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Day 1 Sunday 22nd February
Everyone met on time at London's Heathrow Airport for the overnight flight to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Day 2 Monday 23rd February
An uneventful journey saw the group land at Doha where after a short wait, they continued on to Kathmandu. Once the luggage had been collected, myself and our guide, Suchit Basnet were able to meet the group and load all the bags onto our coach. A short drive followed through the `hustle and bustle' of the city, before arriving at our hotel in the Thamel district of Kathmandu.
Day 3 Tuesday 24th February
We left after breakfast, walking just around the corner through a rather deserted Kathmandu to our waiting coach. After driving across the city we finally reached the edge of the valley and began to descendginer dri. There is no better feeling than the excitement and anticipation of all the new birds your first morning in a new country will bring. Unfortunately, it was a little misty, which meant that bird activity was a little slow to begin with and even the mountain tops were obscured, but due to this we saw both Common Buzzard and Eurasian Griffon Vultures perched on some bare trees near the road. Our first stop was on the edge of a small village, where we walked out onto a footbridge initially just seeing Common and White-throated Kingfishers. Our target bird was found shortly after, when a superb pair of Spotted Forktails flew underneath us, perching on the rocks in the middle of the fast flowing stream below. They were truly delightful, and we were fortunate to get exceedingly good views of them over the next half an hour or so. Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstarts, which are also stunning birds, were also seen adding to that "WOW" factor! Our next stop along the main river produced a charming Little Forktail, whilst a short walk downhill saw us watching a pair of Brown Dippers. On the far bank a flock of Scaly-breasted Munias and a pair of Crested Buntings were also much appreciated. Searching of the rocky edges of the river, just a few kilometers further downriver, paid off when after a short while we eventually found a pair of Ibisbill.
There was a shared feeling of pure elation, as everyone had their first look in the telescope of this most wanted bird! A dream bird and an ambition fulfilled for everyone in the group. So we walked down to the water's edge, getting a lot closer to this awesome bird as well as a second individual, and were privileged to get some great views. We stopped a little while later for our packed lunch and some cold drinks at a little restaurant, seeing Black-lored Tit and a brief Himalayan Bulbul. Shortly after lunch a pair of Wallcreepers gave great views along the river. At first there was only one feeding, but it was soon joined by another, and they flew back and forth across the fast flowing river giving a great show. Even if you have seen them before they are always excellent birds. After all this excitement, our birding adventure was abruptly halted when we were held up in Mughling for some 4 hours, due to a lorry breaking down and blocking the main road. Eventually the road was cleared and it was with some relief that we eventually made it into the lowlands, and the famous Chitwan National Park. We were met by some jeeps that took us the last 3 km to Gaida Wildlife Lodge, and our much wanted evening meal. What a first day!
Day 4 Wednesday 25th February
After a cup of tea at daybreak we boarded our Elephants and headed across the river into a nearby forest, being joined by a local guide called Vishnu, who is an exceptional birder and spends all his time at Chitwan - and he proved to be an invaluable help during our stay here. Crossing the river, he pointed out our first Brown Crake creeping along on the opposite bank. Entering the forest, just as the mist was rising was a magical feeling. Inside the forest, an Indian One Horned Rhinoceros was seen nestled in the undergrowth, before another three were seen shortly after. Overhead, a flock of Large Cuckooshrikes passed through the canopy, whilst several Emerald Doves were seen quite well. Other birds here included White-rumped Shama, Large Woodshrike, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Lesser Yellownape, and Himalayan Flameback. However, the real stars of our two hour adventure were the roosting Brown Fish and Brown Wood Owls that gazed down at us from high up in the canopy. But all too soon it was time to return to the lodge. On the way back a CrestedSerpent Eagle was seen perched close by, and whilst crossing the river again a Pintail Snipe was seen flying onto a little island, showing the lack of a white trailing edge on the upperwing. After breakfast we all gathered below the large flowering trees next to the dining hall and saw several new species, including Chestnut-tailed Starling, Scarlet Minivet, Common Iora, and a diminuitive Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker. It was then time to board our dugout canoes and sail slowly and quietly downriver, which was another wonderful experience, and it was turning out to be a lovely hot, sunny day as well. Along the shoreline we passed Little Ringed Plovers, Temminck's Stints, Green Sandpipers and several Greenshanks. Just to remind us we were in Asia, Rosy Pipits showed well amongst the rocks and pebbles, whilst on the numerous small islands there were many birds including