Monday, 23 January 2017

Desert National Park

We thoroughly enjoyed a full day in and around Desert National Park targeting several species we knew we wouldn’t see elsewhere on this tour. Of course, the biggie is Great Indian Bustard and with a world population of xx it is a Critically Endangered species. We set off from the hotel at 5.45 and were on site by 7.15 enjoying a really decent packed breakfast. Then we were off, walking a few kilometres to one of the few areas left in this alleged national park that has been preserved for grasses to grow and, in turn, provide in my opinion minimal habitat for the bustards. You may be able to tell from the ‘tone’ of my words that I’m not impressed with the habitat management – especially when you see big herds of goats foraging within the confines on the National Park. It really is a joke. Nevertheless, after a reasonable walk along the sandy tracks we located the first of seven Great Indian Bustard to be seen today. 

Great Indian Bustard
What a bird this is and over the course of the next hour we enjoyed sublime scope views of these almost-prehistoric creatures. Also here were a pair of Laggar Falcons hunting overhead, against a dark grey sky that at first threatened and then produced rain. I mean, rain in the desert….. Then, as we walked back towards the coach we came across a flock of Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks feeding along the track in front of us – another key species here. 

Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark

As we watched them , our first Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse of the day flew over calling. And we kept on walking, this time along the tarmac road and found 5 Cream-coloured Coursers ‘doing their thing’ about 200 yards away, and we spent some time scoping them. They are such cool birds. A Tawny Eagle gave incredible close views as it didn’t mind us walking underneath it, as it remained perched t the top of a roadside tree.

Tawny Eagle

We then drove back along the road and walked into a surprisingly well vegetated section of the park with the hope of finding White-browed Bushchat. After a lengthy search we eventually found one and it showed rather nicely. It spent most of the time out of sight on the floor amidst the knee high vegetation, occasionally flying up onto a tall bush to gauge its surroundings. 

White-browed Bushchat

What a cracker and almost as rare as the bustards! Other goodies here was a surprise Graceful Prinia, Pallid Harrier, Desert Whitethroat, and Isabelline (Xinjiang) Shrike. We then walked up onto a small hill to scope the gathering of vultures we had seen earlier. In pretty short time we had nailed a couple of Cinereous Vultures and then a Red-headed Vulture amongst the hordes of Eurasian Griffons and were much-wanted lifers for some of the group. A Long-billed Pipit was also found here.

By now it was midday and we decided to drive to the tented camp where we were to spend the night. It’s not as bad as it sounds as the tents are very large with double beds and en-suite bathrooms. A pair of Desert Larks greeted our arrival in the car park, which was a good omen. And we followed that with the first of several Red-tailed Wheatears to be seen this afternoon. After lunch, a short drive to a rocky area was enlivened by more rain but we soldiered through and finally everyone had a brilliant Indian (Rock) Eagle Owl teed up in the scope as it sat silhouetted against the clearing sky. 

Indian Eagle Owl

An Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Wheatear and a group of Trumpeter Finches completed the avian spectacle. But our exciting day concluded with Kevin and Keith rescuing a trapped Desert Fox from a snare, which needed the remains of one leg amputated before it could be released. Well done boys! And that was our action-packed day.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bikaner: Carcasses and Cranes

We left Tal Chhaapar at 5.30am and drove for 2.5 hours to Bikaner where we visited the salubrious location of a carcass dumping ground. Once on site we found the area to be covered with Egyptian Vultures (estimated 1000+) and Steppe Eagles (estimated 400+) and it was a staggering sight. 

Egyptian Vulture

View at Bikaner today

Eurasian Griffons

There were birds everywhere, including 20+ Eurasian Griffons, some Red-naped Ibis, Rosy Starlings and the prize bird – Yellow-eyed Pigeon, although frankly I prefer its other name of Eversmann’s Pigeon, which makes it sound far more interesting. It winters here, far, far away from their breeding grounds in central Asia. And it was a huge relief to connect with this species as it was a lifer for everyone in the group. 

Yellow-eyed Pigeon

The sheer spectacle of all of these raptors today was hugely impressive and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more raptors in one spot as we’ve had here this morning.

