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INDIA (independant and on a budget) 10/11/09 to 16/01/10 (1 Viewer)

richard jb

Well-known member
After spending 10 weeks birding, traveling and occasionally banging my head against the wall in India I decided to write a trip report in the hope of offering some up to date information for other travelers.

This may take me some time! I am not a compulsive note taker so I can't give comprehensive lists for all the sites visited. I usually just noted new and interesting birds. I haven't totted it up yet but I think we hit about 450 species for the trip.

All the photos are straight off the camera as I haven't had a chance to play with them yet.

Overview
I travelled with my partner; we are in our mid 20’s, fit, thick skinned and well travelled. This was our first trip to India, and was not focused completely on birding.

We booked our plane tickets a few weeks in advance online. A return ticket (Heathrow to Mumbai) cost us £240 each.
We went with no particular plan and I did very little research beforehand. We were on a backpacking, budget trip.

We didn’t use guides although this wasn’t just to save money; I derive very little pleasure/satisfaction from being shown birds, and wanted to learn at my own pace. I may have come home with a shorter list, but, (I hope) a lot more knowledge. I'd also just rather be left alone most of the time...

English is widely spoken, even in rural areas although there can be an accent barrier.

£1 = 75 Rupees

Equipment
We traveled very light. I took a 30L pack with a sleeping bag (essential) and tripod (12kg total) strapped to the outside and my partner took a 50L pack (13kg).

Most importantly I took...
Zeiss 8x32 Victory FL
Nikon ED50 (x27WA) and adaptors + P5100 camera.
Velbon CF635 with Giottos VH6011-658D
This setup is light, stable and more than adequate 99% of the time. A telescope was essential at some sites and I used it nearly every day.

Travel insurance won't touch this little lot so make sure it's covered somehow. We had no trouble whatsoever but an Australian birder we traveled with for a couple of weeks had all his gear stolen in a train station a week after we parted company.

I did not take tapes/mp3 and a speaker. I won't get into that subject here other than to say I saw plenty of irresponsible tape luring at a well known site. The fact they weren't getting results speaks volumes.

“Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent” (Grimmet, Inskipp, Inskipp)
Is the best of the field guides for my money, especially if you scribble in a few more calls… The plates are mostly good, with some glaring exceptions.

“A Birdwatchers Guide to India” (Kazmierczak and Singh)
An indispensable book, although in desperate need of an update. Don’t go without it.

We also took Lonely Planet as a new edition had just been released. I have always used Rough Guides in the past and was disappointed with this book. The maps were next to useless and much of the information had not actually been updated. Despite all this it was invaluable, and certainly preferable to arriving in a new location ‘blind’.

Natural history books are surprisingly easy to come by in India. We even found a copy of the 'Birdwatchers Guide' in Nainital.

Travel
We got around on buses and trains without too much trouble. We traveled sleeper class on overnight trains which was cheap and comfortable. Trains are often fully booked months in advance but there is a tourist quota, and if this is full, an emergency quota. Roads can be very rough and you soon realise why the fronts of buses are crammed to bursting point before anyone will sit at the back. We found bus drivers and conductors to be incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. Sometimes it helped to have a place name written down. Taxis and rickshaws are cheap by western standards but we avoided them as much as possible. Sometimes they were necessary to get somewhere early, we tried to organize this the night before as you can look desperate at 5am... Haggle hard.

Accommodation
We generally stayed in the cheapest hotels/hostels we could find. Haggle hard and check rooms. We usually spent 100 - 250 Rupees a night. Most rooms have attached bathrooms. We also stayed in various Forest Rest Houses at National Parks/Wildlife Sanctuaries. I will give details in the site descriptions. It is also worth knowing most train stations have rooms and dorms, although they are often booked up by lunchtime. They are (very) cheap and clean in our experience.

Birding
You will attract a lot of attention wherever you go in India, which isn't always appreciated. Binoculars and telescopes will often draw a crowd. Many good birding sites are fairly quiet though. Watch out for curious fingers poking at lenses... We never had any problems around damns/bridges etc...
 
