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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
North-West India, November 17th - December 8th 2001,
Last November seven Dutch birders went to Northwestern India. These were Bart and Dennis Bos, Alma Leegwater, Timo Marijnissen, Mario Renden, Rob Struyk and Pierre van der Wielen) so in total seven persons. Because only three of us had birding India (or even Asia) before, we decided to make it a not too extensive trip and visited only three mayor area's: Bharatpur, Corbett and Pangot near Nainital.
Bharatpur is a quite big marsh (29 square km's) in the lowlands, Corbett is in the lower foothills at 700-1200 m and Nainital is a former British hillstation at about 2000 m. We stayed at Pangot, about 15 km from Nainital at the same altitude. This way we could cover the various altitudes between 300 and 2600 m without too much effort.
Our route gave us 5 to 7 days at every site. This may seem long compared with the regular itineraries for this region but it gave us plenty of time to get good views of most of the species and enough time to search for the harder to find goodies. And it left some time for daytrips to monuments as the Taj Mahal at Agra and the red town of Fatehpur Sikri (both well wortha a visit, even as a birder!). Looking back I would've skipped one day at Bharatpur to visit the quite new Chambal River NP. This would have given us a realistic chance for Indian Skimmer. This species, together with Indian Courser, were our most important dips. Together we saw just over 400 species of wich I saw about 395 myself.
We arrived at Delhi airport on the (very) early morning of November 18th. After passing customs and changing money we met our driver. We'd rented a large van with driver for the whole period through a local company, Asian Adventures (recommended!). We left immediatly for the Yamuna river at Okhla, directly east of Delhi. This is a wide, slow flowing river with large sandbanks and marshes. The area can be birded from roads on both sides on the river and tracks going onto some of the spits. We stayed here for about 2 hours before we went for breakfast in a nearby restaurant. Best birds in these 2 hours were: red avadavat, loads of citrine wagtails, greater spotted eagle, common hawk cuckoo, grey francolin, greater scaup, little cormorant, river tern, openbill stork, striated babbler, yellow-legged gull (cachinnans), the regular herons and egrets and much more. After breakfast we went to the other side of the river where we found more mudflats with lots of waders including white-tailed lapwings, ruff and marsh sandpiper. Storks like painted, woolly-necked and painted fed amongst the herons and in the scrub and cut reeds we found rosy pipit, yellow-eyed babbler, long-tailed shrike, bluethroat, brown crake and a new subspecies of white wagtail for us.
We then entered the van for the long drive towards Sultanpur, a reserve on the north west side of Delhi. We did not make it before dark because our driver got lost for some time on the way and we also visited a newly discovered marsh just before Sultanpur. This area, Basai, was found this spring by Delhi based birder Bill Harvey who supplied good directions to the site. It's a quite large marsh wich is difficult to enter but can birded from it's edges. Also the ricepaddies and dry stubble around it proved very nice for birding. We saw not much new birds here but the variation was excellent: brown, southern grey and isabelline shrikes (2 subspecies), really amazing views of barred buttonquail, greater flamingo, jack snipe, black-headed bunting, sand martin, sarus crane and oriental skylark. Funny was a southern grey shrike wich made a serious attempt to take an eurasian collared dove. Nice try but the dove 'only' lost a lot of his feathers and escaped.
Dawn saw us in the open woodland around our hotel where we searched till breakfast. Not much seen: Indian grey hornbill, brown-headed barbet, coppersmit, common woodshrike, long-tailed minivet and various forms of black redstart and white wagtails. We started birding in the reserve proper just after it opened at 8. First dissappointment was that the lake was almost dry. For three years now the rains have been very poor and the lake is just a mere shadow of what it used to be. Birdnumbers and variety were very low and although we walked the whole track which circles the place, we did not see very much. Best birds were bay-backed shrike, bonelli's eagle, long-billed pipit, golden-crowned woodpecker and olive-backed pipit.
Late morning we left for Bharatpur, a long and dusty ride through mostly agricultural landscapes. We did not see many birds besides the common roadside thrash: cattle egrets, greater coucals, white-breasted kingfishers, black kite, long-tailed shrike, house crow, red-wattled lapwing, common and bank myna's and rose-ringed parakeets. A short stop yielded common babbler and sarus cranes. Just after dark we arrived at our hotel, Sunbird, wich is less as 500 meter from the entrance to the reserve. We were to stay here for six days. We spend most of these days in the reserve with daytrips to Bund Bareta, Agra and a lake North of the city and a half day trip to Fatehpur Sikri.
