Until quite recently a somewhat neglected part of India, Gujarat is rising in popularity as a birding destination. This isn't surprising as the state offers the chance to see some great birds and mammals. This was the first Birdwatching Breaks tour to visit this area and it proved to be a highly successful trip. The group recorded 289 species, with three additional leader-only sightings. Avian highlights included difficult to find species such as Grey Hypocolius, Crab Plover, White-naped Tit, White-bellied Minivet, Stoliczka's Buschat and Sykes's Nightjar. In neighbouring Rajasthan we visited Mount Abu where we saw good numbers of Green Avadavats. Other notable birds recorded during the tour included Dalmatian, Great White and Spot-billed Pelican, impressive numbers of Montagu's and Pallid Harriers, Demoiselle Cranes, Great Thick-knee, Indian and Cream-coloured Coursers, Red-tailed Wheatear, Desert and Eastern Orphean Warblers and Crested Bunting. Our extension to Central India visited Melghat for Forest Owlet and Kanha for Tiger where we achieved both objectives. The Forest Owlet performed for an extended period in the early morning sunshine, with Grey Junglefowl, Jungle Owlet and Golden-fronted Leafbird memorable among the supporting cast here. Kanha eventually produced a fine encounter with a male Tiger and although generally the birds took a back seat to the quest for Tiger, we still enjoyed a fine White-naped Woodpecker, Red Spurfowl and Crested Hawk-eagle. Over the whole trip the mammals were excellent with, in addition to Tiger, Jungle Cat, Wolf, Golden Jackal, Blackbuck, Wild Ass, Swamp Deer, Gaur and Nilgai amongst the highlights.
November 26th/27th: London to Delhi. Okhla Bird Sanctuary.
We met at Heathrow for our flight with British Airways to Delhi. Arriving in Delhi soon after 1am, pretty much on time, we were soon on our way to our hotel and ready for some rest after the journey.
We began our birding with a fairly leisurely exploration of the River Yamuna at Okhla, an area that continues to offer some quality birding within easy reach of the city. The journey there produced the usual House Crows and Black Kites with White-throated and Stork-billed Kingfisher and Rose-ringed Parakeets also seen. Greater Coucal, Hume's Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, Red-vented and Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Oriental White-eye and Ashy Prinia were among our early sightings. Marshy areas attracted Black-winged Stilts, Red-wattled Lapwings and the usual Indian Pond Herons, Eastern Cattle, Little and Great Egrets. Amongst the reeds we were pleased to locate White-crowned Penduline Tit, an uncommon visitor to this area, with Purple Heron, Pied Bushchat, Long-tailed Shrike, Citrine Wagtail and Red Avadavat also obliging us. A couple of White-tailed Lapwings flew over, but a third individual was more obliging and afforded good views on the ground. Other waders present included Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Redshank and Greenshank. Overhead Painted Stork and Egyptian Vulture circled. Returning to the bus to have our boxed lunch, a Spotted Owlet performed for us. After lunch we spent time scrutinising the flocks of ducks, although the light made things difficult. Nevertheless amongst the numerous Teal and Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck we saw Indian Spot-billed Ducks, Ferruginous Duck and a few Wigeon and Gadwall. Seeking some better light we visited some more pools where a selection of waders included Ruff, Snipe, Wood Sandpiper and good numbers of Black-winged Stilts. Sizeable flocks of Bank Mynas were also present.
Returning to the hotel we had a little time to ready ourselves for the overnight train journey to Abu Road before taking dinner in the hotel. Leaving the hotel just before 9pm we were amongst the chaos of the railway station by 10pm and then, eventually on the train just before 11pm.
November 28th: Train to Abu Road. Afternoon Mount Abu.
The day began as the previous one had ended, trundling slowly south-west from Delhi on the train towards our destination of Abu Road. Although perhaps not the most restful of nights sleep all group members were agreed that the night on the train had been a very memorable experience. We arrived at Abu Road at around midday and quickly headed up to Mount Abu on arrival. After checking in at our hotel and picking up Indian Yellow Tit in the gardens we had a stop for lunch and the afternoon was spent exploring the rocky, open scrubby areas that typify much of this area. New birds included Dusky Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, a male Shikra, Grey Wagtail and Yellow-eyed Babbler. Our main quarry, the Green Avadavat, was proving initially elusive but after an aborted attempt to see some calling Red Spurfowl we came upon a small flock, but they were soon off before all group members had connected. Pursuing them we located other species of interest in the form of good numbers of Chestnut-shouldered Petronia and a smart male Red-breasted Flycatcher. Another group of Green Avadavats were located and as before it was not long before they had flipped over a nearby hillside. All a bit frustrating, but seen well by most. Other interesting species encountered before dusk fell included an obliging Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Indian Chat and a group of Large Grey Babblers.