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richard jb

Well-known member
10/11 - 12/11

Arrived in Mumbai in the midst of a cyclone and got ourselves on a train to Agra the next day. Started to get familiar with some of the common birds from the train. White Throated Kingfisher, Red Wattled Lapwing, Black Winged Stilt, Long Tailed Shrike etc...

The Taj Mahal is impressive but apparently November is the "misty month" and we never saw a hint of blue in the sky.

Birding is good along the Yamuna river, and there is a police presence on the steps at the back of the Taj so you won't get too much hassle. The walk from Agra Fort to the Taj past the burning ghats takes you through a quiet park and is good for common birds. These sites produced Grey Francolin, Hoopoe, Purple Sunbird, Eqyptian Vulture, Marsh Harrier, Painted Stork, Spoonbill, River Lapwing, Ruddy Shelduck and many more. An easy introduction to common Indian birds. A walk down the river could be interesting and there are quite a few park and scrub areas but I prefer to do my birding in quieter/wilder places.

On the whole Agra is a horrible, horrible place and we couldn't wait to leave.
 

richard jb

Well-known member
15/11 - 20/11 Bharatpur

Once one of the premier birdwatching sites in the world, Keoladeo Ghana National Park is now a shadow of its former self. It was pretty much bone dry when we arrived, although water was being pumped in constantly while we were there. By the time we left there were some puddles. There was an abundance of water in the area but it would seem none managed to get to the park. This is a whole topic of its own so I won't go into it here. On the upside the changing habitat has proved very attractive to raptors, I recorded 20 species over 5 days.

We stayed in Bharatpur a couple of minutes walk from the entrance gate at the very friendly and accommodating Kiran Guest House. A spacious double room with hot shower cost us 250Rs/night. The park is open dawn to dusk and costs 200Rs. Official naturalist guides are abundant. Bear in mind that if you hire a guide you will also have to hire a cycle rickshaw and driver as they won't walk around with you all day. It'll end up costing over 1000 Rupees a day. Their main selling point is roosting Owls and Nightjars. They are also all very keen on taking you to other sites in the area, some of which (eg. for Indian Courser) are quite a trek by taxi. Make sure you agree a price beforehand if taking a trip like this.

My girlfriend fell ill soon after arriving so I was left to my own devices in Bharatpur. Another birder arrived the day after us so we met each morning and wandered the paths. He had employed a guide and rickshaw driver on his first day, and when I met him on the track the naturalist guide wouldn't stop to look at warblers, called every tricky raptor he saw a Peregrine, and told me I was wasting my time without a guide. However the rickshaw driver was an excellent birder and later in the week we hired him to take us around some birding spots in Bharatpur itself (despite my no guides rule...). This was much more productive than the park for water birds, although some of the sites are far from picturesque and I wouldn't recommend looking for them without local supervision...

Disturbingly, our rickshaw driver told us the guides in the park throw stones at the Nightjars if they find them roosting outside of a certain area, and at owls that roost near the paths (they leave the common Spotted Owlet alone it would seem as they are all over the place). Just so I don't seem too damning of the guides here, some of them are friendly, keen birders. They seem to have a system where a couple of the top birders wander around with radios and let the guides know whats about. These 'finders' are very sharp and once you've been about a couple of days will happily let you know what they've seen, and indeed, want to know what you've found.

Bharatpur is a very easy site to walk around, the tracks are excellent and most of the best habitat is on or near the main track that bisects the park. Exploring further afield is still worthwhile if you have time, and you will encounter few people off the main track.

We didn't go to nearby Bund Baretha as a bird tour guide I met told me Indian Skimmer wasn't present. The site is good for Sulpher Bellied Warbler and Brown Crake apparantly. With retrospect I should have done a day trip from Bharatpur for the possibility of some Wheatears, Larks etc...

The park was quite good for mammals. We had excellent views of Jungle Cat and Jackal amongst others...

