India, the north – Tigers and Birds Trip Report, January 2018

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8 – 21 JANUARY 2018

By Jason Boyce

A new destination for all the participants on the tour, a tour that offers a whole lot more than you would expect, something for everyone! India is a country rich in culture, history, and indeed both fauna and flora. We visited many great destination during the tour, the world-famous national parks such as Corbett, Ranthambhore, and Keoladeo Ghana National Parks and the beautiful Himalayan foothills at both Pangot and Sattal. We also made visits to the truly breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal.
The tour connected with so many brilliant birds, such as Great Slaty Woodpecker, Ibisbill, Wallcreeper, Cheer, Koklass, and Kalij Pheasants, Bearded Vulture, Great Hornbill, Indian Skimmer, Indian Courser, Brown Hawk-Owl, Tawny Fish Owl, Golden Bush Robin, Spotted Forktail, and Brown Dipper. A total of 389 bird species were recorded (plus two heard only). We of course also managed to locate and enjoy some exciting mammals, which included the majestic Bengal Tiger, Jungle Cat, Sloth Bear, Collared Hedgehog, Ganges River Dolphin, and Asian Elephant, and a few interesting reptiles, including Common Indian Monitor, and two crocodilians, Mugger and the strange Gharial, were also seen. Species lists are at the end of this report.

Pre-day, 7th January. Sultanpur National Park day trip
As everybody had arrived in New Delhi a day early, a pre-day trip today went to Sultanpur National Park as well as one or two other local birding sites in the area. Today was definitely a day for all of us to get to know one another and a fantastic introduction to birding in India. We kicked off at a local spot on the way to Sultanpur that is good for Sind Sparrow and Striated Babbler. We connected with Striated Babbler rather quickly, first one individual and then a couple more after that. Other birds in the area alongside a small stream were Red Avadavat, many Citrine Wagtails, Bluethroat, Red-vented Bulbul, Plain, Ashy, and Graceful Prinias, and a fly-by Red-naped Ibis, as well as a few striking Pied Mynas. Our very first White-throated Kingfisher of the tour was confiding and perched in cracking morning light. We did then connect with Sind Sparrow and a fantastic Moustached Warbler. Arriving at Sultanpur we enjoyed our first parakeets and flycatchers in the form of Rose-ringed Parakeet and Red-breasted Flycatcher (not long after that we also saw the recently split Taiga Flycatcher). Large-grey Babblers were seen around the entrance. Sultanpur National Park offers some forested areas, scrub, and wetlands, which all make for a great birding destination. The waterfowl were present in high numbers, many Greylag Geese, Indian Spot-billed Ducks, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Grey-headed Swamphen, and Common Moorhen. There were quite a few Little Cormorants with a number of Indian Cormorants and Oriental Darters as well. Painted Storks were present in huge numbers (200+), while Eurasian Spoonbill and Grey and Purple Herons were less than ten each. Some of the highlights of the day for the group were in the scrub alongside the wetland; we had great sightings of a male Bluethroat, a few smart Indian Robins and Oriental Magpie-Robins, a trio of Spotted Owlets being mobbed by a few small passerines, and the tricky Brooks’s Leaf-Warbler.
After lunch we headed over to Basai Wetland, where we spent about two hours. Here we added a number of shorebirds: Black-winged Stilt, White-tailed Lapwing, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, and a single Ruff. This was a great area for waterfowl once again; we recorded many species we had just seen at Sultanpur and added the smart-looking Bar-headed Goose and Ruddy Shelduck. Isabelline Shrike and Pied Bush Chat were seen along the path. A single Streak-throated Swallow joined hundreds of Grey-throated Martins as well as Barn and Wire-tailed Swallows over the wetland. A fantastic first day had come to an end – all were really happy and enjoyed our introductory day before the main tour would begin tomorrow.