November 29th: Mount Abu. Travel to Dasada. Wetlands near Dasada.
We began the day with a walk at Mount Abu hoping for more views of Green Avadavat. We were pleased to encounter up to 20 birds and enjoyed some cracking views at close range for a prolonged period. Other species new for the list involved Brahminy Starling, Siberian Stonechat, Indian Silverbill and Spotted Dove. An Indian Scimitar-babbler was calling but was distant and we did not have time to pursue it. Soon we were on our way to Dasada in the Little Rann of Kutch, a drive of nearly five hours. The journey passed through a fairly intensively cultivated landscape and along some amazingly good roads (at least by Indian standards). During the journey we added Black-winged Kite, Red-naped Ibis and Indian Roller and arrived at Rann Riders in time for lunch.
In the afternoon a short drive to some wetland areas made for a most productive session with breeding colonies of Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Indian and Little Cormorant, Spoonbill and a variety of egrets. A family group of Sarus Cranes were very welcome whilst a selection of waders included Marsh Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank and two obliging White-tailed Lapwings. A juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle was a nice find, whilst other goodies included the declining River Tern, Ruddy Shelduck, Comb Duck, Garganey, Rosy Starling, a couple of skulking Paddyfield Warblers and a nice male Bluethroat. After an excellent evening meal a most efficient night session produced Indian Little Nightjar and Syke's Nightjar in under half an hour! A satisfying way in which to end a very good day.
November 30th: Little Rann of Kutch.
An excellent day began with a 6am breakfast and then out into the field before 7am. A lengthy drive passed through a largely cultivated landscape with much bird activity. We made few stops as we were targeting Macqueen's Bustard, but did see Grey Francolin, a good number of Desert Wheatears, Isabelline Shrike, Tawny Pipit, Short-toed Lark and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. It was not too long before an obliging group of three Macqueen's Bustards were located and we enjoyed superb views of this declining and threatened species feeding quietly on the edge of some acacia scrub. A group of Common Cranes flew over. Well satisfied with this success, we set off in search of Hoopoe Lark, which duly obliged before too long with a single bird that was collecting nesting material affording extended views. A search for Desert Fox was successful, whilst a Short-toed Eagle, smart male Pallid Harrier, a very obliging Short-eared Owl, Common Babbler, two Eastern Orphean Warblers, Bay-backed Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike, Ashy-crowned Finch-lark and Rufous-tailed Lark were amongst a variety of further excellent sightings. A short repeat visit to one of the wetlands we had visited yesterday produced most of the same species.
In the afternoon we visited a different area in search of coursers and various dry country species. New birds continued to show up regularly with White-eared Bulbul, Dalmatian Pelican, a most obliging White-eyed Buzzard, Kentish Plover all new. Continuing to an area for Wild Ass we unfortunately got a puncture, but a 'fulvescens' Greater Spotted Eagle was a nice find, whilst two Indian Coursers flew overhead and we had further close views of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. Excellent encounters with Wild Ass were enjoyed with Nilgai and Wild Boar among further mammal sightings.
December 1st: Rann Riders to Velavadar. O/N Bhavnagar.
We departed Rann Riders after breakfast and headed south to Velavadar. The journey again took us through an agricultural landscape until we hit the coastal road. A stop at a roadside wetland was productive with both Spot-billed and Great White Pelicans, Little Ringed Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint and a variety of other waders. Brown-headed Gull and Gull-billed Tern were also new for the list and we were able to study the differences between Indian and Little Cormorants properly for the first time.
We arrived at Velavadar at lunchtime and after lunch and completion of the usual red tape we headed off into the park. Long-billed Pipit was new, whilst other interesting species included Rufous-tailed Lark, Isabelline Shrike and on a wetland area Little Stint, more Spot-billed and Great White Pelicans, Greater Flamingo and Montagu's, Pallid and Marsh Harrier. We visited a watch tower at dusk where we watched the harriers begin to assemble to roost. We were able to see good numbers gliding across the grasslands and scrub with some showy individuals demonstrating just how tricky the identification of these wonderful birds can be. At dusk we headed for our Bhavnagar hotel, over an hour's drive away.
December 2nd: AM Velavadar. PM Travel to Gir.
