Thursday, 26 February 2009

Jewel in the Crown Part IV, Kanha, Pench and back to Delhi

As I usually say about holidays, it wouldn't be the same without a bit of a cock up along the way, would it? And when it comes to cock ups on Indian trains, I could write a book!

On boarding our train at Agra, it turned out that our Indian fixer, Ranno "The Big Cat" Sikarwar (proprietor of the Hotel Sunbird in Bharatpur, plug, plug) got us at the wrong end of the sleeper carriages. Which meant that at the next station, in Gwalior, we all had to leg it, 14 people and luggage, to the other end of the sleeper carriages. Oh, and we had four minutes to do it! Somehow we managed it, but it took at least one pull of the emergency cord in order for the train to stop long enough!

Being the gentleman that I am, I also gave my first class bunk away and spent the journey in second class. Which, thanks to the company (they know who they are), was most enjoyable. We also had all the smuggled booze with us, ha ha. Did I really get through a litre of rum? I hardly ever drink the stuff, honest guv! It certainly helped for getting a bit of sleep, but I don't believe I snored.

Monday 16th February.

Feeling rather wobbly on the platform at Jabalpur station (too drunk to be hung over yet!), some breakfast in a nearby hotel, we then set off on the three hour drive to Krishna Jungle Resort, near Kanha National Park. Incidentally, there is another resort here called "Tigerwoods". I'd like to think it has a golf course.

Check in, then lunch, then off on our first jeep safari at Kanha. I wasn't really on the best of form at this point, the rum had taken it's toll.

Nevertheless, it was a rather successful first safari, which included first sightings of Barasingha (Swamp Deer), Gaur (Indian Bison) and Baloo! (mother and cub Sloth Bear!). Others in our group also saw Dhole (Indian Wild Dog).

Bird highlights for me were 4 Lesser Adjutant Storks, White-Rumped Vulture, Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo, White-Bellied Drongo and Brown Fish Owl. The reader will notice that over the next few days, bird photos are rather limited. Digiscoping is impossible in the jeeps, this is where you really need a proper camera. So no photos of birds, well, apart from these:

Two very cute Collared Scops Owls in their regular roost within the Krishna Jungle Resort. Aaaahhhhh.

Tuesday 17th February.

The early starts keep getting earlier on these jeep safaris! Bird sightings to begin with included Red Junglefowl, Orange-Headed Ground Thrush, Brown Shrike and Streak-Throated Woodpecker. Over to the park gate for breakfast, loo, and news of a Tiger show.

The mahouts on their Elephants (if you want a dangerous job, be a mahout!) had found a female Tiger this morning, so off we went. Our Elephant got closer and closer to the Tiger, clearing the bushes for a better view. At one point it forced the Tiger to jump forward, roar and show her teeth! That made the Elephant jump, and for me to hang on (don't drop the camera!). A little obscured but she is there:

The afternoon safari produced another of my favourite birds of the trip, but not quite the best, Golden-Fronted Leafbird. Another Sloth Bear was also seen.

Wednesday 18th February.

This turned out to be probably the most memorable day of the trip, for wildlife anyway. I don't think anything can beat the experience of an Indian train.

There was another Tiger show this morning, which was the male from the photo I put on at the start of this tale. Following the Tiger was by far the best birding I had at Kanha. Which included Black-Hooded and Golden Orioles, Scarlet Minivet, Large Cuckooshrike and Stork-Billed Kingfisher (which astounded the jeep guide, as this is a Kanha mega!).

We then reached a patch of bamboo that was absolutely crawling with birds. Mainly a flock of Pale-Billed Flowerpeckers, but also Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and Asian Paradise Flycatcher. I then caught another bird in the binoculars, unlike anything I've seen before. Absolutely beautiful but not a clue what it was. Mad flicking through the field guide, I eventually worked out what it was. Black-Naped Monarch. What a stunning bird, and my favourite of the whole trip.

If I thought I'd had a good morning, that was nothing compared to other members of our group. One of our jeeps followed a Tiger (or the Tiger followed the jeep more like!) walking along the tracks for half an hour! Here's the proof:

And if that wasn't enough, a group of Indian tourists showed us a photo of an animal they saw during the morning. It turned out to be a Mouse Deer. It turns out that this is the first ever record of Mouse Deer at Kanha!