So onto the birds... Some highlights and new birds included (in no real order whatsoever)
(* seen outside the park)

Brown Hawk Owl*
Painted Snipe
Purple Gallinule
Pied Kingfisher*
Sarus Crane*
Bay Backed Shrike
Brown Shrike
Southern Grey Shrike
Rufous Tailed/Isabelline Shrike
Yellow Footed Green Pigeon
Black Necked Stork
Dusky Warbler
Yellow Browed Warbler
Greenish Warbler
Humes Warbler
Small Minivet
Coppersmith Barbet
Indian Robin
White Browed Wagtail*
Citrine Wagtail
Olive Backed Pipit
Bluethroat
Wryneck
Wire Tailed Swallow
Streak Throated Swallow
Red Rumped Swallow
House Swift
Ashy Crowned Sparrowlark
Chestnut Shouldered Petronia*
Black Headed Munia
Scaly Breasted Munia
India Silverbill
White Tailed Plover
Grey Headed Plover
White Eyed Buzzard
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Long Legged Buzzard
Short Toed Snake Eagle
Tawny Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Changeable Hawk Eagle
Bonellis Eagle
Pallid Harrier
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Shikra
Grey Nightjar
Large Tailed Nightjar
Common Hawk Cuckoo
Black Headed Ibis
Black Rumped Flameback
Yellow Crowned Woodpecker
Indian Grey Hornbill
White Browed Fantail
Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher
Red Breasted Flycatcher
Marsh Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Ruff
Purple Heron
Oriental Darter*
Intermediate Egret*
Red Avadvat*
Bronze Winged Jacana*
Little Green Bee-eater*
Spot Billed Duck*
Lesser Whistling Duck*


And lots more that I'm too lazy to type for now.
 

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richard jb

Well-known member
Bharatpur Photos
 

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richard jb

Well-known member
21/11 Bharatpur - Ramnagar

We took a train from Bharatpur to Delhi and bought a ticket to Ramnagar for that evening. This left us with most of the day in Delhi.

I've read plenty about Delhi birding spots etc. before and since but it's not my cup of tea. We figured we would give it a shot anyway. We tried the Red Fort but it was very busy so we walked down to the river which held a lot of Brown Headed Gulls and not much else. I didn't feel comfortable getting my binoculars out here. The air quality in Delhi is probably worse than you can even imagine. We gave up.
 

richard jb

Well-known member
22/11 Ramnagar

We arrived in Ramnagar at 0445 and then got lost in the dark trying to find the town. Eventually we walked in a huge circle, got back to the train station and got a rickshaw. By 0600 we were at the 'Motel Corbett' which is in a Mango plantation just outside town. There are birds here, but the main attraction is the owner who used to be a guide at Corbett. He's a very keen birder and drew us maps of good sites in the area. He gave us a good, cheap room too...

Our first task was getting permits and accommodation sorted for Corbett. To do this yourself you need to visit the office opposite the bus station in Ramnagar. Allow at least half a day to get it all sorted.

We wanted to stay at Dhikala which is right in the heart of the reserve and has a dormitory (200Rs/night). Permits (450Rs) are valid for 3 days, if you wanted longer you may have to leave the park to renew. There are also dozens of hidden charges but these are detailed on the tariff sheet (apart from 'housekeeping' and 'driver camping' which they charge you out of the blue on check out). After lots of waiting and form filling and waiting and handing over a wedge of money we were eventually told there was room in the dormitory and we could go the next day.

You also need to organize a jeep and driver as you can't walk around Corbett. The drivers seem to have set a price of 1500Rs/day and won't haggle. Try and find a driver who knows birds, and understands that's your primary interest. They hang out around the permit office. The jeeps can take 5-6 people fairly comfortably, the office would be a good place to try and find people to share with but remember most visitors are only interested in Tigers. You could organise a jeep, or try and tag along with another group once you arrive in Dhikala but you'd still need a jeep to get you there.

