Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Tuesday, March 6
Our flights were on schedule and though long we survived them rather well.  It helped to have exit row seats for the 14-hour Newark-Delhi segment.  We arrived 45 minutes early but lost the advantage this gave us when the driver from the hotel was nowhere to be found.  We had to hire a taxi, and the driver did not know how to find the hotel.  Fortunately, Vaibhav, our guide, was already there and with a couple of phone calls we found it.  It was a total dump, and at $92 was an expensive one.  We had found it on the web, where the description sounded fine.  In reality there was no airport pickup, no credit cards accepted, and the desk manager inflated the price above the advertised one, pretty much saying take it or leave it.  But it was way too late at night to change.  The room was tiny and the shower over the toilet barely worked.  The water was tepid at best.  But we quickly turned in for 4 hours sleep.

White-rumped Vulture
Thursday, March 8
Asian Pied Starling
We were up at 2:45 am, had coffee and showers and left at 3:30 am to avoid the many religious processions expected on this Hindu holiday of Holi.  Along the way, we stopped at a wetland area to photograph birds, including a White-rumped Vulture on a nest and some Asian Pied Starlings.  But we still got to the edge of Corbett National Park at about 9 am.  We stopped at Tiger Camp lodge for breakfast, went off birding for a couple of hours, then returned to Tiger Camp for lunch.  After lunch, our local guide, Durga, and driver met us with an open safari vehicle, known as a "gypsy" in India, and we headed into the park.
We had lots of good bird sightings including some of our target species.  And we even saw a large male tiger for a few moments as it walked down the road well ahead of us and turned into the bush.  We made it to Dhikala Camp inside the park just before they closed the electric fence at 6 pm.  Our room was basic but large.  There was a dry lightening storm and  we lost power to the outlets just as we were turning in, meaning we couldn't charge anything overnight or make coffee early in the morning.  We saw 70 species today, 9 of them new.
Dhikala Camp
Friday, March 9
We set off this morning after breakfast at the camp.  But as we were moving toward our gypsy, Nancy spotted a small owl in a tree.  It was an Asian Barred Owlet. 
Asian Barred Owlet
Then, just as we left the camp gates, we came upon a Golden Jackal fawn kill.  The jackal was trying to bury it, and he pushed dirt with his nose just like Charley does with a bone.  The dead fawn had attracted an Egyptian Vulture and to our delight a Red-headed Vulture, which was new for us.  

Egyptian Vulture
A few hundred feet further down the track, we spotted another small owl in a  nearby tree.  It was another lifer for us, a Jungle Owlet, and it was posing well for photos.  It was barely light and we enjoyed hearing the call of the owlet and being surrounded by natural land and wildlife.  
Jungle Owlet
We returned to camp at noon for a bit of a rest and to pack up and clear out of our rooms before lunch.  During the lunch break Nancy photographed the Rhesus Monkeys running around the camp.  She wanted to find some in the shade since the noon sun was so hot and bright.  She found several females clutching very small babies to their chests.  When she tried to take photographs, the females barred their sizable teeth and acted aggressive.  She decided to leave them alone and backed off into a patch of stinging nettles.  As she then backed away from the nettles she almost walked into a very active colony of bees.  It was then she decided to look elsewhere for monkeys.  Near the dining hall a troop of monkeys were moving through the trees and she was able to photograph them without incident.  

After lunch, we set off again, this time to the banks of the Rama Ganges River to enjoy the spectacle of a small cow herd of Asian Elephants, which we had never before seen in the wild.  We stayed with them for nearly half an hour, watching them drink and bathe.  It was a wonderful sight and made for some excellent photography for both of us.  
There were many herds of wild deer grazing in the expansive grasslands.  We then began our slow drive back the 35 km to the park gate.  Along the way, as we passed through some mature forest, we were very lucky to spot two of our prime targets, both of which had eluded us in Bhutan:  the Brown Fish Owl, and the Tawny Fish Owl.  These birds were large and very impressive.  The Tawny was especially interesting with its very long ear tufts.
Brown Fish-owl

Tawny Fish-owl

We made it to the gate just at the stroke of 6 pm, which is when the gates close for the night.  We continued on to Tiger Camp, where we were delighted with the luxurious chalet and wonderful hot shower.  With jet lag still bugging us, we both got a good night's sleep.  We saw 80 birds today, bringing our trip total to 127 with 21 new species.
Tiger Camp
Saturday, March 10
Breakfast was at 6:30 am and we set off a little after 7 am, this time in our Toyota Innova.  On our way north from camp, we passed a sign that summed up a view of the world that we very much support.

