Monday, 9 March 2009

Northern India and the Himalayan Foothills Day Four

Monday 19th January 2009

Day four was Bharatpur day, or to be precise Keoladeo-Ghana National Park, formerly the Bharatpur Bird Reserve and before that, a hunting ground for the maharajahs. 380 species of bird have been recorded here so it was going to be on helluva day.

The day started over the road from the park entrance at first light, checking out a brown hawk owl the guide had staked-out. It was bit lighter when we ventured into the sandy fields behind the hotel, dodging human-eggs on our quest for indian courser and it wasn't long before we saw our first one through the gloom, we counted eight in all before leaving the fields to the 'white-rumped sharma's ' to continue laying their eggs in peace.

One more site to visit before entering the National Park, a stream (or large open sewer) in the market area of Bharatpur. 'Where there is shit there is birds' - this place stunk! but it was home to three painted snipe, our target bird here, as well as 8 ruff, 15 wood sands, 10 green sands, temmincks stint, bluethroat, white-breasted waterhens and a citrine wag.

By 0825, our noses recovered, we were in 'Bharatpur'. The plan being to explore the park on foot and rickshaw for the rest of the day.
The enormity of the wetlands soon struck us and unlike reserves in the UK, there were no bunded paths and pokey hides, you were close to the birds and they didn't fly off - something for RSPB to learn. There were plenty of bushes and trees too so jungle babbler, red-vented bulbul, parakeets, jungle crows and black drongos were numerous. We also came across this huge monitor lizard.
We soon added indian grey hornbill, brown-headed and coppersmith barbet and long-tailed minivet to our lists. Next on the list was grey nightjar, perched up in a tree then a dusky eagle owl - all we could see of this brute was the top of it's head poking out of the huge nest.

Common waterbirds here include black-headed ibis, indian pond heron, little and great cormorant, egrets, purple and grey herons, moorhen and oriental darter and painted stork
Common ducks included shoveler, teal, gadwall, red-crested pochard, lesser-whistling duck, spot-billed and comb duck .
Also added to the list were black bittern, brown crake and orphean warbler.

A picnic lunch stop was nice opportunity to photograph some of the over-looked, but nonetheless stunning birds and mammals including this fantastic brahminy starling, hoopoe and three-striped squirrel.

After lunch it was time to head off around the park in search of one of our main target birds of the trip - sarus crane! A good scan from a high observation didn't produce results but a smoky warbler flicking through the bushes at its base was a bonus.

A ride along another track brought us asian openbill, collared scops owls, wire-tailed swallows, bronzed-winged jacanas and two pied kingfishers.

Then we came across our target species - sarus crane...and it didn't disappoint, the birds were a little way off but as they are so huge it didn't matter they were still a stunning site.

In the same area was out only white-tailed lapwing and black-tailed godwit of the day and raptors overhead included numerous marsh harriers, a few steppe eagles and spotted eagles.

Further along the track our guide disappeared in to the bushes and soon summoned us, he had found this amazing large-tailed nightjar perfectly camouflaged among the undergrowth
I hope that I have captured the magic of this fantastic place, there are of course, too many amazing birds to list here. It will certainly be a place all of us on the trip will remember for the rest of our lives - one of the world's true birding Mecca's!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Northern India and the Himalayan Foothills Day Three

Sunday 18th January 2009

Back to Ranthambhore this morning, this time to zone 2 and our first birds were oriental honey buzzard, two collared scops owls and this stunning black-shouldered kite.

Further along our drive we had more raptors including shikra, common kestrel and two crested-serpent eagles which are always photogenic!

A fantastic spectacle was coming across a group of long-billed vultures at a sambar deer carcass - a tiger kill? A gruesome but interesting sight.....and smell!
We stopped at drinking hole where we were allowed to get off the vehicle, the water had attracted a number of species including the plum-headed parakeets, ring-necked parakeets and red-vented bulbuls.

While we watched the watering hole, a gang of jungle babblers took the opportunity to clean our vehicle of biscuit crumbs.
Other interesting species in the park included two wooly-necked storks, a long-legged buzzard, yellow-footed green pigeons and two purple sunbirds.

At 10am, we left the park (it already felt like lunchtime), to explore the desert area around the hotel, looking for Indian courser amongst others. There were greater short-toed larks, tawny pipits and ashy-crowned sparrow larks along the track, with siberian stonechats, indian rollers, bay-backed, southern grey and long-tailed shrikes perched up. We didn't see Indian courser but a sirkeer malkoha was an unexpected bonus as it flew off the track.

