TRIP REPORT JANUARY 2016
By Andy Walker
This tour commenced on the 3rd of January 2016 in Delhi and concluded back there on the 17th. Due to international flight arrival times, two clients (Dave and Sue) arrived a day ahead of the tour starting, and we took the opportunity for day of birding near Delhi on the 2nd of January as a ‘pre-tour’ extension. Hume and Lisl arrived late on the 2nd and early on the 3rd, respectively, ahead of the tour starting. The tour visited world famous national parks such as Ranthambhore, Keoladeo Ghana (formerly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary), and Corbett National Parks, and spent time in the breathtaking scenery of the Himalayan foothills at Pangot and Sattal. A visit to this part of India would not be complete without taking in the majestic UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal, and so we called in to these very impressive places to soak up the sights and sounds. India is well known for its amazing food, and we sampled a great deal of different, interesting, and tasty local dishes throughout the tour. The tour connected with numerous exciting birds, such as Indian Skimmer, Indian Courser, Koklass and Cheer Pheasants, Painted Spurfowl, Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier), Collared Falconet, Sarus Crane, Ibisbill, Painted Sandgrouse, Pallid Scops Owl, Tawny and Brown Fish Owls, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Great Hornbill, Sirkeer Malkoha, Long-billed Thrush, Spotted, Slaty-backed, and Little Forktails, Golden Bush Robin, Himalayan Bluetail, White-tailed (Himalayan) and Siberian Rubythroats, Wallcreeper, Rufous-breasted and Altai Accentors, and White-capped Bunting. A total of 401 bird species were recorded, along with an impressive list of other animals, including such emblematic species as Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, Asian elephant, gharial, and Indian python, and the less well-known but equally exciting Indian long-eared hedgehog, Indian crested porcupine, Himalayan agama, and a range of beautiful butterflies. Complete lists are found at the end of this report for all species identified.
India Pre-tour Extension: Sultanpur National Park
2nd January 2016. Full day Sultanpur National Park
Dave and Sue arrived from Australia ahead of the tour starting, and as I was already in Delhi we decided to spend the day together, birding at nearby Sultanpur with local guide Ganesh, who would be guiding the first day of the main tour the following day. The site (a large lake with adjacent scrub and woodland) offers a great introduction to Indian birding with very good views of a number of species, without being too overwhelming for a first-time visitor to the region. We started off on a surprisingly cold morning in a mix of mist and smog. Once the haze lifted, it was apparent that there was a lot of wildfowl present on the large lake, and we had good views of both Bar-headed and Greylag Geese, Knob-billed Duck, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, and Ferruginous Duck. There was an impressive breeding colony of Painted Storks, and we also found a nesting pair of Black-necked Storks with two young. As we progressed round the lake we found Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Indian Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Oriental Darter, and Little and Great Cormorants. We also saw our first waders, Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing, and White-tailed Lapwing. As we were working our way around the lake all of the wildfowl would occasionally flush; this was a result of Western Marsh Harrier and Booted, Indian Spotted, and Eastern Imperial Eagles, which were all out hunting. The day wasn’t all about big showy birds, though, as we had plenty of small birds to chase through the bushes. Our main target here was the range-restricted Brooks’s Leaf Warbler. We quickly found a couple and had very nice views of them singing, along with several other Phylloscopus warblers: the ubiquitous Common (Siberian) Chiffchaff, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Greenish Warbler, and Hume’s Leaf Warbler. Another of our targets was Sind Sparrow, which also showed well. As we progressed through the wooded area we added Spotted Owlet, Eurasian Hoopoe, Large Grey and Jungle Babblers, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback, Rufous Treepie, and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Though bird of the day, for Dave at least, was Eurasian Wryneck – fulfilling a lifelong dream to see this very cool-looking species! The lakeshore and reedbeds offered up Long-tailed Shrike, Indian Bush Lark, Moustached Warbler, Bluethroat, Pied Bush Chat, Western Yellow Wagtail, and a very showy, stunning male Citrine Wagtail that proved quite photogenic. It was a great day for getting our eyes and ears tuned in to some of the common birds we would come to know really well during the tour and to see a few range-restricted species we would not see again. We recorded over 100 species for the day.
