Bharatpur and Ranthambhore
Birdfinders 2006 tour to northern India – Bharatpur, Ranthambhor and Sonkhaliya – was a great success with an excellent 245 species including several very difficult and rare birds. The tour was reversed this year and on the drive to Sonkhaliya we encountered many of the common roadside birds of northern India. Next day we headed out into the semi-desert where we encountered highly-localised species like Yellow-wattled Lapwing and Rufous-fronted Prinia as well as a well-out-of-habitat Yellow-crowned Woodpecker. A pair of Rock Eagle-owls showed well but our real prize was at the end of the day when we found a flock of 10 Indian Bustards. Firstly two in a field then seven flew over to join a lone bird in a traditional roosting area. We felt very privileged to enjoy such wonderful views of these magnificent but highly-endangered birds including a displaying male! Next day we headed to Ranthambhor enjoying several nice stops en-route where we enjoyed fantastic views of the very localised River Lapwing. Arriving at Ranthambhor with some light left we watched a pair of Painted Sandgrouse as close as 20 feet in good light.
Our next two days were spent in Ranthambhor National Park enjoying stunning views of Red-headed Vulture, Great Thick-knee, Brown Fish-owls, Painted Spurfowl, Sirkeer Malkoha and Olive-backed Pipit amongst other birds. Mammals were plentiful with Sambar and Spotted Deer and Nilgai predominating but on our final drive we found the holy grail of the mammal world, not one but two Tigers at close range, wow!
Moving on to Bharatpur for the final part of the tour, we found a pair of Indian Skimmers at a reservoir en-route. At Bharatpur we enjoyed many special birds as well as the spectacle of huge numbers of post-breeding and wintering birds. Six Tickell's Thrushes were a good start but a first winter female Dusky Thrush eclipsed them as it was a first state record! Great White Pelicans, Bar-headed Geese and Painted Stork were in profusion and totally oblivious to our presence. Stately Black-necked Storks and Sarus Cranes stalked their prey whilst Common Cranes were a more familiar sight. Raptors abounded with amazing views of Great and Indian Spotted Eagles, Booted, Imperial and Steppe Eagles plus Short-toed Snake-eagle and Crested Serpent-eagle. Dusky Eagle-owl, Spotted Owlet and Indian Scops-owl all showed well in daylight whilst warblers included Hume's Whitethroat, Brooke's and Hume's Leaf-warblers and Greenish and Smoky Warblers. Pipits were well-represented with numerous Paddyfield, smaller numbers of Richards and Tawny and single Long-billed and Rosy. Of the animals, Golden-backed Jackal was quite common and two Rock Pythons put on an excellent display.
One morning we made a visit to Agra to enjoy the spectacle of the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. A pair of Dusky Eagle-owls breeding in the grounds of the Taj Mahal provided some avian diversion! Another day we went to Bund Bareta where we found another five Indian Skimmers alongside numerous ducks. On the rocky slope up to the fort, we found good numbers of Sulphur-bellied Warblers and White-capped Buntings whilst Brown Rock-chats descended on any food we dropped! At a nearby house, we enjoyed the spectacle of hundreds of Indian Flying Foxes as well as a beautiful Orange-headed Thrush. To end the day off nicely we found a stunning male House Bunting, a rare winter visitor here.