Mammals of North-western India, with Marc and Peggy Faucher

A TOUR THROUGH GUJARAT, RAJASTHAN AND MADHYA PRADESH LOOKING FOR CATS AND OTHER SMALL AND BIG MAMMALS 

Green Bee-eater

23rd October 2016

The tour had been planned when Peggy and Marc were in north-eastern India looking for the elusive and shy small cats found there and we had decided to do this in October 2016. So it was great to meet them at the airport on the 22nd noon. 

Peggy and Marc arrived from Nepal after their trek to Dolpo area passing through several high passes and seeing some stunning mountain scenery and looking very fit - the day before and had some rest and came over to our house in Dwarka for dinner. We regrouped early in the morning of 23rd and flew Jet Airways to Rajkot.

We landed at the Rajkot airport and left for Gir - took us 3 hours 10 minutes through mostly good roads. We left for the first safari immediately and went in to zone 6. Gir has 8 zones of which one is rarely open ( a short zone to Kamleshwar Dam and back) so effectively it has 7 zones. We were at 2 & 6 and it was a beautifully forested area with some dry deciduous forest mixed with teak. We had a few interesting birds - colourful green bee-eaters darted from the branches and the kingfishers (White-throated and Common) showed up well. We saw our first mammal just outside Gir - a Grey Mongoose that crossed the road. We saw Spotted Deer and Sambar and missed a pride of 6 lions that we so wished we had not missed. We checked in to our lodge - Lion Safari Camp located in one corner outside the town of Sassan and settled in for an early dinner. 

24th October 2016

We left at 0530 hours to the park and got in to the zone 5. Highlights of the morning were a mating pair of leopards that played hide and seek for a while and eventually offered us excellent views. We also saw Sambar and a confiding Blue-bull. New Birds included a few White-eyed Buzzard and Yellow Throated Sparrows. We returned from the park at 0930 hours and had some rest before heading back to the park to zone 7. In hind-sight a poor decision. We did see some nice mammals and birds but we missed the pride of lions that posed in route 6 that we nearly got. We should have stuck to route 6 - you will see why. 

25th October 2016

We had route 3 in the morning and route 5 in the afternoon - we did manage a lovely sighting of a male leopard that was 'sawing' (Peggy heard him and he sawed again in a few minutes time) and we managed to see it quite well in the end with both Marc and me getting some good images. We were disappointed not to see Asiaitic Lions and hope that we see one on the way out early in the morning on 26th. 

 

Asiatic Leopard from Gir National Park

26th October 2016

We left Gir early today and tried for the lions outside the park - we saw a couple of Asiatic Jackals and one unidentified mammal that just was too far to id. We realised that the lions were simply not around and started the drive to Kutch. The roads in Gujarat are in excellent condition and we drove north to Rajkot first where we stopped for a while and then carried on to Bhuj reaching around 1300 hours. From Bhuj to Nakhatrana took anouther hour and we reached CEDO Birding Lodge run by Jugal Tiwari around 1400 hours. We were greeted at the gate by Jugal and then showed our simple but well appointed rooms and after a delicious lunch we left for the long afternoon safari towards Banni grasslands. We saw the Desert Jird soon - a few of these inquisitive little mammals showed well. We also saw several European Rollers, a Great Grey Shrike, a few House Sparrow (burkini race), a fly by Indian Rock Eagle Owl and a few other birds. On the way back we followed a Jungle Cat as it took a stroll in front of our car through the town. 

27th October 2016

We started early at 0600 hours and headed back to Banni where we hoped to see the Desert Cat and possibly the Desert Fox - but we were disappointed - we explored a large area almost seeing no mammals - the reason possibly lies in over-usage of pesticides, illegal hunting and commercial wind-mill farms coming up in Kutch. A lot of the fields that we covered produced no mammals. We returned for lunch and then left with Jugal to explore some of the most beautiful habitats that Kutch could offer. We did see a few interesting mammals - Indian Field Mice, Grey Musk Shrew, a couple of Indian Hare and lone Indian Fox was sighted in the evening. We did have two cats cross the roads but from a distance where we could not id them properly. 

28th October 2016

We were a little relaxed about the lack of mammals and enjoyed the morning seeing a few birds with Vaibhab - Jugal's brother in law and a naturalist. He was kind enough to be out with us at odd hours and showed us the rare and endangered White-naped Tit. We also saw some amazing rock formations and a no of Fan-throated Lizards. This evening we managed to find a few good mammals we had Bare-bellied Hedgehog, a Desert Cat and an Indian Fox. We had a lovely dinner under the open sky. Jugal and his team were tireless, very warm and very knowledgeable and we would have loved to spend more time with them. But the lack of the mammals made us change plans and decide to leave next morning to Little Rann. 

29th October 2016

We left after a nice breakfast and headed to Little Rann of Kutch (for no better name to this amazing place). It took us a little over 5 hours to reach and the roads were again excellent. On the way we managed a stop at the Pereshwar temple where we picked up the Greater Mous-tailed Bat, House Mouse and an un-identified Rat (possibly Rattus species). We did stop at the beautiful Bhuj House of Jehan and Katie Bhujwala - beautiful homestay in Bhuj town in the Parsi colony. They alreay run a camp in Kanha and this is a recent addition.

We were entertained by our driver who had sighted a Caracal some days back and casually mentioned it to me when I asked him if he has sighted any cats on his drives recently. We just laughed at the irony of life. We reached a busy Rann Riders and after lunch jumped into our jeeps to head to the Rann. We saw a few Asiatic Wild Ass within minutes of reaching. They were amazingly patient with us and allowed us to walk within about 100 metres from them. Possibly they thought of us as salt-workers in Diwali costumes. We also managed to see a glimpse of Desert Fox and a good view of the Indian Fox. We did see a large no of Greater Flamingo, Marsh Harriers, Common Cranes and some other interesting birds. On the way back at the Jinjiwuada town we managed to find a few Indian Flying Fox and also several Greater Mouse-tailed Bats. 

30th October 2016

We left early to the Rann and were rewarded with an up close encounter with the Desert Fox. We did see McQueen's Bustard (6 individuals), Rufous-tailed Shrike, Desert Warbler and some other interesting birds. We returned in the evening and tried for the Jungle Cat and the Fox (both species) but failed to find one. On the way back we found an injured Indian Krait and we stopped to move it out of the road. However the lack of equipment, light and safety gear resulted in a few anxious moments but eventually we managed to put it way from the road after some effort. 

 

 

 

A Journey to South Assam Hills

A Journey to South Assam Hills - April 2013

 A Typical day in a Village in Nagaland

The South Assam Hills has always been a secret hide-out for several species of skulking birds that few birders in India and abroad have ventured to see. This area is home to several range-restricted species of laughing thrushes at least one parrotbill and a few babblers. It is also home to an amazing bio-diversity and it is the home of the Nagas. They have the reputation of practising head-hunting until recent times - there is no reliable definition of 'recent' - at least till the 50's. It is an extremely difficult area to travel specially if you are a vegetarian. The Nagas love to eat meat - period. 

