NORTH INDIA - BIRDS & TIGERS
Best time of year: January - March
Accommodation: Comfortable hotels and lodges, all with en-suite facilities
Participants: Maximum 10, ideally 6-8
Focus: The birds of north India, with some attention paid to mammals including Tiger and Ganges River Dolphin.
Grading: Generally easy going, but with one or two long walks at altitude.
Day 1 – Depart London Heathrow
Depart Heathrow on an overnight flight to Delhi
Day 2 – Arrive Delhi and transfer to Bharatpur
Following our morning arrival in Delhi we drive to Bharatpur, about five hours away - possibly doing a bit of birding en route - where we shall settle into our hotel and freshen up after our journey. There will be the opportunity to do some birding before turning in for our first night on the sub-continent.
Day 3 – Keoladeo National Park
The Keoladeo National Park (World Heritage Site) –formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary – is one of the most famous wildlife sanctuaries in the world and quite rightly deserves this reputation. It holds some of the finest wetlands in India as well as some excellent scrub that is used as a feeding ground by many species. A couple of days spent in the reserve can result in a checklist of over 150 bird species.
We shall spend a whole day birdwatching in the park by foot and on cycle rickshaws. Each birder will have a peddle rickshaw for birding and has the option to return back to the hotel anytime.
We shall also take a boat trip through the park which will bring us very close to the birds – we should have some excellent photo opportunities of both the waterfowl and heronries.
Some of the birds we expect to see are - Pheasant-tailed and Bronzed-winged Jacanas, Brown, Baillon’s and Ruddy-breasted Crakes, Siberian Rubythroat, Bluethroat, Long-tailed and Bay- backed Shrikes, Common Grey Hornbill, Black Bittern, Orange-headed Thrush, Red Avadavat, Indian Silverbill, Rufous-tailed Lark and Comb Duck.
Day 4 - Chambal National Sanctuary and the Taj Mahal
After breakfast we head of on a ninety minute journey to the riverine eco-system of the Chambal National Sanctuary.
Here we can relax and enjoy a four hour river cruise on the magical Ganges as we look for birds such as the uncommon Indian Skimmer, as well as Black-bellied Tern, Common, Sarus and Demoiselle Cranes, Pratincoles, Greater Thick-Knee, Black-winged Stilt and many migratory waterfowl.
There are 8 species of Turtle at Chambal and we hope to see some of these; we should also see the fish-eating Gharial and fearsome Marsh Mugger Crocodile. However, topping the list of non-avian sightings must be the beautiful Ganges River Dolphin, which can often be seen swimming calmly on the river surface.
Disembarking from our boat we then make the one to two hour journey to Agra where we visit Taj Mahal, whose extraordinary and breathtaking beauty cannot really be captured by photograph and has to be seen to be truly appreciated.
Following our visit to the Taj Mahal (where keen birders can also keep a close eye on the river as it passes by!) we head off to Delhi, arriving at our hotel in time for dinner.
Day 5 - Sat Tal
Having had a good night’s sleep we head off bright and early for Sat Tal where we shall spend the day birding.
Sat Tal or Sattla, meaning ‘seven lakes’ in Hindi is an interconnected group of freshwater lakes situated in the lower Himalayan Range near the town of Bhimtal in the Uttarakhand district.
The lakes, sitting at an altitude of 1,370 metres (4,450ft.) below lush orchards and dense oak and pine forest, are one of the few unspoiled and unpolluted freshwater biomes in India.
The lakes are a huge attraction for migratory birds, with over 500 species of resident and migratory birds. The area is also home to about 20 species of mammal, 525 species of butterfly and a staggering 11,000 other species of insects, not to mention an incredibly diverse flora.
Here we shall look for Lammergeier, White rumped Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Himalayan Griffon, Forktails, Blue-winged Minla, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Khalij Pheasant, and many species of thrush. With a little effort one can see, Red-breasted Accentor, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Greater Yellow-naped Woodpecker, Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpecker, Great and Blue-throated Barbets, Green-tailed and Dark-throated Sunbirds, as well as Red-billed and Yellow-billed Blue Magpies and...well, the list goes on!
We stay overnight at the Hotel Pine Crest.
Day 6 – Sat Tal
We shall spend all day birding this lovely area looking for treecreepers, nuthatches, owls, woodpeckers, Golden-spectacled, Grey-hooded and Black-faced Warblers and the diminutive Speckled Piculet.
Hopefully we’ll also encounter Slaty-headed and Plum-headed Parakeets, Laughing Dove, Spotted and Oriental Turtle Doves, Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Little Pied Flycatcher, Grey Bushchat and Russet Sparrow.
One can hear and see Indian, Oriental, Large Hawk and Eurasian Cuckoos, Large-billed Crow, Grey Treepie, Black-headed Jay, Maroon Oriole, Large Cuckoo Shrike as well as tits such as Great, Black-throated and Yellow-browed.
