This was the fourth tour of the classic northern Indian birding circuit operated by Birdwatching Breaks, and it was yet another superb birding experience. Although the mornings and evenings were chilly as usual, we were blessed with warm and sunny conditions throughout the tour and there was invariably barely a cloud in the sky. Such conditions are in marked contrast to my recent January trips, which have seen snow and generally colder conditions. Snowfall at higher elevations was evidently considerably less than is normally the case. One might suppose these are yet more signs of climate change, and it is quite some time since I have led a tour to a country where the weather conditions have been typical. Such relatively warm weather had some quite noticeable effects on the birding. The feeding flocks we might normally have expected at locations such as Corbett and Nainital area were rather fewer and farther between than in previous years, and quite a number of species had clearly decided it was already spring and were indulging in breeding behaviour. Bharatpur was again dry and with much of this part of India suffering drought conditions, many other wetlands were a lot drier than is normal. However, experiencing such year on year changes are part of what makes returning to destinations so fascinating.
We recorded a total of 370 species during the course of the trip. Of these, one was only heard (Koklass Pheasant) and three were seen only by myself. There were a great many highlights, but top of the list has to be our exciting and prolonged encounters with Tigers at Corbett. We enjoyed superb views of 10 species of owl (all during daylight hours!), a wonderful 17 species of woodpecker and all six species of laughingthrush that can be found on this itinerary. Other highlights included Painted Spurfowl poking about in leaf litter at Ranthambhore and Painted Sandgrouse coming into drink there. Roosting Large-tailed Nightjar, stunning Indian Coursers and a superb male Black Bittern at Bharatpur, Little and Spotted Forktails along the streams and rivers around Kumeria, great views of Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler and Rufous-chinned Laughingthrushes at Sat Tal, a wonderful day birding through forests with the backdrop of the snow-capped Himalayas near Pangot and a cheeky Chestnut-headed Tesia at Mongoli Valley. All wonderful experiences to go along with the many other great birds we saw during the trip.
January 10th/11th : Journey to New Delhi - Okhla
Weather: Misty giving way to pleasantly warm sunshine but a cool breeze at times.
After a flight with British Airways from London, Christine and I arrived in Delhi in the early hours of Jan 11th and transferred to our hotel for a few hours sleep before rising for breakfast at 0730hrs. We met Susan and Virginia at breakfast and then enjoyed a leisurely day’s birding along the River Yamuna at Okhla. Beginning at the Temple Bund, we were soon enjoying our first Indian birds. Among the first to be seen were White-throated Kingfisher, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Bluethroat, Oriental Magpie Robin and Ashy Prinia. Along the bund we found wintering Siberian Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroat and fine Indian Robins. Grey Francolin was seen briefly and 2 Coppersmith’s Barbets showed well at close range. A good find was a nice Red-headed Falcon perched on top of an Acacia. In the adjacent fields, we saw Black Drongo, Eastern Stonechat (surely a better name than Siberian!), Red-wattled Lapwing and Asian Pied Starlings. Flocks of Striated and Common Babblers obliged us on the edge of the reed beds, whilst further along the path we enjoyed close studies of Indian Silverbill and Red Avadavat. A flock of three Great White Pelicans and flocks of Black-headed and a few Brown-headed Gulls flew over. By the river there were groups of feeding Purple Swamphens, cracking Purple Herons, Intermediate Egret, and a Woolly-necked Stork circled nearby. Just across the river we found a nice male White-tailed Stonechat, which eventually gave decent views, and a smart male Citrine Wagtail, the first of many, drifted past on a piece of floating vegetation. Overhead we saw many Black Kites and a young Greater Spotted Eagle. Heading back to the bus we paused for Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Kestrel, Striated Grassbird and a superb Long-tailed Shrike.
After a short stop for lunch, during which we enjoyed views of Hoopoe, we spent much of the afternoon sifting through the flocks of wildfowl and shorebirds. Huge flocks of ducks included Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Ruddy Shelduck. Flocks of Greylag Geese were accompanied by smaller numbers of Bar-headed. A Black-necked Stork dwarfed the nearby Black-headed Ibis, Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. A Peregrine zipped through, but such was the resulting melee it was difficult for everyone to get onto. On the other side of the river we found shallow pools that attracted Black-winged Stilts, Little Stints, small numbers of Curlew Sandpipers, White-tailed Lapwing and several River Lapwings. A Painted Stork was seen well before, tired from our respective journeys, we ended proceedings having chalked up nearly 100 species without particularly trying! Such is the wealth of birdlife in this wonderful country.
