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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

India: The North

Ranthambhore, Bharatpur, Nainital and Corbett

2024 Narrative

The tourism slogan for India is “Incredible India”, and it certainly lives up to this somewhat cliched catchphrase. In our case, we could declare “Incredible Indian Birds”! What a thrill it is to be surrounded by throngs of birds and other wildlife at every turn during our explorations of this extraordinary country. India captivates the senses in every way. Our happy and healthy group enjoyed an amazing three weeks in India’s northwest where we took in the deserts, woodlands, foothills, and the mountains of the Himalayas. So many highlights! Including the Taj Mahal, Sloth Bears, Ibisbills, Gharials, and even glimpses of Mount Everest. However, the undeniable highlight was spotting a remarkable 11 tigers (yes, eleven!) at Ranthambore and Corbett National Parks. It was nothing short of breathtaking and an unforgettable experience.

Taj Mahal 

Leaving the chaotic metropolis of the capital city, Delhi, we first headed south to Agra for the first of many highlights of the tour – in this case a non-avian one: the sublime Taj Mahal. This architectural masterpiece, commissioned by the fifth Mughal emperor in tribute to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is a World Heritage site that truly lives up to its reputation, even amidst the crowds. After the necessary rigmarole of the relatively rigorous security screening process, we took the obligatory photos before our local guide led us through the gardens and into the mausoleum itself. We then positioned ourselves at the rear of the building for our first bird-watching session of the tour. Overlooking the Yamuna River, we enjoyed our first glimpses of birds that would soon become familiar sights – Bar-headed Geese, Ruddy Shelducks, Eurasian Black-winged Stilts, River Lapwings, and Ruff. Spotting a pair of Woolly-necked Storks was an added bonus. Above us, Egyptian Vultures and a multitude of Black Kites soared.

Bharatpur & Keoladeo National Park 

Our next destination was the world famous Bharatpur, now known at Keoladeo National Park. The abundance of birdlife in this reserve is truly remarkable. After settling into our fabulous hotel, The Bagh (which means Tiger in Hindi) we explored the gardens and even here the birdlife was amazing. We found Spotted Owlets, Indian Grey Hornbills, Brown-headed Barbets, Brown Boobook, Indian Scops Owls, amongst the thirty odd species we recorded in no time at all. The addition of a very well-appointed blind allowed for excellent photo opportunities. In the park itself, we utilized four electric buggies with drivers to explore various sites. Progress was slow due to the abundance of wildlife to observe! The park is bisected by what could be termed the Entrance Road, which passes through wetland areas bustling with a variety of waterbirds, small passerines, and birds of prey. We frequently stopped to observe gatherings of birds, attempting to spot some of the more elusive species like Garganey, Ferruginous Pochard, and Cotton Pygmy Goose. White-tailed Lapwings, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas caught our attention, as did numerous shorebirds including Ruff, Spotted Redshank, and Common Snipe. Raptors were prominently featured, with notable sightings including Steppe Eagle, Booted Eagle, Imperial Eagle, and Indian Spotted Eagle. By the end of our first day, we had recorded over 100 species! 

We also ventured outside the park to explore different birding areas. Even in the most seemingly unlikely looking places, birds are to be found everywhere! In the dusty, barren fields a few miles from the park we found some great birds, notably and very happily Indian Courser – our only sighting of the trip. Nearby we found Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Brown Crake sheltering in the reeds bordering a small waterhole, and our first Grey Francolins. In the grass stubble we found Ashy-crowned Sparrowlarks, Indian Bushlarks, and Greater Short-toed and Crested Larks feeding on the ground. 

Another seemingly uninspiring site yielded more exciting bird sightings, with the highlight being a single Greater Painted Snipe. Although widespread, this elusive bird is never easy to find, making it a rewarding sighting for us. In the same litter-filled pond, we spotted Lesser Whistling-Ducks, Black-necked Storks, and a Black Bittern – another excellent bird to add to our list.

Ranthambore National Park

Established as a game reserve in 1955, this reserve underwent significant changes in 1973. It was enlarged and renamed from Sawai Madhopur, with a new primary purpose: to protect its precious population of Bengal Tigers. While the birding in this exceptional reserve was fantastic, our Tiger sightings, including multiple sightings of two females each with three cubs, were nothing short of incredible! A total of six game drives across five different zones of the park provided ample opportunities for rewarding birdwatching. Each zone we visited was remarkably distinct, offering varied habitats and birdlife. While our primary focus was on spotting Tigers, we certainly didn’t overlook other wildlife viewing opportunities. There were many non-Tiger highlights, including some mammalian sightings. Our encounter with a Sloth Bear (twice!) was arguably just as thrilling as our tiger sightings. The forest teemed with Grey Langurs and Chital or Spotted Deer, with occasional sightings of Ruddy Mongooses and Golden Jackals. As for the birding, it was great! Being mobbed by Rufous Treepies and Palm Squirrels at our bathroom break spot was another memorable wildlife encounter. Some of our best bird encounters included Painted Spurfowl, Brown Fish Owl, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Black-rumped Flameback, Plum-headed Parakeet, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Indian Thick-knee, and Black Stork. 