Day 1, 8th January. Okhla Bird Sanctuary
We had a later start this morning to allow the fog to lift. After arrival at the Okhla Bird Sanctuary we birded along a quiet road with good vegetation on either side, ideal for many smaller passerines. Here we picked up Plain and Ashy Prinias as well as Paddyfield Warbler, Two-barred and Greenish Warblers, Dusky Crag Martin, and our first sunbird, Purple Sunbird. The bird sanctuary holds hundreds of waterfowl, many of which were seen yesterday, but some of the better sightings today included Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, and Great Cormorant. Here we also picked up a few gulls and a tern species. Pallas’s Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, and Brown-headed Gull were all on show, and we also saw a few Whiskered Terns feeding over the water. The quiet road through the sanctuary gave us many more birding sightings; we enjoyed Green Bee-eater, Brown-headed and Coppersmith Barbets, Red-breasted Flycatcher, and many Common Chiffchaffs, as well as Hume’s Leaf Warbler. Asian Koel was seen in the trees alongside the shoreline. A family of about ten Oriental White-eyes was gleaning the leaves alongside the shoreline as well. Later in the afternoon we headed to some open, grassy scrubland – in this area we were surprised and rather impressed to find a Jungle Cat having a rest in the reeds. We also found Pied Bush Chat, Siberian Stonechat, Indian Robin, White-breasted Waterhen, and Common Snipe and had an excellent sighting of Yellow-bellied Prinia. Nilgai and Five-striped Palm Squirrel were the only mammals that hung around for some pictures. Indian Grey Mongoose was also briefly seen. Another fantastic day with over 80 species and a few surprise mammal sightings was thoroughly enjoyed. We had some really delicious Indian cuisine and then retreated to get ready for our travel to Ranthambhore National Park in the morning.

Day 2, 9th January. Travel to Ranthambhore National Park
Well, today was one of those eventful days that you don’t have much control over, a day of many frustrations but ultimately ending in a spectacular way. Not too much birding got done, as we were to take the train from Delhi to Ranthambhore. Our train was unfortunately three hours late – not much we could do but wait and chat about what we may see over the next two days in the national park. Southern Plains Gray Langurs greeted us at the train station on arrival along with Indian Jungle Crow and Common, Pied, and Bank Mynas. We eventually reached the park entrance with less than an hour of daylight left – we made the most of it and went straight into the park. Plum-headed and Rose-ringed Parakeets and Rufous Treepie seemed to be all over the place, and a large group of Indian Peafowl was right alongside the road and in the large fig trees. After a day with lots of waiting and not much excitement we were certainly in the mood for something wonderful to happen… it did! Drivers and guides started exclaiming “Sloth Bear! Sloth Bear!” We were incredibly fortunate to experience a 10-minute sighting of a single Sloth Bear searching for termites about 15-20 meters off the road – a just reward at the end of a hard day’s ‘toil’, some would say. Either way, we loved the sighting and then headed back to the lodge to prepare for a full day in the park tomorrow.

