29th March 2007
Arriving just after midday in Indira Gandhi Airport we stepped outside into the baking thirty degree sunlight, the semi-stagnant air immediately providing at least some relief. The eight-hour flight had been seemed longer due the anticipation of the ten days we had ahead of us. Birds seen between the airport car-park and the Metro Heights Hotel, our humble abode for the night included Common and Bank Mynas, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Purple Sunbird, Dusky Crag Martin, Red-vented Bulbul and numerous Black Kites of the local race govinda.
After a quick bite to settle our hunger we hopped on a motorised rickshaw, these little speed demons known enigmatically as tuc-tucs, have an appearance similar to a motorbike with an m-and-m shell covering. After a hair-raising journey which lasted a mere twenty-minutes we reached the banks of the Yumna River which winds it’s way through the centre of the city. Birds in the skies included indicus race Egyptian Vulture, a pale-phase Booted Eagle, Caspian, Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls. The water-level was low and as well as host of migrant waders and waterfowl provided us with Indian Cormorant, Spot-billed Duck and our only Whiskered Tern of the trip. The reed-beds and dense riverside vegetation yielded Ashy, Plain and Graceful Prinias, blythi Lesser Whitethroat, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Large Grey Babbler, White-throated Kingfisher, Eurasian Hoopoe and a perched Black-eared Kite.
The short grassy banks at the water’s edge were very productive with a mixed wagtail flock including both races of Citrine, beema, plexa and melanogrisea Yellow and White-browed present along with Paddyfield Pipit, a recent split from Richard’s Pipit, Indian Pond Heron and Streak-throated Swallow.The light now beginning to fade caused us to think about heading back to the hotel, easier said than done, having crossed one of Delhi’s busiest highways we flagged down another tuc-tuc only to discover once on our way that our new driver spoke no English what-so-ever, however after a 45-minute return journey Mike recognised the area and were greeted with relief by the Ali and Jack when we walked in all in one piece.
30th March 2007
Today began early with a quick step outside the hotel yielding our first Red-whiskered Bulbul, Eastern Cattle Egret, Laughing and Eurasian Collared Doves. This morning was purely business as the group prepared for the rest of the trip which mainly consisted of drawing money from the central bank and buying snacks for our overnight train journey, however a male Shikra was observed riding the thermals over the bank itself.
Once having boarded the Uttkahl Express train at Nizamuddin which was to take us south towards our destination of Umaria near Bandhavgarh National Park most of the group relaxed for the overnight journey. Birding was only possible by staking claim to one of the open doors providing the locomotive with a primitive but efficient air-con system. Despite it’s slight discomfort birding was good with Indian Peafowl, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Bronze-winged Jacana, Marsh Sandpiper, Purple Gallinule, Intermediate Egret, Brown Rock Chat and Ashy-crowned Sparrowlark being seen while on the move.
An extended random stop, as is often the case with the Indian rail-service provided opportunity to stretch our legs on terra-firme and produced Large-billed Crow, Pied Bushchat, Black-hooded Oriole, erythronotus Long-tailed Shrike and a melaschistos race Eurasian Sparrowhawk.
As darkness fell everyone settled down to catch-up on some much needed sleep after digesting a rather scrumptious meal washed down by several cups of Chai, the Indian equivalent to tea.
31st March 2007
Reaching our destination of Umaria at the about 8.30am only a couple of hours later than our scheduled time for arrival we were met by our transfer vehicle which took us to the residence of Satyendra and Kay close to Bandhavgarh National Park in central Madhya Pradesh. Birds seen during the drive included Black-shouldered Kite, Jungle Crow, Spotted and meena Oriental Turtle Dove while having arrived at our destination the garden provided Plum-headed Parakeet, Black Ibis, Asian Koel, Indian Grey Hornbill, Coppersmith Barbet, White-rumped Vulture and Brahminy Starling.
While indulging in quick refreshment not quite ten minutes after our arrival, Satyendra our host received a phone call and we were politely rushed into two vehicles and whisked into the park proper. En-route birds included Wire-tailed Swallow, Crested Honey Buzzard, Lesser Adjutant, Tawny-bellied and Jungle Babblers and Jungle Prinia. After a search of about 45 minutes we found ourselves in the presence of two magnificent adolescent Tiger cubs. We watched these two partners in crime for about an hour before we headed back for lunch with Crested Serpent Eagle and Indian Nuthatch observed on the return journey.
