NORTHERN INDIA PART TWO:

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ITINERARY & DAILY ACCOUNTS

 

 

ITINERARY

 

Friday 23 February

: Arrival in Delhi late in the evening. Transfer to Hotel Sunstar

Saturday 24 February

: Birding Okhla Barrage. Afternoon drive to Tiger Camp

Sunday 25 February

: Birding Corbett NP. Overnight at Dhikala Forest Lodge

Monday 26 February

: Birding and Tiger tracking in Corbett. Afternoon to Tiger Camp

Tuesday 27 February

: Morning birding Kumeria. Afternoon to Jungle Lore Lodge

Wednesday 28 February

: Full day birding Pangot area. Night at Jungle Lore Lodge

Thursday 1 March

: Compulsory departure from Pangot. Overnight at Sat Tal

Friday 2 March

: Birding Sat Tal area. Afternoon train to Mathura

Saturday 3 March

: Boat trip Chambal and birding lodge area. Overnight Chambal

Sunday 4 March

: Culture day: Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. Overnight Bharatpur

Monday 5 March

: Full day birding Keoladeo NP.

Tuesday 6 March

: Birding Bund Baretha. Drive to Ranthambore

Wednesday 7 March

: Birding and Tiger tracking in Ranthambore NP

Thursday 8 March

: Birding Ranthambore. Afternoon to Jaipur

Friday 9 March

: Culture day in Jaipur

Saturday 10 March

: Drive to Delhi. Afternoon culture in Delhi. Transfer to airport

Sunday 11 March

: Arrival home

 

 

 

DAILY ACCOUNTS

 

Friday 23 February

An early flight took us from Dusseldorf to Paris arriving there at 8:35 AM. After waiting in the somewhat grotty terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle Airport our flight to Delhi left with a 45 minutes delay at 11:10 AM. After a trouble free flight we arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi around midnight local time. After going through customs we picked up our luggage and walked to the arrivals hall where a representative from Asian Adventures was waiting for us. We changed some money and left the airport for a 25 minutes drive to Hotel Sunstar, arriving there at 01:45 AM. After checking in (a lot of paperwork) we had a beer at the room and went to bed late at 3:00 AM.

 

Saturday 24 February

Our first night in India was a short one rising at 7:00 AM for a quick breakfast. While waiting outside the hotel we saw our first birds being Black Kite and House Sparrows. At 8:00 AM we were picked up by Pascal our driver for the next week and headed on to Okhla Barrage at the eastern outskirts of Delhi. Here we also were met by Hari Lama our excellent bird guide for the coming week. We firstly walked a wide track leading into the wetlands with agricultural fields to the right and reeds with scrubs on the left. While walking the track we noted amongst White-throated Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Red-wattled Lapwing, Besra, Bluethroat, Pied Bushchat, Indian Robin and Ashy Prinia. The track ended up at a big tree near the wetland after about 1,5 km. In the big tree we saw a family of Spotted Owlets and a couple of Indian Grey Hornbills flying over. We then scanned the wetlands having amongst Bar-headed Goose, Spot-billed Duck, White-breasted Waterhen, Purple Swamphen, Indian Pond-Heron and Purple Heron. On our way back towards the road we had amongst Graceful Prinia, Red Avadavat and a couple of Brown-headed Gulls flying over. Here we took a right turn and walked a small paved track along the wetlands. After birding the wetlands we walked back and birded a small park near the main road having Red-throated Flycatcher, Greenish Warbler and Common Tailorbird. Around noon we left the area for a six hours drive to Tiger Camp near Corbett. At the bridge crossing the Ganges River we had a short stop having new birds like Pied Kingfisher and hundreds of Ruddy Shelduck. After a stop for lunch at 2:00 PM we headed on and from the car we noted amongst Egyptian Vulture, Shikra and Eurasian Kestrel. A few km before the town of Ramnagar we had a short sanitary stop having a beautiful Spangled Drongo. We arrived at the excellent Tiger Camp Lodge around 6PM and after dropping our luggage in our very spacious room we had a cold beer at the campfire were I checked off my daylist for today. Our first day in India ended up with a list of 81 species of which 19 were lifers for me. Best bird of the day: Spangled Drongo. After dinner we went to bed early at 9:30.