Day 3, 10th January. Ranthambhore National Park
There finally started the much anticipated day where we would spend the morning and afternoon taking jeep game drives (they call them safaris here) around the beautiful Ranthambhore National Park! Our vehicle was allocated Route 4. Our first sighting of the morning was a Common Kestrel in some early morning light. Then we encountered a party of Cinereous Tits flitting back and forth across the road in front of us. Some dry deciduous forest with a few rocky hillsides was the next habitat we passed through; here the highlight was undoubtedly Painted Spurfowl, a male as well as a female were seen. Searching for tigers can be rather stressful, wanting to see this animal so badly also makes things nerve-wrecking when the thought of “what if we dip” crosses your mind – luckily we didn’t have to have those thoughts for very long. All of a sudden we were looking right at a young female Bengal Tiger, a sight to behold. The tigress hung around long enough for all of the group to get great looks and some pictures; soon thereafter she sauntered back into the thicker vegetation, not to be seen again. We could of course then relax a bit and enjoy some birding. A few new species for our trip thereafter were Small Minivet, Grey-necked Bunting, Grey-breasted Prinia, and the lovely Common Iora. A small pond held Brown Crake, White-breasted Waterhen, Indian Pond Heron, Striated Heron, Pied Kingfisher, and Little Egret, as well as both White-browed and Grey Wagtails. Time ran out before we could say, “where do the leopards hang out”, and so we started the journey back to the hotel (finding a Crested Honey Buzzard on the way) for a well-deserved, celebratory brunch. After brunch we birded the scrub outside the hotel area; some highlights here were Brahminy Starling, Indian Silverbill, Bay-backed Shrike, Variable Wheatear, White-browed Bush Chat, Rufous-fronted Prinia, and the sought-after Painted Sandgrouse. We first thought that we had about six sandgrouse around us but soon realized that there were many more – in total between 30 and 40 Painted Sandgrouse were seen.
Our afternoon safari was also really enjoyable. We were allocated Route 3 this time. We started with a really nice buzz of activity: Rhesus Macaque and Southern Plains Gray Langur checked in in the mammal department, while a group of about 20 Jungle Babblers and a single male Painted Spurfowl were searching through the dry leaf litter for any morsels. We drove through much more dry deciduous forest and passed some big bodies of water. We enjoyed watching some aquatic species around the large dams, these included Purple Heron, Indian Pond Heron, River Tern, Great Egret, Great Cormorant, Oriental Darter, and a few Pied Kingfishers. A single Indian Vulture was seen soaring above us. We came across other species later that afternoon: White-capped Bunting, a Shikra with a meal, Tawny Pipit, and a dapper-looking White-browed Fantail behaving like a cattle egret alongside a male Sambar (a deer). The only thing left for the day was a sunset photograph, a drink, and some lovely Indian food.

Day 4, 11th January. Ranthambhore area, Soorwal Lake, and travel to Bharatpur
We took a pre-breakfast walk through some of the scrubby habitat near the entrance to Ranthambhore National Park to look for a few new species. At a little roadside puddle we recorded a host of shorebirds, including Ruff, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Green, Wood, Marsh, and Common Sandpipers, Temminck’s Stint, and a few Black-winged Stilts. We also picked up a single Sulphur-bellied Warbler and the southern subspecies of Greater Coucal here. The scrub was alive with activity; we saw over 50 Purple Sunbirds in the two hours of birding as well as three babbler species, Common, Yellow-eyed, and Jungle Babblers. Alexandrine Parakeet was a real treat, a number of them sat high atop a few trees and gave some good fly-bys too. Some other highlights here included a single Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Spotted Dove, and Common Woodshrike. Two of the best birds of the morning came later on, Indian Bush Lark being the first of the two; one bird spotted by Shyam was seen running on the ground between the scrubby acacia and lantana bushes. We also flushed a pair of Barred Buttonquail (thanks, Tim!), which we subsequently found again and got better views. On the way to Soorwal Lake we stopped at a field that had 20 plus Indian Stone-curlews – a real treat! Soorwal Lake had almost completely dried up, but luckily there was still enough water to attract a host of wetland species. We recorded about 55 species here in two hours, many of which we had already seen good numbers of, but some of the new trip birds were Asian Openbill, Gull-billed Tern, and Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, but the highlight was surely a group of four Indian Skimmers – at first they were just sitting on the bank roosting, but later we saw them flying effortlessly and, of course, doing what skimmers do. Then we continued our journey to Bharatpur, where we arrived safely at dusk.