India Main Tour: Tigers, Birds and the Himalayas
Day 1, 3rd January 2016. Okhla Bird Sanctuary, Delhi
Once everyone had arrived at our hotel in Delhi we headed over to spend a relaxing day birding at Okhla Bird Sanctuary on the edge of Delhi. This site is one of the most famous birding sites in Delhi and has a huge list of species (over 300) attracted to the scrub, river, lake, and marshes. We had a couple of targets here, and as we headed out toward them we gradually started finding a steady number of common birds, such as Oriental MagpieRobin, Red-whiskered and Red-vented Bulbuls, Jungle Babbler, Rufous Treepie, Roseringed Parakeet, White-throated Kingfisher, and Asian Koel. We also had our first views of the national bird of India, Indian Peafowl. As we headed into the marsh area we stopped to check over a small flooded area that yielded Temminck’s Stint as well as Green and Wood Sandpipers and Red-naped Ibis. Here we found a few (Sykes’s) Western Yellow Wagtails and (Masked) White Wagtails. Continuing out to the marsh we were distracted by a couple of Indian Grey Hornbills and Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, which led Ganesh to the discovery of a bit of a rarity in form of a Pallid Scops Owl – the first record of this species in the reserve, and in the Delhi area 1! We spent a while photographing and documenting this exciting record in case it wasn’t seen again. What a way to start the tour! After all of the excitement of the owl we still had a number of target species to find, and it didn’t take long before we were enjoying good views of the range-restricted White-tailed Stonechat, Striated Grassbird, Yellow-bellied Prinia, and, with a bit of effort, Striated Babbler. Coppersmith Barbet gave very nice views here too, as the sun set on a great day. This bird was subsequently successfully twitched by numerous birders and tour groups over the following weeks, and was present into March 2016 at least.
Day 2, 4th January 2016. Delhi to Ranthambhore, afternoon birding in National Park
Most of the day was spent traveling down to Ranthambhore National Park on the train. An interesting experience, and front-seat views of real Indian life! Once we arrived at Ranthambhore we met up with our expert local guide, Shyam, who would be with us for the whole of the tour from this point onward. We checked into our very nice hotel, had a brilliant lunch, and then headed into the National Park to see what we could find in the remaining couple of hours of light. We didn’t have long in the National Park, but we still managed to find one of the area’s specialties, Painted Spurfowl, which showed nicely in the road. A mad rush of vehicles indicated that a tiger had been discovered, so we followed the buzz down to the lake, where we saw a very distant Bengal tiger lying out on the far bank. I never expected to be underwhelmed by a tiger sighting, but we probably all were – it was great to see, but we didn’t really want scope views of a tiger looking a bit like a carpet rug! We’d just have to come back tomorrow to try for better views. While we waited for the big cat to move, we had a small flock of River Terns flying around, and a couple of Cotton Pygmy Geese on the lake too. In the area around our vehicle we found Indian Stone-curlew, White-bellied Drongo, Cinereous Tit, White-browed Fantail, Yellow-throated Sparrow, very tame Rufous Treepie, and numerous Citrine Wagtails. There were also numerous rhesus macaques, southern plains gray langurs, sambar, chital (spotted deer), and wild boar present as we drove around, and a tiny mugger crocodile was hiding in a cliff face. But by this time nature was calling, so we headed back to the hotel.
