Sunday, 28 February 2016

Saturday 27 February – Stag Night

Spent the morning around the Reservoir, there wasn’t too much going on although the Wigeon flock has risen to the heady heights of six birds! This is a long way down on the 80 or so from ten years ago but a significant improvement on the last few years where there have only been one or two birds.

Birds were starting to show a bit of interest in breeding with a lot of birds singing and looking to rather frisky especially a pair of Treecreeper around the small pool.

I spent the afternoon indulging in sport – watching the Rugby then the Albion who were impressive in the first have and the complete opposite in the second!

I then attended Steve Cawthrays stag night where the great and the good of Warwickshire birding were on hand. We were all supplied with Del Boy face masks and entered Dreamers Indian Restaurant where it would have been nice if Jellied Eel Madras had been on the menu! The food was excellent as was the company and even some of the other tables joined in the fun. The banter was something I have missed since finishing work and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The UK’s oldest groom! Or is it John Merrick!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Tuesday 23rd February

With Joy having picked up Leonards cold from India she has been layed low for a few days now. I was up early and around the reservoir and home by 9.30am. The Oystercatcher was still there and there were at least 100+ Siskin. Other species of note where around 80 Pochard, 6 Gadwall, 5 Wigeon and 3 Goosander.

This evening I went to the roost meeting up the soon to be Wed Steve Cawthray and the soon to be best man Steve Haynes. The 1st winter Mediterranean Gull was in the roost for the third evening in a row but there was little else.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Back to the mundane

Monday 22nd February

I took a walk around this afternoon but it was largely uneventful, I received a call from Steve Haynes at 5.30pm to say the Med Gull had dropped into the roost, I was on-site within five minutes and saw the bird well and it was still there at dusk.

Having been back from India for a week, birding has been a bit of a struggle. I have been over Shustoke a couple of times seeing Oystercatcher on both occasions. There are good numbers of Siskin and Redpoll around as well.

I had a problem with the blog before I went away (since fixed). The best bird during that period was a Iceland Gull which Steve Haynes picked up in the roost @ 28 January. I arrived just too late to get a good views as it was nearly dark, I did however see it fly briefly before I lost it in the murk and the 1,000s of Black-headed Gull that all took off at the same time.

I was there first thing the next morning but all the birds had left the roost before daylight arrived.

Last evening there was a Med Gull in the roost so things are happening albeit slowly. The Gt Northern Diver appears to have departed in early Feb. It will be getting a little more lively with Spring fast approaching.

The group in the dining room at Pangot

Another picture of us celebrating Lokesh’s tick, rum supplied by said!

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Sunday 14th February – Kosi River to Delhi

Arguably the bird of the trip Ibisbill.
This was our last morning, we were due to return to Delhi later so we were up early. The plan was to take the short trip to the Kosi River to photograph the Ibisbill and it went to plan as Jack picked up two birds feeding just a couple of hundred yards upstream.

We spent the next 30 minutes taking in the enigmatic species at our own pace. We eventually got back to the van and Lokesh said lets bird up to the gate, a distance of about 400 yards. At the log last night we were all on a variety of totals but as a group we were on 360 species, you never see them all and you get some the others don’t and vice versa. I for instance had Grey Treepie that everyone missed etc.

Himalayan Flameback
Lokesh scored straight away with Puff-throated Babbler an addition to the holiday total which was a tick for most, but not The Captain and I as we had seen this species in Thailand. Next a group of Long-tailed Minivets a colourful species that I had missed but most of the others had seen. Result! We hadn’t gone much further when the boy squealed again “Himalayan Flareback”, not one but five! We drunk them in, then after Joy and June had had a quick ride in the back of a Tuc Tuc it was back to the hotel to pack for the journey to Delhi.

The group all jelled well from Mike (Geordie) who was like greased lighting when it came to getting to the scope first (including mine). Jack (Scouser) who was a gentle giant, I’ll never forget the locals queuing to get photographs taken with him at the Taj Mahal! The Captain who was ... well The Captain like a coiled spring in the field, and a champion of the nasal trombone in his sleep! Leonard and Rosita (Swedish) didn’t speak a lot of English but joined in as best as they could. The driver who got us from A to B safely, no easy task when every driver is a certified nutter. Last but not least Lokesh who most have struggled with the regional accents as much as Swedish!

