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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Chitwan NP - Nepal (March 2020)

My time in the lowlands was now advancing westwards to Chitwan NP. This park is not only famous for its prolific birdlife, but also the frequency of Tiger sightings, and I was extremely hopeful on joining on one of these sightings.

Sunday 1st March

Anil met me at the entrance gates to Koshi Camp at 8am, and we departed west soon after. Today was a gruelling drive all the way to Chitwan NP, a journey of nine hours. Unfortunately there wasn't a great deal to see along the way, and with few stops we made good progress. A quick stop at the Jungle Villa Resort to meet Suchit Basnet whilst taking in the spectacular grounds was very much worth it. After a tour of the grounds, we shared a couple of beers overlooking the East Rapti River, with several Mugger Crocodiles and Gharials just below us. A couple of Stork-billed Kingfishers and River Lapwings were also showing well. 

I could've easily stayed here (mainly as Suchit was a brilliant host and spoke superb English), but my accommodation (Tigerland Safari Resort) was ten minutes away. This resort  was equally impressive, but despite the very long day, a local tribe of dancing ladies had me out of my seat to 'dance' with them - I did my best to hide at the end of the continental onlookers but as usual I got selected to make a fool out of myself.

Highlights are as follows:

Indian Peafowl - 10
River Lapwing - 5
Indian Scops Owl - 2
Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker - 2
Stork-billed Kingfisher - 2
Common Woodshrike - 2
Plain Flowerpecker - 1

Mugger Crocodile - 3
Gharial - 1

View from Jungle Villa Resort

My ride for the following morning -
I can confirm that the elephants 
in Nepal are very well looked after.


One-horned Rhinoceros

Monday 2nd March

In the morning I had been offered a Elephant-back ride. I wasn't particular enthused by this, but I would've felt rude declining this kind offer, and therefore soon after dawn I was on top of nelly rocking side to side through the elephant grass. My enthusiasm soon became aroused with some lovely views of a Lesser Coucal and a rubythroat species that I just couldn't get good views of. As we neared the river every stonechat was being scrutinised, and eventually a stonking male White-tailed Stonechat appeared. Plenty of Olive-backed Pipits, Common Rosefinches and Striated Babblers were also present. The highlight however was my first sighting of a One-horned Rhinoceros. The elephant I was on had apparently been in trouble with a rhino in the past, and therefore manoeuvring the elephant to get the best view wasn't easy, but eventually we got there. 

Back at the lodge after an enjoyable morning, I walked the lodge grounds for a short while and got good views of a Thick-billed Warbler, Grey-headed Fish-eagle and several Black-hooded Orioles.

So far the day had been very enjoyable, though I must admit it the morning was soon forgotten about by the time the evening had come around. My next accommodation (I was slowly losing track) was the immaculate Tiger Tops (Tharu village) Resort. I had lunch with the owner (Jack); some English-speaking volunteers; the owner's brother and his fiancée who own a lodge in Sri Lanka; and the chef who had prepared some incredible pizzas for us - all stone-baked from an oven that had been built only a few weeks previous. It turned out the chef owned a restaurant in Kathmandu that the trekking group and myself had gone into whilst staying in Kathmandu. As normal as this sounds, in six days time whilst having dinner on my own above Pokhara, I got invited to dine with others on another table, and one of the ladies on the table happened to be Jack's and the fiancés mother, who had flown out to be at the wedding.

