Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Saturday 26 August 2023

Post-Monsoon Birding in Rajasthan, India: 9th - 15th August 2023

It was some time ago that Ashley Howe invited me along on a whistle-stop tour of Rajasthan during the post-monsoon season to seek some critically-endangered species. We used Asian Adventures who once again did a sterling job. Our main quarry was the superlative Lesser Florican, a species that will soon (in relative terms) be on the extinction list, and to see this very rare bird, one has to visit in late July or early August to correspond with its display. Another hoped for species was the Bristled Grassbird... seemingly another doomed species. 

Our 7-day trip, of which only five were spent in India, was most successful, and as we had both visited this region previously, there were very few species to actually target, with myself not even hitting the double-figure mark for lifers. 

9th August 2023

We departed Heathrow in the evening on a direct Virgin Atlantic service to Delhi. 

10th August 2023

We arrived on time and swiftly got through immigration and found our guide and driver, Deepak and Pawan. It was a short drive to the hotel where we got dropped off, much to our dislike as we were desperate to see some birds, but just had to make do with the local Black Kites. 

In the afternoon, we left and headed for Surajpur Sanctuary on the outskirts of Delhi. It was a nice surprise to see new and improved infrastructure in the road network and my grim memories of my past visit were soon dashed, all for the positive. I was actually impressed with India this time around, with less chaos for starters. Anyway, the afternoon journey was highlighted by a Shikra, White-throated Kingfisher and some Asian Green Bee-eaters. 

We finally arrived at an open section of the Surajpur Sanctuary and instantly found some nice birds and the joys of foreign birding commenced. Straight away we encountered Cinnamon Bitterns, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Great Coucals, Black Francolins, Pied Bushchats, Red Avadavats and three species of weaver (Black-breasted, Baya and Streaked). We soon heard our main target, this being a Bristled Grassbird and soon we clapped eyes on this critically-endangered bird. After a short walk which produced some excellent dragonflies and butterflies, plus some more birds including Tricoloured Munia, a Blyth's Reed Warbler, Jacobin Cuckoo and Bengal Bush Lark, Ash and I crept up to a safe distance and admired the grassbird for 45-minutes. 

All too soon our time was up and we departed the site during the midst of a minor deluge, but what a successful start to our short Indian adventure. What was even better was the food in the evening, the first of many fine curries!

Plain Tiger - needless to say the only 'tiger' was saw

Ashy Prinia

Wire-tailed Swallow

Red Avadavat

Black-breasted Weaver

Bristled Grassbird

11th August 2023

After breakfast, light soon emerged and we drove roughly an hour to Sultanpur Reserve, a site we had visited during our last visit and where we had seen Sind Sparrow and Brooke's Leaf Warbler. As the reserve was closed, we concentrated our efforts along the storm drain which gives way to some excellent marshland. It was again brilliant with an excellent variety of birds, with Black Bittern, Cinnamons and many Little Bitterns flying around; a few Yellow-breasted Prinias were in the reeds and there were lots of Wood Sandpipers about too. Besides the commoner species like Indian Golden Orioles, Indian Robins and Silverbills, there were no new birds here so we left and started the long journey to Jaipur. 

A roadside breakfast stop was most welcome especially as a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater went over. 

We eventually arrived in Jaipur and rested up in our fancy hotel, before being picked up again and drove a short distance to a Leopard reserve on the city's outskirts. Despite the park's size, there are thought to be 30 completely wild Leopards here, which apparently mostly hunt on the local dog population! A 'safari-style' drive in the park wasn't a crazy affair like other Indian reserves, but we couldn't find a Leopard, though did find the following birds: Bay-backed Shrike, Common Woodshrike, Black-winged Kite, Hoopoe, Jungle Nightjar, Spotted Owlet, Yellow-throated Sparrow and lots of babblers comprising three species.

With a curfew in the park, we had to leave and therefore went back to hotel. During the drive, we had expressed our concerns as to why we were faffing about with non-Lesser Florican activities, so Deepak quickly changed the plans for tomorrow which meant we were florican bound for tomorrow!

Little Bittern

Striated Babbler

Indian Silverbill



Black-winged Kite

Jungle Nightjar

12th August 2023

As we weren't due to leave the hotel until 8am, I woke up early and went for a run, which was brilliant! I only did 5km, but did see my only Indian Grey Hornbill of the trip!

After an excellent breakfast, we left and were heading directly for a Lesser Florican location. Deepak was extremely relaxed, and with good reason, as a mere four hours later, we parked up and joined some Indian photographers, where just beyond, up bounced a splendid Lesser Florican! I had first become aware of this species from a tv program when I was a kid... like most things back then, I never thought I would see it, but here I was now watching one of the world's rarest birds performing its ludicrous display. We watched it for over an hour during which it barely stopped jumping, much to our delight. A dream come true!! 

