India: Rajasthan & Gujarat 2017

Monday 9th January - Friday 27th January 2017


Crab Plovers copyright Nikhil DevasarIndia has an amazing avifauna and most of us naturally think of the mighty Himalayas or the Tiger reserves, and of course famous Bharatpur. It is a fascinating place for birdwatchers and in our search for something a little different, we have designed this special tour to seek out as many birds and mammals as possible in the lesser know western regions. This is India as you have never seen it before with some of the most spectacular birding on the Indian subcontinent. Our Rajasthan & Gujarat tour takes us on an exciting ride beginning amidst the vast Thar Desert with spectacular sand dunes, the beautiful town of Jaisalmer, desert camps, all complete with a fine selection of birds such as Yellow-eyed Stock Doves, Stoliczka's Bushchat and a fine assortment of cranes, raptors, larks, wheatears and buntings. Desert National Park has scenery more reminiscent of the African savannah and desert scenes that you would expect in the Sahara - and we will search for some of the region's rarest and most sought-after species. Imagine watching a huge Great Indian Bustard walking sedately across the sandy desert in front of you, or thousands of Demoiselle Cranes feeding just a few metres away, or flocks of sandgrouse uttering their evocative calls as they wheel across a spectacular desert sunset. Our mammal watching will begin in earnest at Siana and our night-time safari could provide a view of a secretive Leopard. Moving on to Mount Abu with its Green Avadavat, we travel across the Little Rann of Kutch searching for a huge list of desert specialities including McQueen's Bustard and Sykes's Nightjar. From here we visit the world's largest harrier roost at Velavadar where 1000's of birds arrive every evening, plus there are good chances of spotting Asiatic Wolf and Striped Hyena, and we follow this up with a series of jeep safaris at Gir National Park in search of Asiatic Lion. Leaving here we will visit Marine National Park, currently THE best site to find the wonderful Crab Plover which occurs in flocks along this section of coastline. The highlight of our desert birding will undoubtedly be the surroundings of Bhuj where Grey Hypocolius is present, along with Rock and Jungle Bush-Quails, Sykes's Nightjar, Marshall's Iora, Sykes's Lark and White-naped Tit. Add to this a fine selection of mammals with Jungle Cat, Indian Fox, Golden Jackal, Indian Gazelle, Blackbuck, Nilgai and Onager all possible and you can see why this is such a special tour.  We also offer an extension to visit one of the best Tiger reserves in central India and our visit to Bandavgarh is sure to provide a suitably fitting finale to our exciting adventure in incredible India. 
  
 
 
Targets:
 
  • McQueen's Bustard             
  • Great Indian Bustard
  • Indian Courser
  • Cream-coloured Courser
  • Crab Plover
  • Sykes's Nightjar
  • Demoiselle Crane
  • Indian Eagle Owl
  • Mottled Wood-Owl
  • Striated Scops-Owl
  • Yellow-eyed Stock Dove
  • Red-tailed Wheatear
  • Bimaculated Lark
  • Sykes's Lark
  • Greater Hoopoe Lark
  • Grey Hypocolius
  • White-bellied Minivet
  • Marshall's Iora
  • Stoliczka's Bushchat
  • Asian Desert Warbler     
  • Sykes's Warbler
  • White-naped Tit
  • Green Avadavat
  • Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark      
  • Grey-necked Bunting
  • Asiatic Lion
  • Asian Leopard
  • Striped Hyena
  • Asiatic Wolf
  • Blackbuck & Onager
 
 
Days 1 - 2   UK - Delhi   - 9th to 10th January
Overnight flight from UK to Delhi. Upon arrival we will transfer to a hotel for the night. Night in Delhi 
 
