NORTH INDIA: Monsoon Magic: Lesser Florican and More
Our captivating tour takes us across Rajasthan during India’s monsoon season, when this otherwise arid landscape becomes lush and green, somewhat at odds with the preconceived notion of the Rajasthani desert. Our primary targets will be Lesser Florican, seldom seen for the rest of the year but which can be seen engaging in extravagant summer courtship displays, and the stately but critically endangered Great Indian Bustard. We begin in Delhi, exploring shallow wetlands to the south of the city before travelling into the semi-desert of eastern Rajasthan, then through a mosaic of farmland, rugged hills, tropical savannah, and thorn scrub as we make our way towards the Thar Desert at India’s western extremity. This region hosts an incredible richness of desert and grassland birds. Although in the summer months we’ll miss the gatherings of waterbirds and handful of middle eastern species that winter here, we’ll still encounter a diverse selection of birds. Besides the two bustards these will include scarce subcontinent endemics and highly prized regional specialities such as Indian Spotted Creeper, Green Avadavat, White-naped Tit, Indian Courser and Bristled Grassbird, accompanied throughout by a fine selection of mammals. marshes.
Fascinating birding in the summer monsoon season, when the desert landscape is transformed and when it becomes possible, or less difficult, to see some of the region’s most elusive and sought-after birds.
The spectacle of displaying Lesser Floricans in the grasslands of Shokaliya, when males of this small and graceful bustard engage in their extravagant leaping courtship ritual.
Many more highly prized regional specialities, most notably the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, Indian Courser, Painted Francolin, the delightful Green Avadavat, Indian Spotted Creeper, Sind Sparrow and Bristled Grassbird.
A selection of resident wetland birds breeding at Bharatpur, as it becomes a raucous heronry hosting good numbers of Black-necked and Painted Storks, Black-headed and Red-naped Ibis, and Eurasian Spoonbill, with Sarus Crane pairs enacting their courtship dance in surrounding grasslands.
Interesting mammal viewing including the striking endemic antelope Blackbuck, graceful gazelle Chinkara, Desert Cat, ‘White-footed’ desert subspecies of Red Fox, and Desert Jird.
A glimpse of India's rich past at the atmospheric silk route citadel of Jaisalmer and hill station of Mount Abu, and an introduction to the region's culture and distinctive cuisine.
Day 1: Delhi and Sultanpur National Park
Arrivals into Delhi international airport this morning. This leaves us the remainder of the day to explore 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 waterfowl. Although migratory species will be absent at this time of year, we can expect to encounter an incredible selection of species in good numbers, including Indian Spot-billed Duck, Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Watercock, 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, Common Hoopoe and Bank Myna, and we’ll search for the regional speciality Sind Sparrow. Night in Delhi.
Day 2: Surajpur Wetland to Bharatpur
We’ll spend the morning at Surajpur Bird Sanctuary, an extensive area of productive wetlands in the Yamuna River basin to the southeast of the city. Among the rich variety of resident waterbirds our key target at Surajpur is the range-restricted Bristled Grassbird which breeds here, accompanied by Striated Babbler and Black-breasted Weaver. By late morning we will leave on the drive south to Bharatpur for the night, arriving in time to begin our exploration of the man-made wetlands, undoubtedly among India’s finest bird reserves. In winter, resident species are bolstered by wintering migrants, but the summer months are equally interesting as Bharatpur becomes a spectacular heronry. We might otherwise decide to spend the afternoon exploring surrounding farmland, where we can expect to encounter a good selection of dryland species as an introduction to the avifauna of the wider region. Key among these will be Sirkeer Malkoha, Brown Rock Chat, Streaked and Baya Weavers, Crested Bunting, the delightful Red Avadavat, Indian Silverbill, and Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark.