So it was with some trepidation and a lot of excitement that I looked forward to the tour with my birding friend from Kolkata - Arka. We had just done a trip to Arunachal and agreed that we need to push the envelope a bit. After several phone conversations and emails we were finally ready. Our target was to bird at Pungroe and Khonoma

Angulie Megyase from Khonoma was our guide and we made travel arrangements ourselves. 

Habitat in Pungroe Village

Dimapur - a dusty city with endless traffic - has the only airport and links Nagaland by air to rest of India. The flight to Dimapur from Delhi was via Dibrugarh. The flight from Dibrugarh to Dimapur is so short that one feels sorry for the passengers of this leg - just a take off and touch down for all the hassles that north-east Indian airports offer to its passengers. After a short while at the airport I located the taxi driver - a

Bihari

settler in Dimapur who had bright yellow Maruti Alto ready for us. By the time we reached Kohima - the town was shut and apart from the few shops here and there. The Razhu Pru is located centrally - it is a nicely run homestay and hotel with well appointed rooms and friendly staff. We unpacked quickly and settled in our room after dinner at the restaurant. 

Angulie and the driver appeared after breakfast in a comfy Scorpio and we left for the long drive to Pungroe - a small village with scant settlements and lush forested areas in the surrounds. The route is via Pfutsero and Meluri - winding through some amazing forests and quiet small villages. En route we spoke about birds, Nagaland and the weather. The drive eventually came to an end by day break and we walked in the comfortable PWD bungalow. The excitement about the drive was the flock of Yellow Throated Laughing Thrush that I spotted 23 kms prior to Pungroe. There were at least 12 birds and they offered a brief view. This was a big target for us - so both of us were very happy to see this on our first afternoon. 

At 0400 hours I was up - but the it was raining and it did not take much effort to go back to the bed. However light is really early here in Nagaland and we were out at 0600 hours - in hindsight a mistake. The road from Pungroe towards the forest has some good vegetation to its right and we got the Spot Breasted Parrotbill here within a short while of playing out the tapes. Two birds came up gave us a photo-op and disappeared back fast.We trudged along the single track towards Fakim and Penkim. The forest on both sides were thick and full of birds - but sighting them meant playing tapes for a while and a short sight of a bird before it shot back inside the safe cover of thick forest. For good reasons - we were aware of the sad fate of the migrating Amur Falcons that was captured on film by Shashank and his birding friend. Lesser Shortwing (ssp

carolinae

) was heard often and sighted as well. Other major birds sighted included Slaty -blue Flycatcher (ssp

cerviniventris

), Large Niltava, Little Pied Flycatcher, Silver Eared Mesia, Crested Finchbill, a few Slender Billed Babblers, Streak Breasted Scimitar Babbler, Rufous Capped Babbler, and a couple of Amur Falcons. Birding was interrupted a few times due to rain and very poor visibility. We returned for lunch and resumed afternoon birding after the rains stopped. The afternoon was quieter and produced fewer birds - The White Browed Laughing Thrush and Moustached Laughing Thrush tapes were played in the area next to the culvert (the first culvert - to the right with tall grass reeds and forests below) and though the former did not respond - we did manage poor views of the Moustached L.T. This is a not so shy bird but very quiet compared to other laughing thrushes and hence very poorly sighted. A few more Amur Falcons and Streak Breasted Scimitar Babbler were sighted as well. 

The Spot Breasted Parrotbills at Pungroe

Next day we stayed put at Pungroe and drove further towards Fakim - the road to Fakim starts with a sudden left diversion on the main road going up to Penkim and Mimi and then it continues to Fakim. The area is relatively open and allows better visibility. We added Rufous Necked Laughing Thrush,

khasiana

race of the Rusty Fronted Barwing, Flavescent Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, good views of the Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker and Yellow Vented Flowerpecker, Yellow Eyed Babbler, Orange Bellied Leafbird, a single Ashy Wood Pigeon, a distant Rufous Necked Hornbill, a single soaring Black Eagle and a Rufous Piculet. 

Spot Breasted Scimitar Babbler was heard several times but it was hard to spot this ace skulker.

Several species were seen again including the Spot Breasted Parrtobills. The afternoon was very quiet today - so after a brief session at Pungroe we drive down towards the area where we saw the Yellow Throated Laughing Thrush and had better views today. On the way back I heard an Eye Browed Wren Babbler but we just could not see the bird. 

Our final day in Pungroe - we drove towards Thanamir and birded in the near and surrounds - added the Chestnut Vented Nuthatch, Black Throated Prinia (ssp

khasiana

), a couple of Mountain Hawk Eagles, Yellow Cheeked Tit, the much sough after Long Tailed or Naga Wren Babbler, a few Assam Laughing Thrushes, at least one good view of the Spot Breasted Scimitar Babbler, Maroon Oriole, Yellow Bellied Fantail, Collared Treepie, Spotted Nutcracker, Black Bulbul, a brief view of a

Seicercus sp

warbler which I could not nail and a few other species. In the afternoon we tried again for the Moustached Laughing Thrush and White Browed L.T. but did not get a response. We planned to leave for our next base Knonoma but not before trying for an hour for the two species of Laughing Thrushes. Luckily Arka managed to get one view of the Moustached L.T though the White Browed could only be heard - not sighted. We drove to Khonoma through Phek and Kiphire district and reached late in the evening in time for an early dinner. En route birding was poor primarily because of the heavy slash and burn cultivation which is creating devastation in Nagaland. An erstwhile forested area is being cut and burnt every 4- 7 years and there is no time left for regeneration - birds, mammals, reptiles nothing is spared and if this is not stopped - then there will be no wildlife or forest left in 20 - 30 years. 

Chestnut Vented Nuthatch

Golden Throated Barbet

Naga Wren Babbler

Yellow Throated Laughing Thrush

The next few days were spent in Khonoma - this village has created a name for itself for birders after offering protection from hunting for the last few years. This is good news both for the birders and the few small and reasonable small accommodations available here. We stayed in a simple homestay with a local teacher though a slightly better accommodation in a wooden house is also available. The no of rooms in both places are scant - hence before landing up here one should double check on the confirmations. We birded in the outskirts of the village and the Tragopan Sanctuary & drive down to Dzuku area one morning. we saw Mountain Bamboo Partridge, Spot Breasted Laughing Thrush, Assam Laughing Thrush, Spot Breasted Scimitar Babbler, Striped Laughing Thrush, Streaked Scimitar Babbler, Naga Wreb Babbler, Snowy Browed Flycatcher, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Crimson Breasted Woodpecker (ssp

pyrrothorax

), Pale Headed Woodpecker, Golden Throated Barbet, Rusty Capped Fulvetta, Rufous Gorgeted Flycatcher, Green Tailed Sunbird, Small Niltava, Spotted Forktail, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Black Breasted Thrush and few other species over the next three days. We tried hard to sight the Brown Capped Laughing Thrush - that had been sighted by Shashak and Ramki from here - but failed. However we heard the Grey Nightjar, and the Oriental Scops Owl - that responded to the calls but did not show up. We did a trek at the Tragopan Sanctuary - but the Blyth's Tragopan did not appear, the trek can be pretty easy in dry times but quite slippery and perilous in  wet periods. The visit to Dzukie or Dzuku Valley was interesting - some great sights of pristine dry forests though the birds were mostly elusive. We did see the Mountain Tailor Bird here. 