Citrine Wagtails, River and Red-wattled Lapwings, Oriental Darter, and the occasional Striated Heron. On the water we floated past many Goosanders and Ruddy Shelducks. Up to 4 species of kingfisher were seen perched on the dead snags dotted all across the river, including Stork-billed and Pied Kingfishers, whilst overhead several Small Pratincoles flew quickly by. Meanwhile `skywatching' also produced a flock of Black Storks, a couple Oriental Honey Buzzards, a single White-eyed Buzzard, and loads of Plain Martins. The forest bordering the river was home to many calling Common Hawk Cuckoos, and at one point we passed a flowering tree that held a noisy flock of Hill Mynas. We also got extremely close views of an enormous fish-eating Gharial, as well as a couple huge Marsh Muggers - both of which Bob really appreciated! Finally, we landed several ' Nepalese' kilometres downstream and walked back through the grassland, seeing Small Minivet, some skulking Grey-breasted Prinias, several huge Lesser Adjutants at their nests, and some Crested Treeswifts flying overhead. But it was now very hot, so we met our jeeps and headed to Gaida Tented Camp - our base for the next three nights. What a wonderful location this turned out to be - literally right in the heart of the jungle. The camp is situated inside mature Sal forest just a short walk away from the grasslands and was wonderfully shaded from the midday heat. The large African-style safari tents have two single beds and come complete with hot showers and toilet. After a delicious lunch we all met around the seating area in the middle of the camp, where there were birds all around, although seeing them took a little time. With a little patience we saw Large Cuckooshrike, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Spangled Drongo and finally pinned down a Common Hawk Cuckoo that had been calling all through lunch. In fact he was going to be our constant companion during our stay here, day and night! A trail led out of the camp and wound its way through the forest, where a sexy little Collared Falconet showed well perched on top of a dead tree. A Pale-chinned Flycatcher was a little shy, but Black-hooded Oriole, Lineated Barbet, Himalayan Flameback and a fine pair of Red-breasted Parakeets were all much more obliging. After dinner we saw a superb little Oriental Scops Owl in the spotlight at the edge of the camp, and enjoyed a few drinks around the campfire before retiring for the night.
Day 5 Thursday 26th February
After an early breakfast, we walked the short distance to a tower at the edge of the grassland. The path that followed the edge of the forest produced Velvet-fronted and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, Grey-capped Pygmy and Rufous Woodpecker, and a Himalayan Flameback. Where the forest joined the grassland, a pair of skulking Grey-crowned Prinias were heard, and eventually seen. From our vantage point in the tower, as the early morning mist began to lift, we briefly saw a Rufous-rumped Grassbird, and enjoyed good views of several Chestnut-capped Babblers. Then we followed the jungle highway that cuts right through the middle of the tall grasses to a little bridge, seeing a small flock of Black-breasted Weavers on the way. At the bridge there was plenty of bird activity, with several Jungle Babblers, Baya Weaver, Chestnut-tailed Starling, and Grey-breasted Prinia all being seen well. Retracing our steps along the jungle highway, some of the group saw a fine male White-tailed Rubythroat skulking at the edge of the path. A Yellow-bellied Prinia was much easier to see and was quite a little stunner, but it was hard birding in the grassland as it was now quite hot, so we walked back through the forest, seeing a Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike and Puff-throated Babbler along the way. Around the camp at lunchtime there were several good birds, including a flock of 8 Red-billed Blue Magpies that moved through, whilst a stunning Blue-bearded Bee-eater flew in and landed in the tall trees right in the middle of the camp, a couple of Black-crested Bulbuls appeared from nowhere, and a pair of Rufous Woodpeckers put on a fine show. Never a dull moment in camp! After a siesta, our jeeps drove us deep into the park, covering a lot of ground. It was fun, and rather easy birding, as we stopped whenever someone saw something interesting. Our first EurasianHoopoe flew up from the side of the road, and a smart Changeable Hawk Eagle was seen perched in a tree along the track. Arriving eventually at an oxbow lake, where we had a walk and found a Cinnamon Bittern, 2 Brown Crakes, as well as lots of Black-crowned Night Herons roosting in the dense vegetation. The trees bordering the lake held Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked Stork, Red Collared Dove, and a Dark-throated Thrush, whilst some of the little muddy inlets held several rather menacing Marsh Muggers. In the valley behind us, we could see a Rhino in the distance. From here we drove on to a large lake seeing a couple of Yellow-eyed Babblers on the way. At the water's edge, a Rhino was sat in the water, seemingly oblivious to our presence! Our first Bronze-winged Jacana was a nice find, as well as yet another Rhino on the far side of the lake. Eventually, we drove back to camp, seeing 2 huge bison-like Gaur in the grassland next to the track. We went to sleep tonight listening to the sounds of Oriental Scops and Brown Hawk Owls.
