Saturday, 15 December 2012
Participants:- Holly Anderson, Barbara Gardner, Tony Hawkins, Valerie Stone & Alison Seymour.
Tour Guide for Norfolk Birding – Chris Mills
Gallery Images from the trip
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OVERVIEW OF THE TOUR
This tour took in the amazing sights & sounds of Northern India’s wildlife & birds plus a visit to the amazing Taj Mahal & the Fort of Agra.
The tour included a varied cross section of habitat. Starting with the wetland & birds of Bharatpur. We then stopped off in Agra & the Taj Mahal before heading on to Nainatal in the foothills of the Himalaya’s & the forest of Oak, Deodar, Rhododendron & conifers with the visual backdrop to the higher Himalayas.
We then headed on to the famous Corbett National Park, where we stayed for 2 days inside the park, we managed to see both Tiger, Leopard, Elephant & a whole host of other mammals & birds.
Finally the tour finished in the beautiful surroundings of the buffer forest & river valley around the Ramganga river.
Over the 2 weeks we saw a vast range of birds & mammals, culminating in a mind boggling 270+ species of birds, 14+ species of Mammal, plus Mugger & Gharial crocodiles.
Friday 30th November
The group all met up at Heathrow airport to board our British Airways direct flight to Delhi cost £634.00. World Traveller Plus upgrade around £140.00 per seat
Everyone arrived on time at the agreed meeting point & we were soon through security & departure gates boarding our flight. The flight departed at 12.30PM UK time around 45 minutes later than scheduled.
The flight was comfortable with good food & drink, seats were comfortable in World Traveller, some clients upgraded to World Traveller Plus – affording more legroom & a few food benefits.
Saturday 1st December
Overnight at Hotel Ashok Country Resort.
Flight time is around 8 hours & we arrived in Delhi at a local time of 2.30am.
We were met at the airport by Mahindra, our local tourist guide along with our driver for the next 5 days Ashok. The luggage was loaded into the 10 seater minibus & we were soon tasting the bright lights & hussle that is Delhi! Even at this hour the roads were busy! We soon arrived at the Hotel Ashok Country resort, everyone was shown to their appointed rooms & we set breakfast for 10am.
After a leisurely breakfast we had a couple of casual hours around the gardens before lunch. This was a nice gentle introduction to some common Indian birds, before we departed in the afternoon to Bharatpur, where bird density was about to become rather hectic!
The well attended gardens yielded a mix of birds, highlights were – Indian House Crow, 50+ Black Kite, 20+ Rose-ringed Parakeet, several Oriental White-eye, 7+ Common Babbler, Purple Sunbird, several Humes Warbler & overhead Oriental Honey Buzzard.
Hotel Ashok Country resort – excellent rooms, quiet with good food & Indian breakfast & lunch.
After lunch we departed for Bharatpur an approximately 4 hour journey including a stop for around an hour for some roadside birding!
The birds were fairly scant as we left Delhi, but as we reached the countryside we started seeing a few birds, an inspired stop came as we saw firstly some “Cranes” flyover the road, quickly noticing some large pools & rice fields. We had a lovely mix of our first wetland birds. Fantastic were c40 Sarus Crane, other highlights this early on the trip were 10+ Red-Wattled Lapwing, 100’s of Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Black Drongo, 6+ Black-winged Kite, 10 White-throated Kingfisher, Grey Hornbill, Bank Mynah, Indian Mynah, Purple Gallinule, Black-winged Stilt, Little & 5+ Temminck’s Stint, 4+ Marsh Sandpiper, 5+ Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Ruff, 1 Purple Heron, Grey Heron, c25 Citrine Wagtail & White Wagtail.
We arrived at Bharatpur in the dark & were soon comfortably settled into our rooms at the Birders Inn. Evening meal was a buffet style mixture of Soup & various curries, with good choice of rice & nan breads. Omelettes, chips & sandwiches were available here as an alternative to Indian food.
Birders Inn was quiet, with large comfortable en-suite rooms with hot showers set in nice lawned grounds. Just a short distance of 200m to the Park entrance.
Overnight at Birders Inn, Bharatpur.
Sunday 2nd December
After two days of travelling I decided on a leisurely start with breakfast served at 7.30am before heading out into the park at 8.15am. The group was introduced to our local birdwatching guide for the next 4 days Brijendra Singh. I can not recommend him highly enough - excellent eyes, very knowledgeable on all the flora & fauna of the park, with excellent knowledge of KNP.
Bharatpur or Keoladeo Ghana National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Sites) is one of the finest heronries in the world. The park is haven for storks, egrets ducks and waders.
Our chosen team of Rickshaw riders & guides met us outside the Hotel & we were soon inside the park entrance. The birding was immediate, intense & exciting – the first hour saw us manage to get only 400m from the starting point, as birds came into view from all angles, overhead, on the ground, in the trees, on the water! None of the group had birded in Asia before, so we were very busy!
Over the next few hours we saw an amazing array of birds. We lunched in the park with a packed lunch at the Visitor centre, where the group were able to purchase tee-shirts, books & learn more about the park. After a leisurely lunch we continued into the middle section of the park, exploring tracks.
The highlights were – 6+ Grey Francolin, Ruddy, Shelduck, 20+Indian Peafowl, 2 Cotton Pygmy Goose, 40+ Comb Duck, Pintail, Brown headed Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, 3+ Indian Grey Hornbill, 6+ Indian Roller, 10+ White-throated Kingfisher, 1 Greater Coucal, 2 Collared Scops Owl, 1 Spotted Owlet, 6+ Red Collared Dove, 6+ White-breasted Waterhen, 1 Crested Serpent Eagle, 2 Indian Spotted Eagle, 10+ Black-winged Kite, Peregrine, 30+ Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, 10 Great Egret, 2 Intermediate Egret, Cattle Egret, 20+ Indian Pond Heron, 40+ Spoonbill, Purple Heron, 2 Woolly-necked Stork, several Long-tailed Shrike, 6 Rufous Treepie, 3+ Bluethroat, 10+ Oriental Magpie Robin, Black Drongo,20+ Braminy Starling, 100+ Plain Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, 4 Black-rumped Flameback, Greater Coucal, Plain Prinia, Ashy Prinia, Common Tailorbird, Oriental White-eye, numerous Humes Warbler, Red-vented & White-eared Bulbul.