Nov 20 and 21
Both days were spend in the reserve. The first day we walked over 10 km, first the western side wich held most of the remaining water and then towards the temple and lake Mansovar (spelling?) area in the south. This took whole day and from the temple we took riksha's to get out of the place before dark. The second day we hired bikes and cycled the main road to the temple, went left around the big lake (meadow....) and straight through the dry grasslands to the southernmost point of the reserve.
This year, the third year in a row, the rains were very poor. It stopped raining halfway August instead of October. Now with this lack of water the local goverment had to choose between the tourist attraction (and bird reserve) Bharathpur or their agricultural population. In former years (I was told) they'd split the watersupply in half, this year most of it went to the ricepaddies and other crops. Can't blame them but kept wondering what would generate the most money for the population, the income by tourists or the local agriculture?
Anyway, the result is that there is not a lot of water in Bharatpur now. Reading through old reports mentioning flocks of hundreds or even thousands of pelicans, it is a sad sight not to find a single lake which contains enough water to support a flock of 10 pelicans! So much for my chances of seeing dalmation pelican. During our week there we saw two flocks of pelicans wich both circled around for some time and then left. Also the normal inaccessable stork- and egret colonies on islands are now on low hills within meadows. Maybe this is also why we did not see a single juvenile sarus crane. Could the jackals and hyana's be responsible for this now they can get in the normal wet area's? I am glad we went early in the season as I'm wondering how much water will remain after a few weeks in the dry (and hot!) season.
Despite the lack of water most of the hoped for species were present but in much lower numbers as usual. It is really stunning to cross a forest to arrive at a lake crammed with storks (including the huge black-necked), egrets, ducks (including ferruginous pochard, red-crested pochard, cotton pygmy goose), bar-headed geese, cormorants, darters, waders and with good numbers of eagles and lower numbers of smaller raptors around. At times it seemed that the most common raptor is the threatened greater spotted eagle! These first two days we saw over 200 species but some of the highlights were imperial, steppe, tawny, bonelli's, greater spotted, lesser spotted, short-toed and crested serpent eagles, collared scops owl, black and yellow bitterns, peafowl, sirkeer malkoha, red-headed vulture, Indian nightjar and Siberian rubythroat. But *the* reason for our visit were the two adult Siberian cranes wich showed extremely well. These two birds are probably the last remaining birds of their population. One of only three.
Today we visited Bund Bareta, a large lake about 50 km from Bharathpur. We were joined by Rattan Sign a local birdguide for Asian adventures. This time he was hired nor for birding but to show our drivers the route to the lake. Still he managed to surprise us on our way in when he spotted something in a wet meadow. A small stone at the right place yielded our only painted snipe of the trip!
The lake itself is supposed to be a good spot for skimmer and great thicknee but we found neither. On the huge lake we saw some ducks, great crested grebe, osprey, white-browed wagtail, dusky crag martin and greater flamingo. The drive/walk towards the hill with a palace was better with our other target the jungle bush quail of wich we surprised a small convoy besides our track. Otherwise it was hot and dusty and very quiet in the scrub. Only near the end we managed to find some more interesting stuff such as grey bushchat, white-capped bunting and a collared scops owl.
Early morning saw us in Bharathpur again but this time with a guide. After two days of birding on our own here, someone with more knowledge of the area was needed to fill in some gaps on our lists. We started at the nursery where we found grey nightjars, chestnut-bellied nuthatch, yellow-footed pigeon, orange-headed thrush, ashy drongo and fleeting glimpses of two dusky eagle owls. Next was an area with dry scrub where tickel's thrush was our target. Unfortunatly this dullest of thrushes did not cooperate but we did see rock python, stone curlew, white-bellied drongo and some minivets. The forest to the south of here was older and denser and yielded several dusky eagle owls and a large-tailed nightjar. Our last forest target, marshall's iora was nowhere to be found so it was time to leave the forest and enter the drier area's and the lakes. Only noteworthy species here was a white-eyed buzzard. We then left the reserve and checked the agricultural land to the south and west of the boundary wall. This was surprisinly good and yielded some species high on the wantedlists of some of us: pallid harrier, red-necked falcon, rufous-fronted prinia, black-breasted weaver, ashy-crowned sparrowlark, desert wheatear, spanish sparrow, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse and a large cobra!
