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Wednesday 30 January 2019

India - January 2019 (Part 1)

New Delhi & Uttar Pradesh

Friday 11th January

Despite Jet Airways being in some financial difficulty, and then with another minor drone attack a few days prior to my departure, it was fair to say I was more than relieved to have departed more or less on time on the Thursday evening. The flight was good enough but lacking on inflight entertainment and good enough service (I would know) but thankfully I had brought things to watch, and after a long day of travelling to the airport via trains and under/over-grounds, I was soon sleeping with ease.

The landing was just ahead of schedule and somehow it was a swift forty five minutes to get through immigration and collecting the luggage. I managed to grab a taxi into the city as my hotel was off limits for a few hours due to some political parades. Eventually these passed and I arrived at my hotel, which in fairness is by far the poshest hotel I’ve stayed in, and I felt awkwardly out of place. With this in mind I grabbed my gear and got a tuc-tuc into the city centre where I wandered around for a long while taking in some of the markets and the few tourist sites on offer, before starting the very long walk back to the Taj Palace Hotel. Not a great deal of birds about, with highlights being a Red-naped Ibis, two Brahminy Starlings, Jungle Babblers, Brown-headed Barbets and two species of Parakeets.

Saturday 12th January 

After a very good nights sleep after a very long day yesterday, I left the hotel at around 9.30am. Yesterday I had arranged with my tut-tut driver to meet me outside the hotel and he would take me near to terminal 3 where I would meet everyone who had flown overnight. I was unsure whether Sonu would be there, but to my relief he was. The journey to the terminal was rather painless despite driving slowly in the middle lane of a busy motorway. After a quick bus to terminal 3 I then waited in all maybe three hours for everyone, and were then met by our Asian Adventures guide.

We soon headed out of Delhi, making slow progress as we did. After a couple of road closures and two hours later we arrived at Sultanpur reserve, where straight away we bagged our first target bird, this being the Brooks’s Leaf Warbler. The bird life of the reserve is dominated by water birds with many species of Ducks, Ibis and Storks. A Common Hawk Cuckoo also posed superbly whilst the many Warblers were more elusive in the treetops. A male Red-breasted Flycatcher added a splash of colour.

Just down the road from here we walked around some water bodies that were lined by sparse scrub and cultivated fields. A sewage drain had a good number of Wagtails present, with the most striking being a presumed ‘Masked’ Wagtail. Thankfully straight away we found a male Sind Sparrow calling and showing nicely in a tree, whilst close by a few females were also present. The hoped for White-tailed Stonechat didn’t materialise, although watching large numbers of Citrine Wagtails was more than enough compensation for now, with a bonus Rosy Pipit mixed in. A dog chewing on a goat also provided some interest by us.

As the Indian sun started to set we made our way back to Delhi through yet more chaotic traffic, arriving at our hotel (Shanti Palace) after dark.

Highlights for the day are as follows:

Indian Spot-billed Duck – 25
Ferruginous Duck – 1
Woolly-necked Stork – 3
Black-headed Ibis – 5
Oriental Darter – 1
White-breasted Waterhen – 3
White-tailed Plover – 1
Temminck’s Stint – 6
Spotted Redshank – 1
Common Hawk Cuckoo – 2
Hume’s Leaf Warbler – 5
Moustached Warbler – 5
Graceful Prinia – 1
Bluethroat- 10
Citrine Wagtail – 40

Brooks's Leaf Warbler

Common Hawk-Cuckoo

Male Sind Sparrow

Male Citrine Wagtail
Sultanpur Bird Reserve

The Sind Sparrow site, just down the road
from Sultanpur.

Sunday 13th January

We left the Shanti Palace Hotel just as it got light to beat the traffic out of Delhi. Progress SE was good and our first stop of the journey yielded one of my top targets, a pair of the giant Black-necked Stork. I was surprised just how large this species was, easily comparable with the South American Jabiru Stork. Some Comb Ducks flying over was also an added bonus. It was still very chilly with the low mist blocking any heat, and a woolly hat would have been suitable attire.
A few hours later we arrived at Chambal Lodge and walked the gardens and surrounding cultivation’s for just over an hour, with an immediate highlight being a showy Orange-headed Thrush. Despite a lack of passerine activity, some good birds were encountered including two species of Owl, a pair of Greater Painted Snipe and host of many species of Waders.

