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India, February 2012

Published by Tony Benton (tony AT bght93.fsnet.co.uk)

Participants: Tony Benton, Janet Bateman

Introduction

Our aim was to combine Tigers and birds with a slice of culture and sightseeing. We opted for a personalised itinerary and in this way ensured that we got to visit precisely the national parks, towns and cities that interested us most. The holiday exceeded our expectations on all fronts, with seven separate Tiger sightings, some great birds, superb food and some fascinating cities and monuments.

February also proved to be a good month weather wise. Although cold in the mornings, it never got uncomfortably hot – and it didn’t rain.

Getting there and getting around

Our flights were with Virgin Atlantic, direct from London Heathrow to Delhi International airport.

The tour was organised through ‘On the go tours’ who were straight forward to deal with and fully bonded, thus ensuring that our money was safeguarded. The arrangements that they made in India were excellent from beginning to end. These included private transfers by car, guides when required, and the hotels and lodges of our choice. Everything worked like clockwork, the drivers took the utmost care when negotiating the chaotic travel in and around cities, and we always felt safe and very well cared for. On the one occasion that we used an overnight train, we were met upon arrival at Agra station and then whisked to our hotel – an amazingly efficient service!

Wildlife guides/naturalists

Our tour arrangements included wildlife guides/naturalists at the Tiger reserves and Bharatpur. They were all good but we would particularly recommend:

• Rachit Singh at Kanha (rachit86mee@yahoo.com)
• Bim Singh Rana at Bharatpur (bhimsinghrana2000@yahoo.com)

Our itinerary and highlights

Our adventures started on February 1 with a tour of Old and New Delhi. The focus was very much on the sights, sounds and monuments of the city and the few birds that were seen were incidental. We did, however, note very large numbers of Black Kites, with flocks often numbering a 100 or more birds. The highlight of the day was a visit to a fascinating Sikh temple where over 5000 people were fed twice daily. We have never seen such enormous piles of chapattis in our lives and all of the food was being prepared on an industrial scale! We also enjoyed a Rickshaw ride around Chandni Chowk bazaar – an experience not for the fainthearted.

February 2 started early with an internal flight from Delhi to Nagpur, a city in the state of Madhya Pradesh and pretty much in the centre of India. It then took nearly seven hours by road to reach Kanha National Park, a setting for Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories. Here we stayed for three nights at Tuli Tiger Resort in comfortable but slightly damp accommodation. However, the food was great, the staff friendly and helpful, and the morning and evening jeep drives in the park were just superb.

Each day started at about 5 am with an alarm call and a quick cup of tea, before heading to the park gates. At this time of the morning, it was very cold, even with the benefit of the blankets and hot water bottles supplied by the resort. But as we entered the park each day, with the mist rising, and full of excitement and anticipation, the early start was quickly forgotten. We were also lucky enough to see a Tiger on our very first morning. The Tiger had been found by an anti-poaching patrol just a short distance from the track used by the jeeps. As the jeeps are very definitely not allowed off-road, we went on the back of an elephant to see the Tiger, which was half asleep in the long grass, and oblivious to our presence. This was a fantastic and thrilling start. The birds were exciting as well and included Oriental Magpie Robin, a stunning Black-Hooded Oriole, a pair of Jungle Owlets and several colourful Indian Rollers that always seemed to be posing for a photo.

We quickly got into the routine of early morning and then afternoon game drives, and just as quickly realised that the idea of lazing by the resort pool for half a day was not going to happen. But not getting a few lazy hours in the sun was compensated for by the sights and sounds of the jungle and we saw more Tigers as well as Chital (Spotted Deer), Sambar, Sloth Bear with two cubs, Langur monkeys, Gaur, Wild Boar and Swamp Deer. Our driver, Santosh, and naturalist, Rachit, made sure that we didn’t miss anything and we really enjoyed their enthusiasm, knowledge and skills in tracking down the wildlife.

Part of the daily routine at Kanha involved counting the number of Spotted Owlets roosting in a tree close to the park gates. Whenever entering or leaving the park, it was obligatory to count these diminutive birds. The maximum count was eight, huddled together perhaps for warmth in the chill of the early morning. The park never felt crowded, and at times we wouldn’t see another vehicle for perhaps an hour. And with no pressure to see Tigers – having done so on our first drive – we could relax and see what birds would come to us. This was often a successful technique that would reveal the likes of Black-Naped Monarch, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher and noisy flocks of Jungle Babblers. On one occasion we watched a Crested Serpent Eagle bathing in a shallow pool, a fantastic sight.