We left a bit later as usual as we would visit the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri today. The Taj is of course well known and is absolutely worth a visit. This white marble mauseleum is a unbelievable sight! Even for the obsessed birder this is well worth a visit as it's an easy spot to see river lapwing. Next planned stop was the ruins of Fatehpur Sikri but reading in a book we found out about a lake north of Agra wich often helds two species of pelicans. So we decided on a small detour.....
When arriving at the lake we found it complety filled with waterhyacint and devoid of birds. Still large flocks of geese and cranes few over us and also black-necked stork was seen here. There had to be another lake! Our driver drove us to a small temple where the monks told us there was no lake but only fields and a river. Okay, then to the river! This took lots of time as there was no trail but when we finally got there, it was well worth the effort: river and black-bellied terns were on show, we found curlews, black francolins, yellow-legged gull, etc. Oh, on our way to the Taj we found our first black ibis of the trip.
By now it was too late to visit Fatehpur Sikri and decided to go 'home'.
At dawn we were at Bharatpur again but saw nothing new or worth mentioning. After lunch we decided to go to Fatehpur Sikri. A good decision as this town is really very nice. The buildings are made of red sandstone and are very beautifull in the sunlight. Also the combination of moslim and hindu buildingstyles is very special. In my opion maybe even better then the Taj.
This was a travelday as we had to cover about 500 km. In India this means over 15 hours in a car! A long boring drive with not much to report. We had short stops at Okhla with streaked weaver as a tick and curlew sandpiper new for the trip list. There was also an unidentified sandplover. Unfortunatly we'd left our scopes at the van but the jizz was very like lesser sandplover. Both this bird and the alternative (greater sandplover) are supposed to be rare in the area. At the Gangescrossing we saw greater black-headed gull and a river further on was almost filled with waders. There were thousands of black-necked stilts, redshanks and ruff and lower numbers of other waders including our only northern lapwing of the trip.We arrived way after dark at our new base, Tiger Camps near Ramnagar.
At six we left to the western part of the Corbett NP. This part is the lowest area of the reserve and holds some subtropical forestspecies wich cannot be seen higher up. Our main target there was great hornbill. The first part of the drive was through the town of Ramnagar and an agricultural area. Birding here was slow of course but this changed the moment we entered a rougher area. Here we saw jungle and spotted owlets on overhead wires and found a good feeding flock in a teak-plantation. In this flock we found (a.o.) tickell's flycatcher, brown-headed and blue-throated barbets, himalayan bulbul, scarlet minivet, bar-winged cuckoo-shrike and many more. On entering the park we were welcomed by an overhead spotted owlet and a big but very spread out feedingflock. Birding was difficult as the flock was distributed from groundlevel to the upper canopy. We only managed to see part of it but found lemon-rumped warbler, velvet-fronted nuthatch, grey-capped pygmy-woodpecker, grey-flanked bushwarbler, grey-hooded warbler, chestnut-bellied nuthatch and white-browed fantail. Almost all lifers! Further along the track we found tigerprints all over.
The forest got higher and denser here and we soon found nice birds like greater flameback, great cuckoo-shrike, changable hawkeagle, oriental pied hornbill, streak-throated woodpecker, orange-bellied leafbird before we entered an area of open grasland surrounded by forest. This place was a bit empty but very pretty to see. Only noteworthy birds were grey-breasted prinia, grey bushchat and red-headed vulture. The forest was slow and we missed the hornbill!
Too early we left the reserve and drove back to our lodge but we did not get far; soon we spotted some vultures. As the population of most off the Gyps vultures has been all but wiped out by a still unknown disease we were glad to see they were all Gyps. The first few were griffons and Himalayan griffons but there was also a very probably long-billed. Unfortunatly I could not see it well enough as it would have been a good lifer for me having seen the southern counterpart in Goa (recently split). A bit further on some more vultures filled the sky and here we got lucky with an adult white-backed vulture. Also seen were besra and several steppe eagles.