Apart from avifauna we also saw Soft-shell Turtles, Monitor Lizard, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Nilgai, Rhesus Macaque and Golden Jackal.
Overnight at Birders Inn, Bharatpur.
Monday 3rd December
After an early breakfast of 6am we departed aboard the rickshaws for the park again, today was split into two visits. We arrived back at Birders Inn for lunch at around 12.15pm & then headed back out into the park at 2.30pm. In the morning we worked some areas off the main path to the east & the temple area & in the afternoon we headed to the southern wetland areas.
We saw many species again & started to gain some familiarity with the regular birds, but also added many new species today as well!
Avian highlights & new birds as follows:- 35+ Spot-billed Duck, 6 Red-crested Pochard, Indian Hoopoe, c40 Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Large-tailed Nightjar sitting on a dead branch & shown to us down to just a few feet, also memorable were 2 Collared Scops Owls down to just a few feet, but so well camouflaged that some of the group really struggled to see them! A Dusky Eagle owl sat atop it’s nest, 3 Shikra, 2 Greater Spotted Eagle, 1 Bonelli’s Eagle, 30+ Black-crowned Night Heron, 2 Black Bittern (a new species for Norfolk Birding’s Chris Mills), c20 Black-headed Ibis, 100’s of Egrets, Cormorants, 5 Black-necked Stork, 200+ Painted Stork at their rookery, 6 Bronze winged Jacana, 5+ Pheasant-tailed Jacana, 1 Gull-billed tern, 12+ Red-breasted Flycatcher, 6 Ashy Drongo, 5+ Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, 5+ Bluethroat, Wire-tailed Swallow, numerous Humes warbler, 1 Greenish Warbler, 2 Blyth’s Reed Warbler, 10 Common Rosefinch & 2 Purple Sunbird.
Mammals & others today - Soft-shell Turtles, Monitor Lizard, Striped Ground Squirrel, Wild Boar, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Nilgai, Rhesus Macaque and Golden Jackal.
Overnight at Birders Inn, Bharatpur.
Tuesday 4th December
Another early 6am breakfast before departing for the park again. We visited another area of the park, searching deeper along the Southern trails that we hadn’t visited on the previous days. We returned to Birders Inn at 12.15PM.
New birds & larger counts of the notable species listed – 35+ Indian Peafowl, 10+ Comb Duck, 20+ Spot-billed Duck, 200+ Pintail, 6 Wigeon, c40 Red-crested Pochard, 5 Dalmatian Pelican, 2 Sarus Crane, 50+ Glossy Ibis, 1+ Little Green Heron Grey Hornbill, 3 Greater Coucal, 1 Wryneck, 100+ Little Swift, 10+ Wood Sandpiper, 10 Bar-headed Goose, 3 Greater Spotted Eagle, great views of Bonelli’s Eagle at 50m, Marsh Harrier, 6+ Asian Pied Starling, 3 Wire-tailed Swallow, wonderful views of Moustached Warbler, 5+ Bluethroat – including one male, 12+ Blyth’s Reed Warbler, with 2-3 eventually providing clear views, Hoopoe, Large Grey Babbler, Jungle Babbler, 30+ Citrine Wagtail, 30+ Red Avavdavat & Pied Bushchat plus many of the commoner species seen on the previous days.
We had lunch around 1PM & than had a break until 2.45PM when we headed out to a local area Brijendra knew nearby in the village – a good site for Painted Snipe.
This area was a canal with some dry weedy fields adjacent to the water. The water was shall we say “nutrient rich”! It just seemed amazing that some dirty pools could hold so many birds! We were soon admiring the wonderful colours of a dozen or so – Painted Snipe, plus 2+ Marsh Sandpiper, 10+ Wood Sandpiper, 4+ Common sandpiper, Greenshank, Ruff, Redshank, 2 Temminck’s Stint, 40+ Black-winged Stilt & 3+ Citrine Wagtail the fields adjacent held Black-winged Kite, Common & Bank Mynah, Asian Pied Starling, Tawny Pipit, White wagtail, Bluethroat, Indian Silverbill & Black-headed Munia.
Overnight at Birders Inn, Bharatpur.
Wednesday 5th December
After a 6.30am breakfast we headed for our last visit to KNP, Bharatpur today. We returned for lunch to pack our cases & then depart for Agra.
Notable counts & different species from previous days listed – Barred Button Quail, 100+ Purple Swamphen, 2 Wryneck, 8 Brown headed Barbet, 1 Collared Scops Owl very close views, 1 Common Hawk Cuckoo, 10 Wire-tailed Swallow, Golden Oriole & 2 Pied Bushchat. So after 4 full days of birding we left Bharatpur having recorded 141 species!
After lunch we said farewell to the Birders Inn staff, our guides & rickshaw team, before loading the minibus with our gear & setting off for Agra. It was fairly easy drive of a couple of hours to our accommodation in the middle of Agra, we arrived mid afternoon & everyone settled in & then we headed out into the busy streets & traffic of the town to soak up some of the atmosphere & experience some shopping & bartering! Fabric, silk scarves, soirees, shoes all at amazing prices!
We had our evening meal at the Hotel. Despite the overall ambient noise that is part of Agra, by late evening the Hotel was fairly quiet & we all slept soundly!
