Northern India in general and Bharatpur in particular have been a major part of my birding consciousness for over 20 years. I can't even remember where or when I first heard or read of this Maharaja's hunting area now given over to wildlife. I did promise myself that one day God willing I would pay a visit to this site now acknowledged as one of the foremost birding Meccas in the world. 2000 coinciding with my 50th was all the excuse I needed, so together with 2 intrepid friends Dave Hanford and Richard Herbert, in late 1999 I started my fact gathering research. In this respect the Internet came into its own. I was amazed at how much information there was out there in the ether. We all wanted to go independently but after reading more it soon became apparent that in the limited time available to us (17 days), we would loose to much time trying to make all the necessary travel arrangements in India. We also wanted to spend as much of our money in India as was possible. I quickly found Vivek Tiwari's site of Indian Bird Report at http://www.ee.princeton.edu/~vivek/indian-birds.html.
After reading through the many reports available my itinerery was becoming more and more biased towards North West India for our first foray into the Indian Subcontinent. I fired off an e-mail to Vivek for some advice, and he suggested I contact his friend Mohit Aggarwal. Mohit is the director of 'Asian Adventures' so another e-mail was sent off asking for details. Mohit can be contacted on wildindian firstname.lastname@example.org. The company has its own site at http://www.indianwildlife.com. Mohit responded immediately, and we discussed our ideas and likely birding venues. Within 2 days Mohit had come back with an outline itinerery for our 17 day tour. This included Bharatpur, Ranthambhor, Corbett, Kosi River (for Ibisbill), Nainital, Mangoli Valley, Chambal River (for Indian Skimmer) and sites in and around Delhi. Two further sites were added Betalghat and Pangot, more on these sites later. The itinerery was circulated, and after a minor change we all agreed that although a potentially tiring trip it was the only way that we would be able to get around the major sites in the North West in the time given.
So we decided:
That it was so much easier to employ the services of a local company namely 'Asian Adventures'. This satisfied our spending money in the country criteria but weighed heavily on the travelling independently side of things. As it turned out we think we got the balance absolutely right. Asain Adventures crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's, sorted out all the logistics, and we just birded; almost 10 hours a day for the full 15 days. Long travelling sessions were primarily taken at night in train sleeper accommoation, and the cost of the trip was still over a £1000 less than what most prominent birding companies were charging for similar trips.
We all agreed that the trip was a complete success and that we would go back some day to once again to enjoy the unique birding experience which India is.
Special thanks to my friend Gruff Dodd whose trip report format I have copied unashamedly. Many thanks to our guides who were excellent. In particular we must thank Ratan Singh who spent 10 days with us guiding us around Bharatpur, Corbett, Nainital and Delhi. He was a wonderful companion and bird guide, and he certainly brightened our days and enhanced our trip list. His knowledge of his local birds is awesome - with over 25 years in the field it's not too surprising. Perhaps what is surprising is his enthusiasm which burns as bright today as it did all those years ago when he was escorting Salim Ali around his beloved Bharatpur. Ratan's rickshaw is No.9; try to secure his services if you can. If Ratan isn't available try his pupil and nephew Bhirinda Singh, he is a young man but more importantly an ace birder. Thanks also to the many birders we met in India including Howard and Thais Armstrong and John and Janet Martin. We are also grateful to the following who provided great help and advice in the planning of the trip - Tom and Margot Southerland, Vivek Tivari, Anthony Disley and Richard Titus. Trip reports from many other were gleaned from the following internet sites:
My gracious thanks to everyone who went to the trouble of writing a trip report so that we could share in your enthusiasm and learn from your experiences.
Our aim was simply to taste first hand the unique birding experience that India can offer. See as many bird species as was possible, which would hopefully include a very high percentage of 'lifers'. There was also the little matter of seeing Tigers and visiting the Taj Mahal. Several birds became targeted species; these included: Siberian Crane, Ibisbill, Indian Skimmer, and a couple of new genera were also high on the wanted list. We therefore choose the usual site options Bharatpur, Corbett, Ranthambhor, Nainital, Delhi. This we hoped would enable us to see the maximum return in bird species terms for our limited time and effort. Having said that, if we had much more time the sites visited wouldn't have changed much but obviously we would have spent more time at each.
