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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 18:24   #1
CJW
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Join Date: Mar 2003
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Northern India - Feb 2011

Apologies for the language...
Lots more pix on my website.

Anyone who knows me fairly well knows several things about me:
  • I don’t like crowds (some might say “people”!)
  • I’m not a lover of spicy foods – much preferring Italian and Chinese cooking.
  • I hate jungles – too difficult for photography and always a big strain on the neck.
  • Whenever we go on holiday the location is selected based on the quality of birding.
So this time we decided to go to India for Tigers!!!!! That’ll be billions of people, jungles & curry then…

The trip was organised with the help of Jo from Wild About India and would consist of:

Day 1. Travel to Bharatpur from Delhi where we would stay o/night at the Hotel Sunbird on the edge of the reserve and taking in an afternoon game drive on a cycle rickshaw
Day 2. A second rickshaw drive into the reserve before driving east after lunch to the Chambal river and staying o/night at the Chambal Safari Lodge after a walk around the grounds and adjacent farmland.
Day 3 to Day 4. A morning boat ride up the Chambal river then, in the afternoon, drive North to Agra railway station (after a brief visit to the Taj Mahal) and a north-bound, o/night journey up to Katni.
Day 4 to Day 7. Continue from Katni by car on a short car journey to Tala on the edge of Bandhavgarh Tiger Sanctuary where we would spend 4 nights at Monsoon Forest tented Eco-camp and take 6 jeep safaris into the reserve looking for Tigers.
Day 7 to Day 8. Spend the morning around camp before driving back to Katni and catching the o/night train back to Delhi
Day 9. Arrive in Delhi early morning and drive north to Tiger Lodge hotel on the edge of Jim Corbett National Park.
Day 10. Drive into Corbett and stay o/night at Dikhala forest lodge
Day 11. Morning game drive in Corbett then head back to Tiger Lodge after lunch.
Day 12. Drive to Nainital for some Himalayan foothill birding and to view the Himalayan snow peaks.
Day 13. Drive back to Delhi and spend the evening relaxing in the Hotel Sunstar before the 03:00 flight back to the UK on day 14.


Day1 – Sunday 13th Feb

We arrived in Delhi bang-on time after a pleasant-enough flight with BA and were met by our driver, Ashok, who would be with us for the next 4 days.
Leaving the airport car park my initial reaction was “Blimey (or words to that effect) look at the smog!! Fortunately our vehicle was air-conditioned and we weren’t to encounter any breathing problems. Eventually we started onto the roads which took us away from the airport and my second reaction was “Jesus F**king Christ!!!” The traffic, noise and associated “driving” was unbelievable. “Driving” is in inverted commas for a reason. It consisted of just ‘going for it’ whilst constantly blaring your horn. I’m not exaggerating – lane discipline was non-existent and the direction of vehicles was, let’s be kind and say “random”. After the 8˝ hour flight we were both pretty knackered but could not take our eyes off the melee around us – it was one of those things that you don’t want to see, but can’t take your eyes off. Bicycles, motorbikes with up to 6 passengers, cycle rickshaws, Tuk-tuks with over 15 people aboard, blinged-out lorries, coaches, pedestrians, ox-carts all going in different directions at different speeds on the same carriageway!!!
This incredible phenomenon surrounded us for several dozen miles of our 5 hour journey down to our first hotel on the edge of Bharatpur National park.
Then there were the roadside ‘towns’…
By our age, we’ve travelled fairly extensively and encountered some pretty grotty locations (inc. South African townships) but nothing prepares you for the filth (including people defecating at the side of the road), squalor and poverty of these places.
Travelling around the world you get used to seeing Cattle Egrets and Black-winged Stilts feeding on roadside pools and I’m always struck by their pristine plumage and elegance, well, let me tell you, I have lost all respect for them having seen the sort of filthy puddles and litter-strewn pools they were frequenting in India!
There were other birds of course but, at no time, was I tempted to ask Ashok to pull over so I could get a better look at them:
Black Kites, Indian House Crows, Common Mynahs, Rose-ringed Parakeets, White-throated Kingfishers, 2x Sarus Cranes (the only ones we were to see!), Gtr Adjutants, Red-wattled Lapwings, Indian Rollers and Black Drongos being the ones I can remember off the top of my head.
Eventually, after 3 hours or so, we stopped at a roadside café (and tourist market) for a break. Whilst Keren went inside to get us some cold drinks, I stayed in the car park and in the immediate vicinity of the car – having been robbed in Costa Rica several years back, we no longer leave anything unattended in the car or trust to others to watch it for us. Sad, I know, but that’s the world we live in. The only thing of note I remember from this stop was a Purple Sunbird and a few Laughing Doves in the car park.
A couple of hours later and we arrived at Hotel Sunbird on the edge of Koleodeo National Park (Bharatpur) and, if I’m being honest, it didn’t look anything special on first viewing. Inside was a different story and the staff were friendly and attentive. Whilst we waited for our lunch to be served, we were shown to our cabin/chalet so we could clean up and change our clothes after many hours of travelling by air and car. We never thought anything of it at the time, and neither will you, but we ordered our lunch from the menu provided – I can’t remember what I had other than a cold Kingfisher beer. It really ‘hit the spot’.
After lunch we were introduced to our guide (Randir) and rickshaw driver (Maan Singh) before heading off ˝ mile up the road to the entrance to the reserve. Maan pulled out into the traffic as we sat, precariously, squashed together on the bench seat, our cameras on our laps. I gotta say I wasn’t altogether happy at this turn of events as, whilst there were fewer vehicles they were hurtling past at great speed, horns blaring. 5 minutes later and we entered the park and rode along the main track (after a couple of minutes sorting out entrance tickets with the help of Randir).
I found the first few hundred yards a little frustrating being stuck on the rickshaw but, once we got into the swing of it, Maan was very good at stopping on request and helping us down from our perch enabling us to get better views of the birds we were seeing; Grey Francolins scurried into the scrub looking for all the world like their European counterparts, Indian Peafowl strutted around – it took some getting to used to realising they were wild birds – and our first woodpecker came in the form of a stunning Black-rumped Flameback but, like all woodpeckers, it was a little camera shy and proved very difficult to get a clear shot of.
After a while we left the rickshaw and it’s ‘characterful’ driver behind and continued on foot. This was much better and allowed quicker access to the birds instead of having to extricate ourselves from the ride and missing the birds by a fraction of a second.
At an area called “The Nursery”, Randir’s familiarity with birdsong came into it’s own as he called out a constant stream of names but not really giving me chance to get onto them before he moved on to the next bird! We did manage good views of Coppersmith and Brown-headed Barbets (great birds, barbets), Indian Grey Hornbill, Green Bee-eater, the large Greater Coucal and, much to Keren’s delight, a wonderful little Spotted Owlet closely followed by an unbelievably cute Collared Scops Owl at the entrance hole of his nest site.
Under a nearby bush a stunning male Orange-headed Ground Thrush did his best to hide from us but a single shaft of sunlight filtered through the foliage making his head glow bright orange in the gloom!! 5 minutes later and Randir pointed out a single Dusky Eagle Owl chick and, after a couple of minutes scanning the large trees, located one of the adults standing guard – a stunning bird! This was great stuff, 3 new owl species in less than 10 minutes. No wonder Maan was confident we “would see many owls, 110%”. The bushes were alive with birds, all being very active and giving barely-photographable views – Taiga Flycatchers, Oriental Magpie Robins, Indian Robins, White-eared and Red-vented Bulbuls, an eastern Black Redstart, beautiful Brahminy Starlings and comical gangs of Jungle Babblers behaving very much as Arrow-marked Babblers do in Africa). A vaguely familiar call was a constant companion but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was making it until I got a decent view of a Hume’s Warbler – these birds were everywhere but I never once got a usable shot. The same goes for the Greenish Warblers which they often associated with.
