India: Rajasthan and Kashmir 2019 with Tibetan Plateau extension
And now for something completely different, as we explore the vastly underrated Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in search of some very special birds. But first, we begin our new Indian adventure in Delhi and visit a small wetland area where Bristled Grassbird breeds before heading into Rajasthan and visit Sonkhaliya where we will marvel at displaying Lesser Floricans and target some usually tricky species that are much more amenable in the rainy season such as Rain Quail and Rock Bush Quail. From here we head into the Kashmir hills where such delights as Kashmir Nutcracker, Kashmir and White-cheeked Nuthatches, Rufous-naped Tit, Kashmir Flycatcher, Variegated Laughingthrush, Tytler's Leaf Warbler, Black-and-yellow Grosbeak, Pink-browed Rosefinch and Spectacled Finch can be found. An optional extension to the edge of the vast Tibetan Plateau to Tso Kar Lake will give us a fantastic opportunity to get superb views of the high-altitude specialist, Tibetan Sandgrouse. Amidst amazing scenery there will be a variety of other special birds such as Black-necked Crane, Brown Accentor, Ground Tit and Blanford's Snowfinch to keep us entertained.
Rock Bush Quail
Tibetan Partridge (ext)
Black-necked Crane (ext)
Tibetan Sandgrouse (ext)
Indian Eagle Owl
Ground Tit (ext)
Guldenstadt's Redstart (ext)
Hume's Whitethroat (ext)
Mountain Chiffchaff (ext)
Tytler's Leaf Warbler
Brown Accentor (ext)
Robin Accentor (ext)
Great Rosefinch (ext)
Blanford's Snowfinch (ext)
Tibetan Snowfinch (ext)
Monday 22nd July – Wednesday 31st July 2019
Tibetan Sandgrouse Extension: 31st July - 6th August
Day 1 Arrival in Delhi - Surajpur- 22nd July
Plan to arrive this morning in Delhi, where you will be met at the airport and transferred to a nearby hotel. Time permitting we will head to Surapur wetlands in the late afternoon to view Bristled Grassbird at a nesting site. Night in Delhi.
Day 2 Delhi - Surajpur - Ajmer
If we didnt get a chance yesterday afternoon to visit Surajpur Wetlands we will head there early this morning. Bristled Grassbirds breed here and should be displaying, offering us our best chance to see this localised species. We'll see a variety of common species as well such as Asian Openbill, Red-naped Ibis, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Indian Peafowl, Indian Thick-knee, Black Kite, Pied Cuckoo, Green Bee-eater, Ashy Prinia, Indian Bushlark, Red Avadavat, and more. Afterwards we will set out on the drive into Rajasthan and reach Ajmer later this afternoon. Time permitting, we will break the journey with a visit to Nahargarh Biological Park, an area of thorn forest that sometimes holds White-naped Tit. Other species here include Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Bay-backed Shrike, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Western Crowned Warbler, Brahminy Starling, and also a few pairs of Indian Pitta. We could also head into Jaipur where a late afternoon jeep safari can be made to search for Leopards, which are sometimes rather active and relatively easy to observe here. Night in Ajmer.
Days 3 - 4 Sonkhaliya
We have 2 full days to look for Lesser Florican amidst the arable fields, thorn scrub and grasslands of Ajmer and Sonkhaliya. The floricans display during the "monsoon" months by bouncing skyward from a stationary position, and gain height by a rhythmic and almost frantic beat of their wings that create a dull clapping sound. At the peak of their climb they throw their heads back, close their wings and drop to the ground with their legs frantically kicking outwards. It's an amazing sight and something you'll only ever see by visiting this area in the summer months. The surrounding area is also rather productive for Rain Quail and their distinctive call can be heard all across the lowland areas we will be visiting and there's a very good chance of finding Rock Bush Quail as well. More commoner species that we should see include Knob-billed Duck, occasionally Jungle Bush Quail, Grey Francolin, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Greater Painted Snipe, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Red-necked Falcon, Southern Grey and Long-tailed Shrikes, Indian Bushlark, Rufous-tailed and Crested Larks, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Large Grey and Common Babbler, Indian Robin, Baya Weaver and Indian Silverbill. We'll also hopefully be able to track down Indian Eagle Owl during the course of our time here as well, whilst Painted Sandgrouse is rather unusual here. Nights in Ajmer.
Day 5 Ajmer - Sonkhaliya - Delhi
What we do this morning will be dictated by our success from the prevoius couple of days, but we may well try to improve our views of Rain Quail or Rock Bush Quail before the long drive back to Delhi. Roadside stops en-route could give us Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Indian Golden Oriole, Small Minivet, Common Woodshrike, Cinereous Tit and more. Night in Delhi.
Day 6 Delhi - Srinagar
We take an early morning flight to Srinagar that only takes 90 minutes but flying past the mighty Himalayas will take us to a whole new world! Upon arrival we will drive via a series of winding mountain roads through pine forest and up into alpine meadows full of wild flowers. Our intitial exploration of the area should produce singing Western Crowned Warblers, as well as Himalayan Woodpecker, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Spot-winged Tit and Lemon-rumped Warbler, although Brook's Leaf Warbler may take a bit longer to track down.
This will be our first opportunity to find some of the key targets of this region: Kashmir and White-cheeked Nuthatches, Rufous-naped Tit, Kashmir Nutcracker, White-throated Bushtit, Variegated Laughingthrush, Tytler's Leaf Warbler, Black-and-yellow Grosbeak, Pink-browed Rosefinch and if we are lucky, Spectacled Finch. Once we are finished we will head back down and across Srinagar and to our rather 'different' accommodation and base for the next 4 nights - a houseboat on the edge of Nigeen Lake.
