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...and the TAJ MAHAL
Our Northern India tour is one of our most popular Asian trips - not only does it provide some of the highest bird lists for an Asian destination (we found around 390 species this year alone), but also adds a number of impressive mammals to the equation. Not least among these is the World's best cat - Bengal Tiger. In addition to this, India provides some of the very best birding photo opportunities of any tour, as birds are simply everywhere, with the respect given to nature through the powerful Hindu influence in India's rich culture has left many of these birds both abundant and approachable.
We kicked off the tour in style with some 'city birding' that saw us rack up over 100 species on our first day around India's capital Delhi alone. From there we headed south through the Gangetic Plain to the dusty town of Bharatpur in eastern Rajasthan. Keoladeo Ghana reserve has long been internationally recognized as a vital site for many Asian wetland birds. Due to another poor monsoon, as with other recent years, the reserve itself was suffering from a severe shortage of water. However, not to be deterred by this, we hit some other impressive wetland sites near Bharatpur and picked up most of these normally expected wetland specialties in the process. Highlights there included concentrations of Bar-headed Geese, Painted Storks and a number of stately Sarus Cranes; in addtion to a bunch of raptors like the scarce Indian Spotted Eagle, Red-necked Falcon and the critically-endangered Indian Vulture. Far less expected out of these Bharatpur day trips was a rare Rajasthan sighting of Wallcreeper; and an extremely rarely-encountered mammal in the form of a mischievous-looking Striped Hyena slinking away from a recent kill. After a cultural respite from birding for the obligatory visit to the Taj Mahal, the world's greatest symbol of love, we hit the Chambal River for more specialties. Not least among these was a large squadron of Indian Skimmers, and a hulking Great Thick-knee lurking on the banks of the river. Although, the superb reptiles along the Chambal were close to stealing the show, with big numbers of 'snouty' Gharials, as well as a few bruising Mugger Crocodiles seen there also. After this excellent Chambal river safari we boarded the Uktal Express and headed for Madhya Pradesh in central India, in pursuit of the undisputed highlight of any northern India tour - an encounter with the world's most impressive cat - Bengal Tiger. Once again the tiger reserve of Bandhavgarh did not let us down. Famed for its high density of this rare cat, we scored a huge adult male Tiger on our very first game drive in the park, and added a further three sightings of females thereafter, despite very little continued effort being put into seeing them, after our first unforgettable encounter with the park's dominant male. You'd think it would all be downhill from there, but as with all our previous year's tours, everyone was justifiably 'blown away' by both the breathtaking scenery, and scintillating birding during our trip into the foothills of the greatest (and youngest), of all the great mountain chains - the Himalayas. Our time around the old British hill station of Naini Tal in Kumaon was voted as the best birding of the trip, the hordes of Tits, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers, colorful Jays and finches keeping us all very busy, so that there was rarely a dull moment as we perused these Himalayan 'bird waves', scanned the mountain slopes for pheasants, and checked the undergrowth for tesias and wren-babblers. All the while, the impressive form of India's highest mountain, Nanda Devi, (close to border of the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal), loomed large in the background. Highlights in the Oak and Rhododendron forests within these Himalayan foothills included a spritely Chestnut-headed Tesia that danced around us in Bajun; Slaty-backed and Spotted Forktails were found working the boulders in the crystal-clear mountain streams; a gorgeous male Himalayan Rubythroat was found hopping around a mountain lodge garden; and a bunch of interesting thrushes, that included prolonged looks at the normally shy, and ridiculously well-endowed Long-billed Ground-Thrush to add to the host of tits, nuthatches, warblers, prinias, jays, magpies, finches and woodpeckers we ran into in these scenic mountains. We finished this three-week blitz of Northern India on the edge of Corbett National Park. In only a very brief visit to this area we managed to find the undisputed top bird of the trip, before we had even reached our final hotel. Scanning the pale boulders along the river edge, and searching the fast-flowing rapids, turned up the biggest shock of the tour - a pair of India's most sought-after, and enigmatic shorebird - the exquisite Ibisbill. At this point we could have been forgiven for just packing up and going home. However, the bird-rich area of Kumeria has lots to offer and we 'plowed on', to take in the impressive sight of a pair of Pallas's Fish-eagle sharing a recently caught fish within their huge treetop nest; and also later picked up the diminutive Little Forktail hopping around on some boulders within the Kosi River, just a short walk from our inn.
A final say on this tour must however be reserved for the nightbirds. Northern India is a great tour for lovers of owls and nightjars, as some places have staked-out day roosts for some of the most highly sought-after species. Therefore, we expected to pick up some nightbirds, although we never expected to rack up the 14 species of Owl and Nightjar that we did in the end. This unbelievable list included 12 species of owl, among them a very rarely seen rufous morph Oriental Scops-Owl that was well-picked out by our local guide Harish at Bharatpur, a pair of nesting Dusky Eagle-Owls in the same park; a magnificent Mottled Wood-Owl at Bandhavgarh; and both Brown Fish-Owl and the much rarer Tawny Fish-Owl roosting just yards apart near our inn on the edge of Corbett. The tour ended dramatically, and fittingly, with another chance encounter with a final Bengal Tiger running along the banks of the Kosi River, as we made our departure from Corbett for Delhi, with the harsh, gull-like cries of a pair of Pallas's Fish-Eagles echoing in the background. That is the undoubted magic of India.
INDIAN CHAT An Indian Subcontinent endemic
December 1 DELHI - Okhla and Tughlaqabad
Delhi to Bharatpur
December 4 Beyond Bund Baretha
December 5 Bayena and Bharatpur
December 6 Bharatpur to Chambal
December 7 Chambal River Safari. Overnight train to Umeria
December 8 Bandhavgarh
December 9 Bandhavgarh
December 10 Bandhavgarh
December 11 Bandhavgarh
December 12 Bandhavgarh
December 13 Bandhavgarh
December 14 Arrival in Delhi
December 15 Sultanpur Jheel. Delhi to Gajraula
December 16 Gajraula to Naini Tal
December 17 Sat Tal
December 18 Vinayak and Pangot
December 19 Pangot and BajunValley
December 20 Naini Tal to Kumeria
December 21 Kumeria to Delhi
Day 1 DELHI (OKHLA BARRAGE and TUGHLAQABAD FORT)
With everyone arriving earlier than expected, this normal 'arrival day', turned into a full birding day around Delhi. India's remarkable capital is arguably the best birding city in the world. As if to prove this, we scored over 100 bird species on our first day alone by visiting just two sites - Okhla Barrage, and the picturesque ruins of the red sandstone fort of Tughlaqabad. Okhla brought us a host of waterbirds, including our first Indian Spot-billed Ducks, White-tailed Lapwings, Pied Avocets and Purple Swamphens; while the Western Marsh Harriers cruising the reedbeds proved to be the only ones found on the tour. Other birds that we only recorded there, included an ivory-billed Asian Koel; the accipiter-like Common Hawk-Cuckoo (bizarrely also commonly known as the 'Brainfever Bird' to Indian birders); and Graceful and Yellow-bellied Prinias. The reedbeds that flank the Yamuna River at Okhla are an important habitat for a number of special passerines. By scouring these phragmites we found our main target bird - a noisy flock of Striated Babblers that eventually showed extremely well; in addition to the 'full' set of Weavers - with Bengal, Baya and Streaked Weavers all found flocking in the reedbeds there, alongside our first Red Avadavats and Indian Silverbills; while several 'sibes', in the form of gorgeous Bluethroats, hopped in and out of the undergrowth below them. We then had a brief break for our first taste of one of India's awesome tandooris, while a snakecharmer performed outside, before we headed for the ancient fort of Tughlaqabad. The red sandstone walls played host to a whole bunch of Indian Chats - an endemic to the subcontinent, and Dusky Crag Matins were watched haw king insects overhead. A large pipit that was found feeding close to the entrance of this huge fort turned out to be our only trip sighting of the distinctive Long-billed Pipit; Indian Robins seemed to flit in and out of almost every bush, large parties of Yellow-footed Green Pigeons passed overhead on their way to roost in the city; a couple of rose-breasted Brahminy Starlings were most welcome; and a triplet of Spotted Owlets were found sunning themselves in one of the former gun stations; although the afternoon's top bird was surely the Sirkeer Malkoha found perched right on top of the fort wall, a bird that can often be tricky to come by. With over 100 species seen on this first day alone we 'off to a flyer' as they say, and we retired to a supremely luxurious hotel on the outskirts of Delhi, (understandably frequently listed as one of the best hotels in the world), where the chocolate fountains proved to be a favorite, as much as the steamy Indian curries.
SPOTTED OWLETS Bharatpur
Day 2 DELHI to BHARATPUR (RAJASTHAN)
The morning was spent making our way south through Uttar Pradesh in the heart of the Gangetic Plain to the town of Bharatpur, on the eastern edge of Rajasthan. The journey is always a culture shock for first-time visitors, due to the variety and sheer volume of traffic on the roads, and the eclectic mix of cultures and people that are experienced along the way. Cattle frequently wandered right out in the middle of the road, although their sacred status meant they were supposedly always free from danger (although there are always a number of close calls in India!), while rickshaws, cars, buses and ox- and camel-drawn carts all jostled for position on the highway. A long ride it was for sure, although the cameras were kept busy throughout the journey, as everyone got their first real taste of this fascinating Hindu country. We made a stop at Kosi along the way to pick up some further roadside waterbirds, that brought us a host of new shorebirds like Marsh Sandpipers, Temminck's Stints and Spotted Redshanks; in addition to our first Woolly-necked Stork of the trip; and one of only a few Indian Cormorants seen at all. Eventually a short time before lunch we reached the border of Rajasthan and neared our destination - the dusty town of Bharatpur. Before we reached our hotel oasis though three large figures standing by a roadside wetland had us jamming on the breaks and teeing up a small party of Sarus Cranes in the scope. Very nice. This was meant to be a short stop for the cranes only, what with lunch beckoning, although we soon got justifiably distracted by some other genuine avian delights like the scarce Indian Spotted Eagle that passed low overhead; our first handsome Bay-backed Shrike, and a pair of Brown Crakes that had decided to feed completely in the open on the pool right next to our van. Finally we arrived at the marble-laden, opulent surroundings of o ur hotel - the Bagh - and took in a good curry feed before heading out into the field for some light birding around town. Admittedly the first venue was far from pleasant - a litter strewn, sewage creek right in the heart of the town; although a dozen or so Greater Painted-Snipes did not seem to mind as they fed in the open for us, and were our main reason for choosing this odd location for birding as it was this years favored choice for the snipes. Once we had thoroughly soaked up a bunch of these interesting shorebirds, (that sit within their own unique family, the Painted-Snipes), including a number of the much brighter females; we visited another creek picking up a dozen or so Painted Storks as they sailed in to the treetops to roost, along with our first Grey Francolins. On returning to our oasis of a hotel, the Bagh, we closed the day by watching a pair of Indian Grey Hornbills (another subcontinent endemic), settling in to roost above one of the walkways in the grand hotel gardens.
