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Raptor’s Inn – the place where eagles, falcons, harriers take a short break

A booted eagle with its prey (All photos by Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

Tal Chhapar, sleepy small tehsil town in Churu district of Rajasthan is known for its Black Buck sanctuary but over the years the place is known for raptor’s paradise for birders. For four months in a year, this place turns like an inn, hosting at least 30-40 species of raptors or birds of prey like falcons, eagles, harriers, hawks, ospreys and other kinds of migratory birds. 

“Raptors are here in March and April and October and November during their migration and reverse migration,” says Kamal Sahansi, a wildlife photographer who has been visiting Tal Chhapar for the last 5-6 years. 

A Lagger falcon holding on to its prey

“You get to see different species of eagles, falcons, kestrels etc at one place.”

Due to its strategic location in the middle of Central Asian migratory flyway, Tal Chhapar has a grand expanse of rippling grassland like African Savannah, though much smaller in terms of area. According to experts, this is the time when the Central Asian Flyway becomes very busy. More than 300 species use this expressway to visit India and once here, they have their places to go. 

“Wetlands play a significant role in providing them with alternate homes for feeding, wintering and breeding,” says Ramesh Panday, a senior officer of Indian Forest Service.

Most of these raptors are passage migrants in India which draws scores of birders. While raptors, kestrels, falcons breed in China and Mongolia, and enter India from Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Eagles, hawks are believed to fly across the high Himalayas and cut across north-west India, breaking thier journey in places such as Tal Chhapar. The final destination is Africa.

A tawny eagle about to take off

Not all birds of prey are called raptors. Experts say that this honour is given to only those who have a great eyesight to locate their prey, strong feet to hold the kill and strong beak to tear the flesh. Eagles, hawks,falcons, harriers, buzzards, kites, owls are raptors.  And all these can be seen in Tal Chhapar.  

But why Tal Chhapar ? 

“Apart being on the Central Asian migratory flyway, it offers these raptors their favourite meal like spiny-tailed lizards and jirds which come out from their hibernation during these months,” says our guide Atul and while he was talking, we saw a booted eagle come down swiftly and caught one spiny lizard in its powerful talons. 

India’s only herbivorous lizard species are being hunted by the birds of prey. 

“This morning is going to be full of action,” we could see laggar falcons, tawny, steppe and imperial eagles sitting on trees and scanning the ground with their sharp eyes for their prey which was in abundance. 

An imperial eagle

The laggar Falcon was faster than lightning to grab the elusive spiny lizard. Talons grabbed the hapless lizard and the falcon then carried it away and enjoyed its juicy desert meal high up on a tree. While speaking about the hunt we located another laggar falcon returning to branches of a tree with a kill. 

Tal Chhapar never disappoints wildlife photographers. On the ground there was a Booted Eagle with a lizard under its claws. The big bird was looking for a safe place where it could devour the catch. 

The flourishing grassland ecosystem of Tal Chhapar has a tale of its own. Till the 1940s, it was a hunting ground and horse pasture belonging to Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner. The area was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1966. Though small in size, this sanctuary boasts of rich biodiversity. If one is looking for a little piece of African safari in India, this is the place.

Also Read: Did a monitor lizard help Shivaji conquer Sinhagad Fort: Legend says yes!