12th: Delhi – Ranthambhore.
Leaving our Delhi hotel we were at the railway station just after 7.30am and then on board a train and on our way south to Ranthambhore just over an hour later. Travel by train offers a distinctly different view on Indian life and it is a rather more relaxing way to travel than is often the case on a tour bus. As we left the city, we passed through flat plains mostly given over to agriculture, but also with a few pools and some dry acacia scrub. We saw a few birds from the train; our first stately looking Sarus Cranes, small flocks of Black-winged Stilts, Wood Sandpiper, Indian Roller, Pied Bushchat, Indian (Brown Rock) Chat and Egyptian Vulture. A packed lunch was picked up en-route at Bharatpur and by the time we reached Sawai Madhopur Junction and had transferred to our very nice hotel we were ready for our first foray into the park at Ranthambhore. Although rather quiet we were chalking up new birds with ease. Flocks of Large Grey and Jungle Babblers were frequently encountered, obliging White-browed Fantails flitted about in the undergrowth, Rufous Treepies were so tame they came down to feed from our hands and a flock of Grey (Great) Tits were easily seen. Our first good views of Grey Francolins were had along a dusty track and at a small pool we found Greenshank, Green Sandpiper and Little Egret. Tell tale tapping gave away the presence of a Yellow-fronted Pied (Yellow-crowned) Woodpecker. An Indian (Collared) Scops-owl was seen well in the entrance to its hole and during the whole drive we were treated to close encounters with Chital and Sambar Deer, Hanuman Langur and Wild Boar.
A chilly start blew away the cobwebs as we headed back into the park in search of Tiger. Sadly this was not to be our day, but there were many good things to see nevertheless. Our first Plum-headed Parakeets were located early in the day and frequent sightings through the day culminated in superb views of birds coming to drink at a small pool. We had heard many Hume’s Warblers, and at last we got to study some at close range. A couple of Painted Spurfowl obliged as they rooted through the leaf litter in a dry streambed. A Spotted Owlet dozed in its hole, some Black-rumped Flamebacks popped up briefly and later a flurry of flycatchers involved Grey-headed Canary, Red-breasted and Tickell’s Blue.
A walk along the entrance road, and on through the semi-desert back to the hotel turned up some nice things. Some White-capped Buntings were initially elusive but eventually showed quite well. We got good views of Small Minivet, Indian (Brown Rock) Chat, Chestnut-shouldered Petronia and Black Redstart. In the open semi-desert area near our hotel we encountered Southern Grey Shrike, Tawny Pipit and a distant Red-headed Vulture. A couple of Brahminy Starlings were in a small Guava grove.
After lunch the unsuccessful search for Tiger continued. Compensation came in the form of a Jungle Cat, whilst mammals also included Nilgai. Bird highlights included an Ashy-crowned Finch-lark (Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark) near our hotel, further good views of Painted Spurfowl, good numbers of Indian Vultures and a single White-backed Vulture. Just before dusk we had brief views of a small group of Rufous-fronted Prinias, and we waited by a small pool hoping for Painted Sandgrouse, which duly arrived and performed quite well in the gathering gloom. An excellent way to end to a thoroughly enjoyable day’s birding.
14th: Ranthambhore - Bharatpur.
We spent the morning once again in the park searching for Tiger. Bad luck with route allocation was probably a major factor for us not seeing a Tiger. Due to the intense visitor pressure there is little or no control over which routes you are allocated in this National Park and it is rather frustrating! However we did enjoy some excellent birds with a small pool hosting Brown Crake, Painted Stork, Striated Heron and Spotted Redshank. Small numbers of Oriental White-eyes and some Small Minivets performed reasonably well. In the semi-desert near the hotel we again saw Ashy-crowned Finch-lark, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Southern Grey Shrike and Tawny Pipit, whilst Indian Bushlark was new for our list.
Catching the train to Bharatpur proved to be something of a keystone cops type affair and we were all safely on the train in the end, although the memory of the local agent running alongside the train shouting final instructions to me will live long in my memory! Once again we were able to relax as the Indian countryside rolled by outside the window. Arriving at Bharatpur by late afternoon, we checked into the delightful Bagh Hotel and quickly headed off birding for the last hour or so of light. Pools near the hotel held Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Greenshank, many Citrine Wagtails and some White Wagtails. A flock of Red Avadavats was seen briefly, but there was no sign of the hoped for Painted Snipe. We decided to check the nursery opposite the entrance to the national park and here we were treated to superb views of Brown Hawk-owl (Brown Boobook) roosting in a tree. An excellent way to finish the day.
