It felt like a challenge. Searching for one particular type of bird in a 5,000 sq.km. desert that hosts over 300 species of birds. We’d chanced upon one for a few seconds on a previous safari, and we needed to get another look at it. So off we went. Now we know that it’s not nice to single out any one type of bird and animal to search for on a safari. We should appreciate whatever happens across our path. And we did. We did that for five safaris and were blown away by the variety of life in an apparently lifeless desert. And on our last safari, we got a little selfish. We love owls and hoped we could see it again. Just to say goodbye from a respectful distance.
We know it’s not exactly a rare bird. In fact, it’s found every continent except Antarctica and Australia. It’s also not too hard to spot because it’s active during the day. But like we said, the Little Rann of Kutch is a 5,000 sq.km. desert. And this bird is shy.
Luckily, we had a great guide. He knew all the right spots. There’s a small clump of Prosopis spp., an invasive plant that’s spreading across the Rann. He knew that the owl we were looking for likes hanging out there. So we drove over and slowly started scanning the ground. Wait. Why were we looking for a bird on the ground? Because in the Little Rann of Kutch, birds chill out on the ground. Yes. It’s a desert, so there aren’t too many trees or sources of shade. To protect themselves from the scorching heat, birds often sit on the ground. So instead of scanning treetops or even the sky, we were carefully checking out the dirt under the trees.
For a while, we didn’t see anything. No birds at all. And then the guide tapped my shoulder and pointed. Almost perfectly camouflaged under a tree, a mottled-brown short-eared owl was staring right at me. For what felt like ages, no one moved. Its yellow-orange eyes exaggerated by the black rings around them, stared as if we were in a blinking contest. Then it took off. That’s when we realised that we had probably interrupted a date. Because a second owl that must have been behind the tree took off after it as well. We figured it was okay because they were giving each other the silent treatment anyway. One of the owls then decided to perch conspicuously on a high branch. We got a glorious view of that beautiful bird. Funny thing is, short-eared owls rarely perch out in the open like that, at least in daylight. We took it as a sign that the owl and the Rann were saying goodbye to us too.