Anyway, back to Tiger Tops. This afternoon I was given the chance to go on a game drive within Chitwan NP. Despite the guides knowing I was a birder, I soon told them I had seen everything (I hadn't) and to concentrate all efforts on finding me a Tiger. One of the volunteers joined me for this exciting drive through the thick jungle. We had to cross the river where we found several species of wader, including a Temminck's Stint. Soon we were in the vehicle and on our way. Birdlife was generally quiet, but a stop at a large lake produced a couple of One-horned Rhinos and a flyover Egyptian Vulture. In the thicker part of the jungle we disturbed a pair of Red-headed Trogons, with one showing nicely in the end. After a few hours we had reached the river, and so we climbed out of the vehicle and chilled on the bank praying a Tiger would emerge. Other than a Hog Deer and several paratroopers doing their thing, highlights were few and far between. A passing flock of Great Hornbills were spectacular as always, but this is when things started to turn.....for the better. Now back in the jeeps ready to leave the park, we drove a short distance downriver, again stopping and turning the engine off by the river. It was a good job we turned the engine off, as although there wasn't anything to see, in the depths of the jungle a female Tiger started bellowing out its penetrating call. Instant excitement; instant adrenaline; it was well and truly game on. In true safari mode, we ploughed it towards a dry river bed that the guide knew very well. In a matter of seconds after grinding to a halt, our guide spotted a young Tiger maybe 150 metres away laying down. In pure panic, it took me a few seconds to set my eyes on one of my most wanted, but finally I could see y prize - a Tiger!! After a brief view through the bins, I went about capturing some images. But, being a young tiger, we knew there had to be an adult around somewhere. What none of us never predicted was a further three Tigers to emerge from the forest - an adult female and three cubs in total.....wow!! We jumped out of the vehicles and approached as quickly and cautiously as we could, enabling even better views. Tigers in Nepal are not habituated to humans like they are in India, and are therefore more wary. After a prolonged view of this delightful family, the female spotted us and marched her cubs off and out of sight. We all stood still and in silence, but after a few seconds of recollecting what had just happened, it all went a bit crazy. The short journey back to the river was a happy one, even more so when a Savannah Nightjar was heard calling and soon spotted. The boat ride across the millpond-like river made the day complete - Small Pratincoles were darting around the boat as the sun set over the hills of Chitwan National Park. 

During this period of visiting the lowlands, I had only three opportunities to see a Tiger, and somehow I had succeeded on my first attempt...quite incredible. What was even more incredible was knowing that my guide who had worked here since 2006, had never seen four tigers together!

Highlights are as follows:

Red Junglefowl - 2
Black-crowned Night Heron - 2
Oriental Darter - 1
Grey-headed Fish-eagle - 1
Oriental Honey Buzzard - 1
Egyptian Vulture - 1
River Lapwing - 3
Temminck's Stint - 1
Small Pratincole - 50
Emerald Dove - 2
Alexandrine Parakeet - 5
Blossom-headed Parakeet - 2
Green-billed Malkoha - 1
Greater Coucal - 3
Lesser Coucal - 1
Jungle Owlet - 1
SAVANNAH NIGHTJAR - 1
Red-headed Trogon - 2
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater - 2
Oriental Pied Hornbill - 4
Great Hornbill - 8
Common Iora - 1
Yellow-bellied Prinia - 2
Ashy Prinia - 1
Thick-billed Warbler - 1
Tickell's Leaf Warbler - 1
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush - 1
Puff-throated Babbler - 2
Chestnut-capped Babbler - 2
JUNGLE MYNA - 20
Hill Myna - 2
Bluethroat - 2
WHITE-TAILED STONECHAT - 2
Red Avadavat - 1
Common Rosefinch - 5

Royal Bengal Tiger - 4
One-horned Rhinoceros - 5
Wild Boar - 5

White-tailed Stonechat

Red-headed Trogon

Hog Deer

Langur



Bengal Tigers



Savannah Nightjar


Thought to be the
footprints of our tigers.


Tuesday 3rd March

Before embarking on a monstrous 13-hour drive to Bardia NP, I was invited to take part in an elephant walking safari. This was a new concept for me, and in all honesty I wasn't too sure as to how this would be achieved. Anyway, it soon dawned upon me after a tour of the wonderful grounds that the elephants are graced with. My elephants were ready, and together with my guide we walked in-between the elephants into an area of Chitwan NP that is home to only two Tigers. No tigers today, but a nice array of birds - there is something quite surreal when stopping in front of an elephant and hoping it stops instead of trampling over you. Thankfully, they were very well behaved. At the river there was a lovely group of Bar-headed Geese bathing, soon to be crossing the Himalayas on their epic migration north. All too soon though  my time was up and we walked back to the lodge. Anil then had the arduous task of driving me all the way to Bardia NP, and with a national strike ongoing, progress was particularly slow. There were many police escorts through the more dangerous areas where we posed a risk of being thrown stones at etc. Of course we didn't encounter anything like that, deeming the whole process slightly pointless.