Days 3 - 4   Delhi - Tal Chappar
Grey-necked-BuntingWe will make an early start in order to drive to Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary and should arrive in the afternoon for our first taste of birding in western Rajasthan. Located in the Churu district it was originally managed as a private hunting reserve of the Maharaja of Bikaner, and was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1962. The habitat comprises mainly grassland interspersed with acacias resembling the great plains of the African savannah more than anywhere else in India. Of primary concern to us is the small but regular wintering population of Yellow-eyed Stock Dove that travel here from Central Asia and it is a real privilege to see be able to see this endangered and declining species. However, there are many other very good species to find here including Painted Francolin, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Indian Courser, Sirkeer Malkoha, Sykes's Lark, Red tailed and Variable Wheatears, our first real chance of Stoliczka's Bushchat and Striolated Bunting. There is also a chance of that most elusive of birds, the Spotted Creeper, although a good deal of luck is always needed to find one! Raptors are abundant here, as at most of the sites visited on this tour, and we could see Black-shouldered Kite, Shikra, White-eyed and Long-legged Buzzards, Short-toed Eagle, Steppe, Tawny, Eastern Imperial, Greater and Indian Spotted Eagles, Red- headed, Indian and Eurasian Griffon Vultures, Montagu's Harrier, Red-necked and Laggar Falcons and Eurasian Hobby. There are also many commoner species present such as Indian Thick-knee, Southern Grey Shrike, Rufous-tailed and Crested Larks, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears, Greater Short-toed Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark and White-capped Bunting. We can also get our mammal list off to a good start as there is a healthy population of the beautiful Blackbuck here, and other animals present include Desert and Indian Foxes, and both Jungle and Desert Cats. Nights at Tal Chappar.

Day 5   Tal Chappar - Bikaner - Keechan - Jaisalmer
Demoiselle CraneWe will have an early start in order to arrive at Bikaner shortly after first light where we have a good chance to see wintering Yellow-eyed Stock Dove if we missed them on Day 4. Our plans are flexible and if already successful with the Stock Doves then we will visit the small village of Keechan (instead of on Day 7) which is famous for the thousands of Demoiselle Cranes that visit every morning to be fed by the local villagers. We will stand on one of the surrounding rooftops to get a spectacular view of this mega-flock of between 4000 - 7000 birds that are feeding right below us. You could say opportunities for photos are reasonably good and we will spend plenty of time here to fully appreciate this overwhelming spectacle, with birds contantly flying overhead, feeding very close by and standing imperially on the surrounding sand dunes. This is undoubtedly one of the most impressive avian spectacles you could ever witness. This is also a good place to get great views of species such as Tawny, Steppe and Eastern Imperial Eagles and we will spend some time grilling the raptors here. By mid-morning we must depart and set out on the long drive to Jaisalmer, where we expect to arrive in the early evening for dinner. As with every drive on this tour there are sure to be lots of birds to stop for and hopefully we may well encounter increasingly scarce species such as White-rumped Vulture, as well as Black Vulture, Eurasian Griffon Vulture and others. Night at Jaisalmer.  
 
Day 6   Desert National Park
Great Indian BustardToday we will move further west out into the Thar Desert in search of some of our key target species. Most notable of these is the increasingly rare Great Indian Bustard, and our visit to the famous Desert National Park give us an unparalleled opportunity to observe these huge birds in their native environment. Indeed, to observe a couple of these very rare birds walking across the desert landscape is something never to be forgotten. We will also search for the rare and extremely localised Stoliczka's or White-browed Bushchat which can only be found in and around the Thar Desert. Whilst searching for these two enigmatic species, there will be large flocks of mainly Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flying overhead to watering holes further out in the desert, and sometimes we can see Black-bellied or Spotted Sandgrouse as well. Around the entrance gate to Desert National Park Variable Wheatears are perched on every post, Black-crowned Sparrow-larks visit a dripping tap, and are sometimes joined by Desert Larks. Raptors are again very prominent here and we should see good numbers of Tawny Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard and Laggar Falcons patrolling the area or perched on top of bushes orasian Leopard telegraph posts. Further forays by 4-wheel drive into areas outside the park could reveal Bonelli's Eagle, small groups of Cream-coloured Coursers, Isabelline, Desert and Red-tailed Wheatears, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Bimaculated Lark, Graceful Prinia, Sykes's Warbler, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Desert Whitethroat, Punjab Raven, and sometimes Plain Leaf-warbler. Another productive site holds Asian Desert Warbler and Trumpeter Finch and Indian Eagle Owl is always possible, whilst a nearby lake can produce some strange sightings out here in the desert, most notably a Small Pratincole on one of our visits.

Day 7   Desert National Park - Siana
Today we can spend the early morning searching for any species we may still need before driving to Siana or visit Keechan if we did not go there on Day 5. Depending on our decision this morning we could also search for Painted Sandgrouse or make a pre-dawn attempt to find Indian Little Nightjar. Once we have finished our birding we will drive for 5 - 6 hours to our base for the night at Siana, which was made famous by various wildlife t.v programmes as THE place to see Leopard. Our chances of seeing this impressive animal are reasonable, and there is also a possibility of finding Striped Hyena as well. Night at Siana.
 
