“Hey it’s here! No, No, there!” We all were shouting as Menaka a female Black Buck was moving around the car to get biscuits. Sometimes she came in front of the car and we were not able to drive, sometimes she came towards the sides and we were not able to open the doors. She normally roams near the sanctuary gates waiting for the generous supply of biscuits from the Jungle Staff or the Tourists.
We were at the gates of Tal Chhapar. Tal Chhapar Sanctuary is located in the Churu district of North-western Rajasthan in the Shekhawati region. It is known for blackbucks and is also home to a variety of birds.
After some time the chase was done and we got out, left the car and wandered into the grasslands where we spotted many cranes. We saw a Raptor (Prey Bird). We were amateur birders and were crazy on seeing a prey bird. So we just clicked photos. Our strategy was to move one by one so not to attract much attention from the bird and get close enough to get a good picture. We soon came to know that the bird we were after was a rare and endangered bird. It was the Red Necked Falcon. We felt extremely happy on getting good pictures of such a rare bird. We were told a guy from US came to India five times for this bird and someone in Bangalore told him about Tal Chhapar Sanctuary and he could easily spot that bird here.
Grasslands looked very promising from the prospect of birding, we decided to all the way to the place where we sighted the Cranes, flying in groups of hundreds and settling down there.
Finding way through the grasslands was difficult as we had to alter routes regularly to avoid the water and mud. We even had to keep a lookout for snakes as there are many in this area. The word snake scared the life out of me.
Many a times a Raptor flew by and kept us engaged but we had to reach to the group of cranes. Sometimes we landed up at the wrong place following a Raptor. And then I had to scan the area to know where those cranes were and when we could not find them, we had to trace our way back to the road. From the road we could see them once again and went straight. After a long walk in the grasslands we came close to them but for a last hurdle. A small stream and a long stretch of sticky mud separated us from our destination.
We moved cautiously but the Cranes were sensitive as all birds are. We came close enough to see their long black and white necks and a Red Eye. They were Demoiselle Cranes! They were not so long but magnificent birds.
Demoiselle Crane is a species of crane found in central Eurasia. These cranes are migratory birds. Birds from western Eurasia spend the winter in Africa whilst the birds from Asia, Mongolia and China spend the winter in the Indian subcontinent. It is known as koonj in North India. It is the smallest species of crane. Demoiselle cranes have to take one of the toughest migrations in the world. In late August through September, they gather in flocks of up to 400 individuals and prepare for their flight to their winter range. Along their arduous journey they have to cross the Himalayan Mountains to get to their over-wintering grounds in India. Many die from fatigue, hunger and predation from golden eagles. Simpler, lower routes are possible, such as crossing the range via the Khyber Pass. In March and April, they begin their long spring journey back to their northern nesting grounds.
We turned our attention to the less sensitive and proud Blackbucks. The place was the area of males as they were scaring females away who had just entered their territory. Some of them were fighting and their antlers were making a loud noise just the same as is caused by hitting sticks. Those who were proved weaker during the duel, had to flee. Once we saw two Blackbucks fighting and one standing just behind them as a referee!
I even spotted them lying in a line. When we had come too close, they ran here and there and we could not anticipate the ambush they had planned for us. They had circled us and we saw their antlers and remembered the noise they made. We were a little afraid and stood stunned and unmoved. Soon it started to drizzle. We chose to retreat than to be trapped with water and Black Bucks all around. We passed safely through their group and reached the hotel. To tell you we had a lot of confusion to reach the hotel.
On the way back we spotted a Peacock and were taking some pictures while it raised its feathers and danced. It turned in circles and stirred its feathers. The performance was worth a hug round of applause. We left only when it lowered its feathers, which was after quite some time.
We had only one day there of which half had already past and we had to utilize it fully. We were now ready for the drive to Goshala. We were told that there, one can easily see Raptors.
On the way, we took a wrong turn which led us to Salt Pans and very huge and unused wells which scared me. While returning we saw the Southern Grey Shrike (Very Common there). It had a black and bold eye-stripe which makes these type of bird kind look so beautiful.
In Goshala, first we came across a Luggar Falcon. You can see it easily in that area. It was not so interesting.
Other than that there were two different eagles, a Steppe Eagle and the other Tawny Eagle. But whenever we came close enough they flew. Then whenever they would see us they would fly. I said “Maybe it has decided that whenever I see something Red, I must fly away (As our car was red in colour). We went chasing it and that way we took at least four – five rounds again and again following it. We left the car hoping that it will watch the car and not us but it was very sharp. As soon as I saw it, I saw that it was already looking at me as if it could see me when I could not. And there we got tired and thought that it would be thinking “They don’t even let me sleep in peace.” Here once again dad’s passion for photos came in use. We spotted a Chinkara (Not a Black Buck). They are very rare and are around ten – twenty in numbers whereas the Black Bucks have a population of two thousand plus in Tal Chhapar Sanctuary.
In the night, the hotel owner took us to the boundary of the hotel and turned his torch on. “Wow” we exclaimed on looking at the beautiful image that we got to see. As soon as the torch’s light fell on one of the Black Bucks Eye, it twinkled and then in the night only we were able to spot a whole group. It was like as if the stars had fallen from the skies. One can also spot a porcupine here but in spite of our search, we didn’t have the luck to spot one.
Some Birds which we got to see there –
- Southern Grey Shrike
- White-Eyed Buzzard
- Red-Necked Falcon
- Grey Francolin
- Black Francolin
- Luggar Falcon
- Tawny Eagle
- Steppe Eagle
- Pallid Harrier
- Montagu’s Harrier
- Black-Shouldered Kite
- Demoiselle Cranes
- There is only one place to stay and that is the Tal Chhapar Sanctuary Rest House.
- It takes seven – nine hours to reach Tal Chhapar by road from Delhi.
- The nearest railway station is Chhapar which lies on Degana-Churu-Rewari broad gauge line of Northern Western Railways.
- The nearest Airport is Sanganer (Jaipur) which is at a distance of 215 km from Chhapar.