A Tryst With The Majestic Raptors At Tal Chhapar Sanctuary

Tal Chhapar is a wildlife sanctuary in the Churu district of northwestern Rajasthan, in the Shekhawati region
Tal Chhapar has become a popular birding destination to see the majestic raptors of India
Tal Chhapar has become a popular birding destination to see the majestic raptors of IndiaDhananjay Dravid

As I reached the hot and dusty desert town of Tal Chappar, I was greeted by the flying mascots of the desert - the raptors. The sight of the regal Bonelli’s Eagle and Steppe Eagle spreading their wings wide and cruising the sky before their final landing sent a shiver down my spine. This was just the beginning of what was going to be one of the most memorable birding trips I have been on.

Tal Chappar - A Birder’s Haven

Tal Chappar was the erstwhile hunting abode of the Maharaja of Bikaner, but today, it has become a popular birding destination to see the majestic raptors in India. Indian Eagle Owl, Pallid Harriers, Laggar Falcon, Great Grey Shrikes, and many others from the family of raptors throng this arid landscape, making it a haven for birders and wildlife photographers alike.

My abode for the next two days was the Raptors Inn at Tal Chappar, a comfortable guest house with warm hospitality by the owner and guide, Mr. Atul. After a sumptuous meal of the local delicacies of dal baati churma, gatte ki sabzi, and a tall glass of buttermilk, I was ready for my tryst with the royal raptors.

A Laggar Falcon at Tal Chhapar
A Laggar Falcon at Tal ChhaparDhananjay Dravid

Well Begun Is Half Done

The trip began with a safari ride to the Tal Chappar Sanctuary with Atul. He enthralled me with exciting stories about the flying beasts that rule the roost in this part of the desert. As Atul spoke about the birds and mammals occupying this small piece of land, the Gypsy suddenly stopped. At this point, I saw a Tawny Eagle with its menacing eyes perched on a tall tree, waiting to catch its prey. I saw a large Spiny-tailed Lizard peep out of its burrow and, in a swift flight, the Tawny Eagle dove down and caught it in its talons. It was indeed a magnificent spectacle to behold.

Blackbucks at the sanctuary
Blackbucks at the sanctuaryArchit Ratan / WikiCommons

A Morning Well Spent

Going ahead, we saw many blackbucks, the black-naped hare, and the Nilgai. Crossing a sandy patch next to the jeep track, Atul spotted the Painted Sand Grouse, camouflaged beautifully with black and white striped feathers and sand-coloured body, munching away on seeds. This intricately patterned bird is a cross between a pheasant and a dove. Happy to have some print-worthy shots of this beautiful bird, we moved along.

Much to my surprise, not too far ahead, I heard a constant drumming sound coming from close quarters, and I knew it was none other than the Yellow Crowned Woodpecker. Merrily spiralling up the trunk, two of them made a home in the tree. Over the next hour, many different birds gave me an audience, including the master of camouflage, the Indian Spotted Tree Creeper, the Montague Harrier, the Sparrow Hawk, the Crested Lark, and the Southern Grey Shrike, amongst some others. Happy with my find, we returned to the guesthouse for some grub and a nap after the hot day at the sanctuary.

An Indian Roller
An Indian RollerDhananjay Dravid

Ending On A High Note

The next day was planned to be spent at the ‘Goshala,’ home to unwanted or homeless cattle. Goshala is an excellent place to visit in September and October as numerous hares, hundreds of Spiny-tailed lizards, and Desert jirds emerge after the rains, making it a hunting ground for the raptors. I got some beautiful clicks of the flying predators making a beeline for their prey. But the showstopper was a Lagar Falcon cruising low to catch a Desert Jird as it peeped out of its burrow. In one swift move, it plucked out the jird with its sharp claws and took off to a nearby tree to relish its find. The scene is still vivid in my memory.

Other Interesting Sights And Places In The Vicinity

Besides birds, Tal Chappar is one of the best places to spot the blackbuck and several different species of mammals like Desert Fox, Blue Bull, Black-Naped Hare, Chinkara, Nilgai, and Desert Cats. I was lucky to have spotted all these beautiful creatures roaming freely in their natural habitat, and resolved to visit again.

Anyone visiting Tal Chappar must also visit Jor Beer Conservation Reserve, on the outskirts of Bikaner, which is famous for the critically endangered Long Billed and White-Rumped Vultures as well as a diverse range of migratory species from Europe, Central Asia, and other parts of the world.

Au Revoir

A visit to Tal Chappar and its surroundings is a must for those intrigued, like me, by these flying giants with unmatched backgrounds that make for perfect pictures. Unflustered by the paparazzi, these magnificent birds continue their fights and flights, little knowing that they make prized memories for all birding enthusiasts.

The Information

Best Time to Visit: September to March.

How to Reach: It is a 5-hour drive from Jaipur airport and a 2.5-hour drive from Bikaner.

Cost of Stay: Around INR 10,000 per day for a double-occupancy room, two safaris, and all meals.

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