On February 6 we hit the road again and moved on to Bandhavgarh National Park, where we stayed at the excellent Kings Lodge in very comfortable accommodation. The game drives were once again very early morning and immediately after lunch and our driver/naturalist guides were skilled in tracking down Tigers and helping us to find birds.

In terms of sightings of Tigers, we were lucky at both Kanha and Bandhavgarh, and there was no difference between mornings and afternoons. But you do need to put the hours in and luck plays a part, sightings are absolutely not guaranteed at that time of the year, and we did meet people who had taken up to five drives without seeing a single Tiger. At Bandhavgarh, we also enjoyed a guided walk with our naturalist within the extensive grounds of the hotel, adding some new birds including Indian Robin, a couple of Indian Silverbills, and a flyover Long Billed Vulture.

The evening of February 8 saw us on the move again, this time by overnight train from Umaria (about 35 kilometres from Bandhavgarh) to Agra. We were very grateful that we had a sleeper reservation, even though initially we needed some help to prize out a couple of people who had claimed it as their own! Fortunately, we had got talking to someone whilst waiting for the train to arrive, and he came to our rescue: an Indian night in shinning armour.

February 9 saw us arrive in Agra, where it felt much warmer and very busy after the jungle. We stayed at the Trident Hotel and would definitely do so again. The afternoon tour of the Taj Mahal left us speechless, so much better than seeing it on the television, and the nearby Red Fort was also outstanding. We found ourselves wishing that we had another day it was all rather rushed.

February 10 saw us transfer by road to Bharatpur, visiting Fatehpur Sikri en route. This deserted city also really needed more time as there was so much to see and absorb. Birds included Brown Rock Chat, Egyptian Vultures and the ubiquitous Rose Ringed Parakeets.

In Bharatpur, we stayed in Laxmi Vilas, a heritage hotel, that was the former residence of a local Maharajah. This was a quirky place, set in 50 acres of gardens and close to the bird sanctuary. It would be fair to say that food was not a strong point of this hotel, although we didn’t get ill.

Our bird watching guide at Bharatpur was Mr Rana . In the morning, we explored the park by cycle rickshaw, which meant that we could cover more ground. Birding highlights included Red Breasted Flycatcher, Bar Headed Goose, and a distant Imperial Eagle. In the afternoon, we were on foot and off the beaten track, finding White Eared Bulbul and a Dusky Eagle Owl and chick on a nest. Mr Rana also showed us a two meter Indian Rock Python emerging from hibernation (thanks rana!).

The park is vast, and we really needed another day, but on February 12 we headed deeper into Rajasthan and to the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur. Here we stayed for two nights in another heritage hotel, Shapura House, where the food was very good. Jaipur was magical and our sightseeing included a visit to Amber Fort (approached on an elephant and great fun), as well as the City Palace, fascinating astronomical observatory, and Johari bazaar. There was not much opportunity to watch birds here, although Dusky Crag Martin was added to the trip list.

The 14 February arrived all too soon, and it was time for a six hour drive back to Delhi. Our driver skilfully negotiated the traffic and chaos of Delhi, and we the spent the final evening in India reviewing what had been an incredible trip. The flight home the following day was uneventful, if a little late, and so back to Brighton with a rich store of memories and a vow to return to India in the not too distant future.

Post script

At the time of publishing this report (August 2012), there are rumours that access to the core areas of the Tiger Reserves we visited is to be curtailed. Anyone planning to follow in our footsteps will need to check the latest position.