That afternoon we got a bus up to the Garjiya Temple (frequent from Ramnagar - 5Rs I think) on the Kosi River. This area is worth exploring and is well known as a wintering site for Ibisbill. We didn't have long and barely got off the main road and down to the river.

Scarlet Minivet
Black Lored Tit
Grey Hooded Warbler
Bar Winged Flycatcher Shrike
Grey Capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Great Tit
Velvet Fronted Nuthatch
White Capped Water Redstart
Plumbeous Water Redstart
Common Kingfisher
Bar Tailed Tree Creeper
Himalayan Flameback
Oriental White Eye
Blue Whistling Thrush
 

richard jb

Well-known member
23/11 - 25/11 Corbett National Park

We met our driver early and headed out to Corbett. It's quite a long drive through some decent habitat so we stopped frequently. There were 2 active White Rumped Vulture nests on the outskirts of Ramnagar. Other highlights of the drive to the park entrance:

Collared Falconet (perched)
Black Hooded Oriole
Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch
Maroon Oriole
Grey Headed Woodpecker

Once in the park you are straight into prime habitat. It is quite frustrating not being allowed out of the jeep, however we just stopped whenever we saw a bird. Fruiting trees are also worth stopping and waiting at, even if you can’t see much activity. Mixed flocks at Corbett can be huge and quite overwhelming at times with such varied species composition. Birding here is usually a case of waiting for these flocks and staying with them as long as possible. You can get out of the jeep around the lodges so we stopped at the first of these and birded around the edge of the clearing. Then our jeep broke down, stranding us for a couple of hours. Typically the area was bird-less.

After a new starter motor and an hours driving we came across a few jeeps staking out some scrub. Apparently there was a tiger lurking so we stopped. After 20 minutes or so I caught a glimpse through the undergrowth. The drivers went into some kind of frenzy trying to get in position for a good view. Evidently this pissed the tiger off and with an almighty roar it leapt over the road c.50m in front of our jeep and ran up the hill out of sight. Tiger sightings are quite rare at Corbett (Ranthambhore sounds much better). While we were there this was the only sighting we heard of, apart from one seen near the river from the Dhikala lodge.

We arrived at Dhikala at 1445 and dumped our bags. The dorm was clean and had lockers. The lodge itself is in a stunning location and birding is quite good here. On leaving for the afternoon we were stung with another hidden extra. You have to take an official park guide with you when you leave the lodge compound. This costs 200Rs per trip, and they get you twice a day (400Rs!) as you have to return to the lodge for lunch.

You can get around this, sometimes. In the mornings everyone is ready and raring to go at first light. If you make sure you are the last jeep to leave there are usually no park guides left, leaving you to go alone. It’s trickier in the afternoon as some people weren’t leaving the lodge, so there were more guides milling around. All of this wouldn’t have been such an issue if we’d known beforehand (we hardly had any money with us) and the guides were any good. They weren’t. In fact they were absolutely useless. To be fair the good guides were probably all with the various organized bird tour groups, but this isn’t much use to the independent birder. You are better off trying to avoid them. Both of the guides we got stuck with seemed to be half asleep and had had basic bird ID skills at best. They are basically Tiger spotters.

One more point to bear in mind is that food is very expensive at Dhikala (by Indian standards anyway). Breakfast was 100Rs and lunch and dinner were 200Rs (buffet style all you can eat). We took a lot of food and bottled water with us.

The Rheses Macques that live at Dhikala are very aggresive. Do not eat outside or leave anything lying around. I peeled a banana outside the dorm and the next thing i knew the alpha male was flying through the air towards me at chest height, arms outstretched. I instinctively raised my foot and caught him square in the chin. You do not want to get bitten by one of these things.

Your driver will probably know the best spots for the impressive birds (Fish Owls, Eagles etc).You don't have to go far from Dhikala. There is good forest, grassland and river habitat nearby.
 