Black Breasted Thrush

Rufous Gorgetted Flycatcher

Fire Breasted FLowerpecker

Slaty Blue Flycatcher

The Khonoma Village

The mammals sighted included the Orange Bellied and Hoary Bellied Squirrel and a Barking Deer. On the way back I sighted a snake which was green and was being pelted at by the locals - timely intervention saved it but the speed at which it disappeared meant - it could not be identified for sure.

I would love to thank Arka, Shashank and Sujan (whom we met at Pungroe) and Angulie for sharing their knowledge about the birds and birding locations of Nagaland and the knowledge on the birds of this area. Our hosts at Khonoma were polite and though it was not luxurious - bucket hot water on request and simple home cooked food with early morning tea/coffee was never a problem. 

Finally one word on Nagaland - the area is still very wild and the various tribes and clans of Nagaland would love to get some more freedom in designing their future. However, with very scant respect for nature they can very easily damage the fragile eco-system which will go against the very idea of self-dependence and freedom. Nagaland is a beautiful area and the best time for birding is certainly April-May, but the period during the Hornbill Festival - 1st week of December can be an interesting time of visit too. Those wishing to visit this place must do some detailed planning and organize things well in advance. 

Happy Birding!

Avi

An Afternoon in Ranthambhore

An Afternoon in Ranthambhor - 

By mid May the tourists stop coming to India and by June the only foreigners who are willing to dare visit a national park in north-western India are the ones with long lenses - attempting to capture the tiger in their fancy cameras. This allows us - tour organizers an opportunity to 'travel' and do a few things that we cannot do while we are at work. I decided to spend a week in Ranthambhor and try to see some of the cubs that Ranthambhor has been reporting this year. In this part of the world tigers are numbered as T1, T2 and so on. So Machli the female who is now 18 years and has lost her canines but still battling on is T 16, her daughter is T 19 who has three beautiful cubs and so on. The tigers also have names like

Ustad

- the expert one,

Zalim

- the ferocious one,

Sultan

- the king and such like. The names portray the character of the tigers to some extent. Though the scientific community hates to put a product of human imagination on a natural animal, tiger lovers seems to enjoy this practise that started in the 80's with

Sita

and Charger from Bandhavgarh or

Noor

&

Genghis

from Ranthambhor.

I arrive at the Sawai Madhopur station at 2030 hours - transported by an air-conditioned train from a hot and busy Delhi in just over 3 & 1/2 hours. It is hot and busy in the station with people waiting to board trains. I meet my driver and within 1/2 an hour reach Khemvillas - a small lodge owned by Dr. Goverdhan Singh and his charming wife Usha. The cool room beckons me in and after a short and quick dinner I shower and sleep.

Ranthambhor is a legacy from the hunting days of the 40's and 50's and as late as the 60's - the tiger was not sighted here in daylight. In fact in the 70's after the declaration of the tiger reserves most of the sightings were in the night with flashlights & jeep headlights. It was the late Dr. Fateh Singh Rathore - Goverdhan's father - who insisted that the villages inside the park must go out and the tiger must be allowed its space. Fateh slowly and patiently convinced the politicians and the people to leave the park to the tigers and its because of his and his team's efforts that today people come here to see tigers. He passed away after battling it out for some years with cancer - but before he did so he made sure that Ranthambhor has a future for tigers and other wild animals.

I am here to get glimpse of at least one set of cubs and get some photographs. If I sound a greedy tourist - so be it, tiger cubs are cute and adorable and I have not seen one for a while. So I packed my camera bag and decided to spend some time inside the park - hoping to get at least one nice image of them.

The first few rounds were fruitless - I was at the wrong place or the weather was just not right and frustration was slowly building up..will I see a cub, will I be able to get a snap. Well on 24th afternoon we were in route three - this is the area that T19 has been spotted with four cubs - earlier in the year. Sadly while moving her cubs a marsh crocodile grabbed one of her cubs to the dismay of the mother, so three cubs now reamin with the young mother and she had been sighted a few times with the cubs. I prayed for some luck and pulled myself in the car, We headed to the park and parked close to a waterhole. A few more cars had also got the news and we waited under a hot and sweltering sun for the story to unfold. After 10 minutes under the summer Sun and no sign of any life - we moved on to check one of the main lakes of Ranthambhor -

Rajbagh

. The lake is a large one with a cenotaph and a small stone palace at one corner of the lake and it is dotted with large Banyan trees on the same side as the cenotaph and grass beds on the other sides. Deer, crocodile, birds and tigers share space here - the lake is an important water source for the park and its denizens. As we neared the lake we saw T 19 coming out from the one edge of the lake - after taking a couple of shots we left her and headed back to the area where we felt she is heading.

She walked through the valley and reached the area where she had left her cubs. By then we had reached and taken up a position. The female called a few times and bingo a cub came running out.....however the whirr of the shutters and the people was not really what this little thing really liked - so despite the reassurance of the mother - the cub rushed back into a thicket of bushes in seconds. 

T 19 called again and now the cubs were more sure - Mom was close and they can hide below mothers towering presence - they came out one after the other - all of 5 months, small, delicate and extremely vulnerable. The mother of course was used to the people and the cameras - she ushered the cubs in the waterhole for a session with the press. The next 30 minutes flew - the cubs sipped the water, played with each other and bonded with the mother. They were sure now of their safety. After what seemed an eternity T 19 finally was up and she then walked all the way back towards

Rajbagh

lake with the cubs - we followed them from a distance. She reached the lake and my hearth missed a beat - after all one cub was eaten up by the crocs - I certainly did not want to see that happen to another one. She must have known to steer clear from the murky waters of

Rajbagh

- she stayed at one edge of the lake on the grassy bed as she confidently crossed the lake area - heading now towards route 4 - towards another lake. 

While we guessed that she might have a kill where she was heading back with the cubs in tow - it was time to leave her and head out of the park. I had a soft feeling in my heart...a feeling of happiness and joy. I was happy to get an image but more importantly - I witnessed that despite increasing pressures on the forests and forest-unfriendly governments - India's tigers have some space to themselves. 

Tigers are survivors and if we can save these places and somehow can connect them to each other - we will have tigers that our children will be able to see. I cannot imagine a forest without a tiger. It disturb's me, I sincerely hope that those of you who read this blog do make an effort to save the forests that you have in your surrounding areas - an average tree produces enough oxygen in a day to keep one person alive, if we can appreciate that and can save these trees in their natural habitats - we will save our tigers.

Happy birding!....I did see a lot of Indian Pittas and some beautiful Asian Paradise Flycatchers, so there were a few birds around.

