Monday, November 14, 2011

Notes on Nannaj (August 2009)

The Great Indian Bustard" would have been India's national bird had it not been for its awkward name! This is what I read in a document about the GIB sanctuary in Nannaj near Solapur from Nature India Tours just before my trip there from Aug 14-17, 2009. Well, what a reason! According to me the bird deserves the position. It is much more majestic than the peacock and rarer. In fact, so rare that only 400 individuals are left. In Nannaj, the numbers have fallen steadily and is now less than 30.
The sanctuary is spread over a vast area of grassland and looking for the bustard is literally searching for a needle in a haystack. It is difficult enough in the shimmering heat, but Adesh of the eagle eye spotted one lone male on the 2nd day of our stay there.Since bustards walk proud with their head high up in the air, we could spot him without too much trouble through the scope and binoculars.Sadly, that was to be the only sighting.We even went to the observation hut, but no luck. According to Adesh, when they go into a 'depression' (in the ground!) we are unable to see them. When I said I wasn't satisfied with this 'Pandharpuri sighting', Adesh laughed and remarked that it was 'lalach' to expect more!
However, our motley group of 16 consisting of my good friend Kalpana, Jayashree, Naseem, a clutch of doctors - a dermatologist, two psychiatrists, a chartered accountant, an MTech student from IIT, a BSc student, a scientist from TIFR and a prof from St.Xavier's - did see 75-80 other species! Ranging from five species of larks, raptors like the white eyed buzzard,black shouldered kite and shikhra and two species of owl - the spotted owlet and the Indian eagle owl to waders at the lake - painted storks, egrets, coots, grey heron, purple heron, ibises. Red munias, scaly breasted munias, rosy pastors, baya weavers...
The eagle owl rendered me speechless and gave me a bad case of goosebumps. Its size - almost 2 feet in height, its horn like ear tufts and its great glaring yellow eyes! Then it took off with a silent swish of its huge wings and disappeared over a ridge...we all went 'wow!' The bulbuls and mynahs elicited 'Oh, only a bulbul!' which showed what seasoned birders we were :)!
Two people we met there, a forest officer named Mr.Mhaske and a B.S.Kulkarni, proved inspiring. They have done yeoman service for preserving the sanctuary and preventing encroachment. The government has done little and its shortsighted declaration that it would reserve 8000 sq km of grassland for the bustard has evoked anger among the farmers. According to Mr.Mhaske, there is no need to notify such a large area - it is really impractical and impossible. The bustard needs to be protected within its range which is actually 400 sq km. The farmers think that there is too much attention being paid to the bird and too little to their needs. So they have even set fire to the grassland or tried to prove that the bustard numbers are too little to merit such protection!!
Mr.Mhaske wants that the locals be made aware of the importance of the bustard and that it would bring in tourists...thus improving the local economy. I suppose he is talking of the Africa model where the locals have a stake in preserving the habitat and fauna. Mr.Kulkarni has done a lot for the bustard's protection over the last 30-35 years and despite his age is still actively involved.He has some beautiful bags embroidered with the bustard and sells stickers and postcards as well as books.
Well, Nannaj was a wonderful experience all told - including the shenga poli oozing with asli ghee, mirchi techa, zunka bhakar, shengachi chutney - mmmmmm... I must have put on a few kilos. Wish I were one one of those rake thin people who scarf food but don't show it! I would advise those going in the second batch in October to starve themselves a bit before setting out. All that shenga poli and asli ghee and basundi is waiting for you!
Adesh and Mandar were their usual solicitous, cheerful, knowledgeable selves. Of course, our enthusiasm was a bit dampened when the bubbly Pradnya (Shenoy) sprained her leg and had to return early.
Keep it up Nature India...

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