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richard jb

Well-known member
Corbett

Some birding highlights/new:

Rufous Gorgeted Flycatcher
Lineated Barbet
Blue Throated Barbet
White Crested Laughingthrush
Common Green Magpie
Greater Yellow Naped Woodpecker
Lesser Racket Tailed Drongo
Black Throated Tit
White Tailed Nuthatch
Tawny Fish Owl
Brown Fish Owl
Yellow Bellied Fantail
Osprey
Amur Falcon (male and female)
Peregrine
Hen Harrier
Black Francolin
Bright Headed Cisticola
Zitting Cisticola
Hodgsons Bushchat
Black Crested Bulbul
Ashy Bulbul
Himalayan Bulbul
Red Junglefowl
Mountain Hawk Eagle
Grey Headed Fish Eagle
Lesser Fish Eagle
Pallas's Fish Eagle
Pallas's Warbler
Long Tailed Minivet
Dark Sided Flycatcher
Slaty Blue Flycatcher
Stork Billed Kingfisher
Blue Bearded Bee-eater
Slaty Grey Woodpecker
Small Buttonquail
Red Billed Blue Magpie
White Bellied Drongo
Red Headed Vulture
Common Iora
Fulvous Breasted Woodpecker
Crested Bunting
Brown Crake
Pin Tailed Green Pigeon
Grey Breasted Prinia
Crested Tree Swift
Black Stork
Woodcock
Great Hornbill

Non birding highlights included Gharial Crocodiles and Smooth Coated Otters
 

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richard jb

Well-known member
Ramnagar

After Corbett we decided to stay on in Ramnagar and try for Ibisbill. We spent most of our time around the Garjiya Temple, and eventually found 2 here. We also walked out of Ramnagar, up the river to the damn. This held lots of Ruddy Shelduck and a single female Red Creasted Pochard.

Most of the following were found around Garjiya. I think the main bird we missed here is Brown Dipper.

Wallcreeper
Crested Kingfisher
Ibisbill
Streak Throated Woodpecker
Wood Pigeon
Crimson Sunbird
Goosander
Eurasian Griffon Vulture
Tawny Pipit
Oriental Pied Hornbill

It's worth noting that at this stage of the trip there were still plenty of birds going unidentified, especially Bush Warblers and the like. This was mostly due to the almost constant action preventing us spending too much time pinning tricky (and dare I say it, dull) birds down. Also my note taking was haphazard at best so I am probably not giving a fair representation of just how good this region is.

The outskirts of Corbett NP would be well worth exploring, and I am sure there are many excellent sites. This may be a better option than the park itself as you can walk around.
 

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snowcap

Well-known member
Hi Richard, great thread and pics.Brings back lots of memories!..shame about some of the hassles concerning guides and rip-offs etc.When I went to Bharatpur many years ago, not only was it still managed well,with decent water levels etc.,but you could hire bicycles to get around and `guides` didn`t hassle you and actually went out their way to tell you about decent sites etc....how things change.
 

birdboybowley

Well-known member.....apparently so ;)
Supporter
England
Good stuff Rich - India is a real 'marmite' place...love it or hate it!! Well done with Tiger at Corbett - we missed them everywhere when we went although they were seen multiple times every day in January...just not by us!! Guess they get easier as the time goes on. As for Ranthambhore....mmmmm...the guides throwing stones at sleeping Jackals 'to make sure everyone sees them' was enough for us....
 

richard jb

Well-known member
Hi Richard, great thread and pics.Brings back lots of memories!..shame about some of the hassles concerning guides and rip-offs etc.When I went to Bharatpur many years ago, not only was it still managed well,with decent water levels etc.,but you could hire bicycles to get around and `guides` didn`t hassle you and actually went out their way to tell you about decent sites etc....how things change.

You can still hire bikes. I think the park is suffering as word gets around about the lack of birds. It's still a good spot for a birder but I doubt it's attracting many tour groups etc... as there is no 'wildlife spectacle' anymore. This may explain the guides being more proactive in selling their services.