After lunch we left towards the Kosi River wich runs close to town. This is maybe the best known place in the world to see ibisbill. This bizarre wader winters here and the first one had arrived only a few days before. Knowing that this river is very wide, long and filled with bigg boulders the size and colour of the bird, we were not in for an easy task! The moment we alighted from our van we spotted plumbeous waterredstart and white-capped redstart at the sluices and a wallcreeper flew by. You could say a good start..... Soon we started walking the boulders scanning ahead. We found commoner birds like temmink's stint, ruddy shellduck, the regular kingfishers and various subspecies of white wagtail. Nice were the crested kingfishers and 4 great thicknee wich we surprised on the bank. Soon we came to a spot were we had the scramble up a bank or wade through the river as there was no easy way to continue. Most of us opted to stay there in the hope the bird would fly by but Bart, Dennis and I continued up the slope and found a rough trail that followed the river for a while. Further we could get down to the river again and started scanning again. And there we got lucky as suddenly the bird popped up in my bins! We studied it at lenght while we tried to get the attention of the others by waving and whistling. Soon we all got togther and enjoyed superb views of this spectaculair bird. Two flocks of 10 and 19 black storks passing over only got short looks. That night the beer went down very smoothly!
These two days were spent within the park with the night at Dikhala. We left very early in the cold and arrived too early at the gate. There the usual red tape took quite some time but as there were birds around, no one complained. We found greater and lesser yellownapes, a mystery bird wich, despite perfect views for 10 minutes, could not be identified and then our first chital (deer). Soon we entered the reserve and from then on all our birding had to be done from the jeep. Because of the high population of tiger here, one is not allowed to walk or get out of your vehicle. Difficult birding but we did fine. On our way to Dikhala (35 km) through a bit boring, very uniform, salforest, we saw loads of birds a.o. Himalayan flameback, rufous woodpecker, pallas's fisheagle, grey-rumped treeswift, white-rumped needletail, slaty-headed parakeet, rufous-bellied eagle, oriental pied and indian grey hornbills, collared falconet, red-headed vulture, fulvous-breasted woodpecker and black stork. Other critters seen included gharial and muggercrocodiles. Arriving at Dikhala saw us in a very different habitat; a huge reservoir with large area's of high grass around it. After the formalities and dumping our bags in our rooms we started birding. In creeks and small ponds in the grassland we saw lots of egrets and storks like black-necked, black and woolly-necked storks. Overhead we saw imperial eagle, mountain hawk eagle, hen harrier and cinereous vulture but our most surprising sighting was a wallcreeper flapping by! Small birds were scarce and nothing noteworthy was seen till we left for our afternoon elephanttrip through the grasslands. These trips are mostly for gameviewing and hopes were high because a tiger had taken a sambardeer that morning. Birdwise these trips are not that good. These huge animals move very smoothly but in a way that makes following birds with your bins impossible. During the drive we saw no tiger nor wild elephants but plenty of deer. Birding was quite nice with black francolin, more hen harriers, pallas's fisheagle, rosy pipit and a local rarity there, a little bunting. Just after dusk we got back to the camp.
Next morning we awoke in dense fog so we could forget about our chances for the other species of fishing-eagles or tiger in the graslands. We started with a walk to the birdtower just east of the compound. No use birding from the tower because of the fog but the walk towards it was quite good: bright-headed cisticola, chestnut-eared and crested buntings, dusky warbler and a few very spectaculair Himalayan rubythroats. Then we packed our bags and left the camp towards our lodge. This trip lasted the rest of the day with frequent stops along the way. Birding was fine with some specials. Birds seen included red junglefowl, green-billed malkoha, brown fish-owl (good view!), river lapwing, great slaty woodpecker and most of the birds seen on our way in. Along a river we found both crocodilespecies and a eurasian riverotter. A very welcome sight as they are extinct in The Netherlands and not easy to see in countries around us. But the best was yet to come. At the moment that our hope was almost gone, just a few miles before the gate, I suddenly saw a magnificent tiger crossing the dry riverbed in front of us. It then went into the forest where it stayed a while (according to alarmcalls of the langurmonkeys) before it went up the hill. Although less then 10 seconds one of our best sightings of the trip! All but one of us saw it. Mario felt quite miserable and was sleeping when I called 'tiger'. A pity as we would not see another one.
