India – Siana – Where Ross hits 6,000

Ross Gallardy will be the first to tell you that 6,000 life birds isn’t a real milestone. Six thousand is just another number on the way to seeing the birds of the world. It’s something that happens when you’ve found yourself on a few corners of this blue planet chasing after those charismatic creatures with wings. And truthfully I don’t think Ross ever planned for his life list to go the way it did, or at least not as fast as it did, and hitting 5,000 was the real “big deal,” at least to him. Five thousand was always the life-long goal, but here he was exactly 1 year, 3 months, and 9 days later hitting another “milestone” when another lifer was spotted perched in a tree. It’s not a stunner, it’s not the most exciting bird in the world, it’s not even endemic to India, but (spoiler alert) Eastern Orphean Warbler was number 6,000. And in my opinion, 6,000 is a real milestone, an impressive milestone, and something that is not to be taken lightly, even if Ross doesn’t think much of it. 

We were birding around Siana (number 7 on the map) with Daksh (pronounced “Dutch”), whom we had met the night before. Meeting him had a little bit of luck involved so I’m glad we showed up at the “Simple” guest house the night prior based off of a recommendation we had received. The thing is, the “Simple Guest House” we were searching for didn’t exist which explains why we couldn’t find it in Google Maps or Maps.Me, but luckily we showed up at the GPS point given to us and learned that there must have been a typo in the text recommendation because the only guest house in town was the Siana Guest House. Siana/simple – I can see how that could be autocorrected. Anyway, we learned that the owner Pradeep Singh, a lively man in his 60’s, opened a lodge several years ago for tourists hoping to see leopards. The town of Siana used to be one of the best places to come to see Leopards. In fact, this is where David Attenborough visited during the Life of Mammals to film leopards. Unfortunately leopards are no longer reliable in the town because the locals started poisoning them for eating their goats and birders are now the primary visitors to the lodge so they’ve shifted to becoming bird guides and the owner’s son Daksh is a very reliable source for bird sites in the area. For just 7,000IR (aka $100) you get a lovely lodge to sleep in, three delicious meals a day, Jeep transportation for driving the sandy, dirt roads, access to private land, and expert guiding. If you come to Siana, staying at the Siana Guest House is a no-brainer. Actually it’s the only place to stay (no hotels show up on the map) but regardless, it’s very nice and we had a lovely two days in the area. (If you read this and would like to stay at the Siana Guest House let me know because I highly recommend it and I can provide more details for how to get there.)

So let me start at the beginning of how we got here.

After seeing Great Indian Bustard on New Year’s Day, Stephan and Claudia really had no desire to wake up early to get to Siana by dawn, so we had to delay our departure time for the sake of more sleep. Ross never likes to miss a morning but we compromised for their sakes and arrived in Siana around 10am, just in time for the start of the hottest part of the day. We spent midday birding a rocky canyon finding a few birds such as Little Minivet, Striolated Bunting, and Brooke’s Leaf Warbler, despite the heat. It still amazes me how big of a temperature shift there is from day to night in the desert. You can be freezing cold in the early morning and by 9am, have to shed all of your layers due to the heat of the sun. 

Since it was pretty slow, we decided to try and find the guest house and figure out if we could stay there (or if they had any recommendations on where to bird). That’s where we met Daksh and figured out that we could stay and that he’d take us out to a few spots on his family’s land that evening and the next morning. That evening we went out with Daksh to a nearby water hole that he and his father had created since the area has been in such a severe drought. We first birded the rocky slopes near the waterhole finding Black-headed Bunting, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, and our first Grey-necked Bunting. We then moved down to the water hole were we got great looks at a few White-capped Buntings coming in to drink. With a little bit of time left in the day, we headed to a series of fields were we all walked in a line until we found a few Rock Bush Quail. Along with flushing a few quail we also got great looks at a pair of Red-necked Falcons as dusk approached. After dark we spent some time spot lighting for Striped Hyena, but came up empty. 

