North India, March 2009
Pangot/Sattal; Keoladeo/Bharatpur; Bandhavgar;Chambal River; Sultanpur
Martin & Julie Eccles, Colin Bradshaw, Celia Bryce
The itinerarywas arranged with Jo Thomas of Wild About India (www.wildaboutindia.com ) working with Asian Adventures (www.indianwildlife.com ). They provided a superb, flexible service at a very competitive price. Wild about India comes highly recommended and we would use them again.
Flew BritishAirways from Newcastle to Delhi via Heathrow arriving at 05.30 local time and weremet by Asian Adventures and our first driver, PK. We drove northeast from Delhito Pangot arriving at Jungle Lore Birding Lodge (http://www.pangot.com/, 6000 ft) after a drive of about 9 hours. We spent the remainder of the day birding around theLodge with Hari, our Nepali guide.
Breakfast at 06.30 and then birded along the Kilbury Road to the Cheer Pheasant overlook. Back to Jungle Lore Birding Lodge for lunch then birding the Timla valley in the afternoon.
Breakfast at 06.30 and once again along the Kilbury Road this time about three kilometers beyond the Cheer Pheasant overlook and then birded back to Jungle Lore Birding Lodge. After lunch Colin and Celia went to photograph Steppe Eagles at Nanital dump, Julie walked around Pangot (seeing the trip’s only Spotted Forktail in the process) and I spent the time drawing around the camp. A last minute change of plan saw us spend the night in a tented camp at Sattal (http://www.sattalbirdinglodge.com/,4400 ft) – leaving at 18.00 we arrived about two and a half hours later.
A 06.30 start we walked up the road from the camp then along a deep gully and into an area ofscrub to look for Siberian Rubythroat. We were picked up by PK and drove to two river sites looking for Forktails the latter site near the Kainchi temple. In the afternoon we went to the Sattal lakes and completed the day walking up from the camp to look for Great Barbet. We then drove in the dark to Kathgodam to catch the train to Delhi – first class sleeper we had a carriage of four bunks to ourselves.
Arriving about half an hour late into Old Delhi train station, we obeyed instructions and waited by the carriage until it became apparent that no-one was turning up. A series of phone calls to Mohit produced a porter with an Asian Adventures card and the explanation that, as it was the eve of the Holi festival our driver couldn’t get past the enhanced security for the platforms. We finally drove to Bharatpurand to our hotel (Forest Lodge http://www.theashokgroup.com/hotels/bharatpur.html) in Keolado National Park. We were met by Randhir our guide and he, Colin and I birded in the nursery before lunch. In the afternoon we all walked along Ram bund towards Mrig Tal.
The whole day was spent walking the various paths. We took cycle rickshaws to Jatoli cross-roads and from there walked to Keoladeo Temple for lunch then took the track between Mansarovar and Kadam Kunj Jheels in the afternoon. The rickshaws took us back to the hotel.
Colin went outearly to the Sunbird fields looking for Indian Cousers and I took a late breakfast with Julie and Celia before going back to the nursery to draw. After lunch at the Sunbird Hotel we caught the overnight train from Agra to Umaria. This time we were in sleeper AC-2 and had sequential longitudinal pairs ofbunks along the passageway. With urns of Chai, soup and various foods being served up and down the passageway; a choice of type of toilet and the uncertainty about how we would know where to get off (the guard camespecifically to tell us) made the 14 hour long trip very exciting.
We left the train at 05.30 and were driven to the Nature Heritage Resort in Tala (http://www.nivalink.com/natureheritage/index.html). After dropping our bags and having a biscuit and a cup of tea a driver (Pappu) took us into Bandhavgarh National Park (open 06.15 to 11.15 and 16.00 to18.15). Within 20 minutes we were on the back of an elephant and looking at our first (female) tiger. Back to the Resort for lunch, then an early afternoon rest before returning for the afternoon drive – this time we saw one of the males (B2) as he walked for about a kilometer through long grass and forest edge.
Two more drives in the park. In the morning Julie and Celia got to track another male (New Male) for about two kilometers from the back of one of the elephants. In the afternoon we went to visit the statue of Vishnu reclining and then got excellent views of a different female Bengal Tiger stalking through cut grass.
Two more drives in the park. We had one brief but close sighting of a female tiger in long roadside grass before going up to fort and temple where good views of Vultures and Malabar Pied Hornbill were the highlights. On the afternoon drive we focused more on birds and eventually got brief views of Painted Spurfowl and saw a female tiger lying asleep in a riverside cave completely oblivious to the traffic chaos she had caused.
Two more drives in the park but today we didn’t try for tiger but concentrated on some of the scarcer birds (Painted Spurfowl). We visited an elephant camp and fed the two year old baby “elephant chapattis” – a foot in diameter and each weighing one kilogram. We then caught the night train from Umaria to Agra. It was three and a half hours late – as we waited a group of trainee policemen came and engaged us in conversation. We found our bunks (sleeper AC-2 again) and this time we had a small curtained-off section of four bunks together.
Most of the morning was spent on the train though it did make up two hours. From the station we drove to the Taj Mahal and then Chambal Safari Lodge (http://www.chambalsafari.com/). Arriving at about 16.30 we spent an hour or two birding around the Lodge.
A morning drive to the Chambal River for our river trip. We birded in the ravines and river bank along the way and set off at about 07.45. The Chambal River is not sacred - not used for burials andso is clean – a 450 mile stretch is a nature reserve and it is home to Gharial, Marsh Mugger and Ganges Dolphin – we saw all three. After an afternoon siesta we birded around the lodge.
