Northern India 2014

...with Chris Bradshaw

January 11th - 24th

After an absence from our schedule of several years this was a return to one of our favourite tours, following a long established classic itinerary covering Corbett, Nainital and Bharatpur plus Chambal and of course the Taj Mahal. The highlights were flowing from day one with Ibisbill seen on our very first evening and three (!) Tigers on our first day in Corbett. Other quality species seen in the Kumaria and Corbett area included Crested Kingfisher, Chestnut-headed Tesia, White-tailed Rubythroat, Spotted Forktail, Wallcreeper, Green Magpie, Kalij Pheasant, Pallas's and Lesser Fishing-eagles. In the Nainital area we were delighted to enjoy extended views of eight Cheer Pheasants plus other quality species that included Long-billed, Plain-backed, Chestnut and Black-throated Thrushes, Golden Bush Robin, Altai Accentors, Rufous-chinned, Striated and White-crested Laughingthrushes, Speckled Piculet, Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler and Slaty-backed Forktail. Our visit to the delightful Chambal Safari Lodge produced such delights as Brown Boobook, Black-bellied Tern, Pallas’s Gull, Brown Crake and Yellow-wattled Lapwing, although the hoped for Indian Skimmers failed to show up. Most unusual wet and gloomy weather blighted our visit to the Taj Mahal and also caused problems at Bharatpur, but nevertheless highlights included Orange-headed and Tickell’s Thrushes, two stunning male Siberian Rubythroats, Brook’s Leaf-warbler, Moustached Warbler, White-tailed Lapwing, several Black Bitterns and raptors including Greater Spotted, Booted and Bonelli’s Eagles. With some great local guides, the usual near faultless logistics and generally excellent food this tour was once again a great success and as usual leaves this leader keen to return.

A gallery of images from this tour can be found on our Facebook page.

11th/12th January: London Heathrow - Delhi and journey to Kumaria with stops at the Ganges and Kosi River near Ramnagar

Weather: A little misty in Delhi but a largely sunny and pleasantly warm day

The group met at Heathrow's terminal 5 for our flight with British Airways to Delhi. Although a little late departing London we soon made up the time and arrived in Delhi ahead of schedule. These gains quickly evaporated however, as it took a fair while for all the luggage to appear, but before too long we were on our way to our hotel near the airport. After a few hours rest we breakfasted and headed off towards the Himalayan foothills with our destination of Kumaria situated on the edge of Corbett National Park. For much of the journey we passed through a flat and largely agricultural landscape with sugar cane and mustard among the predominant crops. Our first birds were predictable with the impossible-to-miss Black Kite and House Crow numerous. Other soon to be familiar species included Common and Bank Mynas, Rose-ringed Parakeets, White-throated Kingfisher and Eastern Cattle Egrets. A stop near the Ganges proved to be surprisingly productive with two stately-looking Sarus Cranes affording nice views (and two more nearby) plus an initially confusing Bonelli's Eagle and a somewhat unexpected Lagger Falcon perched on pylons. Other birds included Red Avadavat, Ashy and Plain Prinias and the first Red-vented Bulbuls of the tour. Further along the road we paused by a river where Black-winged Stilts, Redshank, Greenshank, Temminck's Stint and Marsh Sandpiper were present, whilst a smart Bronze-winged Jacana enlivened a rather grotty roadside pool.

As we arrived in Ramnagar we headed for the Kosi River where a flurry of excellent birds betrayed our Himalayan foothills location. They included Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstarts, Crested Kingfisher, River Lapwing, Grey-throated (Plain) Sand Martin and Himalayan Swiftlet and it was not too long before the careful scanning of a faster flowing section of river produced one of the most desired species of this particular itinerary when an Ibisbill was located. Although the dusk was beginning to gather we were able to enjoy some nice views through the telescope and really it was difficult to believe that we had secured this often difficult to locate species so early in the trip. Delighted with such an early success we continued on to The Den at Kumaria adding Chital and Sambar Deer to the mammal list and the first of many memorable meals was enjoyed before we retired for the evening, a tired but contented group.