At roadside pools there were the expected herons, egrets and storks at a breeding colony but they’ve never really ‘done it for me’ to be honest. We got great views of Bronze-winged Jacana, White-breasted Waterhen and Purple Swamphen (gallinule) but I forgot to shoot at the latter! There were also Spot-billed Ducks as well the familiar Garganey, Pintail, Shoveler and Little Grebes. In the distance, Randir located a Pheasant-tailed jacana which took me several minutes to get on to but it was way to far away for a usable photo.
We then wandered round an area that Randir considered our best bet for seeing a roosting nightjar but all his best efforts were to prove fruitless.
As the sun started to set, Maan arrived with his trusty steed to take us back to the hotel but not before Randir disappeared into some bushes without explanation. I could hear him whistling in there but he never actually said what he was looking for.
After a pleasant buffet-style meal (assorted ‘curries’) we retired for the evening, exhausted.
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 18:29   #2
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Day 2 Monday 14th Feb

A pleasant breakfast of coffee and toast (there was more on offer but I just wanted to get out in the field) we again headed out in the company of our guide and comical driver.
The sun was rising through the mists and the reserve looked stunning but it would appear that Keren forgot to take any pictures of it! Today Maan was going to be with us for the whole morning but was happy to just push the rickshaw along whilst we were birding.
At one point whilst sat on the rickshaw I picked-up on a movement off to my left and a couple of seconds later a fabulous Little Grey Mongoose appeared at the side of the track. We dismounted in a hurry and rattled off a few shots but, whilst Keren stayed with the animal, another movement caught my attention and I decided to follow it up. I could hear dried leaves being scattered only a couple of feet away and I occasionally caught glimpse of a small brown passerine in the gloom – very frustrating.
After what seemed like an age, but was probably no more than a couple of minutes, the bird appeared in a gap between bushes – Bluethroat!! For the next 10 minutes he (for it was a male) performed brilliantly for me and gave me my best ever views of the species. I even had time to take a shot of an Indian Pond Heron that was sat only a few feet away.
I had promised Randir and Maan good tips if they found me a roosting nightjar so it was back to the same area we investigated the previous afternoon. Before we pulled up on site, we noticed another couple of rickshaws parked up and their drivers were pointing into the scrub beside the road. A brief exchange between drivers in Hindi and Maan turned to me with a huge smile on his face – I didn’t need him to tell me why as I had picked up one word from their conversation “Nightjar”. We dismounted none-too-gracefully and hurried to where there were 3 or 4 birders pointing their lenses into the scrub.
Following the direction their lenses were pointed, I started to scan the general area and almost immediately located the bird sat along a branch appx. 20yds away – Long-tailed Nightjar and what a beaut’!!! I rattled off a few shots and I could hear Keren doing the same but, unfortunately, my angle of view was such that I was shooting through a mass of leaves. After a minute or so one the other photographers approached the bird too closely and it flew into the canopy. Everyone but us left at this stage and Randir and Maan proceeded to walk the area very slowly trying to relocate the bird. 10 minutes later and Maan found it sat across a branch up in the canopy but all I could see, through a narrow viewing window, was its head and upper-breast. Still, it was the first time I had ever had the chance to photograph any nightjar and I was inordinately happy!
We left the bird to its slumbers and started to head back to the park gates. Half-way along the track Randir again disappeared into the bushes without explanation but I had heard enough of their Hindi conversation to pick out the word “Rubythroat”…
“Sod this” I said to myself, “I’m gonna look for myself”. I could see Randir scrabbling around in the dense undergrowth and occasionally crouching, whilst whistling, for short periods but viewing was incredibly difficult. That said, I did get a brief view of another Bluethroat. After 15 minutes of seeing nothing I decided to find a small viewing window of my own and just sat there and waited. For all of 30 seconds. Imagine my unbridled joy when a full-blown male Siberian Rubythroat popped out of the cover and sat in the open, not 6 feet away from me – what an absolute stunner. It never even crossed my mind to take a photo – which I couldn’t have done anyway, as it was well within my lens’ minimum focussing range. I just sat there and stared at him open mouthed. Bird of the trip so far, without question!
And that was Bharatpur, an excellent place which I would love to see when there is more water post-monsoons.
We headed back to the hotel for a quick (curry buffet) lunch before checking out and heading east for Chambal via Agra (have to be careful how you read that, it says “via Agra”, not Viagra…) but not before we got a bollocking from our driver for being late back!
Once again the journey east took us through some nasty-looking roadside villages, through some terrifying traffic and, because we had delayed our departure by staying too long in Bharatpur, we had to go straight through Agra instead of stopping to see the Taj Mahal – not that we were bothered, it didn’t really interest us…
We finally arrived at Chambal Safari Lodge at around 4:30pm and were met by what seemed like all the staff who provided us with cold drinks as soon as we stepped out of the vehicle. Our bags were whisked away to our ‘room/bungalow’ and we settled down in front of the campfire whilst we were introduced to our guide for the next few hours, Gajendra (spitting image of Tom Cruise!). A very pleasant young man, he was keen to get us out around the grounds for the last hour of birdable light. We had a quick wash-and-brush-up in the bungalow (which came complete with it’s own Fruit Bat colony!) and returned to the reception area before starting our circuit of the grounds and neighbouring farmland.
Gajendra was keen to know what we had seen so far and was excited when we told him that Keren was really ‘into’ owls and would love to see some more (even though she’d already had 3 species since arriving in India a day and a half ago).
First stop was to a small stand of trees where Gajendra promised us a Brown Hawk Owl and he didn’t disappoint! What a weird looking bird. Once again, shooting wasn’t the best – looking up and through foliage – but we managed to get a couple of half-decent shots.
Again there were lots of Hume’s and Greenish Warblers but all I can remember about this walk (apart from yet another Collared Scops Owl) was standing at the edge of a crop field waiting for a pair of Barred Buttonquails which never showed. The list tells me we added Ashy Prinia and Brown-headed Bulbul…
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 18:35   #3
CJW
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Day 3 Tuesday 15th Feb

The following morning we were met at the lodge gates by Gajendra and our driver Ashok and driven east (?) towards the Chambal River where we would be taking a boat ride upriver in the hope of seeing a few specialities of the area.
As we approach the river basin, the habitat changed quite dramatically from flat arable land into an area that looked like a weird, alien planet! If I had to guess I would say it was created during the rains when the run-off gouged deep ravines and small river beds into the landscape. We were told that we were going to look for hyenas – what??? On foot???
Fortunately(?) we were unable to locate the animals but were shown their den from a suitably safe (apparently) distance – I’d have said half a mile and from withinn the vehicle was a safe distance but hey, always trust the guide…
We notched-up a few more birds; Brown Rockchat, Plain Martin and a beautiful male Bay-backed Shrike (which didn’t hang around), then headed down to the river itself. It was quite a barren looking area with just a few scattered, ramshackle shelters on a very flat ‘flood plain’ but in the early morning light it looked stunning and Keren took some ace photos.
Down at the water’s edge there were Greenshanks, Temminck’s Stints and a few River Lapwings. We were met by our boat-driver for the morning (sorry, didn’t catch his name) and then introduced to our transport…
I’m not sure what I expected, but it was certainly bigger than this!
Just as we were climbing aboard a flock of about 40 unfamiliar birds flew in and landed on a nearby sandbank, they were small (between Dunlin and Knot in size) and had a striking black and white under-wing pattern. I was mentally flicking through the fieldguide and just as I got to the right page, Gajendra said “Small Pratincoles”. Nice! This was one I had really wanted to see and one that I had been challenged to get a good photo of by my mate back home, Pete Hadfield.
