North India and the Western Himalaya
Applying the term ‘northern’ to India could imply a vast region over 2000km wide, from the border with Pakistan to the west and extending east to Bangladesh across a wide swathe of the Indo-Gangetic Plains and the Himalayas further north. For the purposes of this tour, the description applies to the region surrounding, and within 400km of, Delhi including the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to the north and east and parts of Rajasthan to the south and southwest. This region is incredible for birds, with a high avian diversity due to the variety in climate, topography and vegetation as the Himalayas rise sharply out of the plains.
Our comprehensive birding tour begins along the serene Chambal River, the lifeline of India’s agricultural heartland where we will look for Indian Skimmer and Ganges River Dolphin. Moving on, we visit the world-renowned bird-rich wetlands of Bharatpur, where waterbirds such as Indian Spot-billed Duck, Black-necked Stork and Sarus Crane are complemented by numerous Asian passerines in acacia woodland, with gems such as Siberian Rubythroat to distract from the wetlands. We will then look for dryland species such as Indian Courser and Painted Spurfowl, and an abundance of large mammals including Tiger in the semi-desert and scrub forest of Ranthambhore National Park. From these lowland plains we make our way into the foothills of the Western Himalaya, a spectacular mountain landscape with views to the snow-capped peaks of the Great Himalaya in clear weather. Here a completely new combination of birds will present itself as we explore the mid-altitude hill station of Sattal, and higher village of Pangot, our list augmented by species such as Golden Bush-robin, Nepal Wren-babbler, Altai Accentor, White-crested Laughingthrush, three species of forktail, Himalayan and Bearded Vultures and Cheer Pheasant among numerous Himalayan specialities. Finally, we descend to the base of the hills to Corbett National Park, one of the richest birding sites in Asia, to explore the forests and savanna grasslands of the terai. Here, we will encounter a rich avifauna that includes a host of forest birds such as Great Slaty Woodpecker and Common Green Magpie, grassland specialists such as White-throated Bushchat, over 50 species of raptor including Collared Falconet, and small groups of wintering Ibisbill in the glacial meltwaters of boulder-strewn rivers.
This tour offers a comprehensive overview of the exceptional birdlife of northern India’s varied habitats, passing through a variety of landscapes with a backdrop of north India’s rich culture and historical architecture. During the winter months birding in this region is particularly productive, with resident birds accompanied by a host of winter migrants from the Palaearctic, and species more usually associated with higher altitudes found at lower elevations.
2 November - 17 November 2019
15 February - 1 March 2020
(also available as a custom tour)
Ground price: £ 2780
Single room supplement: £ 565
Deposit: £ 500
The price includes: Accommodation, all meals, bottled drinking water, all ground transport, all birding/wildlife activities as described, entry fees, guiding, pre-tour information, species checklists.
The price excludes: Flights, visa fees, travel insurance, drinks other than water, tips and any other expenses of a personal nature.
Maximum group size: 8
Accommodation: Comfortable rooms with private facilities in wildlife lodges and hotels; more basic forest lodge rooms at Dhikala.
Tour grading: Easy to moderate. Birding will be on foot in places and from open jeeps in others; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field.
Key species: Indian Skimmer, Indian Courser, Sarus Crane, White-throated Bushchat, Siberian and Himalayan Rubythroats, Golden Bush-robin, Nepal Wren-babbler, Altai Accentor, Cheer Pheasant, Himalayan and Bearded Vultures, Ibisbill, Tiger, Ganges River Dolphin.
Day 1: Delhi to the Chambal River
Arrivals into Delhi airport this morning. We spend most of the driving southeast to Jarar village, at the heart of the agricultural region sustained by the Chambal River, for the night. Along the way we will encounter many of north India’s more common species and will arrive with time for some late afternoon birding around our lodge where we may find Sirkeer Malkoha, and Brown Hawk-owl at dusk.
Day 2: Chambal to Bharatpur via Agra and the Taj Mahal
This morning we will explore the Chambal River, one of north India’s least polluted waterways. By boat we will go in search of Indian Skimmer, Black-bellied Tern and Ganges River Dolphin, and on foot along the sandy riverbank and adjacent mud ravines we will look for Sand Lark, Desert Wheatear, Yellow-eyed Babbler and Crested Bunting. By early afternoon we will leave on the drive west to Bharatpur for a two-night stay, travelling via Agra where we will stop for a brief visit to India’s most iconic monument, the Taj Mahal.