The park was again very dry with very little water. However we were able to enjoy a superb range of birds during the day, notably 4 owl species and a nightjar all at daytime roosts. There can be few better places in the world for seeing night birds at their daytime roosts. Our day began at the nursery where we found Coppersmith and Brown-headed Barbet performing well. Common Woodshrikes were seen moving through some low brush and a Bluethroat showed well. Two Tickell’s Thrushes obliged at close range. A trip through the park in the electric van produced two Indian Scops-owls and good views of Dusky Eagle-owl on the nest. A stakeout for Large-tailed Nightjar provided us with stunning views of this cryptic species.
Heading back we paused for Black-necked Stork and then a walk along Sapan Mari produced good views of Yellow-fronted Pied Woodpecker (Yellow-crowned Woodpecker), Spotted Owlet and then a superb rufous morph Oriental Scops-owl. A smart male Red-breasted Flycatcher flitted about the undergrowth. Greater Spotted Eagle circled overhead.
After a fine lunch at the temple, we headed off in search of Yellow-wattled Lapwings and Indian Coursers. These we duly found, with superb views of the latter being a particular delight. Indian Rollers were resplendent in the afternoon sunshine. Back in the Acacia scrub we found Small and Scarlet Minivets and we also visited a location to see a couple of Indian Rock Pythons in their hole. Olive-backed Pipits and Black-rumped Flameback were among a variety of other species seen before we ended the day with a visit to the impressive new interpretation centre.
16th: Bund Baretha.
A wonderful bird-filled day began with a drive of around an hour or so to Bund Baretha. We passed through an agricultural landscape with some marshy ponds closer to our destination. Our first stop produced a couple of splendid Wire-tailed Swallows perched on some telegraph wires. In the tops of the reeds fringing a small pool a mixed flock of Baya and Streaked Weavers fed, allowing us to compare their identification features side by side. On reaching the reservoir we were confronted by the usual large rafts of wildfowl. New for our list were Mallard (!), Cotton Pygmy-goose and Red-crested Pochard. Whiskered and River Terns patrolled up and down and a selection of shorebirds included Little Ringed Plover, White-tailed Lapwing and good numbers of many now quite familiar species. A sparsely vegetated hillside was home to a pair of Rufous-tailed Larks, whilst fallow fields hosted Oriental Skylark. Jungle Bush-quail were seen briefly, but flew off before we had all managed to get a good view. A Sirkeer Malkoha was typically skulking, but eventually we got very good views of this often difficult to find species.
Working our way along the reservoir wall we found Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas and Glossy Ibis. Lunch was taken at the maharaja’s palace on a hill overlooking the reservoir. Here we found an Eastern Imperial Eagle sat in a tree. An Osprey fished and a couple of Marsh Harriers were also seen well. Ferruginous Duck and Comb Duck were new for the wildfowl list and we were able to enjoy the spectacle of a wide variety of birds in very large numbers.
Retracing our steps a Moustached Warbler skulked along the edge of a reedy pool, whilst overhead a Short-toed Eagle was harassed by House Crows. Another pool was home to 2 Brown Crakes and a stop at some mature trees resulted in a decent view of Indian Grey Hornbill. Back at Bharatpur we ended the day with superb views of a stunning male Black Bittern seen at close range. A wonderful way to end a superb day’s birding.
We began the day with a search for Indian Stone-curlew (a recent split from Eurasian Thick-knee). After checking a couple of sites, we were soon enjoying good scope views of this largely nocturnal species. Next up was a search for Orange-headed Thrush. The search soon ended with cracking views of one feeding amongst the leaf litter. An Oriental Honey-buzzard posed on a bare tree. We then headed out from Shanti Kutir on a circuit that passed through Sapan Mari and ended at the temple. By the high standards of this National Park, things were very quiet. However, we enjoyed good views of a flock of Yellow-footed Green-pigeons, Black-rumped Flameback and Small Minivet. Greenish and Blyth’s Reed Warblers showed well enough for us to work on our identification skills with these sometimes difficult species. A Barred Buttonquail was flushed and an Eastern Imperial Eagle circled overhead. Our searches for Marshall’s Iora and Spotted Creeper sadly proved fruitless. Just before lunch, we spent some time watching the shorebirds near the Temple. Here we enjoyed White-tailed Lapwing, Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint and several Snipe. An Isabelline Wheatear was new for the list and we also found Isabelline and Southern Grey Shrikes. Raptors included Crested Serpent-eagle, Booted Eagle and Egyptian Vulture.