We flew from London Heathrow to Vienna and onward to Delhi with Austrian Airlines. Flights were booked well in advance with Flightbookers e-mail email@example.com Tel.No.0171 757 2444. The original quote for this reeturn flight was UK£ 350. We paid a deposit up front and I assumed this did two things: (1) it booked your tickets and (2) it quaranteed the price. It appears that I was wrong on both accounts as the following tale will explain. After making contact with Flightbookers 6 weeks before we were due to fly to settle the account and pay the outstanding balance, flightbookers told me that the airline Austrian Airlines had withdrawn the original tickets, and if we still wanted to fly with Austrian we would have to pay the new price which was exactly UK£ 100 more than was first quoted. I was absolutely furious and let rip with the poor girl on the telephone. I threatened all sorts of actions against Flightbookers, who throughout this acted completely professionally. I immediately imformed the internet birding community via Birdchat, European Birdnet and Ukbirdnet. Flightbookers came back with a couple of flight options, none of which were really acceptable. Finally having gone to director level with the company Flightbookers came back once more with a compromise, they agreed to forgo any profit on the deal if we paid the true price hike. It meant us having to pay just UK£ 35 extra. This we agreed to immediately, and for the first and last time we flew Austrian Airlines. We all wanted to fly direct but the only cheap deal we could find meant that we had to stop off enroute. The options were, where would we want to stop off and for how long. The Vienna trip was our best option. The stop off in Vienna was non existant on the way out as we were whisked from our Heathrow flight straight on the Dehi flight. On the return trip the stop over in Vienna was just 2 hours and easily managed.
All our travel arrangements were taken care of by our tour company 'Asian Adventures'. All we did was turn up at Delhi arrivals, and we were met and escorted to a car to take us to our hotel. We were then in Asian Adventures' hands, and they carried out their itinerary flawlessly. We travelled on 2 overnight train journeys first class air conditioned sleepers. No security problems as the compartment was lockable. We also travelled on a train during the day, a short trip from Ranthambhor to Bharatpur, and again no problem as we were escorted to our seats by an Asian Adventures rep. We were also met at the other end by our guide and guru Ratan Singh. The rest of the travelling was done in a four wheel drive jeep.
The local currency is the Indian Rupee (IR). Current exchange rates were UK£ 1 = 65 IR or US$ 1 = 48 IR.
These were more or less fixed wherever we exchanged currency. We all took UK£ and US$ plus several credit cards. Most of the big hotels and restaurants took all major credit cards and usually accepted payment in UK£ or US$. We exchanged our currency in several hotels without any problem. Changing money in a bank was a tedious business and regularly took over 30 minutes or more. The beaurocracy was astonishing.
The quality of the accommodation was generally good; where it was less than that we had been warned in our itinerery. The one exception was the Swiss Hotel in Nainital which was dire. You are in the Himalayan foothills, it's winter, and the hotel didn't have any heating to speak of. The service was also appalling and by far the worst experience we had in all out trip. The restaurant was a joke, and we expected Basil Fawlty to roll out from behind the kitchen screen at any moment. In retrospect it was probably too bad even for Basil. To add insult to injury they had a disco organised that went on till 4:30 a.m., and they let off huge fireworks till well past midnight. Thankfully we were only booked in for the one night. All our accomodation was organised by Asian Adventures, and details of the other lodges can be found on their web site. Sunbird Hotel at Bharatpur is mentioned in Krys's book as a good place to say, and I can only concur. The White Apartments in Delhi was just a basic hotel: no frills but it was clean and comfortable.
Food was one of the great joys of India, naturally we heeded all the warnings and avoided salads and fruit that may have been washed. We also decided that meat of any kind was better left alone. So for our duration in India we became experts on vegetable currys. The currys with home made bread in its various forms was always a good basis for our evening meals. Peelable fruit in the form of bananas, oranges etc were also very enjoyable.
