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A Report from

Northwest India January 30th - February 13th, 2013,

Charles Harper

I did considerable preplanning for this trip, basing my timing around a private package designed by Birding Pal guide Sunil Kumar ( for the Himalayan foothills area February 1–10 (US$ 2500).  My own scheduling concerns and flight booking possibilities then gave me January 30th & 31st free in Delhi beforehand,  and also February 11th & 12th free in Delhi afterward.  I planned to bird a site or sites in metropolitan Delhi on the afternoon of January 30th after arrival.  On the 31st I would go slightly farther afield to the wetland area of Sultanpur, southwest of the city.  And then for February 11–12, I booked a 2-day package ($200) to drive 150 km south to Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur and to see the Taj Mahal in nearby Agra.

Some months before, I had bought Birds of Northern India (Grimmett & Inskipp) and A FG to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent (Kazmierczak), and I spent the intervening time reading them account by account, in the process downloading some 300 songs from xeno-canto and some 600 photographs from the Oriental Bird Club and other sites as a part of my familiarization strategy.  The songs and photos were then loaded onto both my iTouch and my Nexus 7, which would travel with me.

Both books are good, but the second revised edition of Grimmett & Inskipp's full Birds of India (January 2012) may have been a better choice, as the Kazmierczek illustrations are too small.  In any case, I chose to leave Kazmierczek, a much heavier book, at home and carry only Birds of Northern India, lighter and more specific to the region I was going to.  I experimented with a carrying technique I once saw another birder using: I drilled a 5-mm hole through the lower left corner of the book, inserted a key ring, and attached that to a shoulder strap, so that the volume hung at my left hip. This proved to be an extremely convenient way of carrying the book: no pockets needed and instantly available.  However, a single 2-week trip left its page edges and corners seriously frayed, so it is probably not a good method for repeatedly carrying the field guide to your home territory unless you really don't care what condition it assumes.  I also scanned the Kazmierczek book and loaded it onto the Nexus 7 just in case.

Return airfare Tokyo–Delhi was US$ 965 with 4-hour transits at Bangkok in both directions.  Getting an Indian tourist visa was a lengthy process and expensive (in part because my nationality and residency are different): it took a month and cost $140.

Internet search provided a wealth of possible Delhi hotels, but the cheapest-while-still-seeming-sanitary one ($15 per night) that I first chose was irregular in answering my emails, so I leveled up to the Hotel Ajanta (one suggested by Sunil) at $40 per night and booked my four Delhi nights there.

I could also estimate city traveling expenses by using ,  a  useful website.

In reading through some 20 previous birdwatching trip reports for the area, I found that birders had two recurrent difficulties: they all got stomach sickness somewhere along the way, and they didn't bring enough warm clothing.  Therefore, I packed a couple of sets of thermal underwear, and also both a laxative and an antidiarrheal.  I did not want to carry a heavy winter coat, but layered clothing (thermal underwear, cotton shirt & jeans, wool sweater, and light lined windbreaker) worked excellently, as the temperature ranged from about 5 C at dawn to 20 C at midday.

All packed, I was carrying my 10-kg Army surplus backpack, my trusty daypack (bought at a Salvation Army recycle shop in the 1980s for 50 cents and still looking brand-new), and my spotting telescope in its case.

I arrived at Haneda Airport, Tokyo at 10 PM Tuesday, 1/29, and departed via Japan Airlines on schedule at 24:15, arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok at 5 AM (local time) Wednesday (1/30).   Free internet in the transit area allowed me to check my email.  My pre-arranged Birding Pal guide for the Sultanpur side trip had earlier had to cancel because of business, so I had planned on going it alone, but he had now found me a substitute, and so we arranged meeting time, etc.  I departed Bangkok at 9:20 AM via Indian Jet Airways and arrived in Delhi at noon.

Wednesday, 30 January

I had arranged with the Hotel Ajanta that the driver for their normal airport pickup service would instead carry me to a birding spot or two first, and then bring me round to the hotel to check in at about dusk.  The agreed fee was $28.  After baggage retrieval, customs, immigration, and money changing, I met my driver Ravi as arranged and we left the airport at about 1 PM.  Indira Gandhi International Airport is on the southwest side of Delhi, and from Milne's World Cities: Where to Watch Birds, I had chosen two locations that seemed reachable and reasonable:  in the southeast, Ohkla Bird Park and its wetlands on the Yamuna River (probably the most productive site in the city), and Asola Wildlife Reserve, a dryer habitat en route, whose list included my first chance for a new family, a woodshrike.