Days 7 - 9 Kashmir
We will have 3 full days to thoroughly explore the Kashmir hills and find our target species. Other birds present in the forests and on the drive from our houseboat include Black Francolin, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Himalayan Parakeet, Oriental Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Brown-fronted and Scaly-bellied Woodpeckers, Hodgon's Treecreeper, Blue-capped and White-capped Redstarts, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, Spotted Forktail, Long-tailed Minivet, Mountain Bulbul, Tickell's Thrush, Grey-winged Blackbird, White-bellied Robin (redstart), Ultramarine, Dark-sided and Rusty-tailed Flycatchers, Streaked Laughingthrush, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Brown-flanked Bush-Warbler, Grey-hooded, Greenish and Sulphur-bellied Warblers, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Plain Mountain-Finch, Rufous-breasted Accentor and White-capped and Rock Buntings. Orange Bullfinch does occur in higher areas and extremely remote areas of Kashmir and we would count ourselves extremely fortunate to encounter this rare species. Similarly, Himalayan Monals reside on the remotest mountain tops far above the treeline. Nights in houseboat.
Day 10 Srinagar - Delhi- 31st July
Depending on flight times we can explore some different areas and if still needed, we can search an area that in previous years has been good for sightings of Kashmir Flycatcher. Or, for a change, we can bird around the lake for Little Bittern, Whiskered Tern and other common species. A short domestic flight will take us back to Delhi where we will transfer to a nearby hotel for the night. Night in Delhi.
TIBETAN SANDGROUSE EXTENSION: this can be taken as an extension to the main tour or as a separate stand alone tour.
Day 10Srinagar - Leh- 31st July
If continuing with the Ladakh extension we will fly to Leh after our final morning birding session. Upon arrival in Leh at 3,300m a short drive will take us to our guesthouse and where we will rest for the remainder of the day and begin to acclimatise to our new surroundings. Night in Leh.
Day 11 Leh - Tso Kar
Before setting out on the drive to Tso Kar, it will be worth exploring the nearby Indus River for Ibisbill that inhabits the fast-flowing river. Mountain Chiffchaffs are common here, and we should also see 'Tibetan' Wagtail, Bluethroat and Hume's Whitethroat. Once we are finished here we will head east towards our base for the next 3 nights at Tso Kar (4660m). Our route takes us over some high mountain passes where Chukar, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Brown Accentor, Fire-fronted Serin and Tibetan Snowfinch are often present. The scenery throughout the next few days is absolutely stunning as we drop down to the most south-western part of the vast Tibetan Plateau. This area is called Chang Tang and is home to the much-wanted Tibetan Sandgrouse - our main target here. This high altitude speciality is regularly encountered here in family groups and small flocks, where their distinctive and far-carrying cries echo across this barren landscape. Night in tented camp.
Days 12 - 13Tso Kar Lake Our secluded camp on the Tso Kar plains is surrounded by magnificent snow-capped mountains all around. Birds around the camp on our last visit here included Masked Wagtail, and both Blanford's and Tibetan Snowfinches. We have 2 full days to explore this amazing area and as well as the sandgrouse we will keep an eye out for Black-necked Crane that breed in the marshes surrounding the lake, Golden Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Ground-Tit, Desert Wheatear, Horned Lark, Hume's Short-toed Lark, Guldenstadt's Redstart, Mongolian Finch (rare), and the magnificent Great Rosefinch. Both Tibetan Snowcock and Tibetan Partridge inhabt the slightly more inaccessible areas and we'll make a concerted effort to find these tricky species. We can also spend some time looking for Urial, Argali and Grey Wolf, Ladakh and Plateau Pikas as well, whilst Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang) are hard to miss. Photographic opportunities can be excellent here, with birds seemingly totally oblivious to human presence and also perfect light as well. Nights in tented camp.
Day 14Tso Kar - Leh
We have a final morning at Tso Kar before heading back to Leh and our comfortable guest house. Night in Leh
Day 15 Leh - Delhi
Morning flight back to Delhi and transfer to a nearby hotel. Night in Delhi.
Day 16End of Tour- 6th August
Transfers to Delhi Airport and return international flights.
Group size:Minimum for tour to go ahead 4 and maximum 10 with 2 leaders.
Included in cost: Domestic flights (Delhi - Srinagar - Delhi and Delhi - Leh - Delhi), accommodation in twin rooms en-suite, 2 person tents and full ground crew on extension, all meals including picnic lunches where necessary, bottled water, all entrance fees to National Parks, transport throughout in air-conditioned vehicles, and services of leaders.
Not included:International flights, insurance, excess luggage charges, visa fee, drinks, tips and items of a personal nature.
Indian Visa: it's really easy to apply for an Indian e-visa - please ask our office for details. No need to post off your passport and all the hassles that used to bring!
Accommodation:Ranges from reasonable to good. We will stay in the best available lodges/guest houses close to the birding sites we visit, to cut-out the necessity of any long drives before reaching the best birding areas each day. We will stay on a houseboat for 4 nights during our visit to Kashmir. On the extension to Tso Kar Lake we will be camping at 4,660m and you will need to bring your own air mat and sleeping bag.
Tour Code:This is a standard tour where early starts and some late finishes can be expected. Usually there is some time off during the middle of the day to relax. Most of our birding walks will be of a usual slow pace and relatively easy, although birding in the hills of Kashmir can be tiring. Expect a typically tropical climate with most days being hot and humid in the lowlands with the upland areas being cooler. We will experience some rain as this is the rainy season, although it is usually just light showers.
Check out Nick's Blog from our last visit to Tso Kar - Tso Kar 2016