We spent the morning birding places Durga knew for our target species.  We started the morning at a temple area by the Kosi River that is now a very wide expanse of tumbled rock several hundred feet across.  We could only imagine what a raging torrent it must be during the monsoons.  Nancy got photos of a Wallcreeper.  While we were out on the long bridge, a Peregrine flew through scattering pigeons far and wide.  During the rest of the morning we birded wooded and moist areas along the road, and we saw such birds as Brown-capped Woodpecker, Crested Kingfisher, Gray-winged Blackbird and Plum-headed Parakeet.  
Crested Kingfisher
Plum-headed Parakeet

Gray-winged Blackbird
Collared Scops-owl
Then back to Tiger Camp for lunch and a rest before heading up into the hills east of the national park for more birding.  The dining area for Tiger Camp was a lovely open-sided building and you could enjoy the breezes and feeling of being outside.   The food was buffet style with lots of choices and was very good.   A pair of Collared Scops Owls day roosted in a nearby patch of bamboo and did not mind being looked at.  That afternoon birding was very successful, with things like Streaked Laughingthrush, Pale-billed Flowerpecker and Black-lored Tit expertly spotted by Durga.  Nancy managed to get some good pictures and even got a record shot of a Chestnut-headed Wren-babbler way down in some dark bushes.  We saw 65 bird species today, 9 of them new, bringing our trip totals to 159 species, 29 of them new.

Sunday, March 11
We departed a little after 7 am and headed back north along the park boundary.  Durga heard a woodpecker out the car window as we cruised down the road, and it was indeed one of our target species, the Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker.  
Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker
Rufous-bellied Niltava
We also stopped to admire a juvenile Changeable Hawk-eagle perched in a tree near the road.  We climbed back up the mountain to the same little valley we had birded the previous afternoon to look for more of our target species, and particularly the Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler.  We heard the bird, but it never came out where we could see it. We did see a Rock Bunting, another new species, and we enjoyed good looks at the Red-billed Leiotrix, the Red-billed Blue Magpie and the beautiful Rufous-bellied Niltava..  

We then drove down a track along the upper reaches of the Kosi River to see the front view of a Brown Fish-owl, as we had only seen it from the back two days ago.  The owl was on a day roost in a large shrub quite a ways up a steep slope.   Nancy struggled for a clear view and managed to get some good photos. We then walked down to the river, where we saw a Brown Dipper.  On the way back to our lodge, we stopped again at a small wetland for another unsuccessful try at the wren-babblers.  It was then time for lunch so we returned to our lodge.  
MuntjacAt 2 pm, we boarded an open jeep and headed into the park, this time through a more southern gate.  Our driver went fast along the track and we didn't know why, until we got to a camp, where we learned we were to take an elephant ride, which was prepaid.  So Nancy, Vaibhav, Durga and I all climbed up stairs to a boarding platform and got on top of very large 40-year-old female Asian Elephant named Ahsah, with her mahout, Wezzine.  

Crescent Serpent-eagle at close range
from elephant-back
We spent two hours up on a riding platform on her back as she ambled through the bush.  Your legs hang out over the platform onto the side of the elephant.  There is a low handrail to hang on to as the elephant rocks back and forth as she walks.  Her rhythm was somewhat like a horse and it was easy for us to rock with her.   It was a wonderful perspective, and we marvelled at how Chital and a Crescent Serpent-eagle let us get extremely close, as they saw us as just part of the elephant.  Of course, the mahout, who sits just behind her ears, was on the look-out for tiger, and though we saw fresh tracks, we did not see any.  Ahsah tried several times to snack along the way, and Wezzine had to discipline her a bit when she tried to stop and feast on small trees.  She would wrap her strong trunk around the trunk of a small tree and then just break if off.  Then she would strip the leaves off to eat.   The entire afternoon was quite an experience!  On the drive out, we had quick looks at another target bird, the Streak-throated Woodpecker.  We went on into Ramnagar to get more cash at an ATM.  It turns out that much larger tips than we had planned for are expected.  We said goodbye to Durga and headed back to Tiger Camp for a shower and dinner. Our local guide for the next six days, Harry Lama, was waiting to say hello to us.  He will accompany us through the hill country, where he lives.

