India is an exotic land, full of wonderful scenery, majestic buildings, and so many sights and sounds that invade your senses - and that’s before we even look at the birds! We will begin with a visit to the Chambal River in search of one of the most wanted birds in India, the rare Indian Skimmer. And by taking a boat ride we should have a very good chance of seeing these amazing birds up close and personal. As well as these special birds a whole list of other mouth-watering birds awaits us and will be a superb way of starting the tour. We follow this with a visit to one of the modern day wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal before heading to the justly famous Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur. With water levels being low over the last few years, a new pipeline guarantees this marvellous sanctuary will always have water and so should be returned to its former glory with huge colonies of nesting storks, ibis, egrets and herons creating a cacophony of sound. Amongst the 200 or so other species we can find here, highlights could include huge Sarus Cranes striding majestically across the marshes, a Dusky Eagle-owl staring down from its tree top roost, or a Siberian Rubythroat skulking in the shadows. And then we visit Ranthambhore National Park, famous as one of India's primary Tiger reserves it offers us an excellent chance of seeing one of these awesome predators. Of course there will be plenty of new birds to keep us occupied as well. And we will also visit other special sites during the tour to find certain key species and so ensuring a bird-filled and thoroughly exciting tour. This tour can also be combined with our 'India 2 – Classic Himalayas' to provide undoubtedly the most comprehensive coverage of ‘northern’ India.
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Indian Grey Hornbill
Gangetic River Dolphin
Day 1 UK - Delhi- 6th March
Overnight scheduled direct flight from London to Delhi.
Day 2 Delhi - Chambal Safari Lodge Upon arrival in Delhi we will set out on the drive to the wonderful Chambal Safari Lodge, arriving in the late afternoon. There should be some time to have a walk around the extensive grounds in search of our first birds before dinner. Night at Chambal safari Lodge.
Day 3 Chambal River
An early start will see us driving to the National Chambal Sanctuary where we will set out on one of the major highlights of this tour. The tranquil waters of the Chambal River are home to a flock of beautiful Indian Skimmer – one of the main ornithological prizes in India! It is often possible to get amazing close ups of this much-wanted species, so have your cameras ready. Birds are plentiful here and we will see numerous other water loving birds, including Bar-headed Goose, Small Pratincole, Great Thick-Knee, River Lapwing, both River and Black-bellied Terns and Lesser Pied Kingfisher. As we slowly cruise along the river it is sometimes possible to get views of Gangetic Dolphin, whilst Marsh Mugger and the strange fish-eating Gharial are relatively common and are usually sunning themselves on the sand banks as we slowly drift past them. The sandy shore sometimes provides views of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Desert Wheatear, Sand Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark and several different races of White Wagtail, whilst overhead there is a good chance to observe Bonelli’s Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard and Grey-throated Sand-Martin. We will also make a special effort to find the localised Rufous-fronted Prinia. Sometimes Common and Demoiselle Cranes are also present, or we may be lucky enough to find a huge Pallas’s Gull loafing at the water’s edge. At night it is sometimes possible to see Common Palm Civets leaving their day-roosting holes in some large trees in the gardens. Night at Chambal Safari Lodge.
Day 4 Chambal - Agra - Taj Mahal - Bharatpur
Set amidst extensive grounds the Chambal Safari Lodge is a perfect location to have our breakfast underneath the shady trees in the garden and it is often possible to see plenty of commoner birds such as Asian Koel, Hume’s Warbler, Coppersmith and Brown-headed Barbets and Taiga Flycatcher whilst enjoying a cup of tea. The resident naturalist should hopefully have staked out day roosting Brown Hawk-Owl or Indian Scops-Owl for us to look at as well! Tearing ourselves away from here will be difficult but the lure of Agra and a visit to the incomparable Taj Mahal will be calling us. This is no mere building but an awe-inspiring mausoleum of ethereal beauty built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. This truly is one of the modern day wonders of the world and our eyes will inevitably be drawn to the beautiful architecture, but there are also numerous birds around the gardens and along the Yamuna River to keep even the most obsessive birders occupied if need be! And continuing our action-packed start to this tour we will then head to the world famous Bharatpur and check out some areas outside of the park where we could find Black Bittern, Painted Stork, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, maybe a few harriers, or even Black-headed and Red-headed Buntings. Night at Bharatpur.