This days destination was the area around Kumeria. This area is only discovered a few years ago and does not attract a lot of visitors yet. It should as there are beautifull forests above the Kosi River and several creeks emptying in this river wich are very good for forktails and the like. We started our walk along one of these creeks, in fact the only one wich held some water. We followed its course for about 1,5 km crossing it several times. Within the high forest we found spotted (wow!!!) and little forktails, chestnut-bellied rockthrush, black-headed oriole, green magpie, spot-throated babbler, red-billed blue magpie and white-throated fantail. An other regular species, tawny fishowl, could not be found although we tried hard for it. After entering more open woodland and dense scrub the birds changed and we found lots of different birds like verditer flycatcher, rufous-bellied niltava, grey-headed woodpecker, white-crested laughingthrush, yellow-bellied fantail and most of the regular flock species. On our way back we were surprised by 2 flyover great hornbills. Huge. Unfortunatly Dennis and my girlfriend were already on their way back and missed them. Luckily Alma has seen them before in Thailand but Dennis would only hear them the next day. After lunch we tried the riverbed of the Kosiriver wich is well known for brown dipper. We soon located the righ spot just beyond the Quality Inn hotel and took the track down (nope, there is no need to lunch there, just follow the road past the gate, this will end at the riverbed!). During the 2 hours we stayed here we found birds like small niltava, 4 brown dipper, himalyan griffon, ashy bulbul, 2 wallcreepers and spotted forktail.
This day we left Corbett NP towards Nainital and Pangot. The drive took about 4 hours with stops. Only birds of note were black bulbuls, plain-billed flowerpecker and heardonly great hornbills, Himalayan griffons and steppe eagles. At the Jungle Lore Birding Lodge at Pangot we were welcomed by Mohit, the owner of Asian Adventures. We arranged the itinerary for the next days with him, had lunch and started birding here. One problem was that by now most of our group had picked up some bacteria somewhere and had diarrhee now for up to 3 days. Not a big problem as we felt quite good with the exception of one of us. Mohit arranged special food for him and together with the cook we decided on western style food with not too much spices to calm down our stomachs a bit. He also arranged a local doctor to visit us in the evening. Birding in the forest below the lodge was okay with grey-backed shrike, yellow-browed, spot-winged and black-throated tits, blue-capped and blue-fronted redstarts, brown-fronted woodpecker, bar-tailed creeper, buff-barred warblers (new for the list there), black-headed jay, striated prinia and white-tailed nuthatches. Some of us went owling that night but only got mountain scops owl.
We left a bit later as usual and took a jeep towards the trailhead along the Killbury Road. This road traverses a huge, quite good looking forest. The forest is quite varied in both species of trees as in abundance of undergrowth. We first followed the trail up to the foreststation. As the sun was still behind the mountains, birdactivity was low till we found a very big flock. We stayed with this flock for over 40 minutes and still I do not think that we found most of it: rufous-bellied woodpecker, spot-winged tit, black-throated tit, rufous sibia (great!), green-tailed sunbird, buff-barred warbler, eurasian treecreeper, white-tailed nuthatch, fulvous-breasted and brown-fronted woodpeckers and more. At the foreststation we found a viewpoint with excellent views of the mighty Himalaya further north including India's highest mountain, the Nandi Devi wich reaches over 7800 meter!
We had our breakfast at the viewpoint. Besides the regular warblers, tits and creepers we did not find much there till we started wandering around a bit. Scratching of leaves brought me to a small sidetrail where I found 2 common hill partridges. But now I had a problem, how to get the attention of the others without disturbing the birds? Whistling or yelling did not seem too smart so I opted to wait till one of my friends saw me. This took quite long and when the birds started to walk down slowly (after giving great views) I quietly called the nearest guy who collected the rest so they all had some views of these partridges.
From there we took the trail that plunges down in the forest. Soon Timo found a thrush high up in a pine and we ID'd it as a white-collared thrush. A good tick but a bit dissapointing as it was a female. Moving forward we found more and more thrushes but they proved very hard to see as they hid high up in dense pines and ceders. We found several more white-collared thrushes, including males now, and even better, some chestnut thrushes. There could have been more species within the flock but as the birds frooze after landing in the tree, we failed to find any.
