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Friday, 1 February 2019

India - January 2019 (Part 2]

Rajasthan

Monday 14th January

A grim night of puking and sitting on the bog, that basically meant I was asleep in the van as we went on our way to Taj Mahal, a decision only made yesterday as the majority of the group had not seen it and we would be passing close by anyway. It was a grand decision as it was all what it was lived up to be, and being on site early meant fewer tourists knocking about.

We then commenced our ten-eleven hour drive NW to Chhapar. The first stop was for breakfast and as I felt a bit ropey, I made the most of the nearby cultivation’s and went birding where I was pleased to find some Ashy-crowned Sparrow Larks and some other nice bits, that the others saw after I returned.

The rest of the drive was mainly spent asleep or just staring out of the window day dreaming. One stop to look for Coursers failed but again some nice birds were encountered, including two Spotted Owlets.

As we neared our final destination the driver and guide got slightly lost and with that we didn’t arrive at the hotel until it was way after dark, and once again very cold. Dinner was fairly grim being warm instead of hot, and when we asked for six teas, six coffees came out, despite this country being very fond of their chal tea. We were now ready for some great birding in the NW Provence of Rajasthan, a region that holds some of the world’s rarest birds.

Highlights are as follows:

Yellow-footed Green Pigeon – 2
Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark – 4
Wire-tailed Swallow – 1
Brahminy Starling – 1
Isabelline Wheatear – 10
Tawny Pipit – 4
Ashy Prinia – 1
White-eared Bulbul - 2

The Taj Mahal
White-eared Bulbuls

Tuesday 15th January

I woke up feeling fairly grim again and it took me a while to shake a leg. Today was a big day, in that we had to find one of the most endangered birds in India, this being their Spotted Creeper. Our driver dropped us off at one of the best sites, merely five minutes outside of Tal Chhapar. The prolonged search during the morning lasted around six hours in which we had failed to find the Creeper, however some good bits did include a couple of Laggar Falcons, Rufous-fronted Prinias, Variable Wheatears and a very showy Southern Grey Shrike.

I was drained by the end of this ordeal and was pleased to be getting back onto the minibus, where we entered the nearby national park, hoping to catch up with another speciality of Rajasthan, the White-browed Bush Chat, a species where the breeding grounds still remain a mystery. A drive around a vast area of grasslands that would seem suitable in the plains of Tanzania failed again to find our main target, and the day was beginning to look like a downer, although I was very pleased to catch up with a trio of Eastern Imperial Eagles, and some lovely Steppe Eagles.

We had lunch with the temperatures now just above what I would deem as comfortable, but still very pleasant. I ditched lunch and went to sleep for an hour, feeling much better after and ready for another go at our two targets. First up was the Chat where after a shorter drive in the national park, a superb young male White-browed Bush Chat posed wonderfully for all, as we encroached to maybe five metres, something that doesn’t happen too often according to our guide. With this bagged we left the park and grabbed some supplies in town from a local stall where a happy man happily took a lot of money from us as we emptied his displays.

Next up was a final go at the Spotted Creeper, and it was tense to say the least. Ash and myself headed off into the distance whilst the others lingered around one of its favoured areas, and perhaps and hour into the search, the shouting of our guide caught my attention, which only meant one thing. I turned in Ash’s direction but there was no sight of him, and so I legged it back to the others whilst our guide tried to find Ash. It was maybe a three minute fast jog back to the area where the Creeper had done a bunk. Never a nice situation to be in for either party. We again all split up and maybe five minutes later, a loud shout came from around the white brick wall, and again I absolutely sprinted to the commotion where Mike had re-found it feeding in some trees, although by the time I got there, it had once again vanished. Another ten minutes went by and it was looking like a certain dip, not helped by our guide saying it’s now ‘roosting time’. With panic now set in, somehow Dan managed to find an odd coloured shape in the crevice of a tree that he thought warranted closer inspection. Unbelievably, this shape was an Indian Spotted Creeper that had decided to roost. An incredible bit of spotting and we could all now relax, or at least until twenty minutes later when Ashley was found and we could all enjoy this wonderful, critically endangered bird. Scope views were frame filling and eventually the bird tucked away it’s bill and will hopefully still be present in the morning.