 

Sunday 25 February

Again an early start for breakfast at 6:00. Around 7:00 we left the lodge by jeep accompanied by a park ranger and our birdguide Hari Lama. Good birds started showing up already when we left the lodge. We made several stops along the 10km paved road to the park entrance for amongst Blue-throated Barbet, Green Magpie and White-bellied Drongo. After doing all the paperwork at the park entrance we headed on into the park towards Dhikala stopping for birds en route. During the drive we noted amongst Speckled Piculet, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Great Hornbill, Red-breasted Parakeet, Jungle Owlet, Maroon Oriole, White-rumped Shama, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and White-crested Laughingthrush. At a lookout point on the Ramganga River we also saw several mugger crocodiles and gharials. We arrived at the Dhikala Camp just before lunchtime and firstly dropped our luggage at the basic but clean room. After lunch we relaxed a bit until 3:30 PM. We then headed out for our first search for tigers in the woodlands and grasslands surrounding the camp. Although we missed the tiger we had some really good birds especially during the last hour of daylight. The tracks along the forest edge produced amongst Streak-throated Woodpecker, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Long-tailed Minivet, Common Woodshrike and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch while the drive through the grasslands produced Black Francolin, Northern Harrier, Collared Falconet, White-throated Bushchat and four Short-eared Owls hunting above the grasslands. Back at the camp we had a quick shower and at the restaurant I made my daily checklist. Today we had a really good day with 95 species of which 68 were new for the trip. Our trip list is already at 163 birds after just two days of birding.       

 

 

Monday 26 February

Our day started early again with a second attempt to find a tiger which was again unsuccessful. We than birded the grasslands and the river estuary having amongst Little Stint, Eurasian Thick-knee, Kentish Plover, Osprey, Pallasí Fish-Eagle, Long-billed and Buff-bellied Pipit. We then paid a short visit to a watchtower overlooking the river and grasslands in the hope to spot a tiger but unfortunately again no tiger. We continued the track along the river and crossed it over a small bridge. The birding on this section produced amongst Brown Fish-Owl, Collared Falconet, Woolly-necked Stork, Black Stork, Grey-breasted Prinia, Zitting Cisticola and Chestnut-eared Bunting. From here we headed back for lunch at the Dhikala lodge. Around 2:30 PM we packed our luggage for the drive back to Tiger Camp. The forest was very quiet during our drive back to the gate and produced no new birds. We arrived at the gate at 5 PM and decided to spend the last hour of the daylight along the Kosi River in search for the Ibisbill. According to our guide Hari it had been spotted in the area just a few days ago but unfortunately we did not find it. We arrived back at the Tiger Camp at 6 PM and after a welcome hot shower we had an excellent Chinese wok dinner at the restaurant. Today we saw 93 species adding 26 to our triplist of now 189 species. Best bird of the day: Brown Fish-Owl.

 

Tuesday 27 February

We started our birding at 7 PM at a Wallcreeper stakeout about two km downstream from the lodge but we missed the bird there. We then tried again for Ibisbill which was again in vain. A bit of a surprise here was a female Common Merganser and we also had Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark. We then drove further north along the river to Kumeria which is past the Mohan gate. Here we followed a path going down to the riverís edge. This area produced quite some good birds with amongst Little Cormorant, White-throated Fantail, White-tailed Rubythroat, Little and Spotted Forktail and Green-tailed and Crimson Sunbird. It was already 11:30 AM when we drove back towards Tiger Camp. Another stop at the Wallcreeper stakeout was successful this time with the bird sitting at close range on the rocks along the river. After lunch we packed our luggage for our drive to Pangot. We had a short stop at Corbett Falls where we had Greater Flameback and our only Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher of the trip. Just before Nainital we had to wait for about 45 minutes at a road construction, and we arrived at the Jungle Lore Lodge in Pangot just before dusk. The weather in the mountains looked fine with clear skies but this would dramatically change during the next days. We dropped our luggage and had dinner in the central cottage. After dinner I checked off my day list having 74 birds of which 25 where new ones. Our trip list is now at 214 species. Best bird of the day was Spotted Forktail.

 