But now things began to go awry.  First, I was actually very tired after 16 hours of travel (I can't sleep on planes).  Second, my driver, though well-intentioned, did not know the details of reaching these rather unusual taxi destinations.  Third, the traffic was awful.  Delhi is not a city that you want to arrive in for the first time if you are tired and unfocussed: it is a madhouse*.  The result was that we did not arrive at Asola until 3 PM.  I paid the $6 entrance fee and a park ranger kindly walked me through the area of cow-grazed scrub for about an hour.  Very quiet; no woodshrike.  In fact, only about 20 species, but I did get my only Rufous-fronted Prinia of the trip here. The biggest excitement was when a large Blue Bull (Nilgai) strode into view and stared us down.

[*  Much later in my notebook, I added up all the street inhabitants that I had observed:

Vehicles: trucks, cars, buses, tuk-tuks, tractors, motorcycles, motor scooters, bicycles, rickshaws, ox carts, pony carts, camel carts, push carts and pedestrians—most of them all together.

Domesticated animals freely and familiarly wandering the streets:  cows, Brahma cattle, buffalo, horses, donkeys, burros, dromedaries, dogs, goats, sheep and pigs. (However, throughout the trip, I saw only 2 cats!)

Wild animals freely and familiarly wandering the streets:  Rhesus monkeys, black-faced langurs, mynas, house crows, Large-billed crows, house sparrows and cattle egrets.]

Although it was getting late, and against the advice of the ranger, I thought we would still try to reach the Yamuna River site, but another hour's driving through the chaotic, horn-loud traffic, new roadwork eliminating access from the route I had earlier worked out, the prospect—if we ever reached Ohkla—of having to scope directly into the setting sun, and my own growing exhaustion, all caused me to abandon the effort, and I checked into my hotel at about  6 PM, dead beat after 22 hours on the road.

The Hotel Ajanta was worn but clean and comfortable, the staff were helpful, and the hot water functioned (a key requirement among the few I have).  I had my first Indian meal in the hotel restaurant ($4), quickly checked my emails on their free internet, and went to bed.

Thursday, 31 January

My arrangement was to take a taxi at 6 AM down to Gurgaon, a southern suburb, to meet my Birding Pal, Saurobh Verma, who would then take me farther southwest to Sultanpur National Park, a wetlands reserve, arriving there at 7 AM (the first adequate light).  I generally do not eat breakfast on birding trips, so I just had a pineapple juice from the fridge, stuffed a packet of biscuits from the hospitality basket into my pocket, and took a fixed-rate taxi ($28 and far too expensive in retrospect) prearranged by the hotel for the half-hour ride.  Somehow, amid the predawn cacaphony of tuk-tuks, cows and bicycles, Saurobh found my waiting taxi at the arranged expressway exit in Gurgaon, and I transferred to his car.  The morning fog was particularly bad, and by the time we reached Sultanpur, we could barely make out the entrance gate.

Here we met my park guide, Sanjay Sharma ($45 for the day), but for the first two hours, we could only stroll the foggy park trails listening to the sounds overhead or out on the water that Sanjay identified.  Only a few passerines ventured near enough to see (a Bluethroat, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, some babblers).  Eventually the fog began to dissipate, and by 10 AM a weak sun was showing through.  Rafts of Greylag and Bar-headed Geese gradually materialized out on the water, waders in the shallows, raptors in the treetops.  By the end of the morning, I had about 90 species listed, my favorites being Great Spotted, Booted and Imperial Eagles, Painted and Black-necked Storks, and a pair of Ferruginous Ducks.

I also walked into the middle of a local argument (which is still raging in the delhibirds Yahoo group on the internet) about the identification of a shrike which is either an aberrant or extra-limital subspecies of Isabelline Shrike (the more common species) or a weakly marked Brown Shrike (the rarer species).  Having little experience with Brown Shrikes and none at all with Isabelline, all I could offer was that it was not the neat cinnamon-over, white-under Brown Shrike that I have seen in Japan.  And I am left with a tickless 'shrike sp.' on my trip list.

After a quick cup of tea—masala chai, with lots of milk and sugar—Sanjay took us outside the park to a dryer agricultural area called Basai, where he niftily found me a pair of Indian Coursers and a whole flock of Ashy-crowned Sparrow Larks.

We finished at about 4 PM, and Saurobh suggested that I take the Metro back into Delhi instead of a cab.  So instead of the $28 I paid to get out to Gurgaon, I paid only 45 cents for the train into Delhi and then 75 cents for a tuk-tuk from the Metro station to my hotel. Another learning experience.  I repeated the same evening meal in the hotel restaurant, and then, with a long drive coming up tomorrow, went early to bed.

