Banni Grasslands is reported to be the largest tropical natural grassland in Asia. The broad geography of grassland spans across Kutch of India, Sindh and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan, even all the way to Afghanistan. For more than 500 years this has been a place for truly nomadic and pastoral people known as Maaldhari. Maal = valuable belongings = cattle. Dhari = owner. So maaldhari beasically means "Owner of cattle". They would pay a "Grazing tax" to local rulers in exchange of grazing rights.
Sadly on 15th August 1947 a signature from Viceroy Lord Mountbatten put an end to their free movement and nomadic communities had to choose between India and Pakistan to settle down. Slowly the nomadic life style started to die. Then the rivers were dammed and the river water which used to flood the area, naturally flushing away the salinity of the land from Arabian sea, stopped flowing. Desert started to take over. And the biggest mistake was a well intended move from India Government.
In the early 1960s, the Gujarat Forest Department planted a plant called Prosopsis Juliflora in about 315 km2 of the Banni to minimize the perceived threats of salinity ingress and desertification. Seeds were dropped from planes. Over the past 50 years Prosopsis has spread from 315 km2 to close to 1500 km2 of the Banni. This has hugely impacted on cattle grazing as perennial grass had been replaced. This bush is just unbelievably hardy. It grows even in the middle of absolute nowhere and spreads like mad. Locals call it Ganda Babool (The Mad Babool bush). And the only use is to burn it down to make charcoal and add more carbon dioxide to atmosphere.
The salinity has increased dramatically. Government is trying to reduce the spread but the damage has been done.
Despite all these problems Banni still is a place of great biodiversity. I believe 275 bird species can be found in this area along with 37 grass species.
Today around 40, 000 Maldhari people and 80,000 animals, mostly Banni buffalo and Kankrej cattle, graze in the Banni and close to 100,000 litres of milk are produced in the Banni every day. The region also serves as a breeding ground for the famous Banni buffalo and the Kankrej cow, for sale in many others parts of the country.
And I had about Four hours to explore the is region !!!
So I targeted the sweetest spot known as Charri Dandh. Dandh means lake and Charri Dandh is the biggest rain water lake here which never dries up , so wild life centres around that. But if you have time I'd suggest two to three days to explore Banni, if you can tolerate the dust. The dust gets into your every orifice. More importantly it gets into your camera sensor and lens !!
There are no roads here and you'd lose sense of direction within ten minutes.
As mentioned before Mr Jugal Tiwari and his company CEDO are possibly your best bet, but I could not get hold of him. Liyakat was a very enthusiastic young man but clearly he was not fully prepared. He had to borrow a binoc from one of his friends. But the driver of the car Irfan was a fantastic driver. He knew exactly where to position the car. He did not know the English names but neither did I !!
After some discussion with Liyakat i decided to drop the Naliya (Lala) Great Indian Bustard sanctuary. There are only a handful of them left and apparently no one has seen one for nearly six months. Sadly their days seem to be numbered although Rajastahn has managed to increase their population a little bit last year. This bird was supposed to be the National Bird of India but the name Bustard was very similar to someone with dubious parentage so the politicians dropped it in favour of Peacock, although in my opinion even that name contains a vulgar reference. I've got to travel to Rajasthan to see last of those Mohicans.
So after couple of hours of shooting the rocks from Various angles it was time to move towards proper Banni Grasslands .
A lovely little woodpecker with a Red cap on the way
The beginning of the Grasslands : all dried up in winter.
Rain water lakes and waders. Storks are rare in Gujarat, specially the Black Necked ones, so this was a nice catch. I believe this is a female with yellow eyes. Sorry just showing off my limited knowledge !!
Effortless take off
I go to Cape town looking for Table Mountain and did not know we had one in India !!
An extremely well camouflaged sand grouse family
Sorry no idea !! Not a great photo, some better photos will follow.
Looks like this one got a Crest ??
A real "Prat" with an attitude
I can't see the toes so this must be a Short toed one !!
Plovers ? That's all I can say !! Kent or Sussex ?
Lovely Red wattle
Please say it's a Steppe eagle !! Looks very Imperial to me.
Would have been a fantastic shot !!! Missed the wings
I have never before seen a Nictitating membrane in real life
This is the look my wife gives when I say , " I need to upgrade my camera." She also has red eyes and black shoulders !!
Edited by Chakra, 15 May 2017 - 10:10 PM.