Day 3 BUND BARETHA (RAJASTHAN)
What with the reserve at Bharatpur struggling for waterbirds after the poor monsoon, that had left it near bone-dry, we headed for the large water body of Bund Baretha, a long-established wetland site in its own right. The great thing about visiting Bund Baretha is not just the spectacle of huge concentrations of ducks, geese and shorebirds; but also the fantastic dry country birding en-route to the dam. For this reason we spent the whole morning birding the agricultural lands along the route to the bund, picking up many, many birds in the process. One dry arable field held a pair of the highly-desired Yellow-wattled Plovers; and the huge tussocks of grass that lined this narrow country road held both the expected Red-headed Bunting and the far from expected Crested Bunting, a few striking Yellow-eyed Babblers and a whole load of Large Grey Babblers; although did not pull in the Spanish Sparrows we had also hoped for. One of the most obvious birds in these agricultural lands is also India's national bird, the spectacular Indian Peafowl, large groups of which came out from their village roost sites to feed in the open fields along the way. The roadside wires brought us our first spectacular Indian Rollers, a harbinger of good fortune in the Hindu culture. The dry, dusty fields held a number of larks and pipits, including a pair of Paddyfield Pipits, Crested and Greater Short-toed Larks and the boldly-marked Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark. Although the pied male Variable Wheatear that we stumbled into was a little less expected this close to Bharatpur. We also had our first two woodpeckers of the tour (the bulk of which were added in the foothill forests of the Himalaya), first a Black-rumped Flameback that had insanely picked a concrete post as his feeding ground, and a pair of roadside Yellow-cro wned Woodpeckers. At a roadside stop for our first taste of India's first choice energy drink - a cup of hot sweet chai, or masala tea - we admired a huge restless flock of roosting Indian Flying-Foxes (India's largest bat species). Once at the dam we scanned the open water, searched the many small islands and combed the muddy shorelines, working our way through the vast flocks of waterbirds that were strewn across this scenic lake. Baretha brought us our first handsome Red-crested Pochards, and our only Ferruginous Pochards of the tour; as well as a number of Asian Openbills, Greylag Geese, Cotton Pygmy-Geese, Lesser Whistling-ducks, Glossy Ibis, a lone Comb Duck, single Pheasant-tailed Jacana, and solitary Garganey, a bunch of brilliant Bronze-winged Jacanas, Ruddy Shelducks, River Terns, Whiskered Terns and a few more Brown Crakes and Red Avadavats. We then took a pleasant stroll to Kishen Mahal, the abandoned palace of the former Maharaja. This grand, and beautiful, red sandstone building used to be used as his base for hunting trips into the local area for tracking down the many leopards and tigers that used to roam the dry hills around the bund in good numbers. For us however, the focus was still birds and particularly a notable passerine - White-capped Bunting that often feeds unobtrusively in the tinder dry scrub, and rocky country near the palace. On this occasion they gave us the run around, although a female eventually relented and gave us a great look as she fed in some low scrub near the maharaja's former summer home, after we were initially frustrated in only getting a few brief looks at a couple of others that took flight as soon as were in sight of them. As we scoured the rocky outcrops for this ta rget bird, we also lucked in on a pair of Painted Sandgrouse that were kicked up as we were worked our way through one particular boulder strewn outcrop. As we wove our way in and out of the oncoming camel-drawn carts and tractors, back to our opulent Bharatpur hotel, we came across our first impressive male Blue Bulls or Nilgais grazing in the roadside fields as dusk drew in, (much to the chagrin of the local farmers I am sure).
Day 4 Beyond BUND BARETHA (RAJASTHAN)
Last year Keith and our excellent local guide had found some important wetland sites thronging with waterbirds, that was a real boon for the tour, what with the abysmally dry conditions within the Keoladeo reserve itself. As the situation for this year was worse if anything, as once again the poor monsoon rains had left large areas of the reserve devoid of the vital water that many of the local specialties rely on, we decided once again to head further afield in pursuit of those much sought after wetland species. The great thing about this day out is the many other birds that are also possible, with the rich agricultural areas and almost desert-like conditions a little further on holding some other special birds in addtion to the wetland areas that were our main focus. A pre-dawn start got us out into the dry country early, where we alighted from the van for a short break, and we witnessed that great early morning sunlight casting the dry landscape with that beautiful pink cast that only dawn can bring. While we stretched our legs we caught a movement out of the corner of our eyes and we homed in on a couple of animals making their way through the undergrowth, that a few minutes later were revealed to be first a Striped Hyena that emerged out in the open directly in front of us, that was followed closely behind by a Golden Jackal. After a little further investigation of the area we found a pair of expectant Red-headed Vultures overlooking a bloody carcass (and an Egyptian Vulture just below having already made a start on the recently deceased cow), and the presence of the Hyena and jackals became clear. A dramatic opener for the day, and a very rare find in Rajasthan, where a Hyena is a real headline sighting. Notably though, there were no White-rumped Vultures anywhere around, a bird that before the recent toxin-fuelled vulture crisis was one of the commonest species, and would usually have been one of the first vulture species to arrive at a kill. A wire above the same area also held our first Indian Bushlark of the tour, that added another subcontinent endemic in the process. We then pushed on for our first wetland of the day, and picked up a big group of Spanish Sparrows en-route, mixed in with the local House Sparrows flocking in a winter wheatfield. Although pride of place for the morning was reserved for the pair of scarce Red-necked Falcons that were using a roadside pylon for a perch, and judging from the white staining on the metal had been for some time. We then arrived at our first of three new wetland sites for the day, and once again found it packed with waterbirds, most notably our first amazing Bar-headed Geese, in addition to a bunch of Painted Storks and a whole host of shorebirds including our only Eurasian Curlews, Little Stints and Little Ringed Plovers of the tour. On the edges of the wetland a Rufous-tailed Shrike was on the hunt, a load of Rosy Starlings chattered in the lakeside scrub; and a couple of Tawny Pipits fed along the grassy verges. We then moved on towards our second wetland of the day, although the dry rocky boulders along the way held a few black-masked Desert Wheatears and pallid Isabelline Wheatears, and the bright white underparts of Southern Grey Shrikes were seen gleaming from the top of some of the stone walls dotted along the route; and in some dry scrub the unobtrusive Indian endemic Rufous-fronted Prinia put in an appearance, as did another endemic cisticoladid, the 'white-tailed' Jungle Prinia. The next wetland was loaded with waterbirds - Great White Pelicans fished the open waters; an Osprey closely guarded his recently caught fish; while Comb Ducks, Sarus Cranes< /strong>, River Terns, Ruddy Shelducks, Eurasian Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, Eurasian Spoonbills, Ruffs, and a bunch of beema Yellow Wagtails packed the edges of this maharaja's haunt. A rumor of a bigger lake with a big gathering of waterbirds, just a short distance further spurred us on, and on getting there we enjoyed a packed lunch in the shade of the lone mango tree. Over lunch a flock of Black Storks were found resting on an island that also held an Eastern Imperial Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, and a huge Mugger Crocodile rested menacingly on the muddy shoreline. A Short-toed Snake-eagle was also found a short distance away. A farmer tilling the local fields stirred up plenty of food for a whole bunch of attendant Black Drongos, Little Green Bee-eaters and more Sykes's Wagtails. We then returned back to the Bagh for some more Indian Tandooris and nan breads, washed down with the local masala tea.
A short time later this one was joined by a second bird
Day 5 BAYENA and KEOLADEO GHANA NATIONAL PARK (RAJASTHAN)
Our first port of call of the day was a set of high sandstone cliffs, that are home to a small group of nesting raptors, that are fast becoming one of the rarest vulture species in the world, due to a very recent and alarmingly dramatic decline. On arrival a few of these Indian Vultures were found resting on the huge cliffs, and below them a mischievous troop of Hanuman Langurs leapt around among the dusty red boulders. Our local guide, Harish, then made one of the finds of the tour when he came across a superb Wallcreeper working the cliffs above us, a very rare bird anywhere in Rajasthan and the first record for the area. Undoubtedly our best bird of the day. A short distance away from the crimson-winged Wallcreeper, a Black-tailed Mongoose was seen working its way down a near-vertical rock face, and at the cliff base a few House Buntings, Rufous-tailed Larks and Blue Rock-thrushes were found. All new for the trip, and all targets for this interesting area close to Bharatpur. We then headed for the Keoladeo Ghana reserve itself on the hunt for some of the known roost sites for nightbirds that the local guides frequently have staked out. Despite a fairly short time in the park, we soon picked up 4 different species of roosting birds - first a hulking pair of Dusky Eagle-Owls at the nest, and a pair of Indian Scops-Owls roosting by the temple where we had a grand picnic lunch while Rufous Treepies searched the ground for any unwanted scraps. We then went after two nightjars that are usually 'nailed-on' in the park due to the local guides intimate knowledge of their favored roost sites. So it proved this day when we walked right onto a cryptic Indian Jungle Nightjar, and then better still the indistinct form of a Large-tailed Nightjar hiding in the leaf-litter. As we sauntered through the park, being cycled al ong by our knowledgeable park rickshaw drivers, we picked up India's most striking waterbird in the form of a gorgeous pair of Black-necked Storks; paused to watch an excellent Jungle Cat heading out into the grasslands to hunt at dusk; and also came upon our first Chital or Spotted Deer and Sambars (India's largest deer species).
Day 6 FATEHPUR SIKRI and the TAJ MAHAL (UTTAR PRADESH)
This was a very welcome day off from the rigors of birding for one of the most impressive cultural distractions in the world - the fabled Taj Mahal, considered one of the ultimate symbols of love. A marbled mausoleum devised by the Mughul emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal. This extravagant structure took 22 years to complete (1631-1653), required the services of 20,000 people, and over 1,000 elephants that were used to transport in materials from all over the place. Semi-precious stones and other materials were brought in especially from around India, and other parts of the world, that included lapis from Afghanisthan, Jade from China, carnelian from Arabia, sapphires from Sri Lanka and many other materials from many areas of India, and around the globe. A priceless piece of unique art and history that is a must-see for all world travelers. I won't add anything further to the huge volumes of praise that have already rightly been heaped on this magnificent building, it is just sufficient to say that even the most ardent and avid birder would find this an unmissable and more than justified distraction.
BRONZE-WINGED JACANA Bund Baretha area
Day 7 KEOLADEO GHANA NATIONAL PARK (RAJASTHAN) and onto CHAMBAL SAFARI LODGE (UTTAR PRADESH)
With just a morning available in the Bharatpur area before our journey to Chambal, we focused our efforts on picking up some extra species in the park. So once more we jumped onto our cycle rickshaws and ventured into Keoladeo. We began at the temple, where we scoured the undergrowth for a handsome zoothera thrush (Orange-headed Ground Thrush), that was duly found rifling through the tinder dry leaf litter. Other than that we picked up our first party of bright Small Minivets working their way through the treetops, and the endemic Brown-headed Barbet shared the nursery with the diminutive Coppersmith Barbet, in addition to a trip first Ashy Drongo and Brown Shrike. However, the headlines within the park were again provided by roosting nightbirds. We were aware before entering the park that a Brown Hawk-Owl had been found roosting there the day before and were therefore expectant for this one, which was found lurking unobtrusively beneath a scrubby overhang. This was however not the mornings star bird. That was reserved for another owl, and one that has only been discovered in the park in recent years, when its appearances have been erratic to say the least, and is accordingly far from expected. As I knew that it had at least been seen in recent weeks (unfortunately I knew this to my own chagrin, as on the previous tour we tried to see it and narrowly missed it at a roost site by a day), I was adamant with the little time we had left we should at least give the Oriental Scops-Owl another try. So we parked up the rickshaws, and began searching in earnest for this rufous little number. Our local guide once again 'pulled a blinder', and found this superb little owl hiding within a similarly colored clump of rusty dead leaves in the top of a small roadside tree - a welcome lifebird for all concerned. After a final lunch at the fantastic Bagh hotel, we departed for Chambal Safar i Lodge, our base for the following mornings river safari. On the way there was little to add, but we did pick up a small group of Red-naped Ibis feeding in some recently fertilized fields alongside the highway. Once at the lodge, our late arrival left little time, except to see an Indian Hare leaping around at the back of the resort, and to see a party of Common Palm Civets emerge from their day roost, and later we picked up our second Brown Hawk-Owl of the day, this time watched at night as it hawked for insects from its treetop perch.