Friday, 1 February

Departure for the foothills on the first day of my package tour had been set for 7 AM, but my eager driver, Paramjit Singh, arrived 45 minutes early, so I had to scurry to get showered and packed up.   My guide Sunil was waiting for me at Jim Corbett National Park, but only I and my driver would be passing over the 250 km of broad terai lowlands before the hills start.  There was no need for a bird guide anyway, since the first three hours were again enshrouded in a thick fog that slowed traffic to just over the speed limit and caused a major multiple-vehicle pile-up of some 25 or 30 vehicles in the opposite lane ahead of us, slowing our progress even more, because the cars behind in that lane simply crossed over to our oncoming lane in order to get past the obstruction.  As Paramjit put it, Indian drivers need 'good brakes, good luck, and a good heart'.

When the fog finally cleared a bit, I was able to add a few roadside birds in passing, including a pair of Spotted Owlets nestled in the brickwork of a farmhouse.  At 3 PM, we finally arrived at Tiger Camp, a very pleasant lodgment of a loose 'white hunter' design (think of wickerware furniture, bamboo gardens, and gin & tonics), where we met up with Sunil Kumar, my main man, and J.P. Khulbe, a local guide.  For these next 3 days, I would have a personal staff of three:  (L to R) Paramjit, J.P. and Sunil.

With not much birding time left that afternoon, we just went down to the nearby Kosi River in hopes of a quick Ibisbill.  Unfortunately, the site is also the location of the popular Garjiya Temple, perched on a steep rock midstream, and the area was crowded with visitors, so we had to settle for a Wallcreeper (my first new avian family) and pairs of Pied and Crested Kingfishers.

Back at Tiger Camp, I found a very nice male Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and a pair of roosting Collared Scops Owls among the thick bamboos .  Dinner was served at 8 PM for just me and a group of Finns (who departed the next morning, leaving me the only guest at Tiger Camp—winter is off-season for tiger watchers).  I was impressed with their finnsticks and will try to find or make one for myself soon.

Saturday, 2 February

Up at 5:30 AM and met my 3 staff at 7 AM to try the Kosi River again.  At that early hour, there were no temple tourists, and it was easy to spot the three Ibisbills that had been hanging around there: the second new bird family for me, and my 'hit bird' for the trip.  What an invigorating way to start the day! 

P.J. is a hardworking professional, and we explored several different bhabar (mid-altitude, above 500 m) locations and accumulated over 80 species, including White-rumped Vulture (at the nest), Stork-billed Kingfisher and Brown Fish Owl.  During lunch, I even found another Wallcreeper on the river bank at the foot of the Tiger Camp property.  Most birders elect to go into Jim Corbett National Park but then become frustrated when too much time is spent looking for tigers or riding an elephant, so we stayed outside the park proper.  J.P. knew many alternative sites, and we did quite well without having to enter Corbett (and pay the $20 entrance fee).

Sunday, 3 February

Toast and marsala tea has become my breakfast, as I woke up so early again, with nothing to do for an hour or so.  We met again at 7:30 AM and went to some other agricultural parts of the Ramnagar area for Crested Bunting, Citrine Wagtail, Himalayan Griffin, Cinereous Vulture, Gray-backed Shrike, and lots of Steppe Eagles.

Later we birded the periphery of Tumeria Dam, where we found a group of Sarus Cranes, plus Wooly-necked and Black Storks, and Black Ibis.  And I got to show off for a change.  Out in the middle of the reservoir rested a small mixed flock of gulls which I was able to sort and point out with the help of my awesome Swarovski telescope:  3 Pallas's Gulls, 20 Caspian Gulls, 3 Brown-headed Gulls, and 10 Black-headed Gulls.  I gained status with my hill-country guides, who do not encounter many larids.   With the birds of his region, though, J.P. is outstandingly good in the field.  Sunil does not know the bhabar so well, but he came into his own when we moved up to higher altitudes.

Monday, 4 February

This morning before breakfast I wandered down to the riverside for the pleasure of seeing the birds I now already knew: a covey of Indian Peafowl, a male and his cortege of wives pacing the far bank, the Wallcreeper working the crannies of the breakwall, several immaculate River Lapwings posing among the rocks, and a very tame Hoopoe probing the dry earth beside me.

A pair of jackals scampered across the road as we headed out for Kumeria and Saral.  With the road still quiet, we saw Sambar and Axis deer and muntjacs, and after a short distance, a male elephant hiding in the understory.  Can you see him?—

Moments later, the sharp alarm cry of a deer had J.P. stopping the car and hoping that we would get to see a tiger, too, but none appeared.  The morning gave us good forest birding, capped with an excellent view of a Chestnut-headed Tesia, but by lunchtime the weather was deteriorating, and it degenerated into a 'windy, rainy, cloudy, chilly day' (to quote my notebook).  In addition, I lost my room key, and when we returned to Tiger Camp in the afternoon, they charged me $11 to make a new one.  Later chatting with their restaurant manager, I mentioned this misfortune, and after dinner he came to my room and presented me with my lost key: a kitchen helper had found it down by the riverside that morning (where it had dropped from my pocket the first time I reached for my notebook, I suppose), but he had not bothered to return it to reception.  My $11 was refunded.