A few images for you to enjoy -

T 19 with the female cub

A Leopard sighted in the late afternoon - high up on the fort

This Indian Rock Python can be a threat to the cub in the picture above

A Barred Button Quail in a village looks for food

Indian Pitta migrates from the South by early May and breeds in Ranthambhor

The Sloth Bear is not so common in Ranthambhor - but in summer afternoons they are sighted regularly

Few Birds can match the grace and beauty of a male Indian Peacock

Asian Paradise Flycatchers are very common in Ranthambhor

Matching steps with Mom is not easy - but it is possible

I hope that you enjoy the post - please note that the national parks except some parts of Ranthambhor and Tadoba (in Maharashtra) will get shut from 1st July till 16th October. When they open again - the cubs will be juvenile tigers - getting ready for the real world, facing the tough world where the various non-environment friendly policies and the pressure of the people will make their life a tough one. However I wish to see them again when I am back in Ranthambhor later in the year and will let you know about their story. Apart from T 19, Ranthambhor has at least four other females with cubs - T41, T 39, T 17, - there may be more tigers with cubs in other parts of the park. It will be interesting to see how they fare in the monsoon and what future unfolds for them in the fall when the parks reopen.

Happy birding and enjoy your holidays - wherever they take you.

Snow Leopards of Ladakh

The Female with a cub
It was in 2010 that I met Richard Seibel – he is a stocky gent from California area, in his eighties and full of life. He traveled with me on a tiger tour and went back to US seeing and photographing a few tigers in Bandhavgarh and Kanha.
I was in Ladakh in 2012 and I managed to see a male Snow Leopard for the first time in my life. I did some research and realized that it is possible to see them - with some homework. 
I was visiting Michigan in 2013 where Journeys International – a family run small tour operator is based and I met up with Richard again at a travel get-together. In the meanwhile ‘Dick’ had wished to photograph a Snow Leopard in the wild and then backed out of the plan as he was worried about his health and age. A short meeting between us convinced him to come for the hunt in 2014. So on 16th Feb 2014, Dick landed in Delhi – geared and ready for the ultimate test of luck and patience for one of the most elusive creatures on this earth. I was sure he will see one but his real ambition was to photograph one – now that is not easy.

We left for Ladakh on 19th Feb 2014 and after a short flight (which allows clear views of the peaks of the north-western Himalayas) we landed at the Leh air-strip. The air-hostess announced the temperature outside – 100C/140F. It was 10 in the morning and apparently this was warm compared to last few years – phew! We quickly met our team – Yaphel from the local office met me and put me in the car. We had a cheerful driver Jigmet who drove us to the luxurious Grand Dragon – hot water and clean comfortable heated water made our spirits soar.
The peaks from the flight

Eurasian Sparrow-hawk
The next three days were spent watching television, lazing and planning with one short outing on the 2nd day to the Shey marshes & the Sakti area – we picked up a nicely perched Eurasian Sparrow Hawk, a few White-winged or Guldenstadt’s Redstarts, Bluethroat. At Sakti we had fabulous views of a pair of Golden Eagle, a Red Fox and some Chukars.




Golden Eagle at Sakti
Guldenstadt's Redstart














On the 3rd day of the acclimatization we went to Chilling – a small village hidden in the folds of the Zanskar River – though we could not see any mammals we did see Snow Leopard tracks on the frozen river. On our return we found that the road-workers had blasted a part of the rock wall and the entire road was full with rock debris – some the size of a soccer ball and some the size of a small one room apartment. Well – without a choice of backtracking and waiting – we had one option – walk past the debris and call for a new car leaving the car we were in at a safe place. The plan worked out well – Dick at 84 was the fittest octogenarian I have ever met and with a little help from me he made to the other side with some photo-stops in the middle. 


Fit at 84 - he crossed those stones
The Yeti was finally found
The Golden Eagle and Red Fox at Sakti














On the 22nd we finally left for Ullay. We were actually planned to Rumbak but the visit of the Indian conservationist M K Ranjithsingh resulted in a closure of Rumbak for six days. We were not bothered by this as we had ample time – but such visits must cause some amount of discomfort for people on a short leash and tight budgets. We reached Ullay stopping a few times looking for anything – we did not see any mammals but some Fire Fronted Serins, a few European Goldfinches and Red Breasted Accentors kept us entertained. The scenic of course were grand and layer after layer of snow-covered peaks opened before us.

Ullay - our first base - 


A House in Ullay
Camping at Skanda la - Ullay








Domesticated Yak - Ullay

Ullay is a small village located at 13500 feet with about 15 homes – out of which 5 serve as homestays. We stayed in one of them and was surprised by the level of cleanliness. Immediately on arriving at Ullay the crew set up the kitchen, tea & coffee appeared with chocolates. I met our guide Dorje. The two scopes that we were carrying – a brand new Swarovski and a well used Kowa were out in a flash and the first mammal in Ullay – the Siberian Ibex showed up. A small party of 14 Ibex were grazing at the base of the peak opposite the home-stay and we enjoyed good scope views – though they were miles away from us. A short snow-fall happened in the afternoon and that meant that the temperature dipped immediately – Dick had a thermometer with him and in the early evening it showed -160C/30F. The little furnace – locally called ‘bukhari’ – kept us warm through the early hours of the night but it was cold after that. We got up early and after some hot breakfast (cereals, fruits, hot milk, fried eggs, chocolate shakes, tea/coffee), we left for a hike up the hill. At 14000 feet in Ladakh in winter the air is so dry and short of oxygen that going up even a few steps in the wild is a task. However the slope was not too bad and we managed to cover the distance in good time. We were rewarded with good views of the same party of Ibex. We stayed there for a few hours and then descended to the base. Over the next four days we explore Ullay and its nearby areas both in the morning and the afternoon. We could see the elusive Snow Leopard here though we found ample marks of its presence. We did have excellent views of the Bearded Vulture – Lammergeier, saw the Himalayan Snowcock, got a distant view of a Tibetan Wolf and saw Red Fox. We also got a Wallcreeper and a White-browed Tit Warbler.
Tibetan Wolf
Lammergeier at Ullay









Dick - watching Ibex
We moved back to Leh on the 27th January and after a night halt there (enjoying the relief of having a hot shower) headed to Zingchen to camp inside the Hemis National Park. 

Rumbak - our second base - 



Blue Sheep
The Camping Ground at Rumbak



We camped right at the entrance of the park. Within hours of our arrival we saw the first Snow Leopard – on the ridge over a kill. It was a male and it stayed there the whole day. On day two there was news of a female and a cub at Kharlung. After breakfast, Dick headed to the spot with the crew – I had to stay back due to an injury caused while I was in Ullay. The whole day the two leopards just rested and yawned – then at 1630 they moved and in the next 15 minutes some of the most amazing interactions between the two leopards allowed all the people who gathered at the spot, some cool photographs of Snow Leopards in the wild. We celebrated the sighting with a beer and a cake. It was fun! We stayed in Rumbak till the 6th March and we managed good views of the following wild mammals – Snow Leopard, Blue Sheep, Large-eared Pika, Tibetan Stone Marten, Mountain Weasel Red Fox & Woolly Hare. We saw a no of domesticated Yak the feral cattle. Though Dick was a non birder – I managed to see a few birds – Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Himalayan Snowcock, Chukar, White Browed Tit Warbler, Rufous Breasted Accentor, Fire-Fronted Serin one un-identified raptor that could have been a Himalayan Buzzard and Hill Pigeon. No reptiles were sighted or expected in this cold weather. Temperature at Rumbak ranged between 00C to -180C.





