Text : Moushumi Ghosh | Photographs : Dhritiman Mukherjee . . . . . . . . . .Sardarpur Florican Sanctuary
Text : Moushumi Ghosh
Travel Consultant, Travel Writer
Photographs : Dhritiman Mukherjee
Nature and Wildlife Photographer
Carol, Dhaval, Dhriti, Rutika and myself were having a small departing party in Dinesh’s room with lots of mouth-watering Indori bhujias, sweets and soft drink.
It was the last day of our field trip of BNHS Ornithology Course at Chilka. Dinesh announced “If you guys come to Indore, I will treat you with mouth warering Indori bhujias and a glimpse of Lesser Floricans at Sardarpur.”
I was rather new to bird watching; lesser florican and bronzed winged jacana sounded almost the same to me. I was not at all interested; I really found no reason to travel 1700 kms to Indore just for either of the reasons.
During our journey back home, I found Dhriti bubbling with excitement about the invitation to Sardarpur to view the lesser floricans. Dhriti is a keen bird watcher and photographer. I was somewhat surprised by his wild excitement.
After few days, incidentally I came across an article on Bengal Floricans in an old issue of a Sanctuary magazine, written and illustrated with photographs Dr Asad R. Rahmani. I still remember the first line of the article “They have come to see the floricans, not tigers.. ”the statement was about Dudhwa National Park,this line gave birth to my interest in the floricans. I just gulped the article..then started collecting information about the floricans from internet and books available, and decided to go to Indore to have a glimpse of the lesser floricans. Immideately I called up Dinesh and finalized the dates.
The Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indica) is among the smallest bastards in the world and is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Fewer than 1,000 of these birds survive today, making it one of the most endangered birds in the world.
It was mid-August, a hot and humid 36-hours train journey from Kolkata. Shipra Express reached Indore early in the morning at about 4.00 o’clock. A smiling face peeped through the window of our compartment. It was good old Dinesh Kothari, who started cracking his jokes before we could say “Hello”. We were touched, we really didn’t expect him that early in the morning. We went to his house, his wife greeted us with a welcoming smile, and served us lovely “poha “(made from washed bitten rice with spices and onions) for early breakfast.
At about 6.30 we started for Sardarpur in a Maruti Gypsy..
Sardarpur Kharmor Sanctuary is 125 kms away from Indore and 55 kms away from the district headquarters Dhar, near Rajgharnagar on Indore-Ahmedabad road in Madhya Pradesh. We took three hours to reach the sanctuary.
This area was notified as sanctuary in 1981, on the recommendation of Dr. Sálim Ali, who had personally visited this place in the early 1980s. Lesser Florican is included in schedule 1 of Wildlife (protection) Act 1972 and classified as a highly endangered species.
The first glimpse of the sanctuary was really a treat for the eyes. Undulating grass land. Lush green all over. It was like nature’s huge green carpet.
I got down from the vehicle, wanted to feel the velvet green under my feet.
Dinesh took us to a spot from where he had last sighted the bird. We waited there for some time; no trace of the bird. Meanwhile a forest guard came up. Luckily he was known to Dinesh;he took us to the other side of the sanctuary. We were waiting silently on the road. Suddenly the guard shouted in a low voice “kuda”..I was wondering kaha kuda..again he said ..”kuda”
“kuda” means the display or the frequent vertical take-off of the male Lesser Florican from a single grassy spot, to draw the attention of the female. This nuptial display of constantly jumping up above they perform even 500 times a day. A loud rattling or clapping sound they make with every jump.
Now I could locate the spot. It was a sight to remember, a small slim long necked beautiful bird with spatulate-tipped head plumes, black head, neck and underparts and white collar across upper mantel. Its size is roughly 46 to 51 cm. The bird was jumping in a straight line, six to seven feet high from the ground. The display was so elegant that I couldn’t shift my eyes from the location of the jump. One more thing I noticed, that the bird was shifting the place a little bit after each jump. In the mean time another bird started jumping from another location. A loud rattling or clapping sound they were making with every jump.
Lesser Florican is a migratory bird, belongs to the family of Otididae, The bird is of the size of domestic fowl, with long black neck, black beak and grey coloured body and arrives in this area during the rainy season for breeding, at the end of June or the beginning of July every year. The birds lay eggs, rear the young ones and once again leave the place during end of October or beginning of November. This cycle repeats itself every year.
Since floricans show up in the morning till 11.00 o clock and in the evening from 4.00 O’clock,( The guard said ,after that “dab jata hai.”), in the afternoon we drove around the sanctuary.
