(1) Naliya Grassland (Lala Bustard Wildlife Sanctuary)
Location: 68o45′ E 23o30′ N
Area: 500 sq. km
Habitat: The habitat comprises of dry grasslands mixed with tropical and desert scrub and thorn forests.
Key species: This is a breeding area for the threatened Indian Bustard and about 20 birds are known to reside here. Other species include Lesser Florican, McQueen’s Bustard, Stoliczka’s Bushchat and nesting populations of Tawny Eagle.
The salt impregnated Great Rann of Kutch is a huge, flat expanse spreading over 16,000 sq km, interrupted occasionally by small uplands that are locally called bets (islands). The Rann owes its origin to a marine transgression and is a tectonically unstable area. Ecologically, it is one of the largest seasonal saline wetlands in the world, holding water that is upto a metre and a half deep during the monsoon. However, after October-November every year, the water begins to dry, transforming the area into a vast, saline desert. The wetland attracts a large number of waterfowl species like Flamingo, Pelican, Great Crested Grebe, Black Stork, Brahminy Duck, Common Pochard, Tuffed Pochard, White Eyed Pochard, Gulls, Terns, Stints, Plovers and others.
this grassland is very important for birdwatchers as perhaps the only sanctuary in India where three species of bustard are found – the endangered Great Indian Bustard is resident here, the endangered Lesser Florican breeds here during the monsoon months, and the near-threatened Macqueen’s Bustard is a winter visitor. A variety of other birds like the Black and Grey Francolin, Spotted and Indian Sandgrouse, quails, larks, shrikes, coursers and plovers can be seen.
This sanctuary is also interesting for birdwatchers as vulnerable species like the Stoliczka’s Bushchat a The sanctuary is important for birds of prey like the Imperial Eagle that visits in winter. The sanctuary extends north towards the creeks of Jakhau along the coast of Kutch where large flocks of flamingos, herons, egrets, sandpipers and other birds can be seen. Those with an with an interest in mammalian wildlife may see Wolf, Jungle Cat, Desert Cat and Chinkara (Indian Gazelle)
(2) Banni Grassland and Chhari Dhand
Location: 69o24′ E 23o42′ N
Area: 3,847 sq. km
Habitat: Arid grassland interspersed with thorn scrub. The inherently saline soil, deposited by long lost river systems, is naturally suited for nutritious grasses. More than 20 grass species and 20 other herb and shrub species grow in Banni. ‘Banni’ comes from word ‘banai’, meaning made.
Chhari-Dhand is a seasonal wetland in the Banni. ‘Dhand’ means a saucer shaped natural depression. Chhari-Dhand is an important wintering area for a variety of waterfowl and is also a roosting place for over 30,000 Common Cranes in winter. A list of over 250 species of birds have been reported from the areas around Chhaari-Dhand. Key species: Great place for many types of raptors and water dependent birds. Other key birds include Grey Hypocolius, White-naped Tit, McQueen’s Bustard and Dalmatian Pelicans.
(3) The wild ass sanctuary
This is the only home for the endangered Asiatic Wild Ass, which is the member of wild horse family. These animals are tall, chestnuts brown and white in color, and are exceptionally fast. They does not survive elsewhere in Indian lowlands, but also supports a thriving population of gazelle, blue bull, wolf, and Indian foxes, jackal, jungle cat, hare and birds from the houbara bustard, spotted & Indian sand grouse, francolin partridge, bustard quails, desert wheatear, desert, larks, steppe eagle, imperial eagle, short toed eagle, 5 of vulture, laggards falcon etc to flamingoes, pelicans, ducks, cranes and storks. Indian wild ass, panther, Black buck, Chinkaras, Blue bull, Jackals, wild boar, Ghudkhur and rare birds Houbara Bustard, Falcons, Larks are the others that can be seen in this sanctuary.
