a Black-Shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus). On the way we also saw few Baya Weavers (Ploceus philippinus) building nest with grass blades. Last but not the least was the sight of Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) flying across the road near rest house. As it was our last day we left Nannaj with heavy hearts and great memories to cherish.



*Our Gang:
Adesh Shivkar, Animish Mandrekar (myself), Shashank Dalvi, Mandar Khadilkar, Harshal Marathe, Ritesh Bagul, Parag Damle, Praveen J, Anand Pendharkar, Sangeeta Dhanuka, Amodh and Sumedha Karkhanis, Julius Rego, Mr. & Mrs. Krishnan, Kevin, Jacob, Ruturaj Joshi, Ashwin Deshmukh & Ram Hegde.

Green Bee-Eater (Merops persicus)

Bird List:

1. Painted Francolin
2. Grey Francolin
3. Jungle Bush Quail
4. Barred Buttonquail
5. Indian Peafowl
6. Spot Billed Duck
7. Yellow Crowned Woodpecker
8. Coppersmith Barbet
9. Common Hoopoe
10. White-Throated Kingfisher
11. Green Bee-Eater
12. Asian Koel
13. Common Hawk Cuckoo
14. Grey Bellied Cuckoo
15. Greater Coucal
16. Rose-Ringed Parakeet
17. Alpine Swift
18. House Swift
19. Spotted Owlet
20. Eurasian Eagle Owl (?)
21. Blue Rock Pigeon
22. Laughing Dove
23. Eurasian Collared Dove
24. Red Collared Dove
25. Great Indian Bustard
26. Chestnut-Bellied Sand Grouse
27. Black Headed Ibis
28. Red Wattled Lapwing
29. Yellow Wattled Lapwing
30. Indian Cormorant
31. Eurasian Thick Knee
32. Black-Shouldered Kite
33. Bonelli’s Eagle
34. Short Toed Snake Eagle
35. Shikra
36. Wooly-Necked Stork
37. Painted Stork
38. Bay Backed Shrike
39. Brown Shrike
40. Southern Grey Shrike
41. Jungle Crow
42. House Crow
43. Small Minivet
44. Black Drongo
45. Common Iora
46. Common Woodshrike
47. Indian Robin
48. Brahminy Starling
49. Common Myna
50. Great Tit
51. Red-Rumped Swallow
52. Red Vented Bulbul
53. Ashy Prinia
54. Plain Prinia
55. Zitting Cisticola
56. Common Tailorbird
57. Large Grey Babbler
58. Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark
59. Rufous-Tailed Lark
60. Indian Bush Lark
61. Sykes’s Lark
62. Malabar Crested Lark
63. Oriental Skylark
64. Purple Sunbird
65. Purple Rumped Sunbird
66. House Sparrow
67. Paddy Field Pipit
68. Baya Weaverbird
69. Indian Silverbill
70. Scaly Breasted Munia
71. Grey Hornbill

Travel & Stay At Nannaj Wildlife Sanctuary:
Best Season to be: August to January
Nearest Airport: Pune (250 Km.)
By Rail: Solapur (22 km.)
By Road: Solapur (22 km.)

For booking please contact:
Deputy Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Western Region,
Vanvadi, Pune 411022, Maharashtra, India
Tel. No: 00-91-20-25124182
Photo Credit:
A very special thanks to Mr. Raja Purohit for allowing me to use his images of Great Indian Bustard and Indian Wolf.
Thankful to Mr. Ritesh Bagul and Mr. Mandar Khadilkar to use their images.