Wednesday 28 February

During the night we were awakened by the sound of heavy rain on our cottage roof. When we got up in the morning it was still raining and the surrounding mountains were covered in snow. It was foggy and cold with temperatures around freezing. We had breakfast in the main cottage and waited for the rain to stop. From the cottage porch we spotted amongst Eurasian and Black-headed Jay, Black-throated Tit, Himalayan Bulbul and Russet Sparrow. Although it was still raining at 11 AM we decided to head down the valley towards the village of Timla Pani because the sky looked less cloudy downhill. As we descended it finally stopped raining and we birded the track downhill. Birds recorded here where amongst Red-billed Blue-Magpie, Grey Treepie, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Black-lored Tit, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Streaked Laughingthrush and Pink-browed Rosefinch. When the rain started again after 11/2 hours we went back to the lodge were we had lunch while waiting for better weather. When the rain slowed down a bit around 3 PM we decided to head out again birding a slope higher up the village. It was dry when we walked a trail along a ridge having amongst Green-backed Tit, Black Bulbul, Striated Laughingthrush and Rufous Sibia. After about 30 minutes it started pouring down again and we decided to go back to the lodge and drink a beer at the fireplace. After dinner a made my day list again. With only about 2 hours of birding in dry conditions our day list produced only 45 species with still 17 new ones having a triplist of now 231 species. Best bird of the day: Chestnut-headed Tesia.

 

Thursday 1 March

Rain was still coming down the next morning and there was even more snow on the surrounding mountains then yesterday. During breakfast our guide Hari told us it was better to leave Pangot as the road to Nainital might become closed because of the snowfall. We agreed with him and packed our luggage right after breakfast and left the area. Pangot was supposed to be one of the birding highlights of the trip but unfortunately ended up as a big disappointment due to the severe weather conditions. However the decision to leave the area turned out to be a very good one as the pass towards Nainital was covered with 10 to 15 cm of snow. At the highest point we even got stuck and had to be dig-out by some locals who had shovels with them. By reaching Nainital the snow turned into rain again and we headed to the basic Green Glen Lodge in Sat Tal which is at a lower altitude than Pangot. A short stop along the road produced Blue-capped Redstart and a Lammergeier soaring over the valley. When we arrived at the lodge at around 11 AM it stopped raining and we decided to head out right away before it would start raining again. We stayed in the neighbourhood of the lodge and did some roadside birding having amongst Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Emerald Dove, Small Niltava, Red-flanked Bluetail and Yellow-breasted Greenfinch. We also heard Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush but were not able to find it. After one hour the rain started again and we went back to the lodge. After lunch we sat on the porch watching the feeding table having amongst Grey Treepie, Red-billed Blue-Magpie and a pair of beautiful Red-billed Leiothrix. When the heavy rain changed in a drizzle around 3 PM we went to the lake area of Sat Tal but the birding was extremely slow. The only new birds recorded were Rufous-breasted and Black-throated Accentor. Heavy rain started again after one hour and we decided to go back to the lodge having a beer at the fireplace. Again a rather short day list with 43 species recorded of which 14 new for the trip. Our triplets is now at 245 species. Bird of the day: Lammergeier.

 

Friday 2 March

When we got up at 7 AM we were finally rewarded with a bright sky. After a quick breakfast we left the lodge and drove through the village of Bhowali after which the road climbed steeply. We made several excellent birding stops along this route having amongst Great Barbet, Mistle Thrush, Verditer Flycatcher, White-tailed Nuthatch, Black-crested Tit, Yellow-browed Tit, Black-faced Warbler, Blue-winged Minla, Whiskered Yuhina, Common Rosefinch and a group of Fire-fronted Serin. The road up the mountain finally ended up at a pass where one can have great views of the distant Himalayas during clear weather, but it was too cloudy on the other side of the mountain in our case. A short walk at the pass produced amongst Himalayan Swiftlet, Black-headed Jay and White-throated Laughingthrush. We then drove back downhill and just before the village took a right turn further down a valley to search for Brown Dipper at a stream near a temple. After a couple of minutes we found the bird and we had also great views of Crested Kingfisher, Spotted Forktail and Blue Whistling-Thrush. After a cup of tea at a local stall we headed back to Sat Tal and birded the lower valley alongside the lodge until lunch. We searched for Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler which we heard but were not able to find. The only new bird recorded in the valley was Mountain Bulbul. Back at the lodge we had lunch and afterwards paid another short visit to the lake area. Dark clouds were coming in again but it stayed dry this time. The birding at the lakes was very slow and we did not see any new birds. While driving back to the lodge we made two stops for raptors soaring over having Northern Goshawk and Booted Eagle. At 3:30 we had to leave the lodge for a 3 hours drive to the train station in Lal Kuan. We said goodbye to our guide Hari Lama who stayed at the lodge while Pascal our driver brought us to Lal Kuan. On arrival at the train station we bought a couple of beers in a local shop which were consumed later in the train together with our packed meal which we took along from the lodge. We had hoped for some more privacy in the train but unfortunately we had to share the rather cramped four berth cabin with two local Indian people. Checking off my day list showed 76 species for the day with 18 new for the trip having a trip list now of 263 species. Best bird of the day: Great Barbet.