Overnight Hotel Royale Residency – a reasonable Hotel, food buffet style & good, all rooms were en-suite, rooms simple & comfortable. Showers a bit low on water pressure, but acceptable with hot water.
Thursday 6th December
After a 6.45am breakfast we left early for our visit to the famous Taj Mahal. We were introduced to our local guide for the Taj visit, it soon became clear that he was a font of knowledge on all the historic buildings of Agra & took great pride in sharing his enthusiasm.
We took many pictures & watched the Taj changing its mood with the effects of the rising sun. One of the wonders of world it was wonderful experience. After a whole couple of hours of looking at the monument from afar, close up, inside & out, I decided it was definitely time to search a few birds out!! We had been kept entertained by a number of Black Kite spinning overhead throughout. But from the rear of the Taj the River Yamuna is visible, with shallow edges & deeper water I soon managed to spy a few waders & also a new species for the trip – 2 River Lapwing, c20 Greenshank, Dunlin, Redshank, Ruff, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper & Ruddy Shelduck.
We then visited Agra Fort from where four of the mighty Mughal rulers controlled their vast empire. The fort serves as a vantage point for viewing the Taj Mahal from a distance Wandering around the palaces, built by successive emperors, gives opportunity to experience and appreciate the excellence of fine Mughal architecture. We then visited one of the few specialist stone masons & were given a demonstration on how the tiny detailed minerals are cut & inset into the marble stone. We returned to the Hotel for lunch & then packed all of the gear back into the minibus & set off for the afternoon drive to Delhi. It was around 5 hours by the time we had navigated the early evening Delhi traffic. We had a nice evening meal at a Chinese restaurant & then headed for the Delhi railway station in time to board the overnight train for Kathgodam. We said our fairwells to our guide Mahindra & our driver Ashok & then boarded the overnight train departing Delhi at 2240 & arrived at Kathgodam – 0510am Friday morning. We had a sleeper cabin & whilst it was quite cosy we all managed to get some sleep.
Overnight on sleeper Express Delhi to Kathgodam
Friday 7th December
We arrived at Kathgodam train station & were met off the train by the Safari drivers & vehicles complete with our local birding guide – Nirancar. We transferred to the Vikram Vintage Hotel in Nainital. The town is a large, pleasant hill station with adjoining temperate forest & a backdrop to the surrounding higher Himalayas & open valleys. The region was excellent for altitudinal migrants and a wide array of resident birds.
After settling in & for some an extra hours sleep we had brunch, & then headed out to explore some of the nearby forest areas. Suddenly having left the lowlands behind we were looking at completely different range & group of birds – more excitement. We didn’t have to wait too long for our first “hunting party” of small birds, I used the tape on Collared Owlet & continued “pishing”, this resulting in the nearby conifer looking like a birders xmas tree! Birds appeared & disappeared for the next 10 minutes, some showing obscenely well, others just providing tantalising glimpses, wonderful. Best birds – Maroon Oriole, Golden Bush Robin (CHM- 2nd ever), 5 White-tailed Nuthatch, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Spot-winged Tit, 4+ Green backed Tit, 2 Black-lored Tit, 5+ Black-throated Tit, numerous Himalayan Bulbul, Black-faced Warbler, 4+ Burr-barred Warbler, 20+ Grey-hooded Warbler, 20 Streaked laughing Thrush, Chestnust-crowned Laughing Thrush, Black-chinned Babbler, 30+ Rufous Sibia, 3 Great Barbet, 2 Rufous breasted Accentor & 2 Blue Whistling Thrush. It was an amazing couple of hours with several flocks, each resulting in something different amongst the colours & sounds of each flock!
We also attracted some attention from locals whom were keen to take a look through the scope, although I think they were more interested in checking out their neighbours than enjoying the birds we were looking at!
We walked back to the Hotel & had lunch. After lunch we took the two vehicles & set out for another area to bird in the afternoon. As we headed out through the forest along the narrow lanes, the canopy opened out & huge vista stretched to the wonderful distant snow-capped mountains. These were our first views of the 25,000 foot plus mountains of the Himalaya’s – an awe inspiring site!
We stopped off lower down the valley & birded some secondary forest, this was much quieter than during our morning session, we saw several repeat birds from the morning, the wooded roads did yield good views of 1 Hill Partridge & 2 Kalij Pheasant both good target species. We stopped off briefly at a lovely mountain river – prime habitat for Forktails & after a few minutes of searching we had our first glimpses of Spotted Forktail, one of the truly iconic species of the area.
We then decided to go lower down to some of the terraced farmed areas on the hillsides. This area provided several new birds, best birds – 1 Brown-fronted Woodpecker, 1 Himlayan Woodpecker, 3 Himalayan Griffon Vulture, 1 Shikra, 1 Steppe Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, c20 Black-headed Jay, Russet Sparrow, c20 Yellow-breasted Greenfinch & 2+ Rock Bunting.