Species Lists

Little Grebe, numerous at Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Bharatpur, Tachybaptus ruficollis
Little Cormorant, numerous at Kanha Bandhavgarh and Bharatpur, Phalacrocorax niger
Great Cormorant, common at Bharatpur, Phalacrocorax carbo
Oriental Darter, 1 at Bharatpur Anhinga melanogaster
Little Egret, common at Bharatpur, Egretta garzetta
Great Egret, 1at Bharatpur Egretta alba
Grey Heron, common at Bharatpur, Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron, 1 at Bharatpur, Ardea purpurea
Eastern Cattle Egret, Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Bharatpur , Bubulcus coromandus
Indian Pond Heron, common Bandhavgarh and Bharatpur, Ardeola grayii
Painted Stork, common at Bharatpur, Mycteria leucocephala
Black Stork, 8 at Kanha Ciconia nigra
Woolly-necked Stork, 2 at Bandhavgarh, Ciconia episcopus
Black-necked Stork, 2 at Bharatpur, Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus
Lesser Adjutant, 1 at Bandhavgarh, Leptoptilos javanicus
Glossy Ibis, 1 at Bharatpur, Plegadis falcinellus
Black-headed Ibis, 3 at Bharatpur, Threskiornis melanocephalus
Indian Black Ibis, 2 at Kanha, Pseudibis papillosa
Eurasian Spoonbill, 5 at Bharatpur, Platalea leucorodia
Lesser Whistling-Duck, 100+ at Kanha, Dendrocygna javanica
Bar-headed Goose, 8 at Bharatpur, Anser indicus
Ruddy Shelduck, common at Agra on the river, Tadorna ferruginea
Comb Duck, 3 at Bharatpur, Sarkidiornis melanotos
Indian Spot-billed Duck, 3 at Bharatpur, Anas poecilorhyncha
Northern Shoveler, 2 at Bharatpur, Anas clypeata
Northern Pintail, 10 at Bharatpur, Anas acuta
Common Teal, common at Bharatpur, Anas crecca
Black-winged (shouldered) Kite, 3at Bandhavgarh, Elanus caeruleus
Black Kite, numerous in Delhi, Milvus migrans
Egyptian Vulture, 3 at Taj Mahal, Neophron percnopterus
White-rumped Vulture, 1 at Kanha, Gyps bengalensis
Indian (Long-billed) Vulture, 1 at Bandhavgarh, Gyps indicus
Crested Serpent Eagle, 6 at both Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Spilornis cheela
Shikra, at both Kanha and Bandhavgarh 2 Accipiter badius
White-eyed Buzzard, 1 at Bandhavgarh, Butastur teesa
Eastern Imperial Eagle 1at Bharatpur, Aquila heliaca
Crested (Changeable) Hawk Eagle, 1 at Bandhavgarh, Spizaetus cirrhatus
Indian Peafowl, numerous everywhere, Pavo cristatus
White-breasted Waterhen, common at Bharatpur, Amaurornis phoenicurus
Purple Swamphen, 1 at Bharatpur, Porphyrio porphyrio
Common Moorhen, common at Bharatpur, Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot, common at Bharatpur Fulica atra
Bronze-winged Jacana, 2 at Bharatpur Metopidius indicus
Red-wattled Lapwing, common near any water, Vanellus indicus
Common Snipe, 1 at Bharatpur, Gallinago gallinago
Common Greenshank, 1 at Bharatpur, Tringa nebularia
Green Sandpiper, 1 at Bharatpur Tringa ochropus
Wood Sandpiper, 1 at Bharatpur Tringa glareola
Common Sandpiper, 1 at Bharatpur Actitis hypoleucos
Black-winged Stilt, common at Bharatpur, Himantopus himantopus
Indian Stone-curlew, 1 at Bandhavgarh, Burhinus indicus
Rock (Feral) Pigeon, numerous, Columba livia
Laughing Dove, common in towns, Streptopelia senegalensis
Spotted Dove, common in towns, Streptopelia chinensis
Emerald Dove, 5 at Bandhavgarh
Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, 8 at Bharatpur, Treron Phoenicopterus
Alexandrine Parakeet, common at Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Psittacula eupatria
Rose-ringed Parakeet, common everywhere, Psittacula krameri
Plum-headed Parakeet, common at Bandhavgarh, Psittacula cyanocephala
Greater Coucal, common at Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Centropus sinensis
Indian (Collared) Scops Owl, 2 at Bharatpur, Otus bakkamoena
Dusky Eagle Owl, adult with chick at nest, Bharatpur, Bubo coromandus
Brown Fish Owl, 1 at Bandhavgarh, Ketupa zeylonensis
Jungle Owlet, up to 6 at both Kanha, Bandhavgarh , Glaucidium radiatum
Spotted Owlet, up to 9 together at Kanha, Athene brama
Brown hawk Owl, 1 at Bandhavgarh, Ninox scutulata