Days 5 – 6 Bharatpur
We have two full days to explore Keoladeo National Park - better known as Bharatpur, which is just a short drive from our wonderful hotel. This is undoubtedly one of the finest reserves in the world and we will explore as much of the 29 square kilometres as possible on foot and by bicycle-rickshaw. Now that the new pipeline guarantees a constant water level this fine reserve should be back to its best and quite simply, birds are everywhere! Most of the species are obvious and easily seen and we will look for Sarus and Common Cranes, Black-necked, Woolly-necked and Painted Storks, Asian Openbill, Great, Intermediate and Cattle Egrets, Purple and Striated Herons, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Pheasant-tailed and Bronzed-winged Jacanas and Oriental Darter. Skulking around the edges of the open water we may find Yellow and Black Bitterns, Brown Crake, Purple Swamphen or Citrine Wagtail. Ducks are also well represented and we shall search for scarcer species including Comb Duck, Ferruginous and Red-crested Pochard, as well as Cotton Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Whistling and Spot-billed Ducks amongst the huge flocks of commoner species that winter here. Waders will also be a feature and amongst more familiar species we should see Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint and White-tailed and Red-wattled Lapwings. Once we have taken in all this, searching the trees and scrub will provide us with yet more new species such as Indian Grey Hornbill, Yellow-crowned and Indian Pygmy Woodpeckers, Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon, Common Woodshrike, Ashy Prinia, Brown, Bay-backed and Long-tailed Shrikes, White-eared Bulbul, Red-breasted and Taiga Flycatchers, Purple Sunbird, Olive-backed Pipit, Ashy Drongo, Chestnut-shouldered Petronia and Baya Weaver. Warblers are also well represented and we could see Indian Reed, Blyth’s Reed, Tickell’s Leaf, Brooks’s Leaf, Hume’s, Smoky and Greenish Warblers. In the shaded areas and skulking under bushes there are Bluethroat, Orange-headed and Tickell’s Thrush and the superb Siberian Rubythroat. However, the prize bird is the virtually endemic and often hard to find Marshall’s Iora that frequents the denser stands of vegetation. Drier areas can produce Grey Francolin, Barred Buttonquail, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Red Collared Dove, Sirkeer Malkoha, Rufous-tailed Lark and on our last couple of visits we have seen Indian Courser and Sociable Lapwing. During our time here we usually come across day roosting Spotted Owlet, Dusky Eagle-Owl and Large-tailed Nightjar, and we shall also visit a roost site for Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers. However, it is the raptors that are the reserve’s crowning glory, and in the skies above or perched in nearby trees we can see Eastern Imperial, Steppe, Bonelli’s, Booted, Crested Hawk and both Greater and Indian Spotted Eagles, Egyptian and Red-headed Vultures, Crested Serpent-eagle, Shikra, Oriental Honey-buzzard and Black-shouldered Kite. There are often one or two rarities lingering here and on previous visits we have seen Lesser Fish-eagle, Grey Bushchat, Small-billed Scaly Thrush and both Slaty-blue and Ultramarine Flycatchers. This is also a good place for sightings of other animals and we have previously seen Nilgai, Sambar, Chital, Indian Rock Python, both Jungle and Fishing Cats and Common Indian Mongoose. Nights at Bharatpur.
Day 7 Bharatpur - Bund Baretha - Ranthambhore
An early start will see us visit the huge reservoir of Bund Baretha where there is another chance to find the rare Indian Skimmer, as well as large numbers of waders and waterfowl. Around the old palace grounds we can find Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Brown Rock-Chat and White-capped Bunting, whilst the surrounding area holds Ruddy-breasted and Baillon’s Crakes, Greater Painted Snipe, Indian Stone-curlew. possibly Indian Vulture, Red-necked Falcon, Plum-headed Parakeet, Coppersmith Barbet, Dusky Crag-martin, Southern Grey Shrike, Dusky and Smoky Warblers, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Long-billed Pipit, Striolated and Red-headed Buntings, Ashy-crowned Finch-lark, and both Black-breasted and Streaked Weavers. We will then continue our journey to our excellently located lodge close to Ranthambhore National Park where we will spend the next 3 nights.