Breakfast usually consisted of scrambled eggs, toast, coffee or tea and fruit of your choice. All in all we ate very well while in India, sometimes in very humble surroundings, at other times like at the Jaypee Palace Hotel in Agra or the Imperial Garden Restaurant in Delhi we ate royally. The cost of the meals also varied considerably from less that 300IR for an evening meal with drinks to1500IR for something a bit more lavish. We tended to stick with the 300IR tariff as the norm and splashed out when the need arose.
If it's one thing Indians love it's red tape. It was really frustrating at times even though our tour company had done everything to limit its impact. Everywhere you stayed there were several forms to fill in. At the end of our holiday we all knew our passport and visa numbers off pat. We had filled them in so many times it was ridiculous. Changing money at a bank was another time wasting activity. We didn't have to but I heard from several birders who were travelling independently that booking train and bus tickets was nightmarish. You always encountered 5 people to do a job when 1 would have sufficed, and each one had to make sure that he did his job properly and that the persons before him in the chain had done their job properly also. Immigration on the other hand was quite trouble free as long as your passport and visa were ok.
The weather was superb throughout our trip. The days were always hot and the nights much cooler. When we reached Nainital the overnight temperature dropped below freezing, but again during the day it was surprisingly warm. It was light by 6:30am and dark by 6:30pm which made it ideal for at least 10 hours a day birding.
Advised to have tetanus, typhoid, polio and hepatitis A jabs before we went. We also took our antimalaria tablets although mozzies were conspicious by there absence. We all stopped taking them on our return to England. We didn't encounter any human problems although we were always vigilant in crowded areas. The beggar problem wasn't a problem, and we would normally experience more requests for a hand out in London than we had in Delhi. Having an Indian guide or driver constantly with you seemed to deter all but the most inquisitive who in the main just stared at you like the alien you certainly were.
In truth we didn't take one with us, we did however purchase a tourist and trekkers guide of Kumaon which is the area which includes Corbett, Nainital and the other Himalayan foothill sites like Mongoli Valley. In all other respects we managed with the details in Krys's book and the Lonely Planet book mentioned earlier.
All the sites visited, and mentioned below in the itinerery, are well documented in Krys Kazmierczak's book, except for Betalghat which is detailed in Asian Adventures web site and Pangot. Pangot is another Asian Adventures lodge but as yet is not on their site. I can tell you that it's not far from Nainital and situated in the middle of Himalayan jungle, and it's half way up a valley. It is excellent for altitudinal migrants as the birds funnel down the valley.
Our accommodation was clean and comfortable but with little sleep we were up and about by 06:00hrs. We were cruelly woken by the incessant calling of a House Crow, other birds noted from the hotel balcony: House Sparrow, Red Vented Bulbul, Black Kite, Rose Ringed Parakeets, Common Myna and Laughing Dove. Our driver Iqbal collected us at 7am and took us to Okhla and the Yamuna River Barrage. Birds noted: Purple Swamp Hen, Red-wattled Lapwing, Wood Sandpiper, Grey Heron, Indian Pond Heron, Great Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Moorhen, Pochard, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveller, Pintail, Tufted Duck, Ferruginous Duck, Greylag Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Black-headed Ibis, Open-billed Stork, Painted Stork, Common Snipe, Little Ringed Plover, Teminck's Stint, Little Stint, Common Sndpiper, Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Harrier, Black-Shouldered Kite, White Wagtail, Black Drongo, Thick-billed Crow, Indian Spoonbill, Little Grebe, Greater Flamingo, River Tern, Brown-Headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Bank Myna, Asain Pied Starling, Plain Prinia, Ashy-headed Prinia, Lesser Whitethroat, Yellow Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail, Bluethroat, Barn Swallow and Plain Martin. We took our breakfast at 09:30 after which we returned to the hotel to catch up on some ZZZ's.