Overnight at Vikram Vintage Hotel
Saturday 8th December
After an early breakfast at 6.00am we visited the area of Sal Tal, lower down the valley of Nainatal. This is an area of both primary & secondary forest that proved very productive. We birded here until lunch time, sadly we left a bird filled area behind & returned to the Hotel for lunch. In hindsight, we should have taken the packed lunch option! Birds here came thick & fast as we explored a river valley, an open farmland area & some primary forest. Best birds as follows – 2 Kalij Pheasant, Speckled Piculet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, 20+ Slaty headed Parakeet, c10 Red breasted parakeet, 2 Himalayan Vulture, amazing close ups of 4 Red-billed Blue Magpie, 1 Grey Treepie, 6+ stunning yellow female & red male Long-tailed Minivet, 3+ Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, White-throated fantail, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, 2 Slaty-blue F;ycatcher, 2 Rufous-bellied Niltava, 2 Blue-fronted Redstart, great views of 2 stunning Spotted Forktail, 5+ Grey Bushchat, 4+ White-tailed Nuthatch, 4+ Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, 3+ Bar-tailed Treecreeper, 100+ Crag martin, 4 Red-rumped Swallow, Black Bulbul, heard only Chestnut-headed Tesia, 2+ Lemon-rumped Warbler, 2+ Golden Spectacled Warbler, at last after hearing several of these we had great views of 3+ Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, 6+ Red-billed Leiothrix, 4+ Blue-winged Minla, Olive-backed Pipit & 10 Scaly-breasted Munia
We reluctantly left heading back for lunch at 1PM. We then headed out around 2PM, spending the afternoon exploring the terraced hillside & river valley lower down on the north side of Nainatal. Best birds – 2 Hill Partridge, 2 Great Barbet, 2 Bonelli’s Eagle, Kestrel, Ashy Drongo, absolutely superb views of 4 White-capped Water Redstart, 2+ Plumbeous Water Redstart & Spotted Forktail all feeding together where a shallow area of the river crossed the mountain track, Ashy Bulbul, 10 Common Rosefinch, c20 Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Striated Prinia, 2+ Greenish warbler, plus several repeats of birds from the morning & yesterday.
A superb day – with many new birds, the trip running total now up to 208 species.
Overnight at Vikram Vintage Hotel
Very comfortable rooms, good showers & very clean rooms. Good flexibility with food & a good buffet style choice at breakfast & dinner. Hot water bottles & electric heater elements were provided in the cooler altitude weather. A plumbing issue was dealt with swiftly & efficiently by the staff.
Sunday 9th December
We just had the morning left at Nainatal before heading off for Corbett NP. We decided to head out pre-breakfast & met in reception at 6.15am. We explored the hillside around the ski-lift area. The first few minutes will be remembered by everyone as a very low flying, superb adult Lammergeier flew straight over our heads, providing the best views I ever head of this rare vulture. The skies also yielded 2 Steppe Eagle & Shikra,
This was the distinct highlight, the weather in Nainatal this winter had been distinctly mild, especially compared with my previous visit when we witnessed snow on the ground This seemingly had resulted in very few of the scarce/rarer altitudinal migrants occurring this low down, we saw a few more tits/warbler flocks but nothing that we hadn’t already seen. We did have extremely close views of Chestnut-bellied & White-tailed Nuthatch.
After a good brunch, & a good laugh with the staff as England won the 3rd test! We headed towards the buffer zone of Corbett NP. En-route we stopped off at the Kosi River bridge there was a good selection of commoner egrets, cormorants as well as c50 Ruddy Shelduck, c50 River Lapwing, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, great views of Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Pied, White-throated & Common Kingfisher.
We continued our journey with a brief stop to take in a small colony of 5prs of nesting of White-rumped Vultures, once a very common species – these birds are below 100 pairs in the region, decline of all Vulture species has been rapid during the past decade. The main issue lies with the injection of diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used on cattle, which causes avian gout & death.
To read more about this issue click here
Overhead nearby, Crested Treeswift & White-rumped Needletail flew by.aspx.
We arrived early afternoon at Tiger Camp, we off loaded our bags & had lunch, before heading out in the afternoon for the Kosi river area nearby within the Corbett NP buffer zone.
We had an excellent few hours & persistance paid real dividends in the last hour of light!
First star birds were 2 obliging Crested Kingfisher, kept company by both White-throated, Pied & Common Kingfishers. Next star bird was a showy Yellow-bellied Fantail, but this soon gave way to a superb Black-throated Sunbird which was far less obliging! Stunning views of Blue Whistling Thrush bathing showing off deep indigo plumage to it’s best. White-browed wagtails, White-capped & Plumbeous Water Redstarts were numerous along the river & very approachable. This area of the river is noted for being a reliable Ibisbill location. This species is a truly iconic species of the area & so different to any of it’s congeners to merit being a real jewel in the heart of most birders. It was mid afternoon & the first area was busy with locals & looked unlikely to yield the target bird, but undaunted Nirancar our guide disappeared well ahead of us. His sudden waving & beckoning could only mean one thing – I broke into a run & the rest of the group moved quickly to get alongside me. Not one but 2 Ibisbill in the scope providing great views! As we walked back we scored with 2 Woolly-necked Stork, 2 Pallas’s Fish eagle & 10 Plum headed Parakeet.
We headed back to the very comfortable Tiger Camp, although rooms were a little cool without heating for this time fo the year. Extra quilts were available.
Before dinner we were given an excellent talk by my good friend Sumantha Ghosh whom had helped arrange our ground logistics. The talk covered Corbett NP, its wildlife & the Conservation issues. We then had an excellent dinner complete with chocolate brownies a real nice surprise!
Overnight at Tiger Camp.
Monday 10th December
After breakfast we sorted out the necessary clothes & equipment for our 3 days in the park. We then departed for Corbett NP & the Park camp at Dhikala. We transferred from the road vehicles into two open back 4 wheel drive jeeps & were introduced to our new drivers, Nirancar continued guiding along with a new guide JP & it was great to have Sumantha Ghosh along with us as well.
Corbett NP is a mix of dense deciduous forest, riverine forest, grassland and presence of large water body has endowed this region with extremely rich avifauna, we weren’t to be disappointed. Highlights as we travelled through the forest with several stops – 1 Kalij Pheasant, 1 Wryneck, Brown-fronted Woodpecker, 2 Fulvous breasted Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, 3 Lineated Barbet, 10 Alexandrine Parakeet, Jungle Owlet, 2+ Black-hooded Oriole, 1 Maroon oriole, Common Iora, 2+ Rufous Gorgeted Flycatcher, 2 Velvet fronted Nuthatch, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, 50 White-throated Laughing Thrush, 25 White-crested laughing Thrush, Black-chinned Babbler, 6 Red-billed Leiothrix & 4+ Blue-winged Minla.