Tuesday, 5 February

Thunderstorms last night and another rainy day today.  We headed off for Pangot in the bahar foothills at an elevation of about 2000 m.  During the 3-hour drive, I finally saw a Common Woodshrike (a dozen of them, actually) and thus added my third new bird family.  But the weather worsened as we ascended, with rain, wind and fog, until we reached Nainital, when the hail set in.  With birding a lost cause, we stopped in town so that I could access an ATM and do a little souvenir shopping, but most of my time there was spent cowering under shop eaves as the hail came down in sheets.

From there we simply went to our digs, the Jungle Lore Birding Lodge, huddled around the fireplace, and dried out for the rest of the day.  A sturdy band of White-throated Laughingthrushes swept through, and some bedraggled Black-faced Langurs peered at us mournfully from the shrubbery.  Our day list was a miserable 50 species.  The rain and sleet continued unabated, the wind whistled through the cracks around the windows and under the door, and then a leopard got one of the dogs.

Sharp barking, a scuffle and howls out in the pitch black.  I lent the staff my flashlight, and then they brought the lodge's black pet onto the porch with one injured leg and a deep wound in its chest.  The puddle of blood was too much for me, so I turned in early.  Later, a staff member came by to bring me a hot water bottle and told me to lock my door.

Wednesday, 6 February

Up at 5:30 AM.  Outside, it was calm, at least.  Toast and masala tea for breakfast.  As everywhere, the staff were shocked that I do not take the proffered omelette, which seems to be the universal breakfast for foreign travellers.

In this area, we are looking for 3 pheasants in the early mornings along the mountain roads—Kalij, Koklass and Cheer—but today we got only a brief glimpse of a female Koklass Pheasant flushed from the roadside.  Later, we basked in the warm sunshine on the high open hillsides, where we could sit and watch flocks of Altai Accentors and Yellow-breasted Greenfinches and the occasional Himalayan Griffon wheel about.  At this elevation, Himalayan Bluetail (split from Red-flanked Bluetail by some) is abundant, and in the forest we added a number of other new birds to the list: Streaked, Striated and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes; Rufous-naped, Spot-winged, Green-backed and Black-lored Tits. 

In the afternoon, a light rain/hail mixture started to fall again.  When we arrived back at Jungle Lore at about 6 PM, the power was out and the propane lamps were lit.

Thursday, 7 February

Up at 5:30 again after little sleep and troubled dreams.  Much of the night was a downpour of rain, sleet and hail on the loud tin roof, with deafening thunder and lightning.  Later, I was kept on the edge of sleep by the sudden crash of large ice patches sliding off the roof.  Only one phase of the 4-phase electrical system was on (which meant that only the night-light functioned)—so no hot water, of course.

[India is a handyman's dream: nothing quite works, or works for long.  The country is in a perpetual state of disrepair, of unending unfinished projects public and private, of tent towns and temporary hovels gerry-rigged within the crumbling ruins of earlier constructions in process.]

At 6 AM, the remaining electricity phase went down, and I finished my ablutions by candlelight (a stub kindly provided on the bedside table by a prescient management), and this morning we walked up the mountain because the road was too icy for Paramjit to drive us.  That was fine with me, actually—it was a pleasant, crisp morning walk through a strange forest—but we didn't reach the Cheer Pheasant habitat (the steep, grassy, treeless sides of higher hills) until too late in the day.  Along the way, I accomplished a personal first: mistaking a bird for a mammal.  What I initially thought was a mouse in the short grass turned out to be a Striated Prinia foraging slowly  and quite un-prinia-like.

After the fog and slush of the early morning, the sun came out at 10 AM, Paramajit appeared with our car an hour later, and we had a pleasant day of it thereafter.  We returned to the lodge at 6 PM, where the power was back on but my hot water was not.  The manager and the staff troubleshooter fiddled with knobs and switches and then assured me that hot water would appear after about 20 minutes; if it did not, I was to push the call button above my bedstead and they would return.  You can guess the end of this anecdote, I'm sure: still no hot water after an hour, and pushing the buzzer brought no one.  Then I noticed the coffeemaker.

Friday, 8 February

Up half an hour early (5 AM) to boil enough water with the coffeemaker to bathe in.  It didn't take long, actually.  At 6:45, we set out up the hill for one more morning's try for the pheasants.  Going up in the predawn, we soon caught a magnificent male Kalij Pheasant in the headlights, and he did a little strut for us on the guardrail.  We also came across a Eurasian Woodcock, which was new even for Sunil's list.  Later on the way back down, we got a good look at a male Koklass Pheasant as well, but we couldn't turn the hat trick: no Cheer Pheasant appeared for all our looking.