Day 3, 5th January 2016. Ranthambhore NP and Soorwal Lake
Today was the big day, and we were all full of anticipation for what might happen. We visited three distinct areas through the course of the day and finished up recording over 120 species. First up was an early morning drive into Ranthambhore NP. We picked up where we had left off the previous day with great views of a pair of Painted Spurfowl. We then carried on to our allotted sector of the park and stopped at a lake to admire a few Asian Openbills and Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser Whistling Duck, and Eurasian Teal. As we drove round a bend in the road we noticed some vehicles racing along a different track. We presumed they must have heard about something good, so we headed in that direction too. Once we turned the corner it was clear that there was a tiger about, as well as a lot of vehicles. As is the way in this park we hustled into a position where we were able to obtain a view of this highly-prized apex predator. A frustrating couple of glimpses ensued as it moved through the tall grass, but we had enough of a view to really appreciate this huge cat, a large tigress. After a while she decided to walk out of the tall grass right out into the open. Unfortunately, some rather idiotic people blocked her route, so she turned round and walked back into cover. It was a shame for us, but you have to feel more for the animal that was essentially trapped where it didn’t want to be. After a while, though, she reappeared on the other side of the tall grass. She walked right out into the open, pausing briefly a couple of times to look back at us, and scent mark. We were all pretty overcome with excitement at this view, a proper view of a Bengal tiger! The vehicles all dispersed to chase the tigress, but we sat and soaked up what we’d just seen, and in the process admired a non-breeding Black-tailed Godwit and a couple of Blackheaded Ibis that were walking around on the lakeshore nearby.
We decided to drive on, and in doing so happened to bump into the same tigress again; this time she was resting under a small tree. After a while she again got up and walked away from us, giving us more fantastic views, with Sue getting an incredible photo of her scent marking! Needless to say, we were very happy. The birds seen during the rest of the morning struggled to register, but we had Ruddy Shelduck, a nice, close, perched Crested Serpent Eagle, Western Osprey, Black-crowned Night Heron, River Tern, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Plum-headed, Alexandrine, and Rose-ringed Parakeets, Bluethroat, Tree Pipit, and White-browed Wagtail. Soon it was time for breakfast, so we headed back to the hotel.
Bengal tiger spraying (© Sue Harper 2016) – spot the peacock pretending to be a rock! Our second calling point of the day was actually the scrub around our hotel, which offered a new set of birds. We quickly found Painted Sandgrouse that sat and allowed a close view. We picked up new birds left and right, Indian Vulture, Yellow-legged Buttonquail (thanks to Sue chasing a butterfly!), Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Small Minivet, Bay-backed, Long-tailed, and Southern Grey Shrikes, Indian Bush Lark, Dusky Crag Martin, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Large Grey Babbler, Black Redstart, Brown Rock Chat, opistholeuca Variable Wheatear, and Brahminy Starling. Our third stop of the day was Soorwal Lake. After a bumpy and dusty drive (including a brief stop at a small field containing 20+ Indian Stone-curlews) we arrived at the site and spent some time scoping out the birds on and around the lake. There were numerous highlight birds here, such as Bar-headed Goose, Knob-billed Duck, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican (thanks Hume!), Pied Avocet, a whole host of small waders, Small Pratincole, Pallas’s and Brown-headed Gulls, and some very distant Indian Skimmers. We unfortunately couldn’t get closer views of the skimmers or pratincoles, which was frustrating. But as we were trying to do so we did find a couple of Brown Crakes. Quick drive back toward our accommodation and a strategic stop produced our only Whitenaped Woodpecker of the trip just as the sun went down. All in all a pretty fantastic day!
Day 4, 6th January 2016. Soorwal Lake and travel to Bharatpur
Due to our excellent views of tiger the previous day we decided not to go back into Ranthambhore NP but to head back to Soorwal Lake to try for better views of Indian Skimmer, which we were successful in doing, with a flock of 20 birds present at a much closer range. We also had good views of jungle cat and golden jackal here, as well as a few different birds to the previous evening, such as Great Stone-curlew, Black-bellied Tern, Ruff, Barred Buttonquail, and Siberian Stonechat. As we traveled across to Bharatpur a couple of roadside stops failed to produce the hoped-for Indian Courser, but did result in us seeing our first Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Isabelline Wheatear, and Greater Painted-snipe of the tour.