Other excitement came early on the drive into the park, as the guides heard Spotted Deer alarm calling, a Tiger was not faraway & we were soon admiring the large fresh pug marks in the sandy edges along the track. We sat quietly waiting but we weren’t going to be so lucky to see a Tiger within an hour of entering the park! Further non avian highlights came as we stopped off along the river from here we had good views of Otter, Gharial, & Mugger Crocodile.
We eventually reached Dhikala camp, we settled into our rooms, admired the fantastic view rom the restaurant area, stretching across the grasslands to the large water body. We lunched & then headed out in the jeeps for an afternoon & early evening game drive.
We scored well in the grassland with Eurasian & Himlayan Griffon Vulture, 2 Red-headed Vulture, 1 Crested Serpent Eagle, Osprey over the water body, plus Hen & Marsh Harrier. We again witnessed Deer alarm calls, but despite patiently waiting the Tiger was a no show. We headed off to take a look at a small herd of wonderful wild Indian Elephants, 2 calves with a family group. A Lesser Coucal was yet another new bird as the light faded!
The rooms are simple at Dhikala, but this is the only accommodation in the Park & a “must” if you wish to see the high order mammals. The room shad improved since my last visit & the food was massively improved & actually hot & very good. Power & lighting can be a little unpredictable, but we were never without power for more than half an hour & over the 3 days we just lost power 3-4 times.
Overnight at Dhikala Forest Lodge
Tuesday 11th Day 10: Corbett - Dhikala
We headed out at 6.30 for a pre-breakfast drive arriving back at 9.30 for breakfast. We then breakfasted & headed back out aboard the two jeeps at 10.30, the plan was to head back for lunch at around 1.30PM, but this was interrupted – in a very welcome fashion!
We were never too far from the camp, working along the tracks, woodland & river areas from 2-10Km from the camp. Birds again, came thick and fast in concentrated flocks – but there was no doubt that the group, the guides & the drivers had a certain thing on their minds! Everyone had said – “Well it would be really nice if we see a Tiger, but it’s not the only thing we are here to see &
Ah well; if we don’t that’s fine”.
But when one sees the pug marks, a Deer starts alarm calling, the guides eyes & ears narrow, their senses straining & the Jeeps stop, the silence is deafening & you know a Tiger is close by – the atmosphere is electrifying & suddenly your whole focus is on. Will I see a Tiger?
This such moment arrived late morning 4-5 jeeps were parked in perfect silence, the noises & signs were all there. Our guides decided to drop the jeep back to a cross road of tracks, 100m from the others, we sat in perfect silence…..the Deer alarm calls continued, close, very close. Then suddenly emerging from the bend in the track walking straight towards us was a TIGER. The message was urgently hissed around the two jeeps, everyone’s binoculars raised, everyone consumed with the awe struck feeling of watching the most prestigious of the top food chain predators on the planet. The other jeeps quickly picked up on the vibes & the first jeep annoyingly did not appear to see the Tiger & drove straight in front of our view. The Tiger stood gave them a stare & just as quickly as it had arrived it disappeared, melting into the forest, gone from view. We were very fortunate, we had a good view but it was very annoying that the driver & guides of the other vehicle had not used some basic fieldcraft. We surely would have had incredible views had they used a little more sense. Still our jeeps definitely had the best of it & guides had got their position absolutely spot-on, thanks to Nirancar, Ghosh & JP.
Incredibly this wasn’t our first big cat of the day. Prior to the Tiger encounter we had visited one of the river viewing areas & whilst watching 8 Otters, the guides had picked up on their very nervous behaviour, up on their back legs sniffing the air, then Deer alarm calls. The guides were sure there was a Leopard not too far away. Just beyond the far shore of the river was a steep vast wooded hillside, the focus of our attention, chances of seeing a Leopard seemed small. But then one of the guides suddenly located the LEOPARD, several people were on to it quickly & others struggled to locate it. It appeared & disappeared from view as it very slowly walked the woodland edge, I eventually had it in the scope, although obscured, again some people could see it & others couldn’t. Fortunately it re-appeared in an open area briefly, but long enough for everyone too get satisfactory views of the Leopard. This is a very rare sight, the guides pointing out that you probably see 100 Tigers to 1 Leopard! We also had lovely views of the 8 Otter which eventually swum directly underneath us, plus Gharial & Mugger Crocodile were seen again.
So it was a great & memorable day, even without the birds! But we did see a lovely mix of birds as well. Listed are the most notable & different species from the previous day – 1 Lesser Yellownape, 4 Greater Yellownape, 4+ Himalayan Flameback, 2 Stork-billed Kingfisher plus Pied, Common & White-throated Kingfisher, 12 White-rumped Needletail, 1 Jungle Owlet, 2 Brown Fish owl, 3 Lesser Fish eagle, Osprey, Red-headed Vulture, c10 Collared Flaconet, 2 Marron oriole, Great Slaty Woodpecker & White-rumped Shama
Overnight at Dhikala Forest Lodge
Wednesday 12th December
We left Dhikala after a pre-breakfast morning game drive, & then slowly took in several areas on the way back to the park entrance gates.
We were fortunate to come across a species that had eluded us on the drive out, a final chance to see - Tawny Fish Owl & this one was sat quietly in view on the side of a horizontal branch in the canopy. Other birds of note on the drive out were - 6+ Red Junglefowl, Lesser yellownape, Grey-headed Woodpecker, 3 Himlayan Flameback, Greater Flameback, 2 Black-rumped Flameback, Lineated Barbet, 2 Coppersmith Barbet, Alexandrine parakeet, 6+ Slaty-headed Parakeet, 10+ Red-breasted parakeet, 5 Himalayan Swiftlet, 10+ White-rumped Needletail, 10 Little Swift, 2 Cinereous Vulture, 1 Black Stork, 2 Black-necked Stork, Yellow-bellied & 1 White-throated Fantail, Slaty Blue Flycatcher & 2 Rufous Bellied Niltava.