Photographing the Stone Marten – Martes foina kozlovi


Tibetan Stone Marten - Martes foina kozlovi is a nocturnal mammal that in India is found from Kashmir to Sikkim at an altitude between 6000-14000 feet. Since it is a nocturnal mammal - hence it is difficult to photograph and I have not seen an image taken by any Indian photographer in India. I was delighted to hear that they have been seen in our campsite and decided to try for an image. This meant braving the cold and sitting out in the night temperature well below sub-zero. I decided I will do that. I had five nights in my hand and the first two were useless as each time I saw the mammal it just disappeared from sight in seconds. On the third a noisy drunk camper from Bengaluru scare the marten and it did not show up for two nights. One night to go - I sat out at 2100. At 2300 hours the cold was numbing my fingers and I was about to give up - I noticed a shadow between the rocks and I knew it was there. The moon had long set - so I had to use the flashlight with me to focus - so I had a Canon 5D Mark III with flash and a 300 f4 in one hand and torch in one hand a very skittish subject to shoot. I just fired a few shots and the marten just went back into its hole. Initial scan showed that most were out of focus - I was cursing and praying at the same time - at 0100 hours when I was half dead it came back and this time I managed two - three sharp images. Voila! I was very happy that finally I have seen this rare and endangered mammal and have something on plate to prove that.

 We returned to Ullay – with brief stop at Leh and checked in to the homestay of Nurboo –
a local guide with eagle eyes. As we were driving in to Ullay we saw the Tibetan Wolf on the road – it stayed for a very short while and then went up – we did manage a record shot. We were a bit tired from the long camping and took the afternoon easy.
Next three days we scanned the ridges and went out in the near and surrounds to try for a better view of the Snow leopard. We could not find one but at least once came very close to seeing one. Nurboo had located a fresh kill of Ibex and he wanted us to hike up to the kill. He mentioned it was a bit of a hike. We drove upto 14500 feet and walked and hiked up to 17000 feet. It was a tough hike and right at the top we found remains of the kill – the snow leopard had dragged the baby ibex up and finished it before we arrived. We tried to get a glimpse of any sign of Snow Leopard but failed and returned. We did see Tibetan Wolf, Red Fox, Siberian Ibex, Ladakh Urial in Ullay and surrounding areas. We also saw more Golden Eagles, Lammergeier, Chukar, Himalayan Snowcock in Ullay. The Ibex finally came down and allowed us a few shots that were decent.
On the 10th we finally returned to Leh, while Dick relaxed in the hotel I went out and saw the Ibisbill at a small stream near Spituk. 


The Ibisbill near Spituk
We enjoyed our final dinner in the kingdom of snow – and then on 11th flew back to Delhi. It was a dream come true to see the Tibetan Stone Marten and in particular a very happy end to a memorable tour for Dick – who wanted not just to see a Snow Leopard but photograph one.
Mammals seen –
1              Snow Leopard Uncia uncia – 2 males, 2 females
Snow Leopard - Female with cub
The same pair

2              Tibetan Wolf – Canis lupus chanco - 1
3              Red Fox – Vulpes vulpes - 4
4              Tibetan Stone Marten – Martes foina kozlovi - 2
5              Mountain Weasel – Mustela altaica-  1
6              Woolly Hare – Lepus oiostolus - 1
7              Blue Sheep – Psuedois nayaur - 100+
8              Siberian Ibex – 30+

9              Ladakh Urial – Ovis vignei vignei - 10+




10            Large Eared Pika – Ochotona macrotis - 5
11            Royle's Pika - Ochotona roylei - 1
Large Eared Pika

Royle's Pika









Birds seen –
1             Chukar – Alectoris chukar
2             Himalayan Snowcock – Tetraogallus himalayansis
3             Golden Eagle – Aquila chrysaetos
4             Lammergeier – Gypaetus barbatus
5             Eurasian Sparrowhawk – Accipiter nisus
6             Wallcreeper – Tichodroma muraria
7             Guldenstadt's Redstart - Phoenicurus erythrogastus
8             White-browed Tit Warbler – Leptopoliae sophiae
9             Ibisbill - Ibidorhyncha struthesi
10           Common Rosefinch - Carpodacus erythrinus
11           Tibetan Plain Snow-finch - Montifringilla adamsi
12           Fire-fronted Serin - Serinus pusillus
13           Horned Lark - Eremophila alpestris
14           Robin Accentor - Prunella rubeculoides
15           Brown Accentor - Prunella fulvescens
16           Dark Throated Thrush - Turdus artogularis
17           Red Billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 
Black Billed Magpie
18           Black Billed Magpie - Pica hudsonia 
19           Winter Wren - Troglodytes hiemalis


Winter Wren


Dorje and his team


We Will Be Back

A Birder in Tigerland

After spending several years in the forests of Central India - that is home to a no of large mammals Including Bengal Tigers - I share with you my birding experience in this area through this post. Though  I spent a fair share of my days in Central India in Kanha - I have visited Bandhavgarh, Panna, Pench and in recent times managed to see Tadoba and Satpura as well. In my opinion Panna and Kanha are the two best areas for birding closely followed by Satpura Tiger Reserve. Below are a few lines about my birding experience in all of the parks. 



Coppersmith Barbet



                                                                     Plum Headed Parakeet

The northern most park in this set is Panna - it is a semi arid area - though the River Ken flows through the national park - and for that the bird diversity is excellent compared to other similar areas. The key targets in Panna are Painted Spurfowl, Indian, White Rumped and Red Headed Vulture, the Himalayan and Griffon Vulture, Painted Sandgrouse, Jungle Bush Quail, Sulphur Bellied and Smoky Warbler, the beautiful Indian Eagle Owl & Striated Grassbird, White Bellied Minivet, Mottled Wood Owl, Savanna, Jungle and Long Tailed Nightjar, Rufous tailed Lark and Brown Rock Chat. Panna has a healthy no of 20+ tigers at present that are being sighted in regular intervals. Panna always throws up a few surprises - Wallcreeper, Himalayan Flameback, are two birds that have been reported from Panna over the last few years. 



Crested Serpent Eagle


Wire-tailed Swallow

Bandhavgarh is very scenic with undulating hills and grassy meadows. The park is home to the Malabar Pied Hornbill, Blue Bearded Bee Eater  Painted Spurfowl, Mottled Wood Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Sulphur Bellied Warbler, Long Tailed Minivet, Black Headed Cuckoo Shrike, Tawny Bellied Babbler, Marshall's Iora, Jungle and Long Tailed Nightjar and the occasional Cinereous Vulture that can be sighted in the Raj Behra meadows. There are records of Brown Wood Owl and Green Munia from Bandhavgarh - though I have never sighted either species here.