INDIAN SKIMMER Chambal
Day 8 CHAMBAL RIVER SAFARI (UTTAR PRADESH)
A short time after a chilly, misty dawn we made the journey down to the Chambal River itself, a noted area for birds and an internationally recognized bird sanctuary. The main target bird in the area is the wintering flock of Indian Skimmers, a very localized, globally threatened species that spends the winter months on the sandy banks of the Chambal. This year we ran into 36 of these superb skimmers, the rarest of the three species worldwide. Another declining and local species, Black-bellied Tern was found plucking insects from the glassy surface of the Chambal, all the birds seen being in resplendent breeding plumage, complete with jet black underbelly. Some low-flying birds were followed closely and led us straight to a group of over 30 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, feeding on the boulder-strewn banks. Other birds on the safari included a nesting pair of Bonelli's Eagles, a single low flying Long-legged Buzzard, huge rafts of Bar-headed Geese resting on the water, a chunky Great Thick-knee hiding along the rockier part of the Chambal, and a lone Common Merganser resting on a sand bar. The birds, good as they are were not our only focus, a couple of interesting 'crocs' regularly using the sandy bars alongside the river as a resting place. Just a couple of Mugger Crocodiles were seen, although well over 60 long-snouted, fish-eating Gharials were found loafing on some small sandy islands in the middle of the Chambal. A definite highlight of this years river safari. We then returned to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, where we boarded our overnight train for our journey into 'Tiger Country', and our visit to the fabled Tiger Reserve of Bandhavgarh in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Day 9 BANDHAVGARH (MADHYA PRADESH)
After our early morning arrival our sleepy group decided to spend a little time around the grounds of our fancy resort, and head into the park after a long lunch break recovering from our trying train journey from Agra. Luckily our chosen resort is a haven for birds, a number of flowering trees pulling in some nectar feeders in the form of the subcontinent endemic Pale-billed Flowerpecker, in addtion to a few Thick-billed Flowerpeckers, a number of Purple Sunbirds, and a brace of emerald-green leafbirds - Golden-fronted Leafbird and the 'endemic' Jerdon's Leafbird, in addition to our first Common Ioras . After lunch we climbed aboard the open-topped jeep that would become very familiar to us over the coming days, being the only designated form of transport authorized for use within the park. Soon after we entered the park, we bumped our way along the dusty, sandy tracks within Bandhavgarh, the rocky and grassy terrain being cloaked in open Sal forest, the nature of which allows great game viewing opportunities. Very soon we were seeing small herds of both Spotted Deer and Sambars, both regular prey species for the parks dominant predator. In addition to these there were numerous Hanuman Langurs rustling noisily in the tops of the sal trees. All these species are daily features within Bandhavgarh and also a useful 'tool' in the hunt for 'Shia Khan'. As a tiger sloaps into view the langurs guttural croaks, chital's high-pitched yelps, and Sambars deep-throated sounds usually accompany their presence, and lead the experienced trackers straight to them. Well versed in this practice from previous game drives, we kept our ears to the ground for tell-tale signs of the presence of that most-impressive of cats. Obviously Tiger was our undoubted main focus and reason-detre, although we simply could not drive by a fantastic and huge Brown Fish-Owl that had taken up to roosting close to the park gates, and a much requested top target bird for Bob. We also saw our first wild chickens, with a few Red Junglefowls found feeding quietly underneath some tussocks of bamboo, and ran into a noisy flock of the endemic Malabar Pied Hornbill. The true showstopper of the afternoon was saved until the sun had began to drop slowly below the horizon, that time when the creatures of the night emerge to stalk their prey. As we were heading for the park gates to leave, a troop of langurs suddenly began giving their distinctive guttural alarm calls that denoted that they were looking straight down at India's most awesome predator. A few jeeps joined ours as they too heard this significant sound, and awaited the appearance of the culprit that had caused their obvious, and well-justified panic. We waited with baited breath and soon saw someone gesticulating vigorously with their hands in the jeep in front, so we crept forward and followed their directions and soon latched onto the undeniable form of a tiger lying low in the undergrowth, that was unfortunately for the most part hidden from our view. So we continued to wait, and then slowly but surefooted this massive predator walked out into full view when it became obvious this was a huge adult male Bengal Tiger, and subsequently we found out, the dominant one within Bandhavgarh. Having only seen a number of females previously, the huge frame of this male was really impressive to me and proved to be a great first sighting of tiger for us all. The vast home ranges of males meaning they are much less frequently encountered than their female, and younger counterparts. Tiger within our very first game drive, we could not have hoped for more, and showed once more what a truly great place for tigers Bandhavgarh is. The days show was not over though, and as we got close to our resort again we decided to sear ch for one of Bandhavgarh's star birds. We waited and listened as we closed in on our resort and used a little playback to get a Mottled Wood-Owl going, and soon enough we heard the unequivocal hollow calls of this large, impressive owl, that we soon lined up in the spotlight for good, long looks. An adult male Tiger, a flock of noisy Malabar Pied Hornbills and two large impressive owls, was more than we could have hoped for from our opening day birding the sal forests of Bandhavgarh.
Day 10 BANDHAVGARH (MADHYA PRADESH)
In the morning, with Tiger under the belt from the day before, we decided to venture out into the buffer zone, that allowed us to release ourselves from the confines of the jeeps that are compulsory within the core area, and investigate some of these other areas on foot. Before we left the tranquility of our resort however though I decided to check if the resident pair of Jungle Owlets were around, and with just the briefest of playback I had my answer as one of the pair came flying in aggressively to answer the tape, and then proceeded to glare menacingly down at us from just beside our lodge restaurant. Superb. In the skies above the buffer area we found both Indian and Red-headed Vultures soaring in the late morning sun (two victims of the disastrous recent vulture crash in Asia), and new for us was a superb Changeable Hawk-eagle, here of the form cirrhatus. This 'race' possesses a huge vertical crest on the top of its head, quite unlike the short, flattish crest of nominate limnaeetus, and also give some vocally distinctive calls, and has therefore often been split from this nominate form as Crested Hawk-eagle. Above the treetops we noticed a soaring Crested Treeswift, a huge long-tailed swift-like woodland species that actually sits within their own family, the treeswifts. A feeding flock that passed by held our first Great Tits, our first beautiful male Indian Nuthatch (the small-billed castanea 'form' of Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch that is sometimes split off as Indian Nuthatch), several Common Woodshrikes, along with a few striking White-browed Fantails. We also picked up our first of a number of daily White-bellied Drongos sallying for insects from a high dead snag. Unfortunately, an Indian Scimitar-Babbler heard calling outside the core area proved to be the closest we ever got to this highly-desired species, that remained frustratingly at distance, beyond a park fence, for the whole time. A very small, innocent looking dam provided us with a good Indian endemic, in the form of a lonely Streak-throated Swallow that hawked low over the still water, (a bird that in wetter years would have been expected easily around Bharatpur). During our midday break in the resort a frenzy of activity in the bamboo had us homing in on a busy flock of babblers that gave us great looks at first a bunch of red-spectacled Yellow-eyed Babblers, and better still a group of scarce, Indian endemic Tawny-bellied Babblers. An afternoon game drive back within the core area once again saw us come in contact with India's largest predator, this time a Tigress walked along a bank just meters away from our waiting jeep. It does not matter if this is the first or the tenth time you see a tiger, it always feels like an extremely special and privileged experience.
Day 11 BANDHAVGARH (MADHYA PRADESH)
The day dawned bright and clear which meant a very chilly dawn start and we were extremely grateful for the lodge's thoughtful supply of heavy warm blankets. As we cruised the misty game tracks a short time after dawn we heard the first of several new woodpeckers for the morning. This first one was the much-desired White-naped Flameback, a localized Indian endemic, and we soon enjoyed superb views of a party of three of these strikingly-marked 'peckers. A short time later we picked up another new woodpecker with our only sighting of Streak-throated Woodpecker. We also ran into a small party of Small Minivets, a solitary Large Cuckoo-shrike, Indian Rollers, Little Green Bee-eaters, endemic Indian Grey Hornbills and further striking Malabar Pied Hornbills. Many of the birds in Bandhavgarh favor areas where the rocky ground beneath the sal trees supports stands of bamboo, that provides an important habitat for understorey species. On the boulders themselves and within this understorey we found a couple of Sulphur-bellied Warblers, a good 'grip-back bird' that we had missed previously around the abandoned red-sandstone palace near Bund Baretha. A little further on another patch of rich bamboo pulled in a couple of Bandhavgarh's star species - with first the nondescript, but extremely scarce, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta; and then just a few feet away a White-rumped Shama, a beautiful chat that is both impressive in its appearance, and also possesses one of the most gorgeous, melodic songs in all of Asia. Another nice morning find was a powder blue Black-naped Monarch, a flycatcher relative. On our afternoon game drive into the core area we picked up the critically endangered White-rumped Vulture soaring the thermals with a bunch of Indian Vultures, that use the high sandstone cliffs surrounding the p arks centerpiece, Bandhavgarh Fort, as a nesting and roosting ground. Before the 1990s White-rumpeds were a common feature in the skies above India, although the widespread use of the veterinary drug, Diclofenac, has led to a catastrophic decline in several vulture species, most notably this species and Indian Vultures that have suffered an alarming 90% decline in recent years. Although the use of this drug is now being controlled in some areas, the continued use of it and the difficulty in the monitoring of the use over wide areas, still poses a very real threat to the small remaining populations. Parakeets are abundant around Bandhavgarh and we enjoyed again today a number of huge Alexandrine Parakeets with their bulky orange-red bills and broad chestnut wing panel, and several parties of exquisite Plum-headed Parakeets, that included some gorgeous cherry-headed male birds. This year we were lucky with Sirkeer Malkohas, a distinctive endemic to the Indian subcontinent, this scarce species giving us a number of looks at different sites, with one seen on our afternoon game drive in the park. A large expanse of high grasses produced a couple of Zitting Cisticolas, along with a bunch of Scaly-breasted Munias and Common Rosefinches. We finished the day with a night foray outside the park, where we picked up the target bird we were after, a well-marked male Indian Nightjar that flew around in the spotlight at extremely close range.
Having spent a lot of time in the park tracking this huge-billed kingfisher down,
we then found one fishing right in the middle of our resort on our return one day!
Day 12 BANDHAVGARH (MADHYA PRADESH)
This morning was once again all about India's most famous predator. Morland and Charlyn decided they would put themselves down for one of the greatest wildlife experiences on Earth - walking right up to India's most fearsome feline, Tiger, and looking straight down at it from the safety of elephant back. A little luck is required and also a little patience. Soon after dawn mahoots drive their elephants out into the sal woodlands and open grasslands in search of their quarry. As there are many areas in the park where tigers can appear, the park managers have set up four separate elephant stations within Bandhavgarh, each with two animals. All of these head out just after dawn to search for Tigers within their given areas. On finding one, they radio ahead to a central station, and then the jeeps and people who have put themselves down for the ride head to there, and four-by-four the two elephants in range of the cat, lead people there for a few fantastic, intimate minutes with India's most famous animal. Before we reached the central point to check on the days tiger status, we ran into a star resident of the park when we came across a female Painted Spurfowl, from an endemic Indian genus of pheasants, lurking beneath a small stand of their favored bamboo. The dull light made it difficult to see clearly, and so the spotlight was adopted to highlight this much sought-after, and often tricky, species. Then the heavens un seasonally opened and we found ourselves a little vulnerable to a completely unexpected heavy downpour, when our heavy blankets were rapidly accosted for use as impromptu raincoats. We steamed straight on for the shelter of the center point and the promise of hot, sweet chai at the other end. As the rain eased a little en-route we picked up a fantastic, well-adorned male Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, sporting a complete set of long, characteristically twisted rackets. After sheltering from the passing unexpected rainstorm, we ventured out again as the day warme d a little and headed to a quiet creek where a rare kingfisher can often be found. We were quickly distracted by an ugly, bare-faced stork - the Lesser Adjutant, a rapidly declining species that was great to pick up again, as Morland had missed it earlier on the tour through illness. We then waited quietly by the small trickle of a stream in the hope of its largest kingfisher. We found first both the much, much commoner White-breasted Kingfisher and similarly abundant Common Kingfisher, before we heard the unquestionable harsh rattle of a Stork-billed Kingfisher, that was surprisingly unobtrusive hiding in the sub canopy of a small riverside sal tree. It was then that we received the news we were eagerly waiting for - the mahoots had finally located a gorgeous female Tigress resting in the bamboo, and were already 'ferrying' people to the animal. Our jeep was slammed straight into top gear and we made our way as fast as we could to ensure we gave ourselves the best chance we could of getting out to see it. On arrival we found ourselves little further down the queue than we had hoped although 5 minutes later, Morland, Charlyn and I 'boarded' our elephant steed and slowly advanced the short distance to where a large striped female tigress was resting in the late morning sun. As we arrived she merely nodded a little in our direction, although typically showed little or no interest in either the elephant standing just a few feet away or us staring breathless, straight down at it. An experience not to be missed. All too soon this wonderful encounter was over, and we were left with merely a bunch of great photos and superb memories to reflect on. The afternoon was tame in comparison, although we did find a Tickell's Thrush, and a Scaly Thrush was also found lurking under the sal trees; and (of course!), we also had another encounter with a Tigress working her way over a sand stone rocky outcrop.