We finally arrived at the most western-style hotel yet - The Babai Resort, and it was everything you could want. I was in fact the first person to stay here, and I hope not the last as the owner was particularly welcoming. Once again, I was treated like a king and being handed as much food as one could manage, free beers and so on and so on. Having had a mainly chilled out day in the car, I didn't get to bed until the early hours of the morning, catching up on blogging and contacting people back home. From my balcony though I could see a couple of Large-tailed Nightjars, and an unidentified owl species. Unhelpfully the owl landed on my driver's balcony, and as he was getting up soon due to driving back to Kathmandu (20 hours!!), I couldn't really shine my torch on the immediate area.

Bar-headed Geese - 20
Himalayan Vulture - 20
Crested Goshawk - 1
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon - 3
Yellow-footed Green Pigeon - 20
Red-breasted Parakeet - 5
House Swift - 2
Coppersmith Barbet - 1
Lesser Yellownape - 2
Scarlet Minivet - 5
Grey-backed Shrike - 1
Pin-striped Tit-babbler - 4
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch - 4
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - 1
Paddyfield Pipit - 10
White-rumped Munia - 20





Friday, 27 March 2020

Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve - Nepal (February 2020)

This post (and the two after) is a continuance of my recent trip to Nepal. After the Everest trek and then spending a couple of days on my own on Mt. Phulchowki, I was now undertaking a recce trip for Naturetrek. Although the company has been running trips to Nepal for many years now, it was thought that while I was out there, it was best to make use of this situation and send me on a 10-day trip to the lowlands - I agreed with this decision!!

Friday 28th February

Thankfully after a lengthy rest after yesterday's illness, I woke up feeling very fresh and ready for my next adventure, courtesy of Naturetrek. My driver (Anil) picked me up from my hotel and drove me to the domestic terminal at Kathmandu airport. It felt strange being in the departure lounge - not so long ago I had been here initiating the Everest trek. My flight to Biratnagar (south-east Nepal) departed late, and upon arrival my guide (Badri) greeted me.

On the way to Koshi we birded a large protected series of lakes where the quantity of wildfowl was amazing. Scanning the flocks produced many species, with the likes of a drake Falcated Duck and several hundred Garganey providing the most interest, although several Cotton Pygmy-geese was a species I hadn't seen for many years. A large list of waders were also present and a ringtail Hen Harrier was also a surprise sighting.

A couple of hours here during the heat of the day was enough, and therefore we made our way to Koshi Camp, arriving mid-afternoon. After a rest and a wander around the stunning grounds, we drove to the Indian border and the barrage that splits the flow of the river. A walk along this barrage produced magnificent views of the rare Gangetic River Dolphin - a much wanted find after missing it on the Chambal (India) last year. The area though wasn't particularly birdy, although a pair of Avocets and several Lesser Adjutants were nice.

We made our way back to the camp and for the first of many nights in the lowlands, I was treated like a king. The service of the staff in the lowlands was superb, this in addition to the pristine accommodations I stayed in.

Highlights for the day:

Lesser Whistling Duck - 30
Fulvous Whistling Duck - 5
Cotton Pygmy Goose - 15
Falcated Duck - 1 drk
Chinese Spot-billed Duck - 5
Garganey - ca. 300
Ferruginous Duck - ca. 50
Lesser Adjutant - 30
Hen Harrier - 1
Booted Eagle - 2
Pheasant-tailed Jacana - 2
Bronze-winged Jacana - 20
Grey-headed Lapwing - 10
Pacific Golden Plover - 5
Spotted Redshank - 2
Wood Sandpiper - 3
Plum-headed Parakeet - 2
Asian Palm Swift - 5
Indian Grey Hornbill - 2
Blue-throated Barbet - 5
Long-tailed Shrike - 10
Cinereous Tit - 2
BENGAL BUSH-LARK - 2
Chestnut-tailed Starling - 5
Verditer Flycatcher - 1

Indian Grey Mongoose - 1
Gangetic River Dolphin - 3


Gangetic River Dolphin

Green Bee-eaters


Black-winged Kite

Saturday 29th February

This morning we were up early and driving to the upper reaches of the wildlife park. A couple of stops along the way to scan for floricans was fruitless, though a couple of Bengal Foxes were superb, as was a stunning Bay-backed Shrike. I boarded the rubber zodiac-type vessel set up by our driver. Being very windy in the early hours it wasn't easy for the boat to remain the correct side up, but thankfully we got there.

