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NORTH INDIA: Birds, Tigers and the Central Himalayas

An 18-day birding tour that explores the incredible birdlife and mammal diversity of the Indo-Gangetic Plains and the mid-altitudes of the Central Himalayas.
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Our tour is a comprehensive journey through northern India’s varied habitats and their extraordinarily diverse birdlife. We begin by exploring shallow wetlands and acacia scrub in the outskirts of Delhi, before moving south into the semi-desert of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where dryland species are complemented by waterbirds in the wetlands and rivers that support India's agricultural heartland. From here we travel north to the Himalayas, where we will experience an entirely new selection of species in mid-altitude oaks and conifers, and the dense broad-leaved woodlands, vast grasslands and snow-fed rivers of the sub-Himalayan belt. Birding on foot, by boat and from open-topped jeeps we'll look for Indian Courser, Painted Spurfowl, Indian Skimmer and Sarus Crane in the plains, with Himalayan Rubythroat, Himalayan Bluetail, Nepal Cupwing, Black-chinned Babbler, a cacophony of laughingthrushes including White-crested and Chestnut-crowned, Koklass and Cheer Pheasants, Himalayan Vulture and Ibisbill in the hills and adjacent terai zone, and there is always a very good possibility that we’ll encounter Bengal Tiger, Leopard and Asian Elephant among a fine selection of mammals.
  • Almost 400 species of birds; including six species of laughingthrush, two rubythroats, three hornbills, three montane pheasants, enigmatic Himalayan skulkers including three species of Tesia, seven sunbirds, up to 18 species of owl, numerous eagles, large congregations of waterfowl and many others.
  • Several regional specialities of the Western and Central Himalaya Endemic Bird Areas, including Cheer Pheasant, Black-chinned Babbler and Nepal Cupwing.
  • Two days at Bharatpur, one of India's finest bird sanctuaries, home to a diverse selection of species in vast wetlands and acacia scrub, where 150 species in a day is possible.
  • Spectacular mammal viewing with a good chance of Tiger at two reserves, plus Leopard, Asian Elephant, Ganges River Dolphin and much more.
  • Exciting jeep drives into the jungles of three wildlife reserves looking for both birds and mammals, plus an enjoyable boat trip along the Chambal River in search of Indian Skimmer, Ganges River Dolphin and the curious Gharial.
  • A glimpse of India's rich past at the splendid Taj Mahal and colonial-era hill stations, and an introduction to north India's culture and cuisine.
Day 1: Delhi and Sultanpur National Park

Arrivals into Delhi airport this morning.  We’ll spend the remainder of the day birding at Sultanpur and nearby Basai, two superb birding sites just 50km from Delhi in neighbouring Haryana. Sultanpur’s ‘jheel’ and the extensive shallow wetlands and flooded fields of Basai are a haven for resident and migratory waterfowl. We can expect to encounter an incredible selection of species in huge numbers, including Indian Spot-billed Duck, Bar-headed Goose, Greater Flamingo, White-tailed Lapwing and Grey-headed Swamphen. Surrounding acacia scrub and dry grasslands will provide an ideal introduction to northern India’s more widespread species, such as Grey Francolin, Eurasian Wryneck, Common Hoopoe, Bank Myna and Bluethroat, and we’ll search in particular for the regional specialities Sind Sparrow and Brooks’s Leaf-warbler. Night in Delhi.


Day 2: Delhi to Jaipur and Jhalana Leopard Reserve

We will spend the morning driving southwest into Rajasthan, with time for some roadside birding as we head to Jaipur for the night. This afternoon we'll explore Jhalana Leopard Reserve, occupying a densely wooded section of the Aravalli Hills that runs through the centre of Jaipur. Despite its unseemly setting, Jhalana is perhaps the prime site in India for a sighting of Leopard. Birding from open-topped jeeps, we can expect to come across a good selection of woodland birds, such as Indian Golden Oriole, Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon, Yellow-crowned and Brown-capped Woodpeckers, Indian Paradise-Flycatcher, Black Eagle, Spotted Owlet and Rock (Indian) Eagle Owl. We have excellent chances of a Leopard encounter, plus the prospect of several smaller cats and civets.


Day 3: Jaipur to Ranthambhore National Park

After a morning jeep drive we will leave Jhalana, driving southeast to Ranthambhore National Park for a two-night stay. We should arrive in time to explore the arid scrub outside the park, looking for dryland species including Indian Courser, Painted Sandgrouse, Sirkeer Malkoha, Desert, Variable and Isabelline Wheatears, various larks and pipits, White-capped Bunting and Great Grey Shrike. 