During a delicious and well deserved lunch, we enjoyed the company of the other guests consisting of Chris and Monique Fallows, fellow South Africans and Great White Shark researchers from Cape Town along with friends of theirs from England. After lunch a short walk through the village to a small stream yielded Yellow-legged Buttonquail expertly picked up by Toby along with White-breasted Waterhen, Thick-billed Flowerpecker and Chestnut-shouldered Petronia.
The afternoon drive was relatively quiet but we added Alexandrine Parakeet, Red Junglefowl, White-bellied Drongo and Grey Nightjar to the trip list along with two Brown Fish Owls picked up at a local roosting spot.
1st April 2007
This morning we embarked on a short drive (including a short stop for Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher) to an ancient temple nestled quietly in on the slopes of a small hill, our purpose was to reach a series of steep cliffs opposite side. The fairly relaxed hike from the drop-off point up past a number of ruins provided us with views of Painted and Red Spurfowl, Striped Tit Babbler, Blue Rock Thrush of the Asian race pandoo, Grey-breasted Prinia, Black-naped Monarch, Malabar Pied Hornbill and Small Buttonquail along with fresh pug-marks left by a male Tiger and Indian Civet tracks. Having reached our destination we took a moment to soak up the impressive view over the park before us meanwhile Tom and the other photographers found plenty to occupy themselves in the thermalling Long-billed Vultures and the “Black Shaheen” race of Peregrine Falcon which nest on this remote rock-face. Jacko came into his own by spotting a male Tiger, possibly the individual whose tracks we had picked up, crossing a clearing in the Sal forest below us about three-quarters of a kilometre away.
A post-lunch meander through the garden and village much the same as yesterday produced much the same avifauna along with Greenish Warbler, Jerdon’s Leafbird, a male Greater Painted Snipe and Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Eventually though the heat of the day got the better of us and we headed for the shade of home.
Once again as the clock neared 15.30 we drove back out into the park and again we had a fairly quiet afternoon having chosen to mainly avoid the bulk of the tourists, however new birds for the trip included White-rumped Shama, King Vulture, Barred Buttonquail, Blue-tailed Bee-eater and Common Rosefinch all found while traversing between the picturesque forest and the open savannah pockets which mosaic through the reserve.
After another scrumptious and belly-stretching dinner we organised a short night-drive to attempt finding at least one of the Indian Nightjars we had heard calling during the meal. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes of searching from the road behind the village we located the general area that one of the birds was feeding in. A short walk and we had our quarry safely in a beam of torchlight before heading back to base for a celebratory drink and bed.
2nd April 2007
Another fine day breaks on Bandhavgarh national park as our party splits with Tom and Ali joining the rest of the guests on a return visit to the temple and cliffs while the other three decided to view more of the park on another drive. As well as a very poor view of a new Tigress birding, as usual, was fantastic as usual with Changeable Hawk and Short-toed Snake Eagles, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo of the impressive grandis subspecies constituting the highlights.
The by now routine mid-afternoon walk around the garden and down to the Lilly-clogged nearby stream produced both male and female Greater Painted Snipe this time along with Taiga Flycatcher, Cinnamon Bittern, kundoo race Golden Oriole, Black-headed Cuckooshrike and the sinister-looking tricolour race of Long-tailed Shrike.
As we embarked on the vehicles for our final evening drive in the park the solemnity of the moment was broken by a brief but close view of a Syke’s Warbler.
Birding was fairly quiet on the afternoon drive with only Rufous Treepie and Jungle Owlet being added to the trip. However, having left the park via a different gate our guide amazingly picked up a large male Tiger by the edge of the road by hearing the alarm calls of a nearby heard of Chital, we observed B2 as he is known to park staff crossing the road and heading in towards the village only a few hundred metres away. A superb way in which to end what had been quite a calm and non-descript day.
3rd April 2007
Our final morning in a place that had been so kind to us was not to disappoint, having entered through the quaint and decidedly disorganised park gate we traversed as much of the area as possible and as well as picking up the two original Tiger cubs seen on the first day we also had their mother later on as we were on our way out. Birds seen during the drive included Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Great Tit of the pale-bellied race stupae, Bonelli’s Hawk Eagle, Woolly-necked Stork, Olive-backed and Tree Pipit along with a single Orange-headed Thrush.