Day 6 Friday 27th February
This morning brought a very heavy mist and dew. After breakfast in the dining hall we drove out to the grasslands again, seeing a pair of Yellow-bellied Prinias, Chestnut-capped Babbler and a surprisingly showy Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler. Unfortunately, the views of a Slender-billed Babbler were really too brief to allow us to count it on our life lists. It was still quite early but the mist had begun to lift as we arrived at yet another grassland area, and almost immediately we heard, and then saw a superb Rufous-rumped Grassbird. It was initially watched skulking low down in the grass, but as the sun came out it spent quite a bit of time on the tops of the some thick clumps and everyone saw it really well. Whilst stood there, we saw a couple Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters perched in some trees behind us, and all had fantastic scope views of a female Himalayan Rubythroat, which was perched out in the open. Content with our success here we retraced our steps but this time on foot, walking through the forest seeing Western-crowned and Blyth's Leaf Warblers, several Hill Mynas, our first and only White-bellied Yuhina of the trip, many Greenish Warblers, and at least two Verditer Flycatchers. In an open area a Small Pratincole flew over before we entered another patch of forest eventually seeing some shy Puff-throated Babblers, a confiding pair of Striped Tit-Babblers, Lesser Yellownape, Himalayan and Greater Flameback, and some very fresh Tiger tracks. By now it was getting rather hot so we decided to return to the camp. On the way a Sloth Bear crossed the track in front of us. Wow! After a few hours rest, the afternoon found us in the forest once again. A pair of superb Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters gave great views; one repeatedly flew around a clearing, giving a fantastic aerial display. One of the main highlights was our first Spot-winged Starlings - although a little distant they were still an extremely good find by Vishnu and real stunners to boot! A Pale-footed Bush Warbler also showed remarkably well, although it kept low down in the bushes next to the path, and a Stork-billed Kingfisher was also seen well. On our return to camp, a Lineated Barbet was seen perched above our tents. And at dusk we ventured across the creek, where a couple Large-tailed Nightjars flew around our heads before one of them alighted onto a tree right next to us. A Brown Hawk Owl was also seen in the spotlight, but we had to return to camp as a pair of Rhinos were heard fighting out in the grassland not too far away from us! Never forget it's a jungle out there!
Day 7 Saturday 28th February
After an early breakfast, the jeeps drove us through the grassland and down to the river. It was a lovely setting, and with the mist rising above the river, our Elephants appeared on the opposite bank and slowly made their way towards us. With great skill they were manouvered carefully into position next to the sand bank so we could board them and set off on the journey to the Churia Hills. The journey took a little under 90 minutes, during which time we saw a few birds including Oriental Skylark, Asian Pied Starling and several Paddyfield Pipits. On arrival we began following the trail up into the hills, but it was a little quiet to start with, and only a few Blyth's Leaf Warblers were seen. However, we hadn't gone far before a Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo appeared, and soon after Vishnu heard, then everyone saw a pair of superb Red-headed Trogons. They stayed inside the canopy, but with a little perseverance both the male and female were seen in the scope as they perched amongst the dense foliage. Soon after this exciting find we reached the dry riverbed and began walking along it. The ground was a little uneven, but we took our time and saw a Mountain Hawk-Eagle perched on top of a tree. After an early lunch in the shade of some trees, we decided to walk a short distance higher uphill. What a good move that turned out to be, as we hadn't gone far when we heard a flock moving just inside the canopy. On the hill above us a Bronzed Drongo flitted about the canopy, whilst a few Scarlet Minivets were seen amongst some commoner species. All of a sudden, as a line of Scarlet Minivets flew overhead and went to the other side of the riverbed, Suchit shouted "SULTAN TIT", and amazingly a pair of these highly prized birds were seen following the minivets. They perched on top of a tree for a short while, allowing us all to see some plumage features before dropping inside the canopy. We were all elated with this and stood around congratulating each other on a superb find! However, our celebrations were cut short when we heard several White-crested Laughingthrushes calling from the hillside behind us, and with a little encouragement, a couple were enticed out into the open. What superb birds, and one individual was seen very well with his `persil-white' crest standing out amongst the green foliage. So, we finally retraced our steps to meet Maureen who had stayed lower down with one of our local guides, Harry. The walk back down the riverbed was interspersed with a few notable bird sightings, including a Streaked Spiderhunter that called constantly from deep within the forest, occasionally flying overhead but never giving tickable views. We also saw our one and only Grey Treepie of the trip, before a Green-billed Malkoha flew across the path in