Day 7 Pangot
We leave Sat Tal in the morning and climb higher as we head to Pangot.
The Pangot area is made up largely of oak forest with a mix of pine, cedar and rhododendron.
We reach Pangot in time for lunch, which will be followed by birding the area around our lodge.
Target species include White-tailed and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches and treecreepers.
Birding in the nearby terraced fields can produce Dark-throated Thrush and Striated Prinia while Rusty-tailed Shrike, Verditer, Tickell’s, and Rufous-bellied Flycatchers can be seen in and around the tree canopy.
Overnight stay in a cottage at the Birding Lodge.
Day 8 – Cheena and Kilbury Peaks
Today we move even higher up and shall bird an area from 6,500-7,500ft. (about 2,300m.) in search of many Himalayan species.
The perennial and seasonal creeks are also home to an amazing variety of flora and fauna including Leopard, Himalayan Palm Civet, Yellow-throated Himalayan Martin, Ghoral, Sambhar and Barking Deer. Raptors include Crested Serpent Eagle and Mountain Hawk Eagle. Other interesting species to look out for are Bluetail, Blue-capped Redstart and White-throated, Striated, Streaked and Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrushes, Black-throated and Altai Accentors, Whiskered Yuhina and Upland Pipit.
These walks at fairly high altitude require a reasonable level of fitness, though they are not compulsory and participants can turn back if they wish. For those who wish to push on a bit further the walks can extended.
Not taking part in the whole walk is not necessarily a bad thing; on a recent trip to Kerala in a similar situation, one of our party decided to sit down and wait for our return as we pushed on higher up to look for Nilgiri Wood Pigeon.
Having dipped on the bird we walked down back to rejoin our colleague who then showed us some photographs he’d taken of our target bird – seven of them had settled in the tree under which he was waiting for us!
Later on we drive 3 to 4 hours to the world famous Corbett National Park and spend the afternoon birding around the lodge.
Day 9- Corbett National Park
Take a morning walk to Kumeria coming back via the Garjia temple camp.
On this excursion our ‘hit list’ includes Wallcreeper and Brown Dipper.
Post lunch take a four-hour jeep safari to the Jhirna Range Forest. Species seen here are Black and Brown-headed Bulbuls, Brown Fish Owl, Little Forktail, Yellow-bellied and White-browed Fantails, Crested Laughing Thrush, Black-winged Cuckoo Shrike, Little Heron, Red-breasted and Plum-headed Parakeets and Small and Long-tailed Minivets.
Overnight stay at the Jungle lodge.
Day 10 – Corbett National Park
Drive to the Dhikala tourist complex through dense Sal forest and after checking-in we take an afternoon safari in the grasslands for four hours.
With luck we may see Tiger or Leopard, Indian Elephant, Hog, Sambhar Deer and Spotted and Barking Deer, Jackal, Wild Boar, Indian Civet, Common Mongoose, Rhesus Macaque and Langur.
The tracks around Ramganga River offer exciting birding one can see Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Lesser Fish Eagle, Osprey and waterfowl as well as River Lapwings and Stork-billed Kingfisher.
Many other bird can be at The Lodge; Collared Falconet, Large-tailed Nightjar, Jungle Owlet, Spot- bellied Owlet, Grass Owl, White-tailed Stonechat, Red Junglefowl, Purple and Crimson Sunbirds, Black headed and Woolly-necked Storks and Changeable Hawk Eagle.
Overnight at Dhikala Forest Lodge.
Day 11 – Corbett National Park
If possible we shall take an early morning elephant safari to visit the best birding areas such as Sambhar Road and Khinanauli before coming back for breakfast. W can expect to see Great Hornbill, Puff-throated Babbler, Maroon Oriole and Pallas’s Fish Eagle amongst others.
We spend rest of the morning up a tower overlooking a water hole and then drive down to the Tiger Camp in the afternoon.
Overnight Jungle Lodge
Day 12 – Corbett National Park
After breakfast visit some riverine woods in the most fantastic setting of forest, mountains and the Ramganga River. There is another opportunity to look for Tiger here but the birding is also great, Red-breatsed Parakeet, Spangled Drongo, Bar winged Flycatcher, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Black Stork, Green Magpie, White-bellied Drongo, White-throated and Brown Dippers, White-capped Water Redstart, Plumbeous Redstart Dove, Emerald dove, Nepal House Martin, Greater and Himalayan Flamebacks, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous-gorgeted and Taiga Flycatchers, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird – well, you must have got the picture by now – there’s an awful lot to see here!
Day 13 – Corbett National Park to Delhi
We shall spend the morning birding around our lodge before undertaking the six hour drive back to Delhi where we shall spend the night.
Day 14 – Delhi to London
We depart from Delhi and catch our flight back to Heathrow, arriving in the evening.