Upon our return we bid fair-well to Satyendra and Kay, our fantastic hosts for our stay here and were picked up by a transfer vehicle which was to take us back to Umaria and the Uttkahl Express for our again overnight journey northwards to Agra.
4th April 2007
As day broke it was back to birding from the gaping doors of our train as it grinded its way through some picturesque scenery and farmland birding highlights included Bay-backed Shrike, Ruddy Shelduck, Red-rumped Swallow and Small Pratincole.
A short stop to visit the Taj Mahal basking in the mornings light in all it’s perfect glory, this incredible piece of architecture being surpassed only by the story of how it came to be.
We then drove on to the Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary, our home for the evening and what a home indeed. A walk around the local fields surpassed all expectation producing Grey Francolin, Jungle Bush Quail, several Paddyfield Warblers, Bluethroat, Zitting Cisticola and Indian Silverbill in the short crops and low vegetation. Taller trees and scrubs reminiscent of Africa’s acacias held a male Red-headed Bunting, Ashy Drongo and a male Taiga Flycatcher. Small flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings passed overhead periodically and a small orchard provided us with our first Spotted Owlet of the tour along with a single althaea Lesser Whitethroat and an Indian Cuckoo, apparently the first record of this species for the area. As we returned to camp in the last breathe of light following an awe-inspiring sunset we had the privilege to observe over 200 flying foxes leaving their daytime roost beside our chalets. A short night walk after dinner provided us with short glimpses of Palm Civet and Indian Fox before an early night.
5th April 2007
Today dawned bright and early and with first light saw an increase in bird activity with the most notable additions to the list being a single Hume’s Warbler and Asian Paradise Flycatcher. A quick bite to eat and we were transferred through the rugged cavernous terrain of the Chambal region stopping briefly to note Rufous-fronted Prinia, Common Babbler, White-eared Bulbul and Plain Martin before arriving at the river of the same name.
Reminiscent of North Africa we were greeted by a caravan of camels and their owners as we traversed across the flat arid plains, themselves broken only by the lazy waters of the small winding water-body we had come to experience. These dried plains held breeding River Lapwing, Indian Little Ringed Plover, Great Thick-knee, Crested Lark and Oriental Skylark. Meanwhile the crust of a muddy shoreline held a host of waders, Kentish Plover, a large flock of wagtails which comprised of much the same as those on the shores of Dehli’s Yuhimna as well as taivana Yellow plus personata and leucopsis White along with a solitary Red-throated Pipit.
Boarding our vessel we began our journey along the river proper, from the boat we were watched cautiously by both Garials and Mugger Crocodiles catching the early morning eat on the banks. Avian highlights included Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Bar-headed Goose, Black-bellied and River Terns, Sarus Crane, Indian Skimmer and Little Tern. Our major target however had been to catch a glimpse of the elusive and highly endangered Gangetic River Dolphin. While on our return back upstream, having lost all hope of finding them, the atmosphere onboard akin to a weight of solid lead until a non-distinct splash immediately spurred Jack into action picking up what turned out to be at least two of these awesome cetaceans. We watched these two for a total of about 45 seconds over twenty minutes with sightings consisting of second-long views interspersed by long 5-6 minutes of submersion, but eventually the whole group obtained enough pieces of the puzzle for contentment. An elated boatful of giddy naturalists returned to shore quite ready for a celebratory litre of water and an afternoon siesta.
The emotion hadn’t quite left the group as we bid bon voyage to our host and guide…. before heading on to Bharatpur just west of Agra ready for our final full day tomorrow. A short search on the way produced excellent views of the endangered and charismatic Blackbuck which truly has to be the best looking antelope in the world. We managed to find six of these handsome beasts striding and feeding in open farmland finding it difficult to understand the reality that the wild population of this species is in real trouble.
Rose-coloured Starlings and Red-rumped Swallows graced the skies as the light faded while arriving at the Hotel Sunbird our homestead for the night.
6th April 2007
Today began early as we were keen to get the most out of our single morning at the Bharatpur wetlands, itself a location which really required at least three whole days. None-the-less, we were keen to get going and as the sun rose and as we traversed the main gate we were stopped by shouting, as we turned we found none other than the young man who had been our guide at Chambal the previous day! Apparently he was born and raised here and had travelled the 180km on his motorbike to be with us along with visiting the family.