After all that excitement perhaps it was inevitable that the safaris in the afternoon, and the following morning were much quieter. Not much to add bird-wise, apart from Indian Vulture, White-Naped Woodpecker and Crested Treeswift.

Another Tiger and Dhole were spotted on the last morning safari, but all had gone by the time we were ready to look for them. Perhaps this was a sign that it was time to move on. Lunch at Krishna resort, then time to check out and set off on a four hour drive to Mowgli's Den resort, adjacent to Pench National Park.

Friday 20th February.

Pench was as far south as we were going, and the difference in temperature was noticeable. Or maybe it was just a hot day? Whatever the reason, it was the one day in the trip where the heat was a bit too much for me.

Pench National Park was where last year's David Attenborough "Spy in the Jungle" series was filmed. The forest is less dense than at Kanha, but that will also mean that there is less shade (for both tourists and big cats).

During the morning and afternoon safaris here, no Tigers were seen. We did manage a Golden Jackal in the afternoon though. Bird highlights during the day here included a magnificent Malabar Pied Hornbill, Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Striated Heron, Ultramarine Flycatcher and Siberian Rubythroat. Oh, and Great Tit, they all count!

Saturday 21st February.

A 4am start? You call this a holiday!!!!!! Unfortunately it had to be done for a two-hour drive to Nagpur, then a morning flight back to Delhi. This would then allow for a free afternoon of either sight-seeing and shopping in Delhi, or birding at Sultanpur Jeel. Guess which option I chose?

Of course I went to Sultanpur. I've been there before and it's a great little spot, like a miniature Bharatpur. This is also where the Sarus Crane photo was taken, much better views of them here than at Bharatpur would you believe.

We did manage three more, and final, additions to the bird list. Which were Imperial Eagle, Wigeon and Mallard! It's quite hard to believe, but Mallard are rather scarce in India.

And with that, an excellent meal at our hotel in Delhi, washed down with a few bottles of Kingfisher lager ended a wonderful 12-day trip. Many thanks to everyone in the group for being such good company. Eventually I'll upload more of my photos onto Flickr and put a link to them in a future blog entry.

But if anyone's interested in going to India (I know I am for a third time!), then get in touch with Jo!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Jewel in the Crown Part III, Chambal/Taj Mahal

Saturday 14th February.

I appear to have gained a bit of a reputation at Chambal from my last visit, which mainly was to due getting up to my knees in mud whilst leaving the river to look for Sirkeer Malkoha. In fact, it was around this very spot:

So after that, just about all the staff at the safari lodge just laugh at me, in a good hearted way of course. And we did see the Malkoha, top of the hill. It was also great to meet Dalveer again, the lodge's resident birding guide. An evening walk around the grounds produced Brook's Leaf Warbler, Orange-Headed Ground Thrush, Plum-Headed Parakeet:

And the Safari Lodge's resident Brown Hawk Owl:

2 Barred Buttonquail were also in adjacent fields.

Sunday 15th February.

It's about a 25 minute drive from the safari lodge to the embarking point along the Chambal River for the boat trip, taking in Crested Bunting and Sulphur-Bellied Warbler along the way. Digiscoping isn't really possible on the boat, but I managed these shots from before and after the boat ride:

Small Pratincole

Great Thick-Knee

Indian Skimmer

River Lapwing

A plethora of other birds were seen from the boat, including a fantastic male Black Francolin, Bar-Headed Geese, Woolly-Necked Stork, Lesser Sand Plover, Red-Headed Vulture, Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse, Bonelli's and Short-Toed Eagles, Desert and Variable Wheatears.

Back to the safari lodge for lunch, then off we go to Agra. I took loads of photos of the Taj Mahal last time. Call me a philistine if you like, but it hasn't changed much since. But even I, who doesn't have that much interest in architecture, must admit it's an impressive sight:

This time I did concentrate more on birding in the gardens and the view of the Yamuna River behind the Taj. The gardens produced Asian Koel, Shikra, Brown-Headed Barbet, Hoopoe amongst others; plenty of Black Kites overhead with the odd Egyptian Vulture and an Osprey. Then along the river was my first ever Caspian Gull. A slightly different backdrop here than at Stubber's Green!

We had time for about two hours at the Taj, prior to heading off to Agra Cantonment railway station, for the overnight sleeper train to Jabalpur.