An early start this morning as we were on our way back to Velavadar by 0530hrs. Arriving as dawn was breaking we headed towards the wetland where most of the usual wildfowl were present and we located the first Lesser Whistling Duck of the trip. Pallid, Marsh and Montagu's Harriers were of course present and a group of three Quail were new. However, our main focus this morning was the search for mammals in particular Wolf. Slowly driving along the tracks our sharp-eyed local guide spotted something off in the distance. Quickly heading up a nearby watch tower we located a Jungle Cat ambling slowly along the edge of the scrub. A nice find. Returning to the bus we headed off in a different direction finding the first Syke's Larks of the trip and a bit further on we had a number of flight views of an Indian Eagle Owl. It wasn't much longer before our local guide made another amazing spot as he located our main target, a Wolf walking slowly along the edge of the bushes some way off in the distance. Despite it being continually on the move, most of us managed to get some reasonable views before it disappeared out of view. Around 10am it was time to leave, but around the entrance a singing Syke's Warbler was present and a Sparrowhawk circled.
Much of the rest of the day was taken up with the journey to Gir National Park, where we arrived at Gir Birding Lodge just before 1700hrs, having seen our first Spotted Deer of the trip, plus good numbers of Indian Peafowl and several Asian Koel. On arrival we treated ourselves to a little R&R.
December 3rd: Gir.
The morning began with an early breakfast and then we were out into the forest in pursuit of the Asiatic Lion. Heading along the dusty tracks it was not long before we encountered our first male Lion and we had close views of this magnificent animal as it wandered through the trees. A little further along we saw another male and followed it for some time as it walked slowly along the road scent marking as it went. With our main objective quickly achieved we focused on the birds a little more and with the change in habitat, new birds flowed fairly quickly. Common Iora, Common Woodshrike, Plum-headed Parakeet, Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and White-browed Fantail were among the additions. Further mammals of interest involved Ruddy and Indian Grey Mongoose and good numbers of Chital and some Sambar Deer.
Arriving back at the lodge a little before 10am we had a quick cuppa before taking a walk down to the river. Another flurry of new birds involved Crested Treeswift, White-browed Wagtail, Oriental Honey-buzzard, a smart male Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and Scaly-breasted Munia. With the heat rising we returned to the hotel for some R&R and lunch.
The afternoon session was particularly quiet to begin with, with little bird activity. However we were able to enjoy some nice views of Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and Asian Paradise Flycatcher. An Indian Stone-curlew was a nice find but it was not until we were heading towards dusk when we made a short diversion off the main track and were able to enjoy close views of 3 Lionesses with their 4 cubs. A memorable way to end our day in Gir.
4th: AM Gir. Then travel to CEDO (Nakhatrana).
The day began with a morning safari at Gir. No Lions this morning, but a few additions to the bird list included a Black-rumped Flameback and a smart male Ultramarine Flycatcher, the latter being a rare straggler to Gujurat. After the drive, we departed the hotel and began the long journey to Nakhatrana. Soon after departure Christine spotted a raptor that proved to be a Booted Eagle, with a Short-toed Eagle circling further away. The journey lasted around 10 hours, but further additions to the list included several Western Reef Herons and a shout from Marilyn revealed the presence of a flock of Demoiselle Cranes, the first of a good number of flocks totalling at least 250 birds that flew over the road while we waited for a traffic accident to be cleared. Our arrival at CEDO was a little after 1930hrs with all of us tired from the journey.
5th: AM Fulay, Banni Grassland. PM Thorn forest.
An excellent day began with tea and biscuits at 0615. We headed out in search of our first target, the Grey Hypocolius. On the way we had nice views of Indian Nightjar sat on the road and after meeting our local guide we were soon off across the fields in search of our quarry. It was not long before our guide pointed out a Hypocolius and we all secured views of this much desired species. Further exploration produced a second individual. Numbers were low so far this winter as mild weather conditions seemingly hadn't induced more birds to arrive for the winter. Next up was Red-tailed Wheatear, which was located near a rocky outcrop. Variable Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and large numbers of Common Cranes were in the same area, whilst Montagu's Harrier cruised over.
After a picnic breakfast we travelled a short distance to an area of Sueda near a large lake. Four Dalmatian Pelicans were seen flying over and Desert Wheatears were common. After a short search we located our next primary target, the Stoliczka's Buschat, a rare endemic restricted to NW India. This bird allowed amazingly close approach and gave prolonged superb views.