Day 3-4: Bharatpur
The man-made wetland of Bharatpur is undoubtedly India’s most famous bird reserve. Using the park’s unique cycle-rickshaws to cover distance we will go in search of Sarus Crane, Black-necked and Painted Storks, Oriental Darter, Indian Spot-billed and Comb Ducks, Black-headed Ibis, Black Bittern, Greater Painted-snipe and White-tailed Lapwing. The impressive selection of waders and waterfowl we see here will be complemented by species such as Siberian Rubythroat, Orange-headed and Tickell’s Thrushes, Orphean Warbler and Indian Scops-owl in patches of woodland and acacia scrub, and birds of prey including Steppe Eagle and Short-toed Snake Eagle. We will leave Bharatpur by late morning on day 4, driving southwest to Ranthambhore National Park for a two-night stay.
Day 5-6: Ranthambhore National Park
Distinctly arid, yet dotted with lakes, Ranthambhore hosts an interesting combination of desert species and northern India’s more widespread forest birds. We will explore from open jeeps for specialities such as Painted Spurfowl and Sulphur-bellied Warbler, among Rufous Treepie, Indian Peafowl, Great Thick-knee, an abundance of bulbuls and parakeets, up to six species of vulture, and of course Tiger. We will also explore arid scrubland outside the park for Indian Courser, Painted Sandgrouse, various larks, White-capped Bunting and Southern Grey Shrike. We leave Ranthambhore in the afternoon of day 6, returning by train to Delhi for an overnight stay.
Day 7-8: Sattal
An early start for the journey north into Uttarakhand and the foothills of the Western Himalayas, making our way to the small town of Sattal at 1450m, our base for a two-night stay. Birding en-route as we make the transition from the plains into the hills will provide a tantalising introduction to the diversity of this region and we will encounter our first Himalayan specialities which may include Blue Whistling Thrush, Himalayan Bluetail, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Cinnamon Sparrow. From our base at Sattal we will visit sites at a range of elevations, encountering an impressive selection of birds in a range of habitats. Key among these are Himalayan Rubythroat, Golden Bush Robin, Nepal Wren-babbler, Blue-capped and Blue-fronted Redstarts, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, White-bellied Erpornis, Great Barbet, Rufous-breasted and Black-throated Accentors, Red-billed Leiothrix, Brown Dipper, three species of forktail, numerous laughingthrushes and flycatchers, and various tits, nuthatches, sunbirds and warblers associating in fast-moving feeding flocks.
Day 9-10: Pangot
Today we make our way further into the Himalayas to the village of Pangot at 2150m for a two-night stay, passing stunning views of the high Himalaya from spectacular mountain roads. In dense, moss-draped temperate forests, rhododendrons, Chir Pines, and grassy slopes of the surrounding hills we will look for montane specialities associated with the higher altitude, including Himalayan Greenfinch, Scarlet Finch, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Himalayan Pied Woodpecker, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Black-chinned Babbler, Altai Accentor, Collared Owlet, Himalayan and Bearded Vultures, and two of our key targets Koklass and Cheer Pheasants.
Day 11-15: Corbett National Park
Today, we make our way south to Corbett National Park for a four-night stay in the terai region of Uttarakhand. At Corbett the avifauna of the Himalayas meets that of the Indo-Gangetic plains and the great diversity of habitats, dominated by dense forest bisected by rivers and grassy pastures, contributes to making this one of the richest birding areas in Asia. Much of the best birding is to be had in dense roadside forests in the fringes of the reserve, which we will explore on foot for Long-billed Thrush, Chestnut-headed and Grey-bellied Tesias, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Common Green Magpie, Maroon Oriole, Great Hornbill, and Green-tailed Sunbird, with Wallcreeper, Plumbeous Water Redstart, White-capped Redstart, Crested Kingfisher, and small numbers of overwintering Ibisbill along the Kosi River. We will spend one night inside the remote western ranges of the reserve at Dhikala, allowing unrivalled access by jeep to undisturbed areas of forest and the grasslands of the Ramganga floodplain. Among our key targets here are Collared Falconet, Pallid, Hen and rarer Pied Harriers, Lesser, Grey-headed and Pallas’s Fish-eagles, White-throated Bush Chat and Red Avadavat, plus Tiger and Asian Elephant. We will leave Corbett by mid-morning on day 15 to drive back to Delhi for an overnight stay.
Day 16: Depart Delhi
Departures from Delhi airport today.