We tried to manoeuvre the boat closer to the sandbank but the water was too shallow and all we could get on the birds was pale grey/brown blobs on pale grey/brown sand so no usable photo was taken.
It was a beautiful, warm morning with just a hint of a breeze blowing a very slight ripple on the surface of the river “that’s nice, it should keep the temperature down a little” I said to myself. Little did I know.
First of all we headed off down stream and, after just half a mile, we pulled into shore and disembarked below an Egyptian Vulture nest site. As we scrambled up the slope, our guide told us that he had a Eurasian Eagle Owl to show us and, lo and behold, he did! This huge bird sat staring at us for a couple of minutes before flying off and once again, I never fired a shot. Still, it was a magnificent creature.
At another sandbank we got stunning views of 3 Great Thick-knees – what bizarre looking birds and another one that I had really wanted to see!
Heading back up river, a small party of Bar-headed Geese flew past and I managed a half-decent shot of them (I was kind of relieved because I had completely forgotten to shoot at the ones we saw in Bharatpur!).
As we headed past the ‘dock’ the wind started to pick up a little and there was a definite ‘chop’ on the surface of the water and, with no cabin to shelter in, it was decidedly chilly (I hadn’t brought a coat…). Still there were plenty of birds to keep us occupied; Indian River Terns, Black-bellied Terns, Ruddy Shelducks, Comb Ducks, Lesser Whistling Ducks and, excitingly, the only gull of our two-week trip, a Pallas Gull all fell prey to the camera (not as easy as it sounds hand-holding a 500mm lens on a moving boat!).
After another half-hour or so I felt a rain drop hit me in the face, then another and another – suddenly the heavens opened. This was not some pathetic little shower like we get back home but a proper downpour – the water started to boil like a piranha feeding frenzy and the wind picked up even more. Our driver was struggling to find a line which wouldn’t drench us as we hit wave after wave, but he was fighting a losing battle – even if he did find a smooth passage (he didn’t) the onslaught from above was relentless and we got soaked through to the skin. Fortunately there were a few life-vests onboard which we used to protect our gear. Eventually after an hour or so, the rain abated but the wind then started to come into play and whistled through our sodden clothes. To say it was cold and uncomfortable would be an understatement! I don’t think I’ve ever seen Keren look so thoroughly miserable.
We persevered upriver and, eventually, the wind dropped a little and the sun came out - but not with enough strength to fully dry us out. Still, we were grateful for what little warmth it gave us.
As I was scanning a distant sandbar a large, pale grey lump appeared briefly above the waves and then slid below a second later. This was followed by a second grey lump “Gangetic River Dolphin” I shouted. Despite slowing the boat and just drifting with the current they didn’t re-appear and dipping-out just compounded Keren’s misery – not even a nearby Mugger Crocodile cheered her up.
Several years ago, Keren had seen a Spectacled Owl in Costa Rica that I missed and she has taken every opportunity to remind me of it since. The dolphins were payback!
Eventually we rounded a bend in the river and another large sandbar presented itself complete with our target birds – Indian Skimmers!
We spent 10 minutes or so with these birds before heading back down river.
No more than 10 minutes had passed on the homeward journey and Keren got on to another Gangetic River Dolphin, followed by 2 or 3 more. Goddammit – can I not catch a break?
We picked up a few more birds on the way back – most notably a couple of flocks of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Bonelli’s Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard – none of which I even looked at through the camera. These were closely followed by a flock of 40 Small Pratincoles – hopefully these weren’t the same ones I was hoping to photograph back at the ‘dock’
Once back on dry land, I noticed, much to my dismay, that the pratincoles had disappeared off their sandbar but Gajendra located a small group on the ‘mainland’ and in a much more accessible place. As there was literally zero cover, it took me an age to approach within shooting distance and I could feel everyone’s eyes impatiently burning in to the back of my head but there was no way I was letting this opportunity slip me by. In the end I got a few reasonable shots of these smashing little birds.
As we had a long overnight train journey ahead of us, and had to get back to Agra to catch it, we headed back to the lodge and checked out.
Another ‘interesting’ car journey ensued and we arrived in Agra at around 3pm – what a busy place!!!
As our train wasn’t due until after 6pm Keren was cajoled into visiting the Taj Mahal whilst I stayed with the driver and all our camera gear. By all accounts she thought the Taj was “an impressive building, but the guide was a pain in the arse and there were far too many people”.
Next came the bit we weren’t looking forward to – an overnight train journey north to Bandhavgarh. It wasn’t so much the 9-hour journey that was bothering us, as having to mingle with the “great unwashed” on the train platform and then having to share a cabin with God knows who!!
Fortunately Ashok (our driver) made us wait in the car until the last minute and then walked us through the mass of people (and goats and chickens, I kid you not!) right up to the platform where we had only to wait for 10 minutes before boarding. But what an uncomfortable 10 minutes – if people weren’t begging and jostling, they would just stand and stare at us. A very strange feeling.
Eventually the train pulled into the platform and the resulting melee was reminiscent of the road traffic – a mass exodus combined with a mass boarding, coupled with the shouting and noise was an experience I will not forget in a hurry. Fortunately the carriage we had booked our cabin in was beyond the means of most Indian people and we had a clear run at the doors! Our bags were taken on board by Ashok (what a guy, we couldn’t have coped without him) and into a cabin for the next 9 hours. On entering the 4-berth cabin I was struck by 2 things; firstly, if this is ‘1st class’ what must ‘second class’ be like? Secondly by the presence of a well-dressed, elderly Indian couple who were tucking in to a picnic spread out on their bottom bunk. Actually, the cabin was very clean and not as bad as it could have been and, after their repast, the Indian couple introduced themselves as Lalan and Kusum Chaudary - they turned out to be delightful company, entertaining us with tales of their life and travels around India and made the journey so much better than it could’ve been. We’re very much indebted to them.
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 18:40   #4
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Day 4 Wednesday 16th Feb

Eventually after just a couple of hours restless sleep, we pulled in to our destination – Katni railway station. This was another worry – would we be met, as promised, by a driver who would take us the rest of the way to Bandhavgarh or would be left stranded? We worried unnecessarily as no sooner had we stepped of the train than we were met by a pleasant young man, (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch his name) with a card round his neck bearing our names. He took our heavy luggage (we kept hold of the camera bags) and led us off the platform and out into the car park - what a dump! There were people actually living in the car park and pigs wandering around scavenging amongst the litter. We loaded the car and were off on our way through the back streets of Katni (the back streets are identifiable because there was less traffic) and on to the main highway. This was actually quite a pleasant car journey when compared to those around Delhi/Agra and our driver was a much more laid-back sort of guy (I suppose it’s directly related to the amount of traffic they have to deal with). After a couple of hours we pulled in to a roadside truck stop (by which I mean, there was a couple of corrugated roofs held up by sticks, underneath which were several tables and a small kitchen). We experienced the local brew “Chi” which is supposed to be tea of some sort and then carried on to Talan on the edge of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. We soon started to see hotels at the side of the road and various signs advertising “tiger this and tiger that” so we knew we were close. We drove through Talan, passed all the hotels and then across some open scrubland to what appeared like a small, ring-fenced oasis. We drove through the entrance gates (consisting of 3 bamboo poles!) and were met by several of the hotel staff who whisked away our luggage and guided us to the reception building. Here we were given damp towels and glasses of cold juice to refresh ourselves and then served with coffee. The stand-in ‘manager’ introduced himself as Nimit Pandya who proceeded to explain that we and another couple were the only people to be staying at the camp for the next couple of days – all these staff just for four of us, talk about decadent! Very British Empire!