front of us and proceeded to give the most excellent views as it clambered around some small bushes and saplings at the edge of the riverbed. Finally making it back to the forest trail, our luck was certainly in as there was a large, noisy flock of Greater and Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrushes moving through. The flock was moving very slowly and this gave us a good opportunity to get to grips with the differences between the two species. Also in attendance was our first Greater Yellownape, as well as a cracking Greater Racket-tailed Drongo with superbly long tail streamers, a White-crested Laughingthrush which Maureen really appreciated, and a shy Common Green Magpie. Once the flock had disappeared we continued downhill to where our elephants were waiting to take us back to Gaida Wildlife Lodge. Things didn't go according to plan, as only three animals arrived instead of the expected five. Apparently, one of the `drivers' had stopped off on the way to answer a call of nature and the animal had `done a runner'! Another elephant and his `driver' had chased after him, but not yet returned, so most of us returned to the lodge except John, Sheila, Vishnu and Suchit. On the journey back to the lodge we saw a couple excellent male White-tailed Stonechats as we entered the grassland, and once inside the forest near the lodge a pair of Rhinos were seen wallowing in a muddy pool. Having delivered their passengers, the elephants headed back to pick up the rest of the group. They must have covered the intervening distance at quite a speed, for we had only just finished our beers and walked around the lodge grounds, seeing White-rumped Shama and Puff-throated Babbler, when on our return we found the `stragglers' having tea and biscuits in the garden! What an exciting end to a brilliant day, and over dinner and some more drinks we relived the highs and lows; and I'm sure the story of our day out in the Churia Hills will undoubtedly expand into a full blown adventure to tell the grandchildren about one day!
Day 8 Sunday 29th February
It was finally time to say goodbye to Chitwan and move on to Koshi Tappu, but not before having another good breakfast, and one final look to see what was visiting the flowering trees next to the dining hall. A few Chestnut-tailed Starlings were feeding right on top, along with several GreenishWarblers, whilst a couple of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters were perched enjoying the sunshine. The drive to Koshi was interrupted to look over a large, boulder strewn river. Scanning from the riverbank produced a pair of Blue Rock Thrush, as well as several Little Ringed Plovers, and a few White-browed Wagtails, whilst Dan picked up a distant White-eyed Buzzard perched on a large boulder. But we didn't linger, and were soon continuing our journey east. Driving along, we saw many Indian Rollers, Black Drongo, White-throated Kingfisher, and our first Bank Mynas. However today was mainly a travelling day, and as such we simply sat back and watched the world go by and it was fascinating to watch the Nepalese go about their daily business. Eventually, we reached the Koshi Barrage and stopped on the far side at a large pond, where there were several cute Cotton Pygmy Geese, lots of Ferruginous Ducks, Garganey, Little Cormorant, and Bronze-winged Jacana. As we were about to leave, a stunning male Pied Harrier flew across the pond giving us the most excellent views imaginable and was certainly a major contender for bird of the trip. Wow! We eventually reached Koshi Camp at 5.30pm and had a welcoming cup of tea on the verandah, before settling into our large walk-in tents, and meeting in the dining hall for our evening meal.
Day 9 Monday 1st March
This morning before breakfast, some of the group walked to the ponds within the camp grounds where a flock of rather wary Ferruginous Duck were congregated on the far side. But the main highlight was our prolonged views of a Jungle Cat, which ran away along the path and up onto the embankment, where it promptly sat down in full view for a few seconds before slinking away into the undergrowth. Then, after pancakes and scrambled eggs we walked along the trail between the ponds, seeing a pair of superb Yellow-breasted Buntings perched in some nearby trees for ages and a flyby Black Bittern. The camp is superbly situated, and we were able to walk up onto the embankment that borders the mighty Koshi River. The embankment follows the river all the way down to the barrage, but this morning we headed north. A line of trees either side borders the path, and between us and the river are dense thickets, bushes and some ponds. One of the first birds seen was a Tickell's Leaf Warbler flitting around the trees, and this delightful little `phylloscopus' warbler gave excellent views. Indeed there were several birds present, forming a loose flock and we were able to study them for a while. On the grassy embankment below us, were several Citrine Wagtails, some White Wagtails of the race leucopsis, and one or two Eurasian Hoopoes. The bushes dotted along the top of the embankment held both Grey-backed and Brown Shrikes, whilst the large trees attracted our first Streak-throated Woodpecker. Overhead, a Shikra was seen; whilst a Stork-billed Kingfisher gave good views perched next to a little pond. We were fortunate to see a few Swamp Francolins, really the stars of this area and are an endangered bird that is difficult to catch up with anywhere on the subcontinent.