We packed up and left Pangot at 10 AM, headed now for a slightly lower and slightly different area, Sattal, an hour or so away.  It was a beautiful, crisp morning, Paramjit was wearing his pink turban, and we had breathtaking views of the distant Himalayas along the route.  Here's one:

On the left is Trishul (7120 m), the broad central ridge comprises Mrigthuni (6855 m) and Maiktoli (6803 m), and the peak on the left is distant Nanda Devi (7816 m), the tallest mountain within India.  Mt Everest is much farther east along this Himalayan range.

En route to Sattal, we stopped in Nainital, Sunil's hometown, and found Hill Partridges, Grey-winged Blackbirds, and a Tawny Eagle virtually in his backyard.  We arrived at Sattal Birding Camp at 2 PM.  This is a local effort at eco-tourism: several large tents erected on a wooded hillside less intrusively than building construction would be.  As with all my previous accommodations, this one boasted an abundantly pillowed king-sized bed as its centerpiece (I can only suppose that Indian tourists must be lusty folk) but little else.  The shower stall had but one faucet, a clear warning.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through a different, more humid woodland than at Pangot and added some different birds to our list—Blue-throated Barbet, Black-chinned Babbler, both Golden-spectacled and Whistler's Warblers, Ashy Bulbul—as well as a pair of Yellow-throated Himalayan Martins, a very large member of that family.

Back at the Camp at 5:30 PM,  I received instruction in how to re-light the propane heater, but the better part of valour had me just leave it on.  And they would bring me a bucket of hot water at 6 AM tomorrow, they assured me.

Saturday, 9 February

At 3:30 AM, I was awakened by the pleasant bell-like double notes of a Mountain Scops Owl nearby, but I went back to sleep instead of searching him out.  At 6 AM, I got my bucket of hot water, and at 6:45 AM, we started the day with a simple stroll down the road from the Camp, where we found brilliant male Green-backed and Crimson Sunbirds, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrushes, and another male Kalij Pheasant.  Then at 8:30 AM we drove farther afield to forest around a small lake, where we added Blue-winged Minla, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, and late in the afternoon, pairs of both Grey-winged and White-collared Blackbirds.  It is difficult to describe the great pleasure of strolling through an unknown forest whose denizens are all new discoveries—a surprise at every corner makes the days very exciting and very short.

Sunday, 10 February

Today I had to say farewell to Sunil and return to Delhi with Paramjit.  We had seen some 200 species of birds during our time in the highlands, which was actually a very low count.  I enjoyed the adventure immensely, but Sunil apologized for the lack of birds, whom he thought had probably moved to lower elevations because of the unseasonable hailstorms and cold.  The original itinerary had us remaining in this area for one more morning and then heading for Delhi at mid-morning, but since the birding seemed so slow, I suggested that I leave early and have Paramjit take me instead for a couple of hours to Ohkla Bird Park, the Delhi spot I had been unable to reach on my first day in India.

So this morning, we slept in a bit, then started for Delhi at 8 AM.  An Asian Barred Owlet perched at the Camp entrance saw us off.  With little chance of new species across this stretch, we had a more leisurely drive back, and I took a few social notes.

At the expressway toll both, the toll taker gave Pararmjit a bag of potato chips in lieu of exact change, which he did not have in his drawer.   I had noticed that as eager as merchants, peddlers and ticker sellers were to get my money, they were universally slow at returning my change.  Are they hoping I will forget about it?

At an intersection, a large truck had been overloaded with sugarcane and had overturned at the roadside, two wheels in the air—yet with the general clutter of wayside shops, goods, trash heaps, vehicles, people and cows, I did not even notice the unfortunate truck until Paramjit pointed it out to me.  India is one vast rolling recycling plant, one that seems as if it has been in operation for the last two millenia.  Outside of shop windows, I saw nothing that was new: clothes, homes, cars and cows all look like they are past their expiration date.  Construction starts with a brick wall enclosing nothing...and often seems to have ended that way.  The white Cattle Egrets that strut the streets are dust-gray, and there is a patina of yellow-gray Gangetic dust upon everything.  Yet India has a wonderful scent about it, the odor of wood smoke and ghee, and an endless energy.  Unforgettable.