(4) Narayan Sarover bird sanctuary
Like the Wild Ass Sanctuary, Narayan Sarovar is home to a wide array of wildlife, including many species (15 of which are considered threatened) of mammals, reptiles, and birds. The principle species here is the chinkara, an Indian gazelle. In this harsh landscape, only animals well-adapted to the desert climate can thrive, with extreme heat, high winds, and frequent storms. For this reason, many species can be seen here that are not easy to find elsewhere.
Most of Narayan Sarovar is desert thorn forest and scrub forest, with some seasonal wetlands and dry savannah-type vegetation as well. Gorad and babul are the prevailing plant species; gorad in the east and babul in the west. Also found among the 252 species of flowering plants in the sanctuary are hermo, ber, pilu, thor, gugal, salai, ingorio, kerdo, carissa, and the invasive “gando baawal” (prosopsis juliflora), though less so than in other nearby areas.
The endangered chinkara is the only gazelle in the world with horns on both males and females. Of the roughly 7000chinkaras known to exist, 80% of them live in Kutch, and since their primary habitat is the scrub and thorn forests so common here, Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary is crucial to their well-being. The sanctuary also houses many other mammals, from wildcats like the caracal (African or Persian Lynx) to desert foxes and the endangered Indian wolf, from spotted deer to wild boar. The ratel, or honey badger, renowned for its snake-killing ability and fierce self-defense against leopards, lions, poisonous snakes, and swarms of bees, earning it the title of “most fearless animal” in the Guinness Book of World Records, also lives here.
Birds in Kutch
Kachchh birdlife is particularly rich in raptors, waterfowl, waders and larks. Specialties include the Grey Hypocolius (Kutch is the only known wintering site in India), White-naped Tit, Stoliczka’s Bushchat, Sykes’s Nightjar, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Merlin, McQueen’s and Indian Bustards. Over 30,000 Common Cranes, hundreds of Steppe Eagle, Marsh, Pallid and Montague’s Harriers, Long-legged Buzzards, Sandgrouse, Pelicans, Flamingos and great flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks are a feature of any winter visit to the area.
The Little Rann of Kutch is a bird watcher’s paradise in winter. Houbara bastard, sandgrouse, desert chat, desert wheat ear, nine species of larks, quails, gray francolin etc are seen in the saline desert wilderness. Eagles, vultures, harriers and falcons can be seen hunting in the Rann. The marshes in the Rann, and nearby lakes like Nawa Talao and Vanod Saran, attract huge flocks of water birds. Flamingoes, pelicans, cranes, storks, ducks etc can be seen in large numbers.More than 200 bird species live in these seasonal salt marshes. Three of these species are threatened: the lesser florican, Houbara bustard, and Dalmatian pelican. During the wet season, the marshes become pink with flamingos. This area is the home of the largest flamingo breeding colony in the world. Millions of these tall, pink birds fly here each year to nest and raise their young.
The Little Rann of Kutch is a birding paradise and has been declared a Ramsar Site. Birds here include Steppe, Imperial, and Short-toed Eagle, Houbara Bustard, flamingos, pelicans, storks and cranes. The best birding is during the winter months from October to March when waterfowl gather in vast numbers. These are the months when Demoiselle and Common Crane, and Lesser Flamingo are seen in incredibly large numbers.During the rainy season, you see a rich array of wildlife especially the pink flamingos which flock to acres of salt marsh flowering plants. Flamingos build clay nests that rise above the water. There, both parents tend the eggs. Flamingos feed while standing in shallow water. They lower their necks and tilt their heads so that their bills hang upside-down and face backward in the water. In this way they filter plankton, red and blue-green algae, insects, fish, mollusks, and small crustaceans from the water. This diet, mostly the red and blue-green algae and insects which are high in alpha and beta carotenoid pigments, is what causes the flamingos striking pink color.
Three-fourths of this eco-region is protected. Cattle grazing, cutting trees for fuel and commercial mining of salt all pose threats to the eco-region even those areas that are protected. People also drive across the mudflats, and their vehicles damage the fragile ecosystem.