Trip report: Northern India (Nov-Dec 2009) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Keith Barnes.

Our Northern India tour is one of our most popular Asian trips – not only does it provide some of the highest bird lists for an Asian destination (we found around 383 species this year alone on a shorter 2-week trip), but also adds a number of impressive mammals to the equation. Not least among these is the World’s best cat – Bengal Tiger. In addition to this, India provides some of the very best birding photo opportunities of any tour, as birds are simply everywhere, with the respect given to nature through the powerful Hindu influence in India’s rich culture has left many of these birds both abundant and approachable. We kicked off the tour in style with some ‘city birding’ down at Sultanpur Jheel that saw us rack up over 100 species on our first day around India’s capital Delhi alone. You’d think it would all be downhill from there, but as with all our previous year’s tours, everyone was justifiably ‘blown away’ by both the breathtaking scenery, and scintillating birding during our trip into the foothills of the greatest (and youngest), of all the great mountain chains – the Himalayas. Our time around the old British hill station of Naini Tal in Kumaon was voted as the best birding of the trip, the hordes of tits, nuthatches, woodpeckers, colorful jays and finches keeping us all very busy, so that there was rarely a dull moment as we perused these Himalayan ‘bird waves’, scanned the mountain slopes for pheasants, including encounters with both tricky pheasants, Cheer and Koklass Pheasants, and checked the undergrowth for tesias and wren-babblers. All the while, the impressive form of India’s highest mountain, Nanda Devi, (close to border of the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal), loomed large in the background. Highlights in the Oak and Rhododendron forests within these Himalayan foothills included a spritely Chestnut-headed Tesia that danced around us in Bajun; Spotted Forktails were found working the boulders in the crystal-clear mountain streams; a gorgeous male Siberian Rubythroat was found hopping around in some bushes in Bharatpur; and a bunch of interesting thrushes, that included prolonged looks at the normally shy, and ridiculously well-endowed Long-billed Ground-Thrush, to add to the host of tits, nuthatches, warblers, prinias, jays, magpies, finches and woodpeckers we ran into in these scenic mountains.

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