Good stuff Rich - India is a real 'marmite' place...love it or hate it!! Well done with Tiger at Corbett - we missed them everywhere when we went although they were seen multiple times every day in January...just not by us!! Guess they get easier as the time goes on. As for Ranthambhore....mmmmm...the guides throwing stones at sleeping Jackals 'to make sure everyone sees them' was enough for us....

Despite various people telling us Tiger is easy at Corbett I get the feeling we were very lucky... It's a shame to hear yet another story of animal cruelty coming from India's national parks... Although, if all tourists kicked up a fuss they wouldn't be doing it I guess.

Next installment - Nainital area...
 

richard jb

Well-known member
27/11 - 29/11 Nainital

From Ramnager it is an easy (4 hrs on good roads), and spectacular bus journey to Nainital. On the approach to Nainital there is a rubbish dump which held c.100 Steppe Eagles when we passed. It is a short walk from Nainital to have a better look.

Nainital is a hill station popular with Indian tourists and foreign birders. There is plenty of accommodation, we stayed in the Youth Hostel which is well placed for good birding areas and cheap (60Rs/night). There was a ladies boxing tournament being held, and the participants were the only other guests in the hostel.

Unfortunately (!?) the weather was excellent during our stay so bird densities were low around the town. We spent 2 days on the excellent and quiet tracks that originate in Nainital and head up to Cheena Peak (2640m) and Snow Peak. Birding was quite slow. Highlights/new:

Green Backed Tit
Yellow Browed Tit
Spot Winged Tit
Kalij Pheasant
Streaked Laughing Thrush
Wallcreeper
Eurasian Jay
Black Headed Jay
Long Tailed Thrush
Himalayan Woodpecker
Rufous Sibia
Blue Capped Redstart
Black Bulbul
Striated Heron
Red Billed Blue Magpie
Oriental Turtle Dove
Bronzed Drongo
Yellow Breasted Greenfinch
Crested Goshawk

Also, Himalayan Palm Civets and plenty of evidence of Leopard.

I think some of the sites described in the birdwatchers guide have disappeared, but no doubt new ones await discovery. We didn't spend much time around the town because to be honest, I didn't want to find my first Spotted Forktail in a dirty stream on the outskirts (I ended up finding my first at the bottom of the waterfall pictured).
 

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birdboybowley

Well-known member.....apparently so ;)
Supporter
England
Nainital...I thought it was actually quite nice for an Indian town and not that dirty!! Agree about the forktail though - we found ours just outside Corbett and as you say, so much nicer! My girlf didn't think much of Nainital though...she had 6 days of dysentry to suffer there....nice!! Also, Black Bulbul there is now split as Himalayan Black Bulbul - armchair ticks if you've seen others elsewhere eg Goa/Thailand)
 

richard jb

Well-known member
30/11 - 3/12

While looking for a hotel upon arrival in Nainital we met the owner of the City Heart Hotel. After discussing all the usual topics, my profession, what we were doing in India etc etc. he told us about his 'eco lodge' called Wild Ridzz. In return for "surveying the local avifauna" we were offered a massively reduced room rate for a few nights. Wild Ridzz is in a small village called Ghatgar, at a lower elevation than Nainital and after a couple of slow days we were keen to base ourselves somewhere new.

Ghatgar is on the same bus route/road as the Mongoli Valley (a site detailed in the birdwatchers guide) about 25km away from Nainital. The accommodation itself was excellent and good birds can be seen in the garden. If you ever go they will hopefully still have the maps I drew for the better sites we found. The area is very quiet, although you may find yourself being chased by concerned locals telling you about the latest Tiger/Leopard attack.

Some highlights/new from Ghatgar itself (all within walking distance).