Day 13 BANDHAVGARH (MADHYA PRADESH)
Our last day around the tiger reserve, as we had already enjoyed some scintillating, unbeatable experiences with tiger before, everyone was happy to focus on some of the remaining bird species that we were after. A cloudy dull start saw us entering the park under the grey light of dawn and 'walking' straight into a pair of Crested Hawk-eagles mating vigorously in the open branches of a sal tree. The morning went well with a small party of Painted Spurfowl late on, that this time included a rufous-and-black, white-speckled male; and a pair of Blue-bearded Bee-eaters were a most welcome find as they had eluded us until then completely. Other goodies were a superb 'Tiger-headed Thrush' feeding quietly underneath the bamboo - the strikingly marked cyanota race of Orange-headed Ground Thrush, that comes decked out with bold white 'tiger stripes' along the sides of the head. A single gaudy black-and-red male minivet, turned out to be our first Long-tailed Minivet, a gorgeous exclusively Asian genus of cuckoo-shrikes; and a small bright blue passerine hiding in a small stand of bamboo revealed itself as a brilliant male Ultramarine Flycatcher, that winters down here in the forested lowlands, and then returns to the high Himalaya to breed in the summer months. Other birds on our final drive in the park included a lone Black-hooded Oriole, a single Brown-headed Barbet, Large Cuckoo-shrike, Brown Shrike, a low-flying Oriental Honey-buzzard, and another Chestnut-shouldered Petronia. In the afternoon, with our evening train ride back to Delhi looming on the near horizon we opted to take it easy and avoid the bumpy jeep rides in the park and instead bird a beautiful dam outside the park's core area. On arrival at the lake we found it loaded with waterbirds - mainly Northern Pintail, Eura sian Teal and Lesser Whistling-Ducks that we were familiar with from our time around Bharatpur, although a huge Lesser Adjutant that glided in was a little less expected here away from the safety of the park. An Asian Openbill fed surprisingly close to us on the dam edge, and a bunch of egrets, herons and shorebirds packed the lake verges, and a Crested Serpent-eagle lurked expectantly on a gnarled dead tree. I decided to walk our way through some damp paddies as it is known hang out for a couple of snipe species, and we soon found a number of Common Snipes that we had experienced earlier on the tour, and eventually put up a couple of our target birds - Pin-tailed Snipes that flushed up revealing their dark underwings and nearly all dark upperwing that identified these tricky snipes from their much commoner cousins. Aside from that we also found our only group of Tricolored Munias of the tour, flocking in the sparse, tall grasses at the dam edge; our final Spotted Owlet of the tour, and a few of the increasingly rare Red-naped Ibis worked the dry fields to the side of the lake. We then enjoyed a final fantastic 'curry feed' at our resort before we headed back to Umeria and boarded the Uktal Express for the last time for our return journey to New Delhi.
A welcome daily visitor to the pond in our Bandhavgarh resort, a pond that held
up to 4 species of Kingfisher, including the scarce Stork-billed.
Day 14 UMERIA to DELHI (TRAVEL DAY)
This was essentially a travel (and recovery) day following our long journey to Delhi from Madhya Pradesh in Central India. One of the finest hotels in Delhi was a very welcome place to re-vitalize ourselves for the following days push towards the Himalayas of the north, and get a welcome 'injection' of chocolate!
Day 15 SULTANPUR JHEEL (HARYANA) to GAJRAULA
We began our day just a short distance from Delhi, at a nationally important wetland site in the neighboring state of Haryana. Although we had experienced many of the bird species before, this was definitely a tour highlight due to the quantity of birds everywhere, and the great variety present - both waterbirds and passerines abundant within this small, little-visited reserve, that will surely feature more regularly for us in the future. As we approached the lake we witnessed scenes a far cry from this years scenes at Bharatpur - tons of water within the reed-fringed jheel, absolutely packed with waterfowl on the jheel itself, while passerines frequently leapt out from the reedy fringes and scrubby edges. A real feeling of an abundant and rich birdlife in the area. Nilgais, or Blue Bulls, were especially common there and many of these huge beasts were watched feeding on the marshy areas on the edge of the jheel. Our first good bird though was not a waterbird but an indistinctive passerine, another of those tricky phylloscopus warblers that are a constant challenge to birders in Asia, Brooks's Leaf-Warbler, when a calling bird was found wintering in the lakeside acacias. An Indian Reed-Warbler was also found lurking in the reedbeds, while out on the jheel a majestic Black-necked Stork stood out from the huge rafts of Common Pochards, Eurasian Teals, Comb Ducks, Bar-headed Geese, Greylag Geese, Indian Spot-billed Ducks, and Eurasian Wigeon. On huge bundles of sticks above the lake hundreds of Painted Storks were nesting, with a few Woolly-necked Storks also in the same area, while on the lake shore a White-tailed Plover fed along with Black-headed Ibis, Purple Herons, Indian Pond Herons and others. We also birded t he 'Sultanpur Flats', at the back of the sanctuary, where many dry country birds were highly abundant within the closely-cropped fields just outside this small reserve. These included large numbers of Desert Wheatears, Tawny Pipits, Greater Short-toed and Crested Larks and Black Redstarts; along with smaller numbers of Ashy-crowned Sparrow-larks, endemic Indian Bushlarks, pied male Variable Wheatears, along with a few Southern Grey Shrikes and Bay-backed Shrikes. We also got some great perched views of several raptors, that we had only seen distantly or in flight previously around Bharatpur - with first a huge Greater Spotted Eagle perched just above the jheel, when the relatively short gape line that separates this species from the very similar but much scarcer Indian Spotted, were clearly visible. An immature Eastern Imperial Eagle was also found perched on a close island just offshore. We then returned to Delhi for a final feed and departed north towards the Himalayas, passing over the most sacred river in the Hindu culture - the Ganges - before overnighting in the small town of Gajraula, a neat stop-off point en-route to the Himalayan foothills.
Day 16 RAMNAGAR to NAINI TAL (UTTARANCHAL)
Our journey today took us close to the edge of Corbett National Park, India's oldest park, and up into the foothills of the Himalaya. A short stop by Ramnagar Dam, on the edge of Corbett, was well worthwhile for a couple of Crested Kingfishers that were found fishing beside the river, along with the first (of many) White-capped Water Redstarts and Plumbeous Redstarts. This mountain kingfisher, confined to Himalayan streams and rivers is easily the largest of all the kingfishers in Asia. With this target bird falling a lot quicker than expected we pushed on for the Himalayas proper, although made a tour first stop at a small mountain lodge along the way. This paid off handsomely with a spritely Yellow-bellied Fantail found right beside the car on arrival, and the endemic Indian Pygmy Woodpecker appeared in the garden directly above the restaurant; before a Lineated Barbet flew into the same trees, and then a couple of bright red male Crimson Sunbirds began feeding in the blooms above the flowerbeds. Other Himalayan goodies in this small mountain garden included our first Lemon-rumped and Whistler's Warblers, some striking, beady-eyed Black-crested Bulbuls, a pair of endemic Black-chinned Babblers, and a superb party of Red-billed Leothrixes (a close contender for bird of the trip, had it not been for the late entry of a certain enigmatic mountain shorebird during our final days birding). However, all this paled in comparison to the stunning male Himalayan Rubythroat that was found hopping around the flowerbeds, sporting a vivid red throat and clean white supercilium, a classic Himalayan species, if ever there was one. After a refreshing chai in the garden when the first warmth of the sun began to break through, we realized we had to push on for our final destination - the old British hill station of Naini Tal in the hill district of Kumaon, the former home of the great tiger-hunter, turned conservationist James Corbett. We kept our eyes on the clear blue sky as we approached the town and soon picked up a kettle of raptors rising on the first thermals of the day, where we again found a White-rumped Vulture, mixing with a few Steppe Eagles, Eurasian Griffons, and best of all a Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier) the bird that we had really been hoping for. It was truly great to get this superb vulture under the belt, before we had even reached our hotel for lunch, relieving some of the pressure for this one over the coming days! After we feasted on some of Ajays epic curries over lunch at Vikram's Vintage Inn, the finest hotel in Naini Tal, we headed out for some light afternoon birding in the foothills. A brief walk around our hotel brought us our first cute Black-throated Tits, Orange-barred Leaf-warblers and Great Barbet. We then visited a well known birding spot, the Kilbury Road, where birds were few and far between with none of the hoped for flocks. However, we still picked up a real showstopper in the form of one of the most impressive woodpeckers in the Himalayas - a red-capped male Rufous-bellied Woodpecker that remained attached to his chosen tree for well over 10 minutes. However, I think for most people the highlight of the day was not the birds, but the unbroken chain of giant Himalayan mountains that could be seen from a well-chosen lookout during our afternoon drive. This included a great view of India's highest peak, Nanda Devi, close to the Nepalese border.
BLACK-THROATED ACCENTOR Pangot
Day 17 SAT TAL (UTTARANCHAL)
On this day we dropped a little lower down from our base at Naini Tal (2,000m), to the popular Indian tourist spot around Sat Tal, a collection of seven different Himalayan Tals, or small lakes. Sat Tal is an amazing place for birding, as the place is simply full of birds and there are many, many birding spots within this small, scenic valley to choose from. As we made our descent from Naini Tal, as Blue Whistling-thrushes hopped on and off the road on the way down, we screeched to a halt for a blur of black-and-white in a roadside culvert, that turned out to be a cracking, confiding Spotted Forktail, and our first encounter with this wonderful Asian genus of boldly-marked, water-loving flycatchers. We began at Sat Tal, by birding some small fields and scrub near the top end of the valley, that at first appeared almost lifeless. However, after the first rays of the morning sun began to hit the grassy slopes the birds burst into life. A Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler sunned itself on an open branch, just before a small squadron of huge Red-billed Blue Magpies sailed over our heads and alighted in some close trees, where a flock of Himalayan Greenfinches had also landed nearby. A small party of Green-backed Tits appeared in some nearby scrub, and both the fairly common Rufous-breasted Accentor, and much scarcer Black-throated Accentor were then seen hopping in and out of the brambles around us. The latter being the main target bird we were looking for at this given spot. We then moved a little further down the valley, stopping suddenly first for a noisy flock of Slaty-headed Parakeets, and then a movement off the side of the road led us to a couple of jet-black male Grey-winged Blackbirds. We had then decided to head for some hot tea to arm our chilled bones, although it was nearly impossible to get there due to flock after flo ck along the way preventing us from making much progress, although these were very nice and very welcome distractions we were only too happy to accept! Some busy bird waves saw us staring straight up at several Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches (here of the larger-billed, nominate form), a few Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, Himalayan Treecreepers, Black-lored Tits, and our first Brown-fronted and Grey-faced Woodpeckers in the trees above; while the undergrowth held a number of highly-desired and colorful flycatchers, that included males of both Rufous-bellied and Small Niltavas, Red-flanked Bluetails, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers and a few female Slaty-blue Flycatchers. Generous use of a Collared Owlet recording on a side trail worked wonders in stirring up a mobbing flock of passerines that held Mountain, Himalayan Black and Ashy Bulbuls; and close by a par of Blue-capped Redstarts flitted in and out of the scrub, while a superb Blue-throated Barbet called from the Oaks above. However, the real reason for leaving the road had been to target a skulker of note that I had seen here only a few weeks previously. Thankfully, the Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler was still 'on territory', and this 'little brown football' of a bird was quickly lured in with a little playback. Another surefire highlight in this area were some noisy mixed flocks of laughingthrushes, that held both the common White-throated Laughingthrush, and the gorgeously adorned White-crested Laughingthrush, and Bob was especially happy to find another cool mammal in the form of a superb Yellow-throated Marten that bounded along a stone wall right in front of us. The afternoon was notably, and unsurprisingly, quieter in comparison although we still added another new Himalayan woodpecker, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, during a tranquil walk to a local ashram.