Day 5, 7th January 2016. Keoladeo Ghana NP
We spent the full day birding within Keoladeo Ghana NP, one of the best-known birding sites in the country, making our way around this large reserve in cycle-rickshaws. We spent time birding within a variety of habitats, including scrub, woodland, lakes, and marshes to try to maximize species, and again we recorded 120 species for the day. Birding in the scrub and woodland produced Grey Francolin, Indian Peafowl, Barred Buttonquail, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Indian Scops Owl, Dusky Eagle-Owl, Spotted Owlet, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Wryneck, Bay-backed and Long-tailed Shrikes, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, White-eared Bulbul, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Pied Myna, Brahminy and Rosy Starlings, Tickell’s Thrush, Bluethroat, Indian Robin, Redbreasted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Red Avadavat, and Indian Silverbill, but bird of our time in this habitat was probably the stunning male Siberian Rubythroat at close range.
The wetland areas were full of birds, with many herons, egrets, storks, and assorted wildfowl. Highlights here included Bar-headed Goose, Knob-billed Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Redcrested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, nesting Black-necked Stork, Black Bittern, Oriental Darter, Sarus Crane, White-tailed Lapwing, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Whitethroated and Pied Kingfishers, and Citrine Wagtail. The open areas and tower hides also provided great vantage points to view raptors, and we saw Western Marsh Harrier, Blackwinged Kite, Egyptian Vulture, and Crested Serpent, Indian Spotted, Greater Spotted, and Eastern Imperial Eagles. There was also plenty of interesting wildlife to keep us busy, with a huge Indian python resting in the heat of the day, common Indian monitor, rhesus macaque, sambar, chital, nilgai, wild boar, golden jackal, and the ubiquitous five-striped palm squirrel.
Day 6, 8th January 2016. Bharatpur area to Chambal Safari Lodge via Fatehpur Sikri
We made an early departure from our hotel to get into some farmland near Bharatpur, where our main target was found with surprising ease, unlike two days prior when we were looking for it! Our target was Indian Courser, and we had at least four birds that gave good scope views. Trying to get very close to them was not possible due to the lack of anything for us to hide behind in our approach. Nevertheless, it was great to find this highly sought-after species that does have a habit of going missing! Indian Courser (IPhone-scoped from the area the week before the tour started) There was a number of new birds for us out in the farmland, and we spent a couple of hours enjoying an assortment of species, including calling Black Francolin, Egyptian Vulture, Sarus Crane, Indian Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Kestrel, Isabelline (Daurian) Shrike, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Indian Bush Lark, Oriental Skylark, Crested Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Isabelline and Desert Wheatears, Richard’s and Tawny. Pipits, and a number of wagtails – (Sykes’s) Western Yellow, Citrine, (Masked) White, and White-browed Wagtails. After this birding session we started our journey to the delightful Chambal Safari Lodge, calling in to visit the very impressive Fatehpur Sikri World Heritage Site, one of the best preserved collections of Mughal architecture in India. After our time here we continued our journey, arriving near dusk at our accommodation. We enjoyed a very nice meal and had a walk around the grounds at night, finding Brown Hawk-Owl, Indian Scops Owl, common palm civet, Indian flying fox, and Indian long-eared hedgehog.
Day 7, 9th January 2016. Chambal River and Safari Lodge to Delhi via Taj Mahal
We took an early morning drive to the Chambal River. A brief stop in some scrub near the river produced the secretive Sirkeer Malkoha, Crested Honey Buzzard, Plum-headed Parakeet, Grey-breasted Prinia, Common and Yellow-eyed Babblers, Baya Weaver, and White-capped Bunting. Once on the water we had great looks at the stunning River Lapwing, which was numerous along the river banks, and we found a small group of Great Stone-curlews. Both River and Black-bellied Terns were present in small numbers, and a Pallas’s Gull put in an appearance. A large flock of Bar-headed Geese was a spectacular sight as they flew in. While on the river we also saw three turtle species and two species of crocodile: mugger and the critically endangered gharial.