The sanctuary forms a part of the Deccan trap with varying soil depth. The soils are loamy in texture. Mainly the soils are red and black. The area here is gently sloping with a general gradient towards north east. Most of the streams of the sanctuary drain to Mahi River.
This area is highly deficient in water resources. Most of the surface water sources dry up after February. Important water sources are hand pumps and wells. Since the birds arrive during monsoon there is not much of a problem.
Out of the total area of the sanctuary, 628.443 ha is under control of The Forest department which consists of grasslands(ghas birs) and is almost treeless. Major grasses in this area are Thameda quadravulvis, Heteropogon contortus, Andropogon spp,Cynodon dactylon,
Dicanthuum annulatum, Sehima nervosum, Ischemum Laxum etc.
There are scattered trees of neem(Azadirachta), aam(Mangifera), imli(Tamarindus indica), palas(Butea monosperma) and teak.
At 4.00 o’ clock sharp we drove down to the area where we located the floricans in the morning. We hid ourselves behind the fencing; this time one bird started the display from almost the same spot and the other one from far away. Somehow the closer one felt it was being observed and photographed and immediately vanished. These birds are very shy.
We were driving back to Mohan Khera,where we planned to spend the night at a Dharamshala; We were rewarded with another splendour of nature – a flock of (about 65 in number) Pied harriers almost kissed our gypsy and vanished in the crimson of the setting sun.
Next morning we decided to go to Tarkheri village, We heard that quite a number of Lesser floricans breed in Tarkheri and mostly in Thakur Sajjan Singh’s land. Tarkheri is inside the sanctuary area. It consists of private agricultural land. We met Sajjan Singh,and wanted to see his lands. Sajjan Singh discouraged us saying that the land was full of mud and thorns. It was not easily accessible. But he told us that, before 1980s, Lesser florican used to be a palatable dish for them, Birds in good number used to come during the rains to his lands which he used to cultivate. Any special guest who stepped in his house, Sajjan was ready with his gun to shoot a lesser florican. Then Dr Salem Ali came and educated him about Lesser Floricans and Singh started working with Salem Ali for the conservation of these birds. He stopped cultivating some of his lands where the floricans bred. As a token of recognition the govt. started giving him a stipend. Though the stipend was not enough to compensate for the lands left untouched for the birds to breed, yet he was happy, It was a recognition of his love and work for the birds. But now the govt. has stopped the stipend. The authorities have turned a deaf ear to his repeated pleas. Now he feels rather indifferent. Maybe that’s why he did not entertain the idea of our visiting his fields.
While coming back from Tarkheri, Suddenly Dinesh stopped the car and started running with his tripod on his head, With a close look I found he was running after two sarus cranes ,male and female,the colourful big birds were looking wonderful in the lush green background.
The other birds we saw in the sanctuary are…
Grey back shrike, Indian white throated kingfisher, Common Hawk cuckoo, Skies lark, Crested lark,ashy-crown sparrow lark, Black throated sparrow lark, Red wattelled lapwing,Common dove, Jungle babbler. Other kinds of wildlife visible were fox, Jackel, squirrels.
We couldn’t have a glimpse of a female lesser florican. It’s difficult to locate one in a grassland like Sardarpur. The female is a bit bigger than the male and about 66 cms in length.female floricans lay 3-4 eggs at a time on bare ground in a grass or crop field: colour of the eggs are olive-brown. mottled and streaked with brown. The female bird alone incubates and tends the young.
The existence of these rare birds is under severe threat.
Its grassland habitat is under severe threat from changes in land-use patterns. In addition, the use of chemical insecticides and pesticides in and around their breeding habitats, illegal grazing poses a long-term threat to the survival of the species.
The Forest Dept. possesses 2% of the total sanctuary area. Rest of the land belongs to the farmers.
The MP government aims to denotify agricultural lands from the sanctuary area, which will mean the loss of much of the birds’ feeding and breeding grounds and in turn lead to extinction of this species.
The forest guards here are underpaid. They get Rs 700 p/m.It is not much of an incentive for them to protect these rare species; rather they encourage illegal grazing in exchange of a few bucks. Grazing takes place in 20% of the area.
We were leaving Sardarpur Kharmor Sanctuary in the evening, The sun was setting, spreading all its colours around, a plough-like moon came out to say good bye to us.The green was getting darker,it was a strange green darkness spreading its shadows. My mind,my senses were filled with the beauty of these critically endangered birds and the scenic beauty of this wonderful grassland. It had been really worth travelling 1700 kms for this wonderful experience. No thanks are sufficient for Dinesh who took all the trouble for a few people like us, who had only met during a field trip for a week.
Image © Dhritiman Mukherjee