13th January: Kumaria, Mohaan

Weather: A little chilly early morning, then pleasantly mild but with increasing cloud later and a few spots of rain late afternoon.

Our first proper day of birding began with a pre-breakfast stroll along the track from our hotel down to the Kosi River. The forest was initially a little quiet but early sightings included Red Junglefowl, Goosander and an adult and juvenile Mountain Hawk-eagle. On the river we saw Brown Dipper, White-browed Wagtail, Blue Whistling Thrush and plenty more Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstarts. A Spotted Forktail was briefly seen but didn't really give itself up. After an excellent breakfast we headed out up the road and made a number of stops. As the day warmed up, feeding flocks began to get active and we enjoyed excellent views of Grey-hooded and Lemon-rumped Warblers, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Lesser Yellownape, Grey-capped and Fulvous-breasted Woodpeckers and some White-crested Laughingthrushes. A bit further up the road a flurry of vultures involved a single Cinereous and several Himalayan Griffons. An Orange-bellied Leafbird was seen nicely, whilst a Grey Treepie was less cooperative. A stop at some chai stalls near a stream was nicely productive with a Chestnut-headed Tesia teasing us from the undergrowth before showing reasonably, whilst a flurry of bulbuls involved Himalayan Black, Red-whiskered, Himalayan and Red-vented. A bit further along and another stream continued the flow of superb birds with a male White-tailed Rubythroat tempted to come out of the undergrowth and a couple of Spotted Forktails putting on a wonderful show. With lunchtime almost upon us we headed back to the hotel for a short break. By the restaurant we enjoyed nice views of Greenish Warbler, Bronzed Drongo and Long-tailed Minivet.

We then spent the afternoon near Mohaan. With increasing cloud and rather dull conditions bird activity was predictably subdued, but we continued to locate some cracking birds with excellent views of both Rufous-bellied and Small Niltavas, Puff-throated Babbler, Grey Bushchat, Black-hooded Oriole and Hair-crested Drongo. Other additions to our rapidly expanding list included Blue-throated Barbet, Slaty-blue Flycatcher and Black-chinned Yuhinas

14th January: Corbett

Weather: Sunny with clear skies but generally rather chilly except when in more open areas

An early start and pre-dawn departure found us on the Kosi River trying to secure more views of Ibisbills. Unfortunately our target eluded us, but there was some excellent compensation in the form of some nice scope views of a Wallcreeper. Lesser Fish Eagle and Blue Rock Thrush. Heading for Corbett, we completed the formalities at the gate and enjoyed a leisurely drive towards Dhikala birding as we went. Feeding flocks were regularly encountered with new birds arriving in the form of White-throated Laughingthrush, Green Magpie, White-tailed Nuthatch, Small Minivet, Himalayan Red-flanked Bush-robin, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike and a trio of woodpeckers; Rufous, Greater Yellownape and Black-rumped Flameback. Along the river we had wonderful close views of a Crested Serpent Eagle whilst crocodiles came in the forms of Marsh Mugger and Gharial. As we neared Dhikala a flurry of raptors comprised Cinereous and Red-headed Vultures and a Pallas's Fish Eagle.

After checking in at Dhikala (a typically painfully slow business for some rather less than adequate rooms) we headed out for an afternoon on the edge of the grassland. Our principle target was to try and see a Tiger, but we were initially diverted by our first Long-tailed Shrike and Black-shouldered Kite. Distant alarm calls of Spotted Deer betrayed the presence of our target, but initially little seemed to happen and it was not too long before things went quiet. A wait with a number of other expectant would-be Tiger seekers was fairly unexciting and concentration levels dipped. However, almost from out of nowhere a Tiger bounded across the track in front of us. Great! But unfortunately it was so quick that most of the group missed it and those that did connect were less than satisfied. Oh dear... After some more alarm calls (this time including Red Junglefowl) as the 10 month old male Tiger cub moved unseen through the forest there was another lull. A change of position yielded a superb Collared Falconet plus Osprey and a female Slaty-blue Flycatcher, but expectation levels were beginning to drop. As time was beginning to run out we noticed a movement among the other vehicles and so set off to investigate. Soon Spotted Deer and Langur alarm calls were again ringing out, so a Tiger was clearly on the move again. Our local guide suggested another change of location and here with just a couple of other vehicles for company we were treated to views of not one but three Tigers moving through the forest before we saw two of them stroll across the track. What a result! And happy faces all round; a very lucky group! With dusk now falling and time to get back to the compound we had a swift and bumpy ride back to base, which now didn't seem quite such a bad place to be for the night.