At the hotel in Delhi they had Sky Sports so The Captain and I watched the Arsenal v Leicester game before our evening meal, where we said our goodbyes, Jack, Leonard and Rosita who all had early morning flights, Mike like ourselves had a flights for lunchtime so we would present for breakfast.

Back in our room we put the football on and Liverpool were already two up against the Villa, The Captain being a Blues fan was cock-a-hoop and even I, found it a bit embarrassing watching the Villa getting pummelled, Liverpool only played for 60 minutes they could easily have won by more (sorry Karen). As a footnote, the commentary mentioned it was Liverpool’s largest away win for ten years or so, I know I was there when they steamrolled the Albion 0 - 6!

The group on the last morning, can I just point out this was practically the only time that I hadn’t taken my scope.
The next morning after breakfast we were picked up early by the taxis, we tried to get hold of Lokesh but in the end we headed through the traffic for the airport and before long we were back home. It had been a thoroughly brilliant holiday with good company and a great guide who birded with skill and enthusiasm and even though he was under the weather for a couple of days never let it hinder him.

We had seen a tremendous number of birds my total was 355 plus a good few mammals including two tigers. We had seen the good and bad sides of India.

The last of at least a dozen accidents we had seen during the trip.
The last word though is reserved for birds – with rubbish dumped everywhere we went in India, it came as a surprise that there was a large State run rubbish dump in Delhi, we drove past it and it was massive. However, the sight of around 30,000 Black Kite wheeling overhead filled the sky and every available perch was truly staggering. Even the power lines and pylons where hanging with birds.

Can’t wait to visit again...

Saturday 13th February – Corbett Tiger Reserve (Outskirts of)

We searched today along a stretch of river which was probably in the region of 20 to 30 miles upstream of the Temple. Our target was Tawny Fish Owl, unfortunately it wasn’t there – it obviously not been told we were coming. We did however see Brown Dipper, I was the only one who had seen it well previously so it was a good catch up for everyone else.

Lesser Yellownape
Asian Barred Owlet
We didn’t linger and took another road back which took us to around 3,000ft mark and we did our usual of getting out of the van and walking downhill whilst birding. We had a good selection of birds including another Collared Falconet, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Plain and Pale-billed Flowerpecker. Another good bird was a female Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, the best though, but not good for the group was a calling Grey Treepie, I picked it up as it flew into a tree on the wooded hillside. I didn’t want to take my bins away as it moved from tree-to-tree but it was impossible to explain where it was to everyone else and by the time I got everyone on the correct spot, it had gone!

Collared Falconet
Eventually it was back to the hotel for lunch and this time we had a three hour break agreeing to meet up at 4.00pm to bird in the grounds of the hotel.

We met at 4.00pm with no great expectation, but we were wrong, we saw new species for the holiday in the form of Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s and Richards Pipits and great views of Chestnut-breasted Bunting this was another species that caused confusion as it is also known as White-capped Bunting.

I had already seen the Collared Scops Owl and was playing it cool.
Down at the river 
Chestnut-fronted Bunting aka White-capped Bunting Emberiza stewarti

Friday 12th February – Corbett Tiger Reserve (Outskirts of) and Ksosi River

With the holiday fast drawing to a close the last few days had been a lot more relaxing with most of the distance behind us we were spending more time birding than travelling.

The morning started with a trip to the Kosi River with the nearby Darjiya Temple we arrived early but there were already a good number of worshippers present in the make shift village, although it was mainly shops selling trinkets and food. The pilgrims bathed themselves in the clear waters of the river and they all looked to be enjoying themselves, even if they were freezing. Unfortunately downstream there were a number of people using the river for other purposes, the water looked clear enough to drink, but I don’t think I will bother.

We worked our way upstream, eventually getting views of two Ibisbill which unfortunately were on the other side of the river. Lokesh spoke to the driver who took his shoes off and rolled up his trousers and made his way gingerly through the fast flowing water “The man is a legend”. He had only just crossed when some villagers appeared with their washing and the birds flew a good way upstream!