Day 8   Siana - Mount Abu
This morning we will look for Rock Bush Quail, the rare Indian Vulture, Small Buttonquail, Red-headed Falcon, and in the thorn forest have our first chance of White-bellied Minivet. Also present are Sykes's Warbler, Striolated Bunting, Bay-backed Shrike, and plenty of other 'desert' species. After lunch we will drive to another vey special birding site and the hill station of Mount Abu, where we may well arrive in time for some early evening birding. Night at Mount Abu.
 
Day 9   Mount Abu - Little Rann of Kutch
McQueens Bustard © Nikhil DevasarThis seldom visited site is home to a remarkable variety of sought-after birds. Most highly prized of these is the rare and enigmatic Green Avadavat and this is one of very few places in all India where it has been seen at all! We have a very good chance of finding this highly desirable species plus an interesting mixture of other key species. In particular we will look for 3 Indian endemics, Red Spurfowl, Grey Junglefowl and Indian Scimitar-babbler which inhabit this hill station set below a peak of 1720m in the Aravalli Hills. Commoner birds present include Alexandrine and Plum-headed Parakeets, Oriental Tutle-Dove. Black-rumped Flameback, Tickell's Blue, Red-breasted and Verditer Flycatchers, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Indian Robin, Brown Rock-Chat, Tawny-bellied and Yellow-eyed Babblers, Indian Yellow Tit, Olive-backed Pipit, White-bellied and Ashy Drongos, Common Rosefinch, Brahminy Starling, and both Crested and White-capped Buntings. In the aftenoon we will drive to the Little Rann of Kutch. 2 nights at 
Rann Riders, Little Rann of Kutch.

Day 10   Little Rann of Kutch 
Sykes NightjarThe Little Rann of Kutch, at first glance is an amazingly stark and barren landscape but is home to an outstanding variety of birds. it is a huge area of 4950 sq. kms and has an extremely diverse range of habitats and not just the saline desert plains one imagines. At the edge of this unique habitat are areas of coarse grass, rocky and thorn scrub, bushes and some cultivated areas where we will look for McQueen's Bustard, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Montagu's and Pallid Harriers, Cream-coloured and Indian Coursers, Yellow-wattled and in some years Sociable Lapwing, Short eared Owl, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Red-tailed, Desert, Variable & Isabelline Wheatears, Southern Grey and Isabelline Shrikes, Rufous-tailed, Crested and Hoopoe Lark, sometimes Booted and Asian Desert Warblers, Common Babbler and Rosy Starling. There are some fine wetlands and lakes here that are usually teeming with birds and we are likely to encounter Common and sometimes Sarus Crane, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans, Western Reef Egret, many ibis, storks, ducks, a good selection of common waders including Small Pratincole, Marsh Sandpiper and Slender-billed Gull. We also have a chance of finding Striated Scops-owl which is a regular winter visitor in this vast area. At night we will drive slowly along the dirt tracks in search of the scarce Sykes's Nightjar, still a bird that very few western birders have ever seen. This is also the last remaining stronghold of Asiatic Wild Ass (Onager) and we should get some very good views of this rather attractive animal.  Night at Rann Riders, a comfortable lodge located very close to all of the best birding sites. 

Day 11   Little Rann of Kutch - Velavadar Blackbuck Sanctuary 
Blackbuck © Nikhil DevasarAfter some final birding in the Little Rann of Kutch we will drive to the Velavadar Blackbuck Sanctuary, a beautiful reserve dominated by savannah grassland. It holds a plentiful population of Blackbuck, one of the most attractive antelopes in the world. This is also one of the best places in India to observe Striped Hyena and Indian Wolf, although a great deal of luck is still needed to see either species. However, this site holds the world's largest harrier roost with an estimated 2000 - 3000 birds being present, made up mainly of Montagu's, but with impressive numbers of Western Marsh and Pallid Harriers as well. There are many other birds present such as White-eyed Buzzard, Rufous-tailed and Bimaculated Larks, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark, Isabelline Shrike, Long-billed Pipit, and both Paddyfield and Sykes's Warblers. As always during this tour, we will pass ponds, marshes and wetlands amidst the semi-desert lowlands and have further chances of finding some waders, flamingo's and pelicans as we drive along. Any arid arable fields are worth checking for Indian Black Ibis and Indian Courser - so plenty of stops on the long drives. As well as a good population of Blackbuck here, we usually see a few Nilgai, plus Jungle Cat is quite likely. Night at a very friendly small hotel at Bhavnagar.