After our trip out to the river a spot of birding in the lodge grounds produced day-roosting Brown Hawk-Owl and Spotted Owlet, Eurasian Hoopoe, Indian Grey Hornbill, and Brown-headed Barbet, among a number of common birds. We had a long drive and a stop at the Taj Mahal World Heritage Site ahead of us, so after a wonderful lunch we pressed on, arriving at the Taj Mahal in the early afternoon. The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most instantly recognizable sights. It was just as impressive in real life as we had hoped it would be. We had a guided walk around the area, taking in the beautiful architecture and history of the place. But being birders we couldn’t help but scan the area for birds during the tour, and we picked up a nice Black-eared Kite among Black Kites, a Red-rumped Swallow in with some Barn Swallows, and a host of waders on the river. After our time here we continued our journey on to Delhi, where we had a rendezvous with an overnight train. Our train left Delhi almost on time, and we all went to sleep with great excitement at what birds and wildlife the Himalayan foothills were going to give us.
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Day 8, 10th January 2016. All day birding the Sattal Area
This was one of the group’s (and my) favorite days of birding during the tour. After a smooth, uneventful overnight train journey we arrived at Sattal just before first light and checked into our hotel. After a bite to eat we headed out for a most enjoyable day’s birding, finding some very high-quality birds, including a spectacular male White-tailed (Himalayan) Rubythroat that stole the show for most and was my personal bird of the trip! Being in a totally new environment, new birds came thick and fast, and we had a great morning. Further highlights during the morning included Jungle Owlet, Great Barbet, Bluethroated Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Black-headed Jay, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Grey Treepie, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, Siberian Rubythroat, Golden Bush Robin, Himalayan Bluetail, Spotted Forktail, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Blue Whistling Thrush, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Crimson Sunbird, Russet Sparrow, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Olivebacked Pipit, Common and Pink-browed Rosefinches, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, and White-capped Bunting. There was also a number of laughingthrushes to keep us entertained: Rufous-chinned, White-throated, Streaked, and the most popular (and serious contender for Bird of the Trip) Striated Laughingthrush.
The afternoon didn’t let up either, with more new birds coming thick and fast in another, more forested area. We enjoyed Kalij Pheasant, Ashy Drongo, White-throated Fantail, Green-backed Tit, Himalayan Black-lored Tit, Himalayan Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Blackthroated Bushtit, Rufous Sibia, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Small Niltava, Slaty-backed Forktail, Blue-capped Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, White-capped Redstart, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, and Grey Wagtail. One of the more unexpected species of the day was a Eurasian Woodcock found at the bottom of a river valley.
Day 9, 11th January 2016. Morning birding the Sattal area, travel to Pangot
We spent the early morning back at our final stop of the previous day, seeing more of the same quality birds, getting better views of some of them, and finding a few new species. Highlights included Common and Crested Kingfishers, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Rufous Sibia, Grey-hooded, Lemon-rumped, and Buff-barred Warblers, Long-billed Thrush, Spotted Forktail, Little Pied Flycatcher, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Siberian Stonechat, Grey Bush Chat, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, and Green-tailed Sunbird.
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Long-billed Thrush As we left Sattal we picked up a flock of Griffon Vultures, Steppe Eagle, Black Kite, and Black-eared Kite, as well as a small party of Eurasian Crag Martins. A brief roadside stop produced very good views of both Kalij Pheasant and Hill Partridge, as well as Red-billed Blue Magpie and Chestnut-crowned and Streaked Laughingthrushes hopping around our feet, with a brief appearance of a stunning male Vinaceous Rosefinch. We arrived at Pangot for a late lunch, which was fantastic. We took a rest, watching Blackheaded Jay in the garden of the lodge, and then headed out for a late-afternoon walk through some woodland and woodland edge habitat, finding several good birds: Kalij Pheasant, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Great Barbet, Grey-headed and Brown-fronted Woodpeckers, Bronzed Drongo, Himalayan Black-lored Tit, Striated Prinia, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Blue-capped Redstart, Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, Altai Accentor, and Common Rosefinch. As if the birds were not enough, while we were up in this area we hit an elevation of approximately 2,200 meters; this allowed us some seriously spectacular views of the Himalayas. I don’t think you can ever prepare yourself for this view, it really is breathtaking. Every time we glimpsed it a collective WOW, OHHH and AHHHH went through the vehicle!