Dusky Crag Martin


Emerald Dove

Grey Necked Bunting


Indian Courser

Long tailed Nightjar

Oriental Whiteye

Velvet Fronted Nuthatch

Golden Fronted Chloropsis

Red Headed Bunting

Sirkeer Malkoha




Indian Silverbill

Kanha is a wonderful birding area. It offers quiet undisturbed areas for the birders. I have sighted birds like the Spot Bellied Eagle Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Brown Hawk Owl, Grey Headed Fish Eagle, Jerdon's Baza, Blue Capped Rock Thrush, Scarlet Minivet, Scaly Thrush, Tickell's Thrush, Cinnamon Bittern, Painted Francolin, Yellow Legged and Barred Button Quail, Greater painted Snipe, Indian Yellow Cheeked Tit, White Rumped Spinetail, Black Winged and Black Headed Cuckoo Shrike, Rufous Bellied Eagle, Himalayan and Siberian Rubythroat, Orange Headed Ground Thrush and Ultramarine Flycatcher. Birds like Green Munia, Sarus Crane, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Lesser Florican, Western Crimson Sunbird, Chinese Sparrow-Hawk, Crested Tree Swift, Forest Wagtail and Ashy Minivet have been reported as well. There is one report of the Forest Owlet being sighted from outside the park but no one has got a photo of this recently re-discovered species. It is present at Melghat and Orissa and hence Kanha is a possibility for this species. 

Pench is a comparatively poorly birded area as most visitors to the park are city-sleekers trying their tiger luck. It is father south from Kanha and is poorly birded - there are some remarkable birds that can be sighted here. Grey Jungle Fowl -is found in the southern edge of the park. There are Orange Breasted Green Pigeon and Greater Flameback, Short Toed Eagle, Long Legged Buzzard and Booted Warbler in Pench - these birds are not sighted easily at the other three parks. Pench also has at least one report of European Bee-eater - a rarity for this area. Other birds in Pench that I have sighted include the Red Headed Bunting, Yellow Crowned Woodpecker, Small Pratincole, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Yellow Eyed Babbler, Yellow Wattled Lapwing and White Browed Bulbul. Pench is a good place for Sirkeer Malkohas too. Not many birders have spent time in the Maharshtra side of the park - primarily because the area is not open to tourists beyond a short distance from the entrance. 

Tadoba - is not an easy place to bird - the reason for this is the constant rush to see a tiger or a leopard and the circular pattern of the routes. A birder can feel frustrated here - though there are some good birds here - Grey Jungle Fowl is common, Red Jungle Fowl can also be sighted here. Painted Sandgrouse, Jungle Bush Quail, Tawny Fish Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Emerald Dove, Grey Bellied Cuckoo, Lesser Yellownape, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Grey Headed Fish Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard are some of the birds worth a mention. 

Melghat is a tiger reserve but it is the least visited of the lot - I have been there a couple of time - primarily to put a tick on the recently rediscovered Forest Owlet. A few pairs of these birds are there in Melghat area and people who come to see it normally do not do much birding in Melghat. The forest is open but the routes are poorly developed and hence birding is difficult. However, Barn Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Jungle Owlet, Indian Black Eagle, large Grey Babbler, Tawny Bellied Babbler, Indian Yellow Tit, White Spotted Fantail, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Indian Scimitar Babbler and few other species. Melghat is 5 hours drive from Nagpur and accommodations there are basic - so those who wish to visit this area must keep it in mind. 

I wanted to finish this post with Satpura Tiger Reserve. This park is northwest from Kanha Pench and Tadoba and south west from Bandhavgarh and Panna - the location is crucial for the birder as part of the forest is the connecting patch between the foothills of north eastern India and eastern forests and the western ghats. This means several interesting birds from two bio-geographic areas can be seen here. The Malabar Whistling Thrush, Jerdon's Baza, Mottled Wood Owl, Barn Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Sirkeer Malkoha, Grey Jungle Fowl, Red Spurfowl, Spotted Creeper, Indian Skimmer, Flame Throated Bulbul, Western Crowned Warbler, Blue Capped Rock Thrush, Puff Throated Babbler, Eurasian Crag Martin are some of the highlights. There are unconfirmed reports of Black Baza and few other rarities but no one has yet come out with an image. 

Well thats some information for those interested to visit these areas - I have also listed my favourite birding lodges - I have kept in mind that a birder enjoys birding in the lodge and tried to balance that with the service and quality of accommodation. A short information on the way to reach these parks is also given below - 

Panna 

How to reach - (Khajuraho - 30 minutes drive has an airport and a station)

Ken River Lodge - Excellent guides and good location. Downside is that some of the rooms need renovation - they are working on this. 

Bandhavgarh 

How To reach - (Khajuraho is 5 hours drive; Jabalpur is 4 hours drive and Umaria is the nearest railhead - 45 minutes drive)

Tigergarh - Good location, modest accommodations in a quiet corner of Bandhavgarh. Good for people on a budget.

Kings Lodge - Good location and service. Better for you if you are with a group. 

Tiger Trails - Excellent location but a bit run down and service can be lacking.

Kanha

How to reach - (Airports - Raipur - 4 hours; Jabalpur 5 hours & Nagpur - 6 hours drive; Gondia station is 3 hours; All three airport towns have stations too. Bilaspur station is 6 hours drive.)

Shergarh - An excellent lodge for birders who are not on a very tight budget. 

Kipling Camp - An excellent lodge for birders - wonderful birding in the lodge premises.

Kanha Jungle Lodge - Excellent for birders - they do host several group tours - so you need to check availability well in advance.

Pench 

How to reach - Airports - Nagpur - 3 hours drive; Nagpur has a station too.

Pench Jungle Camp - Excellent for birders, very knowledgeable guides, good accommodation.

Jamtara - New lodge will function this year onwards - a good accommodation for a birder who is happy spend some money.

Tadoba 

How to reach - Airports - Nagpur - 3 hours drive; Nagpur has a station too.

Tiger Trail - excellent for birders, good location and nice rooms, but they host groups so make sure that the accommodation is booked in advance before checking in.

Svassara Jungle Lodge - Good lodge, a little too urban but they are working on that. Good service and rooms. Birders would like the proximity to the gate - reducing drive time.

Melghat 

How to reach - Airports - Nagpur - 6 hours drive; Nagpur has a station too.

The FRH at Kolkaz - A very basic government run forest rest house with a four rooms. 

Hotel Harshwardhan - A very rundown hotel with basic rooms. The property is approached by a narrow uphill road from Melghat forest. 

MTDC Chikaldhara - basic but cheap and at least the rooms are spacious. 

Satpura 

How to reach - Airports - Bhopal - 3 hours drive; Bhopal has a station too. Sohagpur is the nearest station (1 hours drive).

Forsyth Lodge - Excellent for birders. Very good guides and nicely done rooms. Good birding within the lodge premises.

Renipani Lodge - Excellent for birders who can fist out a little more money. Excellent rooms and superb food. 

Denwa Backwater Retreat - Great location and very knowledgable guides - not for those on a budget.


