India: Rajasthan & Kashmir - Detailed Tour Itinerary

Day 1    Arrival in Delhi - Surajpur  - 24th July 2020
Plan to arrive this morning in Delhi, where you will be met at the airport and transferred to a nearby hotel. Time permitting we will head to Surapur wetlands in the late afternoon to view Bristled Grassbird at a nesting site. Night in Delhi. 

Day 2    Delhi - Surajpur - Ajmer
If we didnt get a chance yesterday afternoon to visit Surajpur Wetlands we will head there early this morning. Bristled Grassbirds breed here and should be displaying, offering us our best chance to see this localised species. We'll see a variety of common species as well such as Asian Openbill, Red-naped Ibis, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Indian Peafowl, Indian Thick-knee, Black Kite, Pied Cuckoo, Green Bee-eater, Ashy Prinia, Indian Bushlark, Red Avadavat, and more. Afterwards we will set out on the drive into Rajasthan and reach Ajmer later this afternoon. Time permitting, we will break the journey  with a visit to Nahargarh Biological Park, an area of thorn forest that sometimes holds White-naped Tit. Other species here include Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Bay-backed Shrike, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Western Crowned Warbler, Brahminy Starling, and also a few pairs of Indian Pitta. We could also head into Jaipur where a late afternoon jeep safari can be made to search for Leopards, which are sometimes rather active and relatively easy to observe here. Night in Ajmer.  

Days 3 - 4    Sonkhaliya
We have 2 full days to look for Lesser Florican amidst the arable fields, thorn scrub and grasslands of Ajmer and Sonkhaliya. The floricans display during the "monsoon" months by bouncing skyward from a stationary position, and gain height by a rhythmic and almost frantic beat of their wings that create a dull clapping sound. At the peak of their climb they throw their heads back, close their wings and drop to the ground with their legs frantically kicking outwards. It's an amazing sight and something you'll only ever see by visiting this area in the summer months. The surrounding area is also rather productive for Rain Quail and their distinctive call can be heard all across the lowland areas we will be visiting and there's a very good chance of finding Rock Bush Quail and Painted Francolin as well. More commoner species that we should see include Knob-billed Duck, occasionally Jungle Bush Quail, Grey Francolin, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Greater Painted Snipe, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Red-necked Falcon, Southern Grey and Long-tailed Shrikes, Indian Bushlark, Rufous-tailed and Crested Larks, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Large Grey and Common Babbler, Indian Robin, Baya Weaver and Indian Silverbill. We'll also hopefully be able to track down Indian Eagle Owl during the course of our time here as well, whilst Painted Sandgrouse is rather unusual here although we did see it on our 2019 tour. Nights in Ajmer.

Day 5   Ajmer - Sonkhaliya - Delhi
What we do this morning will be dictated by our success from the prevoius couple of days, but we may well try to improve our views of Rain Quail or Rock Bush Quail before the long drive back to Delhi. Roadside stops en-route could give us Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Indian Golden Oriole, Small Minivet, Common Woodshrike, Cinereous Tit and more. Night in Delhi.

Day 6  Delhi - Srinagar  
We take an early morning flight to Srinagar that only takes 90 minutes but flying past the mighty Himalayas will take us to a whole new world! Upon arrival we will drive via a series of winding mountain roads through pine forest and up into alpine meadows full of wild flowers. Our intitial exploration of the area should produce singing Western Crowned Warblers, as well as Himalayan Woodpecker, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Spot-winged Tit and Lemon-rumped Warbler, although Brook's Leaf Warbler may take a bit longer to track down.

This will be our first opportunity to find some of the key targets of this region: Kashmir and White-cheeked Nuthatches, Rufous-naped Tit, Kashmir Nutcracker,  the rare White-throated Bushtit, Variegated Laughingthrush, Tytler's Leaf Warbler, Black-and-yellow Grosbeak, Pink-browed Rosefinch and if we are lucky, Spectacled Finch. Once we are finished we will head back down and across Srinagar and to our rather 'different' accommodation and base for the next 4 nights - a houseboat on the edge of Nigeen Lake.