After another excellent picnic lunch, we headed off into the grassland area of the park. Here we saw a male Black Francolin briefly, Zitting Cisticola, Eastern Stonechat and a pair of Dusky Eagle-owls at the nest. Overhead, raptors included Egyptian Vulture, Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Black-winged Kite (including one very obliging perched juvenile) and Booted Eagle. A slow journey back through the park produced little extra so we again spent some time checking the area around the Temple. Here we saw a Eurasian Sparrowhawk. To finish the day we waited until after sunset at Sapan Mari. Here we were treated to the magnificent sight of the evening flight of Common and Sarus Cranes. A wonderful and fitting way to end our stay at what is, despite its problems ensuring a regular water supply, a truly superb park and world class birding destination.
18th: Bharatpur – Agra.
We began the day with a last check of the canal area near the hotel. A selection of shorebirds included Temminck’s Stint, Spotted Redshank and Wood Sandpiper. A Brown Crake was good to see again. The main objective of the day however was to visit the world famous attractions of Fatehpur Sikri, Agra’s Red Fort and, of course, the Taj Mahal. We all enjoyed our guided tours of these magnificent monuments. The Taj Mahal was, naturally, the highlight, and a Peregrine chasing pigeons around it’s magnificent domed roof kept even the keenest birder happy! After another nice meal in a local restaurant we headed off to Mathura where we caught the overnight sleeper train to Lalkuan, leaving at 2315hrs.
19th: Lalkuan – Kaladhungi – Ramnagar - Kumeria.
We arrived at Lalkuan on schedule at 0830hrs and were met by our driver. Quickly we were on our way towards Ramnagar pausing for breakfast at Kaladhungi. This stop resulted in sightings of a Taiga Flycatcher (Red-throated Flycatcher), Grey Bushchat, Oriental White-eye, Hair-crested Drongo and a 105. Continuing our journey, we stopped at the barrage at Ramnagar where we enjoyed excellent views of Wallcreeper, whilst large flocks of Himalayan Swiftlets and some Red-rumped Swallows were also in evidence.
Heading up to Quality Inn from Ramnagar a couple of brief stops allowed us to chalk up the first of many Blue Whistling Thrushes, a very brief male Snowy-browed Flycatcher and best of all a stunning Tawny Fish-owl in its usual roosting area. Excellent!
The delightful Quality Inn overlooks a particularly picturesque section of the Kosi River and from the walkway in front of our rooms we could see Plumbeous Water-redstart and White-capped River-chat. After a good lunch, we headed down the track towards the river and had a rush of new birds. A feeding flock soon halted our progress and here we enjoyed Pied Flycatcher-shrike (Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike), Grey-hooded Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Scarlet Minivet, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Grey-capped Woodpecker and a very obliging group of 3 White-crested Laughingthrushes. A little further along the trail we found Bronzed Drongo, Himalayan Bulbul, a small flock of Grey-breasted Prinias and Crimson Sunbird. On the river, a pair of displaying Brown Dippers, smart Spotted Forktails and two impressive Crested Kingfishers delighted us. Christine found a Gold-fronted Leafbird, but sadly it did not linger. Our return walk was enlivened when Susan located a pair of Brown Fish-owls, which obliged with superb scope views and was a stunning way to end an excellent afternoon in wonderful surroundings.
We spent the morning walking along the road through the excellent forests around Kumeria. Bird flocks were encountered fairly regularly and we found a good number of excellent birds. Just outside Quality Inn we found Small Niltava, and then later enjoyed good views of a singing Orange-bellied Leafbird and nearby Hair-crested Drongos were feeding in a flowering tree. A little farther down the road we had great views of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babblers scuffling about in the leaf litter searching for food. A Yellow-throated Marten was seen very briefly. A feeding flock produced our first Long-tailed Minivet along with obliging Scarlet Minivets, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker. The Tawny Fish-owl was again at its roost site. A calling Mountain Hawk-eagle showed well and later we observed this species soaring overhead. More feeding flocks comprised Grey-hooded and Lemon-rumped Warblers, Velvet-fronted and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch and our first Black-lored Tits. Lesser Yellownape was good to see, as was our first Black-throated (Red-headed) Tit. Heading back to Quality Inn a Himalayan Griffon drifted overhead.
