Tigers, the Taj Mahal and a Vulture

26 April – 5 May 2016 

After the postponement of our intended safari/hiking trip to Zambia and Malawi we were left a holiday short for this year. Since we get withdrawal symptoms if we don't get regular sun/culture/wildlife/etc, we cast around for an alternative and finally found a very well priced Newmarket tour of the "Golden Triangle" of Northern India (Tigers and the Taj Mahal). Since there looked like some scope for at least a bit of birding, the money was sent off. 

The flight to Delhi was by Jet Airways, and was about as good as any long-haul flight in steerage can be. On arrival we had the usual fun with fingerprint readers and then met up with the rest of our group for the drive to the hotel. Before exiting the airport we started the score with Red-wattled Lapwings and a couple of Bank Mynahs. Driving out into the traffic, three things became rapidly apparent. Firstly, Indian roads seem utterly chaotic. Secondly, the pollution levels are off the scale. Thirdly, there are an enormous number of Black Kites in town. We were staying at the Suryaa Hotel, pretty good, with an excellent roof terrace for watching the Black Kites and the flocks of Little Swifts. Feral Pigeons were everywhere. In the late afternoon, we headed out to the Qutb Minar (fabulous minaret and other interesting ruins set in a nice park). Here we added House Crows, Jungle Crows, Common Mynahs, Rose-ringed Parakeets, Alexandrine Parakeets, House Sparrows, Collared Doves and Palm Squirrels to the list. 


Palm Squirrel

Next morning was spent touring the sites of Delhi. Only one new bird was added, a fly-over Cattle Egret, although Erica found a Black Kite nest at the Jama Masjid Mosque. 


Black Kites

The long drive to Jaipur wasn't that enthralling from a birding point of view, the only additions being Little Egret, Red-vented Bulbul and a Hoopoe. During our "comfort" stop some of us had a happy time photographing Purple Sunbirds in the car park bushes. 


Purple Sunbird (m)

Note: I'm rarely going to mention Common Mynahs, House Crows, Jungle Crows, House Sparrows, Pigeons, Collared Doves, Rose-ringed Parakeets and Red-wattled Lapwings again, just assume they're everywhere. 

Our hotel in Jaipur was the Shahpura House, splendidly decorated with a small but beautiful garden and pool. Next morning we went up to the Amber Fort. This is a fabulous building, really impressive. Apart from pigeons and Dusky Crag Martins, birds were scarce, apart from a nice little Brown Rockchat. 

On the way back to Jaipur we stopped to take pictures of the "Lake Palace", or, alternatively, of the birds on the lake. These consisted of Great Egret, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Indian Pond Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Moorhen and Spot-billed Duck and Green Bee-eater.

Black-winged Stilt


Indian Cormorant

The hotel garden was a lovely place to sit in the shade with a beer and watch the Indian Robins, Purple Sunbirds and Red-vented Bulbuls in the trees and shrubbery. 

Up again at parakeet squawk to head for the part of the holiday I was most looking forward to, a visit to Ranthambore National Park. After a long drive (made longer by the bus breaking down at a major junction and creating chaos for an hour or so) we arrived at our hotel, the Ranthambore Regency. I'd thoroughly recommend this place as a hotel and the gardens had a very nice selection of birds in them. There were: Pied Starlings; Brahminy Starlings; Green Bee-eaters; Common Iora; Jungle Babblers; Southern Coucal; Black Drongo; Common Tailorbird; Red-vented Bulbul; Oriental White-eye and Oriental Magpie Robin.


Oriental White-eye


Common Tailorbird

Late afternoon we ventured into the park for the first time, for a visit to the fort – where one of our party was knocked to the ground by a very irate Langur monkey, with a four-footed flying kick the late Bruce Lee would have envied. There was plenty of non-feathered wildlife around, a decent-sized crocodile, Sambur and Spotted Deer, an oddly solitary Macaque and rats in the walls. I spotted the only Plum-headed Parakeet of the trip and the first of many Rufous Treepies. At the top of the fort a pair of Great Tits pecked at an exposed bank. 

