A Day at Thol Bird Sanctuary.

#1 Mar 31st, 2013, 16:22
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  • naveenamohanrao is offline
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Just some 30 odd Kms from Sarkhej (Ahmedabad) lies a lesser known (in comparison to the most popular Nal Sarovar), Thol Bird Sanctuary. Gujarat as such is state where one can sight birds anywhere one travels, but the sanctuaries are full of life during the peak birding season which is considered to be from November to February (the winter) every year. One of my friends had visited this place in the month of February 2013 and had come back with great sightings of different species of birds along with a great album of bird photographs.

So when I thought of travelling to Kutch via Ahmedabad, I immediately messaged my friend & birder, Mr. Bhavesh Rathod, to guide me with directions required to reach the premises. Well, Facebook shrinks the world, I can tell you at his point. He messaged me back giving me the details of another friend in Ahmedabad who had arranged everything during their visit. The friend in Ahmedabad wrote back to me the directions, the time I need to visit, and many other minute details which helped me immensely. Thanks a ton to both of them for all the help.

Some tips which the Ahmedabad friend gave me, which I think would be useful for those who are visiting this place for the first time:
  • Leave early; reach the place around 8.00 am to sight the birds easily.
  • Apart from carrying the regular necessities on a birding trip (binocs, field guide, cap & water bottle) carry packed lunch if one is intending to spend the whole day in the sanctuary.
  • There is a canteen inside the sanctuary which sells only wafers/biscuit packets & some tea.
  • Wear good shoes, one can walk and walk endlessly.

All the above tips and one more, she and my Mumbai friend mentioned was, visit Dabhla if you can (pronounced as Daabhla or sometimes as Dabhala), to see Egyptian vultures & lots & lots of Kites. This is en-route Thol.

Now, this above statement made me curious and happy as I really wanted to see Egyptian Vultures. But by the time I could ask for more details on Dabhla, it was too late and we had to leave early in the next morning. I tried to frantically search the details on the net and the road directions on Google map. With not many details available on the net finally I decided to enquire the details once we were in Ahmedabad or closer to Thol Bird Sanctuary. Surprisingly, the people whom we inquired with (hotel reception, a few local people on the road) did not seem to have heard even the name ‘Dabhla’!! We were at a loss. I was a bit disappointed as I felt we might miss the place and in the process the opportunity to see the vultures, too!! But still thought once we were close to Thol, we would make one last enquiry and decide if we should skip the place altogether.

On the D-day, we were on the highway towards Thol via Sanand Circle at 6.45 am. We tried to carry some packed lunch but the restaurants were not yet open hence we were carrying some cookies & fruits purchased from the local market closer to the hotel we were staying at Sarkhej. Just about 10 kms before Thol, for one last time we enquired about Dabhla and to our joy found the gentleman pointing us to a right turn and asking us to proceed on that road for another 8 kms to reach Dabhla. Well, there was no stopping us, except that while driving on that road, we never came across any signboards mentioning Dabhla.

The road seemed to be an Industrial belt but we cautiously drove further. At a junction we finally took a tea break and again asked directions for Dabhla and we were told it was just about a km. Rightly so, within few minutes, we were in front of a huge gate which was closed and behind which a guard was peeping. We politely requested him if we could enter the premises and that we were there to see vultures. The person opened the gate for us and said that a few people came there to watch birds and that even we could go inside. Believe me we had no idea what this place was or what it would be like. He mentioned to us that we should take the next right turn and enter another gate near the veterinary clinic to see the birds. We again mentioned to him that we were there to see vultures (this time in hindi – giddh), because we felt that he did not realize what we were there for. He knowingly shook his head and repeated that we should go towards the veterinary clinic.

The road towards the Veterinary clinic (on the left hand side) and Gaushalas in a row on either side of the road.



I confess, the place looked eerie and a bit cold! But after driving further we saw the huge ‘Gaushalas’ where there were hundreds of cows and buffalos everywhere - fresh green grass being fed and also a few behind locked gates. The place seemed well maintained. And yes, there was this veterinary clinic too, where we again mentioned we were there to see the vultures.

A curious one, in the Gaushala.



Bullock Cart which brings in the grass, to feed the cattle.



