Birding in North India
Trip Report: Nainital, Pangot, Sattal & Corbett area
by Dipu Karuthedathu, Praveen J, Sachin Shurpali, Vinay Das
6August - 16August, 2010
We were all set to start our dream trip to Ladakh when the news of calamity flashed on the TV screens. As the cloud-burst hit the Leh and washed away men, houses and bridges, it also took away a month long preparation we had done for the Ladakh trip. Frantic consultations followed over phone, mail, chat and in person to decide the fate of the trip. If not Ladakh, what else? It was tough to find an equivalent alternative. Atul Jain and Raveendra H decided to cancel the trip, their sole focus being Ladakh. But doing the same and cancelling the hard earned vacation from the office (and from home!) was not an easy option for the rest of us. So, with the help of Atul and other birding "networks" we had, alternative options were enquired. By the middle of the day, we decided on a tentative plan to bird in Delhi for the first 2 days and to decide the later course from there, possibly somewhere in the Himalayas not far from Delhi. Late in the night, we sat in the flight staring into the incomprehensible and "insufficient" maps in the field guides to see what is in store for us. First round of listing ensured that we will miss on almost all the birds that we were prepared to see in Ladakh!
Arrangements in Delhi were so perfectly managed by Atul that we hardly thought about anything but birding. After a few hours of landing in Delhi, we were already on our way to Dadri Wetlands, guided by the "young at heart" veteran Anand Arya (salute to the energy he packs in). Soon we were seeing birds like Brown Crake, Black-breasted Weaver and Bristled Grassbird. The male Bristled Grassbird entertained us with the beautiful display flight and the female gave some nice poses as well. Other key birds for us (South Indian birders) included Black Francolin and Bengal Bushlark. On the way back, we ventured deep into the marshes to pick a lovely pair of Sarus Cranes, single Black Necked stork and a Comb Duck. Second day birding (& breakfast!) was planned along with Delhibird outing headed by K.B. Singh to Najafgraph. Later in the day, Gautam Surya from delhibirds accompanied us to Basai where we could see some more lifers. The day produced an excellent list, important birds for us including the 3 bitterns (Chestnut, Black and Yellow), European Roller, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Plain Martin, Greater Flamingo, Pied Avocet, Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage and Sarus Crane again.
Based on inputs from various sources, Nainital was picked up as our base for the next few days. After an overnight journey to Nainital, morning was spent in fixing the birding plans around Nainital along with DFOs Biju Lal and Amit Verma who helped us with logistics and up-to-date and accurate ground situations. A small but fruitful birding session in the Nainital Zoo ensured that we bagged the commoner birds like White-tailed Nuthatches, Green-backed Tits, Russet Sparrows, Oriental Turtle Dove and Brown-fronted Woodpeckers. Shaheen Falcon and Mountain Hawk Eagle sat on tree tops, giving us astounding views.
Mountain Hawk Eagle
An afternoon stroll on the Pangot road added nice views of species like Slaty-headed Parakeet, Whiskered Yuhina, Bar-tailed Tree-Creeper and plenty of Rufous Sibias. By the end of the day, we reached the Forest Rest House in Vinayak with the provisions for the next 2 days. The targets for the area were the pheasants, including the elusive Cheer. The Vinayak Forest Rest House is located along a beautiful hill slope with nice forest all around. The surroundings of the rest House itself provided nice birding opportunities, giving us many firsts like Rufous-bellied Niltava, White-browed Shrike Babbler, Rufous-naped Tit, Chestnut-bellied Rockthrush and also once again a juvenile Mountain Hawk Eagle on perch. The birding around Pangot was also not bad, yielding Striated Prinia, Black-throated Tit, Spot-winged Tit, Upland Pipit and Blue-capped Redstart. Koklass PhesantEfforts to locate pheasants failed on the first day, hence we started early the next day to the rocky slopes to try our luck. On the way, we saw our first pheasant - a female Koklass, but the rest of the day did not yield any more. But the day's birding did give few other good birds including Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, nice views of Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush, Black-faced Warbler etc. With Vinayak and Pangot not yielding much, we decided to hit back to Nainital and try our luck at Sattal the next day. A short trip to the Nainital Botanical garden the same day did give us some cheer providing the first Khalij of the trip, a Small Niltava pair and a glimpse of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler.