We reached the turn-off to Ohkla on the outskirts of Delhi at 4 PM, but the bridge leading to it was closed, so Paramjit had to find his way round to the east side of the park, where I paid the $9 entrance fee.  This fee, we soon found, applied only to the east side; there was a second (and currently inaccessible) entrance on the west side which required another fee.  This was very irritating, since that is where I was trying to get to in the first place (late afternoon viewing is decent only from the west bank of a river, as you can imagine).  Nevertheless, I managed to walk out onto a narrow embankment at the south edge of the park and find the birds I was seeking:  25 gorgeous Greater Flamingos, my fourth new bird family for the trip—oh, frabjous day!

And last before returning to the Hotel Ajanta, I asked Paramjit to take me to a tea shop so that I could pick up some packaged tea as a gift.  He took me to a multistory handicraft mart whose staff insisted on leading me the length of every department—textiles, paintings, brassware, saris, woodcarvings—and urging me to shop generously in each— before I safely reached the third-floor tea corner.  The Indian sales pitch is unrelenting, and is very enervating after a few days of inundation.  (Yes, I ended up buying more than I went in for.)

I said goodbye to Paramjit (with a $40 tip for his ten days of enthusiastic service) back at the Hotel Ajanta at 7 PM.  I caught up on my email, had the same dinner but with an illegal Kingfisher this time in the rooftop restaurant (where only about three stars are visible above the night glow of Delhi), and turned in.  Tomorrow at 7 AM, I would leave for Bharatpur and Agra on my 2-day Taj Mahal package.

Monday, 11 February

Some confusion, but after a couple of phone calls to the agency manager, my driver Ratesh picked me up over an hour late (at 8:15 AM).  I was up and checking out at 6:30, during which process I managed to input my PIN for Visa payment three times incorrectly, and my credit card access was cancelled.  Oh dear. I had thought my cash expenditures were almost over for this trip, so I had only about 3000 rupees left...2500 of which I now had to use to pay my hotel tab.

Ratesh was typically helpful, however, and he soon found me a roadside money changer whose rates were not too off the mark, and I changed another 10,000 yen into rupees at 2 for 1.  Not much in the way of birding excitement on the 4-hour drive down to Bharatpur, but I was looking forward to Keoladeo National Park, a famous wetland whose recovery from drought over the past couple of years has been quite miraculous, it had been reported.  Ravesh needed to stop briefly for paperwork at the state border between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and he warned me to keep the windows closed: a deluge of vendors descended upon the car—snacks, brochures, souvenirs, and leashed rhesus monkeys doing tricks.

We arrived at Keoladeo in the early afternoon, which gave me about three hours to explore some of the park before we needed to continue on to Agra; I was planning then to return here tomorrow morning on the way back from Agra to Delhi, as the park was very large.  Many birders remain for days in the park lodge, but I simply did not have the time, so I just wanted a quick look.  I shall not likely return to India, after all.

I paid the $7 entrance fee and then in the spirit of efficiency took on a park guide at $3 per hour.  He was as much a frustration as a help, however. After I managed to stifle his boilerplate spiel, he spent most of the rest of our walk hinting about his gratuity and was little help in identification (once calling a Common Myna an Indian Cuckoo).  He did take me to the established Dusky Eagle Owl nest, though, which I would have been unable to find on my own.  There was little else to see at this time of day.

Our drive on to Agra was uneventful, and the Hotel Amar, a 3-star hotel, was much the best I had stayed in.  The staff were uniformed and rather stuffy. Irrespective, I follow my usual sere routine: curry dinner in the hotel restaurant ($9!), email check, and to bed.

Tuesday, 12 February

Ratesh picked me up at 8 AM for the short drive to the Taj Mahal.  The parking lot was almost one kilometer from the Taj, so I had to run the gauntlet (since I didn't want to hire a rickshaw) of importunate vendors again, and here worse than elsewhere.  The entrance fee was $14 (750 rupees), and even at this world heritage site the ticket seller complained that he had no change for my 1000-rupee bill...then managed to find it in the bottom of his drawer.

But it was all worth it.  Inside the gates, it ws calm and quiet, and the Taj Mahal and its grounds were truly magnificent.  I am not a great one for visiting manmade artifacts, but I am very glad I did not pass the Taj by. It was breath-taking.

The next morning I had to leave India, and I decided that I just did not have the impetus to detour via Bharatpur again, so I told Ratesh we would simply return directly to Delhi from here, giving us a leisurely drive back.  A few kilometers north of Agra, I noticed a sign for 'Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary', which I had neither heard of nor planned for, but we had time to stop off here, so I paid the fees ($6.50 for me, $.50 for Ratesh, $1.85 for the car).  It comprised a pleasant lake surrounded by woodland, and although we saw only Black-bellied Terns new to the trip list, we took time to have our morning masala tea (13 cents) at the park shop.

Back in Delhi at 4:30 PM, I checked into the more basic Hotel Surya ($28), ordered fried rice and tea from room service, and spent the rest of the evening watching Indian TV and polishing off my trip notes.