Afternoon birding on Delhi Ridge with Mohit Aggrawal. Birds noted: Black-rumped Flameback, Tailorbird, Jungle Babbler, Common Babbler, Coppersmith Barbet, Brown-headed Barbet, Little Minivet, Grey Francolin, Indian Robin, Oriental Magpie Robin, Purple Sunbird, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Hoopoe, Grey Wagtail, Silverbill, Common Rosefinch, Bramany Starling, White-eared Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul. Mohit then took us into the city centre where we had a tour of the presidential buildings. Later we were entertained at the 'Habitat Centre', a private club and restaurant. We had a wonderful meal there before boarding our overnight sleeper train at Delhi Railway Station at 20:10 for Sawai Madhopur, the railhead for Ranthambhor. The journey was dreadfully uncomfortable, bumpy and noisey but we were secure in a four berth lockable air conditioned cabin.
Arrived later than expected at 06:00. We were then rushed in an open top jeep to our hotel (Tiger Den Resort). After a coffee we walked around the hotel grounds and the semi desert outside. Birds noted: Ashy Ground Sparrow, Southern Grey Shrike, Variable Wheatear, Painted Sandgrouse and Tawny Pipit. We breakfasted early on scrambled eggs on toast with lots of coffee in a vain attempt to ward off the rigours of last night's train journey. More birding in the immediate vicinity of the hotel produced: Isabelline Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Sirkeer Malkoha, Indian Roller, Pied Bushchat, Stonechat, Black Redstart, Plain Martin, Purple Sunbird, Blue Rock Thrush, India Robin and Intermediate Egret.
Dave had enough and retired to his bed for a couple of hours of shut eye before we took our jeep safari into the park at 14:00. Richard and I decided to hire a car and driver for a couple of hours to explore outside the park (Ranthambhor National Park). We proceeded to cruise the road up to the park entrance stopping at likely birding areas or where we had seen something interesting from the car. This little trip turned up: Common Iora, Great Tit, Brown Rock-Chat, Dusky Crag Martin, White-bellied Drongo, Little Green Bee Eater, Rufous Treepie, Kestrel, Long-billed Vulture, White-backed Vulture, White-breasted Kingfisher, Kingfisher, Avocet, Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwit.
Straight back to the hotel to pick up Dave for our trip into the park. Three hours of dusty bumpy tigerless roads produced the following birds: Spotted Dove, Painted Spurfowl, Plum-headed Parakeet, Brown-headed Pygmy Woodpecker, Spotted Owlet, Collared Scops Owl, Darter, Black Ibis, White-fronted Waterhen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Pied Kingfisher, Black Stork, Shirkeer, Red-crested Pochard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, White-browed Fantail and Brown Crake. All over by 17:00 whence we retired to our hotel, where we showered before dinner and retired early, but not before several 'Kingfishers'.
We breakfasted at 06:30 to catch the 07:00 Gypsie back into Ranthambhor National Park. Although the conditions were considered favourable the Tiger gods let us down. However, we did add the following birds to our list: Wooly-necked Stork, Pygmy Cotton Goose, Indian Honey Buzzard, and White-browed Wagtail. Over and above these we also saw almost everything we had on the previous day. At 10:00 we returned to the hotel where we picked up Pallid Harrier and Yellow-wattled Lapwing. Caught the 13:00 train to Bharatpur. We were met off the train by our guide for the rest of the trip, Ratan Singh. We had a quick coffee before having a stroll around outside the park (Bharatpur). A nice walk that gave us great views of Grey Hornbill and Yellow-wattled Lapwing, but it didn't turn up any new birds. Retired to our Hotel 'Sunbird' at 18:00. We enjoyd a vegetable curry and wonderful nan bread made in a clay oven as you watched.
Up at 06:30 not feeling great had a quick shower and was ready for breakfast at 07:00. While enjoying our breakfast we added Chestnut-shouldered Petronia and Long-tailed Minivet to our trip list. Ratan Singh arrived at 08:00 prompt, and we were off on his Rickshaw (No.9) into the park. Took the Nursery Loop before lunch. We had our lunch sitting on the grass watching the monkeys play havoc with unsuspecting picnicers. After lunch we took the circular route the other side of the main road through the park. Highlights: Lesser Spotted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, White-Tailed Eagle, Orange-headed Thrush, Tickell's Thrush, Dusky Eagle Owl, Siberian Crane, White Pelican, Sarus Cranes, Common Woodshrike. We eventually ended the day with quite a repectable 121 species in the park. Our trip list now totals 173ish.