15th January: Corbett

Weather: Overcast and chilly in the morning with cloud breaking later, with sunny conditions and some warmth in open areas.

We began the day with an early morning drive in search of Tiger, it was much quieter than the previous evening and no Tigers were on offer. Birds were slow to get going although Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Crested Goshawk, Yellow-eyed Babbler and Jungle Owlet were among the pre-breakfast highlights. The post breakfast drive was enlivened by goodies such as Kalij Pheasant, Little Pied Flycatcher, Ashy Bulbul, Long-tailed Minivet, a distant Black-necked Stork and Woolly-necked Stork. Arriving back at the compound we saw a Cobra coiled up near the gate and a pleasant pre-lunch amble added Lineated Barbet, White-bellied Drongo and Taiga Flycatcher. In the afternoon we visited similar areas and enjoyed some nice encounters with Pallas's Fish Eagle, Black Stork, Lesser Yellownape, Grey Bushchat, Siberian Stonechat, male Hen Harrier and Lesser Coucal. Towards the end of the afternoon a Hog Deer was added to the mammal list.

16th January: Corbett (Dhikala area then out to Dhangari Gate). Travel to Nainital

Weather: Early fog clearing to become a sunny day with few clouds. Chilly early AM and PM, but pleasantly warm in sun during middle of the day

Once again we began the day with a pre-breakfast safari. With foggy conditions things were again slow to get going and we saw little during the first hour or so. However, things slowly got going and we encountered new birds in the form of Aberrant and Grey-sided Bush-warblers and Alexandrine Parakeet. A Streak-throated Woodpecker performed nicely at close range and a male White-tailed Rubythroat was seen bathing. A Brown Fish-owl was a magnificent sight as it dozed on a large branch in the morning sunshine, whilst near the compound we chalked up our only Bright-capped Cisticola of the trip and then headed for breakfast. After checking out, a final circuit of the grassland yielded Jungle Owlet, Hoopoe, the hoped for smart Black Francolins and a stunning male Hen Harrier. Our journey out of the park was a leisurely affair and we added Peregrine and White-rumped Needletail to the list, with some Wild Boar and a Golden Jackal showing particularly well.

Lunch was taken in Ramnagar and we then headed up into the hills towards Nainital. A stop near Mongoli was initially quiet, but as we took chai we saw a cracking Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch and White-tailed Nuthatch. A feeding party then arrived with Oriental White-eyes, Lemon-rumped and Buff-barred Warblers, Black-throated (Red-headed), Green-backed and Black-lored Tits, Black-chinned Babblers and Streaked Laughingthrushes all seen nicely. A Rufous-breasted Accentor did not linger and eluded most and a Red-billed Leiothrix did likewise. More co-operative was a Brown-fronted Woodpecker, a Great Barbet and a cracking male Russet Sparrow and we continued up to Nainital and arrived at the comfort of our hotel in town, a very marked contrast to that we had, erm enjoyed (!) in Dhikala!

17th January: Binayak, Pangot, Bagarh

Weather: Cold and rather breezy, with variable amounts of sunshine and increasing cloud.

A superb day began with an early departure along the Kilbury road and beyond Pangot to Binayak. Here our principle target was to try and locate Cheer Pheasant. An excellent stroke of luck came in the form of another group of birders who had just located one on a distant slope and we were able to get on to the bird very quickly. Over the next couple of hours we were able to enjoy excellent views of up to eight individuals at fairly close range and really soak up these remarkable birds. Altai Accentors teased in the area but there was little else just here. So, once we had enjoyed these wonderful birds we moved on.