Wednesday, 13 February.

Nine o'clock taxi to IGI Airport driven by a wannabe Bollywood star who played loud Indian pop music and sang along with it all the way.

Oh, well—a good a way as any to say goodbye to Incredible India!


TRIP COSTS:—15 days in India:

Indian visa: $135
10-day package tour: $2500
2-day package tour: $200
Other accommodations & meals: $191
Airfare: $958
Other transportation: $64
Entrance fees: $55
Local guides:  $65
Tips & gratuities: $163
Gifts & souvenirs: $161
Other expenses (laundry, internet): $10
TOTAL:  $4500 

PS:  There are more photos at


Accentor, Altai (Rufous-streaked)

Avadavat, Red

Babbler, Black-chinned

Babbler, Common

Babbler, Jungle

Babbler, Large Grey

Babbler, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-

Babbler, White-browed (Pied) Shrike-

Barbet, Blue-throated

Barbet, Coppersmith

Barbet, Great

Barbet, Lineated

Bittern, Black

Blackbird, Grey-winged

Blackbird, White-collared

Bluetail, Himalayan (split from R-f Bluetail)


Bulbul, Ashy

Bulbul, Black

Bulbul, Himalayan (White-cheeked)

Bulbul, Mountain

Bulbul, Red-vented

Bulbul, Red-whiskered

Bulbul, White-eared

Bunting, Crested

Bunting, Rock

Bunting, White-capped

Bushchat, Grey

Bushchat, Pied

Bushlark, Indian

Buzzard, Common

Chiffchaff, Common

Coot, Common (Eurasian)

Cormorant, Great

Cormorant, Indian

Cormorant, Little

Coucal, Greater

Courser, Indian

Crane, Sarus

Crow, House

Crow, Large-billed (Jungle)

Cuckooshrike, Large

Darter, (Oriental)

Dipper, Brown

Dove, (Common) Emerald

Dove, Eurasian Collared

Dove, Laughing

Dove, Oriental Turtle

Dove, Red Collared (Turtle)

Dove, Spotted (Turtle)

Drongo, Black

Drongo, Bronzed

Drongo, Lesser Racket-tailed

Drongo, Spangled (Hair-crested)

Duck, Comb (Knob-billed)

Duck, Lesser Whistling-

Duck,(Indian) Spot-billed

Duck, Tufted

Eagle, Booted

Eagle, Changeable Hawk-

Eagle, Crested Serpent-

Eagle, Golden

Eagle, Greater Spotted

Eagle, Imperial

Eagle, Steppe

Eagle, Tawny

Egret, (Eastern) Cattle

Egret, Great

Egret, Intermediate

Egret, Little

Falcon, Peregrine

Falconet, Collared

Fantail, White-browed

Fantail, White-throated

Fantail, Yellow-bellied

Flameback, Black-rumped

Flameback, Himalayan

Flamingo, Greater

Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-

Flycatcher, Red-throated (-breasted)

Flycatcher, Rufous-gorgeted

Flycatcher, Slaty-blue

Flycatcher, Tickell's Blue

Forktail, Spotted

Francolin, Black

Francolin, Grey


Godwit, Black-tailed

Goose, Bar-headed

Goose, Greylag

Grebe, Great Crested

Grebe, Little

Greenfinch, Yellow-breasted (Himalayan)

Greenshank, Common

Griffon, Himalayan

Gull, Black-headed

Gull, Brown-headed (Indian Black-headed)

Gull, Caspian (Yellow-legged)

Gull, Pallas's (Great Black-headed)

Harrier, Eurasian (Western) Marsh

Heron, Grey

Heron, Indian Pond

Heron, Purple

Hoopoe, Common (Eurasian)

Hornbill, Indian Grey

Ibis, Black (Red-naped)

Ibis, Black-headed


Iora, Common

Jacana, Bronze-winged

Jay, Black-headed

Jay, Eurasian

Junglefowl, Red

Kestrel, Common (Eurasian)

Kingfisher, Common

Kingfisher, Crested

Kingfisher, Pied

Kingfisher, Stork-billed

Kingfisher, White-throated (breasted)

Kite, Black & Black-eared

Kite, Black-shouldered (-winged)

Kite, Brahminy

Lapwing, Red-wattled

Lapwing, River

Lapwing, White-tailed

Lapwing, Yellow-wattled

Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-

Lark, Crested

Lark, Greater Short-toed

Laughingthrush, Chestnut-crowned

Laughingthrush, Rufous-chinned

Laughingthrush, Streaked

Laughingthrush, Striated

Laughingthrush, White-crested

Laughingthrush, White-throated

Leafbird, Orange-bellied

Leiothrix, Red-billed

Magpie, Red-billed Blue


Martin, Eurasian Crag

Martin, Nepal House

Martin, Plain (Brown/Grey-throated)