Day 5, 12th January. Keoladeo Ghana National Park Today we spent the full day birding the Keoladeo Ghana National Park, making use of cycle-rickshaws to get around. The park has many different habitats; these include scrub, woodland, lakes, and marshes, and this helped us to record 112 species for the day. The morning and afternoon light was beautiful, and the group thoroughly enjoyed taking pictures at this site. We started in the woodland and scrub habitats and found the likes of White-eared Bulbul, Grey Francolin, Indian Peafowl, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon (flocks of up to 50), Greater Coucal, Black Redstart, Black-rumped Flameback, and a shaggy-looking immature Egyptian Vulture. Warblers were on show in different forms: Common Chiffchaff, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Greenish, and Green Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat, and Eastern Orphean Warbler, as well as Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Paddyfield Warbler. Waterfowl were abundant; highlights were Cotton Pygmy Goose and Lesser Whistling and Knob-billed Ducks. As the heat started to increase we started picking up our first eagles. It turned out to be a cracking day for raptors, with seven eagle species in total. These were (in order of record) Greater Spotted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Indian Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Booted Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, and Crested Serpent Eagle. Adding to the raptor numbers were a lovely Dusky Eagle-Owl on a nest as well as a pair of grey-phase Indian Scops Owl, which was found roosting at close range.
Lunch was both surprising and incredible, surprising as we expected boxed lunches but got a fully catered Indian lunch – pretty spicy, just as the group enjoyed it! After lunch and a rest we carried on in search of anything else we could enjoy. A tree with a large number of Indian Flying Foxes was an absolute treat. We had picked up the awesome Bronze-tailed Jacana earlier and then managed to find Pheasant-tailed Jacana as well. Other highlight for the day were Common Kingfisher, Black Bittern, Black-necked Stork, Sarus Crane, and Indian Grey Hornbill within the last 20 minutes of sunlight.

Day 6, 13 January. Bharatpur area to Chambal Safari Lodge via Fatehpur Sikri
We spent the morning birding some agricultural lands near Bharatpur, an area called Kumher, where our main target was Indian Courser. Even though there has been quite a bit of construction going on at the site where the coursers have been known to occur for the last number of years we managed to find a pair with some ease, thanks to Shyam’s eagle eyes. Of course we spent a couple of hours in the area, picking up many other dry land/farmland species. Larks were surprisingly common, we recorded Greater Short-toed Lark, over 100 Bimaculated Larks, Indian Bush Lark, Crested Lark, and a displaying Oriental Skylark. Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark as well as both Desert and Isabelline Wheatears were also present. As we were walking in the field we flushed a group of five Yellow-wattled Lapwings. A single Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse was heard and then seen, flying directly over our heads. We soon proceeded to a known site within Bharatpur town, where it took no time at all to track down a few Greater Painted-snipes, two females and a male were seen very well there! We headed back to the hotel to grab an early lunch and then start our journey towards Chambal. We stopped off at Fatehpur Sikri, where we went on a tour of the historical sight. Of course we managed to see a few birds at the site as well, these included Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle, and a few Brown Rock (Indian) Chats.
Brown Hawk-Owl is known to roost at our next accommodation, Chambal Safari Lodge. The owl was indeed around, and we managed to see it just as it was leaving its roosting site that evening. Indian Flying Foxes had just about taken over a whole tree near the spot where we picked up the owl. We had a night walk around the lodge grounds and were not super-successful, just picking up Indian Hare. Later on, though, on the way to the room, I heard a rustle in the leaf litter, and, sure enough, it was the sought-after Collared Hedgehog.