The cruise downriver was fairly quiet bar the amazing numbers of egrets, ducks and cormorants. The most prolific species however is one of my firm favourites - the delightful Small Pratincole. When we did eventually hit dry land, a walk over the flatlands was superb. A Wryneck was a slight surprise, but out in the distance were a trio of Indian Coursers. This bird was major target on my Indian trip last year, and although we were successful in our quest, setting eyes on this globally-threatened species again was brilliant. Crossing the sandy areas produced many Sand Larks and pipits. Back onboard, Badri and myself noticed many vultures above us with Badri picking out the first of three White-rumped Vultures - another globally-threatened species for the day. The rest of the 'cruise' was mainly spent dosing off as it was so peaceful, although I was awoken by the odd bout of abundant bird life. The boat journey ended, and driving back to the camp, a quick owl session produced three species in quick succession.

After a restful period, Badri and myself walked the concrete road that runs down the western side of the wildlife park, and just so happens to be the most wooded area. A whole host of exciting species were encountered. A Scaly Thrush was superb, as were a couple of White-eyed buzzards and a striking Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher. As evening approached, we started driving the various tracks and soon found a superb pair of Swamp Francolins, as well as a Nilgai (Blue Bull) and several Golden Jackals. It had been a brilliant day rounded off by a spectacular sunset, and a small bunting flock that consisted of two Black-faced and a single Little Bunting.

This was it for my time in Koshi. After one more night, Anil (who had driven the 12 hours from Kathmandu to pick me up), would drive me all the way to Chitwan NP - a days drive (next blog post).

Highlight for today:

SWAMP FRANCOLIN - 2
Red-crested Pochard - 20
Black Stork - 1
Red-naped Ibis - 10
WHITE-RUMPED VULTURE - 3
Osprey - 2
Short-toed Eagle - 1
Crested Goshawk - 1
White-eyed Buzzard - 3
HIMALAYAN BUZZARD - 2
Long-legged Buzzard - 1
Steppe Eagle - 1
Booted Eagle - 4
Indian Thick-knee - 2
Yellow-wattled Lapwing - 5
Temminck's Stint - 1
Indian Courser - 5
Small Pratincole - ca. 500
Common Hawk Cuckoo - 2
Indian Scops Owl - 2
Brown Fish Owl - 1
Jungle Owlet - 2
Brown Hawk Owl - 3
Stork-billed Kingfisher - 2
Wryneck - 1
FULVOUS-BREASTED WOODPECKER - 1
White-browed Fantail - 1
Ashy Drongo - 2
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo - 2
Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark - 20
Sand Lark - 10
Blyth's Reed Warbler - 2
TICKELL'S LEAF WARBLER - 2
Brahminy Starling - 2
Scaly Thrush - 2
BLUE-THROATED BLUE FLYCATCHER - 1
Bluethroat - 1
Purple Sunbird - 2
Bay-backed Shrike - 1
Citrine Wagtail - 5
Richard's Pipit - 1
Tawny Pipit - 1
Paddyfield Pipit - 20
Little Bunting - 1
Black-faced Bunting - 2

Golden Jackal - 6
Bengal Fox - 2
Wild Water Buffalo - 20
Nilgai (Blue Bull) - 2

Bengal Fox



Small Pratincole

Ashy-crowned Sparrowlark

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Wryneck


Indian Courser

Great White & Little Egrets

Red-naped Ibis

White-rumped Vulture

Booted Eagle

Brown Fish Owl

Greater Coucal

Yellow-footed Green Pigeons

Jungle Owlet

Scaly Thrush

White-eyed Buzzard

Swamp Francolin

Nilgai

Lesser Adjutant