Minivet, Long-tailed

Minivet, Small

Minla, Blue-winged

Moorhen, Common

Munia, Scaly-breasted (Nutmeg Mannikin)

Myna, Bank

Myna, Common

Myna, Jungle

Niltava, Rufous-bellied

Niltava, Small

Nuthatch, Chestnut-bellied

Nuthatch, Velvet-fronted

Nuthatch, White-tailed

Oriole, Black-hooded

Oriole, Maroon

Osprey, (Western)

Owl, Brown Fish

Owl, Collared (Indian) Scops

Owl, Dusky Eagle-

Owl, Mountain Scops

Owlet, Asian Barred

Owlet, Spotted

Parakeet, Alexandrine

Parakeet, Plum-headed

Parakeet, Red-breasted

Parakeet, Rose-ringed

Parakeet, Slaty-headed

Partridge, Hill

Peafowl, Indian

Pelican, Great White

Pheasant, Kalij

Pheasant, Koklass

Pigeon, Pin-tailed Green

Pigeon, Rock

Pigeon, Yellow-footed Green

Pintail, Northern

Pipit, Paddyfield

Pipit, Rosy

Pipit, Tawny

Pipit, Tree

Plover, Little Ringed

Pochard, Common

Pochard, Ferruginous

Pochard, Red-crested

Prinia, Ashy

Prinia, Grey-breasted

Prinia, Plain

Prinia, Rufous-fronted

Prinia, Striated

Prinia, Yellow-bellied

Raven, Common

Redshank, Common

Redstart, Black

Redstart, Blue-capped

Redstart, Blue-fronted

Redstart, Plumbeous Water

Redstart, White-capped Water

Robin, Indian

Robin, Oriental Magpie-

Rockchat, Brown

Roller, Indian

Rosefinch, Common

Rubythroat, Siberian


Sandpiper, Common

Sandpiper, Green

Sandpiper, Wood

Shelduck, Ruddy (Brahminy Duck)


Shoveler, Northern

Shrike, Bar-winged Flycatcher-

Shrike, Bay-backed

Shrike, Grey-backed

Shrike, Long-tailed

Shrike, Rufous-tailed (Isabelline)

Sibia, Rufous

Silverbill, Indian (White-throated Munia)

Snipe, Common

Sparrow, House

Sparrow, Russet

Sparrow, Sind

Sparrowhawk, Eurasian

Spoonbill, Eurasian

Starling, Asian Pied (Pied Myna)

Starling, Brahminy

Starling, Common (Eurasian)

Stilt, Black-winged

Stint, Temminck's

Stonechat, Common (Siberian)

Stork, Asian Open-bill

Stork, Black

Stork, Black-necked

Stork, Painted

Stork, Woolly-necked

Sunbird, Crimson

Sunbird, Green-tailed

Swallow, Barn

Swallow, Red-rumped

Swamphen, Purple

Swift, Fork-tailed (Pacific)

Swift, House (Little)

Tailorbird, Common

Teal, Common (Eurasian)

Tern, Black-bellied

Tesia, Chestnut-headed

Thrush, Blue Whistling

Thrush, Chestnut-bellied Rock

Thrush, Long-billed

Thrush, Plain-backed

Tit, (Himalayan) Black-lored

Tit, Black-throated (Bush-)

Tit, Great

Tit, Green-backed

Tit, Rufous-naped

Tit, Spot-winged

Tit, Yellow-browed

Treecreeper, Bar-tailed

Treepie, Grey

Treepie, Rufous

Vulture, Cinereous (Black)

Vulture, Egyptian

Vulture, White-rumped

Wagtail, Citrine

Wagtail, Grey

Wagtail, White

Wagtail, White-browed

Wagtail, (Western) Yellow


Warbler, Black-faced

Warbler, Blyth's Reed

Warbler, Brooks's Leaf

Warbler, Buff-barred

Warbler, Golden-spectacled (Green-crowned)

Warbler, Greenish

Warbler, Grey-hooded

Warbler, Grey-sided Bush

Warbler, Hume's

Warbler, Lemon-rumped

Warbler, Smoky

Warbler, Whistler's

Waterhen, White-breasted

White-eye, Oriental

Whitethroat, Lesser

Wigeon, Eurasian

Woodcock, Eurasian

Woodpecker, Brown-capped Pygmy

Woodpecker, Brown-fronted

Woodpecker, Fulvous-breasted

Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy

Woodpecker, Grey-headed

Woodpecker, Himalayan

Woodpecker, Rufous-bellied

Woodpecker, Yellow-crowned

Woodshrike, Common

Yellownape, Greater

Yellownape, Lesser


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