Day 18 VINAYAK and PANGOT (UTTARANCHAL)
This was our longest day trip out of Naini Tal, as we climbed up into the high mountains (2300m), especially in pursuit of some of the rarer pheasants in the area. Unfortunately, these proved elusive on this day, although our time was not wasted there with a number of other high mountain birds on the menu. As we ascended the deserted Himalayan road, an excellent male Hill Partridge walked out in the middle of the road, remaining completely in the open there in front of our bus for several minutes so that we could all fully soak up the intricacies of its plumage. Up there the roadside scenery was nothing short of breathtaking, the early dawn light casting a fantastic pink hue on the crystal clear Himalayan giants that lay before us, turning the snow-capped tops a gorgeous salmon pink.We then enjoyed breakfast in the field with welcome flasks of hot tea and steaming coffee, while huge wheeling flocks of Himalayan Accentors flew nervously from one jagged rock face to another, and a small group of Rock Buntings called quietly from a lone roadside bush. A regular strategy of adopting a recording of Collared Owlet to stir up any passerines within the area paid off brilliantly this time, when the owl itself flew in for some close up looks, and White-tailed Nuthatches, Spot-winged Tits and Himalayan Treecreepers were found in the attendant horde of mobbing passerines. As we cruised the road in the hope of any pheasants, a Koklass Pheasant crowed close by and unfortunately flashed by our Indian guide, leaving the rest of us wanting more. Some precipitous cliffs in the area held a couple of loafing Himalayan Griffons. A little further on a movement had us alighting quickly from the van, and walking straight onto a pair of Plain-backed Ground-Thrushes feeding underneath the roadside Oaks. Better was to come just a little later when a white wing flash led me onto another scarce, and shy zoothera thrush that had flown up and perched right beside our van. With a little ingenuity, neck straining and more than a little luck, we all got great looks at the powerfully-built Long-billed Ground-Thrush that remained in its chosen fir, for us all to soak up thoroughly its ridiculously oversized bill. We then dropped down in altitude to the town of Pangot, where we visited a remote mountain lodge for lunch where surprisingly few Black-headed Jays came in to feed on the specially laid out rice, although the areas around the garden proved worthwhile with Grey-backed Shrike and Blue-fronted Redstarts using the wires in the area to hunt from, and a couple of Striated Prinias gave their monotonous song from the scrub nearby, and our first Mountain Hawk-Eagle of the tour soared low overhead. Superb. We finished by walking down from the lodge and birding the open fields and small patches of roadside pine forest, that at that time of day were understandably quiet although still pulled in a couple of excellent endemic Himalayan Pied Woodpeckers, a feeding flock held one of India's smallest woodpeckers, a tiny Speckled Piculet, and a few rusty male Russet Sparrows were found perched up in the fields.
Day 19 PANGOT and BAJUN VALLEY (UTTARANCHAL)
Our last full day around Naini Tal started slowly, the Kilbury Road being very quiet a short time after dawn. However, when we reached Pangot the first rays of sun initiated some of the days first bird activity, producing Black-throated Accentor and Pink-browed Rosefinch around the same lodge we had visited the day before. The skies above held both the white-throated Asian Martin, and the dark-throated Nepal Martin, along with a few Eurasian Crag Martins, Steppe Eagles, and our only Besra of the tour. A small group of firs held a pair of fabulous White-browed Shrike-Babblers, and a shy party of Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes moved quietly through the undergrowth below. Unfortunately a noisy rustling that we investigated proved to be our only Black Francolin of the tour that was for the guides eyes only, although a Grey Treepie in the same area as seen by all. We then enjoyed our final lunch at Vikram's and set out for our last birding venture from there - to Bajun Valley close to Naini Tal. An 'emergency stop' needed to be made on the way when I noticed a small owl perched in the roadside pines, that proved to be a cute Asian Barred Owlet, hunting in broad daylight. This scenic valley is well-concealed from the main road, and is a great quiet spot for birding away from the hub-bub of some other areas, the only disturbance being a number of farmers working the fields in the valley bottom and village kids heading home from school. With only a limited time in the Bajun Valley we focused on going after the special birds there. A loud rustle underneath the conifers led us to a covey of Kalij Pheasants, that included a striking blue-and-white male in their number. In the valley bottom our second of three possible forktails on the tour was added to the list, with a Slaty-backed Forktail that was seen working the boulders in the crystal-clear mountain stream. The main target bird however was a red, gold and green little warbler that appears more like a miniature antpitta from the Neotropics than an Asian warbler. Liberal use of playback soon brought reaction from a Chestnut-headed Tesia, that came in and danced around us for a while giving us all great close up views of this beautiful little montane warbler. A great closing bird to our time around Naini Tal.
This male illustrated well the close relationship between people and nature in India (and in Hindu culture),
this one was being fed rice scraps outside a Hindu temple in the Himalayan foothills
Day 20 KUMERIA, CORBETT
Our final day birding proved to be an absolute classic, a sprinkling of new birds (even at this late stage of the tour) combined with a number of very exciting species. The first notable bird of the day also turned out to be the very best bird of the day and indeed the tour, clearly being a tour favorite for obvious reasons. Not only is it a very highly-desired species, that is far, far from guaranteed (only last year the first sightings then were believed to be the first confirmed ones for five years), but it is also a damn fine looking bird. As we made our way alongside the Kosi River on our way to our final hotel we decided to stop and scan for this top target bird, all the while never really believing we had a realistic shot at it, due to the sparseness of sightings in recent times. As Sam scanned the pale riverside boulders, and clear water rapids he picked up a large shorebird that had him excitedly running for his scope. Swinging his Swarovski rapidly into action he could not believe his eyes as it landed right on a superb adult IBISBILL feeding out in the open water. A little later, as the enormity of the sighting began to sink in, another adult was found feeding unobtrusively among the boulders close by. Unanimously voted as the BIRD OF THE TRIP. It should have all been downhill from there, I mean how can you top Ibisbill?!, but this was simply one of those days that guides dream about. A passing feeding flock in the Kumeria area yielded a really attractive warbler, in the form of a Chestnut-crowned Warbler; and not far away an amazing Immaculate Wren-babbler was suprisingly (and uncharacteristically), showy in its appearance in some open streamside scrub. This endemic was originally thought to be confined to Nepal, and was accordingly named 'Nepal Wren-babbler', although has in recent years been found in India also. The same area also brought us a fine male Snowy-browed Flycatcher, that proved to be o ur only sighting of the tour. Just a short distance further we lined up an adult Pallas's Fish-Eagle sitting within its huge treetop nest, and checked into our hotel a short time later. During lunch (where we had our final tasty paneer of the tour), one of the waiters helpfully pointed out a cute little Collared Falconet perched up in the garden, while a Crested Treeswift also hawked for insects overhead. After lunch we made our way from our hotel down to the Kosi river edge in search of roosting owls and a few special birds that are associated with the river. On our way down we ran into first an intimidating looking Brown Fish-Owl, that would have been good alone, before an alarm went up from our local guide further down who had come across a brilliant rusty Tawny Fish-Owl perched in some trees just a short distance away. Excellent. After we reeled off dozens of photos of these supreme owls, we finally made it to the river and scanned the boulders where first a pair of Brown Dippers were found jumping in and out of the faster flowing sections of the Kosi; and later a cute Little Forktail (our third forktail of the trip), was watched feeding in some calmer sections of the river. A dazzling end to what had been a standout day, and a fantastic tour, period.
This northern Indian tour is quite possibly the best tour in the world for owls.
We picked up 12 different species, with this one being the final addition on our last full day.
Only in India could you find this owl roosting just yards apart from a Brown Fish-Owl!
Day 21 KUMERIA to DELHI/DEPARTURE (UTTARANCHAL)
The final day of the tour was merely a longish travel day back to India's bustling capital for departure. There was just enough time though to have another look at the Pallas's Fish-Eagles nesting close to our final hotel, the Quality Inn, when we were this time treated to better views of both adult birds as they tore apart a recently caught fish. We then boarded our now very familiar bus for the return journey to Delhi, although just a kilometer down the road our local guide Harish leapt from the vehicle in excitement with us following hot on his heals. The object of his obvious interest proved to be a beautiful female Tigress walking right out in the open, on the banks of the Kosi River, a rare sighting outside the core area of Corbett. Unfortunately here they are far from the bold, fearless animals that we had seen at Bandhavgarh, and so it was soon on its heals and vanished back into the green cloak of the jungle. As we tried to find this fantastic feline once again, we heard the gull-like cries of the pair of Pallas's Fish-Eagles calling from their nest upriver, that provided a wonderful atmosphere to proceedings and a great, great finish to what had been a record-breaking tour for us. We racked up an incredible 390 birds, that included an impressive 12 species of owl, 10 of which were seen during the daytime. The final mention should go to Tiger however, that beat Ibisbill to the title of top bird of the trip despite the distinct lack of feathers. There is simply nothing that can prepare you for an encounter with this awesome predator, an experience with this huge striped cat only serving to fuel greater enthusiasm for another unforgettable encounter with this hugely impressive beast.
Taxonomic order and nomenclature follow Clements, 6th edition updated 2007.
Birds that are marked with (GO) were seen by the guide only.
Birds that are marked with (H) were only heard.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Seen on wetlands around Bharatpur, Sultanpur Jheel and Bandhavgarh.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Just a few seen on Bund Baretha and wetlands beyond there.
Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus
A group of 13 birds were seen feeding actively on a large wetland area well beyond Bund Baretha.
Indian Cormorant Phalacrocorax fuscicollis
Only recorded on a couple of days - including a few on the Yamuna River, out the back of the Taj Mahal.
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Commonly encountered on water bodies throughout the tour.
Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger
A common and regularly encountered cormorant on the tour.
Darter Anhinga melanogaster
Seen in small numbers on wetlands near Bharatpur, at Sultanpur Jheel, and near Bandhavgarh.
HERONS, EGRETS AND BITTERNS: Ardeidae
Gray Heron Ardea cinerea
Present in small numbers on most wetland sites visited.
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Singles were recorded around Delhi, at Bund Baretha and on a large wetland in Bandhavgarh.
Great Egret Ardea alba
Commonly recorded throughout the tour.
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia
A little less commonly seen than the previous species, although still regularly recorded in a number of different sites.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Present at almost all wetland areas visited on the tour.
Indian Pond-Heron Ardeola grayii
Commonly recorded throughout the tour.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
A very common roadside bird throughout northern India.
TAXONOMIC NOTE: Some authors (e.g. Rasmussen & Anderton 2005) split this form as a separate species, Eastern Cattle Egret B. coromandus.
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Just a single bird was seen at Bund Baretha.
Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala
One of the spectacles of the tour was the large colony of these impressive storks nesting at Sultanpur Jheel; with others seen in Bharatpur, and large numbers were seen on several of the large wetlands beyond Bund Baretha.
Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans
Three sightings involved a couple on Bund Baretha, a few more on one of the large wetlands beyond there, and a single on a lake in Bandhavgarh.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
A group of 14 birds was found on a massive wetland beyond Bund Baretha, and was the only sighting on the tour.
Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus
Two singles were seen on the journey from Delhi to Bharatpur; a group of 7 and another group of 5 were seen on different large wetlands beyond Bund Baretha; and another single was seen at Sultanpur Jheel.
Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus
India's finest stork. A pair were seen in Keoladeo Ghana, and another single was seen at Sultanpur Jheel.
Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus
An ugly, but now very localized species, singles were seen in Bandhavgarh on several occasions; and also on the large lake outside of Bandhavgarh's core area.
IBIS AND SPOONBILLS: Threskiornithidae
Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus
Mainly recorded around Delhi, at Okhla and Sultanpur Jheel.
Red-naped Ibis Pseudibis papillosa
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. We did well for this increasingly scarce Ibis, picking them up first on our drive between Bharatpur and Agra; and later on the banks of the Chambal itself. We also saw a few around Bandhavgarh, and on the journey between Delhi and the Ganges river crossing.