A slow walk back to the vehicle ensued as we were still fairly exhausted by the ordeal, went into town to grab more things, and head back to the cold hotel where the power went for a short time, although this made no difference to the showers capability to create a shower…….!

Highlights are as follows:

Grey Francolin – 10
Red-naped Ibis – 2
Steppe Eagle – 5
EASTERN IMPERIAL EAGLE – 3
DEMOISELLE CRANE – 50
Ruff – ca.100
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse – 12
Wryneck – 1
LAGGAR FALCON – 2
COMMON WOODSHRIKE – 6
Small Minivet – 4
INDIAN BUSHLARK – 1
Brooks’s Leaf Warbler – 1
SYKES’S WARBLER – 1
RUFOUS-FRONTED PRINIA – 6
INDIAN SPOTTED CREEPER – 1
WHITE-BROWED BUSH CHAT – 1
Long-billed Pipit – 1
WHITE-CAPPED BUNTING - 5

Black Buck

Variable Wheatear


Sykes's Warbler

(Eastern) Black Redstart

White-capped Bunting

Southern Grey Shrike

White-browed Bush Chat

Indian Spotted Creeper

Creeper habitat

Tal Chhapar NP

Success with the Creeper

Sunset at Tal Chhapar

Wednesday 16th January

We were up earlier today as we wanted to see the Spotted Creeper leave it’s roost. We stopped off in town where some locals were around a fire, and good on them as it was yet again very cold. Upon arrival at the Creeper sight, despite it being hardly light enough, we could just make out the shape and spots of the bird still in its roost site.

It wasn’t until and hour that the bird became active and clambered up its tree ready for the sun to warm it up. It then stretched its left wing and flew off (similar flight to a Wallcreeper) south, stopped on a couple of trees before leaving the area.

We then headed off for another long drive (thankfully leaving the cold hotel behind us) where it took me a long time to warm up. It wasn’t until Birkanar that I did eventually warm up and was our first birding stop of the drive, next to some lovely sewage settling pools that held our next globally threatened species of this trip, the rather un-glamorous Yellow-eyed Dove, where many hundred were encountered, this being one of their prime wintering territories. A first-winter Steppe Gull was also sat out on one of the concrete walls, whilst a White-browed Fantail was another welcome addition to the day.

We then walked further up the road where we were told a carcass dump was located, and where many hundreds of Vultures and Eagles congregate to feed upon the rotting chaos. The whole area was fairly grim with dead dogs along the roadside and the continuous stench of either sewage or rotting cows, however the views of the birds of prey were staggering and somehow a highlight of the trip so far. It wasn’t just the birds of prey involved, smaller species included many Bank Mynas, Rose-coloured Starlings and Black Drongos were the main participants.

It was then time to head for another couple of hour drive west where we had lunch at a joint where WiFi was on offer, and was probably the quietest lunch of the trip as everyone had their heads down looking at their phones. Pizza was a nice addition to the Indian cuisine, although in the end I wish I had opted for the local food. The place was opposite a very old fort.

Another long drive this time with much sleep where we headed for one of my most anticipated moments of the trip, this was to see the large congregation of Demoiselle Cranes at Khichan. A rather spectacular scene with a few thousand birds present, whilst large flocks in flight could be seen in the background. It was then a three hour drive to our final port of call, a drive that had taken us many miles west, close to the Desert National Park and fairly close to the Pakistan border.

