Most Recent

Amazing Tal Chapar

There are very few success stories in wildlife conservation, specially where the matter is related to habitat loss. One such happy story relates to Tal Chappar. Once considered a lost cause, the sanctuary has rallied back. All due to the dedicated efforts of forest department officials. While ACF Poonia Ji is attributed with spear heading this effort, the whole team should be commended for their effort. Their hard work shows today, when the sanctuary is counted in one of the premium grasslands of the country. A simple search will divulge a lot of information in forms of various articles, blogs and trip reports.

I had been reading about this place for a while. Every-time I found a blog or a trip report about it, this place will sound even more tempting. This trip presented the ideal opportunity for me to make a quick visit to the sanctuary and I took it. After finishing my last full day in the park at Bharatpur, I took a taxi to Delhi. I had a train scheduled from Delhi Sarai Rohilla Station (DEE) till Ratangarh jn (RTGH). As I have read in most of the trip reports about Tal Chappar, I opted to book the forest rest house that is located right at sanctuary entrance. Also arranged was a day trip to Jorbeed, Bikaner. It was to be 4 nights and 5 full days of fun.

We lost our way in Delhi while searching for Sarai Rohilla Station. Obviously, being men, neither me nor Laxman Ji (the driver) bothered with such minor things as asking for directions. A quick glance at watch revealed that I would miss my train in next 30 minutes. Still not willing to give up, I pulled out Google maps. What a smart little piece of tech? Led us straight in the general direction and towards a road without U turn. Can’t blame Google for what Delhi police decide to do at the drop of a hat. Well, as a last resort, we applied common sense and did what any responsible citizen will do. Looked around if someone is watching and made a quick illegal turn at the next break in barrier. I am not proud of it but that’s what happened.

Made it to the train in just enough time with my luggage (no porter would bother with 2 bags, they all were looking for families with many many bags) to get in and collapsed on the seat. My journey to this dream destination could have started on a better note. Sigh.. I don’t know when I fell asleep. I reached Ratangarh at 4:50am, and was picked up by Hari. Hari was to be my guide/driver for the next few days. He was a jolly guys who is from the neighboring village. He dropped me to the guest house and promised to pick me up for first drive in some time. In half an hour, WE had finished our tea, paid our entry fee (I think that’s about Rs 150/-, I may be slightly off the mark too) and were in the sanctuary.

_MG_8209

Blackbuck Juv.

_MG_8203

Blackbuck Male

_MG_8191

Isabelline Wheatear (??)

The beauty of a grassland in early morning light can not be described. It can only be experienced. I can try with mere words or images, but it will never be adequate. Anyone who does not believe in magic, need to experience this light. At this point I do not have words to describe a crisp winter morning with golden light in grass land. So awestruck I was with this, that I almost missed a Laggar Falcon. I had heard in Bharatpur that it may not be a good season for Tal Chappar as the number of raptors is low. This being my first time there, I had no base data to compare it against. Pretty soon we saw an adult pair of Laggars as well as a juvenile.

Laggar Falcon in flight

Laggar Falcon in flight

Laggar Falcon at Tal Chapar

Laggar Falcon at Tal Chapar

Laggar Falcon

Laggar Falcon

Common Hoppoe

Common Hoppoe

Zitting Cisticola

Zitting Cisticola

Kestrels and Black Shouldered Kites were present everywhere. Flocks of larks would take off and settle down elsewhere all of a sudden. Slowly the sanctuary came alive with movement of blackbucks. Beautiful and graceful creatures. Most blackbucks I saw went about their business in a calm manner, while some of them would get alarmed and “fly” across the grassland. While I thought that this is a behavior that is displayed under distress, but later I saw many young individuals who were engaging into “pronking”. May be this can be attributed to something like fitness display to potential mates?

Indian Roller

Indian Roller

Female Blackbuck "pronking"

Female Blackbuck “pronking”

Pronking may not be a actual term. Everytime I saw these guys jump up, I would imagine “Pronk” “Pronk” .. as in cartoons 😀

By now it was time for a break to have breakfast and Lunch and summons from rest house kitchen were getting stronger. Murariji (the chef) had made some killer onion parathas. I gobbled up an insane amount of breakfast really fast. I thought I am going to follow the lines of Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Commoner and Dinner like a Pauper. I did follow it with slight modification, Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner like a King. Which Rajasthani gives two hoots about eating like a commoner and pauper when menu is Rajasthani?

After this shameless feasting, we started for Goshaala. Goshaala is traditionally a tract of land which is kept aside for tending to cow/cattle and their welfare. It’s communal land and is quite close to the sanctuary. This land has a lot of Khejri trees (Prosopis cineraria) which are a good habitat for some of the birds like woodpeckers & minivets. Also every-time I went there I saw a buzzard (Who was very very shy). Another specialty of this habitat is spotted creeper, who is the star of this place I believe. While this species can be found at some other scattered locations too, it seems that its found “relatively” easily around Goshaala. However, easily is not exactly the word I will use for locating this bugger. I spent two afternoon walking all around the place without slightest hint of these birds. There were several Egyptian vultures present to feed on carcases that were discarded in one corner.

Egyptian Vulture (juv)

Egyptian Vulture (juv)

Egyptian Vultures ( Ad. and Juv)

Egyptian Vultures ( Ad. and Juv)

ID please..