There was also a Paddyfield Warbler low down in some bushes, and a male Siberian Rubythroat which eventually gave us great views as it perched out in the open for a couple of minutes. What a little beauty! Overhead, several groups of Eurasian Griffon Vultures flew over, and were accompanied by a Long-legged Buzzard. Other birds seen on our walk included Large Cuckooshrike, Plum-headed Parakeet, a flyby Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Spotted Owlet, and a pair of Brown Hawk Owls at their daytime roost. By now it was getting quite hot and we were in need of some refreshments. As we walked back along the trail an accipiter suddenly flashed across the path in front of us. It turned out to be a Besra and we had the dubious honour of watching it perched in a tree eating a Blue-throated Barbet! We also had a fine Coppersmith Barbet, several Red-wattled Lapwings, Jungle Owlet, Lesser Adjutant, and an Ashy Drongo. On our return to camp we saw Greenish Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, and a Thick-billed Warbler - all whilst sipping the local beer on the dining hall's verandah! It doesn't get much better than that! After lunch we went in the jeeps along the embankment, but this time downriver. At a large pool there were at least 3 Greater Painted Snipes, along with a Common Snipe. Returning to the vehicles, we drove further along, and walked down to the edge of another big pool. Within a few minutes, a Black Bittern flew across the pool a couple of times. Out in the middle on the open water, there were lots of Lesser Whistling Ducks, and whilst looking at them 2 Short-toed Eagles, a Hen Harrier, and several Eurasian Griffon Vultures flew over. Just then, a Smoky Warbler began calling, and eventually it appeared at the water's edge and we were able to watch it for quite a while. After continuing down the embankment, we left the jeeps behind and walked slowly back. A White-throated Fantail was rather elusive, but a few Orange-breasted Green Pigeons and White-bellied Drongo were seen well. A Hume's Warbler also showed to some of the group. At a small pond surrounded by reeds and dense bushes, we waited patiently as the sun began to sink closer to the horizon. A Cinnamon Bittern flew in and promptly disappeared, whilst a few Yellow-breasted Buntings appeared. Quite a few Siberian Chiffchaffs began feeding at the water's edge, and they were joined by up to 6 Smoky Warblers. Fantastic! Finally, our target bird appeared when a couple of Ruddy-breastedCrakes revealed themselves amongst the dense vegetation. Initially elusive and only giving tantalisingly brief glimpses to start with, they eventually came out into the open. Driving back to camp, we stopped to look at a herd of wild Water Buffalo out in the middle of the vast Koshi River. At the end of the day we had seen a creditable 118 species without travelling more than a few kilometres from the camp!
Day 10 Tuesday 2nd March
This was the day of our boat ride down the mighty Koshi River. So after an early breakfast we drove along the embankment several kilometres upriver, seeing some more Swamp Francolins on the way. We boarded our rubber rafts and slowly sailed downriver. It was amazing to see how wide the river is, and at first it seemed a little quiet. It was very peaceful and tranquil, that was until someone spotted a Ganges River Dolphin as it quietly broke the surface. Unfortunately, it only showed briefly one more time before we carried on. Our first stop was at a sandy area, bordered by tall grassland to look for larks and pipits. However we got a little sidetracked when a Graceful Prinia began singing in the grass. After a few anxious minutes we located it, and were treated to superb views of several birds. There were also Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinias, with some stunning views of two exceptionally bright individuals of the former. Next, a pair of Bright-headed Cisticolas began calling and then came out onto the tops of the grasses to preen and sunbathe. Wow! Once these had disappeared, a Merlin appeared overhead and a Lesser Coucal flew silently away over the grass. A walk out onto the sandy area gave us several superb White-tailed Stonechats, as well as Sand Lark and Ashy-crowned Sparrowlark. Continuing downriver, we passed 4 Eurasian Spoonbills, lots of Ruddy Shelducks, Kentish Plover, and a large flock of Small Pratincoles took to the air giving a wonderful display. Another stop produced Temminck's Stint, River Tern, Greater Spotted Eagle, and some commoner ducks. We then crossed the channel by boat to the far bank, and walked along the sand, finding Indian Spotted Eagle, Little Green Bee-eaters, Richard's Pipit, and many more Sand Larks. Just as we boarded our boats, a White-rumped Vulture flew over. Further downriver there was a cracking Black-bellied Tern, an Osprey, and close views of a big flock of Small Pratincoles roosting on one of the huge sandbanks just a couple yards from the boats. All too soon our little river journey was over, and we were met by our jeeps which brought our packed lunches, and some refreshing cold drinks. Some of the group then had an hour's snooze in the shade before we drove further down the embankment and began searching the pools and scrub. Our first stop was next to a marshy area, where Smoky, Paddyfield and Clamorous Reed Warblers all showed well, but a Striated Heron was more elusive. Further on, an Aberrant Bush Warbler took a little coaxing but finally showed very well, and in the same area we found Bluethroat, Dusky and Thick-billed Warbler, Black Bittern, Lesser Adjutant, and several more Siberian Chiffchaffs. Possibly the highlight of the afternoon was the amazing views of several different male Siberian Rubythroats that were seen at various intervals along the path. Other birds seen included several Crested Buntings and Olive-backed Pipits alighting in the trackside trees and occasionally coming onto the path, whilst another couple of Swamp Francolins showed well and a Golden Jackal was seen. Driving back to camp we stopped to watch a Striated Grassbird as it sang in the tall grasses. That night we went to sleep to the sound of a Common Hawk Cuckoo and the resident pair of Spotted Owlets.