As we were booked on our first game drive that afternoon we headed to our ‘tent’ and washed and changed before heading back to reception for lunch. But what a tent! It was fabulous.
Lunch consisted of another buffet of various Indian dishes and whilst tasty enough, my pallet was getting a little jaded and longed for some plain cooking. Don’t forget it’s only day 4!!!
After lunch, whilst we waited for the afternoon drive, I was sat on the patio of our tent trying to photograph a Hume’s Warbler, when our new neighbours introduced themselves as Derek and Sally Howes. This English couple were to become a big part of our stay at Monsoon Forest but I’ll not bore you with any of our interactions as it was really “you had to be there” kind of stuff. Suffice to say, Derek (a fellow photographer) had exactly the sense of humour I find hilarious and we got on remarkably well.
At 2pm our driver (Babloo) arrived and we mounted the open top/back Suzuki Gypsy and drove to the entrance gate of the reserve.
Whilst we waited to be admitted to the reserve and for Babllo to organise paperwork and a guide amongst the 30-odd other jeeps I took the opportunity to do a little birding and notched up Crested Treeswift, and Red-vented Bulbul.
Eventually the gates opened and the convoy of jeeps drove along the main track sending up clouds of dust. After only 5 minutes we turned off onto our designated route (there a several which get appointed to the drivers before the start of each drive). It was strange, but no sooner had we turned off it appeared to be on our own! The forest was stunning in the afternoon sunlight and we started seeing birds in profusion; White-eyed Buzzard, Common Iora, Plum-headed Parakeet, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon and a stunning little Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher. Once again, being a jungle and being restricted to staying in the vehicle, getting shots of this stuff proved problematic. As we crawled along Babloo pointed out several tiger tracks in the soft sand at the side of the track. We continued around the route for 3 hours or so all the time drinking in the beauty of this place but not once getting a sniff of our target species – Bengal Tiger – apart from the occasional pug marks.
As we headed back toward the gate we came across a couple of jeeps that were parked up, the occupants staring intently into dense scrub around a rocky outcrop. It was obvious from the conversation that a Tiger had been seen, so we just parked the car and started to scan as more and more jeeps on their homeward journey, joined us. After 20 minutes or so, I looked around us and we were surrounded by jeeps! Then the shout went up “Tiger on the hillside, approaching the road”. I could hear directions being shouted from all the vehicles but it was Keren’s dulcet tones which cut through the noise “there, below the trees, walking left” – “gee thanks babe, it’s a bloody jungle – WHICH F*****G TREES???” Babloo slammed the car into gear and we hurtled 100 yards down the road, closely followed by the other 30 jeeps, I immediately got onto this amazing tigress and lifted my camera. Unfortunately, because of the speed of the arriving vehicles, the air was filled with dust and my first shots look like they were taken in a thick fog!! I couldn’t see the area (on the right) from where she was predicted to emerge and all I could see was a small gap between a jeep and the bushes on the left. Babloo helped me up onto the roof of his ‘cab’ and held my legs in position (I was stood on a roll bar 2” wide!) whilst I waited for my 2-second opportunity for the cat to appear. I could see the occupants of the jeeps in front all shooting away with their cameras and could follow the tigress’ progress by watching the lenses move. Then, in my tiny “window of opportunity”, she appeared. Jesus ‘H’ Christ!!!! What an animal. Thank God for my Canon 1D – I rattled off 8 shots at 1600 ISO in less than a second and managed one usable image, just as she disappeared into the scrub on the left. Despite Babloo’s amazing manoeuvres we never got a second viewing. But hey, you have no idea how happy Keren and I were – we were both close to tears. All we could say to each other for the next 20 minutes was “We’ve seen a tiger”…
Back at camp there was no need for anyone to ask if we’d been successful – our huge beaming smiles told them all the needed to know and, boy, did that celebratory Kingfisher Beer taste good after the heat, dust and excitement. What an afternoon, I’ll never forget it.
That evening the 5 of us (me, Keren, Derek, Sally and Nimit) sat around the campfire after another ‘curry buffet’ and had few beers whilst we were serenaded by a Savannah Nightjar. The perfect end to the day.
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 18:46   #5
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Day 5 Thursday 17th Feb
An early start for our second game drive, but not before we had coffee delivered to the tent!
As we approached the jeep, the staff offered us warm blankets and hot water bottles to keep us warm during the cold, pre-dawn journey to the park.
Whilst waiting at the reserve gates I traded insults with Derek (in another vehicle) and Babloo toddled off to arrange paperwork and another guide and route.
Birds of note on this drive were; Lesser Adjutant, White-browed Fantail, White-bellied Drongo, Fire-capped Tit, a flock of Common Rosefinches, Puff-throated Babbler and Red-headed and Slender-billed Vultures.
After we’d been in the park about 30 minutes, we started to climb out of the forest and onto a rocky hillside. Rounding a bend in the road we came across 2 jeeps parked up with their occupants all stood up and looking into the grasses on the left.
Even before speaking to anyone Babloo said “This will be B2”…
B2 is the dominant male of the area and has appeared in several wildlife documentaries. He is an absolutely monstrous sized animal.
Anyway, Babloo pulled up in front of the other two vehicles (but was careful not to block their view) but didn’t need to point out the tiger. He was 50 yards away and walking down a narrow track straight toward us. This was more like it! We were sharing the dominant Tiger of the area with only 2 other jeeps.
He just kept coming and coming, all the while mine and Keren’s cameras were firing away like machine guns. Once he was down to 20 yards my 500mm lens was just too much to get him all in frame and Keren tells me all she could hear was me telling her to “zoom out and make sure you get the whole cat in shot”. Several dozen times apparently. Meanwhile I was concentrating on getting what headshots I could. At his closest this stunning tiger walked between ours and another jeep and was no more than ten yards away!!!
It’s only afterwards that you realise just how exposed you are in those open top/back vehicles!!! Eventually “B2” wandered off into the scrub and left us all staring at each other in utter shock and (to use an over-used word) awe.
Babloo thought he knew where the tiger was heading, so we climbed further up the hill to view the valley below and staked the area out but to no avail. He was gone.
A couple of hours later we found ourselves alone on a side track and decided to stop for a drink of water and a biscuit whilst birding the area from the safety and comfort of the jeep.
I had taken a bite of my Bourbon biscuit and was about to wash it down with a refreshing mouthful of water when our guide, in the most nonchalant way imaginable, said “Tiger on the road behind you” I nearly bloody choked!!! There, crossing the track from a stand of bamboo about 20 yards away, was yet another tiger, another female this time. She walked towards us for a few yards and then disappeared into the bamboo on the opposite side of the track. I got 2 shots of her – one of which is a full-frame of her face!!!
We moved the vehicle to where she disappeared but never did get another look at her – but we did hear her roaring not 50 yards away. What a spine-chilling sound. You really wouldn’t want to hear that if you were on foot!!!
So that was two drives into the park and 3 different tigers seen. Babloo said we were the luckiest people he’d ever driven! But we wanted more!
Again, once back at camp no-one needed to ask if we’d been successful and they all gathered round to see our shots of one of the most famous tigers in India.
Another ‘curry buffet’ for lunch followed by insult trading with Derek and then out again for an afternoon game drive.
At a small stream crossing (my favourite area of the park) we saw a stunning Crested Serpent Eagle in a roadside tree, followed by a bizarre Greater Racket Tailed Drongo and a small roving party of Tickell’s Thrushes. 20 yards further on and Babloo’s field-craft located some more tiger pug marks in the roadside dust and he announced “these are fresh, since this morning. See how they on top of the car tracks”. He suggested we do a spot more birding (unsuccessfully trying to locate Savannah Nightjar) before coming back to the same spot “I think she’ll appear around 4:30pm” he said.