Other birds included: Indian Peafowl; White-breasted Waterhen; Red-rumped Swallow and many of the common species already mentioned. Orbiting high above the fort was an Oriental Honey Buzzard and on the road back to the hotel we saw our first Spotted Owlet.


Rufous Treepie

Next day we began the search for Tigers. Ranthambore is split into zones, with Zone 3 probably being the best for Tiger spotting. We had two trips, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning trip was in Zone 4, where the nearest we got to a Tiger was a big, fat footprint. However, the birding made up for it (for me anyway). In the afternoon session we were in Zone 3 and Tigers were plentiful, four to be precise. Views were tricky, unless of course you take your 150-600mm lens on holiday with you...

The other half of our group did the zones in reverse, and in the afternoon were rewarded with point blank views. 

While spending three hours each session gently getting heatstroke in our open-topped vehicles (the temperature was in the high 30s to low 40s throughout the trip) there were some good opportunities to do some (seated) birding around the lakes where we parked to wait for stripey cat-things. 

The birds around the lakes were an interesting mix of residents and migrants: Spotted Redshank; Wood Sandpiper; Temminck's Stint; Great Thick-knee; Black-winged Stilt; Painted Stork; Asian Openbill; Eurasian Spoonbill; Black-headed Ibis; Grey Heron; Great Egret; Little Egret; Cattle Egret; Darter; Indian Cormorant; Little Cormorant; Lesser Whistling Duck; Bar-headed Goose; Black-winged Kite; White-eyed Buzzard; Whiskered Tern; Grey Francolin; Grey Partridge; Red-collared Dove; Laughing Dove; Indian Scops Owl; Spotted Owlet; Jungle Nightjar; White-throated Kingfisher; Black Drongo; White-bellied Drongo; Small Minivet; Golden Oriole; White-browed Fantail; Baya Weaver; Scaly-breasted Munia and White-browed Wagtail.


Spotted Owlet


Indian Scops Owl


Jungle Nightjar


Black-winged Kite

Next morning we headed to the Geejgarh Village Retreat for a sanitised taste of rural India. The grounds were good for stalking in, with many of the commoner birds present. Highlights were a confiding Hoopoe, a bunch of very noisy Jungle Babblers, plenty of Purple Sunbirds, Green Bee-eaters, Brahminy Starlings, Ashy Prinia, a displaying White-browed Fantail and a very pretty Laughing Dove. Oh, and a mouse.


Green Bee-eater


White-browed Fantail


Mouse

Our next stop was Agra and the Taj Mahal. Undeniably jaw-dropping, but perhaps a touch over-familiar. However, Erica turned to me and said "What's that!?" That was the scruffiest looking immature Egyptian Vulture I've ever seen. It flew on to a water spout and spent its time looking at the tourists, while occasionally trying to poo on them from a great height! The Taj is great, but that made it for me.


Egyptian Vulture

If you're a birder and want to stay in Agra, may I recommend the Trident Hotel. Best sleep, good food, nice pool and great grounds. There's the usual formal bit around the building, but stray a bit further and there are ponds, a vegetable garden, a "Bird Zone" with a hide and a walking route (not long, really not long at all). For your amusement, here's the "Bird Zone" sign.


Yep, that's an American Blue Jay – rather scarce I'd say.

Despite the sign there were plenty of kosher birds around, Southern Coucal, White-throated Kingfisher, Grey Heron, White-breasted Waterhen, Indian Peafowl, Ashy Prinias and the second last new bird for the trip, Brown-headed Barbet. We also spent a happy 10 minutes trying to photograph a Mongoose.


Southern Coucal


Brown-headed Barbet


Mongoose

Would there be time for a final spectacular. Oh yes. Driving on the motorway back to Delhi, Diane in the seat behind me suddenly said. "What are those? They've got red heads." I caught a glimpse of three Saurus Cranes standing in a field and a few miles on, near the outskirts of Delhi, two more, much closer to the road. 