Chambal - National Chambal Sanctuary

After a long drive, we arrived at our delightful accommodation situated near the Chambal River. This tributary of the Yamuna River is renowned for being “pollution-free,” making it a haven for diverse bird and reptile species. Our morning boat trip proved to be worth the journey, yielding some thrilling sightings, including a new bird for me – the aptly named Rock Eagle-Owl! In just three hours, we recorded well over 60 species, among them the Indian Skimmer, the unique and critically endangered Gharial, and the elusive Gangetic Dolphin. Other highlights, both on the river and nearby, were White-eyed Buzzard, Streak-throated Swallow, Desert Wheatear, Baya Weaver, and Tawny Pipit. 

Corbett National Park

After our adventures in Chambal, we returned to Delhi for an overnight stay before catching an early morning train to Kathgodam. This terminal of the Indian Railways line is nestled in the foothills of the outer Himalayas, known as the Sivalik Hills, and serves as the gateway to Corbett and Nainital. In Corbett, we not only enjoyed excellent birding outside the park but also stayed in a very comfortable hotel situated right on the Koshi River. On our way to the hotel, we made a stop at the Girija Devi Temple on the banks of the Koshi to search for one of the most sought-after birds of the trip: the Ibisbill, the sole member of its family. As described by Birds of the World (, “few birds are as striking in both plumage and ability to camouflage as the Ibisbill.” And indeed, we were thrilled to spot a fabulous pair foraging on the rocky riverbanks, hence a very happy group in the photos below! Our birding explorations continued with many firsts of the tour as we ventured into a new biozone, transitioning from the lowland plains to the picturesque hills and mountains of Uttarakhand State. No doubt we were all delighted to find handsome Crested Kingfishers, spritely Yellow-bellied Fairy-Fantails, Himalayan Bulbuls, and plentiful Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstarts. Our morning at higher altitude proved to be very productive, yielding an impressive list of birds, including the Blue-throated Barbet, Eurasian Wryneck, Red-billed Blue Magpie, charming Small Niltavas, Little Forktail, Himalayan Rubythroat, and Slaty-blue and Ultramarine Flycatchers. 

An overnight stay at the government-run rest house in Dhikala, located right in the heart of the national park, allowed us to undertake two game drives within the reserve. While more tiger sightings were certainly thrilling, the impressive diversity of birdlife was equally captivating. Black Storks were very much in evidence, and we were delighted to spot Kalij Pheasants, Pallas’s Fish-Eagles and Tawny Fish-Owls. Eurasian Hoopoes entertained us at our bathroom stops with their ant-catching antics, while numerous species of woodpecker, parakeet, and bulbuls also captured our attention. After leaving Dhikala, we relocated for one night to a lodge situated on the banks of the Koshi River. Apart from the overly friendly Rhesus Macaques, we also spotted Jungle Owlets and Brown Boobooks within the hotel grounds. 


Our final destination before our return to Delhi was Nainital, a town and headquarters of the Nainital district in the Kumaon division of Uttarakhand. Situated in the Kumaon foothills of the outer Himalayas at an elevation of 1,938 metres (6,358 ft), this town serves as an ideal base for exploring the birdlife of the montane forests of the Himalayan foothills. In these mixed oak, pine, and rhododendron forests, we encountered a multitude of exciting bird species. While it’s impossible to mention them all, highlights included Bar-tailed Treecreepers, Himalayan Bluetails, Golden Bush-Robins, Rufous Sibias, Chestnut-headed Tesias, Spotted Forktails, and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers. A visit to a chilly high-altitude site yielded fewer sightings, but spotting an Altai Accentor and a Koklass Pheasant were particularly exciting finds. Our lunch at the aptly named Great Barbet Resort was delicious, and it was further enhanced by excellent birdwatching in the gardens. Black-headed Jays and Russet Sparrows made appearances, while Spot-winged Grosbeaks and an Eyebrowed Thrush were delightful surprises. 

We spent a morning at Sattal, an interconnected group of seven freshwater lakes nestled in the Lower Himalayan Range. Renowned as a birding paradise, with over 500 species recorded here, the area promised rich avian diversity. A newly constructed blind set up by a local farmer proved to be a birding bonanza! We were treated to close and extended views of some thrilling species, including Rufous-throated Partridge, Kalij Pheasant, Black Francolin, Great Barbet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, and Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush. Later, we made a final attempt to find the elusive Wallcreeper. Gajendra led us to a quiet spot along the Gaula River, where we searched the rocks for this sought-after bird. A cry of “I’ve got it!” had everyone rushing over, only to arrive just in time for it to vanish. However, our patience paid off when we relocated the bird, which then flew right into our binoculars’ view, granting us yet another trip highlight. 

Sultanpur National Park

After returning to Delhi, and some welcome warm weather, on the afternoon train we spent the following morning at Sultanpur, a birding mecca located just 50 km from Delhi. Over 250 bird species have been recorded in the park and, while we didn’t come close to that, we did find some very good birds including two local specialties – Brooks’s Leaf Warbler and Sind Sparrow, both with ranges restricted to this small corner of the world. Outside the park boundaries we also found some excellent birds including Striated Babbler. And I guess we should mention the rather horrific sight of a Grey Heron killing (very slowly) and devouring a Little Grebe - never seen that before…


This was truly an outstanding birding and wildlife tour, and I want to thank you all for your good humour, enthusiasm, friendship, and keen eyes. A special mention goes to Gajendra, whose expertise made everything even more special. I’d also like to thank Vikram, who not only delivered our luggage but navigated us through the winding mountain roads, along with Deepak and Shubham. Lastly, a big thank you to Arjay and Chandra, our bus driver and assistant, who took great care of us on those challenging roads!

- Susan Myers



Created: 14 May 2024