Day 7, 14th January. Chambal River to Delhi via Taj Mahal
We took an early morning drive to the Chambal River, were we enjoyed an awesome boat cruise. It took a little time for the fog to lift, but once it did the sightings came thick and fast. First were sightings of River Lapwing and White-browed Wagtail walking along the southern bank. Western Osprey was the next call, a single bird flew right overhead. As we carried on upstream we heard Black Francolin calling and soon after that picked up our first Black-bellied Tern, one of the main targets of the trip. We were then treated to views of the rare Ganges River Dolphin – a true highlight! The pinkish wash to this beautiful creature is really noticeable. What an animal! For some the trip had been made already, but there was still more to come. As we continued, sightings of Mugger and the really awesome Gharial were had – some sightings in the water as well as a few of these stunning crocodilians sunning themselves on the bank. Bonelli’s Eagles have been breeding on the cliffs alongside the river for a couple of years – the nest is active at this time of year, and, sure enough, we had really good looks at a male perched up high and a female bird on a nest. We scanned hard and also picked up a male Blue Rock Thrush here. Just a little further on a small island there were six Indian Skimmers roosting, another highlight of the cruise. The skimmers were accompanied by River Tern, Black-bellied Tern, River Lapwing, Gharial, Mugger and an out-of-place Black-winged Stilt. A few Egyptian Vultures put on a show, while Pallas’s Gull, Great Stone-curlew, Painted Stork, Pied Kingfisher, and Long-legged Buzzard were all present at some point during the cruise. We loaded up the van and started the drive back only to come to a grinding halt due to a Sirkeer Malkoha practically in the road in front of us! Crippling looks at this fascinating bird were enjoyed by all at close range. We had lunch at Chambal Safari Lodge and checked out – from here we headed to Agra for our Taj Mahal tour.
What would any northern India tour be without a visit to one of the most iconic UNESCO World Heritage Sites of all time? The Taj Mahal directly translates to ‘crown palace’, which is fairly ironic as it is neither a crown nor a palace. To get the full story from the horse’s mouth we were joined by an excellent local Indian history tour guide for the afternoon. The Taj Mahal is just as great as it looks in all the pictures! The picture below does it some justice. Birding around the Taj Mahal can be pretty good; we definitely enjoyed a few species during the tour. These included Eurasian Hoopoe, Egyptian Vulture, Gull-billed Tern, Ruddy Shelduck, and White Wagtail and the feldegg subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail. After our time at the Taj Mahal we continued our journey northwards to Noida. At this point of the tour we were essentially transitioning from the north-central plains to the Himalayan foothills. We spent a night near Delhi to break the journey and then had a long drive north to Sattal in the morning.

Day 8, 25th January. Drive from Noida to Sattal
Today was essentially a travel day; we traveled all morning from Noida to the Himalayan foothills. The plains had been good to us, but we were very excited to get our first taste of Himalayan species. After arrival and lunch we headed out to do some roadside birding – we picked up Blue Whistling Thrush from the vehicle, and the second bird of the afternoon was one of our targets, Slaty-backed Forktail! New species came thick and fast with the likes of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Black-chinned Babbler, and Green-backed and Himalayan Black-lored Tits, as well as Grey-hooded, Lemon-rumped, and Buff-barred Warblers that were all in an active feeding party. A brilliant Crested Kingfisher was sitting nicely above the stream for us to admire. The call of “Laughingthrush!” echoed around us as we spotted two Rufous-chinned Laughingthrushes moving along the scrub next to a stream – definitely one of the highlights of the short walk this afternoon. Last but not least, just before we lost all our light we found a Spotted Forktail – a true stunner of a bird. It was lovely to watch it feeding by flipping leaves over and checking for insects underneath. Other species that we added to our ever-growing trip list were Black-throated Bushtit, White-capped Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, and Long-billed Thrush.