After lunch it was time to head down to the Chambal River, just under an hour away from the lodge along narrow, but busy country roads. The obvious highlight along these roads was a superb Sarus Crane that went on to show incredibly well as we photographers approached with caution. Little else was encountered on route and around 3pm we arrived at the river where some very smart River Lapwings greeted us. The main target here was the stupendously looking Black-bellied Tern, and we left the riverbank full of optimism that we would find our quarry. Along the north bank it was fairly quiet although a male Eastern Black Redstart and a fine flock of Bar-headed Geese were nice additions to the day. We swapped banks and headed over to the south bank. In front of two Painted Storks stood a pale Lark that soon got identified as a Sand Lark and proved to our only one of the trip. Further along the sand bank was a potential highlight of the day where a fisherman was illegally fishing, and once our guide had called the armed guards, once the fisherman had retreated the guides started to shoot at him from their boat. For now they didn’t catch him, however the armed guard stated that he had shot dead two people before for illegally fishing. This may seem extreme, but two River Dolphins had been found dead a few days back due to this practice, and could well have been a reason as to why we failed to find any Dolphins this evening.

Just before this action, we had found four Indian Skimmers settled on an island, and after some patience we got some lovely views of my final Skimmer species. A Black-bellied Tern also showed well, and unlike the last bird, I resisted the temptation to wade into the river. Just as our cameras were starting to rest up, a Great Thick Knee decided to join in with the fun.

In terms of avian highlights, we had one more to see, and after some luck with some fly-past Small Pratincoles and many Greater Short-toed Larks, a Brown Crake was found hunched up on a mudbank trying to hide from us, but it failed. The river trip had been a great success, despite not finding any Dolphins, and with added pressures on some of the above mentioned species, we had been very lucky.

After dinner I was feeling progressively worse and by mid evening the taps had opened fully, but this didn’t stop me enjoying an Indian Scops Owl and one of the Spotted Owlets seen earlier.

Knob-billed Duck – 15
Red-crested Pochard – 50
Osprey – 1
Bonelli’s Eagle – 1
Long-legged Buzzard – 1
Great Stone-Curlew – 3
Great Painted Snipe – 2
Bronze-winged Jacana – 2
Small Pratincole – 6
Indian Scops Owl – 1
Brown Hawk Owl – 1
Orange-headed Thrush - 1

Black-necked Stork
Comb Ducks
Orange-headed Thrush
Brown Hawk Owl
Spotted Owlet
Sarus Crane
River Lapwing
Bar-headed Geese
White-browed Wagtail
Marsh Crocodile
Black-bellied Tern
Black-bellied Tern
Indian Skimmers
Brown Crake
Street scenes on way south
to the Chambal River.

The type of net responsible for
killing two River Dolphins a few 
day previous.

The local heroes/armed guards

Sunset along the Chambal River

Monday 28 January 2019

Northern India - January 2019 - A short review

During the spring of last year, a world birding friend of mine (Ashley Howe) was putting a trip together to see a whole host of either range restricted or globally threatened species in the north and north west of India, with one of my biggest targets being the Great Indian Bustard, and with only an estimated 120 Bustards left on the planet, it didn’t take me too long (a few minutes) to join this trip, that was run by Asian Adventures. The company used were excellent being very well organised, adaptable to changes if requested and very nice guides who knew their stuff, both birds and all important info in this chaotic country.

India is a country that I had yet to visit. However having birded Sri Lanka and Northern Thailand extensively, and a short visit to the UAE, the list of new birds wouldn’t be as great as one would think for visiting what is described as a sub-continent, and in all I personally recorded a fraction under 300 species, and conjured up 69 new species, of which a fare majority are in serious decline and in danger of extinction during this century.

Over this 15 day trip, we (Ashley Howe, Dan & Mike Booker, Josh Jones and Chris Straw) travelled from New Delhi, the western limits of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat (including both The Great & Little Rann of Kutch) and ended in Mumbai. This included only one internal flight and one extremely competent driver who had driven us a few thousand miles in a relatively short space of time.
Sadly for 90% of the days I either had the tap running, was being sick or suffering from a minor cold. Thankfully neither of these meant I was stuck indoors recovering and was lucky that I managed see everything I wanted to, and not hold the group up in any way.

In all, it was a great trip with pretty much all targets seen, but it’ll be a while before I return to India. The people, traffic and surprisingly the food has put me off but no doubt I’ll be back as there are many mouth watering species to see in both the south and the north east regions.

There will be a series of blog posts after this one.

Great Indian Bustard in Rajasthan
With an estimated population of 
just over 100 individuals, this certainly
qualifies as one of the world's rarest birds.

Indian Spotted Creeper in Rajasthan
One of the trickiest species to find on our
target list, where preferred habitat is sparse, and
habitat that holds very few birds.

Forest Owlet near Mumbai
Only re-discovered in 1997.

Jungle Cat in Great Rann of Kutch

Thursday 10 January 2019

Hume's Leaf Warbler - Newhaven 10/1/18

A local birder found a delightful Hume's Leaf Warbler just before the new year, and despite thinking it had disappeared from the area straight away, the same birder fortunately found it again in the same area of scrub just across the river from the Newhaven Incinerator.