The forests were fairly hard work in the chilly and sometimes windy conditions. However new birds came in the form of Himalayan Woodpecker, Rufous Sibia, Blue-fronted Redstart and Spot-winged Tit. Beginning to retrace our steps towards Pangot we paused for a photographic stop of the distant high Himalaya and encountered two highly obliging Altai Accentors. Further forays along the road yielded Ashy-throated Warbler, Eurasian Jay, Maroon Oriole, Plain-backed Thrush and some stunning male Himalayan Red-flanked Bush-robins. After lunch at Pangot we headed to a slightly lower elevation where we located Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, a female Pink-browed Rosefinch, Slaty-headed Parakeets, Oriental Turtle Dove, Blue-throated Barbets, showy Long-tailed Minivets and a pair of Grey-winged Blackbirds.

Our return journey to Nainital was fairly quiet but was notable for a Hill Partridge sat in full view at the roadside and a Yellow-throated Marten. A wonderful way in which to end a superb day.

18th January: Chapi, Sat Tal.

Weather: Overcast and cold with steady rain for most of the day and turning to snow in the afternoon.

The day dawned grey and wet and overnight rain was still falling and on the higher peaks around Nainital a fresh dusting of snow was evident. Undeterred we headed off towards Sat Tal, but began the day in an area new to me on the recommendation of our local guide. A walk down through a wooded valley with a rocky stream and some open areas with fields and scrub proved to be excellent despite the weather. As we got out of the vehicle Great Barbet, Buff-barred Warbler, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch and Russet Sparrow were all noted along with a Common Rosefinch. Our driver Anoop pointed out a small bird to me feeding lose to where he had parked the vehicle. This proved to be a wonderfully obliging Speckled Piculet - a very nice find. We then headed further down the road and found a group of three gorgeously marked Rufous-chinned Laughingthrushes which showed very nicely as they fed in the stream bed and adjacent lantana. We then drove a bit further down the road to a point where the valley opened out and some fields were attracting plenty of interesting birds. The stream side scrub hosted an obliging Long-billed Thrush, whilst the fields themselves attracted 11 Common Rosefinches, several Black-throated Thrushes, two Chestnut Thrushes and at least three Grey-winged Blackbirds. However the rain got especially heavy and we were forced to relocate to a chai shop. Once the rain has eased we recommended our birding. Two Striated Laughingthrushes performed nicely. On the stream we located Spotted and Slaty-backed Forktails and we saw Rufous-bellied and Small Niltavas and a brief Chestnut-headed Tesia. Further down the valley the stream opened up, but we added little new in the increasingly inclement conditions. Moving on to Sat Tal we had lunch and more Chai as the rain fell.

A brief drier spell produced a Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Asian Barred Owlet and a female Blue-fronted Redstart. An exploration of a stream yielded Olive-backed Pipit, Himalayan Orange-flanked Bush-robin, a mixed flock of warblers but with increasingly unpleasant and cold conditions we opted to call it a day and head back to base. As we reached Bhowali the rain began to turn to snow and by the time we reached Nainital the snow was causing the usual mayhem, but it was not too long before we were safely back in our hotel and beginning the toast ourselves on the heaters in our rooms.

19th January: Kachi Dham. Sat Tal. Travel to Kathgodam. Train to Agra

Weather: Sunny with clear skies. Snow on ground. Cold start, though pleasantly mild in sunshine.

The day dawned bright and sunny with clear skies, but the previous day’s snowfall was causing some problems so our departure was a little delayed. We headed down to the Kachi Dham temple where we didn't see a great deal but nevertheless added Green-tailed Sunbird and Steppe Eagle to the list. Heading back up towards Bhowali and then back down to Sat Tal we spent an enjoyable few hours birding in this most attractive area of wooded hills and lakes. New birds came in the form of Red-billed Leiothrix, Blue-winged Minla, Mountain Bulbul, Himalayan Buzzard, Greater Flameback and Black Eagle. The supporting cast included Black-throated Tit, Olive-backed Pipit and some smart Yellow-breasted Greenfinches. Heading down to a stream running through the forest we enjoyed some nice encounters with Whistler's Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, White-throated Laughingthrushes, Whiskered Yuhinas and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. A calling Golden Bush Robin was a nice surprise and we all secured some nice views as it skulked in the undergrowth. Black-headed Jays and a Grey-sided Bush-warbler were rather less accommodating though. With time running out we headed back up to Nainital, had some lunch and then left of Kathgodam. Here we paused for a light dinner before catching an overnight train.