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Day 10, 12th January 2016. Full day at elevation above Pangot
It was a cold night at elevation, with temperatures dropping to freezing point. We had an early start with several high-elevation key target species in mind. As we drove along a mountain road a male Hill Partridge showed well, feeding with a couple of Kalij Pheasants. Continuing onward and upward a mixed-species flock caught our attention as we were searching for our first target, and we enjoyed good, close-up views of several species: (Spotwinged) Coal Tit, Green-backed Tit, Yellow-browed, Grey-hooded, and Black-faced Warblers, Black-throated Bushtit, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, and White-tailed Nuthatch. A hundred yards down the road our first target finally gave itself up, and it was a beautiful male Koklass Pheasant, a very nice-looking, but rather shy bird! We continued higher up the mountains for our second main target – Cheer Pheasant, where we bumped into Arjan Dwarshuis twelve days into his quest to see the most species in the world in a year. With a stroke of luck the elusive pheasant had just been in view for him and his group, so we waited for five minutes, and then it appeared again for us, giving good scope views. It was interesting to watch how this large, cryptically-plumaged bird slowly walked through open habitat to avoid detection. We wished Arjan good luck on his quest and headed further up the mountain road – we had a few more birds to find. After soaking up the views of the impressive mountains and some breakfast (and another flock of Altai Accentors), we found the beautiful Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, along with Brown-fronted and Himalayan Woodpeckers, several Eurasian Jays, Mistle Thrush, and Himalayan Bluetail. It was soon time to head back down the mountain for lunch, but as we got to a ridge it was apparent that there was some vulture activity going on. A strategic stop produced good views of our third main target of the morning: Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) – what a bird! We then had both (Eurasian) Griffon Vulture and Himalayan (Griffon) Vulture cruising a mere few meters above our heads as they passed over the ridge, coming up from below us! Some incredible views! Over lunch we enjoyed a range of birds coming in to feed on seeds and drink water in the lodge grounds, such as a couple of Striated Laughingthrushes, Eurasian and Blackheaded Jays, and Grey-headed Woodpecker, but the star of the show for sheer number and noise generated was the flock of 80+ White-throated Laughingthrushes that came into the garden and covered the small lawn area! We spent the afternoon birding forest and farmland habitats near Pangot, adding further new birds to our trip list and other good birds, such as Black Eagle, a very showy Scaly-bellied Woodpecker, Spotted Forktail, Blue Whistling Thrush, Blue-capped Redstart, Bluefronted Redstart, Rock Bunting, and Little Bunting.
Day 11, 13th January 2016. Pangot to Kosi River
We left Pangot after another delicious breakfast to head down to the Kosi River, but not before we’d all had looks at a pair of Black Francolin. We had a couple of really important birds to find, so we wanted to maximize our time along the river. Driving down from the mountain we stopped to enjoy the Himalayan views for the final time, still the gasps went through the vehicle, you just don’t get used to seeing this stunning vista! As we were driving Dave spotted one of his trip target species from the vehicle, so we quickly got onto it – a beautiful Blue-bearded Bee-eater catching bees from a water tower perch! Continuing we headed straight down to a river viewpoint, where in no time at all we picked out the big target of the day – a flock of five Ibisbill. This stunning wader was just as spectacular as we expected, and we spent an hour or so watching them feed along the fastflowing boulder strewn river. As we made our way down to the river to get a better angle/view of the birds we picked up another one of our targets – Wallcreeper. Again another bird that was high on our target list and was just as good as we had hoped! We watched it feeding along the boulders in the river for a good while, but it was difficult to know what to look at! Other birds noted here included Besra, Himalayan Swiftlet, Nepal House Martin, Whitecapped Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, and Blue Rock Thrush. After enjoying some great birds we headed over to our lodge for some more great Indian cuisine and enjoyed views of a stunning male Crimson Sunbird and a pair of roosting Collared Scops Owls. After lunch we headed back to the Kosi River, where a small patch of woodland was very active, giving us good views of Red Junglefowl, Mountain Hawk-Eagle (hunting a yellowthroated marten!), Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Scarlet Minivet, White-crested Laughingthrush, Chestnut-bellied, White-tailed, and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, Bartailed Treecreeper, Rufous-bellied and Small Niltavas, Verditer Flycatcher, and Olivebacked Pipit, although a roosting Brown Fish Owl was hard to beat. While we were walking along the river a huge Pallas’s Fish Eagle flew right overhead, and on the other end of the size-scale a diminutive Little Forktail gave great scope views as it fed and bathed on the opposite side of the water from us.