Day 3: Bharatpur to Ajmer
We will spend the morning at Bharatpur. Despite the absence of winter migrants our birding here will be immensely rewarding as we enjoy the spectacle of a large number and variety of birds nesting in trailside acacias, including Black-necked, Woolly-necked and Painted Storks, Asian Openbill, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-headed and Red-naped Ibis, four species of egret, Purple Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron. We’ll also look for Indian Thick-knee, the secretive Greater Painted-snipe and waterfowl including Cotton Pygmy-Goose and Knob-billed Duck in the extensive wetlands. We can also expect to come across White-eared Bulbul, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Brown-headed and Coppersmith Barbets, Indian Golden Oriole, and Indian Grey Hornbill in patches of woodland, with Indian Scops Owl, Dusky Eagle Owl and Large-tailed Nightjar at day roosts, and a superb assortment of raptors including Indian Spotted, Tawny and Bonelli’s Eagles. By early afternoon we will leave on the drive west to Ajmer for a three-night stay.
Day 4-5: Ajmer and Shokaliya
We will spend the day exploring arable fields and grasslands around the village of Shokaliya, to the south of Ajmer. This unprotected, agriculture dominated landscape is one of only two strongholds of the breeding population of Lesser Florican, hosting a small but viable population in patches of traditional crops such as millet, sesame, and lentil. Male floricans, locally known as kharmor or ‘grass peacock’, engage in their energetic aerial courtship leaps from July to September, and we hope to see them in action during our time here. Besides floricans, we can expect a good selection of birds including Indian Courser, the range-restricted Painted Francolin, Chestnut-bellied and Painted Sandgrouse, Indian Bushlark, Rock Eagle Owl, Jungle and Rock Bush Quails, and Rain Quail, which is also uncharacteristically conspicuous as it ascends soil mounds to project its song during the breeding season.
Day 6: Shokaliya to Mount Abu via Pushkar
We will spend the early part of the morning at nearby Pushkar, where we’ll look for White-naped Tit, White-tailed (Marshall’s) Iora and the scarce and nomadic White-bellied Minivet. Today will mostly be a travel day, taking us southwest to climb to 1,220m in the Aravalli Hills to Mount Abu for an overnight stay.
Day 7: Mount Abu to Jodhpur
We will spend most of the day exploring the open fields and scrub jungle around Mount Abu for the localised subcontinent endemic Green Avadavat. These lush hills contrast starkly with the arid lands we have passed through, and we can expect several new birds in the new habitat, possibly Indian Scimitar-babbler, Tawny-bellied and Yellow-eyed Babblers, Red Spurfowl and Grey Junglefowl. By afternoon, we will drive to Jodhpur for an overnight stay.
Day 8-10: Jaisalmer and Desert National Park
In the morning of day 8 we will continue west to the desert town of Jaisalmer, close to India’s border with Pakistan, for a three-night stay. Jaisalmer will be our base for exploring this eastern corner of the Thar Desert in Desert National Park. We will encounter an exciting selection of desert species here, possibilities including Cream-coloured Courser, White-browed (Stoliczka’s) Bushchat, Greater Hoopoe and Desert Larks, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Striolated Bunting, Trumpeter Finch, and White-rumped and Indian Vultures, however our priority will be finding the magnificent Great Indian Bustard, which so sadly faces imminent extinction, in its final stronghold.
Day 11-12: Jaisalmer to Tal Chhapar
On day 11 we will undertake a long drive east to Tal Chhapar Wildlife Sanctuary, birding along the journey. On day 12 we will explore the tropical savannah and thorn scrub of Tal Chhapar in search of specialities of grassland and acacia. In this valuable remnant of a once widespread habitat, we will look for our main target the localised endemic Indian Spotted Creeper, plus Great Grey Shrike, Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon, Black Francolin, abundant birds of prey with highlights including Laggar and Red-necked Falcons, and the distinctive Blackbuck.
Day 13: Tal Chhapar to Delhi
After a final morning at Tal Chhapar, we will drive back to Delhi for an overnight stay.
Day 14: Depart Delhi
Departures from Delhi international airport this morning.