Days 7 - 9   Kashmir
We will have 3 full days to thoroughly explore the Kashmir hills and find our target species. Other birds present in the forests and on the drive from our houseboat include Black Francolin, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Himalayan Parakeet, Oriental Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Brown-fronted and Scaly-bellied Woodpeckers, Hodgon's Treecreeper, Blue-capped and White-capped Redstarts, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, Spotted Forktail, Long-tailed Minivet, Mountain Bulbul, Tickell's Thrush, Grey-winged Blackbird, White-bellied Robin (redstart), Ultramarine, Dark-sided and Rusty-tailed Flycatchers, Streaked Laughingthrush, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Brown-flanked Bush-Warbler, Grey-hooded, Greenish and Sulphur-bellied Warblers, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Plain Mountain-Finch, Rufous-breasted Accentor and White-capped and Rock Buntings. Orange Bullfinch does occur in higher areas and extremely remote areas of Kashmir and we would count ourselves extremely fortunate to encounter this rare species. Similarly, Himalayan Monals reside on the remotest mountain tops far above the treeline. Nights in houseboat.  

Day 10  Srinagar - Delhi  - 2nd August 2020
Depending on flight times we can explore some different areas and if still needed, we can search an area that in previous years has been good for sightings of Kashmir Flycatcher. Or, for a change, we can bird around the lake for Little Bittern, Whiskered Tern and other common species.  A short domestic flight will take us back to Delhi where we will transfer to a nearby hotel for the night. Night in Delhi. 

TIBETAN SANDGROUSE EXTENSION: this can be taken as an extension to the main tour or as a separate stand alone tour.

Day 10   Srinagar - Leh - 2nd August
If continuing with the Ladakh extension we will fly to Leh after our final morning birding session. Upon arrival in Leh at 3,300m a short drive will take us to our guesthouse and where we will rest for the remainder of the day and begin to acclimatise to our new surroundings.  Night in Leh.   

Day 11  Leh - Tso Kar  
Before setting out on the drive to Tso Kar, it will be worth exploring the nearby Indus River for Ibisbill that inhabits the fast-flowing river. Mountain Chiffchaffs are common here, and we should also see 'Tibetan' Wagtail, Bluethroat and  Hume's Whitethroat. Once we are finished here we will head east towards our base for the next 3 nights at Tso Kar (4660m). Our route takes us over some high mountain passes where Chukar, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Brown Accentor, Fire-fronted Serin and Tibetan Snowfinch are often present. The scenery throughout the next few days is absolutely stunning as we drop down to the most south-western part of the vast Tibetan Plateau. This area is called Chang Tang and is home to the much-wanted Tibetan Sandgrouse - our main target here. This high altitude speciality is regularly encountered here in family groups and small flocks, where their distinctive and far-carrying cries echo across this barren landscape. Night in guesthouse.

Days 12 - 13   Tso Kar Lake 
Our eco-lodge on the Tso Kar plains is surrounded by magnificent snow-capped mountains all around. Birds around the camp on our last visit here included Masked Wagtail, and both Blanford's and Tibetan Snowfinches. We have 2 full days to explore this amazing area and as well as the sandgrouse we will keep an eye out for Black-necked Crane that breed in the marshes surrounding the lake, Golden Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Ground-Tit, Desert Wheatear, Horned Lark, Hume's Short-toed Lark, Guldenstadt's Redstart, Mongolian Finch (rare), and the magnificent Great Rosefinch. Both Tibetan Snowcock and Tibetan Partridge inhabt the slightly more inaccessible areas and we'll make a concerted effort to find these tricky species. We can also spend some time looking for Urial, Argali and Grey Wolf, Ladakh and Plateau Pikas as well, whilst Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang) are hard to miss. Photographic opportunities can be excellent here, with birds seemingly totally oblivious to human presence and also perfect light as well. Nights in eco-lodge.

Day 14   Tso Kar - Leh   
We have a final morning at Tso Kar before heading back to Leh and our comfortable guest house. Night in Leh 

Day 15   Leh - Delhi
Morning flight back to Delhi and transfer to a nearby hotel. Night in Delhi. 

Day 16   End of Tour  -  8th August 2020
Transfers to Delhi Airport and return international flights.