The people there weren't surprised or curious as to why we were there at all. One of the personnel there went ahead and unlocked another huge metal gate beside the veterinary clinic and asked us to park the vehicle near the gate and roam around to sight the birds.

By now, we had already seen flocks of Kites everywhere. I was overjoyed and told my husband that finally we would get to see the Vultures at close range.

As I was waiting the Gate to be opened, saw a few Kites Sunbathing.



But once we crossed the gate and took a look at the venue, it was shocking and the stench hit our faces like a wet towel! It was an open field; ‘Ground of Silence’ – a place where the dead cows & buffaloes from the gaushala were laid to rest and there were many at different stages of decay. It is pertinent to note that the animals laid to rest here had all died of natural causes, we were informed. Also I understand that cow slaughter is in banned in the entire state of Gujarat.

The first Look -



The place was strewn with skeletons, flesh and cow dung everywhere. I immediately realized the reason for finding the vultures here. It took us some time to adjust to the situation but once we got over the initial surprise, we started moving around trying to locate the vultures. A word of caution – if one has a queasy stomach, better avoid this place.

The carcasses were exposed to enable the birds to feed. The sight definitely looks very disturbing but the intent behind it seemed noble (especially from a birder’s point of view). The scavenging birds were getting a regular feed here; otherwise they would not thrive in this tough terrain.



The surroundings made me a bit uneasy and difficult to move about; hence caught sight of the Egyptian Vultures from some distance. Also saw flocks of cattle egrets, Ibises Drongos apart from large number of Kites feeding busily all over.

Some walking an found the reason of visit - Egyptian Vultures. Indeed there quite a few, regularly flying in and out and sometimes descending onto the ground.







This method of safe disposal of the carcass also protects the environment. I am not sure if we would have visited this place had we known what we would get to see, if we knew about the details prior to our visit. But in retrospect, I feel, the visit was worth the stench & sight!

A Black Kite nearby



After an hour spent at the Gaushala, we staright away proceeded to Thol, to cheer our mood! It was a wonderful place.

Thol Wildlife Sanctuary is a shallow, man-made reservoir. The wetland is predominated by the open water habitat. The reservoir is surrounded by cropland, uncultivated land and scrubland. A notified Sanctuary from 1988, the migratory birds nest and breed in this place as they get their abundant food from the farm and marshy lands adjacent to the lake and also from the water reeds in the shallow water.

The Sanctuary opens early in the morning and closes by around 5.00 pm. There is an entry fees of around 100/-per person and Camera charges (Only photograph) Rs. 150/-(I don’t remember exact amount, but it was above Rs. 100/-). One can park their vehicle near the main entrance or take their vehicle inside the sanctuary for a further distance of about 3 kms and park them near the lake/reservoir.

While purchasing our entry tickets, we made enquiries with the personnel if the canteen was in operation and if we could get lunch. We were informed that it would not serve lunch. We requested the lady there if we could drive out of the sanctuary and again return. After seeing the Mumbai registration of our vehicle, she agreed and mentioned that we could re-visit without purchasing the ticket again but asked us to keep the entry tickets handy during our re-visit. That was fine by us!



And now the main course! Our sightings from the first half of the day.

The Great White Pelican flock was perched at a great distance. They never came closer until evening.



A Painted Stork in flight



Flamingos



Indian Spot-billed Duck



Peafowl



Egret



A Siberian Stonechat



A Common Hoopoe which was trying to hide in the grass.



Indian Silverbill



Do not disturb, please! A large Grey Babbler, waiting for the termites to make the first move.



Around 1.00 pm we were really hungry as we had skipped our breakfast and had just a cup of Tea on our way. We drove to a restaurant some 3 kms away from the main entrance of the sanctuary, filled our stomach with Kathiyawadi Sabzis and roti, Bajra rotla and Gur (Jaggery) with ghee and some Thanda masala Chaas (cold buttermilk).

The Restaurant which serves Kathiyawadi, Punjabi & even Chinese dishes.



We were back around 2.30 pm for the second session of birding at Thol sanctuary.

Pochard Pair?



The Flamingos, pelicans, ducks and the cormorants had started feeding in the water close by.



Spot-billed or Teals (?)