After lunch and some rest during the heat of the day we headed out to some thorny woodland where we quickly located Indian Bushlark, two Rufous-fronted Prinias, a group of Bimaculated Larks and a nice Grey-necked Bunting. Best of all though were some excellent views of three smart White-naped Tits, a rare and difficult to find Indian endemic that rounded off a wonderful day in fine style.
6th: AM Naliya Grassland. PM Mandvi.
A long but most enjoyable day began with a drive through the fog towards the Naliya Grasslands. Unfortunately much of these grasslands are being replaced by encroaching agriculture and as a result Great Indian Bustard is becoming much more difficult to find here. Our local guide suggested a success rate of one every ten visits now, whilst just a couple of years ago six in ten visits would have been successful. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, we failed to find this magnificent bird and sadly, I suspect that the species will not be in this area for too much longer. Nevertheless we were able to enjoy Black Francolin, large numbers of Bimaculated Larks, Long-legged Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, Zitting Cisticola and yet more memorable encounters with Pallid and Montagu's Harriers. A measure of just how serious the problem with vultures is in India can be judged by the fact that our first and only vultures in Gujarat involved just a single White-backed and two Indian Vultures. Not so long ago there would have been thousands in this area.
After a most enjoyable lunch in a most unprepossessing roadside restaurant we travelled to Mandvi, a coastal town known for its ship-building. The beaches in this area support significant numbers of shorebirds and we were able to enjoy some great views of commoner species such as Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, darting Terek Sandpipers and familiar species from home such as Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit. Of considerably more interest were the excellent views of Great Thicknee and the ever popular Crab Plover. Among the gulls were disappointing encounters with Pallas's (Great Black-headed) and Heuglin's Gulls, whilst terns included good numbers of Gull-billed and a few Little Terns. The lengthy drive back to CEDO began with an Indian Thicknee and we were a tired, but contented group when we arrived back.
7th: AM Banni Grassland. PM Pragat Pani.
A distinctly cooler night and no mist this morning. We set out for the Banni grassland again. Along the road we flushed an Indian Nightjar, and then a little further along a most obliging Sykes Nightjar afforded the most amazing extended close views at point blank range. A great way to begin the day. Next up was a repeat visit to the Red-tailed Wheatear site, where we enjoyed excellent views of this species and also, lingered longer on the Variable Wheatears, Long-billed Pipit and Blue Rock Thrush. Large numbers of Common Cranes were again present and we took a little time to enjoy these majestic birds. Passing a lake we paused for Great White Pelican and Caspian Tern and then over breakfast studied the Desert and Isabelline Wheatears that were present. A search for Desert Warbler was successful with two birds seen interacting with one another. Retracing our route we made a search for Sociable Lapwing, but failed with this globally threatened species and had to make do with more Common Cranes and Pale Sand Martins. Heading back to CEDO for lunch we encountered an obliging group of five Cream-coloured Coursers and further down the road ten Indian Coursers. A superb way to end an excellent morning.
In the afternoon we visited a small reedy fringed pool where we enjoyed views of Water Rail (rare in Gujarat), Streaked Weaver (perhaps the only known site for this species in Gujarat), good views of Paddyfield and Indian Reed Warblers, a large roost of Rosy Starlings and a Sparrowhawk.
8th: AM Sayadbar Rakhal. Afternoon flight to Mumbai.
The morning was spent in an area of thorn woodland not far from Bhuj, with our final target species being White-bellied Minivet. We enjoyed a leisurely walk in the morning sunshine, enjoying some better views of Sykes Warbler, encountering a typically skulking Sirkeer Malkoha, Marshall's Iora and raptors in the form of Oriental Honey-buzzard and Pallid Harrier. The minivets were proving elusive, but on the return walk I located one perched up beside the track and we were all able to enjoy some good views of this particularly smart minivet. Almost back at the bus a Wryneck was observed feeding on the ground, a species that was particularly welcomed by one member of the group.
Returning to Bhuj we checked out of the hotel, enjoyed an excellent Gujarati Thali and then headed for the airport in order to catch our flight to Mumbai, which arrived only a little behind schedule.
9th: Flight from Mumbai to Nagpur, then travel to Melghat.
With a few logistical issues, today ended up being largely a travel day, with our first attempt for Forest Owlet being late in the day and unsuccessful. The only new bird for the list was White-bellied Drongo.