Just before travelling up to Heathrow for my flight to India, I nipped down and soon found the bird feeding actively and calling frequently. To the courtesy of the finder, news wasn’t broadcast widely initially, but thankfully (in my opinion) news was widely broadcast on the 12th Jan and hopefully many people can now see this Siberian gem.

This represents my third in Sussex, and my first away from Belle Tout Wood!

Hume's Leaf Warbler
in Newhaven

Tuesday 8 January 2019

West Rise Marsh 8/1/19

A call from David Campbell had me rushing over to West Rise as he had found a very nice female Ring-necked Duck. It showed well enough for the time I was present (10 minutes) and was a very welcome county tick having not gone for the long staying Weir Wood Reservoir bird way back in 2007. Hopefully the year can continue on this trend, although the last year I scored a county tick with a Duck (American Wigeon), it turned out to be the only tick of the year.

Afterwards I met a friend up near Gatwick, and so I gave myself a spare 15 minutes to find five Ring-necked Parakeets (two Ring-necked species in a day!) a few metres within the Sussex boundary...….although I promise I'm not yearlisting!

The Duck was very nicely timed as I'm off to Northern India on Thursday for a few weeks.

1w fem Ring-necked Duck
at West Rise Marsh

Sunday 6 January 2019

West Sussex 6/1/18

Another long day like yesterday was the plan for today, with many hopeful targets scattered around various coastal sites in the west of the county.

As per the norm, I begun the day at Arundel WWT which is a great site to catch up with Bewick’s Swan and Woodcock before the light emerges. Both of these were seen with ease, and nearby at Swanbourne Lake a couple of Firecrest and two pairs of Mandarin were also relatively straight forward.

From here on in, the day slowly went downhill with the next few sites failing to produce the goods, namely the Red-necked Grebe at Climping, Waxwings at Southbourne and Spotted Redshank at Fishbourne, however a Jack Snipe showed superbly in flight at the latter site.

Down at Selsey I then somehow failed to find a Great Northern Diver offshore, but thankfully Church Norton revived the situation with plenty of Slavonian Grebes offshore and some Knot were found among the roosting Dunlin and Grey Plover. Inland was equally disappointing where West Dean Woods failed to produce the Owls or Hawfinches one would expect to see, and only Red Kites were the only noteworthy addition here.

The last couple of hours I spent around Burpham and The Burgh, with the former having many Chiffchaff around the water works, and the ten Bewick’s Swans were out on the meadows. The Burgh held its usual coveys of Grey Partridge and to put an end to the constant dipping, a fine ringtail Hen Harrier ended the day as it hunted the closer hedgerows before heading up the valley.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Rye area 5/1/19

With being at work since the new year I was desperate to get out birding. I was however unsure in which direction to travel, with there being some good birds at either end of the county. I opted on the east and ended up having an excellent day from dawn to dusk.

I started the day before first light at the Castle Water viewpoint in the hope of a Bittern. I had what was probably this species before it got light but views were beyond awful. I was pleased to see five Great White Egrets leave their roost in a tight pack heading east. My main reason for heading out this way was to hopefully see the trio of Twite on Flat Beach, despite them being extremely mobile and erratic in their appearances. Sadly the early morning attempt didn't succeed.

I was keen to keep heading east where I came across a single Tree Sparrow, and then the two Whooper Swans at Scotney that were easily viewable from the double bends.

Heading back towards Rye the Twite had been seen again and so I rushed down to Flat Beach and after a short wait the trio of Twite were spotted on the fence and then happily feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh. Only my second sighting of this species in Sussex.

Next up was Pett Levels where I failed to find any Velvet Scoters offshore, although plenty of Common Scoters were present. There were plenty of Divers and Auks moving as well but the main interest was on the fields where I could only find eight White-fronted Geese among the Greylags, and after some effort five Ruff and a single Black-tailed Godwit were found among the Lapwing and Curlew. A distant Great White Egret was also present, now my sixth of the day.

Back at Rye, I walked from Winchelsea to Long Pit where initially all I could find were two Black-necked Grebes. Then amazingly out of nowhere, four stunning Goosanders (including three drakes) dropped in for only 15 minutes. A cracking drk Goldeneye was also found.

With the day coming to a close I spent the last hour at the viewpoint again and was rewarded with a male Marsh Harrier, a Green Sandpiper and a great count of eight Great White Egrets coming into roost.

Twite on Flat Beach

Goosanders on Long Pit

Black-necked Grebe on Long Pit

Great White Egret at Castle Water
A minimum of nine seen today.