Birding with Jonathan Franzen and Sean Dooley

Birding with Jonathan Franzen and Sean Dooley –

Hello everyone – I am sorry to be away for a while and I hope that you have had a good time meanwhile – I have just finished a no of tours to some very bird-rich areas and that too with two well know birders from the Globe – while Jonathan Franzen is a well known author and is possibly America’s best known author, Sean Dooley is Australia’s ‘birdman’. Both are keen birders and excellent human beings – they have a lovely sense of humour and were great company.

We from Jaipur where Jon was one of the speakers in the Jaipur Literature Festival – an annual event for book lovers - to Ranthambhor and then to Bharatpur, Chambal River basin which supports a rich birdlife and some good mammals and reptiles, Delhi and then flew into the sub-tropical forests of northeastern India in Assam. We explored the well known Kaziranga but also visited the Nameri National Park – a little gem with a no of range restricted and endangered birds.

Siberian Rubythroat

On the 17

th

January – evening I met Jon at the Samode Haveli – which is a beautifully redone old ‘haveli’ in Jaipur Rajasthan and we chatted over a poolside dinner with Jhumpa Lahiri and her family about her new book ‘The Lowland’. The next morning – Sean arrived and the birding started. I was out early in the grounds of Dera Amer – an area at the base of the Amer Fort where the tourists sit on elephant back and do a walk looking at the sylvan surrounds. I was with a local birder – Sahdev Singh and he had seen some good birds in this area – the day produced some beauties – Siberian Rubythroat, 

Chestnut Eared Bunting, 

White-capped Bunting 

White Capped Bunting

were seen well within a few minutes of the start. We also saw flight views of the Indian Vulture, Shikra, Oriental Honey Buzzard. There were excellent view of the Bluethroat, Green Beeeater, India Roller, the diminutive Rufous Fronted Prinia, Common Babbler, the endemic Large Grey Babbler, Indian Black Robin, Oriental White-eye, the very colourful and abundant White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher and Little Pied Kingfisher. The Plum Headed Parakeet amused Sean as he had never seen one before, we did see the more common Rose Ringed Parakeet too. Spotted Owlets were sighted with ease, White Eared Bulbuls were there everywhere, there were a few Common Rosefinches but we managed to see the females only, we ended the say with a juvenile Shrike that could be a Bay Backed juvenile. We saw it well but were not absolutely sure about the id. We finished the day with a huge sizable flock of Bank Mynas that were roosting on the wires on the roadside. 

Bank Myna

Next morning – we started early and headed to Ranthambhor – the drive produced a Tawny Pipit, a single Blue Rock Thrush and one unidentified bird which we saw for a brief while sitting up on the top of a small stoney hill and just did not fit into a bird from the northwestern area of India . We reached Ranthambhor in time for lunch at the beautiful Khemvillas a beautiful family run hotel in the outskirts of Ranthambhor. We left early as we had a safari and on the way got a Peregrine Falcon that was perched on a distant tree. We did see a tiger on our very first drive and then decided to ‘bird’. Highlights included Stork Billed Kingfisher, Booted Warbler, Hume’s Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, Long tailed Shrike, Indian Scops Owl, Painted Stork, Grey Francolin, Red Whiskered Bulbul. Next day we added a courting pair of Brown Fish Owl, Greater Coucal and a few others as it started to pour and we returned drenched. It does get a bit cold when it is raining. In the afternoon the rains continued so we birded in the outskirts and added the much sought after and elegant Painted Sandgrouse. They blend well though once sighted one sees them well. We decided not to go inside the park and focus on the outskirts and we did well – Jungle Bush Quail, Sirkeer Malkoha, Moustached Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, male Common Rose Finch, Baya Weavers, Red Collared Dove, Brown Rock Chat, Red Headed Bunting, Crested Lark, Rufous Tailed Lark, Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark, Greater Flamingo, Great Thicknee, Chestnut Headed Sandgrouse, Sarus Crane, Black Stork, Indian Skimmer, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Indian Stone Curlew, Black Headed and Brown Headed Gull, Pallas’ Gull, Yellow Eyed Babbler, White-eyed Buzzard, Common Snipe, Indian Spoonbill, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Darter, Green Sandpiper, White-browed Fantail, Bonelli’s Eagle, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Yellow Crowned Woodpecker, Brown Capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Purple Swamphen, Knob-billed Duck, Red Naped & Black Headed Ibis, Large Cuckoo-shrike, Western Marsh Harrier, Bar Headed Geese, Indian Spot-Billed Duck, Dalmatian Pelican, Great White Pelican, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Black Tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, Oriental Turtle Dove, Indian Grey Hornbill, Black-winged Cuckooshrike (unusual for this area), Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush and a lot more. At the Sawai Madhopur station we picked up the Coppersmith Barbet and the Yellow Footed Green Pigeon and then travelled to the well known marshes of Bharatpur. From the Bharatpur station we headed to a swamp where we had great views of the Greater Painted Snipe – a big tick for both Sean and Jon and then added Wire-Tailed Swallows and Little Grebe, Black Winged Kite and then headed to the park for a short while – we added the Brooke’s leaf Warbler and the Common Woodshrike, Sand Martin, Dusky Crag martin, Clamorous Reed Warbler & Lesser Whitethroat. Next morning we entered the park early and had a good morning’s birding with several new additions like the Black Necked Stork, Dusky Eagle Owl, Jungle Nightjar, Sarus Crane, Garganey, Black Bittern, Osprey, Indian Spotted Eagle, White-tailed Lapwing, Common Hoopoe, White-Bellied Drongo, Booted Warbler, Asian Pied Starling, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, Red Rumped Swallow and some more. 

For the next day we decided to drive to the nearby areas outside the park and went up to a placed called Bayana – this is where we found a little gem – Striolated Bunting. From there we drove to Bund Baretha and added the Sulpher-Bellied Warbler, Orange Headed Thrush and Tickell’s Thrush to our already swelling list. We tried for the Graceful Prinia but with no luck. We returned to Bharatpur after spending the whole day outside.

Striolated Bunting

On the 25

th

January we reached Chambal – driving from Bharatpur on the way we added a Richard’s Pipit, Common Stonechat, Pied Bushchat and a flyby Short Toed Eagle. Chambal is a delightful small lodge run by Ram Pratap Singh and his wife Anu and team of local men who are now well trained. We walked in the fields for a while adding the Brown Hawk Owl, Orange Headed Thrush, Brown Headed Barbet, Red Breasted and Taiga Flycatcher, Verditer Flycatcher and few more species. In the evening we did find the locally common Indian Palm Civet and also enjoyed good views of the Indian Flying Fox.

Next morning we left early for the boat ride on Chambal – Chambal is a beautiful and very clean river supporting a range of wildlife – we managed great views of the Indian Skimmer, Black Bellied Tern, Red Crested Pochard, Bar Headed Geese a few Greylag Geese, fly by Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse, Sand lark, Graceful Prinia, Brown Crake, Plain Martin, Crested Bunting, 

Crested Bunting

River Lapwing, Long Legged Buzzard, Little Stint and a few more species. Of course we did see the Fish Eating Crocodile or

Gharial

– the name is derived from the shape of the knob on the snout – it looks like an inverted pot or ‘

ghara’

(of course you need to use a bit of imagination) and that is where the name comes from. The

Gharial

is a pure fish-eating crocodile and is great for the eco-system. 

