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INDIA

North

26 February–11 March 2022

The foothills of the Himalayas, with their adjacent forests and grasslands, support a spectacular avian diversity where birds of the hills meet those of the northern Indian plains. This tour will take us to one of India’s most famed national parks – Corbett – before climbing into the easily accessible yet bird-rich mid-altitudes. A host of resident species and regional specialities are to be expected, with the chance to see large mammals including Tiger and Asian Elephant.

Combine this tour with our tour to India – Bharatpur and save £500 on the combined total.

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

Day 2 After our arrival in Delhi we will spend the remainder of the day at Sultanpur National Park on the outskirts of the city. This sizeable wetland bordered by acacia scrub is a haven for migratory waterfowl and we can expect to see an impressive selection of birds here and in the dry open areas beyond, including Sarus Crane, Black-necked Stork, Knob-billed and Indian Spot-billed Ducks, Bar-headed Goose, White-tailed, Grey-headed and Yellow-wattled Lapwings, Indian Thick-knee, Indian Courser, Sind Sparrow, Eurasian Hoopoe and Bluethroat. We will also visit the shallow wetlands of nearby Basai, where, in open water, reedbeds and adjoining areas of cultivation, we will encounter birds such as Grey-headed Swamphen, Greater Painted-snipe, Water Rail, Baillon’s Crake, Black, Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Black-bellied Tern, Citrine and Western Yellow Wagtails, Water Pipit, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Smoky and Moustached Warblers, Common Grasshopper-warbler and various eagles including Greater Spotted, Indian Spotted, Steppe and Imperial. Throughout the day we will also encounter a good selection of more widespread north Indian species including Black Kite, Grey Francolin, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Red-vented Bulbul, Jungle Babbler, Bank and Common Mynas, Laughing Dove and Black Drongo.

Day 3 We will have a very early start this morning, leaving Delhi to drive north to Corbett National Park to spend the next four nights in the Terai zone at the base of the western Himalayas. We will arrive by early afternoon to begin our exploration of this picturesque area of deciduous woodland and savannah grassland bisected by two fast-flowing, snow-fed rivers, the Ramganga and the Koshi. 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, gives us 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 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 Koshi 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.

Days 4–6 During these three days we will use jeeps to explore the more remote areas of Corbett on daily morning or afternoon safari drives, spending the other half of each day birding on foot in surrounding areas. 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. As such we can expect to encounter an incredible selection of species during our time here, which may include Red Junglefowl, Kalij Pheasant, the gregarious Great Slaty Woodpecker, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Pin-tailed Pigeon, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Dusky and Spot-bellied Eagle-owls and Tawny and Brown Fish-owls. Our daily jeep safaris will give us access to vast floodplain grasslands where we will search for White-throated Bushchat, Red Avadavat, Golden-headed Cisticola and Lesser Coucal. Corbett boasts the highest diversity of raptors anywhere in India and we especially hope to see Grey-headed, Lesser and Pallas’s Fish-eagles plus Pallid Harrier and Collared Falconet, as well as a variety of vultures including Cinereous and Red-headed Vultures. 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.

Day 7 This morning we will leave Corbett to drive into the mid-altitude hills of the outer Himalayas, passing through the erstwhile colonial hill station of Nainital as we make our way to the village of Pangot. We will drive along some of the most spectacular mountain roads in the region, and if conditions are clear will stop to enjoy incredible views of the distant high Himalayas. The journey will take us through both coniferous and broadleaved woodland, riparian vegetation and open fields up to an elevation of 2610m, and no doubt we will begin birding as we travel. We will spend the rest of the day exploring the area around our lodge, where the combination of grassy slopes, scrub, cultivated fields around quiet villages and rich, moss-draped woodland ensure a good selection of species is always present. Birds here may include Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Black-throated, Green-backed and Coal Tits, Slaty-headed Parakeet, the stunning Himalayan Shrike-babbler, Bar-tailed Treecreeper and Collared Owlet. We will also spend some time enjoying the bird baths and feeders in our lodge grounds, where Russet Sparrow, Black-headed Jay, Grey Treepie and Striated and Streaked Laughingthrushes are regularly swept away by large and vocal groups of White-throated Laughingthrushes.

Days 8–9 We have two further days to explore the higher altitudes around Pangot, focusing on altitude-dependent montane specialities including Scarlet Finch, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Himalayan Accentor, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-browed Tit, Himalayan Woodpecker, Variegated Laughingthrush and the western Himalayan endemic Black-chinned Babbler. We will make a special effort to find small groups of Cheer Pheasants on exposed mountainsides, and Koklass Pheasants that venture out of the forest onto the road before dawn. As we emerge from the treeline, we can also expect to see Himalayan Griffon and Bearded Vulture overhead.

Days 10–12 On the morning of day 10 we will descend to a lower elevation as we drive southeast, spending the next three days birding around Bhimtal and nearby Sattal at bird-rich mid-altitudes (1450m). During the winter months, when resident species are joined by migrants from higher altitude, these otherwise popular hill stations are 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, patches of undeveloped scrub and rich forests away from the town provide unrivalled habitat for a good number of Himalayan species. We will spend these three days exploring a number of productive sites in the area, in search of Rufous-bellied Niltava, Blue-winged Minla, Red-billed Leiothrix, Himalayan Flameback, Pale-rumped, Buff-barred and Grey-cheeked Warblers, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, White-tailed and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, White-crested Laughingthrush, 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 Himalayan and Siberian Rubythroats, Golden Bush-robin, Himalayan Bluetail, Blue-capped and Blue-fronted Redstarts, Rufous-breasted and Black-throated Accentors, Grey-backed Shrike, Himalayan and Mountain Bulbuls, Black-throated Thrush, White-collared and Grey-winged Blackbirds, Blue Whistling-thrush, Great and Blue-throated Barbets, Rufous Sibia, Red-billed Blue-magpie, Black Francolin and Asian Barred Owlet. This entire region is dissected by shallow mountain streams that are home to some distinctive riverine species. We will stop frequently to scan for Plumbeous and White-capped Redstarts, Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher and Spotted, Little and Slaty-backed Forktails. Three nights will be spent in Bhimtal.

Day 13 We may have time for some final early morning birding around Bhimtal before we set off on the drive back to Delhi, where we will stay overnight.

Day 14 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. 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.

Golden Bush-robin

Golden Bush-robin

Recommended books available from NHBS