The following morning Daksh took us to another spot to look for our remaining targets. The main goal of the morning was White-bellied Minivet, but we also needed to find Grey-necked Bunting again for Killian and Stephan. Luckily Grey-necked Bunting was quite common at this spot and it didn’t take long at all to find a few. We spent the rest of the morning searching for the minivet, but managed only to turn up a few other new birds including Black-rumped Flameback and Ross’s 6000th, Eastern Orphean Warbler. I won’t make that big of deal of it, but it’s still a pretty big deal. SIX THOUSAND BIRDS. #6000. Insane. Anyway, without seeing the minivet by noon, we decided to head back to the resort for lunch, but not before first stopping to see some Indian Thick-knees. Back at the lodge we had a wonderful lunch and entertained ourselves at some fruiting trees that contained Indian Golden Oriole, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Coppersmith Barbet, and Thick-billed Flowerpecker. Ross and Julien don’t typically take long lunch breaks {read: any lunch breaks} so soon after lunch we headed back out. Naturally Stephan and Claudia stayed behind at the lodge. Ross, Julian, Killian and myself then spent the afternoon meandering cattle trails through dry, pallid, acacia grasslands searching for White-bellied Minivet and Sirkeer Malkoha.

It was another hot afternoon in the desert so we took it slow. There were plenty of birds around but none of them happened to be our targets. We were beginning to wonder if we should have gone elsewhere to look for them. When Daksh arrived at 4:30PM, we were still target-less. Julien had disappeared over the hills and we hadn’t heard from him for over 2 hours. Ross and I had met up with him earlier and he said he was only going to walk a short distance more before coming back our way to meet up. We were beginning to wonder if he was still okay because he had planned to meet and he never showed up. Because we had a plan, and because he’s a US Marine who always sticks to a plan and never leaves a man behind, Ross went searching for him to make sure he was okay and unfortunately for Ross, it was while he was searching for Julien that Daksh found our most important target, White-bellied Minivet. Ross had to drop his recording gear in order to get to us in time so he missed getting a recording of the four males calling in a tree, and had to settle for a much less stellar photo, but luckily he was still able to run the whole way back and get good looks. Julien turned out to be fine and had found the birds on the opposite side of the mountain so in the end we all had the target.

When darkness settled in we once again went out in search of hyenas but only ever turned up four Common Palm Civits during our drive. No leopards either. It was a long day and a late dinner but eventually we got to bed knowing we had an early morning start if we wanted to get to Mount Abu by dawn. We were genuinely thankful for the hospitality we received from the Siana Guest House. If it weren’t for Pradeep, the owner, we might not have found our next target for the following morning because he gave us explicit directions that Green Avadavat could be found in the bushes east of the Peace Park. When we arrived the next morning, the birds were just where he said they would be and we might not have had them otherwise. It didn’t take long and soon we had up close views of over 20 Green Avadavats feeding right in front of us along with nice views of Crested Bunting, White-bellied Drongo, Tawny-throated Babbler, and Grey-breasted Prinia.

We decided to start back down the mountain with the plan to stop a few times along the way. At our first stop, Ross and I picked up Red Spurfowl when we flushed a pair in the bushes below us. Unfortunately the rest of the group had spread apart and missed them. Again the garbage was plentiful along the side of the road but the birds in the trees didn’t seem to know any different. We had up close views of Indian Scimitar Babbler and Red-whiskered Bulbuls. Another side effect of birding along the road is having people come up to you and ask for a selfie. I posed once again for likely my 100th selfie of the trip and then it was back on the road where we once again had to navigate around countless over-packed trucks all boasting a rear bumper saying “honk horn” or “honk please”, randomly placed speed bumps in the highway, and hundreds of cows standing in the middle of the road on the way to our next destination, The Little Rann.

P.S. – In case you can’t read the text on the sign on the photo with Killian standing with garbage everywhere, it says “Nature saves us. We have to save nature.” The irony.

P.P.S – For those astute readers who are wondering if I forgot to include a photo of Eastern Orophean Warbler in this post — I didn’t forget. But you’d be right if you said that I didn’t include one. Even though I talk about the bird a great deal, Ross didn’t get a photo of the exact individual we saw at this location and won’t let me put in a future photo he took of the species. LAME. But there are pictures! So you’ll have to wait until a later post to see this bird, but don’t worry, I’ll show this lovely, rather nondescript 6,000th milestone to you in a later post!!! Stay tuned!

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