Day 11 Wednesday 3rd March
This morning we had a cup of tea before taking a pre-breakfast walk through the camp grounds. Along the edge of the tall grass there were several Baya Weavers and Yellow-breasted Buntings, and once on the far side of the pools, a Black Bittern flew into the dense waterside vegetation. Following the edge of the camp around to the far pools, we saw a Cinnamon Bittern, male Greater Painted Snipe, and yet another Smoky Warbler before heading into the wooded section of the embankment. We scanned the large fish ponds in the early morning light, seeing Citrine Wagtail, several Rosy Pipits, Wood Sandpiper, Pintail Snipe and all the usual egrets. Unfortunately the mist descended for a while and reduced visibility quite a lot. However, we did find some good birds, with a close Paddyfield Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, GreenishWarbler, Swamp Francolin, and several Tickell's Leaf Warblers, and on retracing our steps had Red Collared Dove, Large Cuckooshrike, Thick-billed Warbler, Common Hawk Cuckoo, and an Ashy Drongo. Then we searched the fields around the village next to the camp. It didn't take long for us to find several Paddyfield Pipits, but these were quite literally overshadowed by a Rufous-winged Bushlark that landed on the path in front of us. It was a huge lark, with an enormous bill and rusty primary panel. Whilst watching this, Badri picked up a Black-winged Cuckooshrike flying overhead. In a nearby tree, a Black-shouldered Kite was perched a few feet away from a Pied Kingfisher. Returning to camp for breakfast, the regular Spotted Owlets gave a good show, and we also saw a BlackRedstart and a confiding Blue-throated Barbet. On the way to the barrage in the jeeps, shortly after breakfast, we saw Short-toed and Booted Eagles, and a Hen Harrier before stopping to look at a pair of fine Yellow-wattled Lapwings. At one lake, just before the barrage we found our first Pheasant-tailed Jacana, as well as getting very good views of Little Green Bee-eater and Striated Babbler. Crossing the barrage we noticed a huge flock of ducks, so left the jeeps and scanned the surrounding area. Amongst the huge numbers of commoner ducks, were a couple thousand Lesser Whistling Ducks, several Red-crested Pochards and Ferruginous Ducks. Badri located a superb male Falcated Duck in the middle of all the wildfowl. In the bright sunlight, its head glowed a beautiful green, but it was amazing how easy it was to lose once it turned away or upended to feed. Continuing on we found 4 superb Grey-headed Lapwings in the field below us, before driving to the famous Pink Tower for our packed lunch. Settling in the shade we had a nice lunch, whilst scanning the estuary and surrounding fields. In the distance were a few Bar-headed and Greylag Geese, Black Ibis, Black-necked Stork and some distant Little Terns. Overhead, several Eurasian Griffon Vultures soared high above. Walking back down the road after lunch we struck gold when a huge Black Vulture passed overhead, just before an equally immense Himalayan Griffon Vulture was seen amongst a high flying party of Eurasian Griffons. We then jumped in the jeeps and worked the embankment on the other side of the barrage. Both breeding-plumage Pheasant-tailed Jacana and Cotton Pygmy Goose were very obliging, and we stopped awhile to admire them before continuing along the embankment, where a couple of Marsh Harriers passed by, and up to 5 Little Buntings were found feeding at the edge of the path. Out on the estuary were loads of rather distant Kentish Plovers, and a Pallas' Gull that although was first found perched very distantly, eventually flew towards us giving excellent views. Further along the path a couple of Black-faced Buntings were a little elusive, but a fitting finale to the day was the sight of a thousand Small Pratincoles hawking for insects overhead against a beautiful red sky. Wow!
