Friday, 27 March 2015

Classic Himalayas Tour - Off to Corbett...

We left early doors for the 7 hour drive to Tiger Camp, close to Corbett National Park at the base of the Himalayas, where we were due to have lunch. The drive was enlivened by lots of new birds for the group such as a pair of Sarus Cranes, Indian Black Ibis, River Lapwing, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Egyptian Vulture, Bank Myna, Masked Wagtail and Brown Rock-Chat.

These Sarus Cranes were a bonus sighting on the long drive to Corbett.

Upon arrival at our lunch stop, which actually turned out to be a new hotel next door to Tiger Camp, we walked down to the river and had a quick look and picked up White-browed Wagtail and Cinereous Tit. After a great lunch we noticed some movement in the flowering trees at the edge of the garden and saw Lineated Barbet, Himalayan Black Bulbul, Himalayan Bulbul, and a fine looking Alexandrine Parakeet coming to a flowering tree.

Then we set off in our jeeps to the Dhanghari Gate of Corbett NP, making a quick stop along the river where Crested Kingfisher, White-capped Water Redstart, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Verditer Flycatcher, Brahminy Starling and Grey-breasted Prinia were seen. 

Crested Kingfisher

The drive to the gate was also memorable for a Spot-winged Starling feeding in a Bombax tree in company with lots of Chestnut-tailed Starlings, and also in the same few trees were both Plum-headed and Red-breasted Parakeets, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch and a few Spangled Drongos. There was also a pair of Indian Grey Hornbills nearby, and a cracking Maroon Oriole was also seen beside the road.

Corbett has a some of the best forests of anywhere i've been in India.

After the paperwork and formalities at the entrance gate we were off into the park and I think everyone was excited to finally be here. The habitat of dense forest, fast-flowing rivers and dry riverbeds is home to an amazing variety of birds and other wildlife including Tiger. Well, we did see pug marks and scats of this most wanted of beasts, but other animals seen included Spotted Deer, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, and Tarai Grey Langur. Birds were well represented and I think the majestic Pallas’s Fish-Eagle perched on a boulder beside a fast-flowing river was stunning. A few people managed to get on a Long-billed Thrush as it paused motionless on  close fallen tree, but it quickly dropped out of sight and was replaced by a Grey-bellied Tesia! Other goodies seen included Black Stork, Crested Serpent-Eagle, 3 Collared Falconets, Greater Yellownape, both Great and Oriental Pied Hornbills, White-throated Fantail, White-rumped Shama, Blue Whistling-Thrush, and a small flock of Red-billed Blue Magpies.

Black Stork

Collared Falconet

We arrived at Dhikala compound around 6.20pm and during the obscenely lengthy check-in and form-filling nightmare lots of Small Pratincoles were seen flying over, a pair of River Terns flew by and a few Asian Elephants were feeding in the distance. A Large-tailed Nightjar was also seen at dusk.


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Sultanpur

After arriving early doors and dropping our luggage into the rooms of a nearby hotel we sped of through the hussle and bustle of Delhi to Sultanpur. Upon arrival the first bird we saw was a Common Hawk-Cuckoo that flew into the tree above us, giving very nice views indeed. 


Common Hawk-Cuckoo

And a short while later we were watching our main target species here, when a male Sind Sparrow was spotted calling from a lakeside Acacia. We spent quite a while watching this localised species as he performed admirably right in front of us. 

This stunner is a male Sind Sparrow

Nearby a Baillon’s Crake flew into a patch of reeds beside the bund we were walking along and the last new bird of the tour was a drake Ferruginous Duck in a large flock of commoner wildfowl.

As always there were lots of other birds around such as Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis, Indian Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Long-tailed Minivet, Greenish and Hume’s Warblers, and many others.


So after a picnic lunch we returned to our hotel and the conclusion of our tour.