We enjoyed an open-air lunch in the warm midday sunshine at Quality Inn and also the stunning views of a Collared Falconet that was perched on top of a tree in the grounds. Superb! Our afternoon was spent near Mohan. A walk along a stream produced Spotted Forktail, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Orange-gorgeted Flycatcher (Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher), Snowy-browed Flycatcher and a pair of Small Niltavas. A Seicercus warbler showed characteristics of Green-crowned. A trip to another stream produced another Spotted Forktail and then Christine found the hoped for Little Forktail. This showed very well and then Christine noticed another interesting bird that turned out to be an excellent Himalayan Rubythroat (White-tailed Rubythroat). Another wonderful way to end a great day in the field.
21st: Kumeria – Dhikala (Corbett National Park).
Today was considered to be the best day of the trip. We left Kumeria heading for Dhikala in the heart of Corbett National Park, travelling in open top vehicles, which made for a cool time early on, but the birding was good. Early stops were made to get good views of a flock of Red-breasted Parakeets and soon after a flock of over a hundred flew over. A pair of striking Green Magpies showed very well and a Greater Flameback flew in to give good views. Near the Danghari gate we saw Taiga Flycatcher. After completing the entrance formalities, we headed into the park. We heard a distant Great Slaty Woodpecker, but couldn’t lure it in and Christine glimpsed a close by Great Hornbill that we had heard calling. Further stops for feeding flocks allowed us to enjoy further views of many now familiar species and we sifted through them in the hope of something different. Black-hooded Oriole showed well and a female Grey-winged Blackbird perched up in the middle-storey. Raptors were a major feature of the day and we enjoyed Lesser Fish Eagle, very close views of a near adult Steppe Eagle, Changeable Hawk-eagle and a Himalayan Griffon. A stop at the so-called crocodile pool resulted in the sighting of both Mugger and Gharial and a Black Stork was perched in a nearby tree. Around the clearing at Dhikala small numbers of Alpine Swifts were present.
After check-in at the somewhat refurbished and improved Dhikala we headed for lunch. It was just as we were finishing that a commotion outside indicated the presence of something interesting. Investigating what was going on we were soon all enjoying our first views of a magnificent female Tiger. Amazing! We watched for some time as she slowly made her way through the grasslands below the compound. We headed out in the vehicle to the watchtower where we had further views and then back in the vehicles and further along the track for more views before she disappeared into the grass. A wonderful experience that lasted over an hour.
Turning our attention back to birds, we returned towards the compound, stumbling upon a group of very obliging Kalij Pheasants that showed well at very close range (a male and 4 females). Moving out to the grasslands we enjoyed close views of stunning male Black Francolins and Hen Harrier. A large burnt area of grass was very attractive to stonechats, so we spent some time searching for Hodsgon’s Bushchat. We found a couple of Long-billed Pipits, Oriental Skylark and were then distracted by another Tiger!! It was a male this time, and was seemingly intent on having deer for his next meal. However, remains of a porcupine found the next morning suggested he had changed his mind about dinner! We watched this fine animal from a distance for a while and then decided to change location for a closer view. At this point I located a fine male Hodgson’s Buschat, which afforded good views before the lure of closer Tiger views became irresistible. We enjoyed more gripping views of this magnificent beast before it was time to return to the compound a very satisfied group indeed.
22nd: Corbett National Park.