Day 4-5: Ranthambhore National Park

Distinctly arid, yet dotted with lakes, the former hunting preserve of Ranthambhore hosts an interesting combination of desert species and northern India’s more widespread forest birds.  We will explore the scrub jungle, escarpments and atmospheric ruins through three safari drives in open-topped vehicles looking for specialities such as Painted Spurfowl and Sulphur-bellied Warbler, among Rufous Treepie, White-naped Woodpecker, Indian Peafowl, Indian and Great Thick-knees, an abundance of bulbuls and parakeets, up to six species of vulture, and of course Bengal Tiger among good numbers of Spotted Deer, Sambar and Northern Plains Grey Langur. We leave Ranthambhore in the afternoon of day 5, driving northeast to Bharatpur for a three-night stay.


Day 6-7: Bharatpur

We have two full days to explore the man-made wetlands of Bharatpur, undoubtedly among India’s finest bird reserves, on foot and by the park’s unique bicycle-rickshaws. Many of the birds we will find  are conspicuous, numerous and easily seen, and with in excess of 100 species in a day not uncommon here, birding is both highly enjoyable and immensely rewarding. Among Sarus Crane, Black-necked and Painted Storks, Black-headed and Red-naped Ibis, various egrets, waders, and huge congregations of waterfowl we’ll look for scarcer Knob-billed and Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochard, Black Bittern and Greater Painted-snipe. In patches of trailside woodland and acacia we’ll look for Marshall’s Iora, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Red-breasted and Taiga Flycatchers, and skulkers such as Orange-headed and Tickell’s Thrushes, and Siberian Rubythroat. We can also expect to come across Indian Scops Owl, Dusky Eagle Owl and Large-tailed Nightjar at day roosts, and a superb assortment of raptors including Eastern Imperial, Indian Spotted and Steppe Eagles.


Day 8: Chambal River and the Taj Mahal

This morning we will explore a section of the serene Chambal River, one of north India’s least polluted waterways.  By boat we will go in search of flocks of the elegant Indian Skimmer, Black-bellied Tern, River Lapwing, the curious Gharial and Ganges River Dolphin, with Sand Lark, Yellow-eyed Babbler and Crested Bunting along the sandy riverbank and flanking mud ravines.  By late morning we will leave on the drive back to Delhi for the night, travelling via Agra where we will stop for a brief visit to India’s most iconic monument, the Taj Mahal.


Day 9-10: Sattal

An early start for the journey north to Uttarakhand and up into the foothills at the junction of the Central and Western Himalayas, making our way to the small town of Sattal at 1370m for a two-night stay.  Once we cross the plains, we’ll begin driving up into the Kumaon Hills along roads clinging to the forested mountainside and will soon encounter our first Himalayan specialities, perhaps Blue Whistling Thrush, Grey-winged Blackbird, Himalayan Bluetail, Black-headed Jay, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Russet Sparrow.  From our base at Sattal we will visit various sites, encountering an impressive selection of birds in deciduous woodland, smallholdings, mountain streams and feeder stations amid these bird-rich mid-altitudes. Among these are highlights including Himalayan Rubythroat, Golden Bush Robin, the central Himalayan endemic Nepal Cupwing, Blue-capped and Blue-fronted Redstarts, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Small and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, White-bellied Erpornis, Rufous-breasted and Black-throated Accentors, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler, several raucous laughingthrushes including White-crested and Chestnut-crowned, Black Francolin, Brown Dipper, three species of forktail, and a fabulous selection of colourful tits, nuthatches, sunbirds, flowerpeckers and warblers that sweep through the forest in fast-moving feeding flocks.


Day 11-12: Pangot

Today we make our way further into the Himalayas via the colonial-era hill station of Nainital to the village of Pangot at 2150m for a two-night stay. If conditions are clear, we’ll have stunning views towards the high Himalaya from spectacular mountain roads. Around Pangot, in dense, moss-draped temperate forests, rhododendrons, Chir Pines, and on exposed grassy slopes we will look for unequivocal Himalayan species including Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Scarlet Finch, Dark-breasted and Pink-browed Rosefinches, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Himalayan Woodpecker, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Black-chinned Babbler, Scaly-breasted Cupwing, Altai Accentor, Collared Owlet, Himalayan Owl, Himalayan Griffon, Bearded Vulture, Hill Partridge and two of our key targets Koklass Pheasant and Cheer Pheasant, a western Himalayan endemic.