Demoiselle Cranes

So once we were sated and with another long drive on the cards we set off again. After a wickedly horrid packed lunch and another few hours on the road we called in to Keechan, famous as the wintering grounds of thousands of Demoiselle Cranes. Well, we weren’t to be disappointed as on the drive in we had an amazing sighing of a thousand cranes flying overhead, wheeling around, and with several big flocks all joining together right above us. Amazing! We drove to a nearby lake and there we had 2,500 birds flying around and landing right in front of us…

Demoiselle Cranes

We ended the day in Jaisalmer in a great hotel, with superb food and cold beers!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Tal Chappar

We had a full day at Tal Chappar to look for Indian Spotted Creeper, but we had no luck with this very tricky species. Our day began with a 6.15am breakfast followed by a short drive to an area outside the park. We spent a pleasant couple of hours here, once the sun had come out and we had thawed out a bit! Boy it was cold here and it had been minus three degrees over night! So we walked around a large area hoping for a sign of the creeper, but only Graham managed to see it before it disappeared for good. But we did see some good birds with species such as Common Babbler, Indian Bushlark, Variable and Desert Wheatears, Southern Grey Shrike, Rosy Starling, Tawny Pipit and Rufous-fronted Prinia all seen well. 

Common Babbler

We returned to the lodge for breakfast and then headed out into the park where it had warmed up significantly and we could shed a layer or two.


Driving around here produced numerous Blackbuck, surely the most pretty of all antelopes. I think we were all suitably impressed with the Bimaculated Larks present amongst the 500+ Greater Short-toed Larks. There was a flock of Common Cranes in the grassland, both Tawny and Steppe Eagles and even a Black Francolin for the front vehicle. 

Bimaculated Lark

We returned to the lodge at 12.30 and some of us made the decision to skip it and go out looking for the creeper. Well, we walked our socks off and didn’t get a sniff although a Yellow-crowned Woodpecker and a flock of Indian Silverbills were a little compensation. When the rest of the group joined us we saw a flock of Common Woodshrikes and then walked some more, checking areas further and further away. Still no joy and no happy ending to today’s tale.

But a quick stop to check the lake in town yielded 12 Bar-headed Geese, Indian Spot-billed Ducks, Western Reef Heron, Intermediate Egret, Red-naped Ibis, Grey-throated Martin and a bunch of common wildfowl.

West India Tour: Sultanpur - Tal Chappar

Left the hotel at 5.45am and the first thing we did was to call into a petrol station to fill the coach up with diesel. As a tour leader I hate it when this happens as it is totally unnecessary. Anyway, we then drove towards Sultanpur and walked alongside a drainage channel and out into some fields, which turned out to be a very good area. The first birds of note were Black Kites, Himalayan Buzzard, some flyover Red-naped Ibis, Painted Stork, and Comb Ducks, Shikra, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-winged Kite and Greater Coucal. After walking around a kilometre our main target here, Sind Sparrow, could be heard calling and we tracked it down to an Acacia where we scoped a fine male. 

Sind Sparrow

After a while we watched a pair of Sind Sparrows feeding in the grasses at head height and the views were excellent. Whilst watching the sparrows, our local guide Sanjay spotted a small crake in a marshy area next to us and after a short wait out popped a superb Baillon’s Crake

Baillon's Crake

An Eurasian Wryneck was also something of a surprise here. There was also a flock of Common Cranes feeding in the fields, a group of Striated Babblers passed by, Paddyfield Pipit flew over calling, both Ashy and Plain Prinias were seen in the grasses, a Steppe Eagle was perched on a pylon and a Jack Snipe flew out of a ditch next to us. This latter species was an India tick for yours truly. Also noteworthy here were the flocks of Red Avadavats flying around and feeding in the tall grasses, allowing us to approach quite closely. 

Red Avadavat

Other birds seen as we walked back to the coach included Long-tailed Shrike, Grey Francolin, Citrine Wagtail, Green Sandpiper and a pair of Brown Rock-Chats. Oh frost on the ground was a bit of a surprise this morning and having been expecting ‘desert’ temperatures I think I’ve underprepared a tad for the trip. It’s freezing here!

Brown Rock-Chat

 So we left around 8.30am and began the long 10+ drive to Tal Chhapar, making numerous stops en-route. Nothing much happened until we stopped at a great little roadside restaurant when a Short-toed Eagle flew over, and a Black-shouldered Kite hovered overhead and some Dusky Crag Martins flew by. Our first Nilgai was scoped on a hillside from the parking area of the restaurant as well. Then, with the weather still rather cool despite it being early afternoon we enjoyed wonderful clear visibility and saw Siberian Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, a close Bay-backed Shrike, Indian Robin, Variable Wheatear, Common Woodshrike, Southern Grey Shrike and a flyover Booted Eagle

Bay-backed Shrike

We made another stop to look at 3 Spotted Owlets sleeping in some roadside Acacias, and then an immature Egyptian Vulture flew over and a few Brahminy Starlings were spotted. 

Spotted Owlets

With just a couple of hours to go from here the only other interesting sighting was of Indian Gazelle (Chinkara) and we finally bowled up at the Forest Rest House of Tal Chappar at 6.45pm after a long day on the road.