NB. This is also sometimes referred to as INDIAN BLACK IBIS.
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
A single was seen feeding on one of the small islands at Bund Baretha, and a group of 14 birds was seen on a large wetland beyond there.
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Noted on a number of the wetlands.
DUCKS, GEESE AND SWANS: Anatidae
Lesser Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna javanica
Fairly commonly recorded at a number of different wetland sites visited.
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Huge flocks were especially noted at Bund Baretha, although others were seen near Bandhavgarh and around Delhi.
Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus
Arguably the most handsome goose in the world. We saw some huge flocks on some of the larger wetlands beyond Baretha, and also recorded them along the banks of the Chambal River (with over 200 birds there alone), with a few others also at Sultanpur Jheel.
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
A very attractive and common duck in northern India. Large concentrations were seen on the Kosi River by Ramnagar. Others were also picked up at Bund Baretha (and a number of wetlands in that area), and along the Chambal.
Comb Duck Sarkidiornis melanotos
Never in huge numbers, a maximum of 9 birds were seen on a large wetland beyond Bund Baretha. Others were seen on Baretha itself, and also along the Chambal River, and at Sultanpur.
Cotton Pygmy-goose Nettapus coromandelianus
A contender for the world's smallest goose, this diminutive goose was only recorded on Bund Baretha, with around 20 seen there.
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
Large numbers were seen at a number of different wetland sites.
Gadwall Anas strepera
Fairly commonly recorded at a variety of wetlands.
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Large concentrations were recorded at Okhla, Sultanpur and Bund Baretha.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Not a common bird at all in northern India, with just a pair seen at Bund Baretha and a single male by Ramnagar Dam.
Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha
A very striking and attractive Indian duck. First seen at Okhla, and later recorded around Bund Baretha, and Sultanpur.
NB. Sometimes called INDIAN SPOT-BILLED DUCK.
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Commonly recorded, at a number of different sites.
Garganey Anas querquedula
A single bird was picked out from the thousands of waterfowl at Bund Baretha.
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
One of the commonest duck species in northern India.
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
A couple of big groups were seen around Bund Baretha, and a couple of lone females were seen during our Chambal River Cruise.
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Just a few were seen at Okhla, Sultanpur, and around Bund Baretha.
Ferruginous Pochard Aythya nyroca
3 were seen roosting on an island on Bund Baretha.
NB. Sometimes called FERRUGINOUS DUCK.
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Only recorded on the very first day in Delhi, when a small raft were seen at Okhla Barrage.
Common Merganser Mergus merganser
Just a single female bird was seen resting on the banks of the Chambal River.
NB. Sometimes called GOOSANDER.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Two singles were seen beyond Bund Baretha.
HAWKS, EAGLES AND KITES: Accipitridae
Oriental Honey-buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
This extremely variable raptor was seen a number of times around Bharatpur, and also Bandhavgarh.
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
Small numbers were recorded at a number of different sites.
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Delhi must be the best place in the world for this scavenging raptor, where literally thousands were seen swarming over a rubbish dump, and lining the pylons all around. An impressive sight.
Pallas' Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus
A pair of these much sought-after birds of prey, were nesting by the Kosi River near our final hotel, the Quality Inn. Excellent views were had of a pair devouring a recently caught fish.
Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus
This is undoubtedly the top vulture in Asia, and quite possibly the world. Always heavily requested and never common, we were relieved to pick one up before we had even reached Naini Tal. Stopping for a kettle of raptors 10km before the town we picked up one of these superb scavengers cruising low over our heads.
NB. Sometimes also called BEARDED VULTURE or BONEBREAKER.
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
A commonly encountered raptor on the Gangetic Plain.
White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis
This striking and distinctive now critically-endangered vulture was first seen at Bandhavgarh, and later also seen near the Mongoli Valley around Naini Tal.
Indian Vulture Gyps indicus
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. Unfortunately another of India's critically endangered vulture species, due to the formerly widespread use of the veterinary drug Diclofenac. We were happy to see some largish (around 8 birds!) groups nesting at Bayena (near Bharatpur), and also on the cliffs beside Bandhavgarh Fort.
Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis
Several of this huge pale griffons were seen in the Naini Tal area, especially around Vinayak our highest site of the tour (around 2,300m).
Eurasian Griffon Gyps fulvus
First picked up near our resort in Bandhavgarh, and later seen in the foothills also.
Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus
Just three sightings of another of India's troubled vultures, with two singles seen in Bandhavgarh; and a pair were found lurking expectantly near a blood-drenched carcass in the Bund Baretha area (that had also attracted a few Golden Jackals, a lone Striped Hyena and an Egyptian Vulture).
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
A single very tatty looking individual was seen circling over a large bird-packed wetland in the Bund Baretha area.
Crested Serpent-Eagle Spilornis cheela
Just three sightings, in the Bandhavgarh area, and also a single in Keoladeo Ghana.
Western Marsh-Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Only recorded on the first day in Delhi, where 4 were seen in Okhla.
Shikra Accipiter badius
One of India's commoner raptor species, singles were run into in Bharatpur, Bund Baretha and around Bandhavgarh also.
Besra Accipiter virgatus
A single soaring bird was seen close to Pangot in the Himalayan foothills.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
One was seen in Bandhavgarh, with another at Sultanpur Jheel close to Delhi.
Eurasian Buzzard Buteo buteo
A single soaring bird was seen at Sultanpur Jheel.
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus
One was seen on the Chambal River Cruise.
Indian Spotted Eagle Aquila hastata
NEAR-ENDEMIC. This scarce near-endemic was recorded only once as we came close to Bharatpur during our journey from Delhi to there.
Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga
A bird was seen flying over the temple at Keoladeo Ghana, and then another adult bird was seen very well perched up at Sultanpur Jheel.
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis
One of the most regularly recorded raptors in the foothills of the Himalaya.
Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca
A bird was seen perched on a large island on a huge wetland beyond Bund Baretha; and later a young bird was seen really well perched on a small island in the jheel at Sultanpur.
Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata
A nesting pair were seen close to our boat along the Chambal River; and later a pair were seen diving dramatically at some unidentified prey in the Bajun Valley, near Naini Tal.
Booted Eagle Aquila pennata
One flew over the nursery in Keoladeoa Ghana park.
Changeable Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus
Several sightings of long-crested cirrhatus 'race' were had in Bandhavgarh. This included a pair that were seen mating on an open snag in the grey light of dawn on one particular game drive.
NB. TAXONOMIC NOTE: This race is sometimes split by some authors as CRESTED HAWK-EAGLE.
Mountain Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus nipalensis
A low-flying adult was first seen by a small mountain lodge at Pangot, with a couple of further sightings in the Kumeria area on the edge of Corbett.
Collared Falconet Microhierax caerulescens
This tiny raptor was seen from our table in the garden of the Quality Inn as we enjoyed a great curry feed for lunch, soon after our arrival there.
Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
5 sightings at a number of different sites.
Red-necked Falcon Falco chicquera
This often hard to find falcon put on a great show for us this year. First our local guide picked up a distant bird that unfortunately did not linger leaving us gagging for more. Luckily only 30 minutes or so later Sam found a pair perched on a close roadside pylon that remained there for some time allowing photos and great scope views in the process. Definitely one of the best raptors of the trip.
NB. TAXONOMIC NOTE: This Asian race, chicquera, is sometimes split from the African race by some authors, and then re-named as RED-HEADED FALCON.
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Just two sightings - firstly close to Bund Baretha and then another single close to the Mongoli Valley near Naini Tal.
PHEASANTS AND PARTRIDGES: Phasianidae
Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus (GO)
A female bird unfortunately only showed to the guide, before it slinked back into some dense scrub at Pangot.
Gray Francolin Francolinus pondicerianus
NEAR-ENDEMIC. Seen almost daily around Bharatpur, and also recorded at Sultanpur Jheel.
Hill Partridge Arborophila torqueola
A brilliant male bird sat in full view on an open road in front of our bus for several minutes, near Vinayak.
Painted Spurfowl Galloperdix lunulata
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. One of Bandhavgarh's undoubted star birds, this one took a little time in coming, before appearing two mornings in a row. The first involved a rufous female bird that remained in the open in the half light of dawn and therefore required the aid of a spotlight to get an eyeful; and the group the following day involved 3 birds, at least one of which was a brilliant white speckled male.
Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha
Unfortunately this proved a little tricky this year, with a close calling bird running behind us out of a view from everyone but our local guide.
Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus (H)
The original chicken. These were reasonably common during our time in Bandhavgarh.
Kalij Pheasant Lophura leucomelanos
This flashy pheasant was seen four times on the tour - three times around Naini Tal (including a noisy group in the Bajun Valley); and an extremely confiding pair were seen feeding on rice thrown out for them outside a small Hindu temple on the edge of Corbett National Park.
Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus
INDIA'S NATIONAL BIRD. AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. This superb pheasant is abundant in the Bharatpur area, large numbers of which were seen feeding out in the open fields in the early morning (a short time after they had left their roosting sites in the local villages).
Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator
A couple were flushed near our resort on the edge of Bandhavgarh.
Sarus Crane Grus antigone
These superb, stately cranes were first seen on the drive between Delhi and Bharatpur; and later seen again on a large wetland beyond Bund Baretha. A small group were also seen by the roadside near the Ganges River crossing.
RAILS, GALLINULES AND COOTS: Rallidae
Brown Crake Amaurornis akool
An unusually bold pair were seen feeding right out in the open by a busy road for over 5 minutes, en-route to Bharatpur; with another equally confident pair by Bund Baretha.
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Almost daily around Bharatpur.
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
Okhla Barrage had some very impressive concentrations of this large gallinule, with well over a hundred birds seen there. A few were also seen in the Bharatpur area.
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
A few were seen at a number of wetlands throughout.
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
A few were seen at a number of wetlands throughout.
Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus
Just the one bird seen, at Bund Baretha.
Bronze-winged Jacana Metopidius indicus
A few were seen around Bund Baretha; and a few more were seen at a large wetland outside the core area of Bandhavgarh.
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis
This superb and distinctive shorebird had arrived in good numbers at Bharatpur this year, with around ten birds seen feeding in a dirty ditch in the town there.
Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii
BIRD OF THE TRIP. An easy choice for the top trip bird. It was hard to look past this enigmatic shorebird among the highlights, as it is not only a scarce and therefore a much wanted bird by listers, but is also an undeniably attractive and striking wader. We saw a pair of awesome Ibisbills along the Kosi River en-route to our final hotel.
AVOCETS AND STILTS: Recurvirostridae
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
One of the commonest shorebirds recorded in northern India, seemingly being found on any small patch of roadside water.
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
A couple were seen on our very first day in Delhi at Okhla; with another also seen on the shores of the Chambal River.
Great Thick-knee Burhinus recurvirostris
This huge shorebird should ordinarily be 'a given' at the Chambal River, although proved strangely elusive there, with just a single bird found hiding in amongst the boulders just as we were leaving. All the more sweeter for that!
PLOVERS AND LAPWINGS: Charadriidae
River Lapwing Vanellus duvaucelii
This 'Asian Spur-winged Plover' was first seen in Bharatpur, and also seen on the banks of the Yamuna River, out the back of the Taj Mahal; and finally a good number of them were feeding among the boulders of the Kosi River, on the edge of Corbett.
Yellow-wattled Lapwing Vanellus malabaricus
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC, (except for a few stragglers outside the region). Having seen them there only a few weeks previously, we focused on this area of dry open fields between Bharatpur and Bund Baretha, and found this confiding pair still in the same area.
Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus
A very common bird in the lowlands of northern India, and therefore recorded regularly throughout the plains.
White-tailed Lapwing Vanellus leucurus
Thin on the ground this year, with just three single birds seen, at Okhla, Sultanpur Jheel, and Kosi wetland en-route to Bharatpur.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
A few were seen on a large wetland beyond Bund Baretha.
Snowy Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
A few were seen on the banks of the Chambal River, and at least 20 birds were found on a large wetland beyond Bund Baretha.
Pintail Snipe Gallinago stenura
A walk through some damp rice paddies close to Bandhavgarh produced a number of Common Snipe, along with two Pintails that provided good side-by-side comparison.