The  camp by the river with Ibisbill habitat in front.
The driver re-crossing the river having completed his task.
Next we birded on a road that bordered the Corbett Tiger Reserve where there was thick jungle on the other side of the stream that ran alongside the road. A bird was calling from the undergrowth at our feet and it eventually revealed itself. Lokesh was momentarily confused, the field guide came out and he announced that it was a female White-browed Shortwing! This was only the second time that he had seen the species. With that there was an alarm call from both Rhesus Langur and Barking Deer – there was a big cat around! The driver was summoned and we quickly boarded the bus. The Grave yards are full of dead heroes – and I for one didn’t qualify! We drove further up the road for a couple of kilometres and disembarked again, with the bus following us closely we made our way downhill.

White-browed Shorting (female)
The target species was Snowy-browed Flycatcher and The Captain picked one up deep in the undergrowth and what a bird it was. We continued walking downstream looking for Little Forktail but we were to draw a blank with that one. A Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch performed well and before long it was time to eat again.

Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch
The afternoon session started about four miles from Tiger Camp we parked by the roadside and made our way towards the river. A mud hut there held a family of seven the oldest of which was about six, they looked happy but one wonders what the future holds for a population that is growing so fast with limited opportunities. More subsistence farming, more goats more habitat destruction! Anyway a muddy cliff face lay about 400 yards away, on the other side of the river and Lokesh who had promised up we had a 99% chance of Wallcreeper was getting a bit of a sweat on. Ten minutes later I picked up a Wallcreeper, it was absolutely tiny but utterly captivating as it was a species I had always wanted to see.

We then returned to the Temple for better views of Ibisbill we made our way upstream when another Wallcreeper flew past us and started feeding on the boulders at the rivers edge, it was incredibly difficult to pick up in the boulder field and over the next 20 minutes we had several brief sightings. It then flew off and disappeared into the distance. Lokesh announced that he thought he had heard Ibisbill, we scanned the shoreline and just across the river from where the Wallcreeper had been were the two Ibisbill. We could have had both species in our bins at the same time had we known!

There is a Wallcreeper in this picture, it just give an ideal of how small they are.
We made so much noise shouting instructions we flushed the birds, I was not impressed, I exclude myself from blame – I was quiet! It’s too easy for excitement to take over and my sulk lasted little more than a few seconds and we were all buzzing about the birds we had seen in the last hour or so.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Thursday 11th February - Corbett Tiger Reserve

After a night in Tiger infested country I slept particularly well, considering the gaps in the electric fence. On the way back to our room last night there were a few Muntjac inside the compound! To be fair ten years ago I could have jumped the fence, so with the best will in the world it wasn’t going to stop a Tiger!

We spent the morning birding from Jeeps inside the park seeing more species, the pick of which was a pair of nesting Pallas’s Fish Eagle, annoyingly I just couldn’t get a good view from the jeep. Then it was back to the compound where we birded until lunch was served. Then it was back on the jeeps and we slowly birded our way out of the park and arrived at Tiger Camp where we filled in yet another form. This hotel was one of the best with excellent rooms with good shower sor in our case a nice long bath, Joy was gutted they only had a shower in their room!

Our mode of transport inside the park
Plumbeous Redstart

White-capped Redstart
Kaleej Pheasant
Lineated  Barbet
Self explanatory

Wednesday 10th February – Pangot to Corbett Tiger Reserve

Last night at supper Lokesh informed us we were making another attempt for Cheer Pheasant and that he had heard “a Plain Pipit” today whilst we were searching. Back in our room we scoured the field guides for Plain Pipit but couldn’t find one. This is not unusual as many of the birds have more than one name which adds to the confusion. I asked Lokesh what was the other name for Plain Pipit, he looked a little puzzled and said “No just a Plain Pipit”.