So, at 4:10pm we’re parked in the same spot and waiting. On the stroke of 4:15pm there was almighty roar from the bamboo stands to the left of the track, I made a sarcastic little “she’s early, are you sure it’s a female?” and Babloo reversed the car back to the stream crossing point. 5 minutes later she appeared 40yds. away and proceeded to scent mark one of the trees before disappearing into the dense streamside vegetation.
Just before leaving the park (100 yds from the gates) Babloo pulled over to the right under a large tree and pointed out a Mottled Wood Owl at roost but the angle we were shooting from and the fact that the bird just would not turn to look at us meant that the resulting shots are a bit disappointing. Still, can’t complain really…
That evening as Keren was trying to take some “artistic, moonlighty shots” of our tent (her words, not mine!) one of the local savannah Nightjars flew right past us and away over the grassland in front of the tent. Nice.
Another curry buffet for tea…
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 19:03   #6
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Day 6 Friday 18th Feb
Another early start for another morning drive into the park.
Information had filtered through the previous evening about a Tigress and 4 cubs on a kill at the edge of the park and that they were expected to remain in the area for a couple of days.
I say “information had filtered through” when in actual fact our new friends Derek and Sally had been to the site on Elephant back and seen them. Jammy feckers.
As soon as the gates opened all the jeeps headed in the direction of the site (but using their designated routes). Our route was a very pleasant one and, as we had already seen several Tigers, I asked Babloo to take his time and not go charging off like a headless-chicken looking for another.
En route we got ace views (but not ace photos!) of Red Jungle Fowl (“don’t call them chickens!”), Jungle Owlet and Asian Brown Flycatcher. Arriving on site where the Tigress had her kill we were greeted with the sight of nearly 30 jeeps vying for position and this despite the fact that the cat(s) could not be seen from the road!
Babloo joined the throng and even managed to get us into a position where we could see the general area. This was basically a woodland ride, or fire-break, which ran parallel with the park’s boundary fence and wall. As nothing was happening with the cats and the fact that as soon as they revealed just a whisker someone would alert us, I decided to scan the area for birds. I got some very strange looks when you consider there were in excess of 100 people all looking in one direction at an empty woodland ride and I was stood up in our jeep scanning with my bins in the opposite direction!! After a fruitless search of 20 minutes or so (“fruitless” ignores the various parakeets, woodpeckers, warblers and flycatchers), I returned my attention back to the woodland ride.
Crossing from left to right (or the other way round depending on your perspective…) was a fallen tree trunk with a few, bare, broken branches remaining. Sat atop of one of these branches was a stunning blue and orange bird. Every single one of the other people present were all staring straight through this bird to look for a tiger – unbelievable. I wracked my brains trying to come up with the species name, but all I knew was that it was a rock-thrush species. Our guide was of no use whatsoever (those in the park seldom are) and Babloo was at loss also. I had to resort to the field-guide (always embarrassing!) and nailed it as a Blue-capped Rock-thrush. What a peach of a bird – so much so that Babloo alerted all the other drivers and guides to the bird’s presence and, as it turned out, it was new for all of them.
I like to give something back occasionally…
Another hour passed without seeing anything more than the hint of a stripy flank as one of the cats slinked past a gap in the undergrowth so we moved off.
As we approached the entrance/exit gates we again stopped underneath the Mottled Wood Owl tree and it was again being an awkward bugger. Whilst trying to cajole this stubborn owl into looking at us, a couple of jeeps sped past and shouted something to Babloo…
There was a Tiger crossing the road right in front of us!!! Unfortunately because of her proximity to the park gates and boundary all our shots have grotty backgrounds which make her look like she’s in a zoo…
Before lunch (curry buffet) Derek and I did a short walk around the vicinity of the camp gate to see what birds were available to photograph using a sit and wait technique.
It’s surprising how often just sitting and waiting produces the goods.
In just ˝ hour we had great views of Indian Silverbill, Indian Robin, Bay-backed shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Dusky Warbler, Black-hooded Oriole and Large Cuckoo-shrike.
At 2pm we headed into the reserve for our penultimate game drive.
All the usual suspects were on show – Red-headed Vultures, Alexandrine and Plum-headed Parakeets, Small Minivets and our first ever Blue-winged Leafbirds. Tiger news was thin on the ground so we slowly made our way toward this morning’s stake-out site more with hope than expectation.
We crossed an open area of tall grassland between patches of forest and were about to re-enter the forest when Babloo came to a very sudden and un-announced stop.
Because of his accent and my unfamiliarity with his pronunciations, I heard “Bran pissell”. I mean, what would you make of that? Fortunately our guide had also latched onto what Babloo had spotted. So now I’ve got it in stereo: “Bran pissell, Bran pissell” They were so excited and I had no sodding clue what they were looking at. Babloo crawled the jeep another couple of feet further forward and turned to me again and said “Bran pissell in the pick tree”. On the plus side, he was pointing this time.
I lifted my bins and started scanning more in hope (and bewilderment) than expectation.
Staring back at me through slitted, fiery yellow eyes, 50 yds away in dappled sunlight, was a Brown Fish Owl!!!! Oh, now I understand…
How the f*** did he spot that?????
We drove further forward and I managed to get a half-decent shot of the bird in it’s habitat but it was too distant and too well hidden for big images. But what a bird. Bird of the trip so far I’d say (don’t forget, I’ve also seen two species of nightjar by this stage of the trip!).
Keren and I ‘filled our boots’ with this bird and we plunged back into the gloom of the forest. Actually, that’s far from accurate. We slowly drove back into the dappled sunlight of this beautiful woodland (having waited for an elephant and mahout to pass by).
We’d only gone 50 yds when our passage was blocked by a jeep, its occupants all staring into the lower branches of the tress on out right. I heard their driver telling Babloo that it was a “Bran pissell”. Being a quick learner, I immediately knew that there was another Brown Fish Owl right next to the track we were on!!! What a stunner, unbelievable. I never expected to see one, never mind two in 5 minutes!!!
Nothing about this drive stands out in my memory – we certainly failed, for the first time, to see any tigers.
That evening, after a curry-buffet meal, we all retired to the ‘camp-fire’ on the patio and sat around chatting, joking, insulting and generally getting pissed (including mein host, Nimit). We had now been joined by a delightful Mexican couple and an elderly Indian couple who sat enthralled and open-mouthed at the insults Derek and I exchanged with each other and, on occasion, everyone else (Derek never did know when to stop…). It was a great night and once the old crusties retired to their beds, Keren and I stayed up with Nimit and put the world to rights, talking about everything from arranged marriages right the way through to ‘death-metal’ music!!!
These are the nights that stay with you for a long time.
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 19:08   #7
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Day 7 Saturday 19th Feb
These are the nights that stay with you for a long time
It was certainly with me the following morning when I awoke – oooh my poor head…bloody Indian red wine!!! Actually it’s very good, thoroughly recommended.

This morning there was a definite chill in the air and extensive cloud cover – so much so we were offered heated, woollen blankets and hot water bottles before we set off for our final game drive!! I’m sorry, but what??? Do we look like we’re old and infirm??? Give them to Derek and Sally…
We arrived at the entrance to the reserve and sat there dithering in the cold (but with our youthful pride in tact) whilst waiting for the park to open.
As it turned out, the only new thing we saw of interest during the entire 4-hour drive was our one and only White-rumped Shama which put in a brief but colourful fly-by. We certainly didn’t see any tigers. Still, been there, done that, got the t-shirts…

So that was Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve - a beautiful place with some excellent birds. One or two Tigers as well…

With no more game drives to be done and whilst Keren sat around relaxing/reading, Derek and I took a pre-lunch walk around the local scrubland between the hotel compound and the village of Tala as, apparently, his driver had shown them all sorts of good birds on their way back from the park the previous day. We didn’t see anything of note. At all.