To be continued..............

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Jewel in the Crown Part II, Bharatpur

Thursday 12th - Saturday 14th February.

Our group had two full days inside Keoladeo National Park, with the luxury of travelling by cycle rickshaws (Jaldi Chalo!). When I last visited here, in November 2007, successive poor monsoons had led to the park being very dry. Even then, it was still a great place for birding, although it left one feeling the place wasn't quite at it's best. As such I didn't see one Painted Stork.

15 months, and an excellent monsoon season later, voila:

And not just Painted Storks. But Sarus and Common Cranes, Asian Openbill and Black-Necked Storks, Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans, Glossy and Black-Headed Ibis, Great White, Intermediate, Little and Cattle Egrets, Grey, Purple, Night and Indian Pond Herons, Black Bittern, Oriental Darter.

But the park isn't just a heronry. There are excellent areas of woodland and scrub in the park. The local birding guides really know their stuff. Randeera was our guide on the first day, and knew the exact spots for roosting Spotted Owlet:

Grey Nightjar:

And Large-Tailed Nightjar:

The park is also good for birds of prey. Those seen included Marsh and Hen Harriers, Oriental Honey and White-Eyed Buzzards, Black-Shouldered Kite (always photogenic when perched):

Shikra, Egyptian Vulture, Booted, Indian Spotted and Greater Spotted Eagle (pictured):

Both Randeera and Brijendra (our guide on the second day) have been guiding at Bharatpur for about 30 years. Brijendra took us round similar areas of the park on the second day. Then towards dusk we were taken to some fields between the park entrance and Hotel Sunbird. Which is where, in addition to the Indian Coursers (pictured in my last entry, which I thought were going to be my birds of the trip, more later!), were a group of 11 Yellow-Wattled Lapwings:

On the final morning prior to leaving Bharatpur, Brijendra took us back to these same fields for the Indian Coursers and Yellow-Wattled Lapwings, but also larks such as Crested Lark and Ashy-Crowned Finch-Lark. We were also taken to a stretch of river in town which, as you can see, is a reliable spot for Painted Snipe. Two females were here at the time:

There was an excellent array of other waders here, including Red-Wattled Lapwing, Black-Winged Stilt, Marsh, Common, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Ruff and Temminck's Stint. Eventually we returned to Hotel Sunbird for lunch, and we then embarked on the three and a half hour drive to the Chambal Safari Lodge.

To Be Continued..................

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Jewel in the Crown

I won't rattle on and on about it just now. Some of it will be similar to a trip report lying around the internet somewhere from my last trip to India in November 2007. Writing that report inspired me to take up blogging actually.

I'll think of some words for the blog in a few days. I'll also put some photies on Flickr eventually.

In the meantime, apart from getting a load of washing done, Oooohhhhhhhhhh yes!

Oooohhhhhhhhhhhh yes!

And, oooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh yes!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

A Hide Without a Name

Sunday 8th February, Blithfield Reservoir, 14:00 - 16:45.

I'm still here folks. I've got about a day and a half before I go away.

Just enough time to fit it another blog entry, and some time spent at Blithers. It's my first visit this year. Much longer and I'll be accused of being a passage migrant!

Starting, on foot, along Blithe Bay. There had been one or two Scaup present in recent days, so it was most pleasing to see four. Although there's only three pictured here:

Also in Blithe Bay were 24 Goldeneye and 30 Ruddy Duck. It doesn't seem that long ago when there were hundreds of Ruddies at Blithfield, must be the cull taking it's toll.

Following a quick chat with Mr Blurred, down into Tad Bay next. Another 14 Goldeneye and 18 Goosander here. But the main thing to report is that the new hide has been built!

There is one flaw in the design though, and that's in front:

Where are the planks to sit on? What? You mean we have to use this one properly? Here's an inside view:

Continuing the theme of a recent blog entry, this does also mean that this hide needs a name. I may live to regret this, but, any suggestions? Seriously though, I can think of an appropriate name.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Gull Crazy, and Bloggers Day Out

Thanks to Errol Brown for the first half of this blog title!

Saturday 31st January, Uttoxeter Quarry, 11:50 – 12:50

I think that biohazard sign can be done away with now, although still a little bit of a sore throat at the time of writing. Not much out of the ordinary at Uttoxeter, although 9 Common Gulls were notable.