Day 12, 14th January 2016. Kosi River to Dikhala Camp (Corbett National Park)
We made a quick stop along the Kosi River early in the morning, where we saw many of the birds seen the previous day, with the addition of Asian Barred Owlet, Lineated Barbet, Brown Dipper, Puff-throated Babbler, and Little Pied Flycatcher. We then headed into the world-famous Corbett National Park, where we would spend the next two nights looking for the area’s birds. It wasn’t long after passing through the gate that we came across our first Asian elephant of the trip. We spent some time watching it feed before it turned and vanished Into the undergrowth. Continuing on towards Dikhala we found many new birds and had several very exciting encounters… It was a slow drive into Dikhala, mainly because there were numerous distractions, including several large birds such as Black Stork, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Tawny Fish Owl, Great Hornbill, and Peregrine Falcon, and several mixed-species bird-waves, including Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Cinereous Tit, Himalayan Black-lored Tit, Oriental White-eye, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, and Rufous-gorgeted and Redbreasted Flycatchers. One piece or drama unfolded as we were watching one of these birdwaves. Alarm calls suddenly rang out, and birds dashed off quickly, all except one, a Cinereous Tit that was firmly gripped in the claws of a tiny Collared Falconet! We sat in shock watching the falconet dispatch the tit before disappearing as quickly as it had appeared out of nowhere. The next excitement came a little further along the track, when we pulled into a river viewpoint and one of our local driver-guides picked out a beautiful Indian leopard sitting on the opposite bank. We enjoyed prolonged scope views of this graceful cat as it lazed about on the rock, making the occasional walk-around to check out what was going on around it.
Whilst watching the leopard we were aware of a number of Hirundines and swifts low in front of us, including a small group of White-rumped Spinetail. As we were observing these birds, out of nowhere came a Besra on a mission, and with incredible speed and skill it rolled over and plucked one of these small swifts out of the air right in front of us! This was one special day! A late lunch was the order of the day, and after checking into our accommodation we headed out for a short late-afternoon drive to see what we could find. After having had such great views of Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, and Asian elephant already during the tour, the pressure for finding these species was off, so we could concentrate our efforts on the area’s birds over the next couple of days. We focused on a flock of pipits that contained numerous Rosy, Tawny, and Paddyfield Pipits, with a lone Oriental Skylark also present. A flock of four Eurasian Hoopoes provided some color. We also found a herd of hog deer, another new mammal for the trip, and some dueling chital.
Day 13, 15th January 2016. Full Day Corbett National Park
We had a morning and afternoon drive into the National Park, with the middle of the day spent within the Dikhala compound, and, surprisingly, we recorded the most daily species of the whole trip on this day – 126 species. The morning drive hit some nice bird waves, and we picked up quite a few new species for our trip as well as further looks at some other special birds, including Western Osprey, Pallas’s, Lesser, and Grey-headed Fish Eagles, River Lapwing, Common Emerald Dove, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Brown Fish Owl, Jungle Owlet, Crested Treeswift, Storkbilled, White-throated, Common, Crested, and Pied Kingfishers, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Collared Falconet, Plum-headed and Alexandrine Parakeets, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Common Iora, Long-tailed Minivet, Black-hooded and Maroon Orioles, White-bellied, Bronzed, and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, Common Green Magpie, Grey-bellied Tesia, White-rumped Shama, White-tailed (Himalayan) Rubythroat, and Crested Bunting.