Day 12 Thursday 4th March
After breakfast we said our farewells to the wonderful staff at Koshi Camp and headed to the airport at Biratnagar. We only made one brief stop to look at a roost of Fruit Bats, although the surrounding vegetation possibly got more attention, consisting mainly of what we would call `an illegal substance'! The airport was rather basic, but it wasn't long before we were on our way, and within minutes the mountain tops of the mighty Himalayas came into view. We passed 4 of the 5 worlds' highest peaks, including Kanchenjunga and, of course the daddy of them all, Everest. It was a rather humbling moment as the highest mountain in the world came into view, and one we shall never forget. Within about 50 minutes we were landing back in Kathmandu and were soon driving off to our hotel. After lunch at the wonderful Kilroys Restaurant, most of the group set off on a shopping and sightseeing tour around Thamel. Later in the afternoon, some of us met on the roof garden of the hotel where we watched the Black-eared Kites soaring overhead, as well as a Eurasian Sparrowhawk and flocks of House Swifts. As the sun slowly set, thousands of House Crows flew in to roost in the gardens of the Royal Palace, and amongst them were several hundred Cattle Egrets.
Day 13 Friday 5th March
This was a day we had all looked forward to, and with much anticipation we set off from our hotel in the jeeps and were fortunate to have yet another excellent local guide called Som GC to accompany us over these next two action-packed days. Kathmandu was very quiet and just coming to life, so it didn't take us long to reach the edge of the city, where one of our first birds was a pair of Red-billed Blue Magpies. Entering Godaveri Botanical Gardens on the far side we were almost immediately confronted by several birds, including Blue Whistling Thrush, White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstart, Black-lored Tit, and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch. We followed a path that wound its way beneath a line of extremely tall trees, where some movement high in the canopy betrayed the presence of a male Slaty-backed Flycatcher. It was initially very flighty and spent the whole time high above us, but we finally managed some decent views in the telescope. Whilst scoping this excellent bird, we could hear a flock further along the path so decided to head that way and investigate. A little further on was an Asian BarredOwlet, before we found a flock containing a few Blyth's Leaf Warblers amongst the more numerous Lemon-rumped Warblers. In the same area a small flock of Black-throated Tits were much appreciated, and they were joined by our first Black-chinned Babbler and a rather stunning Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, whilst a Grey-headed CanaryFlycatcher showed briefly overhead. Nearby, a Hodgson's Redstart was a good find, and gave extremely good views perched on a bare branch. Just then, we heard a Grey-bellied Tesia calling from some dense grasses and scrub and quietly walked around to try and see it. However, it just stayed calling from deep within the vegetation and it looked like we wouldn't get to see it. But all of a sudden it appeared quite close to us and flew down to a small steep-sided stream. It was relocated skulking under some bushes and we all managed some sort of view as it moved quickly through the leaf litter. A little further on, in an open area, we saw a pair of Grey Bushchats, and whilst watching them a Fire-breasted Flowerpecker flew into the bush next to us. However, the absolutely stunning Rufous-belled Niltava won the award for the most dazzling bird of the morning! Just as we were about to leave, a Crested Goshawk appeared over a nearby hill and soared away into the distance. Up at the mid-section of Phulchowki, the visibility was perfect with the distant Himalayas standing clearly out on the horizon. We were going to walk down the road a little way before lunch, but some movement was seen from a side path and we followed it a short way. Pretty soon there were new birds everywhere, although it was a little difficult at first to get decent views of anything, as visibility was restricted by several close bushes. However, a little `pishing' was enough to entice the birds closer, and we were soon looking at our first Whiskered and Stripe-throated Yuhinas, and whilst watching them a smart White-browed Fulvetta appeared right in front of us. All of a sudden, a flash of bright yellow revealed a stunning male Green-tailed Sunbird, whilst White-tailed Nuthatch, Green-backed Tit, Rufous Sibia, and both Buff-barred and Ashy-throated Warblers were also very inquisitive. Once everyone had caught up with all these birds, as if by magic, a Collared Owlet appeared in front of us, in response to Suchit's whistling. Perched no more than 30 yards away from us its presence made all the other birds go absolutely crazy and start mobbing it, so it quickly flew into some thick foliage and out of sight.