His knowledge here it has to be said was excellent and within half and hour we had an adult and chick Dusky Eagle Owl in our scopes. Other birds seen along the main track included tristris Chiffchaff, Glossy Ibis, the endangered Black-necked Stork, a host of Palaearctic waders including our first Spotted Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits and Temminck’s Stints. A quick look at a dry plain turned up several Indian Courser among the resident Yellow-wattled Lapwing, jerdoni race Long-billed Pipit and Common Kestrel.
Collared Scop’s Owl and Spotted Owlet were found at traditional roosting spots in the shadow of dense palm fronds at the temple constituting the cul-de-sac of this long pathway.
At this point the group split up with Toby and Mike joining the guide to search the drier areas of the reserve with Tom, Ali and Jack taking their time in getting back to the hotel. Birds seen on the walk in the Sapan Mari region of the park as the heat began to rise included Rufous-tailed Lark, Indian Lesser Spotted Eagle, Rock Bunting and Yellow-crowned Woodpecker amongst a host of others. Unfortunatley however, due to our lack of available time we were forced to leave the park and our guide and head back to the hotel in time for our transfer.
During the journey back to Delhi we had our first real chance to reflect on what an awesome trip it had actually been, with everything turning exactly as planned, how rare is that in the world of nature…all that was left was to drink the night away and get on the flight back home in the morning with little more than a promise to return soon.
Jungle Bush Quail
Lesser Whistling Duck
Cotton Pygmy Goose
Spot-billed Duck poeciloryncha
Black-rumped Flamback benghalense
Brown-headed Barbet caniceps
Indian Grey Hornbill
Malabar Pied Hornbill
Indian Roller benghalensis
Lesser Pied Kingfisher leucomelanura
Little Green Bee-eater orientalis
Common Hawk Cuckoo
Collared Scop's Owl
Dusky Eagle Owl
Brown Fish Owl
Jungle Owlet radiatum
Rock Pigeon intermedia
Oriental Turtle Dove meena
Eurasian Collared Dove
Spotted Dove suratensis
Yellow-footed Green PIgeon chlorigaster
Sarus Crane antigone
Black-tailed Godwit limosa
Greater Painted Snipe
Indian Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plver alexandrinus
Black-headed Gull sibiricus
Little Tern albifrons
Black Shouldered Kite
Black Kite govindus
Egyptian Vulture indicus
Short-toed Snake Eagle
Crested Serpent Eagle cheela
Eurasian Sparrowhawk melaschistos
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Indian Lesser Spotted Eagle
Changeable Hawk Eagle
Great Cormorant sinensis
Eastern Cattle Egret
Indian Pond Heron
Golden-fronted Leafbird aurifrons
Brown Shrike cristatus
Long-tailed Shrike erythronotus
House Crow splendens
Eurasian Golden Oriole kundoo
Ashy Drongo longicaudatus
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo grandis
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Common Iora humei
Blue-capped Rock Thrush
Blue Rock Thrush pandoo
Orange-headed Thrush cyanotus
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie Robin
Black Redstart pheonicuroides
Common Stonechat indica
Common Stonechat indica
Brown Rock Chat
Asian Pied Starling
Great Tit stupae
Asian Sand Martin
Dusky Crag Martin
Barn Swallow gutturalis
REd-rumped Swallow nipalensis
White-eared Bulbul leucotis
Red-vented Bulbul humayuni
Grey-breasted Prinia rufula
Graceful Prinia lepida
Plain Prinia inornata
Blyth's Reed Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat blythi
Common Tailorbird guzuratus
Common Chiffchaff tristris
Greenish Warbler trochiloides
Tawny-bellied Babbler alboguralis
Grey Large Babbler
Jungle Babbler orientalis
Oriental Skylark inconspicua
White Wagtail personata
Blue-headed Wagtail beema
Yellow Wagtail taivana
Black-headed Wagtail melanocephala
Citrine Wagtail citreola
Paddyfield Pipit waitei
Long-billed Pipit jerdoni
Tree Pipit trivialis
Olive-backed Pipit yunnanensis
Common Rosefinch erythrinus