Day 9, 16th January. Sattal to Pangot
A pre-sunrise breakfast (including a quick sighting of Jungle Owlet) was the order of the day so that we could make our way to some of the scrub and forest patches on the edge of town early. Grey-backed Shrike and White-capped Redstart showed immediately, and soon after that we saw our first Rufous Sibia and a party of about 10 Red-billed Leiothrixes. A surprise Rufous-breasted Accentor was fun, and soon after that we managed sightings of a female and a young male Siberian Rubythroat. This little hotspot, as Shyam liked to call it, also really produced the goods: Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Grey Treepie, Slaty-headed Parakeet, a beautiful White-throated Fantail, and finally a brilliant male Himalayan Rubythroat. Having picked up our main targets here, the rubythroats, we made our way to the main Sattal Park area, where we spent some time walking through mature forest, finding mixed species flocks and feeding parties, and targeting a few skulkers. We stopped with a jolt and with some speed exited the van to get onto a mixed flock moving through. We enjoyed a brief Lesser Yellownape, our first nuthatch and tree-creeper in the form of Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch and Bar-tailed Treecreeper, respectively, a few Rufous Sibias, a single Brown-fronted Woodpecker, and a large flock (over 30) of Blue-winged Minlas. The extravagantly wonderful Red-billed Blue Magpie followed the group into view – a small party of about five birds, an absolute treat. Further along the track we enjoyed a male Himalayan Bluetail, Whistler’s Warbler, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bronzed Drongo, Scaly Thrush, and Grey-winged Blackbird. Sattal was on fire! A small trail led away from the lake; here we targeted Chestnut-headed Tesia but sadly only managed to hear one bird calling, no visuals were had. We did get a great consolation with a single Pygmy Wren-babbler skulking alongside the track.

Day 10, 17th January. Full day at elevation above Pangot
A delicious cup of masala chai (spiced milk tea), a few biscuits, packed breakfast on board, and we were ready to go. The winding road to higher elevation took some time and allowed us to look out for birds and mammals en route. We picked up two Kalij Pheasants early, both males, roosting in a tree alongside the road. After a few kilometers we arrived at an area known as Cheer Point, aptly named because many birding groups would pick up Cheer Pheasant in this area on a fairly regular basis. This morning, after much scanning, we were not in luck, they were MIA. We did, however, pick up a heap of new species at this site, including great looks at the Himalayan Vultures that took to the skies as soon as it warmed up. Here we also found Green-backed and Yellow-browed Tits, White-tailed Nuthatch, a group of 50 plus Altai Accentors, Common Kestrel, Steppe Eagle, and a few Eurasian Crag Martins. We spotted a small group of Himalayan Gorals hanging around on the rocky ledges below us. Carrying on along the mountain road we did well to pick up Himalayan Woodpecker and even further along a confiding Rufous-bellied Woodpecker that we watched move up and down a large tree trunk for quite some time; we left many a photograph later. One of the highlights of the morning came when a secretive Hill Partridge was sitting out in the open – hunkered down, trying to conceal itself in the leaf litter.
The afternoon birding session at lower elevation was brilliant; a male Golden Bush Robin was found, and we got some looks as it skulked through the bush. We did well with buntings, finding two species, Little and Chestnut-eared Buntings. Pink-browed Rosefinch was also present at this site – our first rosefinch. A pair of Black Francolins were a highlight for the group, having missed them at other known sites. We also recorded Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush and Russet Sparrow. Last but definitely not least we tried for the threatened (by habitat destruction) Grey-crowned Prinia – much to our amazement we found a pair within the 30 minutes of sunlight that we had left. A rare species for any world birder! Scaly-breasted Munia, Oriental Turtle Dove, and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler were great supporting acts.

Day 11, 18th January. Pangot to the Corbett area
Having dipped on Cheer Pheasant and a few other species, we headed back up to higher elevation (up to 2400m). En route we did well to pick up Mistle and Chestnut Thrushes perched on top of some tall pine trees. A single Alpine Thrush was a great addition, and seeing Yellow-throated Marten left us all stunned – an absolutely amazing mammal to see, a highlight for all. Once again Altai Accentors were in action, as too were Himalayan Vultures. We did have some early excitement with a brilliant sighting of the huge Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) flying over Cheer Point. We carried on to try for Koklass Pheasant again, as our flushed views the morning before were unsatisfactory, and heard an individual calling on a rocky ridge. We followed up on the call (enjoying White-collared Blackbird and Chestnut Thrush as ‘bycatch’) and soon enough caught some glimpses. With a bit of patience we approached quite close and enjoyed watching a male feeding and moving along the steep slopes. On the way back to Pangot we tried one last time for Cheer Pheasant, when all of a sudden a screeching noise rang from below us and four Cheer Pheasants came into view – we had finally seen them! This endangered wildfowl is a true stunner, but it does blend in well with the straw-colored grassy slopes. We took some time to get really nice scope views before heading back to Pangot and onwards to Corbett National Park. We stopped at a lake to target a few things we had missed previously. Again we could not locate Chestnut-capped Babbler or Dusky Warbler but did manage to see Great-crested Grebe, Red-naped Ibis, Red-crested Pochard, a few Richard’s Pipits, and a surprise Large-tailed Nightjar that was roosting in the reeds nearby. We headed on towards Corbett (Tiger Camp would be our accommodation for the next three nights), stopping in town for necessary supplies.