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Small numbers were recorded around Bharatpur, and a good number were also found close to Bandhavgarh.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
A single bird was seen by the roadside en-route to Bharatpur from Delhi; and large numbers were recorded on a large wetland site beyond Bund Baretha.
NB. TAXONOMIC NOTE: The birds recorded on the tour were of the limosa 'form', that is sometimes considered a separate species from the eastern melanuroides populations, and subsequently re-named WESTERN BLACK-TAILED GODWIT.
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
Around 6 birds were seen beyond Bund Baretha.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Commonly recorded at a number of wetlands around Bharatpur.
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Fairly common in the Bharatpur area, and also seen out the back of the Taj Mahal.
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Recorded at a few sites in the Bund Baretha area.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Recorded at a number of wetland sites in Rajasthan.
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
Small numbers were recorded in the Bund Baretha area.
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Recorded at a number of wetland sites in Rajasthan.
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Recorded at a number of wetland sites in Rajasthan.
Little Stint Calidris minuta
Small numbers were seen on a large wetland beyond Bund Baretha.
Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii
Small numbers were seen at a number of sites in Rajasthan, and also on the Kosi River in Uttaranchal.
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Small numbers were seen on a large wetland beyond Bund Baretha.
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Small numbers were seen on a few wetlands in Rajasthan.
Great Black-headed Gull Larus ichthyaetus
A few were seen on both the Chambal and Ganges Rivers.
NB. This is sometimes also called PALLAS'S GULL.
Brown-headed Gull Larus brunnicephalus
Just a single bird was seen on our final crossing of the Ganges, that turned out to be our final addition to the trip.
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
A large flock were flying around the Ganges River, that also contained a single Brown-headed Gull.
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
4 were seen on Bund Baretha, and a similar number were seen on a large wetland beyond there also.
Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda
This fast-declining, and now localized species, was seen on our Chambal River Cruise. All birds seen were in black-bellied summer plumage.
River Tern Sterna aurantia
Recorded on two days in the Bund Baretha area.
Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis
36 of these threatened birds were found on our Chambal River Cruise, a key area for this now extremely localized, rare species. The boatman took us in well for some great close up looks.
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles exustus
30 birds flew over our boat on the Chambal, and landed on the shore, where they allowed us to tee them up in the 'scope.
Painted Sandgrouse Pterocles indicus
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. As we worked the rocky sandstone boulders at Bund Baretha, in our search for White-capped Buntings, we disturbed a pair of these scarce grouse that flew low over our heads.
PIGEONS AND DOVES: Columbidae
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Many of these 'pure bred' Rock Doves seen throughout the plains.
Oriental Turtle-Dove Streptopelia orientalis
A number of these handsome doves were seen around Bandhavgarh.
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Fairly commonly recorded at a number of sites.
Red Collared-Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica
A single was seen en-route to Bund Baretha; and another was seen at Sultanpur Jheel.
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
Commonly seen around Bandhavgarh.
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
Commonly seen at a number of sites on the tour.
Yellow-footed Pigeon Treron phoenicopterus
This attractive green pigeon was first picked up at Okhla in Delhi, with more seen around Tughlaqabad Fort and Bandhavgarh.
Alexandrine Parakeet Psittacula eupatria
This chunky huge red-billed parakeet was a regular bird around Bandhavgarh, including right within the grounds of our resort.
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
India's commonest parakeet, the sights and sounds of them were a daily feature in the lowlands.
Slaty-headed Parakeet Psittacula himalayana
These dark-hooded montane parakeets were regularly seen during our day at Sat Tal in the Himalayan foothills.
NB. Sometimes alternatively called HIMALAYAN PARAKEET.
Plum-headed Parakeet Psittacula cyanocephala
India's most beautiful parakeet, their rich, cherry-colored heads were seen especially regularly around Bandhavgarh, including within our resort. Also seen a few times on our day trips out of Bharatpur.
Common Hawk-Cuckoo Cuculus varius
This accipiter-like cuckoo was seen during our very first session of birding at Okhla, and was our only tour sighting.
Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus(H)
An unseasonal bird was heard giving its distinctive 'one green bottle' song in Bandhavgarh, although remained frustratingly hidden from view the whole time.
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus
Just the one was seen at Okhla Barrage in Delhi.
Sirkeer Malkoha Phaenicophaeus leschenaultii
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. First seen perched on top of the fort walls at Tughlaqabad in Delhi on our first afternoon; others were also seen in Bandhavgarh, and at the base of the Indian Vulture cliffs at Bayena.
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Commonly recorded at many sites.
Indian Scops-Owl Otus bakkamoena
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. These endemic owls are usually staked out in Bharatpur where the local guides know a couple of regular roost spots. So it proved again this year, with a pair found right beside the Keoladeo temple.
Oriental Scops-Owl Otus sunia
One of the finds of the tour was a fantastic rufous phase bird in the park at Bharatpur, hiding in a clump of well-chosen, rusty-colored, dead leaves.
Dusky Eagle-Owl Bubo coromandus
Another Bharatpur star bird. A pair were nesting in the park this year, with the male perched out nicely in the open for us.
Brown Fish-Owl Ketupa zeylonensis
We were lucky with this formidable owl this year. We saw our first one roosting during our very first game drive within Bandhavgarh. Our second one was at Kumeria, close to the Quality Inn, that was roosting a very short distance from a close by Tawny Fish-Owl, superb.
Tawny Fish-Owl Ketupa flavipes
While we were enjoying a brilliant Brown Fish-Owl glaring threateningly down at us in broad daylight, our local guide found one of these rusty-colored beasts roosting just yards away. Only in India!
Mottled Wood-Owl Strix ocellata
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. The 'usual' birds were surprisingly absent by the park gates at Bandhavgarh during our time, so we tried another spot in the evening of our first night, and ended up spotlighting a cracking bird. One of Bandhavgarh's key birds.
Brown Wood-Owl Strix leptogrammica(GO)
Unfortunately a roosting pair near Pangot had taken an untimely leave of absence during our stay. Another bird flashed in front of the bus headlights near Vinayak, although despite calling regularly had moved downhill before the rest of the group could get onto it. Frustrating.
Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei
The call of this owl usually has a great impact on small passerines in the Himalayan foothills, and was often well-utilized to stir up a mobbing party. Eventually on one occasion this cute little owl also came in to check out the recording, when it also swiveled its head round revealing the cracking unique 'false eyes' on the back of its spotted head.
Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides
Sam picked up a bird hunting within some open pines in broad daylight, near the town of Bajun, that posed nicely for photos.
Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. A pair put in an appearance several times within our resort at Bandhavgarh. A very welcome distraction during the compulsory late morning breaks from the park game drives.
Spotted Owlet Athene brama
This gregarious, cute owl was seen at both Okhla and Tughlaqabad Fort on our first days birding in Delhi. Other small groups were seen around Bharatpur and close to Bandhavgarh. The largest gathering involved four birds by the Keoladeo temple, that Bharatpur's parks is named after.
Brown Hawk-Owl Ninox scutulata
This bird had strangely eluded us on a tour a short time before this one, as we had not visited the Chambal area (a key area for the species), and surprisingly none were known to be roosting at that time within the Bharatpur area. Therefore it was a relief to have first a roosting bird within the Keoladeo Ghana park, and another spotlighted bird later the same day at the Chambal Safari Lodge.
Gray Nightjar Caprimulgus indicus
Another of Bharatpur's daytime stake-outs, we saw one at a day roost within the park.
Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus
A superb, cryptically patterned individual allowed very close approach within Keoladeo Ghana, at a known daytime roost site.
Indian Nightjar Caprimulgus asiaticus
As we had not picked any up as we made our way out of the park following a number of game drives, we targeted this species outside the parks core area, and were rewarded with great views of a male bird hawking insects in our spotlight.
Little Swift Apus affinis
Recorded in Delhi and in the Himalayan foothills, although only in small numbers.
Crested Treeswift Hemiprocne coronata
First seen in the buffer zone around Bandhavgarh, and later enjoyed over lunch at the Quality Inn, Kumeria.
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Great views were especially achieved within our resort grounds at Bandhavgarh, where the small pond was a magnet for kingfishers.
Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis
This much-requested bird is generally scarce on this circuit, so is a key species around Bandhavgarh, where initially it proved very elusive. However, once we'd broken the duck we saw them twice well within the park, and were then treated to cracking views around the small pond within our resort.
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
The most commonly recorded kingfisher on the tour, recorded at many sites.
Crested Kingfisher Megaceryle lugubris
We saw three of these fantastic 'fishers at the dam at Ramnagar, and later saw a few more during our final afternoons birding along the Kosi River in Kumeria.
NB. This species is also sometimes known as HIMALAYAN PIED KINGFISHER.
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
Seen a number of times around Bharatpur, and later along the Chambal River, near Bandhavgarh, and also at Sultanpur Jheel.
Blue-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis athertoni
A pair of these large Bee-eaters eventually gave themselves up during our very last game drive within Bandhavgarh.
Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis
This gorgeous emerald-green bee-eater was recorded at a number of lowland sites on the tour.
Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
A harbinger of good fortune in Hindu culture, they were a regular feature on roadside wires in the Bharatpur area, and were later recorded a number of times in Bandhavgarh.
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Picked up fairly regularly throughout the tour.
Indian Gray Hornbill Ocyceros birostris
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. First seen in the grand hotel grounds of the Bagh at Bharatpur, where a small group were often roosting in the area. Also recorded a number of times around Bandhavgarh, where again a pair were seen in our very birdy resort grounds. Also seen once near Corbett at the tour end.
Malabar Pied-Hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus
An INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. (Only found in India and Sri Lanka). One of Bandhavgarh's key species. Luckily they were not too difficult there, especially around dusk where small groups became very vocal prior to roosting, making them easier to locate We saw them twice on afternoon game drives, with a group of 6 during our first drive, and a party of 6 a few days later.
Great Barbet Megalaima virens
This classic montane barbet was first seen right beside Vikram's Vintage Inn in Naini Tal. Others were then seen at Sat Tal and near the Mongoli Valley, also both in the Himalayan foothills.
Brown-headed Barbet Megalaima zeylanica
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. First seen on our first morning at Okhla in Delhi, and then recorded a number of times in the Bharatpur area (including within Keoladeo Ghana park). Also seen a few times in the Bandhavgarh area, including within the grounds of our bird-rich resort.
Lineated Barbet Megalaima lineata
The garden of a small mountain lodge en-route to Naini Tal held a few of these streak-headed barbets.
Blue-throated Barbet Megalaima asiatica
This attractive barbet was unsurprisingly popular, getting a worthy mention when running through the tour highlights at the end. Just two sightings this year, with a pair at Sat Tal, and another viewing near Mongoli in the Himalayan foothills.
Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala
Recorded at Okhla in Delhi, around Bharatpur, and also in Bandhavgarh.
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla
Two singles were seen in the Delhi area, at Okhla and Sultanpur Jheel.
Speckled Piculet Picumnus innominatus
This tiny woodpecker, one of the smallest in Asia, was seen in a large bird wave in the Pangot area.
Brown-capped Woodpecker Dendrocopos moluccensis
This pale-eyed 'pecker was seen in the grounds of our Bandhavgarh resort, and later seen in a small mountain lodge garden on our way to Naini Tal.
NB. This nanus 'race' is sometimes split off as INDIAN PYGMY WOODPECKER.
Gray-capped Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus
This pygmy woodpecker was seen twice in the Kumeria area around Corbett.
NB. Also known as GREY-CAPPED PYGMY-WOODPECKER.
Brown-fronted Woodpecker Dendrocopos auriceps
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. A little scarce on this tour, with just the one lone bird seen in a passing flock at Sat Tal.
NB. Also known as BROWN-FRONTED PIED WOODPECKER.
Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopos macei
A NEAR-ENDEMIC SPECIES. This scarce woodpecker was seen feeding in some open pines at Sat Tal.
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Dendrocopos mahrattensis
A pair were seen en-route to Bund Baretha, and three further sightings followed in the Bandhavgarh area.