Monday, 16 March 2015

Ranthambhore Round-Up

Ok well had two full days looking for Tigers in Ranthambhore - that's four jeep safaris. Well, we dipped on Tiger due to a combination of bad luck, getting rubbish jeep routes, and an amazing series of rather surly, uninterested and in one case, downright rude Park Guide. You get randomly allocated a route to drive and also the driver and guide are randomly selected - and we repeatedly got the worst guys out there. On the first day if our vehicle hadn't been 25 minutes late to pick us up we would have seen a Tiger, but as it happens we missed it by 15 minutes! Ok so gripe over, but i've never missed seeing Tiger when we've been looking for one over a few days visit at any reserve and to say my group were gutted is an underestimate. To make matters worse the last day when we had the option of another two safaris the park was closed due to very unseasonal and heavy rain. 

But we did get some really good birds..... Including Indian Skimmer, Barred Buttonquail, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Indian Bushlark, Long-tailed and Small Minivets, Variable Wheatear, and many others. Here are a few pics.....

Bay-backed Shrike

Crested Bunting (female)

Crested Bunting (male)

Indian Stone Curlew

Painted Sandgrouse

Painted Spurfowl

Mrs and Mrs Spurfowl



Saturday, 14 March 2015

Going to Ranthambhore

We left our hotel at 6.45am and drove for around 6 hours to Ranthambhore and the Tiger Moon Resort. Along the way we made a quick stop and watched two Eurasian Hoopoes feeding and having a bit of aggro no more than 3 metres in front of us. It was an excellent opportunity to take some pics and luckily enough one of the birds repeatedly raised its crest. Lovely! 

Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe

The drive seemed to pass by very quickly and about an hour before reaching our destination we stopped to view a colony of Streak-throated Swallows – an often tricky species to find. 

Streak-throated Swallow

There was a cloud of them in the air and we wondered why they were not on their nests, but on closer inspection we saw a female Shikra perched on the nests under the bridge trying to claw out the chicks! So we politely asked  her to leave, which she did!

Following our arrival at the Tiger Moon Resort we had a little while to relax before embarking on an impromptu afternoon safari into the Tiger Reserve. Normally we would go birding outside the park but our local guide, Ganesh, managed to arrange this safari at very short notice, knowing how much our group wanted to see the wee stripey beastie. In the meantime we saw several White-bellied Drongos, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Common Iora, Plum-headed Parakeet and White-browed Fantail in the gardens.

White-bellied Drongo

So our afternoon safari was a pleasant introduction into the park’s wildlife, with numerous Sambar and Spotted Deer, Marsh Muggers, Wild Boar and Northern Plains Langurs. We also picked up some good birds with a male Greater Painted Snipe being a good catch up for Dave H. There was also Large Cuckooshrike, both Black and Woolly-necked Storks and Marsh Sandpiper as well, plus a good selection of previously seen species such as Painted Stork, Black-tailed Godwit, Wood Sandpiper, and a pair of confiding and extremely vocal Dusky Eagle Owls. And that was our day and all very exciting to be able to have 5 more safaris into the reserve to follow.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Back in Keoladeo

We returned to Keoladeo this morning and called into the forested area known as The Nursery briefly but didn’t pick up anything new apart from Coppersmith Barbet, before walking along a different trail for the rest of the morning. At the start of the trail, around the Forest Rest House, a Tickell’s Thrush proved elusive to everyone and we vowed to return later in the day. This area of the park was totally dry, contrary to my previous visits when it was full of water – I do fear the park authorities do not have a conservation minded approach these days. Anyway, we did find some new birds including Oriental Honey Buzzard, Bonelli’s Eagle, Bay-backed Shrike, Common Woodshrike, a singing Brooks’s Leaf Warbler, Indian Silverbill and a Yellow-crowned Woodpecker was a new trip bird for most of us. Nearing the end of the trail we came upon a pair of Sarus Cranes feeding next to the path and I cannot quite believe how tame they were as they kept feeding and totally ignored us. I had to take off my converter to get a full frame shot – amazing. They fed in the marsh totally unconcerned by us, preened, displayed, began bugling in response to some distant crane calls and eventually they flew off to investigate another pair of cranes encroaching on their feeding area. Wow!



Sarus Cranes

Lunch was again taken at the Temple where some cold drinks and hot chai were much appreciated. This turned out to be a productive session for raptors as we saw Crested Serpent-Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, and a possible Tawny Eagle, as well as both Indian and Greater Spotted Eagles again. A check from the viewing platform revealed much the same as yesterday and the lake and marsh were still choc full of birds including Eurasian Spoonbills, Temminck’s Stints, and numerous ducks and egrets stretched out over a vast area in front of us.