The rest of the walk down towards the lodge was not very inspiring but a small flock of kalij pheasants high up in a tree was nice although only two of us got good views. Back at the lodge we had lunch and saw a few of the regular species. Late afternoon was spend at the hill behind the village. The first part was almost devoid of birds but higher up we found a slow moving group of birds wich included the stunning white-browed shrike-babblers. A good looking bird wich needed some time before we all saw it. In the same flock I was the only one lucky enough to spot a grey-crested tit. Still higher up we flushed some thrushlike birds wich landed close by and then completey dissappeared in the ferns. We tried to flush them but only got fleeting glimpses untill one finally gave up and showed a few seconds. Only then we realised that they were not real thrushes but chestnut-crowned laughing-thrushes. During the search a scimitar-babbler flew by and started calling in dense brush nearby. Even although we waited a long time and played the available tapes, the bird did not cooperate. As dusk approached we had to leave this birds for another day.
Next morning we started the long walk towards Cheena Peak, the highest point near Nainital. This walk is supposed to be the best site to see the cheer pheasant. But, because of our lack of communication with our guide (who spoke about 5 words English), we left too late to have a realistic chance to get this species. This we only learned after walking the trail for a few hours..... Birding was very, very slow and in the first 5 km we only had one flock. This flock contained most of the now regular birds and one tick, the Himalayan spotted woodpecker.
At the top of the peak we found a large flock of Altai accentors, crag martins and a flyover black eagle. The walk back to the lodge was as dull as the way up with only one noteworthy bird: a female red-flanked bluetail. This beautifull bird was seen by only three of us, cause of much chagrin by the others. This did not improve much as we also found a scaly thrush....
Today was planned as a quite easy day with several short walks around the town of Nainital. We did not get there very fast as just outside the village Alma started yelling that she saw some pheasants. In a tree we then admired 4 kalij pheasants for awhile. Within 2 km Alma stopped the bus again but this time the bird was even better: a fine male koklass pheasant! This spectaculair bird fed a few moments along the roadside and then dissappeared in the slope below us. Wow, what a bird! Our first walk near town was up, towards the high fields. We had to take a very steep trail wich ended at a small ridge. But no fields to be found or it must have been the flat area wich was completely build over? Kids were playing with kites and there were not too many birds to be found. Still, at a small pocket of poplars we saw some striated laughing- thrushes and a splendid male red-flanked bluetail, a bird of wich we we would see many others that and the following days. The walk back to the van was pretty but quite birdless. The only good bird was a flyover lammergeyer, new for all the youngsters.
Next stop was the big parking lot besides the cricketfield. From here we started a walk along the forested side of the big lake. At first we doubted the area would yield any bird but suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a good flock with several good birds: red-flanked bluetails, mountain bulbul, blue-capped redstarts, black-throated thrush, grey-winged blackbird, kingfisher, blue-fronted redstart and striated heron. Overhead we saw steppe eagle and black kite amongst the regular vultures.
Next stop was an idea of our guide and was in the forest to the right of the barrier were you enter town. We started the walk here but went back soon as it was the same kind of forest that we had found almost birdless the days before. Here we tried to talk some sense in the guide and told him, again, that we wanted to visit some area's with scrub or fields to look for buntings, accentors and the like. This took some time and as it was quite late already we dicided to walk back towards the barrier (huge flock with only one new bird for the triplist: speckled piculet) and try the scrub there. This proved a long walk down and I opted to bird the gardens above while the others tried the cementary in the valley. Soon I heard my girlfriend and Rob who also opted not to walk down. They stopped at the bend below me and started chatting.
In the garden beside me a loud call came from dense vegetation and soon a wren-babbler appeared. This was a surprise as these are mostly known from area's further away at Sat Tal. Unfortunatly I did not have my book with me. It was clear that this was not a bird I'd seen before so by proces of elimination I came to scaly-breasted wren-babbler. I called Alma and Rob up and soon they saw the bird hopping in and out a wall and bouncing across the trail. Really nice show! Meanwhile Rob discovered some rusty-cheeked scimitarbabblers wich posed in the last rays of the sun; gorgeous! Then these birds started calling and then we knew that the birds glimpsed a few days before had indeed been of this species. Together with these birds were rufous-crowned laughing-thrushes. That moment the others came back and ticked of all of the birds found by us before and the wren-babbler proved indeed a scaly-breasted. The trip back to the lodge was uneventfull.