Unfortunately, there are only two states where you can see the florican, with Gujarat being out of bounds in the post-monsoon season, therefore, this tiny pocket in Rajasthan is the only site where one can see it, thought his year, only five or six displaying males have 'returned'... drastic times indeed! 

We continued birding nearby and found roosting sites for Indian Nightjar, Savanna Nightjar and Indian Eagle Owl, before retreating to our very nice hotel, maybe 20km south of Ajmer.

In the late afternoon, we were off out again and went in search of Jungle Bush Quail and Painted Spurfowl. No joy with the former (although several Rock Bush Quail were found) and after hearing a spurfowl, we soon located it. A few Barred Buttonquail were also located and a Southern Grey Shrike also showed nicely. 

It had been a top day and we retreated to the hotel, meeting a Dutch birder at check-in, who was to join us (in separate vehicles) tomorrow.

Lesser Florican

Ashy-crowned Sparrowlark

Indian Eagle Owl

Indian Nightjar

Savanna Nightjar

Rock Bush Quail - class birds!

13th August 2023

The first surprise of the day was in the hotel reception pre-dawn, where our leader from a few years back was standing - Dalveer, such an awesome person and always happy. Anyway, off we went to a different florican location, but also an exceptional Rain Quail site. I had actually seen Rain Quail in Thailand, but one can never tire of such a lovely bird. They were incredibly easy to find and by the end of this session, we had maybe seen 10 birds. A Lesser Florican was also jumping around, but more mobile and difficult to track in the longer grass, so it didn't have our full attention. What was most impressive was having a pair of quail on the deck as they crept past at moderate distance. A flock of 19 Garganey also went over. 

The rest of the morning was spent walking a more savannah-like habitat, with scattered acacias and very short grass. Here, we came across yet more Rain Quail that were proving difficult to locate on the deck and there were lots of Rufous-fronted Prinias singing. A Painted Spurfowl was also located, this time calling from a tree branch and we admired this pretty bird for a short time. A few Yellow-wattled Lapwings and a stunning Bay-backed Shrike were found too. The morning had flown by, and after a prolonged rest at the hotel, off out we went again for some decent birding. Before we did leave, Ash spotted maybe the find of the trip, as a man with six toes emerged from the hotel. I had to grab my bins to confirm... I'd never heard of this before, but a great sighting, despite staring at an Indian foot!

Out again and at the same Indian Nightjar site as yesterday, Ash and I went off in hot pursuit of a grounded individual, but they mostly outdone us. However, I caught a glimpse of a 'leaf warbler' which appeared to have a solid crown stripe. Quickly alerting Ash, we both watched the mostly obscured bird and both quickly came to the conclusion that is must be a Western Crowned Warbler. Firing off photos confirmed our suspicions, although it was rather humerous/annoying that Deepak didn't believe us one bit, this despite him glancing at our photos! Soon after a Booted Warbler was found by Ash. 

On the return to the same florican as this morning, a nice adult Rose-coloured Starling was seen and the jumping florican would be the last time we would see the species this trip, and probably, forever... good luck to them! 

Eastern Cattle Egret

Rufous-fronted Prinia

Rock Bush Quail - a split-second too late

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Western Crowned Warbler

Booted Warbler

14th August 2023

Our final day of birding had us departing the hotel pre-dawn and venturing north and then north-east to an area of dense scrub/low-level forest for yet another great birding session. We only had a few hours, but in this time found a good variety, with the following highlights: White-naped Tit, Plum-headed Parakeet, Western Crowned Warbler, Tytler's Leaf Warbler, Greenish Warbler, three Bonelli's Eagles and a White-eyed Buzzard.

It was then a very long slog back to Delhi, but quieter roads due to the following day being Indian Independence Day, so no large lorries could enter the city... excellent! We arrived at Delhi airport in good time for our flight down to Mumbai, where we were to kip on the airport floor, ready for our Virgin flight the next day, where we arrived at Heathrow in the mid-afternoon.

A great few days in India and many thanks to Ash for sorting and to Asian Adventures for their efforts.

Purple Sunbird

White-naped Tit

juv. Bonelli's Eagle

Indian Roller

Sunday 20 August 2023

Western Pacific Odyssey (Part 7) - Narita, Japan

Ed and I had a pretty much a full afternoon and a full day from the Crowne Plaza on the outskirts of Narita. A narrow canal surrounded by superb habitat meant we had plenty of birding opportunities and we spent most of our time here.

We also went and saw some cool temples in Narita itself, which is still very much like the 'old' Japan and was a pleasant experience wandering the grounds. 