We left the hotel at 1130 for the 7 hour drive to Bharatpur. We stopped to bird occasionally along the way but there were no surprises. Like in Africa, no matter were you stop in rural India, no matter how isolated and deserted it looks, kids appear from nowhere to investigate the contents of the 'tourist bus' looking to get sweets, pens or cash, they're not pushy though and were rewarded as Tony Stewart had come prepared with a big bag of bullets.

market photo and jungle babbler photo: Tony Crilley

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Northern India and the Himalayan Foothills Day Two

Saturday 17th January 2009

Day two was Ranthambhore day, Ranthambhore National Park is perhaps the easiest place in India to see tigers, our key target for the day.

Our first visit to the park was from dawn until 11am when we visited 'zone 3'. One of the first birds we saw crested-serpent eagle, one of the most frequently seen raptors of the trip.

Driving further into the park in our open-canter, we cam across a twitch - a few jeeps had parked up and were watching something - it was a tiger twitch! We drove up to see a huge male tiger only 25-30m from the vehicle, he was very interested in something in a tree.

We watched him for the next 45 mins or so, he wasn't too worried about us as he wandered over the track and returning back to his tree. A truly remarkable experience, the chance to see such a magnificent creature at such close proximity.

We left him in peace to go on to explore this zone further. Around the lake was some wildfowl and cormorants, river terns, 8 painted stork and a few of the commoner waders. Nearby we came across two barred-buttonquail in the sand and some grey francolins.
barred buttonquail (top)
grey francolin
Other birds seen nearby included a 'taiga' flycatcher, numerous black-rumped flamebacks, , common iora, several white-capped buntings, 3 yellow-footed green pigeons, rufous-tailed larks, purple sunbirds and 4 white bellied drongos.

On the next bit of wetland we added black-headed ibis, striated heron, greater thicknee and indian pond heron to the day's list. At both of the wetlands large number sof spotted deer were drinking alongside sambar deer. Our journey back to the park gates produced grey-headed canary flycatcher, tickell's blue flycatcher, painted spurfowl, yellow-crowned woodpecker and just outside the park over a wall we spotted a chinkara or Indian gazelle.
Ranthambhore Safari Lodge
Between 1150 and 1330 we further explored the desert area around the hotel. Notable birds included brown-capped pygmy woodpecker in the hotel grounds, southern coucal, ashy and plain prinia's, bay-backed shrike and asian koel. Red-wattled lapwing and red-vented bulbuls were numerous.

red-vented bulbul

red-wattled lapwing

In the afternoon, we returned to the park, this time exploring zone 4. First birds seen were long-billed vulture and 3 white-bellied drongos.

white-bellied drongo
A keelback snake was by a weir and red-headed vulture flew overhead.
red-headed vulture

Bird highlights of the afternoon included white-naped woodpecker, small minivets, at least 18 citrine wagtails, pheasant-tailed jacana's, besra and olive-backed pipit. On the drive out the guide spotted these two collared scops owls in a tree.
collared scops owls
Today was my 29th (ahemm) birthday - what a way to celebrate it! Fantastic views of tigers alongside some superb birding with a good bunch of mates - they even made me a cake!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Northern India and the Himalayan foothills Day One

Day One Friday 16th January 2009

After arriving late on Thursday evening after a 8 hour flight from Amsterdam with KLM, we spent the night at a transfer hotel in Delhi. On friday morning we caught 0745 'Golden Temple Train' which runs from Amritsar to Mumbai, from H Nizamuddin station in Delhi, arriving in Sawai Madhopur at 1310. Sawai Madhopur is a town on the edge of the famlous Ranthambhore National Park.

Sawai Madhopur Station
A number of birds were seen from the train between sleeps, including bank mynas at every station, numerous long-tailed shrikes, pied starlings, indian rollers and common babblers.
Bank Myna

After checking into the Ranthambhore Safari Lodge we birded around the outskirts of the town in a semi-desert habitat. This was a good introduction to many of the species that would be common over the next 15 days such as white-browed fantails, large grey babblers, long-billed indian vulture, plum headed parakeet, common tailorbird etc.

Plum-headed parakeet

Indian Robin
Out in the desert area we caught up with some target species too, including at least 12 painted sandgrouse, ashy-crowned sparrow lark, bay-backed shrike, grey francolin, jungle bush quail and brown rock chat. Other interesting birds included desert wheatears, isabelline wheatear, plain and ashy prinias and tawny pipit.

Painted Sandgrouse

Mammals seen included hanuman langur monkeys, nilgai and grey mongoose.

Hanuman Langurs

Northern India and the Himalayan foothills


Two years ago a group of Geordie birders went to Goa in India, as part of the trip we visited the Backwoods Camp for a couple of days and were all very impressed by the place and the guides. We browsed the literature and discovered that the Backwoods team did tours elsewhere in India.

We all fancied the idea of the two-week trip to northern India and the Himalayan Foothills - a plan was hatched!

Two years later 11 of us set off for a fantastic trip. The trip was organised by Tony Stewart and we used Backwoods or Indian Nature as they are now called to act as ground agents and guides.

I will post some photo's and details of our trip here over the next few weeks.