We said fond farewells to our drivers & guides of the last few days, switched vehicles & left the wonderful Corbett NP behind us.
We stopped off at the White-rumped Vulture site & also visited the Womens charity shop that sells an array of locally produced clothing & foods. The enterprise here is supported and encouraged by Ghosh’s charity, linking the attraction of the Vultures to the opportunity of visiting birders to purchase Gift items. This in turn helps ensure the local people have an interest & sustainable relationship with the Vultures.
We were slightly late arriving at Vanghat, but saw some nice birds on the walk in to the lodge & we all had fun crossing the river on the wooden raft. We were all fitted up with life-jackets & hard hats! 10+ White-capped Water Redstart, 10+ Plumbeous Water Redstart, Long-taled Shrike, c20 Bronzed Drongo, several Blue Whistling Thrush, amazing views of White-crested Laughing Thrush bathing at the camp in the bird baths provided.
Vanghat is a beautiful location with 5 bungalows hidden deep in the inspiring Ramganga valley and surrounded by hills and the wildlife rich. The location is far from any human habitation on the banks of the Ramganga & it was only a shame we didn’t have a little longer to enjoy the peacefulness & diversity of the area.
Thursday 12th December
The next morning we set out for around 2.5hrs on a pre-breakfast walk along the river. This was our last morning’s full birding before setting off on the long journey back to Delhi. We had a lovely few hours with great views of 2 Crested Kingfisher, Plum-headed Parakeet, River Lapwing, both Lesser Fish eagle & Pallas’s Fish Eagle gave great flight views overhead as they fished along the river. Common Woodshrike was new to the list & several Wallcreepers gave us lovely views feeding on the boulders. We saved one of the best birds until the last few minutes, I was busy trying to get some images of a White-browed Wagtail, when into view came the beautiful & diminutive Little Forktail, after a few whistles & shouts to the rest of the group whom had moved along the river – they were all able to enjoy a final speciality of the Himalayan rivers!
After packing all of our gear for a final time we walked back to the main road, checking carefully for Brown Dipper & Great Hornbill on the way, but sadly they were one of the few specialities to elude this trip. We said goodbye & a fond farewell to Ghosh & his staff.
It was then a long haul drive of 7-8 hours back to Delhi. We reached the Hotel Akosh where the adventure had begun & we had a nice evening meal before being transported to the airport.
Friday 12th December
We transferred through the check-in & security just after midnight & were aboard our British airways flight around 3.30am, the flight was comfortable & we arrived back in the UK at Heathrow around 8.20am local UK time. We all gave each other a hug & wished everyone well for Xmas, it had been action packed 14 days!
Monday, 12 November 2012
Tour leaders Chris Mills & Ricardo Montero
Participants:- Mel Pond, Adie Haggett, Tony Parnell, Wendy Parnell,
Slobodan Jovanovic & Daphne Hayward
Our trip was arranged on a Self-catering basis with continental breakfast provided. We stay in a 3 storey white washed house in a small mountain settlement, there are 2 double rooms with en-suites, plus 2 Twin en-suite bedrooms & 1 single room. The house is a lovely traditional example set in a typical white walled, narrow streeted Spanish mountain village.
Evening meals were not included in the cost of the tour, but were arranged each evening at the local bar & on average a 3 course meal (simple Spanish food) with a couple of glasses of wine cost 16 euros per person.
Easyjet flight from Luton & Heathrow to Madrid are reasonably cheap.
12 NOV DAY ONE – ARRIVAL & COLLECTION FROM AIRPORT TO CABEZABELLOSA
I met up with the group in Madrid at the airport, unfortunately Soba called to say his flight had been cancelled & he would arrive much later, so after a bit of delay we headed south-west for the accommodation.
Ricardo Montero the accommodation owner & my good Spanish birding friend provided us with a minibus & undertook all the driving. He was keen to stop off en-route at a good Bustard site he had visited a week or so before.
We left the airport in lovely warm sunny conditions! As we drove along the highways we picked up off a few of large & obvious species, WHITE STORK, RED KITE, GRIFFON VULTURE, MARSH HARRIER & IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE – it got the juices flowing!
The Bustards site was just a short detour off the main highway & wow! We couldn’t believe our luck! We had around 2 hours & scored heavily, 25 GREAT BUSTARD, 1 LITTLE BUSTARD, 40+ BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE, 150+ CRANES overhead, 3+ HOOPOE, lots of CRESTED LARK, CORN BUNTING & BLACK REDSTART & 2+ IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE. Of less note to us English birders were a covey of 25 RED-L-PARTRIDGE!
We arrived in the dark at Cabezabellosa we offloaded into the accommodation. We then had our evening meal in the local bar; again typical Central Spanish fare, washed down with some of the local wine & beers, and finished off with a local lacquer.
13 NOV DAY TWO – MONFRAGUE NP
The morning started bright with blue skies, we headed straight over to a lovely local area of pools & dehesa near Villar de Plascencia. The minibus made several short, sharp stops as everyone called the birds along the lanes. The first real stop produced great views of a small group of ROCK SPARROW a species which can sometimes be elusive! Also several CRANES were feeding below the cork oaks.
At the pools a good selection of birds were present, plus fantastic views of 2 OTTER! Birds of note were 2 GREAT WHITE EGRET, LITTLE EGRET, CATTLE EGRET 1 BLACK-WINGED KITE (our first but brief views of this much sort after raptor), 12+ RED KITE, 20+ CRANE, GOLDEN PLOVER, groups of LAPWING, 2 GREENSHANK, 1 COMMON SANDPIPER, 1 GREEN SANDPIPER, 2 KINGFISHER, BLACK REDSTART, 2 WOODLARK, CRESTED LARK & a lovely group of 50+ ROCK SPARROW.