Opened the birthday cards that I brought with me from home this morning. Reading the messages made me feel quite emotional. Everyone joined in a and sang a chorus of Happy Birthday to me at breakfast, including a group of Danish birders. Ratan again met us at 08:00, and we entered the park on Rickshaw. As we approached the ticket office there was a bit of a commotion on our left. After about 10 minutes searching the object of all the fuss was revealed a stunning male Siberian Rubythroat. Crippling views were enjoyed by everyone. What a magnificent first bird for my birthday. We proceeded into the park past the forest lodges towards Ratan's home village Mallah then veered south further into the park. We were joined on this trek by Howard and Thais Armstrong and their guide Bhirinda Singh (Ratan's pupil and Nephew). The Armstrongs were an amazing couple who took off six years earlier to visit Australia originally for a year but enjoyed themselves so much they didn't stop. We were hoping to find the nightjars but with no luck. Apparently they hadn't been seen for a week or so. Ratan had even picked one up off the floor of the forest and it died dispite his attempts to warm the bird up. Unseasonal cold weather the likely cause of the nightjars demise. Disturbance from the monkeys was another problem the nightjars faced. We did have spendid views of the park's Pythons though. We finished the morning scanning the Sapan Mari for the Dowitcher that had been reported there but failed to find this vagrant. Bird highlights this morning: Siberian Rubythroat, Oriental Whiteye, Grey-headed Flycatcher, Brooks's Leaf Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler. Had several opportunities to get close to some wonderful birds.
After lunch it was off to get a closer look at the Siberian Cranes. On the long walk out we met up with a group of Swiss birders who were looking at a very elusive Black Bittern. We all eventually saw it but not well. Further down the track we stopped to scan the pelicans and picked up a Dalmation Pelican as well as Pallas's Gull. We took a short cut across the Jheel (only possible because of the lack of water) and we spotted a rather drab warbler in a small bush. It was an exciting find because it was our first Booted Warbler. We eventually stopped not more than 50 yards away from the cranes in 'wonderful light'. Richard was revelling in his role as photographer and made the most of this opportunity. On the long slog back we had much better views of the Black Bittern and a quick glimpse of a Yellow Bittern. We also found House Swifts and Needle-tailed Swifts among a throng of swifts and martins wheeling overhead. Finally in the Rickshaw home we stopped for a closer look at the Demoiselle Cranes and a scan through the large number of eagles. The big surprise was a Golden Eagle that sat on a dead tree stump not more than 20 yards from the road.
At dinner the owner of our hotel 'Sunbird' came over to our table, which we were sharing with John and Janet Martin, a couple from Bristol, and Ratan Singh, and he poured us all a large drink and wished me a happy birthday. He even left the bottles for us to help ourselves. We didn't leave the table all night, and I stayed up much later than usual to telephone home to speak to my wife and daughter. 122 species in the park today.
Ratan met us at 08:00, and we hired bicycles from the hotel and proceeded to cycle past the entrance of the park (still no sign of the Cinnamon Bittern) and on to Ratan's village Mallah. We tried for Painted Snipe which had been seen at the village pond but it wasn't there this morning. We then cycled through the village into the cultivation beyond. Birds seen here included: Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Bimaculated Lark, Rufous-tailed Lark, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Spanish Sparrow, Hume's Short-toed Lark, Desert Lark, Desert Wheatear, Short-toed Lark and Blyth's Pipit. We stopped for an early lunch at 11:00 as Ratan's young son had brought us out our picnic lunch. It was very graciously received and consited of potatoes, peas, spices and herbs (Aloo Mateer) with loads of Chapatis. It was all rather delicious.
