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INDIA

North

19 November–5 December 2018

Northern India is an incredible area for birds with a spectacular avian diversity. This tour will take us to some of India’s most famed reserves and national parks – Ranthambhore, Bharatpur and Corbett – and up into the foothills of the Himalayas. A host of resident species and regional specialities is to be expected, and we also have excellent opportunities to see large mammals including Tiger and Asian Elephant.

Day 1 Our overnight flight from London to Delhi will arrive early in the morning on Day 2.

Day 2 An afternoon train will take us south to Sawai Madhopur and Ranthambhore National Park. En route we will encounter a good selection of commoner north Indian species including Black (Black-eared) Kite, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Red-vented Bulbul, Jungle Babbler, Bank and Common Mynas, Laughing Dove and Black Drongo. In the evening we will settle in at our comfortable wildlife lodge, which is conveniently situated on the outskirts of the park, for a two-night stay.

Days 3–4 We will spend Day 3 and the first half of Day 4 exploring Ranthambhore on morning and afternoon safaris by open jeep or canter (open lorry-bus), and on foot in surrounding thorn scrub. Situated in a region of semi-desert, Ranthambhore is distinctly arid, with a landscape of rocky outcrops, sheer cliffs and grassland dissected by jungle-filled ravines. A former hunting preserve of the Maharajas of Ranthambhore, and later the British, the sanctuary is dominated by an imposing 11th-century fort and dotted with crumbling ruins that make it uniquely atmospheric. The park’s habitat is predominantly tropical deciduous forest with extensive areas of patchy thorn scrub and its birdlife is a rich combination of desert species and the more widespread of north India’s forest birds including Painted Spurfowl, Chestnut-bellied and Painted Sandgrouse, Indian Courser, Indian Peafowl, Woolly-necked and Painted Storks, Sirkeer Malkoha, Southern Grey Shrike, Alexandrine and Plum-headed Parakeets, Rufous Treepie, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark, Greater Short-toed and Rufous-tailed Larks and Sulphur-bellied Warbler, with Brown Fish-owl and Indian Scops-owl at roost. Despite the catastrophic decline in vulture numbers in India during the last decade due to the unrestricted use of the veterinary drug Diclofenac it is still possible to see six species in the park, which is also home to an array of mammals that congregate around the park’s five perennial lakes during the dry winter months and we will have a good chance of a Tiger sighting here, among an abundance of herbivores. We will leave Ranthambhore after a final safari in the morning of Day 4 for the drive to Bharatpur for a two-night stay.

Day 5 Officially known as Keoladeo-Ghana National Park, Bharatpur is undoubtedly India’s most famous bird sanctuary and is given global recognition through UNESCO and RAMSAR for its importance to over 400 species of resident and overwintering birds. Its flooded meadows were originally created and maintained as a series of shallow lakes and freshwater marshes for duck-shooting by the Maharajas of Bharatpur and since its declaration as a bird sanctuary in 1956 Bharatpur has provided an irreplaceable refuge for vast numbers of water birds including Sarus and Common Cranes, Asian Openbill, Painted, Woolly-necked and Black-necked Storks, Greylag and Bar-headed Geese, Indian Spot-billed and Comb Ducks, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-headed and Glossy Ibises, Oriental Darter, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Grey-headed Swamphen, Greater Painted-snipe, Black Bittern and White-tailed Lapwing. In addition, species such as Indian Courser, Large-tailed and Grey Nightjars, Dusky Eagle-owl, Spotted Owlet, Orange-headed Thrush, Smoky, Hume’s and Eastern Orphean Warblers, Bluethroat and Siberian Rubythroat can be found in the mosaic of dry deciduous woodland, sandy acacia scrub and vast open grasslands surrounding the wetlands, whilst various raptors including Short-toed Snake-eagle, and Steppe, Tawny and occasional Imperial Eagles, are attracted to the influx of waterfowl.

Day 6 Bharatpur is also a good base from which to visit nearby Bund Baretha, an extensive reservoir holding a similar selection of birds to Bharatpur but often in greater numbers. We will spend the morning here, perhaps adding species like Barred Buttonquail, Water Rail, Yellow-wattled Lapwing and Chestnut-breasted Bunting in irrigated farmland, scrub and roadside marsh en route. We will leave Bharatpur after lunch for a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra then continue to Jarar village in the Chambal River area, where we may find Brown Boobook and Common Palm Civet before spending the night in Jarar.

Day 7 The perennial Chambal River, one of India’s least polluted waterways, is a lifeline to agriculture in this region. A 400-kilometre stretch of the river and its banks are designated as a sanctuary, home to important populations of Marsh Crocodile, Gharial and Gangetic Dolphin. We will spend the morning on a leisurely boat-trip along the river where birding is facilitated by the lack of vegetation along the shoreline, and Brown Crake, Indian and Great Thick-knees, River Lapwing, Egyptian Vulture, Desert Wheatear, Sand Lark and Crested Bunting can be seen. The Chambal River is one of the most reliable places to see the resident yet patchily-distributed Indian Skimmer, often in good numbers, alongside Black-bellied and River Terns. We will leave Jarar after lunch and drive back to Delhi for an overnight stay.