The Chambal River is home to the big brother of the Gharial - the Marsh Crocodile too. The Marsh Crocodiles

(pic on the right)

are a lot more aggressive and can attack people if they get a position of advantage. N

ext morning we drove back to Delhi – the new highway meant that birding was minimal though we did add a Steppe Eagle. 

We flew to Guwahati on the 28

th

Jan and on reaching quickly headed for the dump that is famous for the congregation of the ‘beautiful’ Greater Adjutant Stork – we saw them trying hard to admire the beauty and added Black-eared Kite to the list too. In the meanwhile the road side birds had changed completely – Jungle Mynas replaced Bank Myna and Eurasian Tree Sparrows replaced the House Sparrow – we trudged on to Kaziranga with  birding and food stops adding Yellow Bittern, Richard’s Pipit, Chestnut Tailed Starling, the

affinis

race of India Roller, Asian Openbill, Purple Heron, Lesser Adjutant etc.

We reached Wild Grass in the dark and decided to get some rest – the birding in north-east is intense and keen birders will always delight in the lush forests where rare and skulking birds are aplenty. 

Eastern Crimson Sunb

Next morning we started right from the lodge where we found a co-operative Daurian Redstart followed by a perched Green Imperial Pigeon. In a while we picked up the only Forktail of our trip the Black-backed Forktail. As we started the walk to the tea estate where we birded till 0830 hours we managed to good views of the Eastern race of the Crimson Sunbird. In the tea estate – our first target was the rare and very shy Blue Naped Pitta. We got a call pretty soon – but that is all we had for the day. We 

got the beautiful Snowy Browed Flycatcher, Collared Falconet, Red Jungle Fowl, Spotted Dove, Blossom Headed Parakeet, Alexandrine Parakeet, Blue Throated Barbet, Yellow Browed Warbler, Hume’s Warbler, Thick-Billed Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Eastern race of the Crimson Sunbird, Rufous Capped Babbler and a few more. We headed to the park after the morning birding and got our first views of this beautiful park – the Rhinos were all over the place, we saw Swamp Deer, Hog Deer, Wild Boar, Indian Elephant, Wild Buffalo, Malayan Giant Squirrel – birds that we added here today were Grey Chinned and Short Billed Minivet, Grey Headed and Pallas Fish Eagle, a fly by Lesser Fish Eagle, Southern Backed Shrike, Tricolored Shrike, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Asian Palm Swift, Asian Barred Owlet and few other species. The afternoon was spent in the eastern zone and we managed to see a few good birds – we failed to get the Eastern Marsh Harrier but did get good views of Falcated Duck, a Besra, Northern Goshawk, Velvet Fronted Nuthatch, Red Headed Vulture, White Rumped Vulture, Emerald Dove, Northern Lapwing, Bronze Winged Jacana, Pintail Snipe, Greater Spotted Eagle, Pied Harrier, Spot Billed Pelican. Next morning we were back at the park and were rewarded with good views of the Green Billed Malkoha, Great Hornbill, Swamp Francolin, Kalij Pheasant, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Blue Eared Barbet, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Grey Headed Lapwing and some more birds. The afternoon was at the park too – and we added the Chesnut Capped Babbler to our list. Next morning we again birded in the outskirts for a while and we did see several species but added two new birds – the Pin Striped Tit Babbler (any typo error with this bird will be dangerous) and the Lesser Yellownape. 

Grey Headed Fish Eagle

The morning park drive produced the ultimate skulker – the Blue Naped Pitta. The afternoon was spent in the eastern zone and we added several raptors today  starting with a sparrowhawk that we were not absolutely sure of and then Slender Billed Vulture, Eastern Imperial Eagle, a Tawny Eagle, Pallas Fish Eagle, Grey Headed Fish Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Himalayan Vulture, Crested Serpent Eagle, Great Myna, Crested Goshawk, Besra, Indian Spotted Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Streak Throated Woodpecker, Fulvous Breasted Pied Woodpecker, Grey Capped Pygmy Woodpecker and some others. It was truly to see close to 15 raptors in two hours – and that too all seen well. The next morning was our last morning in Kaziranga and we decided to head to the central zone and managed to get one new species the Blue Bearded Bee-eater. In the afternoon – we did short drive to the central zone and came tantalizingly close to seeing a tiger – it was coming straight towards us through the tall grass and as it was just about to come out a bunch noisy tourists deflected it and it went back in to the jungle. 

The Wild Buffalo in Kaziranga

Great Hornbill

We were out from Kaziranga and now drove towards Nameri – a relatively small park with wonderfully rich birdlife.

Brown Fish Owl

Our Nameri expedition started with an exploration into the reserve next morning – and within 5 minutes of our start we had a great sighting of the Great Hornbill  - a pair sat close to us as we looked in to these giant of a bird feeding on figs. We moved ahead and had a pair of Wreathed Hornbill fly past us. Phew – not bad! We had several new birds here – Brown Fish Owl,

Maroon Oriol (pic on the left) Lineated Barbet, Greater Goldenback, Large Woodshrike, Spangled and Bronze Drongo, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Zitting Cisticola, White Winged Wood Duck – which we missed at the regular site but managed to see four of them at water-body slightly further ahead, Pale-chinned Flycatcher, Red Headed Trogon. In the afternoon we birded in the outskirts of the camp and added Pin-tailed Green Pigeon and Wedge Tailed Pigeon to the list apart from several birds that we saw again. We closed the day with great views of the Grey Bellied Tesia. Next morning we headed to the River for a session of rafting on the Jia Bhoreli River. On the way we picked up the Striated Grassbird. We had gorgeous rafting tour with good views of Goosander, Ibisbill, Long Billed Plover, Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker, Yellow Vented Flowerpecker, fly by Lesser Fishing Eagle, Pallas Fishing Eagle, Little Spiderhunter, Streaked Spiderhunter and few more birds. The afternoon was spent in the forest and we added to our tally a few birds like the Yellow Vented Warbler, Scaly Thrush, Lesser Racket tailed Drongo, Sultan Tit, Blue 

Naped Pitta – again – Orange Bellied Leafbird, Small Niltava, Slaty-bellied Flycatcher, 

Slaty Bellied Flycatcher

Little Pied Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, White Rumped Shama and Barred Cuckoo Dove.

The Red Crested Pochard

It was a fitting end to wonderful trip – we had some lovely discussions on the Sean’s record-breaking Big Twitch and some interesting discussions with Jon on his books and plans for his new book. It was a real pleasure to meet them and I enjoyed every minute of the trip with them.  

Some Images are shared below (in addition to the ones above)

Bar Headed Geese 

Spot Billed Pelican

Red Naped Ibis

River Tern

Striated Babbler

Tokay Gecko

Jon & Sean and yours truly at Nameri Eco Camp