After lunch we cycled out to the dam, first going right and later further left. The only new bird was a Black-breasted Weaver. We did have a very brief rear-end view of a falcon disappearing into a tree. Ratan had just told us that a Red-necked Falcon can usually be found in one of these three trees, and woosh there it was, unfortuntely we didn't get enough on it to list it, and none of us were contemplating cycling back the half mile or so to the tree involved. While we were at our furthest from the village I had a puncture in my rear wheel. It was agony trying to cycle over the rough terrain, and it was a long way back. It was baking hot, and it had already been a long day in the field. Ratan and I swapped bikes, and he cycled it the last couple of miles into his village and the local tyre repair shop. While sitting around waiting for the tyre repair we were entertained by the loacl strong man who proceeded to lift the cycle up off the floor using just his teeth. We were all suitably impressed. The tyre had in fact 3 punctures, and the repairs were carried out very efficiently. We cycled back past the park entrance (still no sign of the Cinnamon Bittern), and got back to the hotel at 18:00. Early evening meal onsited of vegetable curry, egg fried rice, chips and plain pita bread. All washed down with copious amounts of 'Kingfisher'.
Up at 04:30 to leave for the Chambral River trip. Left the Sunbird at 05:00 enroute for the Chambral. Arrived at the river side at 08:00. We then boarded our tender which took us out to a small island mid river. From here we transfered to our river transport for the trip up river. It was an amazing experience. The river was like a mill pond, and the birds didn't disappoint. Birds noted: Indian Skimmer (57), Greater Thickknee, Black-bellied Tern, River Tern, Osprey, Long-legged Buzzard, Kentish Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Plain Martin, Lesser Whistling Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Teal, Spot-billed Duck, Wigeon, Indian Cormorant, Rock Thrush, Great Cormorant, Little Cormorant, White-browed Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Egyptian Vulture, Black Kite, Crested Lark and River Lapwing. A wonderful trip, and one more of my 'wanted list' namely Indian Skimmer ticked off. I think this is the only place left where you can guarantee Skimmers, and it ought to be on everyone's itinerary. Returned to the car at 12:00 for the drive to Agra.
Arrived in Agra at 14:00 and had lunch in the JayPee Palace Hotel. The hotel was quite wonderful and while waiting for our car we picked up: Brown Rock-chat, Egyptian Vultures, Black Kites, White-rumped Vultures and Oriental Turtle Dove. We then left to visit the Taj Mahal. It was major splendid. No new birds to bother with. The $20 entrance fee for all aliens is perhaps a little pricey especially as you have to pay extra for your video camera. Dinner was back at the JayPee Palace where we used the facilities to send e-mails and clean up. Dinner was excellent, another mainly indian cuisine. Left the JayPee at 20:45 for the train to Corbett. Eventually left Agra station at 21:30.
Arrived Lal Kuan at 08:30 after another eventful overnight sleeper trip. At Lal Kuan we were met by our Driver Pratap Singh who drove us to our new accommodation 'Tiger Moon Resort'. Enroute we stopped off for a coffee at a cafe on Corbett Corner. Here in the space of 5 minutes we added 4 new birds: Ashy Drongo, Collared Falconet, Green-fronted Leafbird and Black-hooded Oriole. At Tiger Moon we were shown to our bungalow, and while enjoying the grounds we noted: Barred Owlet, Velvet-backed Nuthatch, Great Tit, Little Pied Flycatcher, Grey-headed Flyctcher, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Brown-headed Barbet and Oriental Whiteye.
We had an early lunch and at 13:45 left for the Kosi River, where we noted Red-crested Pochard, Little Grebe, Ruddy Shelduck, Great Cormorant, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Red-wattled Lapwing, River Lapwing, Plumbeous Redstart, White-capped Redstart, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Merganser, Spotted Dove, Ashy Prinia, White-browed Fantail, Blue Rock Thrush, Brown Rock-chat, Blue Whistling Thrush, Crested Serpent Eagle, Red-headed Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Plain Martin, Barn Swallow, Needle-tailed Swift, Black Kite, Cinerous Vulture, Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, White-breasted Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Thickknee, Greater Thickknee, Hume's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wallcreeper and Ibisbill. Another 'most wanted' was crossed off the list namely Ibisbill. We had good views of both birds. We found them feeding at the bend in the river and later saw them fly back down past us towards the river barrage. Later back at Tiger Moon we once again met up with Mohit, and while in conversation with him 4 Great Hornbills flew overhead. Finished the day with 218ish species.