The purple Swamphen



Red-Wattled Lapwing



Eurasian Spoonbill



Wood Sandpiper



Glossy Ibis pair



The list is endless. Birds everywhere but the clock was ticking and we had to start moving away from the sanctuary. The best sight bas we reluctantly walked towards our vehicle was -



The gentleman is the above picture was seriously photographing the flamingos and I just could not resist clicking the photo. Now I am extremely conscious while taking ground shots!!

As we drove towards the main gate, caught sight of some more birds!

Indian Thick-knee.



The Laughing Dove



To to say goodbye to us was this friendly Common Hoopoe at the Gate.

#2 Apr 1st, 2013, 12:34
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#2
Thanks for sharing Naveen. Enjoyed reading your detailed report of the place and hope to visit it one day soon.

Cheers,
Kartik
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#3 Apr 1st, 2013, 17:43
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#3
Thanks Nick-H.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kartikp View Post Thanks for sharing Naveen. Enjoyed reading your detailed report of the place and hope to visit it one day soon.

Cheers,
Kartik
Oh, thank you, kartikp.
Yes, visit it, in winter, it would be better.
#4 Apr 1st, 2013, 21:25
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#4
Soooooooooooo beautiful Naveenan.




.
aamar payer tolai sorshe...(I have wheels under my feet)
#5 Apr 1st, 2013, 22:05
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Thanks all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Duronto Jajabar View Post Soooooooooooo beautiful Naveenan.




.
Thanks DJ.

I am thinking of going on a Fishing expedition next because I don't think I have any photos for our new thread.
#6 Apr 2nd, 2013, 13:59
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#6
Naveena, lovely pictures & description. Will have to go to Thol during my next trip to Gujarat.

For now a visit to SGNP is fine.

Ronak.
#7 Apr 2nd, 2013, 14:07
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shahronakm View Post Naveena, lovely pictures & description. Will have to go to Thol during my next trip to Gujarat.

For now a visit to SGNP is fine.

Ronak.
Thanks Ronak .

Yes, SGNP is there for us always. . Could start there around 7.30 am?
#8 Apr 2nd, 2013, 14:10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by naveenamohanrao View Post Thanks Ronak .

Yes, SGNP is there for us always. . Could start there around 7.30 am?
Better to reach inside before day break as once it becomes hot we will not be able spend more time there. May be 6.45 or 7.00 if you are Ok with it.

Ronak.
#9 Apr 2nd, 2013, 14:12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shahronakm View Post Better to reach inside before day break as once it becomes hot we will not be able spend more time there. May be 6.45 or 7.00 if you are Ok with it.

Ronak.
I have my morning walk pass, what will you and Jethal do? . I will check with the authorities there and seek for early entry permission.
#10 Apr 2nd, 2013, 15:06
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Quote:
Originally Posted by naveenamohanrao View Post I have my morning walk pass, what will you and Jethal do? . I will check with the authorities there and seek for early entry permission.
Oh I forgot the entry time is 7.30 am. Please check if they allow us early otherwise 7.30.

Ronak.
#11 Apr 2nd, 2013, 17:44
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#11
Lovely report and superb photos, thanks for sharing.
#12 Apr 2nd, 2013, 17:49
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#12
Fabulous photos! I had a feeling that you've started using a DSLR! This is seriously good bird photography!
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#13 Apr 2nd, 2013, 19:13
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#13
Quote:
Originally Posted by shahronakm View Post Oh I forgot the entry time is 7.30 am. Please check if they allow us early otherwise 7.30.

Ronak.
Will check in a day or two. Not to worry.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tripsammy View Post Lovely report and superb photos, thanks for sharing.
Thank you too, tripsammy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sagarneel View Post Fabulous photos! I had a feeling that you've started using a DSLR! This is seriously good bird photography!
Thanks sagarneel.

I wish your words were true!! I still feel I am not ready for a DSLR yet, but when I see birds photographed with a DSLR, I miss owning one.

A photograph taken driving towards our hotel after exiting Thol bird sanctuary -

#14 Mar 31st, 2014, 16:48
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#14
Would the birds be there in Mid April?
#15 Mar 31st, 2014, 18:24
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#15
You will get to see some, but I doubt if you could get the Pelican flocks or the flamingos and cranes during that period. November to February would be the ideal time to visit Thol.

When I was there last year during mid-march, the birds were very less. April, it will be much more hotter and the bird sightings would also be minimal, in my opinion.

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