Days 8 - 9 Ranthambhore National Park
The former Maharaja’s hunting preserve of Ranthambhore consists of mainly dry deciduous and thorny forest, with several large lakes, steep cliffs and old ruins dotted amongst this impressive jungle habitat. Our primary aim is to see Tiger here and by taking early morning and late afternoon jeep safaris into the park we will maximise our chances of seeing them as this is when they are most active. There is definitely nothing as exciting as tracking these marvellous animals and as we wait quietly at certain favoured locations we may be lucky and hear the alarm calls of Spotted Deer or Sambar indicating the presence of a large predator. We have a good chance of finding and observing them, sometimes at very close quarters if we are extremely lucky!
We should find a different mix of species here as Ranthambhore is also home to some very special birds including Demoiselle Crane, Painted Spurfowl, Jungle and Rock Bush-quails, Painted Sandgrouse, Indian Courser and White-naped Woodpecker amongst others. Other commoner species include Woolly-necked Stork, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Indian Spotted Eagle, Hen and Montagu’s Harriers, Sirkeer Malkoha, Black-rumped Flameback, Common Woodshrike, Large Cuckooshrike, White-bellied Drongo, Tawny-bellied and Large Grey Babblers, Plain and Ashy Prinias, Tawny, Richard’s and Blyth’s Pipits, and there is also another chance of Marshall’s Iora. Nights at Ranthambhor.
Day 10 Ranthambhore - Delhi
After a final morning’s safari and tiger-tracking in Ranthambhore National Park we will spend a little time after lunch exploring areas outside of the park where we can see a wide variety of dry country species including Grey Francolin, Isabelline and Desert Wheatear, Greater Short-toed Lark and Blue Rock Thrush amongst others. In the evening we will connect with the sleeper train from Sawai Madhopur and travel overnight back to Delhi.
Day 11 Delhi - Sultanpur
Following our morning arrival in Delhi we will transfer to a nearby hotel for breakfast before heading to Sultanpur, a superb birding site about 50kms from Delhi in Haryana state. The lake here is usually full of birds, with huge numbers of all the regular wildfowl including Indian Spot-billed Duck, Garganey, Comb Duck and Bar-headed, Greylag and Greater White-fronted Geese. Also prominent are Greater Flamingo, Black-headed Ibis, Painted Stork, sometimes Black-necked Stork, Purple Swamphen, and a good selection of waders including the stately White-tailed Lapwing. In the immediate vicinity we can find Grey Francolin, White-throated Kingfisher, Eurasian Wryneck, Indian Grey Hornbill, Coppersmith and Brown-headed Barbets, Indian Robin, Citrine Wagtail, Long-tailed Shrike, Grey-breasted Prinia, Lesser Whitethroat, Siberian Chiffchaff, Hume’s Leaf-warbler and Red Avadavat. In particular we will search the stands of Acacia’s here as this is a reliable site for Brook’s Leaf-warblers and around the edges of the lake there are usually a few Sind Sparrows present. This will be the perfect way to finish our birding before heading back to our hotel and have a little time to relax before our final dinner together. Night in Delhi.
Day 12 Delhi - UK - End of Tour- 17th March
Early morning transfer to the airport and our return international flights back to the UK/Europe and conclusion of a wonderful tour. If continuing with our India 2 – Classic Himalayas tour then after breakfast we will set out on the drive to Corbett National Park.
Group size: Minimum for tour to go ahead 4 and maximum 10 with 2 leaders.
Included in cost:Accommodation in twin rooms en-suite, all meals, bottled water, all ground transport including train, boat rides and jeep safaris, all park entrance fees, and services of leaders.
Not included:International airfare, insurance, visa fee, drinks, tips, camera fees at National Parks and items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: The hotels & lodges used during this tour are of a reasonable to good standard, all with en-suite facilities. We will stay in the best available lodges/guest houses as close to the birding sites as possible.
Tour Code: This is a standard birding tour with regular birding walks along roads and well marked trails. The weather is generally warm to hot at this time of year, although dawn/dusk and overnight it does get a little cooler. Rain is not expected at this time of year. Photographic opportunities are usually very good on this tour, so bring plenty of memory cards!