December 10th: AM Melghat. Then travel to Nagpur.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
A very early start and a journey through the forest that produced three Grey Junglefowl and a Crested Serpent Eagle found us in the territory of a Forest Owlet not long after 7am. We soon located our quarry and were able to enjoy excellent views of this rare owl over an extended period. It had caught a female Jungle Bush Quail and we were able to watch it feeding. Delighted with this success we had breakfast in the field and then made a further stop that where we saw Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Jungle Owlet and Black-naped Monarch. Pleased with our morning we headed for Nagpur, pausing for lunch en-route, noting Short-toed Eagle and arriving at our hotel at a reasonable time for once!
December 11th: AM Travel to Kanha. PM Kanha.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
We left Nagpur at 0600hrs and arrived at our delightful hotel at Khana around 1300hrs. After a fine lunch we headed out into the park for our first safari. It proved to be fairly quiet but we did enjoy a Brown Fish-owl roosting in a tree, Alexandrine Parakeet, a couple of Crested Hawk-eagles, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon and an all too brief Red Junglefowl. Mammals included the ever impressive Gaur in addition to the commoner species.
December 12th: Kanha.
Weather: Chilly start then warm and sunny.
Out at dawn and into the park. Of course our focus was to find Tiger, but on this occasion we were unsuccessful. However there was plenty to keep us interested. Two Golden Jackals were near our hotel as we left in the dark, whilst the impressive Swamp Deer was seen nicely. New birds included Large Cuckooshrike, Indian Grey Hornbill, Alpine Swift and Indian Golden Oriole, a recent split from European Golden Oriole. We also had nice views of a smart male Red-breasted Flycatcher, Long-tailed Shrike and Asian Openbill. As we returned to our hotel a flock of hirundines included a few House Martins.
The afternoon session was quite birdy, with an obliging Sirkeer Malkoha, Brown Shrike, more Large Cuckooshrikes and Indian Golden Orioles, a flock of Tricoloured Munias, Lesser Whistling Ducks and three Common Hawk-cuckoos. Less co-operative were a fly-by Painted Francolin and a party of Red Spurfowl. Despite no encounters with stripy pussycats, we returned contented with the day.
December 13th: Kanha.
Weather: Chilly start then warm and sunny.
Another early start and off in to the park in search of Tigers. Once again we were to be frustrated although we had a number of seemingly close encounters with periods of alarm calls from Chital, Sambar and Hanuman Langurs all indicating the presence of Tiger. However the individual tigers concerned chose not to put in an appearance for the waiting tourists! Nevertheless we had a productive morning with some nice views of Brown-headed Barbet, Black-hooded Oriole, Indian Scops Owl, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon and, somewhat briefly, Long-tailed Minivet. A female Grey Bushchat was noted and after breakfast parties of Jungle Prinia, Grey-breasted Prinia and Tawny-bellied Babbler were seen. Of the mammals we had nice encounters with Chital, Sambar and Wild Boar.
After lunch we again heard evidence of the presence of Tiger close to us, but no sightings were forthcoming, and once again a large number of frustrated would be Tiger watchers were left waiting. Clearly the king of the jungle was playing very hard to get for almost everyone! However we were treated to a great performance by a group of the impressive Gaur, with large males, females and calves of just under and just over a month old. With our last day tomorrow, one can only hope that our luck with the cats changes...
December 14th: AM Kanha. PM Travel to Nagpur
Weather: Chilly start then warm and sunny.
Our final morning in Kanha began in a positive manner with an excellent close encounter with a splendid Golden Jackal. Further along we heard some alarm calls and also a roaring Tiger. So we were getting ever closer, but we were seemingly destined for the disappointment of a no show. We paused for an early breakfast and at last our luck changed as we got word that a male Tiger had settled down not too far away. Delighted with this news we quickly finished breakfast and travelled to the spot and took our turn in the queue. After a short wait and a short elephant ride off the track into the forest we were soon face to face with this most magnificent of animals and able to enjoy remarkably close views as it lay in the undergrowth. A truly wonderful encounter and a relief all round!
Delighted with our success at last we were able to concentrate a little more on the birds and it was not long before we encountered a small feeding party with Green Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Indian Pygmy Woodpecker all showing nicely. Further on we saw Indian Stone-curlew, an all too brief Thick-billed Flowerpecker and had a memorable and prolonged encounter with the uncommon, often tricky to find White-naped Flameback. Before too much longer it was time to head back for lunch and then begin the long and tiring journey back to Nagpur, where we arrived around 2030hrs.
December 15th/16th: Travel to Delhi via Mumbai.
The final day was a travel day as we caught a morning flight to Mumbai with an onward connection to Delhi. An enjoyable meal was taken in the home of our excellent ground agent providing a slightly different perspective on Indian life, before heading for the airport and our flight back to the UK.
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