Today was reserved for some of the area's outside Nainital, most importantly Mongoli Valley. During the drive we saw several flocks of buntinglike birds but we opted to continue driving to arrive at Mongoli as early as possible. Looking back this probably has costed us some ticks as we did not see many rosefinches or buntings later on. At the Valley our guide led us up a steep hill but whilst reading our gen we could not find any reference to this hill. At the top we did not find a temple and knew we were wrong. We told our guide that we wanted to go back to the main trail and continue into the valley. This proved a problem as he had send the bus to the end of the trail he had led us on. It seems that their regular walk in the area was not the one that birders would like to do. As we were a bit fed up by then by all the walking instead of birding, we just walked down into the valley and told our guide to arrange the bus back at the spot where we started.
Along the first 100 meter of this trail we saw lots of birds in the open scrub such as white-crested laughing-thrushes, rufous-gorgeted flycatcher, golden-spectacled warbler, small niltava, ashy-throated warbler, sulpher-bellied warbler, brown-fronted woodpecker and red-flanked bluetail. Further along the track the forest got better. The path follows a steep slope down towards a creek. We tried to find the track down wich is mentioned in our gen but missed it on our way in. Scanning from above we managed to see spotted and slaty-backed forktails on the creek and in the forest birds were abundant. Goodies were chestnut-bellied rockthrush, kalij pheasant, white-throated laughingthrushes en many more. After lunch at the spot where the forest ended, we walked back towards the bus. And surprise, it was there but now one of our guides was gone... We left and let them drop us at a promising looking spot whilst the driver went back to collect the guides. And indeed it proved a good spot. No sooner had we left the bus of we had several spotted forktails including one without a tail! Weird looking bird that was. Overhead we had big flocks of corvids (common raven? They are not there according to the maps in our fieldguides) and a few changable hawkeagles. Lower in the scrub there were also birds including a beautifull tick, the rufous-breasted accentor.
Soon our bus arrived with the rest of the team and we drove slowly back towards Nainital stopping at likely looking spots. Nothing new but a nice male white-capped bunting was very welcome.
Our last day in the field was spend at Sat Tal, a forested area south of Nainital. This area with it's lakes is a popular resort so we were quite surprised when our guide could not find it on his first try. As good as he was around our lodge, he was as new to the areas further away as we were. Still, this small detour yielded good views of a good sized flock of alpine swifts. After we got to Sat Tal we took the trail along the creek that seeps out of the dam (near the campsite). We did not get far as we encountered a huge and extremely good flock within 50 meters from the dam. We followed this flock for over an hour from one sunny patch to another. Loads of birds and several new ones were seen like snowy-browed flycatcher, slaty-blue flycatcher and red-billed leiotrix. Further on the trail skirts an open area with a pond. In the large trees and scrub we met the same flock again. Best bird here was the chestnut-headed tesia wich was hopping in dense vegetation in the creek. Such colours on such a small bird. Spectacular! Other birds along the rest of the trail included small and rufous-bellied niltava's, rufous-chinned laughingthrushes, some peckers, red-breasted parakeet, pink-browed rosefinch (finally a male!), rufous-breasted accentor and red-breasted flycatcher. On our way back we did not add much untill we took a walk in some small fields near a factory along the mainroad. Here we found more accentors, the regular buntings and a greater whitethroat. This last bird was only seen by me. Unfortunatly as it quite a rare migrant in the area. Looking back it's quite amusing to realise that our rarest birds (greater scaup and greater whitethroat are (very) common at home.
The rest of the day was wasted at the shops at Nainital and packing our stuff as we would leave for Delhi next day. On the 6th we drove to Delhi wich was quite uneventfull but for two roadside stops. The first yielded greater spotted and imperial eagles and the second, at a slaughterhouse, yielded excellent views of 4 white-backed and 1 long-billed vulture and loads of Egyptian vultures. On the 7th we left Delhi to the Netherlands again arriving home at early evening.
For any questions etc, feel free to mail me.
Pierre van der Wielen The Netherlands