After a curry-buffet lunch (shocker!), I took a ‘compound perimeter’ walk by myself and had little more success than the earlier one with Derek - although in the absence of his constant cockney chatter (!) I did get some good views of Green Bee-eater, Grey Francolin and a lone Yellow-wattled Lapwing.
I didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon – I think I slept the hang-over away before getting up for a curry-buffet evening meal.
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 09:07   #8
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I havent read the whole lot yet Chris. But enough to say, what an interesting read. Glad you managed to experience India (the good and the bad and the ugly). Look forward to reading day 3.

By the way, would you now care for a curry or are you curried out?
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 10:16   #9
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By the way, would you now care for a curry or are you curried out?
I don't think I'll ever eat curry again!
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 11:53   #10
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Good stuff Chris - but come on man, only 9hrs in a 1st class cabin??? Try 37hrs in a 2nd class one - that sorts the wheat from the chaff
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 17:46   #11
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Good stuff Chris - but come on man, only 9hrs in a 1st class cabin??? Try 37hrs in a 2nd class one - that sorts the wheat from the chaff
Or the young and daft from the old and sensible!
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 20:34   #12
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Well yeah, there is that too
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 21:12   #13
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Excellent read, brings back good memories
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Old Tuesday 12th April 2011, 10:42   #14
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Great read, brings back good memories... going to have to book another trip now :)
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Old Tuesday 12th April 2011, 15:14   #15
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We favor 2AC which is 2nd class A/c 2 tier.
Have had some great trips on Indian trains.
We were also at Chambal lodge this year with the same guide.
However, we were there in March and had a totally different weather experience. The river was so low that we had to walk for 3/4 of an hour in deep sand, there and back to get the boat. It was then so boiling hot on the boat that we both thought we would die of sun stroke!!
Apart from that we had a great time with wonderful birds.
We were on a Corbett/Pangot/Binsar/Sattal/Chambal/Bharatpur trip which we did over 3 weeks.
Binsar was the highlight. Stunning views of the Himalayas.
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 09:02   #16
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Day 8 Sunday 20th Feb
Our last morning in this neck of the woods before heading back to the shit-hole that is Katni railway Station and another loooong train journey - this time to Delhi.
D’you know, I have zero recollection of seeing or doing anything this morning other than being evicted from our tent by Keren as she set about re-packing our cases. I assume I went birding on my own but without any noteworthy success.
We said our goodbyes to the staff who had looked after us so well and then also to Derek and sally – I’m sure it’s not the last I’ll see of them!
Monsoon Forest is, without doubt, the best place Keren and I have ever stayed – they just need to put a little more variety into the menu (which is something that could be said for everywhere we stayed).
Our car arrived to collect us in the early afternoon and we set off on a return journey to Katni. Again nothing of note happened and we boarded the train for our overnight journey to Delhi.
Our cabin was already occupied by a slumbering young Indian fella so we just took up residence on the top bunks and kept ourselves to ourselves. There was a brief period when we were joined by several more young local guys who spent a couple of hours chatting and generally being inconsiderate to the needs of other passengers (i.e. Keren and I). At the next station these guys were replaced by a very well-dressed Indian gentleman and one of his aides. This guy was travelling with a full compliment of bodyguards (at least of which had huge machine guns over their shoulders) and personal aides (all with handguns). So we again kept shtum and buried our faces in our respective books before bedding down for the night. I have no idea who the guy was – he never said squat to us – (ignorant swine) but with that size of retinue he must’ve been pretty important.
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 09:08   #17
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Day 9 Monday 21st. Feb
We arrived in Delhi pretty much bang-on schedule and were again met on the platform by our driver for the remainder of our stay – Shankar.
It was going to be a long drive up to Corbett National Park and the journey would take us through Delhi during the morning rush hour…
As you can imagine what the traffic was like, I see no need to bore you with the details. It was a good couple of hours before the traffic started to thin and Shankar could begin to make a bit of headway.
Just before we move on, I should mention the Black Kites.
We’ve seen these, or their equivalent, all over the old-World but not in these numbers – at one road bridge, with a large number of electricity pylons on either side of the road, there were literally thousands in the air together and also perching on the pylons. I’ve never seen so many raptors, it was a stunning sight and it took our eyes off the human melee and detritus surrounding us at the time.
It was a long and tedious journey but, around lunchtime, Shankar pulled in to a very pleasant hotel/café where we ordered from the menu!! You have no idea how much of a pleasure it was to have choice of food.
We ordered something suitably bland – I think Keren had chips with something and I had a pizza. Unbridled luxury…
4 hours later we were just through the town of Ramnagar looking for our next hotel “Tiger Camp Safari Lodge”. To the left of us was Corbett National Park and, on the right, were hotels - one after the other, with just an occasional glimpse between them of the 200yds distant Kosi River.
The reason for coming to this area was that, being close to the foothills of the Himalayas, we would have the opportunity of seeing a whole host of different bird species. Someone mentioned there’re Tigers in Corbett as well, but this was just going to be a last desperate attempt for them if we’d failed at Bandhavgarh…
We disembarked the car and were once again met by bell-boys (?) who swiftly relieved us of our heavy cases and took them to our room for the night whilst we checked-in at reception (filling-in the endless bloody forms you have to complete each time you change accommodation).
A quick drink, wash and change and Shankar suggested taking a short drive to look for the rare and elusive Ibisbill on the Kosi River. Now that was thinking I could get behind! Ever since I was a fledgling birder back in the 1970’s (Jesus, I know, I know!!!!) Ibisbill was something I had always wanted to see.
I don’t think we’d gone a couple of Km when we pulled off the road and onto a track that led down to the river. But what scenery!!!
After the flat countryside we had been used to over the last week or so (yes, I know Bandhavgarh has a hill) this area was stunning. I mean, “kick me in the crotch, am I dreaming this stuff?”, stunning. I’m not going to describe it – hopefully Keren’s photos will do it for me.
Anyway, back to the birding.
Almost the first bird I saw had a touch of the familiar about it. A small, dark passerine with a bright orange-red tail flew up from the rocky edges of the river and onto a nearby boulder. Clearly it was a redstart sp and, as I raised my bins, I was expecting to see yet another winter-plumaged Black Redstart. But no! On closer inspection this bird was a beautiful slate-blue colour – Plumbeous Water-redstart (which has got to be one of the great bird names!). What a storming little bird. There was other stuff too; Himalayan Bulbuls were common, as were the ubiquitous Pied Kingfishers but there were also Crested Kingfishers blasting up and down stream.
Well, we scanned that river for a good hour or so with not a sniff of an Ibisbill, it’s only when looking for them that you realise how common, annoying and unattractive River Lapwings are…
Undeterred, Shankar suggested going upstream another couple of Kms to a second site for Ibisbill. The habitat here was just as stunning, if not more so, and had the added ambience of a local market and temple right on the banks of the river. Now this was how I had pictured India!
Again the first bird I saw was a water-redstart; but this one was bigger, darker and had a “glow-in-the-dark” white cap. White-capped Water-redstart – a seriously superb bird and nicely approachable to boot! We even walked up and down the river for a few hundred metres looking for Ibisbill, whilst constantly on the look-out for the man-eating tiger which had taken up residence in recent months…it sort of brings home to you just how easy we have it in Britain – the most we have to worry about as birders is getting funny looks from the public or, at very worst, getting mugged by some Burberry-wearing little chav. Here we were actually at genuine risk of being eaten!!! It’s hardly surprising we didn’t see an Ibisbill on this section of river…
We headed back to the hotel where we were told that our guide for the next few days would introduce himself before we went for our evening meal.