Morning session in Sattal was a huge success compared to misty mornings we had the previous 2 days. It yielded us almost all the Bulbuls in the trip, Black-chinned Babbler, Crimson Sunbird, Blue-winged Minla, Nepal House Martin, White-crested Laughingthrush , Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Tickell's Thrush and Red-billed Leiothrix. But the good time ended soon, with the rest of the day washed off due to rain. Later in the evening, we tried our luck again in the Botanical Garden, got slightly better views of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler and excellent views of the beautiful Green-tailed Sunbird.
Next days destination was Kherni Village, off Ranikhet road for possible Chukar. On the way we picked up two Lammergeiers on the sky which happened to be our only sighting. The area appeared to be a rain-shadow region and the bird life resembled us of Bangalore outskirts, giving birds like Grey tits, Laughing Doves, Ashy, Jungle and Grey-breasted Prinias, Purple Sunbirds etc. While a Himalayan Griffon and Crested Bunting gave nice views, the Chukar made a single frame appearance. But the day gave us some beauties like Wedge Tailed Green Pigeon, Striated Laughing Thrush, Brown Dipper, Spotted Forktail, Rufous-chinned Laughing Thrush, and a large soaring flock of Griffons.
Almost exhausting our luck in Nainital, we decided to head to Corbett National Park to give a boost to our trip list! Though the park was closed, with the help of Manoj Sharma, we fixed our base and chartered our birding trails in the surrounding forests. Just after settling in the hotel, the dying hours of the day gave us our first Dark-sided Flycatcher, lucky indeed! Next day, we birded on the Garjia-Kumeria road and around Mohan. Birds which showed up included Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Grey-capped and Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Lesser Fish-eagle, Crested Kingfisher, Collared Falconet, Rosy Minivet and a Pitta which turned out be Indian! On the last day in Corbett, we went on Sitavani road. Birds were sparse, occasional stops yielding a Blue-throated Flycatcher and an Orange-headed Thrush.
Suddenly a cacophony on the side of the road caught our attention giving us a majestic Forest-eagle Owl. And later in the day, the same area gave our bird of the trip - Hooded Pitta – giving beautiful views for a good few minutes! OK, enough of birding, we thought!
Done with tireless (and for some really tiring) birding in forests, the last day of our trip was planned with just a short birding walk in Okhla with the intention of seeing some missed Delhi specialties. Though we dipped on most, we were rewarded with Yellow-bellied Prinia and first Blyth's Reed and Clamorous Warblers of this year. And this was followed by a sumptuous breakfast in Atul's house who just floored us with his hospitality! And thus ended one of the memorable and most unplanned trip we ever had in our life with a satisfying overall list of 283 birds, lots of lifers and some beautiful and unbelievable views of some prized birds.
Overall Planning & Direction, Delhi logistics, pep talk, spirit and food! - Atul Jain
Dadri Show - Anand Arya
Dinner in Delhi & Najafgarh leader - K. B. Singh
Leader in Basai - Gautam Surya
Research & Contacts (Nainital) - Manoj V Nair, IFS
Logistics and guiding in Nainital - Amit Verma & Biju Lal (DFOs, Nainital)
Support in Vinayak - Arya (Chowkidar)
Guiding in Botanical Garden - Aravind (Forester)
Logistics and virtual guiding in Corbett - Manoj Sharma
Transport, errands, spotting & stopping! - Babuddin (Driver)
And not to forget, the most enjoyed breakfast of the trip - Atul Jain & Aparna Jain
Aug 6th - Landed at midnight in Delhi
Aug 7th - Dadri Wetlands
Aug 8th - Najafgarh, Basai & Tughlaqabad Fort. Overnight drive to Nainital
Aug 9th - Nainital Zoo, Pangot road. Drove to Vinayak in the evening
Aug 10th - Vinayak & Pangot
Aug 11th - Vinayak & Pangot. Drove back to Nainital in the afternoon.
Nainital Botanical Garden in the evening
Aug 12th - Sattal, Nainital Botanical Garden
Aug 13th - Kherni in the morning. Drove to Corbett in the afternoon
Aug 14th - Mohan, Kumeria, Marchula road
Aug 15th - Bandarpani-Sitavani, Mohan-Marchula. Overnight drive to Delhi
Aug 16th - Okhla in the morning. Flew back to Bangalore in the afternoon
Trip List: Microsoft Excel document at this link
© Dipu Karuthedathu