Asiatic Lion at Gir 2
Days 12 - 13   Velavadar - Gir National Park 
After a final visit to Velavadar this morning we will head to the famous Gir National Park in time for an aftenoon game drive. Gir is home to 1400kms of unspoilt rugged hill country, dry deciduous forests, acacia scrub and grassland, fed by rivers and reservoirs supports the last remaining Asiatic Lions in the world. 
With 4 jeep safaris here we have a very good chance of seeing these top predators. Other animals here include Marsh Mugger, Nilgai, Sambar and Spotted Deer, and there is also the largest population of Leopard present in any park in India - but they are still difficult to fnd! As we explore the park from our jeeps we should see an interesting selection of birds such as Rock Bush-quail, Painted Sandgrouse, Indian Thick-knee, Short-toed Eagle, Crested Hawk-eagle, Mottled Wood-owl, White-bellied Minivet, Common Woodshrike, Marshall's Iora, White-browed Fantail, White-browed Wagtail, and both Rufous-fronted and Jungle Prinias amongst others. Nights at Gir Birding Lodge situated right at the entrance to Gir Wildlife Sanctuary.

Days 14 - 17    Gir National Park – Jamnagar - Marine National Park - Bhuj
Barred-ButtonquailAfter our final jeep safari in Gir National Park we will drive to the coastal city of Jamnagar, arriving in the early evening of Day 14. Our reason for coming here is the nearby Marine National Park and impressive numbers of the much-wanted Crab Plover, along with a fine selection of waders including Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers, Great Knot, and Red-necked Phalarope all possible amongst good numbers of commoner waders. Also here are Caspian, Gull-billed, Greater and Lesser Crested Terns, Heuglin's and Great Black-headed Gulls, and quite often there is the odd surprise or rarity here. From here we will drive to the desert environs of Bhuj, which is home to a fantastic selection of much-wanted species. We will have two full days to search for the very attractive Grey Hypocolius that winters here in small numbers and we'll visit a traditional roosting site at the edge of a small village where we hope to get good views of this much-wanted species. Other special target species include Great Indian Bustard (rare), Black Francolin, Jungle Bush-Quail, Rock Bush-Quail, Indian Eagle-Owl, Cream-coloured Courser, Painted Sandgrouse, Long-legged Buzzard, Indian Little Nightjar, Sirkeer Malkoha, Sykes's Lark,Grey Hypocolius © Nikhil Devasar White-bellied Minivet, Marshall's Iora, Red-tailed Wheatear, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Eastern Orphean Warbler, White-naped Tit, Grey-necked Bunting, and there's also another chance of Sykes's Nightjar as well. Some nearby wetlands can hold good numbers of Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans, along with Lesser Flamingo and other waterbirds. Nights at Bhuj. 

Day 18   Bhuj – Delhi - End of Tour or Tiger Extension 
Depending on flight times we should have some time for a last morning's birding before taking the short internal flight to Delhi, where we will transfer to a hotel for the night.
 
Day 19   Delhi – UK and End of Tour  - 27th January 
This morning we will transfer to the airport for our flight back to the UK and conclusion of another wonderful Zoothera tour. 
 
 
TIGER EXTENSION:
Please ask our office about an extension to Bandhavgarh National Park in central India in search of Tiger.


Leaders
: Nick Bray and local guides 


Ground Price: £2995.00  - Delhi/Delhi 

Airfare: £650.00 (Approx) - UK/UK 

Zoothera tour prices explained

Single supplement: £395.00       

Deposit: £500.00 
 
Group size: Minimum for tour to go ahead 4 and maximum 10 with 2 leaders. 

Included in cost: Accommodation in twin en-Marshalls-Iorasuite rooms, bottled water, all ground transport including jeep safaris in National Parks and domestic flights, all park entrance fees, and services of leaders. 
 
Not included: International flights, insurance, drinks, tips, camera fees at National Parks and items of a personal nature. 
 
Accommodation: Hotels/lodges are mainly of a reasonable to good standard with en-suite facilities. We endeavour to stay in the very best accommodation available closest to the birding sites.  
 
Tour Code: This is a standard birding tour with regular birding walks along roads and well marked trails. There are several long drives in order to get to the best birding sites but we have comfortable vehicles to relax in. The weather is generally warm to hot at this time of year, although dawn/dusk and overnight it does get much cooler. Rain is not expected at this time of year.

 
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