ID please..

In the evening, I spent my time wandering around in the sanctuary. Evening was fun with males coming together in on of the male colony. Unfortunately I did not see any sparring between young members. Also the plan to visit the salt pan did not workout as the rains had created a bit of situation there. However, I started noticing that harriers come in to roost there in numbers. This was a treat to see harriers dropping from the sky. Within minutes, tens of them had landed. I made a note of areas where I can concentrate during the days to come for catching these raptors in action.

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite being harassed by Drongo

Black Shouldered Kite being harassed by Drongo

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Zitting Cisticola

Zitting Cisticola

Zitting Cisticola

Zitting Cisticola

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier

Pallid Harrier (??)

Pallid Harrier (??)

Blackbuck Male

Blackbuck Male

Blackbuck

Blackbuck (f)

Blackbuck Male

Blackbuck Male

Blackbuck in the grassland

Blackbuck in the grassland

Ending the day at Tal Chapar

Ending the day at Tal Chapar

The day ended after sundown and hot dinner beckoned me back to the guesthouse. We checked again but unfortunately Pooniaji was still not in (may be election duty). Well called it a night after a heavy dinner and crashed. Dreaming of raptors and red-necked falcons.

To be continued…

4 Comments

  1. Debi · October 3, 2014 Reply

    Hi

    These are some amazing pics and well written pice too. Was wondering if you could help me with some tips. Esp camera gear. Will a 200 mm on a crop body do or do I need a longer lens?

    Also how did you arrange the stay and the guide?

    • kartik · October 4, 2014 Reply

      Hi Debi,

      Thank you for the kind words. It will be my pleasure to help you with your trip. A 200mm with a crop body will be okay most of the time for Mammals, however I would recommend something like a 100-400mm on a crop to cover a larger focal length. With 200mm I think you will miss many opportunities. As far as birds are concerned 400mm will be the minimum requirement. I would recommend 500mm + 1.4x if you can rent one for your trip and more importantly if you can carry it around for different type of shots. Please note that I am an amateur photographer so take my recommendations with a pinch of salt. My ideal setup will be a 100-400mm on a 5DII with a 500mm+1.4 on 7D. This way, I do not have to switch lenses.

      I would also recommend that you take a day and visit Jorbeer area. Apart from excellent vultures and eagles, you can chance upon yellow eyed pigeons, sind sparrows, coursers (indian and cream coloured) and owlets. I have heard that for visiting Bikaner, Vinayak Guest House is a good option (http://www.vinayakdesertsafari.com/) and the owner Jitu Solanki is a good naturalist. I have not stayed with him yet but in my next visit, I think I will.

      I arranged my accommodation and a vehicle for taking me around the sanctuary by talking to the FRH manager. The contacts I had at TalChappar are not valid as of April 2014. If you so require, I can share the current contact with you over the email.

      Cheers,
      Kartik

  2. Manish Pundir · December 20, 2014 Reply

    Dear Kartik,

    Your photographs are not only beautiful but also reflect a connection with the ecosystem. The way you have captured golden landscape is very impressive.
    I am planning to visit Tal Chappar during the next week.
    Please help me with the contact number for FRH and i will try to get the booking.

    Another point from planning perspective is about the coverage within the sanctuary. Do you actually walk around in the sanctuary (like Keoladeo Park for instance) or the distances are large and it is necessary and ok to take a normal city car inside (or a Bolero type SUV is a must like you arranged with Hari).

    Any suggestions for going on a particular track inside the sanctuary or some locations / views or any other recommendation to do photography will be helpful.

    Best regards,
    Manish

    • kartik · December 21, 2014 Reply

      Dear Manish,

      Thank you for your kind words. Tal Chappar will be a great place to visit in winters, although it may get a little cold in the mornings. Once the sun comes out, things are manageable though. I will send across the number for FRH on your email. You can also have a look at on INW, for alternate accommodation recommendations. There are some people who may lookdown on FRH, but my experience at FRH had been a fantastic one so I can not agree with them. Also a member Court Didier has provided an alternate number for a homestay in Chappar villege ( 9413724688 or 9571505433, email : mahendrabhadrwal[at]gmail[dot]com ).

      Tal Chappar is not a very big sanctuary but walking through the whole sanctuary may not be very viable option. You can walk around on hte paths if you want, but getting close to birds or mammals for that matter will be difficult. A car acts like a mobile hide for you. Over all conditions were okay inside and I saw a few city cars inside so it is not necessary to have a SUV. You can also park your car and walk around to a place where you think car may not go.

      Whole sanctuary is a happening place. You would like to plan your time there based on light direction. Male blackbucks like to stay in colonies and these colonies are large and very prominent. You will see it from a distance. Harriers and other raptors were all over the sanctuary. You should also go to Goshala area for spotted tree-creeper, and buzzard. I would also recommend salt pans if the tracks are okay to drive on (if there is water, you may not be able to drive there). There are also a couple of ponds near the sanctuary (one right at the entrance of Chappar village) where you can try for cranes, geese and other water birds. Jorbeed is also a great place for spending a day (its a full day trip though).

      Light in early morning and late evening at Tal Chappar is very very good. Try and make the most use of it. Do let me know if I can help with anything.

      Cheers,
      Kartik

Leave a reply