We had showers, got changed and were sat on the beds reading when there was a knock on the door at 6:45pm. I opened the door to be faced with this tiny little Nepalese guy who introduced himself as our guide “Hari Lama”.
I’m sorry, but that has got to be one of the best names of anyone I’ve ever met – it’s so Monty Python, “Harry Llama”…
Anyway, Hari proceeded to instruct us in what time we were to be ready the next morning and that we were to make sure that the hotel provided a proper breakfast even though it was before their scheduled breakfast times. I felt like I was back in school and being spoken to by the headmaster!
He asked if there was anything I particularly wanted to see and the first two names out of my mouth were Ibisbill (obviously) and Great Slaty Woodpecker. Not sure where that second one came from!
His reply inspired confidence for both species “No, problem”…
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 09:16   #18
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Day 10 Tuesday 22nd. Feb
We were stood ready for the off at 07:30 as instructed when Hari came jogging into the car park to say he had found a group of 4 Great Slaty Woodpeckers “across the road”. 30 seconds later and I was looking up at a roadside tree and watching these immense birds. If, as many believe, that Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extinct then these are the largest woodpeckers in the world.
The efficiency with which Hari had located these birds boded well for him also locating an Ibisbill for us. After all, he did say “no problem” the previous evening…
We headed off back to the first of the previous evening’s Kosi River stake-outs and scanned the banks for a good 40 minutes without any joy so went straight up to the ‘temple site’ we had also visited the previous evening. This was Hari’s favourite site for the birds and the anticipation was almost unbearable. As we dropped down to the car park, a dark blue bird with paler ‘spangling’ landed by a roadside stream and proved to be a beautiful Blue Whistling Thrush – so far, it had been a cracking start to the morning…
We crossed the market area as the traders were setting up their stalls and, as expected, got some very curious stares which always makes me feel uncomfortable – but that has more to do with being conditioned to living in Britain than any perceived threat by these people.
As we approached the footbridge that allows you to access the river bed and temple we were hit with a wondrous sight – the early morning sun was just peeping over the Himalayan foothills and sending shafts of light through the misty forests. I know Keren did her best to capture this scene, but I don’t think anyone could have done it justice photographically.
Anyway, we started the trudge upriver as we tagged along behind Hari who seemed to know where he was going. All the time we’re scanning the edges of the river and its little tributaries, but we’re also having to watch where we’re stepping on the very uneven, pebble-strewn ground. Not to mention looking out for tiger prints in the sand…
All the, now familiar, species were in evidence: both water-redstarts, 2 species of kingfishers, River Lapwings and, overhead, small groups of Plain Martins and Little Swifts (“House” Swifts if you’re Indian!) but still no Ibisbill. After a few hundreds yards we came across a fast flowing tributary that would have been a challenge for us to cross with all our gear – not to mention bloody cold (don’t forget where this water is flowing from!). But Hari, being the intrepid guide he proved to be, told us to sit and wait whilst he went on and investigated further upriver. Having been given our instructions we just sat on a boulder each and watched in amazement as he proceeded to remove boots and socks and wade across the stream and then continue off into the distance.
We must’ve sat there for 40 minutes before the diminutive shape of our leader appeared in the distance on his return trek. There didn’t appear to be any urgency in his movements so we assumed, correctly, that he hadn’t located our targets here either.
Once Hari re-joined us, we started to trudge back toward where the car was parked – but always right along the waters edge just in case…
After about 100yds, a small bird got up from some boulders right in front of me and flew across the river to the far shore some 30yds away. It wasn’t a particularly colourful looking bird, just dull grey with some flashes of white on its broad, rounded wings. I thought I’d seen a flash of pink but couldn’t be sure I wasn’t hallucinating or whether it was a trick of the early morning light. I looked through my bins and was amazed to see…a Wallcreeper!!! Brilliant. Unfortunately it was too far to even attempt taking a shot, so I just stood and enjoyed the sighting. The last time I’d seen Wallcreeper was in Bulgaria several years previously and in very different habitat (a high-walled mountain canyon).
But it wasn’t an Ibisbill.
We had a couple of hours before we were due to be collected and driven into Corbett itself, so Hari tried a couple more locations along this stunning river but all proved fruitless. I don’t know who was getting more irate, us or Hari! You could see he was almost taking their absence personally. That’s not to say we weren’t seeing other stuff: Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Scarlet Sunbird and Spangled Drongo all kept us vaguely diverted from our quest. Briefly.
We were collected from our hotel around 11:00am and driven by another open-top jeep to the entrance to Corbett NP and, after another brief paperwork exercise, allowed to enter the reserve.
To be honest, the first mile or so was pretty dire under the trees and all we added was a fleeting view of a male Kalij Pheasant. Eventually there started to be breaks in the trees where river tributaries crossed the forest. These tributaries were mostly dry and looked like diminutive versions of the Kosi River – very rocky but on steepish slopes. As soon the habitat started to open up we started seeing birds; Great and Lineated Barbets, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, the delightful little Collared Falconets behaving like flycatchers and feeding on dragonflies, Pallas’ Fish-eagle, Ashy Bulbul (yuck), a stunning Rufous-bellied Niltava, another new woodpecker - Himalayan Flameback - and lots of Great Tits (they look strikingly different to our Great Tit, but sound the same).
Eventually we arrived at Dikhala camp which is the only place you can stay o/night in the park and we went through the usual rigmarole of checking-in at reception.
Now, so far, we have stayed in some pretty fabulous places and had become quite used to a taste of the decadent. However, we had been warned that Dikhala wouldn’t be of quite the same standard and that it was basically just somewhere clean to sleep, so our expectation weren’t very high. A good job really…
Don’t get me wrong, it did exactly what it said on the tin, but the peeling paint on the walls, tired furnishings and rock-hard mattresses (if they were actually mattresses!) were a definite come-down in standards. How do back-packers cope with this kind of accommodation everywhere? I’m probably being a bit harsh, the staff were brilliant and friendly. We had a quick ‘curry buffet’ lunch (#20 of the trip so far…) and headed back out into the park for a game drive.
Because tigers are considerably harder to see in Corbett and because Hari was our guide, this drive was definitely more about the birds. Fine by me.
I have to say, I’ve birded in some pretty amazing places in my time – the Western Cape in South Africa, Monteverde in Costa Rica, the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria etc but Corbett National Park has got to be one of the most scenic places we’ve ever been too – it’s stunning.
Almost one of the first birds we saw as we left the camp was a pair (ad and juv) of Cinereous (Black) Vultures perched in a dead tree alongside a Red-headed Vulture closely followed by a beautiful little Jungle Owlet giving much better views than those we had seen in Bandhavgarh. More good stuff just kept coming; a very elusive Chestnut-headed Tesia, Scarlet Minivet, Slaty-headed Parakeet and, in the air together, a pair of Himalayan Griffons and a Lesser Fish-eagle. There also seemed to be Changeable Hawk-eagles every hundred yards or so!
We retired back to our lodgings for the evening after a ‘curry buffet’ and fell in too deep sleeps (with the words of Hari ringing in our ears –“be ready for 07:00 in the morning” – that’s us told!).
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 09:18   #19
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Day 11 Wednesday 23rd. Feb
We woke ahead of schedule and Keren headed straight out to try and capture the amazing sunrise and forest mists with her camera – I think she did a pretty good job considering she was still half asleep!
Hari had specially arranged for us to have a full breakfast before heading out for the morning drive and the looks on the faces of the other ‘guests’ faces as we tucked into toast, fruit and cereals was a joy to behold – all they got was a cup of coffee each!
The drive round the forest just kept getting more and more stunning – very mystical with the morning mist and the early morning sun sending shaft of light through the trees.