Anyway, we were on-site but unfortunately we again drew a blank with Cheer Pheasant even though everyone was looking hard. The Captain, sharp-eyed as usual announced he had a Pipit on a large rock behind us. A Plain Pipit Lokesh exclaimed. We got the scope on it and it was anything but Plain for a Pipit anyway. We were all enjoying this bird and Keith and I assumed it must have a Plain song. Jack looked at us strangely and informed us the bird was a Upland Pipit (try it with an Indian accent and it will make sense).
Upland Pipit or a Plain Pipit
By 10.00am and minus Cheer Pheasant we were packed and ready to head to our last venue, the one I had always wanted to visit  – Corbett Tiger Reserve. I had grown up reading Jim Corbett’s books on the man-eaters of India I’ve never tired of reading them. Tonight, we were spending the night in the Reserve in an enclosure surrounded by electrified fences, scary! On the drive to Corbett we passed another viewpoint were we couldn’t resist stopping for a last look at the Himalayas. Not far from  Corbett we saw a couple of lads on a motor bike carrying several panes of glass it wasn’t the first time we had seen this, but I had to grab a “Record Shot”.
The wife and I with the Himalayas as a backdrop
The wife the twin June and I with the Himalayas as a backdrop,

Glass transportation Indian Style. At least he can see danger coming!

After lunch at the Tiger Camp hotel Lokesh announced that we were going to meet the Gypsies in the car park, brilliant thought Joy and June, were going to get our Palms read, Fortunes told and there might be a cup of tea and a quick reading of the leaves afterwards. More than one person giggled when we met the Jeepses. Now in his defence they had Gypsies written on the side!

Statue of the great man
We eventually got into the Reserve after I was nominated to fill in the details of all the group members at the security on the front gate, I think I got most of the names right, I wasn’t the natural choice for getting names correct!

What followed was three of the most magical hours I have ever spent. The Reserve is massive it took all the time we had to get to the centre albeit we were birding some of the time. First up and completely unexpected we found not one but three Collared Falconets a small bird of prey. We saw loads of birds, then we pulled up at a spot where we could get out of the Jeeps called High Van, I assume it means High Vantage Point. There was a Grey-headed Fish Eagle sat in a tree and although we were ready to leave Lokesh went back the Jeep to fetch his Scope, this delay would prove vital.

We made our way back to the Jeeps five minutes later than planned when a young lad came running towards us nearly wetting himself with excitement – “Tiger, Tiger”. I ran the first ten yards spun around and went back for my camera, I wasn’t going to miss this. There were about 20 of us looking down over the River when we saw the Tiger making his way over the shingle beds towards the trees, all you could hear was cameras and excitement, I have never seen so many people so happy I felt close to tears it was really moving. Then as the Tiger reached the the trees, he must have heard us even though we were 200 yards away he looked back over his shoulder right at us. There was a lot of shaking of hands and looking at the back of cameras, they really were cracking lads and later Jack spoke to them in the restaurant and got their emails so as to send them pictures.

The Tiger
The Tiger
He walked right to left across this scene which I had taken earlier, I have blown it up but there was no tiger then.

Tuesday 9th February – Pangot

Today was designated pheasant day, we were driving up to an elevation of 8,000ft in our search. We were on the road by 6.30am We were driving through woodland and it wasn’t long before we were into quite a few Kaleej Pheasants, typically in small parties. Koklass Pheasant proved to be a little more tricky. We reached a clearing when Lokesh shouted he could see a few Hill Partridge, we were quickly out of the van and five minutes later these birds were safely in the bag. We decided to retrace our steps back down the hill and we hadn’t gone far before the Koklass Pheasant gave itself up and we had views of a male and three females below us on the forested slopes.

Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler
Another bird that we saw was the strange looking Long-billed Thrush all bill and no tail, weird thing it was. So having been relatively successful we drove higher looking for the next target Cheer Pheasant. It was more open here and the landscape consisted of hills covered in a yellow grass, unsurprisingly Cheer Pheasant was the same colour as the grass, no doubt contributing to us not seeing any. As we scanned the slopes below us we could hear talking and several woman from the valley below had scaled the hill in order to cut grass for their livestock. An example if ever there was one that this habitat will not last much longer, if they are climbing that high for fodder there can’t be a lot left in the Valley.