Left Tiger Moon after breakfast 08:00, took the jeep with Pratap driving through the Corbett National Park to Dhikala where we were due to spend the night. We stopped several times enroute to look at birds. Several birds noted including: Scarlet Minivet, Kalij Pheasant, Red Jungle Fowl, Lemon-rumped Warbler, Crested Tree Swift, Great Pied Hornbill, Himalayan Kingfisher, Darter, Black Stork, Lesser Whistling Teal, Black Kite, Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Red-headed Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Grey Pygmy Woodpecker, Green Magpie and amazingly White-bellied Sea Eagle.
This last bird caused a lot of debate among others we informed of our sighting. Mainly because all the books say that it's distributed along the coast only, although in Salim Ali's book it says vagrant to Rajasthan. Everyone of us present all agreed that the bird we saw was and could only be a White-Bellied Sea Eagle. The bird was a carbon copy of the illustrations in the book being a full adult plumaged bird. It also soared in a most unusual way ( with its wings held slighly forward but in a deep V, unlike any other raptor I have seen before). The bird was observed for about 5 minutes before it disappeared from view. This was a new bird for everyone including both or guide Ratan and our driver Pratap (who is a keen birder). A full description is in prep.
We eventually arrived at Dhikala at 13:30. Immediately had a Pallas's Fish Eagle and another Collared Falconet. After lunch we took our elephant ride through the jungle. Our elephant Molly was 50 years old. The ride was interesting, and we had some amazing close ups of the deer species, but not many birds and no tigers to record. We finished the ride at 18:00. Before dinner we watched a film show about the nature reserves of India. Bed by 21:00; finished the day on 270ish species.
Called at 06:30, and we made our way to the watch tower arriving there at 07:00. Lots of birds noted including: Ashy Bulbul, Alexandrine Parakeet, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Black-throated Tit, Winter Wren, Yellow-vented Warbler, Grey-hooded Warbler and Rufous-bellied Woodpecker. We had allowed ourselves 2 hours at the watch tower, and we had just about given up any hope of ever seeing a tiger when Ratan and everyone else was watching the 'pecker' (Stipe-breasted Woodpecker) when Ratan cried "Tiger!". We all swirled around to see a magnificent male tiger not 30 yards away walking in unobscured view past the water hole. It walked slowly past, looked up at us with disdain, sprayed the bushes in urine and then disappeared as quickly as it had appeared . Only one word to describe everyones feeling: MAGIC. We all walked back from the watch tower at least a foot taller than when we walked out.
Left Dhikala at 10:00. We drove leisurely through the park and out of the main gate. We stopped and had a drink at the Quality Inn where we met up with the group from 'Naturetrek'. We discussed India and birding over our drink, and we were told that a White-tailed Rubythroat was about just over the boundary wall. I picked up the female almost immediately but on returning with Richard and Dave I couldn't relocate it. A rather dull female but still a new bird. We left there for the 'Forktail Stream', where we did pick up Small Forktail and Tawny Fish Eagle but coudn't locate the other 2 species of forktail. It appears from other trip reports that we probably didn't go far enough up the stream. Moving on to Betalghat enroute we picked up Blue-capped Redstart, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Green Tit and Black-lored Tit. Arrived Betalghat at 17:30 had coffee over looking the valley and the Himalayan foothills. Dinner was at 19:00, retired to bed at 20:10.
Up at 06:30, coffee on the terrace at 07:00. Birds noted in the garden: Hill Prinia, Himalayan Bulbul, Green-tailed Sunbird. and Rufous Treepie. Off out of the gate we went a short distance right to a small water gulley where we saw Spotted Forktail. We then went left and followed the road for a couple of miles. Birds noted: Hill Prinia, Rusty-Checked Scimitar Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Chestnut Thrush, Rufous-bellied Niltava, and Mrs Gould's Sunbird. Back to the hotel for breakfast at 10:00. In the hotel garden we had Crimson Sunbird. Later we went for a walk along the River (Kosi). Birds noted: Plumbeous Redstart, White-capped Water Redstart, Wall Creeper, Crested Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, River Lapwing, Red-wattled Lapwing, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, White-browed Wagtail and Lammergeier. Returning to the hotel for cold drinks.