Black-necked Stork

Eurasian Spoonbill with Lesser Whistling-Ducks

White-throated Kingfisher

Oriental Honey Buzzard

Purple Heron

In the afternoon we went by rickshaw around Mansarovar seeing an Indian Vulture – a huge surprise here considering there population crash over the past decade. We then returned to stake out the Tickell’s Thrush and quickly found it, but again it was extremely shy and only some of us had decent views. So we left and returned to our hotel for an early shower and dinner.



Thursday, 12 March 2015

Bharatpur or Bust...!

It is always difficult to sum up a day at Keoladeo National Park when you have seen so many great birds, and most of them have shown very well and very close. When one of the group states it is probably the best day’s birding they have ever done, then that comes as close and as accurate when describing the overall feel of such a day. Well, we saw 121 species covering so many different bird families, and the variety on offer was really quite astounding. When you consider that I have experienced better here in the past – then the potential here is enormous (if that makes any sense?).

Anyway, we arrived at the entrance gates around 6.45am (it’s just 5 minutes from our hotel) and took a short walk along the road in the cool, early morning air. We didn’t see anything too exciting to be honest, just some Yellow-footed Green Pigeons and Brahminy Starlings to start with, so we hopped on our rickshaws and went down to the old parking area. A fantastic male Siberian Rubythroat skulking in the shadows certainly got the pulses racing before another short rickshaw ride further into the park got us to some better habitat. The road from this point was bordered by tall trees, before opening out into more familiar habitat with water and marshes either side of the tree lined road – the classic feature of birding at ‘Bharatpur’. 

Brahminy Starling

After an unsuccessful search for Tickell’s Thrush we walked on into the more open areas and got stuck into the raptors and I’m glad to report that there is still a healthy wintering population here. We saw a lot of Steppe Eagles, several Greater Spotted Eagles and 2 Indian Spotted Eagles, along with Booted Eagle, Black Kite, Western Marsh Harrier and Shikra. On several occasions we found Steppe and Greater Spotted Eagles perched in nearby trees or on the ground. 

Indian Spotted Eagle
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Greater Spotted Eagle

In the bushes beside the road we saw Bluethroat, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, lots of Lesser Whitethroats (of the halimodendri race), with good views of both Hume’s and Greenish Warblers in the trees. 

Bluethroat

Clamorous Reed Warbler

Out on the marsh we saw lots of wildfowl, maybe not as many as I’ve been used to from previous tours but there was Lesser Whistling Duck, Knob-billed Duck, Indian Spot-billed Duck, lots of Garganey, Common Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and a single Red-crested Pochard. The main wader prize (for me) went to White-tailed Lapwing, a bird I really like and we spent some time watching quite a few in the scope. There were also lots of other species such as Wood and Green Sandpipers, Spotted Redshank and Common Greenshank etc. There was also nice views of Intermediate Egrets, Purple Herons, Eurasian Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis, and lots of Black-headed Ibis as well.

Garganey

Indian Spot-billed Duck

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

A superb male Ultramarine Flycatcher was something of a surprise to say the least and showed very well indeed, and of course we saw Dusky Eagle Owl, a family of which were roosting on a nearby island of acacias.

Dusky Eagle Owl

Ultramarine Flycatcher

One of the classic birds to be found here is Sarus Crane and we were lucky to see this pair feeding in the marshes before circling overhead in formation on numerous occasions.

Sarus Cranes

Following lunch at the temple area we spent the late afternoon birding around Mansarovar Lake and got lucky with our third Black Bittern of the day, this last one actually posing nicely rather than the two previous flybys. There was also a close Indian Python, Indian Cormorant, and several Black-crowned Night-Herons.

Indian Python



Other species seen today included Purple Swamphen, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Spotted Owlet, Long-tailed Shrike, White-eared Bulbul, and some close Yellow-eyed Babblers. But the overall kaleidoscope of large numbers of birds combined with very nice views of almost everything is what makes this site so special.