Day 12, 19th January. Full day Corbett National Park
Well, we were finally in Corbett National Park, a place that we had heard a lot about and thus was much anticipated! We were to have two safaris today and two again the following day – this would give us fantastic opportunities to not only pick up a good portion of the bird species present but also a good chance at seeing tiger or leopard. We kicked things off nicely with a pair of Golden Jackals right near the gate and shortly thereafter picked up both Blue-throated Barbet and Coppersmith Barbet as well as a flyby Greater Flameback. A dream come true for some of the group was seeing the gigantic Great Hornbill; a pair sat up high in a dead tree in the early morning light, a special sighting indeed! One of the best mixed feeding flocks of the trip came shortly after that; Scarlet and Short-billed Minivets stood out like sore thumbs in the green foliage (males and females), while movement of all sorts of passerines seemed to be all around us. We stayed at that site for almost half an hour watching a flock of 20 plus species! Some highlights were Greater and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, White-throated and White-browed Fantails, Black-hooded Oriole, Maroon Oriole, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher, Lesser Yellownape, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. We eventually moved away from this area and continued along some of the tracks within our zone. A stream held a few species, including White-browed Wagtail, Green Sandpiper, and White-throated Kingfisher. We started our journey back to the lodge for a well-earned brunch, but not before we had excellent visuals of two species of woodpeckers at the gate. We picked up on a Black-rumped Flameback moving around from dead tree to dead tree, and then soon thereafter a female Streak-throated Woodpecker showed well. Last but not least for the morning was a sighting of Lineated Barbet. We enjoyed brunch and then headed out to a section of the Kosi River with one target in mind, the incredible Ibisbill. As soon as we had arrived we picked up a female Little Pied Flycatcher. The river area immediately produced Plumbeous Water Redstart, River Lapwing, and Crested Kingfisher. We hadn’t spent too much time scanning when we were alerted to two Ibisbills flying past us upstream. Luckily they landed about 200 meters upriver and allowed us to enjoy amazing visuals of them feeding in the rocky stream. We spent about 30 minutes watching them and approached slowly for even better looks. Here we also picked up Crested Serpent Eagle, White-capped Redstart, and Nepal Gray Langur.
Our afternoon safari was also one to remember; however, it was delayed due to a stunning male Crimson Sunbird with incredible colors seen in the parking lot of the hotel. Jungle Owlet was one of the first birds we spotted once we were through the gate. Here we also picked up Crested Treeswift and White-rumped Spinetail (later on they were joined by Nepal House Martin). The habitat was beautiful, large stands of deciduous forest with many small rocky streams running through the forest. Shyam somehow spotted a Collared Falconet from miles away – as we got closer we got some nice looks at a single bird sitting on a dead tree. We loved seeing Great Hornbill again and also picked up Stork-billed Kingfisher across one of the rivers. A male Little Pied Flycatcher showed beautifully, while Lineated Barbet was feeding on some fruit. A little further on we found Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Two-barred and Greenish Warblers, Grey-hooded Warbler, and Cinereous Tit. Jungle Prinia was a nice surprise, while Changeable Hawk-Eagle and Red-headed Vulture were both perched up in dead trees near the road. One of the best days of the trip came to an end with a sighting of Black-winged Kite with prey.