Later we left the hotel for a drive through the countryside, Birds noted enroute included: Himalayan Griffon, Jungle Owlet, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Small Niltava and Slaty-Blue Flycatcher. Arrived back at the hotel 'Call of the Wild Safari Lodge' at 17:00. Sat on the terrace enjoying a cola when Ratan spotted a bird in the fruiting fig tree, a Blue-throated Barbet. Nice end to a good day's birding. Finished the day on 310ish species listed.
Left our lodge at 07:00 enroute for Nainital. The journey was long and cold with frequent stops for birding. Stopped in Nainital to change of our cash. It took forever. We also bumped into Mohit in the main street. We drove out of Nainital stopping at various interesting spots including a vantage viewing area where the Himalayan peaks including Nanda Devi at 7820 meters, were snow covered in the distance. A very good stop was at Kilbury where we strolled up to the ranger station. We eventually arrived at Pangot at 14:00 where we were made to feel very welcome. We all had a cola, and at 15:30 Mohit, Ratan and a local guide took us on a long walk through the forest. Several new birds here including: Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Green-backed Tit, Yellow-browed Tit, Black Bulbul, Jungle Prinia, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Russet Sparrow, Great Barbet, Oriental Turtle Dove, Grey-backed Shrike, Black-headed Jay, Eurasian Jay, Common Raven, Mistle Thrush, Orange-flanked Bush Robin, White-rumped Shama, White-tailed Nuthatch and Eurasian Tree Sparrow. We returned at 18:00 for a coffee or beer. We never left the lodge and went straight through to dinner. Mohit has really pulled out all the stops, and dinner was great. Retired to bed at 20:30 sated in all respects.
We were woken at 06:00 with tea, breakfast at 06:30 eggs, toast and coffee. Left Pangot at 7 for Kilbury where we arrived at 07:30 from here it was onward and upward to Cheena Peak. We eventually got to the top after a very arduous trek at 12:30. Birds noted during the climb: Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Griffon and superb views of a very inquisitive Lammergeier. Mohit had organised lunch at the top. After lunch we decided to look over the rubbish tip in Nainital but we got hopelessly lost and walked miles up and down various valleys. We eventually dropped down through the outskirts of Nainital to meet up with Pratap. We arrived at the Swiss Hotel at 18:30 absolutely knackered. The less said about the Swiss Hotel the better - it was horrible. No heating and a disco that went on until 04:30!!!!!!
Breakfast at 06:30 feeling like death after yesterday's exertions and last night's disco and fireworks. Pratap drove us to the Mongoli Valley. Pratap dropped us off at the tea rooms, and we followed the path mentioned in A Birders Guide to India. We had 4 species of Laughing Thrush, Lesser Yellownape and a Rufous-breasted Accentor. It was a great couple of hours. Pratap was waiting for us as we climbed back up the valley. Left here for our return trip to Delhi. We arrived back at our Delhi base 'The White Apartments' at 19:30 very tired. We all showered, had a meal and retired to bed.
Left the hotel at 08:00 for Okhla. Spent the morning running around various sites in Okhla, several new birds: Northern Lapwing, Red-rumped Swallow, Red Avadavat, Yellow-legged Gull and Curlew Sandpiper. Finished birding at 13:00 for lunch with Mohit and his charmimg wife at the Pot Pourri in Noida. Spent the rest of the day shopping for presents and sight seeing in Delhi. Had a Chinese meal at the Imperial Garden Restaurant, very plush, with it seemed more waiters than customers. Left for the airport at 21:00.
Arrived London Heathrow at 09:30 for the long drive home. A quick count up on the plane suggested about 350ish birds listed with perhaps 250 lifers.
My apologies to those expecting counts of birds. Counting numbers of birds has never been one of my priorities. Relative abundance/scarcity is more than adequately covered in all the field guides
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