We began the morning with a chilly drive into the grasslands around Dhikala. Early sightings included Changeable Hawk-eagle, Black Francolin and a flock of Red Junglefowl. Alarm calls betrayed the presence of a Tiger, but we did not see it on this occasion. An interesting shrike proved to be a hybrid between the two forms of Long-tailed Shrike. A Short-eared Owl flushed up from close to our vehicle. We spent some time searching for Bright-capped Cisticola, which we duly found and we also enjoyed more excellent views of Hodgson’s Bushchat, a pair this time. Heading down towards the reservoir we found Rosy Pipits feeding around the edge and also saw good numbers of Oriental Skylarks. Checking another area we flushed a Common Quail and then found 4 Great Thick-knees, something we had missed at Bund Baretha. More Quail were flushed on our return and later a Wryneck popped up briefly. Passing the compound, we paused to check raptors overhead that included Cinereous, Slender-billed and Red-headed Vultures. Moving to the forest before lunch produced several Aberrant Bush-warbler, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, and a brief leader only Chestnut-headed Tesia
After lunch we headed into the forest again and again had the frustration of an un-cooperative Tesia and a Large-billed Thrush slunk off into the undergrowth rather too sharpish. Lesser Fish-eagles called loudly. We found a Jungle Owlet farther along the track and then a very obliging Streak-throated Woodpecker. As we crossed the river we enjoyed a superb performance by a Smooth-coated Otter as it came swimming downstream and then cautiously diverted to avoid us. More forest and grassland edge exploration produced sightings of another Streak-throated Woodpecker, Grey Bushchat, Crested Kingfisher and a cracking Emerald Dove. Heading back to the compound at Dhikala we spent the last half hour watching over the grasslands below and were rewarded with a smart adult male Pied Harrier. A great way to end yet another bird-filled day.
23rd: Dhikala – Khinanauli - Ramnagar – Kaladhungi - Nainital.
Heading out in the Gypsy’s once again we slowly worked our way out of Corbett. We encountered our first feeding flock of the day just outside the compound. Amongst the usual suspects were a good number of Common Ioras, a female Maroon Oriole and Long-tailed Minivet. A bit farther along the track we located a Grey-sided Bush-warbler, but it did not perform as well as some would have liked. Woodpeckers were a feature and we saw several Lesser Yellownapes, Grey-faced, Fulvous-breasted, Grey-crowned Pygmy and our first Himalayan Flameback. Later we encountered a flock of 6 Great Slaty Woodpeckers, although sadly they did not linger. A Brown Fish Owl was seen near Khinanauli. We had good views of Alexandrine Parakeets and more feeding flocks kept us thoroughly entertained. A group of White-rumped Spinetails hawked over the forest and later at Ramnagar there was a large mixed flock of swifts feeding over the river. Here we enjoyed several Pacific Swifts, a single Common Swift (form pekinensis), many Little Swifts and Himalayan Swiftlets. Our first Goosanders (Common Mergansers) were on the river. We had enjoyed a White-rumped Vulture on the nest on the other side of town, and further birds cruised overhead. Other raptors seen during the day included Peregrine, Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Black Kite and during a diversion to avoid a damaged road bridge, Himalayan Griffon and Steppe Eagle.
Heading up the road to Nainital, we made a couple of stops. An area of scrub and a rocky gully produced our first Rock Bunting, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Green-backed Tit and Blue-capped Redstart. A bit farther along the road, we found a female Blue-fronted Redstart and we ended the day with a feisty flock of Black-throated Tits.
24th: Sat Tal.
Today we visited the superb birding area at Sat Tal. This area always provides great birding and although by its own high standards it was relatively quiet, we still found a superb selection of birds. Before Bhowali we paused for a flock of Eurasian Crag Martins perched on telephone wires and a nearby Common Rosefinch was also new. A dry streambed was home to an obliging Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler, and nearby a flock of Blue Magpies moved through some pines. An area of fields and waste ground produced the hoped for Rufous-breasted and Black-throated Accentors, White-capped Bunting and a very obliging male Black-throated Thrush. Our first Black-headed Jay was well received, as was a smart male Blue-fronted Redstart. Raptors overhead included Himalayan Griffon and Steppe Eagle, whilst cracking male Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Grey Treepie, Russet Sparrows, Siberian Chiffchaff and Lesser Whitethroat were among other birds recorded.
Returning to the bus, we proceeded further down the hill towards the lakes at the valley bottom. A stop by the road produced Greater Flameback and an obliging Speckled Piculet, with a cracking male Himalayan Red-flanked Bluetail (Orange-flanked Bush-robin) nearby. At another stop we found a nice male Green-tailed Sunbird, some Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babblers and Black-chinned Babblers. A small feeding flock again comprised many now familiar species. The undergrowth near a small pond was home to some obliging Rufous-chinned Laughingthrushes. Nearby we enjoyed superb close views of Whistler’s Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, Spotted Forktail, Red-billed Leiothrix and Rufous-bellied Niltava. Some obliging Blue-winged Minlas and a Blue-throated Barbet enlivened our walk along the stream.