Highlights for mainly a driving day are as follows:

Egyptian Vulture – ca. 300
Black Vulture – 3
Eurasian Griffon Vulture – 50
HIMALAYAN GRIFFON VULTURE - 1
Eastern Imperial Eagle – 5
Caspian (barabensis) Gull – 1
YELLOW-EYED PIGEON – ca. 300
White-browed Fantail – 1
Dusky Crag Martin – 2
Indian Spotted Creeper – 1
Desert Wheatear - 10

Indian Spotted Creeper

Steppe Eagle

Himalayan Griffon Vulture

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Black Vulture

Yellow-eyed Pigeon

The repulsive carcass dump

Steppe Eagle


Demoiselle Cranes
Traffic near the carcass dump


The small town of Khichan -
famous for its Demoiselle Cranes.

Thursday 17th January

A day devoted to the Desert National Park in the hope of finding one of the worlds rarest birds, the Great Indian Bustard. My main reason for wanting to visit India was to see this bird, having a keen interest in Bustards for a while now I knew this target was make or break for the trip for me. We all met downstairs in the foyer area where we used up the last bit of WiFi on offer before traveling to the entrance gate of the park. Despite being warmer then Tal Chhaper, it was still cold and now we had to travel in open top jeeps for the days driving inside the park. The drivers were dressed up in their pjs and must have been very cold. It did take a good few hours for it to warm up by which time we had driven over many dunes and flat areas searching for the Bustard, but being as rare as they are we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and with no sign, we now knew we going to be in for a long day. A few Desert Foxes were great to see, although our jeep did miss a Desert Cat, although we did score one later on in the day, a massive grip back. A run of four Macqueen’s Bustards were a real treat to see as very few groups see them out on this park, and with desperation starting to kick in to see its larger cousin, we asked one of the local villagers who was presumably walking from one shack to another over a very long distance, and he informed us of a GIB over from where we had just been, however with further searching in this area we again failed to find one, and presumed the local had got confused.

At one stop for a Red-tailed Wheatear a goat became very friendly with Josh and Dan, mainly as Josh was feeding it nuts, and then the goat decided to take further action and wipe its nose on Dan’s leg.

Enthusiasm and motivation had decreased significantly as we covered ideal habitat and failed to find anything, and distant shapes were starting to get strung. I was already planning an alternative action if we failed to find a Bustard today or tomorrow, and Ash had given up all hope on seeing one, mainly as the habitat just didn’t look right, and with no rainfall at all last year, the grasses had not emerged this year, and we thought this may have moved the Bustards on.

Back at the entrance, our drivers went off to get lunch and water, whilst we had lunch in situ with some of us resting, or wandering around. Luckily Dan decided to wander off (illegally as we later found out) to a nearby watch tower which overlooked some good Bustard habitat, and a short way through his scanning, he miraculously found a Great Indian Bustard slowing walking across the plains. However, he was at least 500m away and after a short time our guide spotted the commotion, and for the second time this trip, it was time to get the running shoes back on and leg it up to where Dan was, and sure enough, in dribs and drabs, we made it to the viewing point and scored our most wanted target of the trip. We soon found another bird, and amazingly calls from back at the entrance got us hurtling back down there to see a minimum of 7 birds, this time much closer. We enjoyed watching the birds feed and preen for a prolonged period, although we sadly couldn’t venture any closer as the area they were feeding in a strictly private zone, and is presumably the reason why the Bustards gather here.

Afterwards some wanted to head off, but myself, Josh and Ash stayed with the Bustards and we were so glad we did, as we enjoyed much closer and more prolonged views of the flock as they slowly moved right, and one even started to display by puffing out its neck feathers. At one point we had five within metres of each other, just a stunning occurrence. On top of all this, a superb Red-headed Vulture flew very low over our heads, and a pair of Tawny Eagles chased a lone Indian Hare nearby to us, but failed on every dive and the Hare got away.

Once the others had returned, we made our way back to our main vehicle which was parked up about 20km away. Hanging onto the back of the jeep was interested whilst travelling at some speed over many bumpy parts of the road. Another commotion upfront alerted us to the presence of a Desert Cat, that was initially seen very briefly, but once intruding upon its space, was seen hurtling away before pausing for a short time. It then wandered off into the desert on its own accord,

Our tented accommodation was maybe another ten minutes away, and we were very surprised as to how lush the place in fact was. Upon arrival a man played his drums, maybe not so eloquently but nice all the same, and a young lady gave us the red mark on the forehead, which I accidentally washed off in the shower twenty minutes later. Our tented accommodation was superb with the bathroom being ridiculously large, with the shower area being described as walking into the centre of the planet it was that low down.

