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The Jewels of Coastal Kutch

Coastal Kutch in Gujarat is a quite secluded gem of the natural world. Vast stretches of picturesque beaches along the calm blue waters of the Arabian Sea dominate the landscape of this region. These quant beaches nestled along one arm of the Gulf of Kutch are home to a large and diverse population of wader birds and other marine and aquatic species of animals. The most notable among them is the quite remarkably colourful and lanky presence of the greater flamingos. The most widespread and largest species of flamingos, these birds forage along these beaches in huge flocks. They spend most of their time wading into the Arabian Sea where they forage in knee deep water but as the water level begins to rise with approaching high tide they keep on inching closer towards the shore. The calm waters of the Arabian Sea along these shorelines allow the flamingos to forage into knee deep or sometimes even deeper waters. The webbings in their feet and long slender lightweight legs allow them to wade into water with remarkable ease. These birds spend most part of their day burying their bills or sometimes their entire head to suck up both mud or sand and food mixed in them. There is a filter like structure in their beak which separates the food from the muddy water before the liquid is expelled out. Their menu is typically made up of tiny fish, fish larvae, planktons and shrimps. The ever so adaptable egrets and herons can also be found in huge numbers along these beaches. The western reef egret, the great egret and the grey heron being the most common representatives. These birds exhibit remarkable patience in carefully and meticulously scanning the surrounding for a potential meal and almost everything from leftover scraps from a carcass to live preys including fish, crustaceans feature prominently in their menu. The beaches with their vast expanse of sand cover may appear rather lifeless at a first glance although in reality the sandy cover hides beneath itself an abundance of life. Lying beneath these surfaces are huge colonies of marine crab species such as the ghost crab and the fiddler crab and the birds here seem to know it the most than anyone else. Such huge numbers of their favourite food item in turn guarantees a huge number of crab plovers along these coastlines. The one trait which sets it apart from other waders is the crab plovers nest in burrows along the sandy banks of beaches where they lay their eggs and use the warmth of the ground for incubating their eggs. Early morning happens to be the best time to see these birds in fairly big colonies consisting up to 10 individuals including the juveniles, carefully scanning the beaches and wading into the sea for their favourite meal of a crab. The game of cat and mouse between these waders and the Ghost crab or the Fiddler crab species is worth watching. With every passing day both the predator as well as the prey are learning and devising new techniques to outrun and outwit the other one turning the calm and quiet sands into fiery battlegrounds. Then there are the usual suspects, the sandpipers, the notable one being the migratory Terek sandpiper named after the Terek River flowing into the Caspian Sea. These birds are winter migrants when they migrate south towards the tropical beaches such as the ones along the coastal Kutch in order to escape the harsh and unforgiving Siberian winters. The ruddy turnstone another member of the wader family exhibits similar migratory behaviour is another winter visitor to these shores. This small and stocky wader feeds on small insects, molluscs, worms and applies the rather ingenious method of turning small pebbles or rocks over with its bills in search of food underneath, leading to its curious nomenclature. In fact these clever little birds apply more than the single technique of flipping over their prey’s hideout, in a remarkable display of intelligence they have been known to probe the sandy surface with their bills in order to flush out any small insect or crustacean hiding beneath it. They even use their short stout bills as hammers to crack open the shells of small crabs or molluscs to get hold of the fleshy treat inside. The small sanderling another migratory wader and the incredibly adaptable and widespread Kentish plover too have made these beaches their homes. All of these birds make the sandy dunes along these coastlines their home along with many other species of birds and aquatic animals. Some of these species of birds are migratory in nature while some are permanent residents along these coasts, but all contributing in unison in making the coastal Kutch any birdwatcher’s delight.

These beaches with such abundance of animal life are some of the few remaining places on this planet which are yet to be engulfed by the ever lurking jaws of rapid urbanisation. These sandy coastlines are still safe havens to hundreds of species of birds, some of which travel thousands of kilometres across the globe to these beaches which they call their winter homes. From every dawn till dusk these quant beaches explode to life amidst the chirping and whistling of their winged dwellers. One can only hope these shorelines will keep on waking up to this familiar chatter with every ensuing sunrise. These narrow and otherwise insignificant coastlines along the Gulf of Kutch happens to be the centre stage for some of the most fascinating dramas unfolding every day, which only goes on to show that the natural world chooses to hide its bounty in some of the most unlikeliest of places, it is up to us to discover such hidden treasure troves and above all do our very best to preserve them.

 

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The vibrant congregation of greater flamingos along the coastal Kutch can be an incredibly beautiful sight.
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Their webbed feet and slender long legs of the greater flamingos allow them to wade deeper into the waters in search of food.

 

 

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These secluded beaches provide the perfect opportunities to observe these beautiful birds in action.

 

 

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The greater flamingos spend most of their daytime foraging for food. Their diet typically consists of small fish, shrimps and planktons.

 

 

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Being large birds the greater flamingos need to gather considerable momentum before they can take off for a flight.

 

 

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 The Western reef egret is one of the common species of egret found along these coastlines.

 

 

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A grey heron, another common species of heron found here adjusts its neck muscles possibly after swallowing a fish or other prey.

 

 

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The ingenious Ruddy turnstone which uses its bill to flip over stones or pebbles in search of food, or to break open the hard shells of molluscs or crabs or even tap the surface to feel the presence of its prey hiding underneath.

 

 

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A crab plover with its favourite food item. The large colonies of ghost crabs and fiddler crabs living in underground burrows make up for most of this bird’s diet.

 

 

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The Terek sandpiper a winter migrant to these shores was first observed along the Terek River near the Caspian Sea which led to its nomenclature.

 

 

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The Kentish plover is another small bird with a massive character. These small birds weighing only about 40 grams are extremely adaptable and are equally at home in the scorching heat of the desert as well as the freezing cold of the Tundra.

 

 

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 Despite its small size which measures barely 18-20 cm the sanderling undertakes an epic migration every year during which it reaches these shores travelling from as far as the Arctic.

 

 

 

by Dilipsinh Chudasama

By : Dilipsinh Chudasama


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