Large-tailed Nightjar 2 B K 1 Caprimulgus macrurus
Crested Treeswift, 1 at Kanha, Hemiprocne coronata
White-throated Kingfisher, common near water, Halcyon smyrnensis
(Little) Green Bee-eater, common at Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Merops orientalis
Indian Roller, very common at Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Coracias benghalensis
Common Hoopoe, up to 6 at Kanha Upupa epops
Indian Grey Hornbill, 4 at Bharatpur, Ocyceros birostris
Brown-headed Barbet, 1 at Kanaha, Megalaima zeylanica
Coppersmith Barbet, 1 at Kanha and often heard, Megalaima haemacephala
Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, 1 at Kanha, Dendrocopos nanus
Black-rumped Flameback, 3 at Kanha, Dinopium benghalense
Dusky Crag Martin, 5 at Amber Fort, ptyonoprogne concolor
Wire-tailed Swallow, common at Bandhavgarh, Hirundo smithii
Red-rumped Swallow, 2 at Amber Fort, Hirundo daurica
White Wagtail, 1 at Bandhavgarh Motacilla alba
Citrine Wagtail, 2 at Bharatpur, Motacilla citreola
Grey Wagtail, 2 at Bandhavgarh, Motacilla cinerea
Scarlet Minivet, 1 at Kanha, Pericrocotus speciosus
Common Woodshrike, 2 at Bandhavgarh, Tephrodornis pondicerianus
Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, 1 at Kanha, Terpsiphone paradisi
Black-naped Monarch, 3 at Kanha, Hypothymis azurea
White-eared Bulbul, common at Bharatpur, Pycnonotus leucotis
Red-vented Bulbul, common in Delhi, Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Pycnonotus cafer
Long-tailed Shrike, common at Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Lanius schach
Orange-headed Thrush, 1 at Bandhavgarh, Zoothera citrina
Asian Brown Flycatcher, 1 at Kanha
Red-breasted Flycatcher, 3 at Bandhavgarh, Ficedula parva
Tickell‟s Blue Flycatcher, 1 at both Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Cyornis tickelliae
Bluethroat, 4 at Bharatpur, Luscinia svecica
Oriental Magpie Robin, common at Bharatpur, Copsychus malabaricus
White Rumped Sharma, 1 at Kanha
Indian (Black) Robin, 2 at Bandhavgarh, Saxicoloides fulicatus
Black Redstart, common at Bharatpur, Phoenicurus ochruros
Siberian Stonechat, several at Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Saxicola maura
Brown Rock-Chat, 3 at Fatehpur Sikri, Cercomela fusca
Yellow-eyed Babbler, 3 at Bharatpur, Chrysomma sinense
Indian Scimitar Babbler, 1 at Khana, pomatorhinus horsfieldii
Jungle Babbler, common at Kanha, and Bandhavgarh Turdoides striata
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta 1 at Kanha, Alcippe poioicephala
Ashy Prinia, 1 at Bharatpur, Prinia socialis
Jungle Prinia, 2 ay Kanha, Prinia sylvatica
Plain Prinia, 1 at Bharatpur Prinia inornata
Common Tailorbird, 1 at Delhi Friday Mosque and Bharatpur Orthotomus sutorius
Common (Siberian) Chiffchaff, 1 at Bharatpur, Phylloscopus collybita tristis
Hume’s Warbler, 1at Kanha, Phylloscopus humei
Greenish Warbler, 1at Kanha, Phylloscopus trochiloides
Lesser Whitethroat, 1 at Bharatpur, Sylvia curruca
Great Tit, 2 at Kanha, Parus major
Purple Sunbird, 2 at Bharatpur, Nectarinia asiatica
Oriental White-eye, 2 at Bandhavgarh, Zosterops palpebrosus
Indian Silverbill, 6 at Bandhavgarh, Euodice malabarica
House Sparrow, several at Agra, Passer domesticus
Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, 3 at Bandhavgarh
Brahminy Starling, common, at Bharatpur, Temenuchus pagodarum
Asian Pied Starling, 2 at Bharatpur, Gracupica contra
Common Myna, common at Kanha, and Bandhavgarh, Acridotheres tristis
Bank Myna, common at road sides and toll booths! Acridotheres ginginianus
Black-hooded Oriole, 3 at Kanha, Oriolus xanthornus
Black Drongo, common at Kanha, Dicrurus macrocercus
White-bellied Drongo, several at Kanha, and Bandhavgarh, ,Dicrurus caerulescens
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, common at Kanha, Dicrurus paradiseus
Rufous Treepie, common at Kanha, and Bandhavgarh Dendrocitta vagabunda
House Crow, common in Delhi, Corvus splendens
Indian Jungle Crow, common at Kanha, and Bandhavgarh Corvus (macrorhynchos) culminatus