 

Saturday 3 March

We arrived at Mathura train station at 4:30 AM. Here we were picked up by our driver for the next week. The drive to the Chambal River Lodge took about 21/2 hours arriving there just after sunrise. After dropping our luggage in our room we had an outside breakfast after which we set off to the Chambal River accompanied by our driver, guide Dalveer Singh and someone from the lodgeís staff who carried a weapon (I donít know for what reason). The journey to the river took about an hour including two birding stops for amongst Hoopoe, Brown-headed Barbet and Crested Bunting. We arrived at the river near a pontoon bridge which was used for crossing the river by the many camel carts which was apparently the common way of transport in the region. After waiting a few minutes we boarded the boat for a 2 to 3 hours ride downriver. The birding was really excellent from the boat with many new birds occurring for our trip list. The riverbank held many Mugger Crocodiles and Gharials resting motionless in the warm morning sun. We even had a short glimpse of the endangered Gangetic Dolphin. During the boat ride we noted amongst Comb Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Common & Pied Kingfisher, Black-bellied Tern, Short-toed Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard and Eurasian Eagle-owl sitting in his nest hole along the riverbank. After about one hour we approached an island in the river and it was soon clear that it held one of our target birds for today. It held about 40 roosting Indian Skimmers accompanied by other good birds like Eurasian Spoonbill, Great Thick-knee and several other wader species. At the riverbank next to the island we had our only Black Ibis of the trip. On our way back we made a short stop on a dry sandy island for wheatears and Crested & Sandlark. Another dry sandbank close to the bridge held dozens of Small Prantincole and a few Temminckís Stint. Driving back to the lodge we passed a small village where many people were on the streets throwing paint to each other. Our guide told us it was because of the celebration of the Holy Colour Festival. Our driver and me also received a full load of paint through the opened car window which ruined my shirt and pants. Back at the lodge I changed clothes and we had lunch in the garden. We decided to take a few hours of rest during the afternoon because we only had a couple of hours sleep last night. Around 4 PM Dalveer showed up again and we birded the lodge surroundings until dusk. First Dalveer showed us a Collared Scops-owl roosting in a banana tree behind the lodge. We had some excellent birding and the place was really teeming with birds. Some of the most noteworthy birds included Asian Koel, Yellow-footed Pigeon, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Bay-backed Shrike, Small Minivet and Indian Silverbill. Back at the lodge we took a shower and went for dinner. Our day list ended up at 100 species of which 38 were new for the trip, having a trip total now of 301 species. Best bird of the day: Indian Skimmer.

 

Sunday 4 March

Today no birding on the program. We were advised to leave the lodge very early because today was the final day of the Holy Colour Festival. Apparently it is not save to drive in rural areas during the day until about 2 PM because in the past there have been incidents of people attacking passing cars. So we left the lodge already at 4:30 to get into a hotel close to the Taj Mahal in Agra before first light. A room was arranged for us to have a couple of hours of rest. Around 10 AM a culture guide picked us up at the reception and we went to visit the world famous Taj Mahal which was within walking distance. Back from the Taj Mahal we had lunch in the hotel and left Agra around 2 PM to visit another culture site called Fatehpur Sikri which is situated on the way to Bharatpur. Around 5 PM we arrived in our luxurious heritage hotel in Bharatpur called Laxmi Villas. The remainder of the day we relaxed a bit enjoying a cold beer and having dinner in the hotelís patio.

 

Monday 5 March

After an early breakfast we were picked up by Ratan Singh who was our bird guide for the next days. We first visited a site just outside the park for Greater Painted-snipe which we found immediately. Just after the park entrance we checked out a site for Brown Hawk-owl but unfortunately we did not find it. Around 9:00 we started our tour through the park by cycle rickshaw. It was soon obvious that the park was totally dried out with only a very small portion holding a bit of water. The whole scene was a bit disappointing having a completely different Keoladeo NP in mind as described in several reports.        However during our 3 to 4 hours cycle tour we found some really good birds having amongst Gray Francolin, Sirkeer Malkoha, Dusky Eagle-owl, Black-necked Stork, Sarus Crane, Common Crane, Bronze-winged Jacana, Eurasian Thick-knee, White-tailed Lapwing, Greater Spotted-eagle, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Orphean Warbler, White-eared Bulbul and Indian Courser. We then had lunch at the Sunbird restaurant just outside the park and afterwards decided to have a couple of hours of rest in our hotel. At 3:30 PM we headed out again while my wife stayed at the hotel. Afterwards this was not a bad choice of her because we did not see any new birds for the trip. We birded from a raised track surrounded by agricultural fields just east of Keoladeo NP, but as said before the bird activity was extremely low.