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When we got back to Dikhala and started scanning the river below us, we found some wild boars eating something (an indiscernible corpse) in the river, and after a short while a few huge vultures appeared and stole the corpse from the boars, dragging it onto the dry river bed. In no time at all there were three species, Red-headed, (Eurasian) Griffon, and Cinereous (Eurasian Black) Vultures, all fighting over the food. Given the decline in vulture numbers in Asia over recent times, it was nice to see a few here. Other birds noted around the grounds included Collared Falconet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Siberian Rubythroat, Little and Alpine Swifts, and Asian House Martin. Our afternoon drive took us through an area of woodland out onto the open flood plains and produced yet more interesting species; some highlights included Black-winged Kite, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Hen Harrier, Himalayan Flameback, Long-tailed Shrike, Rufous Treepie, Oriental Skylark, Golden-headed Cisticola, White-crested Laughingthrush, Siberian Stonechat, Red Avadavat, Citrine, Grey, White, and Whitebrowed Wagtails, and Tawny, Long-billed, Rosy, and Water Pipits. An evening walk within the Dikhala compound gave nice views of Brown Hawk-Owl, Indian porcupine, and another Indian leopard… to end another exciting day.
Day 14, 16th January 2016. Morning drive out of Corbett NP, travel back to Delhi
We spent the morning driving out of Corbett NP, birding along the way. We had further looks at a large number of species recorded the previous day, and, although the majority of the day was spent traveling, we still recorded over 110 species, including a couple not seen before in the form of Banded Bay Cuckoo, Dusky Warbler, and Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. We made a brief stop along the Kosi River, where we enjoyed good views of Indian Cormorant and another Wallcreeper (thanks Sue!). After a long day we arrived back in Delhi mid-evening. Due to other onward travel and flight times we had to say goodbye to Hume and Lisl, who both departed.
Day 15, 17th January 2016. Full Day Birding at Basai Wetlands, Delhi
We spent the full day birding the Basai Wetlands area near Sultanpur, and despite already having spent time in similar habitat managed to find several great new birds, with the highlights being Mallard, Yellow Bittern, Baillon’s Crake, Black-headed Gull, Merlin, Clamorous (Indian) Reed and Paddyfield Warblers, Zitting Cisticola, and Graceful Prinia – however, the bird that took the most effort, but gave the most reward, was a bit of a local rarity in Spotted Crake – a lifer for Dave, Sue, and most importantly our local guide Shyam. It was nice to see him get a lifer after the immense efforts he’d put in over the previous two weeks as we searched for all of our targets, and it seemed a fitting end to a great tour. As we were waiting for the Spotted Crake to show, we were constantly distracted by Bluethroats and Citrine Wagtails in the reedbeds and marshes. To top off our interesting predation sightings, at about 4:00 p.m. (in daylight) we noticed a small bat flying overhead. No sooner had I called it out, an Isabelline (Daurian) Shrike had flown out of the reedbed, caught it, dragged it down into the reedbed, and pierced it onto a reed stem, where it proceeded to dispatch it! It felt like a fitting end to a great tour, given also all the other interesting sightings we’d had over the fortnight.
A huge thank you to everyone who made this tour so enjoyable, especially to Ganesh and Shyam for their expert guidance and to everyone who safely got us around, whether it be by vehicle, train, rickshaw, or boat! We saw some great birds and fantastic wildlife, sampled some incredible Indian food, and took in very special natural and man-made sights from the Taj Mahal to the stunning Himalayas. It is difficult to pick a top bird for the tour, or even a top five, because everyone had such differing choices, so here are everyone’s favorite birds: Lisl – Himalayan (Griffon) Vulture, Hume – Siberian Rubythroat, Sue – Spotted Owlet, and Dave – Eurasian Wryneck. Other species making personal top five lists included: Pallid Scops Owl, Cheer Pheasant, Striated Laughingthrush, Collared Falconet, Greater Painted-snipe, Ibisbill, Wallcreeper, White-tailed (Himalayan) Rubythroat, Tawny Fish Owl, Brown Fish Owl, White-crested Laughingthrush, Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier), and Indian Skimmer.
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