Dinner was also interesting as we and many other tourists were treated to some traditional dancing and music, but with several fierce glances from the presumed Germans, we retreated to have dinner where the waiters went back and forth for a good half hour as we demolished the food they gave us within minutes of it being handed to us. Some dodgy dancing from the presumed Germans then commenced, and we were ever so glad we had retreated before that mess started.

Highlights are as follows:

RED-HEADED VULTURE – 1
Black Vulture – 2
GREAT INDIAN BUSTARD – 8
MACQUEEN’S BUSTARD – 4
Cream-coloured Courser – 7
Laggar Falcon – 4
BLACK-CROWNED SPARROWLARK – 20
Asian Desert Warbler – 2
Red-tailed Wheatear - 1

Laggar Falcon

Five Great Indian Bustards

Red-headed Vulture





Success on setting eyes on our
biggest target of the trip.


Friday 18th January

We got out of our tents very early on and had some omelettes before leaving this lovely joint. A couple of us wanted to see the large fort in Jaisalmar and so we stopped off there on our way south. The fort was very impressive with well designed walls around the whole place, and the views from  the top were great as the sun rose, although walking up to the viewpoints proved a slight challenge, with very slippery floors and a single dog that took a certain dislike to us. We only had half hour here as we needed to get to Fossil Park before the heat got too much, somehow only the second time on this trip I had thought about this aspect.

Once at Fossil Park we split up and covered some ground. There wasn’t too much on offer other then some large flocks of the gregarious Bimaculated Larks which flew over calling. An Indian Eagle Owl was found and it was observed briefly perched on the deck and then some nice flight views were obtained. We obviously didn’t realise at the time that this would be our first of at least three Indian Eagle Owls seen today. With little else on offer it was now time for another substantial drive south to the small town of Siyana. Very uneventful drive with yet more rubbish driving from the crazy locals, and many cows and goats and dogs not moving out of the way of the passing vehicles. Our lunch stop was opposite a school and I and some kids mucked around for a short while. Chris was desperate for a pee and didn’t realise the school was right in front of him, which led to some locals shouting in his direction while he remained unaware of his potential error. Some local sauce for our chapattis was made, but being mild instead of piping hot was enough for it to be returned barely touched.

We then continued driving and with a slight detour, we made it to our surprisingly nice accommodation, made up of maybe ten dorms and a good garden area, where an Ultramarine Flycatcher was found. We didn’t have much time to get stuff sorted and so it was back out, this time on some jeeps that took us close to some rocky hillsides, which although looked promising for our targets, actually failed to deliver and I left empty handed with any ticks, although a second chance tomorrow will be welcome. Walking around in flip flops wasn’t ideal either, a loose rocky surface and acacia needles is not a good combination.

We then undertook a night safari in the jeeps. To get to the area we crossed a large sandy area and once at our site, we were hoping for Striped Hyena, however only Indian Hares were found which led to a very disappointing afternoon and evening. An Indian Nightjar showed stupidly well, but it was time to head back via a town that had laid out tinsel above the Main Street that stretched for a very long time and must have taken many hours to erect. All for a wedding supposedly. An evening meal by a campfire with some lovely dogs and a noisy goose was once again a lovely end to the day.

Painted Stork – 2
Bonelli’s Eagle – 1
Indian Stone Curlew – 4
INDIAN EAGLE OWL – 3
Indian Nightjar – 1
Bimaculated Lark – ca. 200
Yellow-eyed Babbler – 2
Ultramarine Flycatcher – 1
Pied Bush Chat – 1
Striolated Bunting - 3


Jaisalmer Fort at dawn

Bimaculated Lark

Indian Eagle Owl

Bonelli's Eagle

Indian Nightjar