Day 13, 20th January. Full Day Corbett National Park
Our second full day in Corbett National Park started where the last one had left off, the Bijrani zone. We spent some time in the morning trying to track some tigers that had been seen in the area the previous day, but with no luck. Birding started with the likes of Long-tailed Shrike, Black-winged Kite, Streak-throated Woodpecker, White-capped Redstart along the river, and a few Grey Bush Chats. We continued searching and did find a small feeding party, which included the likes of Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Black-rumped Flameback, Grey-hooded Warbler, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Black-chinned Babbler, and Blue-winged Minla. A absolutely stunning Rufous-bellied Niltava was sitting out in the open above the road for us to admire – a true gem of India! Other than yielding a brilliant family group of Kalij Pheasants feeding in the road and our first sighting of Asian Elephant (two females feeding in a large open grass field) the morning was rather quiet. The late-morning birding session, after a hearty brunch, was back at the same area that we had visited the day before were we had connected with a pair of Ibisbills. This area is also well known for Wallcreeper. Well, it seemed that luck was on our side again, as it only took us a matter of seconds to pick up a single Wallcreeper on the concrete walls alongside the banks of the Kosi River. What was even more amazing is that the Ibisbills were again present, and at one stage we had both species in our binocular view at the same time. That’s two monotypic family species in one view – it doesn’t get much better than that!
Our afternoon safari was at a different section in Corbett NP called Jhirna. The Jhirna zone is more open savanna and woodland and does produce different species. We started with a small herd of Asian Elephants, three adults with three youngsters. The first new bird for the trip was Blue-throated Barbet, a single bird, sedentary in the top of a large tree. We made sure that we were keeping our eyes open for another green species with a blue throat, Blue-bearded Bee-eater. But first we spotted two vulture species overhead, both White-rumped and Griffon Vultures were catching some thermals above the forest. Another green species caught or attention, this time it was our first leafbird in the form of Golden-fronted Leafbird, what a fantastic species! Finally we did spot our target, first just a single bird but later three more Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, one for the highlights package for sure! Peregrine Falcon and a gigantic Cinereous Vulture were present at a dry river crossing, while a Stork-billed Kingfisher caught our attention and posed for some photos in cracking light. A bit further on we enjoyed three Ashy Bulbuls and a single Hair-crested Drongo. The call of Common Green Magpie was frustratingly close to the road, but the bird didn’t show before we needed to move on. Some others that we picked up as the sun was getting closer and closer to the horizon included Collared Falconet, Black Francolin, Indian Peafowl, Oriental Pied Hornbill, and a lovely juvenile Besra. A beautiful Jungle Cat sighting was a fitting end to our safaris at the famous Corbett National Park.

Day 14, 21st January. Morning birding Kosi River then travel back to New Delhi
We enjoyed another really nice breakfast before heading out to a hotspot along the Kosi River called Kumerya. The first part of the area is beautiful, mature deciduous forest on the mountainous slopes down to the river. Here, ready as can be for our last birding session, we picked up a huge flock of Red-breasted Parakeets. A little further along the trail we heard the call of the huge Great Slaty Woodpecker. It took some time, but we managed to locate at least three birds moving about above us on the taller trees of the forest. This was a special and unexpected sighting. A pair of White-crested Laughingthrushes entertained us for a while, until the excitement of a Tawny Fish Owl stole the show; amazing sightings of this species in the open were had. Arriving at the river we found Grey and White-browed Wagtails and Plumbeous Water Redstart and White-capped Redstarts as well as a dapper-looking Spotted Forktail. The highlight and main target of this area was Brown Dipper, which we found shortly after picking up the forktail. Really nice views of a pair that seemed to be courting were had here.


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