The first new birds were Rufous and Streak-throated Woodpeckers on the same branch. If you’re into woodpeckers, Corbett is certainly a must-visit. As photographers they’re just too bloody frustrating (as are most jungle birds…).
As were left the forest and out into some open grassland with scattered bushes, Hari tapped me on the shoulder and said “Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler calling”. Yeah right, what chance do we have of seeing one those little skulkers!!! Our driver pulled over to the left of the track to allow any other jeeps to pass and we sat and waited whilst Harin produced a variety of whistles and squeaks to entice the bird out into the open. We could see the grass moving and could hear the bird calling constantly but it just woudn’t show itself – many people have tried to see a scimitar-babbler and failed but Hari wouldn’t let it go! Whether it was our failure with the Ibisbills that drove him on I don’t know but we weren’t going anywhere until we saw it!! After about 10 minutes movement off to the left caught my eye…”there, there in the low bush” (great directions Chris!). It was a pretty smart looking bird and my photos don’t do it justice, but now I’ve seen a Rufous-cheeked Scimitar-babbler – have you???
After a ‘curry buffet’ lunch we checked out of our rooms and took a leisurely drive back towards the park entrance picking up a few new birds on the way; Maroon Oriole, Large Woodshrike, Lesser Yellownape (another woodpecker), Grey-winged Blackbird and a northern Goshawk that Hari strongly insisted was a Changeable Hawk-eagle until we realised he was looking at a different bird!! These were followed by long-billed Pipit, Dark-throated Thrush, Grey-backed Shrike and a briefly seen Yellow-bellied Fantail was our 235th species of the trip so far.
We headed back to Tiger Camp Safari Lodge then re-acquainted ourselves with Shankar (our driver) and headed back out to the Kosi River where we walked the edges of the river and stood on various bridges all the time scanning for an Ibisbill but to no avail.
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 09:37   #20
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Day 12 Thursday 24th. Feb
Another early start (one of these days we’ll take a relaxing holiday), but this time I could see the reasoning behind it.
We were going to take a 3 or 4 hour drive up into the Himalayan foothills and, to have the best chance of seeing the mountain peaks in all their glory, we needed to be there in the early morning.
After an hour or so we turned off the main highway and started to climb up into the hills. The drive was reminiscent of the roads up into the Troodos mountains of Cyprus – but with considerably more interesting birds!
After a couple of hours climbing up what was a surprisingly good road, Shankar pulled over into a lay-by so we could stretch our legs, admire the view and do a little birding.
Looking down on to the trees and bushes below we could see an lot of bird movement and soon picked-out a mixed flock of Golden-fronted and Orange-bellied Leafbirds, Pale-billed Flowerpecker and a few beautiful little Black-lored Tits. In the distance a Great Hornbill was calling and was seen to glide across the treetops before disappearing back in to the forest way below. Needless to say the scenery was outrageous.
We continued on the climb higher and higher and even started to see snow and ice on the road, which was a little worrying considering how narrow the road was and the way some Indians drive! Shankar did a sterling job in not plunging us to our deaths in the valleys off to our right!
A second leg-stretch stop and we knew we were getting quite high – the air was thinner and it was decidedly colder, but still with some heat from the climbing sun. It was a bit of a strange feeling having icing cold air on your back but with glowing warm sunlight in your face!
But the view…
Off in the distance (50Km appx) we could see the white peaks of the roof of the World – The Himalayas. Words can’t express what it’s like to be so far from home and seeing such a view. The best I can come up with is “other-worldly”. Unfortunately there was a bit of a haze and getting shots of the peaks was proving a nightmare for Keren.
After 10 minutes of staring open-mouthed at the vista in front of us Hari produced a small pipe (15cm long) from his jacket pocket and started to blow rhythmically over the top of it. It produced a sound similar in tone to the pan-pipes of South America but it also produced an amazing arrival of birds.
I’ve tried pishing and sqeaking (with little success to be honest), but this thing was incredible; Black-throated Tits, Bar-tailed Treecrepers, Spot-winged Tits, White-tailed Nuthatches, Rufous Sibia, Grey-hooded and Black-faced Warblers and Green-backed Tits all came to investigate this curious sound. Circling over the valley below were Nepal House Martins and on the trunks of some of the larger trees were Rufous-bellied and Brown-fronted Woodpeckers. The new birds were coming almost as thick and fast as our first day in India!
Eventually we arrived in Pangot (end of the road) where we took a brief stop whilst Hari consulted with a local bird guide. Whilst we waited, Keren and I scanned a small patch of rough ground below the road and located a superb male Red-flanked Bluetail, Blue Whistling Thrush and a Dark-throated Thrush. Wee then drove through the ‘back streets’ to the hotel where we were booked-in for lunch – Jungle Lore Birding Lodge. We were met at the gate by a friendly and very tall Burmese chappie called Jimmo who was a mine of information about the birds that could be seen in the grounds of the hotel and, especially, at the feeding station right below the dining room balcony.
Keren and I set up camp and started shooting at the Black-headed Jays, Streaked Laughing-thrushes, White-browed Fantails, Rufous Sibias and a host of previously seen species.
Jimmo told us that the local Whte-throated Laughing-thrushes would be arriving just after lunch so we went indoors and ‘enjoyed’ a curry buffet and a beer before going back out to the garden where we picked-up a female Blue-fronted Redstart and a Grey Buschat.
All too soon it was time for us to head back down to the plains but on our way down we pulled up in a village just past Nainital to look for Spotted Forktail. This was one I really wanted to see.
The habitat was similar to a European upland stream but, because it was running through a small village, it was somewhat litter strewn which somewhat detracted from the atmosphere.
After 10 minutes or so, Hari called me down to an area just below a small road bridge and pointed at the stream “Spotted Forktail in the shadows”. I got a brief glimpse of a small to medium-sized black and white bird as it flew upstream but the views were wholly unsatisfactory.
Working on the theory that the bird would act like a Dipper back in the UK, I made my way upstream to the small bridge to see if it was under it.
Lo and behold, it was! The light under there was awful – I mean pitch black and back-lit, but I’m giving no apologies for the dreadful record photo I took, it was a superb bird and one that I hadn’t really expected to see.
As we drove further through the village I located a male Blue-capped Redstart in a roadside bush and, on getting out of the car to take a shot got a good but un-photographable look at stunning Blue-fronted Barbet!
We carried on down the mountainside and, by a small lay-by, a party of incredible Red-billed Blue-magpies were feeding on a discarded bag of rubbish – another amazing bird.
Eventually we arrived back at our hotel on the outskirts of Corbett and Hari instructed us that we were going to take a last ditch walk to locate Ibisbills – “it’s only a short 1km walk” he assured us…
So, 2 hours and 7 Km later we were collected by one of Shankar’s colleagues (he’d gone to wash the car) having spectacularly failed to see an Ibisbill. Despite Hari’s assurances that it would be another month before they headed back to their breeding grounds, I reckoned they’d done a runner early.
We retired back to the hotel and had our final curry buffet (#26).
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 09:40   #21
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Day 13 Friday 25th. Feb
A short walk around the grounds of the hotel before leaving on the long drive back to Delhi produced little of note.

So that was Northern India.
A country of immense contrasts; from utter squalor and poverty to stunning scenery, great birding and lovely friendly people (don’t forget the Tigers!).
Would we go back? Probably not – we’ve seen Tigers now – but would definitely recommend it to other birders as long as they’re prepared to eat curry for every lunch and dinner…
We saw appx. 270 species of birds and took in excess of 8k photographs.
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 14:30   #22
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Hi Chris, thanks for the excellent report. Have to get to nth India some time....
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 16:14   #23
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Really enjoyed this report - cheers. A visit to India must rank high on every naturalist's list, including my own. And curry for every meal doesn't sound so bad...
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