Days 8–9 On the morning of Day 8 we will start early and drive north into the foothills of the western Himalayas, arriving by mid-afternoon to spend the rest of the two days birding around Sattal at mid-altitude (1450m). During the winter months, when resident species are joined by migrants from higher altitude, this otherwise popular hill station is delightfully quiet. With a high density of birds moving in mixed flocks birding is exhilarating and takes place against a backdrop of fading colonial splendour and dramatic mountain scenery. The persistence of dense undergrowth around lake edges provides unrivalled habitat for Rufous-bellied Niltava, Blue-winged Minla, Red-billed Leiothrix, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Himalayan Flameback, Pale-rumped, Buff-barred and Grey-cheeked Warblers, Black-throated and Green-backed Tits, White-tailed and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, White-throated and White-crested Laughingthrushes, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler and the secretive Immaculate Cupwing. A good selection of species can also be found within the town itself, where patches of open grass and scrub-filled ravines support White-tailed and Siberian Rubythroats, Golden Bush-robin, Himalayan Bluetail, Blue-capped and Blue-fronted Redstarts, Rufous-breasted and Black-throated Accentors, Russet Sparrow, Grey-backed Shrike, Himalayan and Mountain Bulbuls, Black-throated Thrush, White-collared and Grey-winged Blackbirds, Streaked Laughingthrush, Blue Whistling-thrush, Great and Blue-throated Barbets, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Rufous Sibia, Red-billed Blue-magpie, Black Francolin and Asian Barred Owlet. The entire region is dissected by shallow mountain streams that are home to some distinctive riverine species including Plumbeous and White-capped Redstarts, Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher and Spotted, Little and Slaty-backed Forktails. Two nights will be spent in Sattal.

Days 10–11 Today we will climb further into the Kumaon hills to Pangot, passing along some of the most spectacular mountain roads in the region with, in clear conditions, incredible views of the high Himalayas. The journey will take us through both coniferous and moss-draped broadleaved woodland, riparian vegetation and open fields up to an elevation of 2610m. The higher altitude of Pangot, where we will stay for two nights, is reflected in its vegetation and in the presence of additional altitude-dependent montane specialities including Scarlet Finch, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Altai Accentor, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-browed and Black-crested Tits, Himalayan Woodpecker, Striated and Variegated Laughingthrushes, Black-chinned Babbler, Koklass and Cheer Pheasants, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier and Collared Owlet.

Day 12 Only a short descent through the hills is needed to reach Corbett National Park, which nestles against the foothills in the Terai, the forest and savannah grasslands that flank the Himalayas to the south. Corbett is uniquely picturesque, with its hilly terrain bisected by the Ramganga and Kosi Rivers and their numerous tributaries. The forest, which is interspersed with alluvial grassy pastures, is a largely inviolate remnant of the indigenous mixed deciduous woodland of the outer Himalayas; parts of the forest have been under some form of protection since 1858. Corbett lies where the avifauna of the Himalaya merges with that of the Indo-Gangetic plains, making this one of the richest birding areas in Asia. Much of Corbett is accessible only by open jeep but many exceptional woodland areas still exist outside the park boundaries. Exploring these on foot, often from the road, significantly increases the list of potential species and, in particular, the opportunity to find habitual skulkers such as Chestnut-headed Tesia and Long-billed Thrush. We will spend the afternoon birding outside the park in roadside forests, where we will hope to find species such as Great Hornbill, Common Green-magpie, Maroon Oriole, Ashy, Black-crested and Black Bulbuls, Red-breasted Parakeet, Green-tailed Sunbird and Orange-bellied Leafbird. Small groups of Ibisbills overwinter along the Kosi River and we will make an effort to locate this striking and much-sought-after species. We will also search for Wallcreeper on boulders or on the steep cliffs that form part of the riverbank. We will spend four nights in the area of Corbett National Park.

Days 13–15 During these three days we will use jeeps to explore the more remote areas of Corbett and spend two nights in a forest rest-house in the heart of the park’s western ranges. Staying within the sanctuary will give us access to quieter jeep trails through varied habitats, and, in particular, to the vast grasslands of the floodplain of the Ramganga adjacent to the lodge, where we will search for White-throated Bushchat, Red Avadavat, Bright-headed Cisticola and Lesser Coucal. Corbett boasts the highest diversity of raptors anywhere in India and we will especially hope to see Grey-headed, Lesser and Pallas’s Fish-eagles and a variety of vultures including Cinereous and Red-headed Vultures plus Pallid Harrier and Collared Falconet. Other key species present include Red Junglefowl, Kalij Pheasant, the gregarious Great Slaty Woodpecker, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Pin-tailed Pigeon, Dusky Eagle-owl and Tawny Fish-owl. As we spend time birding within the park we are also likely to encounter a whole host of mammals, most significantly Tiger, Asian Elephant, Wild Boar and Yellow-throated Marten. We will drive out of the park in the afternoon of Day 15.

Day 16 The morning will be spent birding on foot outside Corbett then we will drive to Delhi and stay there overnight.

Day 17 We will head for the airport to catch our return flight to London.

General Information Temperatures will vary from hot in the lowlands to cold, particularly at night, at Sattal and more so at Pangot, where snow is a possibility at higher altitudes. The pace is moderate, with no long treks involved, and on most days we will take a break at midday to relax. The highest altitude to which we will ascend is 2610m. There are a number of health requirements and you must consult your GP in this respect. Accommodation throughout is in comfortable hotels and wildlife/birding lodges with private facilities. Two nights will be spent in a forest rest-house within Corbett National Park where rooms are of a more basic standard, although still with en-suite bathrooms and hot water. Visas are required.

BOOKINGS FOR THIS TOUR CLOSE THREE MONTHS BEFORE DEPARTURE AS WE HAVE TO RELEASE TRAIN TICKETS AT THAT TIME AND IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO GET THEM BACK.

Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 4; maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders.

White-tailed Nuthatch

White-tailed Nuthatch

Recommended books available from NHBS