IN083
Bhal area


Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
The Bhal (literally meaning the forehead) is a flat alluvial plain, made up of a mosaic of croplands, saline wastelands, grasslands, pasture land and marshes (Dharmakumarsinhji 1978). It is bordered on the south by the Kalubar river, extends north to Dholka and Dhandhuka, and northwest to Limbdi. The Bhal region is believed to have emerged from the sea during the late Tertiary and early Quaternary, much later than the rest of Saurashtra which appeared during the Cretaceous period (Dharmakumarsinhji 1978, Raychaudhari et al. 1963). The Bhal region is prone to droughts and floods. Cyclones occasionally strike the coast of Saurashtra. During such times, the Bhal becomes a large swamp. This attracts a very large number of waders and other waterbirds. The Bhal area was an open treeless habitat as recently as 50 years ago (Dharmakumarsinhji 1978, Mungall et al. 1981). Prosopis chilensis was planted in the Bhal area about 60 years ago near Mithapur, to provide fuel wood. It has since spread rampantly and converted much of the grasslands into savanna and thorn-forest habitat (Jhala 1991). Nearly forty species of grasses have been identified from the area. The dominant grass species are Dicanthium annulatum, Sporobolus virginicus, S. coromandelianus and S. maderspatensis. Prosopis chilensis is the dominant species of shrub.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: No detailed study of the avifauna has been conducted, except for notes by Dharmakumarsinhji and others. However, the scattered patches of grasslands were perhaps the most important breeding areas for the Lesser Florican, and even now they could become important if protected during monsoon. Velavadar (another IBA), also in Bhal region, has well-protected grassland and between 40- 45 male floricans are seen there. Bhal region is an important habitat of Stoliczka’s Bushchat Saxicola macrorhyncha (Gadhvi and Rathod 2003). It is seen in and around Velavadar NP but is likely to occur in more areas in the Bhal. Wherever water remains for a couple of months, Sarus Crane Grus antigone breeds. No population estimate has been done, but after Kheda region in north Gujarat, the Bhal could be the most important habitat for this bird in Gujarat. In winter, Houbara or Macqueen’s bustard Chlamydotis macqueeni is found, albeit in small numbers. The Bhal region is also very important for raptors. Scattered grasslands and crop fields host a huge population of harriers. According to Asad Akhtar (pers. comm. 2001), between 3-4 thousand harriers roost in Velavadar NP. During the daytime, most of these harriers spread out in the Bhal region for foraging. Therefore, small grassland patches are extremely important for the survival of harriers.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus is very common, despite it being a crop pest, as the local populace does not harm it. Chinkara Gazella bennettii is also seen, but only in undulating areas. Scattered herds of Blackbuck Antilope cervicapra are also found, the majority of them occuring in Velavadar NP. The Grey Wolf Canis lupus is the largest wild predator of the region (Jhala 1991). The Indian Fox Vulpes bengalensis and Golden Jackal Canis aureus are smaller Canids of this area. Nearly 100 years ago, the vast flat grasslands of the Bhal used to have Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus. Once Cheetah became extinct here (and extremely rare in the rest of India), African Cheetahs were used for sport hunting. The Bhal is perhaps the last area in India where, up to the mid 1940s, tame African Cheetahs were used for hunting Blackbuck (Craighhead and Craighhead 2001).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Destruction of grassland habitat due to increasing number of saltpans and industries; Infestation by Prosopis chilensis; Proposed Narmada Canal network; Traffic; Livestock grazing; Industrial development and pollution.

The increasing number of saltpans in Bhal poses a threat to the natural habitat of the avifauna. Beside this, industrial development in the coastal areas also disturbs the birds due to the resultant heavy traffic. Conversion of natural grassland into agricultural land is yet another threat that needs to be checked. Moreover, the spread of Prosopis chilensis is reducing the open foraging ground for Houbara and Stoliczka’s Bushchat. The proposed Narmada Canal network will cause changes in land-use pattern and water logging, which will affect the wildlife of the area.

Acknowledgements
Key contributors: I. R. Gadhvi, V. A. Rathod and Y. N. Jhala.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Bhal area. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 04/10/2022.