The Spurn trip to India was something that I had been looking forward to since we booked it back in May 2017. There were eleven of us on the trip, which would make it a completely different experience to Oman, my only other birding trip, when there were only three of us.
We arrived in Delhi at 6 in the morning, and had left the airport at 7, just in time for first light. The smog which had wrapped itself over the city due to a poor monsoon gave it an eerie feel. Predictably the excitement levels were extremely high, and the adrenaline was all that kept me going after two nights with barely any sleep.
Travelling from Delhi to Bharatpur
The first journey in a new country is filled with shouts for every new species you see, even though they are all species likely to be seen again during the trip. Travelling through Delhi was something of an experience, getting our first look at Indian culture and the poverty that we would become accustomed to seeing throughout the trip. We also got our first experience of the Indian road sense, or complete lack of it!
We mainly drove through areas of farmland with small towns and villages mingled in. Every body of water was scoured for new birds, and every time the bus stopped or slowed there were new birds to be seen. The roadside was a popular place for Bank and Common Mynas, as well as Asian Pied Starling. Plus there were good numbers of the most awful looking Cattle Egrets imaginable hunting the open ditches, all of which were full to the brim with litter. All the while Black Kites and Egyptian Vultures circled overhead.
Black-necked Stork - The best bird of the journey was a very smart Black-necked Stork in a small roadside pool. Despite being a species we would have expected to see, they are rare and not easy to come by, so to see one before we had even begun birding was pretty awesome.
Black-winged Kite - There are few birds quite like this one. Despite having seen them before, it was extremely exciting when the first one was seen hunting the roadside. Little did we know just how common they were, and by the end of the journey we had all seen double figures of these amazing predators perched up.
The anticipation - The general vibe of the minibus from all eleven of its occupants was really something to savour. Most of us had never been birding in Asia, so it was a new experience and culture for most of us.
Travelling: Rufous Treepie, Black Kite, Common Myna, Jungle Babbler, House Crow, Ring-necked Parakeet, Peafowl, Greater Coucal, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Bank Myna, Red-wattled Lapwing, Painted Stork, Great White Egret, Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Black-winged Kite, Masked Wagtail, Crested Lark, Hoopoe, Laughing Dove, Asian Pied Starling, Cattle Egret, Grey Francolin, Egyptian Vulture, Black-necked Stork, Moorhen, Coot, Little Cormorant, Indian Pond Heron, Wood Sandpiper, Purple Heron, Black Drongo, Nilgai, Rhesus Macaque, Five-striped Palm Squirrel,
Bharatpur: Keoladeo National Park
We arrived at our accommodation; Jungle Lodge, at around midday. After spending all morning cooped up in the minibus we were keen to get out birding. JAB had arranged for us to have a guide for the park, and despite booking him for the next two days he came to join us for the afternoon as well.
The park is not right to roam, and nearly all the birding is done from the main road through the park. The park is absolutely enormous, it has to be said. Having heard rave reviews in the build up to the trip I couldn’t help but feel a little let down as we walked for about a kilometre in scrubby habitat encountering the same twenty species. However, as we continued walking we passed a checkpoint and entered a woodier habitat, before finally the reserve began to open out into a huge wetland, which we reached just before dark. By the end of the walk I had no idea where to look. With eleven of us on the trip, all of whom are amazing birders and observers, nothing was getting missed and no sooner did you wander further up the track to find your own birds were you heading back to look at something else. I was gutted when we had to leave; it felt like the birds just kept on coming.
Orange-headed Thrush - It’s difficult to pick out highlights from a first afternoon absolutely dripping with amazing birds, but one bird clearly stood out for me. I knew going in that Orange-headed Thrush would be a tricky species to connect with, as they do not winter at the park every year. However, talking to the guide he informed us that they were indeed in the park this winter. If we saw one it was clearly going to be a highlight, not just for the day but the trip as a whole, and when we did find one just before dark it did not disappoint. A really stunning bird and well worth the anticipation. It was feeding beneath the roots of a large tree just before the park opened out into the wetland. Then, on our walk back, we found another! What a start to the trip.
Oriental Magpie Robin - These really smart chats were a common sight throughout the park, often showing really well, running around your feet. We saw many species of chat during the trip but these were always a standout because of their stunning plumage and approachability.
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher - This was another really smart bird. Our guide picked it up on call before it showed really well hunting alongside the path. Not much more to elaborate really, just a smart little bird.
Nilgai - Are the largest Asian antelope and are really impressive beasts. Having seen a few briefly on the drive up it was nice to get a proper look at these substantial animals as males, females and calves all came out to feed on the marsh. They were common across the park, but always felt exciting to see.
-Five-striped Palm Squirrel
-Indian Spot-billed Duck
-Oriental Magpie Robin
-Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
-Yellow-bellied House Gecko
Keoladeo National Park: Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Purple Sunbird, Indian Robin, Red-vented Bulbul, Spotted Owlet, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Little Green Bee-eater, Grey Hornbill, Plain Prinia, Grey-headed Prinia, Brahminy Starling, White-cheeked Bulbul, House Sparrow, Grey Francolin, Shikra, Egyptian Vulture, Jungle Babbler, Long-tailed Shrike, Booted Eagle, Bluethroat, Rufous Treepie, Common Myna, Large Grey Babbler, Black Kite, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Common Tailorbird, Laughing Dove, Lesser Whitethroat, Moorhen, Jungle Crow, Bonelli’s Eagle, Great Spotted Eagle, Ring-necked Parakeet, Black Redstart, Grey Wagtail, White-breasted Waterhen, Shoveler, Spot-billed Duck, White-breasted Kingfisher, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Lesser Flameback, Gadwall, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Plain Martin, Purple Heron, Southern Coucal, Coot, Siberian Chiffchaff, Greenshank, Greenish Warbler, Green Sandpiper, Pintail, Teal, Little Grebe, Orange-headed Thrush, Red-wattled Lapwing, Olive-backed Pipit, Brown-headed Barbet, Black Drongo, Common Babbler, Golden Jackal, Nilgai, Spotted Deer, Rhesus Macaque, Five-lined Palm Squirrel, Yellow-green House Gecko, Plain Tiger, Pioneer, White Orange Tip, Large Salmon Arab, White Arab,