Around 6:00 we arrived back at the lodge where I checked off my day list while enjoying a cold Kingfisher beer. Our day list ended up at 95 species with 19 new for the trip having a total triplets now of 320 species.

 

Tuesday 6 March

Todayís program involved a lot of travelling. However during the morning we had some really good birding with stops en route and a visit to Bund Baretha which is a large lake created by a dam some 2 hours drive south of Bharatpur. We first birded the lake from the dam having the sun from behind. The lake was full of waterfowl producing new birds like Lesser-whistling Duck, Ferruginous Pochard, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Asian Openbillled Stork, Great-crested Grebe and Oriental Darter. Afterwards we took a track leading around the lake which ended up at an old Maharaja Fort. During the drive to the fort we noted amongst Common Hawk-cuckoo,  Baya Weaver, Chestnut-breasted and Red-headed Bunting. At the fort we had an early lunch overlooking the lake with an Imperial Eagle perched in a tree at the lakeshore. We then headed on for the long drive (5-6 hours) to Ranthambore. The original route was closed because of road constructions so we had to take a longer and rather bumpy alternative. During the drive we had a few stops with nesting Long-billed Vultures on a cliff and for Chestnut-bellied and Painted Sandgrouse. Around 6:30 we arrived at our very luxurious heritage hotel for the coming nights located not far from the entrance of Ranthambore National Park. After an excellent barbecue buffet dinner I checked off my day list having 109 species with 18 new for the trip. Trip list is now at 338 species. Bird of the day: Imperial Eagle.

Wednesday 7 March

Today we focussed more on finding a tiger than on birds. After an early cup of tea we headed out by jeep entering the park at around 6:30. It was pretty chilly this morning and the bird activity was very low as was the tiger activity. We searched for about 31/2 hours but no sign of any tiger. The only new birds for the list where Striated Heron and a White-browed Fantail. We arrived back at the hotel at about 10:00 and decided to bird the dry fields and scrubs surrounding the hotel. Here we found amongst Eurasian Wryneck, Indian Courser, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Variable and Isabelline Wheatear. We then had lunch and because it was quite hot in the afternoon we decided to relax for a couple of hours at the hotelís pool. Around 3:30 we were picked up again for our second safari in Ranthambore, but again without seeing any tiger and only a couple of interesting birds like White-naped Woodpecker and Sirkeer Malkoha. Back at the hotel we enjoyed a nice cold beer in the patio while making my daily bird list. Today we had only 49 bird species with 7 new ones having a trip list now of 345 species. Unfortunately the best bird of the day was not a mammal: White-naped Woodpecker.

 

Thursday 8 March

As today was our last chance for finding a tiger we decided to have it another try. We entered the park again very early and this time took another route leading along a lake and a fort. It was soon clear that luck was again not with us and that we would have to leave India without seeing a tiger. We visited the fort overlooking the lake, and on the way back to the entrance we focussed more on birds having amongst Painted Spurfowl, Brown Rock-chat, Yellow-eyed Babbler and Rock Bunting. Back at the hotel we tried the hotel surroundings again but we found no new stuff. After lunch we said goodbye to Ratan Singh who had to take the train back to Barathpur while we headed on to Jaipur. We arrived in Jaipur at around 4:00 and the rest of the day we relaxed a bit in the hotelís garden. Todayís bird list ended up at only 59 species of which 5 were new for the trip. Trip total ended up at 350 species as the coming days we had no birding on the program. Best bird of the day: Painted Spurfowl.

 

Friday 9 March

As mentioned before no birding for today. We visited some cultural highlights of Jaipur and surroundings like the Amber Fort, the Palace of Winds, the City Palace and the observatory.

 

Saturday 10 March

Our driver told us that leaving early would not be necessary so we had a late breakfast and headed out for our drive back to Delhi at 9:30. We thought the drive would only take about 3 hours but including a traffic jam it took us nearly six hours arriving at hotel Sunstar in Delhi at 3:30. A culture guide was waiting for us since 1:00 PM at the hotel but as a result of or late arrival we only had about 3 hours to see some of Delhiís cultural highlights like Qutab Minar, India Gate and the Parliament House. At 6:30 we had dinner in a restaurant near the city centre and afterwards went back to the hotel were we had some time to relax and pack our luggage. At 9:00 we were picked up for our airport transfer and flight homeÖ


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