With such great weather it made perfect sense to head to explore the beautiful Monfrague NP & look for raptors & Vultures. We headed first for the famous Salto del Gitano – this famous cliff face hosts Europe’s largest vulture colony. We had good views of the 12+ BLACK, VULTURE, 100 GRIFFON VULTURE, 2 BLUE ROCK THRUSH, PEREGRINE, RED KITE, we also noted many CRAG MARTIN, the bushes held CHIFF-CHAFF, BLACKCAP & SARDINIAN WARBLER
We then headed back towards the Monfrague NP centre, but first of all a stop near the bridge. This is my most successful area to look for Bonelli’s Eagle. A couple of scans picked up more vultures, but a few minutes later we had everyone out of the van, scopes pointing skywards – 2 ADULT BONELLI’S EAGLE showing really well as they soared along the ridge. Eventually one bird flew off & the other came to rest in one of the trees, near the top of the crags. Everyone was then afforded perched view as the BONELLI’S EAGLE sat surveying its home range.
The views & vulture filled skies were a good chance to have our picnics.
Post lunch we headed for another eagle stake out. The first stop on the bridge to admire a GREY HERON incredibly produced the 3rd OTTER of the day! Then another short stop in a wooded area, added some more target species – with first really good views of 20+ AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE, plus 2 cracking FIRECREST, several HAWFINCH & 2 CRESTED TIT.
On a role we headed for Portillo el Tietar & arrived perfectly on time as we scanned skywards. 100+ GRIFFONS filled the air, plus several BLACK VULTURE.
A SPARROWHAWK kept us entertained, then just a few minutes later we locked on to an eagle sp. As it drifted towards us we realised it was a cracking ADULT SPANINSH IMPERIAL EAGLE it provided good views as it drifted overhead & then started soaring before disappearing from view.
The cliffs also produced another BLUE ROCK THRUSH on the rock stack opposite.
We finished A highly succesful day with a drive along the tobacco fields, a nice roost of 160+ CRANE, 6+ GOLDEN PLOVER, SHRIKE, 4 GREAT WHITE EGRET, 4 GREENSHANK, GREEN SANDPIPER & 2 LITTLE OWL – 3+ IBERIAN GREY the latter eventually located calling from a cork oak.
We stopped off in Plasencia for an evening meal before heading back to Cabezabellosa.
14 NOV DAY THREE
We had breakfast around 7.30am before heading off on the long journey to the high level mountain area at Pena Franca.
As we drove through the “dehesa” we constantly stopped to admire groups of CRANES feeding on the ground, we also had very nice views of small groups of ROCK SPARROWS.
We stopped off halfway along the small mountain roads, as much to stretch our legs! A short foray along a track looking on to the mountain slopes produced a few birds – GRIFFON VULTURE, 2 BLACK VULTURES, 50+ RED KITE, ROCK BUNTING, CIRL BUNTING, WOODLARK & BLACKCAP, SARDINIAN WARBLER & SEVERAL DARTFORD WARBLER.
After the long steady ascending drive, we eventually reached the monastery at the top of the mountain area of Pena Franca, we stopped on the entrance road to admire several of the IBERIAN IBEX. Then almost immediately as we entered the car parking area an ALPINE ACCENTOR was found & showing very well, eventually 5-6 ALPINE ACCENTOR, were all showing very nicely affording everyone stunning views. Around the ridges we had several other good birds, lots of BLACK REDSTART, with a PEREGRINE putting in an appearance & amazing views looking down at GRIFFON VULTURE & BLACK VULTURE soaring below us!
The best was yet to come, incredibly Mel & Adie had found a SNOWFINCH! I knew instantly this was a rarity, the closest I had seen one to here was in the Pyrenees! I found Ricardo & he confirmed that this was a major find. We successfully stalked the bird down to a few metres securing some good images, everyone getting point blank views!!
We then headed down the hillside on the opposite side to the road we had arrived on & eventually found a picnic area to lunch at. Lunch was soon disrupted as an ADULT GOLDEN EAGLE majestically soared along the ridge, we found several more DARTFORD WARBLER.
We stopped off, but were unsuccessful in our search for Crossbill, it was a long drive down the mountain, but it had proven well worthwhile! We stopped off for coffees & headed back.
We finished the day with an evening meals & wine in the village of Cabezabellosa.
15 NOV DAY FOUR
We had breakfast around 7.30am before heading off at 8.30am for a day of birding in the plains areas. We centred our birding at the westerly area of the plains exploring many of the minor unmade tracks, both by vehicle & on foot – it proved highly successful!! Our first stop & walk scored with many of the target birds -
25+ GREAT BUSTARD, 35 LITTLE BUSTARD, 6 BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE & 160 PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE.
All of the above species were seen perched on the ground, with very good views of GREAT BUSTARD & LITTLE BUSTARD.
We also had wonderful flocks of CALANDRA LARK (100+) & good flocks of pipits & finches. These of course attracted the attentions of a few raptors with SPARROWHAWK & 3 HEN HARRIER all noted. Lunch was taken overlooking a reservoir area, first 2 GREAT EGRETS were a distraction, but food was definitely secondary as 2 GOLDEN EAGLE flew overhead providing wonderful views.
Through the day we added a nice selection of other birds as well 2 BLACK, VULTURE, 12 GRIFFON VULTURE, 20 COMMON BUZZARD, 100+ CRANES, the fields were full of LAPWING, plus smaller no’s of GOLDEN PLOVER, 2 GREENSHANK, 1 GREEN SANDPIPER, 10 HOOPOE & lots of SPOTLESS STARLING, STONECHAT & BLACK REDSTART.
The hedges & overhead lines held good numbers of SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE we saw more AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE & we also noted SERIN & SPANISH SPARROW.