We did see a flock of around 80 to 100 Altai Accentors they would wheel around, land, then disappear into the long grass, they were on view nearly the whole of the time we were here but we never got a good view of them.
The Himalayas
Joy with the Himalayas behind her.
Cheer Pheasant habitat without the pheasant
On our return we stopped at a viewpoint where we took in the spectacle of the snow capped Himalayas at about 30 miles distance, they were simply breathtaking!

In the afternoon we decided to try and catch up with Woodpeckers a family that had successfully avoided us all morning. We birded an area called Binok Road where we had great views of Scaly-fronted Woodpecker plus Rock Bunting and several Red-flanked Bluetail. We then drove slowly  back along the road through the forest, about half-way down Lokesh stopped the van and announced he had a woodpecker, not one but at least five including the bird that had eluded us most of the day Rufous-fronted Woodpecker plus another new species in the form of Himalayan Woodpecker.

Streak-breasted Woodpecker
Himalayan Woodpecker with Rufous Sibia
Then it was back to Pangot where we watched the sunset in the west with the backdrop of the Himalayan foothills.
The sun setting over Pangot

Monday 8th February – Sattal to Pangot

We were up early birding around Sattal, revisiting sites to try and locate any species that we missed yesterday. Unfortunately we ran out of luck, our search for Golden Bush Robin drew a blank. We saw most of the species from yesterday so moved on. Then at the Ravine which had been so good previously we had our only Scaly Thrush of the week plus a Rufous-bellied Flowerpecker. Before long it was back to the hotel for the short drive to Pangot.

Spotted Forktail
The scenery was impressive and things were livened up by a puncture on the journey The driver changed the wheel and at the next town went to get the spare fixed. Rather than hang around waiting we were dropped off and made our way on foot up the Pangot Road, with the driver instructed to pick us up on the way. This worked to our advantage as we saw our only White-tailed Nuthatch of the trip.

We arrived at Pangot at lunchtime where we enjoyed a good meal before birding in and around the village, the bird feeders on-site were good, with numerous White-throated Laughingthrush, Chestnut-headed Laughingthrush and Rufous Sibia. In the grounds we found a Eyebrowed Bush Robin which was a Lifer for Lokesh – his first lifer in four years!

The accommodation at Pangot
By this time the sun was beginning to set and it was getting a touch cold, not surprising at 5,000ft altitude. We went for our evening meal in the dining hall which was 200 yards downhill from our accommodation to be greeted with a roaring fire! We did the bird log and ate our fill, with Lokesh celebrating his tick by handing out a glass of rum to everyone! (This was my only drink of the holiday). The biggest cheer of the night came when the staff handed out hot water bottles – and we needed them!

Speckled Piculet
Streaked Laughingthrush
Chestnut-headed Laughingthrush
White-throated Laughingthrush
Himalayan Bulbul
Black Eagle

Sunday 7th February – Sattal

It was a relief that the last few days of travelling were behind us and this morning we only travelled a few miles as our birded was to take place in and around the village of Sattal.

The birds came thick and fast and it really was exceptional, highlights included Grey-backed Shrike, Black-headed Jay, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Siberian and Himalayan Rubythroat, Yellow-fronted Greenfinch, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler and numerous flycatchers.

We made our way downhill to a nature reserve where we encountered both Nepal Wren-babbler and Streak-breasted Wren-babbler and a strangle but beautiful looking Chestnut-headed Tesia.

After lunch we were royally entertained by a Scarlet Sunbird in the garden of the hotel. On the drive we passed a village where rubbish was strewn all over the place, the stream was full of plastic bottles, bags, clothing it was a really shame at apart from that the scenery was staggering. We then drove the short distance to the Keehi Temple which lay alongside a fast flowing river where some of us connected with a Brown Dipper, but for the first time the weather turned against us and it was cold with a heavy drizzle for an hour of so.

On the drive back to the hotel we passed a rubbish tip by the side of the road where Steppe Eagles were feeding, unfortunately the light was really poor but that pic hasn’t been cropped so you get an idea of how close we were.

Scarlet Sunbird
Crested Kingfisher
Steppe Eagle