Day 13-17: Corbett National Park

Today, we make our way down to Corbett National Park for a four-night stay in the terai zone in the shadow of the Himalayas.  At Corbett, the avifauna of the hills meets that of the Indo-Gangetic plains and the great diversity of habitats, dominated by thick 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 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, Green-tailed and Crimson Sunbirds, and both Tawny and Brown Fish Owls, with Wallcreeper, Plumbeous and White-capped Redstarts, Crested Kingfisher, and small numbers of overwintering Ibisbill along the Kosi River.  We intend to spend one night inside the remote western ranges of the reserve at Dhikala, allowing unrivalled access by open-topped jeeps to the grasslands of the Ramganga floodplain. Among our key targets here are Collared Falconet, Pallid and rarer Pied Harriers, Lesser, Grey-headed and Pallas’s Fish-eagles, White-throated Bush Chat and Red Avadavat. We’ll have a further chance of Bengal Tiger, plus Asian Elephant and plenty more mammals.  We will leave Corbett by midday on day 17 to drive back to Delhi for an overnight stay.


Day 18: Depart Delhi

Departures from Delhi airport today.

FOCUS: Birds and Mammals
GRADING: Easy to Moderate

BEST TIME: November & February to April


Day 1: Delhi and Sultanpur National Park
Day 2: Delhi to Jhalana Leopard Reserve
Day 3: Jaipur to Ranthambhore
Day 4-5: Ranthambhore National Park
Day 6-7: Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary
Day 8: Chambal River, Taj Mahal, Delhi
Day 9-10: Himalayan foothills at Sattal
Day 11-12: Himalayan foothills at Pangot
Day 13-17: Corbett National Park
Day 18: depart Delhi 
BIRDS: 380+
PHOTOGRAPHY: Good to Excellent


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Indian Courser, Painted Sandgrouse, Painted Spurfowl, Desert, Variable and Isabelline Wheatears, Sirkeer Malkoha, Marshall's Iora, Sind Sparrow, Sand Lark, Brooks's Leaf-warbler, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Orange-headed and Tickell's Thrushes, Indian Skimmer, Black-bellied Tern, White-tailed Lapwing, Sarus Crane, Black-necked, Painted, Black and Woolly-necked Storks, Asian Openbill, Indian Spot-billed and Knob-billed Ducks, Cotton Pygmy-Goose, Black Bittern, River Lapwing, Greater Painted-snipe, Great, Oriental Pied and Indian Grey Hornbills, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Grey Treepie, Common Green Magpie, Maroon Oriole, Great Slaty  and Himalayan Woodpeckers, Himalayan Flameback, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Himalayan Bulbul, Blue-winged Minla, Small and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Green-tailed, Mrs. Gould's and Crimson Sunbirds, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-browed, Spot-winged and Black-throated Tits, White-tailed Nuthatch, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Scarlet Finch, Dark-breasted and Pink-browed Rosefinches, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Rufous-chinned, Chestnut-crowned, Striated, Streaked, White-crested and White-throated Laughingthrushes, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler, Scaly-breasted and Nepal Cupwings, Black-chinned Babbler, Himalayan Aberrant Bush-warbler, Black-faced, Lemon-rumped, Grey-hooded and Whistler's Warblers, Rufous-breasted, Black-throated, Alpine and Altai Accentors, Long-billed and Scaly Thrushes, Blue Whistling-thrush, Siberian and Himalayan Rubythroats, Golden Bush-robin, Himalayan Bluetail, Blue-capped, Blue-fronted, White-capped and Plumbeous Redstarts, White-throated Bushchat, Red Avadavat, Upland Pipit, Spotted, Slaty-backed and Little Forktails, Ibisbill, Wallcreeper, Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher, Hill Partridge, Kalij, Koklass and Cheer Pheasants, Indian, Black (Cinereous) and Bearded Vultures, Himalayan Griffon, Eastern Imperial, Black, Rufous-bellied, Steppe, Bonnelli's, Tawny, Greater Spotted and Indian Spotted Eagles, Lesser, Grey-headed and Pallas's Fish-eagles, Collared Falconet, Pallid and Pied Harriers, Large-tailed Nightjar, Collared Owlet, Indian Scops-owl, Brown and Tawny Fish-owls, Rock (Indian) and Dusky Eagle Owl, Brown Hawk-owl.

Tiger, Leopard, Asian Elephant, Nilgai, Himalayan Goral, Ganges River Dolphin.
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