20th January: Agra to Jarar. Chambal River trip.

Weather: Foggy and cool. Clearing to become pleasantly warm with some sunshine. Then chilly later.

We began the day on the train from Delhi to Agra. Foggy conditions meant we were a little delayed, but we were in Agra soon after 9am and soon on our way to Chambal Safari Lodge. It was rather foggy so we saw few birds en-route. However on arrival at the lodge birds were immediately evident with Painted Stork near the entrance. Brown Boobook was casually (!!) pointed out as we checked into our rooms and then a short wander around the grounds and adjacent areas added Common Hawk-cuckoo, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Red Turtle Dove, Brahminy Starling, Intermediate Egret, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Comb Duck and Wood Sandpiper to our now quickly growing list. After a rather too delicious lunch we headed out to the Chambal Sanctuary. A short walk was busy with new birds - Indian Robin, Common Babbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Rufous-fronted Prinia, White-capped Bunting and Egyptian Vulture.

Our cruise along the river was a wonderfully peaceful affair and a great contrast from the noise and bustle of the towns we had passed through to reach Chambal. A steady flow of enjoyable birds included gems such as River and Black-bellied Terns, a Pallas's (Great Black-headed) Gull, Dusky Eagle Owl, Short-toed Eagle, Bar-headed Geese, Ruddy Shelduck, Red Crested Pochard, Kentish Plover, Temminck's and Little Stints and Red-naped Ibis. Indian Skimmer had been unpredictable in recent weeks and we failed to find this sought after species. However further goodies included Great Thicknee and Brown Crake both of which showed very nicely and a Great Crested Grebe rounded things off as the river trip ended. Another excellent dinner finished the day (this place is worth visiting for the food alone!!!) and we headed to bed a very tired but contented group.

21st January: Chambal. Agra (Taj Mahal, Agra Fort). Travel to Bharatpur.

Weather: Overcast and cool. Rain from late morning onwards.

After a slightly later breakfast we undertook a further birding session at Chambal. Although initially a little slow things soon picked up and we located Indian Grey Hornbill, Verditer Flycatcher, Hume's and Greenish Warblers. An Indian Scops Owl was sat in the entrance to its hole. Groups of Large Grey Babblers forged for food. A Coppersmith's Barbet and some Yellow-footed Green Pigeons were in trees near the entrance to the lodge. Exploring open fields, scattered trees and bushes we found Bay-backed and Southern Grey Shrikes, Plum-headed Parakeets, Indian Roller, a calling Blyth's Pipit, Asian Koel and some attractive Brahminy Starlings. By late morning it was time to move in and so we headed for Agra and our afternoon of more mainstream tourist activities. Unfortunately the weather was deteriorating and we had to endure heavy rain whilst visiting both the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. Finally in the late afternoon we headed for Bharatpur where we reached our accommodation around 6pm.

22nd January: Bharatpur (Keoladeo National Park).

Weather: Overcast with rain.

Although the rain had stopped during the night, by breakfast time it was again falling. So, we had a delayed start and entered the park soon after 8.30am in overcast but initially dry conditions. We initially tried to locate a Siberian Rubythroat by the barrier, but it wasn't inclined to show itself. We headed for the Nursery enjoying some good views of an Olive-backed Pipit and a rather bedraggled looking Spotted Owlet along the way. In the Nursery we found a smart Orange-headed Ground Thrush and a male Tickell's Thrush plus Purple Sunbird and an Indian Grey Hornbill which again didn't look too impressed with the weather. Mind you, we weren't exactly overjoyed with it ourselves. By the temple we tried for another Siberian Rubythroat and this one was rather more cooperative, being coaxed into view albeit in rather gloomy conditions. Retracing our steps we returned to the barrier (adding Chestnut-shouldered Petronia along the way) and then took a short boat ride. This was nicely productive with new birds including Grey Francolin, Bluethroat, Purple Heron, Pintail, Shoveler, Ferruginous Duck, Gadwall, Spotbill Duck, Glossy Ibis and a Paddyfield Warbler. The supporting cast included numerous Siberian Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats, Great White Pelican and Bronze-winged Jacana. As we returned to the barrier the rain increased in intensity and really conditions were particularly unpleasant. It's worth noting that in five previous January visits to Bharatpur I have never experienced any rain at all, so this really was quite unusual. A stop for some chai in the home of our guide enabled us to dry out a little and reassess the situation, but eventually it was clear that the rain had set in and was highly unlikely to let up, so it was back to the hotel with an early finish and hoping for better things the next day.