We were extremely fortunate to see this really scarce owl, as Suchit said it was only the third time that he had seen this species respond to his whistling! We decided to have our packed lunch here, and with the sun shining and the mountains visible on the horizon it was indeed a perfect spot. During lunch, the Collared Owlet reappeared and this time was more confiding. Some of us walked down to get a better view and were lucky enough to see a cracking male Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush fly onto the top of a tree right in front of us before `parachuting' down the hillside and out of sight. After lunch, we began walking down the road, and hadn't gone far when we saw both Chestnut-crowned and Striated Laughing thrushes feeding around a flowering rhododendron tree. A short distance away, both Yellow-browed Tit and Red-billed Leiothrix were seen. We kept walking downhill, stopping whenever we heard or saw anything, and soon chalked up a close Darjeeling Woodpecker, several lovely Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Streaked and White-throated Laughingthrush, and a few Fire-tailed Sunbirds. Bird movement decreased during the late afternoon, but there were still little pockets of activity. There were a nice pair of Chestnut-crowned Warblers flitting around some large trees, and just after them we bumped into a small flock containing a pair of Black-faced Warblers, several Nepal Fulvettas, Black-chinned Babbler, and a skulking Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler. Finally, whilst waiting for the jeeps to arrive and pick us up, we saw a pair of Mountain Hawk Eagles soaring over the ridge above, and were even able to scope one of them perched in a dead tree. What a nice way to end a very exciting day's birding.
Day 14 Saturday 6th March
We returned to Phulchowki this morning, seeing a couple Yellow-breasted Greenfinches, Grey-backed Shrike, Red-rumped Swallow, and a brief Oriental Turtle Dove on the way. At the base of the mountain, a superb (and normally very secretive) male Kaleej Pheasant was seen walking up the middle of the road! We stopped at the mid-section again, where we heard and eventually saw an extremely confiding male Golden Bush Robin. At first it stayed inside the bushes near the road, but with a little patience it eventually gave crippling views as it came right out into the open. Wow! Whilst looking for this cracking bird, some of the group were fortunate to see a male Red-flanked Bluetail before it disappeared for good. We were elated with these sightings, and soon after Som beckoned us back downhill, where within a few minutes we were looking at a pair of Hoary-throated Barwings. They were very inquisitive and flew in right next to us, and we were able to watch them at very close quarters. Also in this area was a flock of noisy White-throated Laughingthrushes that could have numbered up to at least 50 individuals, and there was also another stunning male Green-tailed Sunbird to distract us. Driving right up to just below the summit we searched the trees and bushes where we found a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker feeding on the sap of a huge tree. Also here was a nice White-browed Fulvetta, as well as Ashy-throated and Buff-barred Warblers, a very smart male Blue-fronted Redstart, and a pair of brightly plumaged Long-tailed Minivets. Returning to the jeeps, we saw a brilliant male Red-flanked Bluetail on the road in front of us. This is a major species for British birders and even if you have seen them before they still send a shiver of excitement through you! We watched him feeding for quite some time, marvelling at this really exquisite little gem before the hunger pangs meant it was lunchtime.
Our picnic lunch was taken near the summit, next to a small pool and we watched the locals walking by as they celebrated their `Colour Festival' - complete with traditional dress, covered in coloured paint and singing folk songs. After lunch, Dan and I wandered back uphill on a successful quest for second helpings of the bluetail and we managed to find a small flock that hung around long enough for the entire group to see. Highlights included 10+ Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Black-throated Tits, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Whiskered Yuhina, Yellow-bellied Fantail and a fine Green Shrike Babbler that showed really well. Walking down the road from here produced a distant Black Eagle, Chestnut-tailed Minla, as well as Streaked and Rufous-crowned Laughingthrushes. However, the major highlight of the day and possibly the whole trip was the Blue-naped Pitta we discovered at an undisclosed site earlier in the day. Initially found by Suchit in dense cover, it was very wary and gave tantalisingly brief glimpses until, at last, some of the group managed to see it skulking behind a large tree trunk - where it remained motionless for a while. A fabled bird that was a lifer for our superb guides, and indeed nearly all Nepalese ornithologists! That evening we visited a local Nepali restaurant, where we were entertained by some delightful dance routines, had a traditional Nepali meal and sampled the local rice wine. If anyone knows who "Jack Matti" is then please let me know! On return to our hotel we had to say goodbye to our superb guide and good friend, Suchit. He had been great company, very entertaining and an awesome bird guide. I would also like to thank Som GC for his outstanding hard work whilst helping us on our visit to Phulchowki, as well as Vishnu for his contribution at Chitwan and Badri at Koshi. A great team who all worked tirelessly to ensure our tour was a great success.
Day 15 Sunday 7th March
We finally had to say goodbye to this wonderful country, and took a morning flight back to London where our exciting tour finally came to a close in the early evening.