En-route back we stopped off firstly in an agricultural area of the plains & were quickly rewarded with by the far best views thus far of a BLACK-WINGED KITE. Then in Plascencia we stopped & searched around the town edges in some rural fields adjacent to the river – here we had great views of HAWFINCH & also added a scarce overwintering species RED-RUMPED SWALLOW.
We finished the day with an evening meal & wine in the village of Cabezabellosa.
16 NOV DAY FIVE
We had breakfast around 7.45am before heading off at 9am for Arroyocampo.
We were quickly on to 2 BLACK-WINGED KITE before we had even reached the reserve. We had nice scope views of them perched in dead trees.
At the Arroyocampo reserve we had a slow start – no Penduline Tit & no Bluethroat, despite Ricardo having seen them a week ago! But we moved quickly on & soon we had located 4+ PURPLE SWAMPHEN, plus several MARSH HARRIER, WATER RAIL was heard, ZITTING CISTICOLA showed very well perched along the fenceline. A group of 17 COMMON SNIPE were nice to see, there were small numbers of other waders – GREEN SANDPIPER, COMMON SANDPIPER, GREENSHANK – all noted. SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE were numerous in this area & both GRIIFFON & BLACK VULTURE were noted overhead
We then headed for the area of Valcadenas Reservoir – this is a massive body of water surrounded by some large dehesia & plains. It certainly proved a worthwhile visit – 250+ COMMON CRANE, 11 GREAT BUSTARD, 7 BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE, many RED KITE – plus good numbers of wildfowl – 2 GREAT CRESTED GREBE, 200+ GREYLAG GEESE, that hosted a real Spanish rarity – PINK-FOOTED GOOSE, clearly Ricardo was a lot more excited about this than we were!! Also 40 TEAL, 50 GADWALL, 50+ WIGEON, 6 POCHARD, 30+ SHOVELER, 250+ COOT. Finally a screaming male MERLIN passed whizzing by in hot pursuit of pipits!
We finished off the day with Tapas, olives & wine in Plascencia
17 NOV DAY SIX
We started the day by exploring the rocky fields close to the accommodation at Cabezabellosa. We had good views of ROCK BUNTING, but the main species of interest were 3-4 THEKLA LARK. They showed very well & this enabled close scrutiny & a study of all the detail required to be sure of the ID. This species had proven confusing & difficult on previous visits! As we walked back down the hillside, we had brief views of 2 DARTFORD WARBLER, more obliging were a nice flock of 30 SERIN that sat along the roadside fences. Plus RAVEN, RED KITE & CHOUGH all passed overhead.
We then headed to the rural farmlands & gravel pits of the Gallisteo area.
On arrival we were treated to an amazing mixed flock of birds taking advantage of a maize crop 100’s of SPANISH SPARROW, lots of CHAFFINCH, SERIN, but the highlight was 500+ BRAMBLING! We then moved on & could hear LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER, but frustratingly we couldn’t locate it, several ROCK SPARROW were noted. A superb male HEN HARRIER also flew over hunting the masses of passerines.
We then checked out the gravel pit area, we scored really well here with good views of PENDULINE TIT, plus CETTIS WARBLER, COMMON WAXBILL & RED AVADAVAT both eventually seen well. Plus SNIPE, WATER RAIL numerous REED BUNTING & another OTTER also in this area.
The pools added a good selection of wildfowl, SHOVELER, GADWALL, TEAL, MALLARD all expected species, plenty of LITTLE GREBE.
We drove on to a nearby area of rice-fields & from the minibus, we found GREENSHANK, 50 SNIPE, 10 DUNLIN & 50+ WHITE STORK.
The first really poor weather of the trip arrived late afternoon & we arrived at Gabriel Y Galans Reservoir in the pouring rain, we managed to take some shelter, but in the poor light the Cranes appeared in small numbers around 200 CRANES roosted, but we did add STONE CURLEW a flock of around c30 present along the shoreline.
18 NOV DAY SEVEN
Having had a very successful trip & secured all of the main target species we decided to revisit the Monfrague NP area.
We arrived perfectly on time at the famous & beautiful rocks of Pena Falcon, looking upwards to bird filled blue skies! 300+ GRIFFONS filled the air, plus several BLACK VULTURE, the spectacle keeping us entertained for a couple of hours. But of course more birds came into view with BLUE ROCK THRUSH, SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER, PEREGRINE & one last sought after species & the first time I had seen one at Monfrague – BLACK WHEATEAR. Ricardo picked them up first distantly on the top of the cliffs, but we were spoilt as eventually 2 BLACK WHEATEAR made there way over towards us & provided excellent views for everyone!
In the afternoon we took a short circular walk from the visitor centre & had great views of FIRECREST, ROCK BUNTING & HAWFINCH. Close views of several RED DEER as well.
Later despite staying until near dark we were unable to see or hear Eagle owl, which was surprising considering the three I noted here earlier in the year.
We finished the day with an evening meal on the outskirts of Plascencia before heading back to our accommodation.
19 NOV DAY EIGHT
Departed the accommodation & then had a brief visit to Villar de Plascencia pools where we had a lovely selection of birds were - 2 GREAT WHITE EGRET, LITTLE EGRET, CATTLE EGRET, 12+ RED KITE, 50+ CRANE, 2 GREENSHANK, 1 COMMON SANDPIPER, 1 GREEN SANDPIPER, 2 KINGFISHER, BLACK REDSTART, 2 WOODLARK, CRESTED LARK & one more new species for the trip 3 BLACK STORK!!.
The journey back to the airport wasn’t without birds – INCREDIBLY 10 GREAT BUSTARD were noted in fields adjacent to the dual carriageway & a juvenile SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE was noted during a coffee stop!
We eventually arrived back at Madrid airport we said our farewells & got on our flights back to the UK.