After a pleasant picnic lunch in the warm sunshine we again explored the forests around the lakes. A female Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush showed well. A shout of Yellownape from Susan resulted in us all getting excellent views of our first Greater Yellownape. Our local guide noticed a single White-throated Laughingthrush and realizing that there couldn’t be just one, I gave a burst of tape and like an army on manoeuvres soon there were squadrons of them coming in from all angles ready to give us some grief! Some Slaty-headed Parakeets fed low down giving good views, another cracking male Green-tailed Sunbird fed among some flower heads and overhead a Himalayan Buzzard circled. In the late afternoon we headed back up to Nainital and the final sighting of the day involved 2 Lammergeiers over the ridge behind the hotel. Great stuff.
25th: Pangot road and beyond.
After attempts to visit this area on previous tours had been thwarted by bad weather, I was pleased to be able to explore this interesting area. An early breakfast found us out and birding not long after dawn. Things were quiet to begin with, but soon we were finding new birds. First up were Eurasian Jay and Mistle Thrush – blimey, I could be back at home in the UK! Definitely not present back home though are the wonderful Spot-winged Tits. Nor Green-backed Tit, Yellow-browed Tit and White-tailed Nuthatch. A good feeding flock included a party of four White-browed Shrike-babblers, while a burst of Collared Owlet pulled in Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Green Shrike-babbler and our first Rufous Sibias. The ‘pik’ call of a woodpecker revealed the presence of Brown-fronted Pied Woodpecker, with a Himalayan Pied Woodpecker soon popping up a bit farther along the trail. We had hoped to find Koklass Pheasant in this area, but although we heard a single bird calling we were unable to locate this species.
Lunch was taken amidst breathtaking views of the snow-capped peaks of the high Himalayas providing a magnificent backdrop. A short walk along a side trail resulted in the sighting of a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and a Bonelli’s Eagle soared overhead. Around Pangot we saw Russet Sparrows and a Black Eagle circled above us. We enjoyed an obliging pair of Brown Wood Owls; our tenth owl species of the trip and all seen during the day. Are there any other tour itineraries where so many owls can be encountered at daytime roosts? Finally, just as we reached Nainital we were treated to another close flyover by a Lammergeier. Another fine end to yet another great day birding.
26th: Snow View, High Fields, Mongoli Valley.
Our final full birding day of the trip began with a short walk along the ridge at Snow View. Here we found our first Yellow-breasted Greenfinches. White-throated Laughingthrushes searched the piles of rubbish for food and Streaked Laughingthrushes indulged in breeding behaviour. Our next stop was the high fields. From here we took a pleasant walk down the hill towards the village of Khupratal. The main highlight were our first male Pink-browed Rosefinches, which performed very well for us. Other good sightings included Long-tailed Minivet, Rock Bunting and Buff-barred Warbler. At Khupratal, we found more obliging Yellow-breasted Greenfinches and a Striated Prinia skulked through some rough grass. A Lammergeier had been seen over the high peaks and we were delighted when it decided to pass very close not far above us. The bird of the trip for at least one participant.
At Mongoli we had lunch before heading down into the mixture of agricultural fields and open woodland that comprise dominate the valley here. Almost as soon as we entered the valley we found some Red-headed Laughingthrushes (Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes). Moving down the path a small numbers of Lemon-rumped Warblers showed at eye-level for once. A large flock of White-throated Laughingthrushes was feeding in some fields and associating with them were Striated Laughingthrushes, which were eventually seen well. By a stream we found Slaty-backed Forktail and eventually lured a wonderful Chestnut-headed Tesia into view. On our walk back up the valley we enjoyed Greater Yellownape and enjoyed more views of birds that we were soon to leave behind.
27th: Nainital – Delhi via Haldwani, Moradabad and Ganges River
We made an early start as we had to make the long journey back to Delhi. Heading down from the highlands of Nainital and back on the plains where we were reacquainted with species such as Bank Myna, Indian House Crow and other species generally absent around Nainital. We reached the Ganges just before 1300hrs. This area gets more disturbed each time I visit it and on this occasion we had found little of interest until I located a couple of Indian Skimmers. A great result, especially as we had missed this species at Bund Baretha. About 50km from Delhi Christine and Virginia had brief views of Red-naped Ibis (Black Ibis). We arrived at our Delhi hotel just before 5pm, allowing time to wash and change, before enjoying our final meal together and then the group heading off on their respective flights home. I stayed on in Delhi in order to meet my next group arriving for a Tiger tour starting a few days later.
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