The last evening was spent on the roof terrace of the same hotel we'd started on, watching the Black Kites, Little Swifts, Pigeons and House Crows again.

"Let loose the Kraken!"

  • Wowee  Stuart, what an interesting and excellent thread and although I've seen some of these species in "captured" aviaries, bird parks etc   neve seen most of them in their natural environment.    Wonderful photos and report, too much to take in one reading/viewing so going back for a slower browse through lol     thanks for taking the time to post such a brilliant thread with amazing species,   I can't pick a fave as they are all special in their own unique way.  

    _________________________________________________________________________

    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • In reply to HAZY:

    Stunning report Stuart, I almost felt I was there with you. For a non birding holiday you certainly saw a lot of species. Love the quizzical vulture although its habits may not be so popular with the tourists!!!!.Like Hazel I shall now go back and read it all again.

    Thanks so much for this superb report and taking the time to put it up.

    Kind regards

    Jenny

  • In reply to nairnred:

    Ta very much, there ain't no such thing as a non-birding holiday! (Well, unless it's at the South Pole or in a nuclear sub. ;-)

    "Let loose the Kraken!"

  • In reply to Stuart Vine:

    Cracking report, a really good read. Sounds like it wasn't such a bad substitute destination after all.

    ----------

    Cheers,

    Bob

    My Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobs_retired_now/

  • In reply to Bobs_Still_Retired:

    Brilliant report, Stuart. I felt I was almost there with the heat, dust and smells. A very impressive list of birds you saw - did you have someone who could ID them as I wouldn't have had a clue.

    Wonderful views of tigers .... they must have been even more impressive in real life. I think I read recently that their numbers have been increasing for the first time in many years. The conservation guys must be doing a good job. If only we could convince the Chinese and others to stop using animal body parts for their medicines and aphrodisiacs.

    ____________________________________________________________________

    Regards,Tony

    My Flickr Photostream 

  • In reply to TeeJay:

    Thanks, I'm not bad on the commoner Indian birds, having previously been to Sri Lanka. I also religiously studied "Birds of the Indian Subcontinent" for a month or so before we went, and took it with me. Our National Park guide was good on birds of prey, but didn't really notice much else. Perhaps fortunately there weren't any warblers around to confuse the issue! ;-) Tigers seem to be doing well in National Parks in India, but someone will always try and supply a demand unless it's cut off at source :-(

    "Let loose the Kraken!"

  • In reply to Stuart Vine:

    Great thread, Stuart--thanks!  If you have more photos of more birds, please add them!  Would especially love to see the Cranes.

    Kind regards, 

    Ann

  • In reply to Gardenbirder:

    Sorry Ann, we were speeding past the cranes at about 50mph :-( Here's one or two more birds for you though...


    Black-crowned Night Heron


    Red-wattled Lapwing


    Common Mynah with a beak problem


    Painted Stork


    Alexandrine Parakeet


    Plum-headed Parakeet

    Grey Partridge

    Jungle Babbler

    Red-vented Bulbul

    and a Peacock to finish.

    "Let loose the Kraken!"

  • In reply to Stuart Vine:

    Nice extras there Stuart.

    ----------

    Cheers,

    Bob

    My Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobs_retired_now/

  • In reply to Bobs_Still_Retired:

    WOW WOW WOW l love these photo's stuart, l think l'm in love with the Oriental white-eye bird what amazing looking bird, but really they all are, ect the tiger which is soooo good and well shot, to think l saw the Black-winged stilt at slimbridge Gloucestershire you will see in my gallery, they were in a hot house l wasn't happy with it being so small . and also l have a glass ornement of the green bee-eater made of crystal which l love when the sun hits it or not, but no can't beat the real thing. thankyou for sharing with us this great collection. l will never go aboard to see them, so glad you bought them to me. Yas ps hope there's more to come.