Bird highlights from Narita:

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker - 2
Meadow Bunting - 10
Masked Bunting - 25
Grey-faced Buzzard - 8
Dusky Thrush - 1 male
Oriental Turtle Dove - 20
Brown-eared Bulbul - 200
Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit - 1
Brown-cheeked Rail - 1
Bull-headed Shrike - 4
Varied Tit - 2
Green Pheasant - 3
Little Ringed Plover - 2
White-bellied Green Pigeon - 1
Oriental Greenfinch - 5
Brown-headed Thrush - 1
Pale Thrush - 5
Japanese Bush Warbler - 2

Meadow Bunting

Grey-faced Buzzard

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker

Oriental Turtle Dove

Wednesday 9 August 2023

Western Pacific Odyssey (Part 6) - Japanese Waters

The 13th and 15th April were two of our most exciting days at sea of the entire voyage. Among the thousands of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, hundreds of Matsudaira's and fewer Tristram's Storm-petrels and Bonin Petrels, a few Leach's Storm-petrels and increasing number of Black-footed Albatrosses, were two mega seabirds, namely the Bryan's Shearwater and Short-tailed Albatross.

On the 13th from roughly 3pm onwards, the island of Chichijima was in view. This is thought to be only one of three islands where the diminutive Bryan's Shearwater breeds - a mega rare seabird of the NW Pacific region and only recently split in the Little Shearwater complex. Myself and many others positioned ourselves out on the monkey deck, hoping for a sighting as we encroached the island looming ahead of us. 
It was a stormy sea with fierce winds and low cloud, meaning it was tough to hear what everyone was calling. A few Humpback Whales were breaching off to our left, some Bannerman's Shearwaters were flying through the hoards of other shearwaters, until Barry Reed sat next to me spotted a Little-type Shearwater flying from left to right. Panic ensued but I soon got onto the bird as it flapped its wings endlessly; it was immediately obvious this could be nothing but the Bryan's Shearwater. I watched it for some time before reaching for my camera... this didn't work and that was sadly the last I saw of it. Due to the conditions and despite us shouting, the people on the right of the vessel couldn't latch onto the bird - only six of us confidently saw it. It was then a case of searching for other seabirds; a stonking Long-tailed Skua was the highlight and several more Humpback Whales (including a breaching mother and calf) were seen too.

Long-tailed Skua

Oceanic White-tip Reef Shark

Bannerman's Shearwater

Humpback Whale

The 15th was a quite incredible day. Hints of us approaching the southern end of the Japanese chain of island soon became apparent when from deck, a couple of Eyebrowed Thrushes and an Eastern Cattle Egret joined us... remarkable. A Laysan Albatross was an excellent bird and then in the distance, the island of Torishima emerged. This island is an active volcano, and human settlers on here practically wiped out the only breeding population of Short-tailed Albatross until they became extinct as a breeding species, not just here, but anywhere!

Roll on a decade or so and the birds which had come out of immaturity, had now returned to the island where they had been raised - Torishima. In-between this time, the volcano had erupted and left the island inhospitable for humans, which meant the albatrosses could return and not be hunted. Nowadays, there are a few hundred pairs of this quite beautiful (and huge) albatross. 

It wasn't until we reached the island that the sheer numbers of both Short-tailed and Black-footed Albatrosses became apparent, with many flying right up to the ship. After this quite surreal performance, we chummed heading away from the island, with the most impressive sighting being a young Humpback which appeared to like what was being served. A superb adult Pomarine Skua also flew through. A few Short-tailed Shearwaters, some Bonin Petrels and an Eastern Buzzard were also seen.

A mixed species flock

Short-tailed Albatrosses

Humpback Whale

Pomarine Skua

same Humpback

Torishima Island

The following day saw us track through the island chain in the south where we were hoping to have landed, so a few land endemics were missed, but we were very fortunate to see, amongst the thousands of Streaked Shearwaters, a handful of Japanese Murrelets. The wind was exceptionally strong here and even I started to feel a bit grim, so I went for a lie down, missing some mega close murrelets in the process. Our first gulls since New Zealand flew past, these being Black-tailed Gulls and a couple more Short-tailed Albatrosses also whizzed by.

After nearly a month onboard this fine vessel, our final evening on the Heritage Adventurer was now upon us. However, a trip that was long in the making, one I had been looking forward to since 2008(ish), was now over. The next morning, we docked in Yokohama Harbour with Mt Fugi as a pleasant backdrop and Vega Gulls on every building it seemed. Edward Paxton and I made our way to the Crowne Plaza at Narita Airport where we enjoyed an enjoyable 24-hours of birding (which will be the next post) before heading home.

One less umbrella onboard

Streaked Shearwaters