Russet Sparrow
Slaty Headed Parakeet
Rusty Tailed Flycatcher
Speckled Piculet
Lesser Yellownape
Nepal House Martin
White Throated Fantail
Spotted Forktail
Striated Prinia
Chestnut Eared Bunting
Grey Backed/Tibetan Shrike
Grey Treepie
White Throated Laughingthrush
Ashy Drongo
Thick Billed Flowerpecker
Little Pied Flycatcher
Orange Bellied Leafbird
Collared Falconet
Great Barbet
Asian Barred Owlet
Black Chinned Babbler
Blue Winged Minla
Hill Prinia
Common Rosefinch
Probable Brown Bullfinch (brief flight view only).

From Ghatgar we used the bus to visit the Mongoli valley which is accessed from Bajun, as described in the guide. On the first visit we got off the bus in Mongoli itself and followed a road/track down the valley. We were following the directions given for Bajun for a while before it dawned on us that we weren't actually there!

There is some excellent habitat here in damp, densely forested gullies with undergrowth of Lantana.

2/12 Some highlights/new (Mongoli).

Rock Bunting
Brown Fronted Woodpecker
Red Billed Leithorax
Scaly Breasted Wren Babbler
Rufous Chinned Laughingthrush
Chestnut Crowned Laughingthrush
Rusty Cheeked Scimatar Babbler
Striated Laughingthrush
Green Shrike Babbler

3/12 New (Bajun).
Long Billed Thrush (near the bridge)
Chestnut Headed Tesia (along the river)
Scarlet Finch (1 male near the poly tunnels)

We scrambled off the path and along the river bank at the bottom of the valley. This area was bird rich and undisturbed, although some sections are used as a toilet.

I would recommend visiting both of these sites if you have time. Mongoli was much better for Laughingthrushes and bird density was generally higher. We stood in one gully for over an hour as hundreds of birds moved up and down it feeding.

In total we recorded some 112 species from Ghatgar/Mongili valley.
 

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richard jb

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More Ghatgar photos
 

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richard jb

Well-known member
4/12

We left Ghatgar having seen some amazing birds but still felt we had missed a lot after the slow start at Nainital, so we decided to visit Sat Tal. We had been told accommodation was very expensive here so we stayed in nearby Bhowali. We arrived quite late and there aren't many hotels.

We eventually found a government tourist rest house with a dormitory. They seemed determined to rip us off, first by trying to tell us the dorm was full and we'd have to take an expensive room. This is the oldest trick in the book so we soon got past that but then they wouldn't give us the out of season discount that was up on the tariff board... So it cost us 150Rs each (should have been 30% off).

We arranged an early taxi to Sat Tal which I think ended up costing us about 100Rs. There is a bus but it won't get you there before 8am, maybe later, and its a long walk from the main road to the lake area. We got a bus back to Bhowali at about 6pm.

The map for Sat Tal in the birdwatchers guide is excellent. We found the best area to be the track along the river from the damn. Black Throated Accentor was present near the (now closed) factory.

While birding around the Christian ashram we were told we could have stayed there if we wanted, for 250Rs a night including meals. Apparently any man seeking god is welcome. I told them I was only seeking birds and they seemed to find this acceptable. The government hotel by the lake costs in the region of 1000Rs a night.

It would be worth staying here as the birding is excellent.

Some highlights/new.

White Browed Shrike Babbler
Asian Barred Owlet
Ashy Throated Warbler
Golden Spectacled Warbler
Buff Barred Warbler
Aberrant Bush Warbler (probably seen near Ramnagar too)
Greater Flameback
Mountain Hawk Eagle
Wren
Whiskered Yuhina
Rufous Bellied Niltava
Small Niltava
Black Throated Accentor
Red Breasted Parakeet
Rufous Chinned Laughingthrush
Scaly Breasted Wren Babbler (Rufous form)

Probable Banded Bay Cuckoo (prolonged but quite poor view)
A very brief view of a pale Pheasant darting between two bushes, I called pheasant, convinced it wasn't Kalij but we never saw it again. I don't know if Cheer Pheasant are present at Sat Tal as it may not be high enough?

We met a tour group here who were staying in Pangot which sounds like an excellent area. We decided to move on, despite missing Lammergeier.

Next - off the birding trail...
 

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