January 23rd: Bharatpur (Keoladeo NP).

Weather: Overcast, mild and dry.

We spent a highly enjoyable day exploring the wonderful Keoladeo National Park in fairly dull but dry conditions; a marked improvement on the previous day, if not quite ideal. This area is remarkable for the number of species you can locate without really extending a great deal of effort and some gentle strolling around a relatively small proportion of the park yielded in excess of 110 species.

We began the day with nice views of a male Siberian Rubythroat, a cracking way in which to start. Heading down the main road through the park there were numerous water birds with Lesser Whistling Duck the commonest of the ducks with the familiar dabblers all in decent numbers plus a few Ferruginous Ducks, and a few Garganey and Cotton Teal (Quacky Duck!). The breeding colonies were thronged with juvenile Painted Storks with a few adults also present, plus Grey Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons and good numbers of Great Cormorants. Purple Swamphens were particularly obvious along with Great White Pelicans and small numbers of Glossy Ibis. Amongst the waterside vegetation we found a number of Black Bitterns including one that performed particularly nicely plus a Moustached Warbler, White-breasted Waterhens and a good number of Bluethroats. Trees and larger bushes were alive with warblers and we were soon locating Blyth's Reed and Indian Reed Warblers, Siberian Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Hume's, Greenish and the hoped for Brook's Leaf Warbler. A walk out to some shallower areas of water enabled us to add some shorebirds in the form of White-tailed Lapwing, Spotted Redshank, Little Ringed Plover and Temminck's Stint among others.

Raptors are a feature of Bharatpur, and although the weather conditions were not ideal we still saw several Greater Spotted, juvenile Bonelli's, at least three Booted and a Crested Serpent Eagle. A distant Peregrine, Black-shouldered Kite and at least three Shikras added further variety. Birds of prey were also represented by owls with Spotted Owlet, Indian Scops and Dusky Eagle Owl all enjoyed. We had a short lunch/tea break in the early afternoon with Hoopoe performing nicely and then resumed to add further interesting species in the form of Black-necked Stork, Spoonbill, Black Redstart, more Bluethroats and Yellow-eyed Babbler. With time passing quickly, it was all too soon to head out of the park. The rickshaw ride back to the hotel added Indian Grey Mongoose and Indian Hare to the day list with the final bird of note being an Isabelline Shrike not far from the main gate. A great way in which to end a superb day in this magnificent area.

January 24th: Bharatpur (Keoladeo NP). Train to Delhi and transfer to airport.

Weather: Fog, slowly lifting to low cloud. A little sunshine in early afternoon. A little cool

Final species total: 327 (plus three heard only and one leader only sighting)

Our final day of the tour dawned disappointingly grey and foggy. After breakfast we spent our last morning in the park. The birding was slow but we enjoyed our first views of male Red-breasted Flycatcher and spent time with some Bluethroats. Pochard was new to the bird list and there were larger flocks of Ferruginous Ducks than we had previously seen. Common Woodshrikes were heard but remained unseen in the murky conditions. After a stop for lunch we headed for the main Canal in the town where we enjoyed some excellent views of a male and female Painted Snipe. Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-winged Stilt and Green and Wood Sandpipers were also present in this less than attractive location. A party of Indian Silverbills were a long overdue and final addition to the list and then it was time to head for the station. Here we caught the train to Delhi where we transferred to a hotel to wash, change and have a final meal before heading to the airport to catch our flight.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip.Contact us at

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