NB. Also known as YELLOW-FRONTED PIED WOODPECKER.
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker Dendrocopos hyperythrus
One of the top woodpeckers in the Himalayas, where the greatest woodpecker diversity on the tour occurs. We found this bird surprisingly easy on this tour, getting them three separate times there (these included two red-capped males, and one spotty crowned female). On all occasions the birds were extremely confiding, and remained in full view for over 5 minutes and were much appreciated for that!
Himalayan Woodpecker Dendrocopos himalayensis
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC (primarily in the Himalayas). Two separate birds were found in Pangot, feeding in some open pines along the Bagar road.
NB. Also known as HIMALAYAN PIED WOODPECKER.
Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus
For the second year in a row this species was found in company with a Greater Yellownape for superb side-by-side comparison, this time in the Mongoli area, near Naini Tal.
Greater Yellownape Picus flavinucha
We enjoyed three sightings of this flashy woodpecker in the Himalayan foothills.
Streak-throated Woodpecker Picus xanthopygaeus
Just the one was seen in Bandhavgarh.
Gray-faced Woodpecker Picus canus
This large woodpecker was seen 4 times in the foothills, including a number of times around Sat Tal.
Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. This handsome flameback (is there a bad one?!), was seen two or three times around Bharatpur, a few further times in Bandhavgarh, and also as we descended from the Himalayan foothills.
White-naped Woodpecker Chrysocolaptes festivus
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. Another of Bandhavgarh's key species. We narrowly missed one in our resort there shortly after arrival, and finally picked up a noisy party of three birds that responded really well to tape, coming in and flashing their crisp white napes at us.
NB. Also known as WHITE-NAPED FLAMEBACK.
Indian Bushlark Mirafra erythroptera
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. Two sightings on the tour, firstly beyond Bund Baretha, and later another single at Sultanpur Flats in Haryana.
Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix griseus
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. This striking lark was run into en-route to Bund Baretha, and also around Sultanpur Jheel where a great number of larks were seen in our short time there.
NB. Also known as ASHY-CROWNED FINCH-LARK.
Rufous-tailed Lark Ammomanes phoenicura
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. A pair of these very distinctive larks showed well at the base of the vulture cliffs at Bayena.
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
A small group were seen on our journey to Bund Baretha, and later a huge flock of over 150 birds was seen near Sultanpur Jheel.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Seen first in the dry agricultural lands en-route to Bund Baretha, and then seen again on the banks of the Chambal, and fairly commonly at Sultanpur Jheel.
Plain Martin Riparia paludicola
Fairly commonly recorded in the Bharatpur area, and later also seen at Sultanpur Jheel.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Commonly recorded throughout the tour.
Wire-tailed Swallow Hirundo smithii
This extremely attractive hirundine was seen most regularly around our resort at Bandhavgarh, where a pair spent the whole time hawking insects over the small pond outside our cabins. Also seen along the Chambal River.
Eurasian Crag-Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
A lone bird was seen at Vinayak, with a few more a little lower down in the Pangot area of the Himalayan foothills.
Dusky Crag-Martin Ptyonoprogne concolor
A pair were seen at the attractive sandstone fort of Tughlaqabad in Delhi, with a couple of others seen on our two day trips out of Bharatpur.
Asian Martin Delichon dasypus
A single flock of these montane martins were found in Pangot, on our final day in the foothills.
NB. Also known as ASIAN HOUSE-MARTIN.
Nepal Martin Delichon nipalense
2 birds were seen in a flock of Asian Martins at Pangot.
NB. Also known as NEPAL HOUSE-MARTIN.
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Commonly recorded in the Himalayan foothills.
Streak-throated Swallow Petrochelidon fluvicola
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. A single was first seen at Bund Baretha, although a much better bird showed really well as it hawked low for insects over a small wetland close to our resort at Bandhavgarh.
NB. Also known as INDIAN CLIFF SWALLOW.
WAGTAILS AND PIPITS: Motacillidae
Oriental Pipit Anthus rufulus
Surprisingly, just a single sighting of two birds on our way to Bund Baretha, sharing the field with a bunch of Ashy-crowned Sparrow-larks, Greater Short-toed Larks and others.
NB. Also known as PADDYFIELD PIPIT.
Long-billed Pipit Anthus similis
This large, distinctive pipit was seen feeding at the base of the fort walls, at Tughlaqabad in the heart of Delhi, (during our first afternoons birding).
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
A pair were seen beyond Bund Baretha, with another seen near a large lake close to Bandhavgarh. However, the biggest numbers were on the dry flats at Sultanpur, where around 50 birds were seen.
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni
Seen on a number of occasions, including in the Bharatpur area, in our resort grounds at Bandhavgarh, and also in the Himalayan foothills.
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
Just the one confirmed sighting, on one of our day trips out of Bharatpur.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
A number of different 'races' were seen on this tour, where there was a bewildering number of variants ran into within the white wagtail group at a variety of wetland sites throughout. These included individuals that appeared to be from the personata group, sometimes referred to as MASKED WAGTAIL; in addition to a whole host of other variants including ones that looked like they were from the alboides, BLACK-BACKED WAGTAIL group.
White-browed Wagtail Motacilla madaraspatensis
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. A scattering of sightings were made during the start of the tour (including in Delhi itself), and later also seen along the Chambal and Kosi Rivers.
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Beema type, SYKES'S WAGTAILS, were seen on two days only. A singleton was seen during our first birding session at Okhla in Delhi, and then literally hundreds were seen by a huge wetland beyond Bund Baretha, where many were attracted by the farmer who was busy tilling his field.
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola
Mainly seen during the first part of the tour around Bharatpur, although around 10 were seen on our first morning at Okhla, and others were noted at Sultanpur.
Gray Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
A scattering of sightings throughout.
Large Cuckoo-shrike Coracina macei
Only recorded around Bandhavgarh, where 4 separate singles were seen (including within the grounds of our resort).
Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus
This delightful minivet was seen during our last mornings birding within Keoladeo Ghana, and then again in Bandhavgarh.
Long-tailed Minivet Pericrocotus ethologus
Small groups were picked up in Sultanpur Jheel, and at Sat Tal in the Himalayan foothills.
Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus (H)
Strangely only heard within a passing flock on the edge of Corbett. I guess we were a little busy trawling through the 'wave' for other things!
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus
A whole bunch of these distinctive pied birds were found within a passing bird wave near Kumeria.
Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus
This striking bulbul was fairly common within the grounds of a small mountain lodge, that we visited as we ascended the Himalayas towards our base for exploring there, Naini Tal.
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
First seen at Okhla on our very first day, and then not seen again until we visited a small mountain camp en-route to Naini Tal, (where they were positively common within their small garden).
White-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis
This striking bird was first seen in Delhi on our first day (at Tughlaqabad Fort), and then seen almost daily around Bharatpur, that included within the grand gardens of our large hotel, the Bagh.
White-cheeked Bulbul Pycnonotus leucogenys
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. This floppy crested bulbul was very common once we reached their Himalayan foothill home.
NB. Also known as HIMALAYAN BULBUL.
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
One of northern India's commonest birds, that was encountered regularly throughout.
Mountain Bulbul Ixos mcclellandii
A couple of these scarce birds came in to mob an owl recording being judicially used to rouse up passing passerines, within a small valley in Sat Tal.
Ashy Bulbul Hemixos flavala
This fetching bird came in with the mountain bulbuls to mob an owl tape, at Sat Tal.
Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus
This was very commonly seen in the Himalayan foothills.
Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis
A few of this distinctive race, jerdoni, were seen in the grounds of our resort in Bandhavgarh (a key bird there).
NB. TAXONOMIC NOTE: This endemic race is often split by authors as JERDON'S LEAFBIRD.
Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons
As with the previous species, found visiting a number of flowering blooms in the grounds of our Bandhavgarh resort.
Common Iora Aegithina tiphia
Seen a number of times in Bandhavgarh.
Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii
A pair of these rusty dippers were seen diving in and out of the clear water rapids of the Kosi River, close to our inn on the edge of Corbett.
Himalayan Accentor Prunella himalayana
A large wheeling flock of around 40 birds was seen at Vinayak, with a further flock found unexpectedly lower down at Pangot the following day.
NB. Also known as ALTAI ACCENTOR.
Rufous-breasted Accentor Prunella strophiata
A pair of these gorgeous accentors were very appropriately first seen as we combed the 'accentor fields' at Sat Tal, and another was later picked up again near Bajun.
Black-throated Accentor Prunella atrogularis
The toughest and most sought-after of the accentors. We first saw one on a specific, targeted search at Sat Tal, and later saw a much brighter adult bird close to the small mountain lodge at Pangot.
Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius
A pair were found at the base of the vulture cliffs at Bayena.
Blue Whistling-Thrush Myophonus caeruleus
A great common bird in the foothills, with around 50 counted jumping on and off the mountain road during one morning alone.
Orange-headed Thrush Zoothera citrina
A gorgeous, gorgeous zoothera, that makes all the other normally interesting zoothera species look a little lame in comparison! Firstly a couple of plain-headed, citrina 'race' birds were seen around a temple in Bharatpur; and then a 'Tiger-headed' cyanota bird showed well by our jeep in Bandhavgarh.
Plain-backed Thrush Zoothera mollissima
A pair of these scarce birds were flushed up near Vinayak, with one giving great views as it fed in the open by this quiet, high mountain road.
Scaly Thrush Zoothera dauma
A very shy, skulking bird was first seen only by the guides at Bandhavgarh as we hunted for tigers; another much more obliging bird was observed feeding furtively in some low scrub at Sat Tal.
Long-billed Thrush Zoothera monticola
For the guide anyway, one of the top trip birds (due to being a long held 'bogey bird'!) A fantastic bird was disturbed as we made our way down from Vinayak, which then conveniently alighted in some open roadside pines, where (with a little neck straining and the onset of 'warbler-neck', we eventually all managed great looks at this huge-billed, shy mountain zoothera). The bird even allowed us the luxury of alighting from our vehicle and lining up the scope straight on it, as a group of noisy local woodcutters walked right underneath it. I thought this bird was meant to be shy!
Tickell's Thrush Turdus unicolor
A couple of sightings were made from our jeep rides in Bandhavgarh.
Gray-winged Blackbird Turdus boulboul
In what was clearly a good year for thrushes in the Naini Tal area, we found a couple of striking black male birds in the Sat Tal valley.
CISTICOLAS AND ALLIES: Cisticolidae
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
1 was seen at Okhla in Delhi on our first day, with a further two seen in the grasslands of Bandhavgarh.
Striated Prinia Prinia crinigera
Two separate birds were seen near Pangot.
Rufous-fronted Prinia Prinia buchanani
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. An area of dry arid country proved again excellent for this unobtrusive species where one bird gave great views at our known spot just after we got out of the bus, during our day beyond Bund Baretha.
Gray-breasted Prinia Prinia hodgsonii
Fairly commonly seen in Bandhavgarh.
Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis
Only seen in the reedbeds of Oklhla, on our first days birding in Delhi.
Jungle Prinia Prinia sylvatica
AN INDIAN SUBCONTINENT ENDEMIC. Another endemic prinia that we picked up during our superb days birding beyond Bund Baretha.
Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris
Another reedbed prinia that put in an appearance at Okhla, in Delhi on our first day.
Ashy Prinia Prinia socialis
Fairly commonly recorded around Bharatpur, and in Delhi also.
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata
Along with Ashy Prinias, a regularly recorded prinia during the first section of the tour, around Delhi and Bharatpur.
OLD WORLD WARBLERS: Sylviidae
Chestnut-headed Tesia Tesia castaneocoronata
This superb sprite, once again 'danced' for us, as it circled us excitedly on our final afternoons birding in the Himalayas, in the bottom of the Bajun Valley.
Aberrant Bush-Warbler Cettia flavolivacea(H)
Just heard during an impromptu roadside stop, for an Asian Barred Owlet, between Naini Tal and Mongoli.
Blyth's Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum
This front heavy warbler was seen several times around our bird-rich resort in Bandhavgarh.
Clamorous Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus
Heard in the Bund Baretha area, and then somewhat belatedly seen at Sultanpur Jheel.