Early morning birding around the Lodge then back to Delhi. To avoid going into the Delhi traffic we headed to Sultanpur Nature Reserve on the southern outskirts of Delhi. It had two big advantages – it is close to Delhi Airport and it also had breeding Indian Courser and wintering Sind Sparrow [which we dipped]. We then stayed at the Star Hotel (about 2 kilometers from the airport) before the flight home.
Up at 04.15 for the trip to the airport. After we had managed to persuade the security guards to let us into Departures we were delighted to find that we had been upgraded to Business Class. All the flights were on time and we arrived home atabout 14.30.
The full systematic list for the trip is available at http://www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=1629
An Alaskan gold rush town, Nome has three roads out of town. Each about 70 km long the Teller Road to the northwest, the Kougerak Road inland and Council Road that runs south east along the coast past Safety Lagoon. Nome’s proximity to the Palaearctic makes it the place that North American birders come to see Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat and Yellow Wagtail. However, it was one of the residents that I was particularly after – Aleutian Tern. Apart from a general love of terns, the fact that the only western Palaearctic record was from the Farne Islands 40 miles from my home, made it more alluring.
The roadside pools at the top of Safety Lagoon had pairs of Red-throated and Pacific Loons but the Aleutian Tern colony was at the very south of Safety Lagoon. They were on the shingle on both the mainland and the island.
Arriving on the morning flight and leaving the next evening we had 36 hours in Barrow. A small community at the very top of North America we had times our arrival to coincide with the melting of the ice on the tundra pools; soon enough for there to be open water but before the insects start to hatch. There would be skuas, phalaropes and Snowy Owls but I the bird I most wanted to see was Spectacled Eider. With a range off the coasts of Siberia and Alaska, Barrow is the place they are most accessible. We knew that they were around as departing birders had had up to three pairs on pools at the end of one of the roads. The first day produced great views of a female King Eider and frustrating views of something unidentifiable due to a combination of cold, wind and distance. Back out the next morning (having been up till 1 a.m. looking at Polar Bear) we were again scanning the same set of pools. Tucked in against the truck was the only way to use a scope; the wind was 20-30 mph and the temperature below freezing. One minute the pools were empty and the next, from out of nowhere, there was a pair of Spectacled Eider. They swam along the back of the pool and then flew towards us, pitching in about 200m from us. They stayed for about 10 minutes before they flew off inland.
St Paul, one of the Pribilof Islands, is the place to go to see Red-legged Kittiwake. Whilst we knew we were likely to see a whole range of alcids – Least Auklet, Parakeet Auklet, Crested Auklet, Tufted Puffin and Horned Puffin, Thick-billed Murre – it was the prospect of the Red-legs that took us there. The resident birders assured us that there were occasions when the weather was good; sunny and warm. Unfortunately the three days we spent on the island were windy, cold and occasionally wet.
The first Red-legs we saw were flying out of the rain at Southwest Point. The largest colonies were less accessible in the poor weather and so we watched them on the cliffs at Zapadni Point. They were roosting in with Black-legged Kittiwakes – the larger head and shorter bill were obvious in direct comparison. The two species came in to bathe at one of the freshwater pools by the airstrip – here it was the darker mantle and red legs that stood out.
An unexpected bonus was Ancient Murrelet. Over the past few years they have bred in amongst the boulders of the piers around the harbour. When I arrived at the quay there were four close in; they drifted out and were joined by others till there was a small raft of 16.
A working trip to Edmonton, Alberta gave me a free Sunday to explore. As I didn't want to spend a lot of time driving I headed for Elk Island National Park - the closest reserve to Edmonton. Having driven the Bison loop (seeing about 30 Plains Bison) I set out to walk the Shirley Lake Trail. During the 12 Km walk I met no one else apart from 2 Porcupines, 1 Beaver and a lone bull Bison.
The birding was steady - Yellow-rumped Warblers were far and away the commonest warbler. I only saw one other species - a lone Tenessee Warbler. There were good numbers of waterfowl - Lesser Scaup, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, American Wigeon, Goldeneye and a couple of small groups of Canvasback. A flock of White Pelicans circled over the east of the park as I arrived and a flock of Sandhill Cranes flew through. Best bird was probably a Clay-coloured Sparrow which I flushed while trying to avoid a flooded section of the trail.
Just before I left I drove up to the top of the park and spent half an hour drawing a pair of Red-necked Grebes as they drifted around a lake side bay.
Pelee birding - with a difference.
Pelee Island is the largest and most northerly island in the Lake Eire archipelago; it is also about 10 miles south west of Point Pelee. At 10km by 3km and a point on either end it has much the same potential to attract birds as the Canadian mainland reserve. However, it has the huge advantage of being a one and a half hour ferry ride away and so it has far fewer birders. The first week in May is the start of the migration season and as the weekend rain cleared away we got a feel for the island, scouting out Fish Point and Lighthouse Point.
The start of the week was quiet. We mistakenly thought that the four Belted Kingfishers were island residents – after Wednesday we never saw them again as they continued their migration north.
Thursday and Saturday were the two days when there were falls of birds. Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warblers were by far the commonest warblers – we counted 150 of them along the 1km stretch of beach on Fish Point on Thursday evening. During that day, in amongst the commoner warblers we also had 24 Hermit Thrushes, one Blackburnian and one Prothonetory.