Coldmeece Pools/Cotes Heath, 13:30 – 16:00

After frustratingly missing out on the first-winter Glaucous Gull at Copmere last week due to my failing health, it was a relief to hear it was still around during the week. Seen at either Coldmeece Pools or Cotes Heath (when not feeding at Swynnerton landfill) during the day. The plan was to get onto the Gull at either site, so not having to wait around for the roost at Copmere.

Plenty of gulls were at Coldmeece on arrival, and eventually I had the good fortune of finding a white-winged gull with a black-tip to a pale bill. Wow, that must be the Glaucous I thought. A text to Nick Pomiankowski soon prompted a reply, as he had also got onto a first-winter Glaucous at Cotes Heath!

At that point alarm bells started ringing, thinking the bird I have here is not right. In fact, the more I looked at it the more I thought this was an Iceland Gull. It didn’t look that big, the rounded-shaped head, the length of the wings beyond the tail. It’s just that bill though, as the first-winter Iceland Gull I saw at Copmere a couple of weeks ago had an all-dark bill. First-winter Glaucous has a black tip to a pale bill.

I’m not scared to ask for help, especially if it ends up with the correct identification. So I scuttled off to Cotes Heath and found Nick. Unfortunately the Glaucous at this site had gone, so we went back to Coldmeece. Thankfully the bird in question was still around and was confirmed as a second-winter Iceland Gull.

However, “an all-dark eye and shades of brown on the primaries, what does that mean for Kumliens?”, asked Nick. Oh eck, where’s Olsen and Larsson when you need it? I was just getting the camera ready when all the gulls took off.

Another check of Cotes Heath saw all the gulls take off there as well, before I could view them. Following that I decided to return to Coldmeece and then wait for the roost at Copmere after all.

Copmere, 16:15 – 17:00

My kind of roost site Copmere, it’s small and the gulls aren't far away! And the first-winter Glaucous Gull was here as well. Hurrah. It also looked completely different to the Coldmeece bird.

On returning home, checking the Gull bible had put my mind at rest. It was definitely a second-winter Iceland Gull, nothing other than that. A second-winter Kumliens Gull (the North American race) is much darker overall.

Sunday 1st February.

A bit of a bloggers day out at various sites in Staffordshire today. Accompanying me were Kay, Max, Stuart the Alrewas Birder, Mr Reg Telescope, and “Bittern-photographer-extraordinaire” Pete Walkden.

Starting at Doxey Marshes. Here were 31 White-Fronted Geese, 11 Goosander, Water Rail, Snipe. No sign of Water Pipit unfortunately, probably hiding down in the strong, icy wind.

Buoyed by my Iceland Gull triumph yesterday, I thought a check of Coldmeece and Cotes Heath would be worth a try. This turned out to be a silly idea, probably because I had brought the Gull bible with me today. There were very few Gulls at Coldmeece. Nick arrived as we were leaving and informed me of nothing at Cotes Heath too. So onto Park Hall.......

Unfortunately Park Hall wasn’t much of an improvement either. No sign of any Long-Eared Owls or Little Owls. Too many people and dogs around I fear. However, there were around 30 Golden Plover and a Raven. At this point Pete had to leave us, while the rest of us drove up to Swallow Moss.

I had been a little concerned whether it would even be worth going up into the moors today. If it’s cold further downhill then you know it will be bloomin’ cold up there! But at least you can just view from inside cars for most of the time. On the way were 3 Red Grouse on the road between The Mermaid and Swallow Moss.

For most of the time all we saw, apart from flurries of snow, was a Snipe. But as it was nearing dark, a cracking male Hen Harrier duly appeared. Quartering the heather before dropping down to roost. Thank goodness for that, a great end to the day with great company.

Well, not quite the end. It appears that as I was driving home, everyone had decided to grip me off. Stuart with a Merlin, and Reg, Max and Kay with a Short-Eared Owl. There’s gratitude for you!

Only joking. I can get up there any time, only 25 minutes from home. As far as I was concerned it was their day at my end of the midlands, in god’s own county.

Speaking of which, I suppose not quite any time. I think this is going to be the last blog for a few weeks. After next weekend I’m then off to India, hooray! It’ll be nice to be somewhere warm.

PS. Bill Frindall, The Bearded Wonder, RIP.