We saw 62 bird species today, 4 of them new, for a trip total of 176 birds of which 33 are new for us.

Monday, March 12
Breakfast was at 7 am today.  We loaded the car with all of our baggage, and with 4 of us plus the driver it was cramped.  We went through Ramnagar and stopped at the dam, where we saw lots of Red Shellducks down in the water.  Then it was back in the car for an hour to Corbett Falls.  
At Corbett Falls with Vaibhav
It was a delightful small park with lots of tall trees and was operated by the Forest Service.  We got three new species there:  Whistler's Warbler, Western Crowned Warbler, and Dark-sided Thrush.  Hari proved his birding skills.  He is without doubt the best local guide in this area.  We also saw Greater Racket-tailed Drongo with his rackets, and Hume's Leaf-warbler with a dark bill. By the way, the waterfall was lovely. We then drove two hours up into the Himalayan foothills, climbing on a very narrow road to above 7000 feet before dropping down toward Pangot.  Along the way, we had a distant view of India's high Himalayas, reminiscent of our recent trip to Bhutan.
We stopped just outside of Pangot for some road birding, where we picked up Black-crested Tit and Black-throated Tit.  
Black-throated Tit
We arrived at the Jungle Lore Birding Lodge in time for lunch.  We were given a very charming and rustic chalet above the garden.  The food was nothing special, but sitting on our lovely balcony, Nancy spotted a Black-headed Jay, another new bird for us.
Black-headed Jay
Rufous-breasted Accentor
In the afternoon, we drove down a narrow gravel road carved out of the steep mountainside to some areas where Hari had stakeouts.  A scrubby valley produced Pink-browed Rosefinch, a new bird for us, as well as Common Rosefinch and a couple of gorgeous Rufous-breasted Accentors, which Nancy managed to photograph.  We also saw Gray-capped Prinia, another new bird.  It was also fun to see some birds we saw often in Bhutan, like Whiskered Yuhina and Blue-winged Minla.  At another stop, we saw Golden Bush-robin, a lifer, and a gorgeous male Blue Magpie with its streaming tail that undulated when it flew.  We heard Collared Owlet, a common sound in the Bhutanese forest, and Hari played its call but it didn't come in.  The last bird of the day was a female White-capped Bunting, which Chuck saw but Nancy missed when she looked for it on the wrong overhead wire.  Dinner was typical, and the young gal who runs the lodge had us fill out all the paperwork required by the government at every stop.  We’ve now seen 206 species with 9 new birds today for total of 42 lifers.
Our upstairs room with a big balcony at the Jungle Lore Birding Lodge
Tuesday, March 14
Storms started at midnight.  It was a ferocious mixture of rain, sleet, hail, snow, and wind. The power was knocked out and we had only two small lights in our chalet, powered by battery backup, so we couldn’t continue charging anything.  We delayed our departure this morning as the roads were icy and dangerous but we eventually headed up the mountain.  On the way we saw Koklass Pheasant, which was new, plus Kalij Pheasant, which we had seen in Bhutan.  
Kalij Pheasant
We went up into the very high grasslands in search of the Cheer Pheasant and spent a long time looking for it, but without success.  Hari Lama surmised that it was put down by the bad weather.  We did see the mountain sheep Ghoral, which was a life mammal for us, far down the hill below us.  On our return down the mountain, we had a flat tire and went birding while Lakmi, our driver, changed it.  We saw Bar-tailed Treecreeper as well as two life woodpeckers, Himalayan and Rufous-breasted.  During lunch at the lodge, we had more rain so Hari decided to take us down hill to an area we had visited yesterday.  At the place where we parked the car, the dog we had petted yesterday had been taken by a leopard over night.  We saw a male Chestnut-breasted (White-capped) Bunting.  
Chestnut-breasted Bunting
Back at the lodge, we found the power was still out, which meant no hot water, no heat for the room and no charging batteries.  The staff  brought  buckets of hot water for Nancy to shower with, but Chuck opted against showering.  It was cold during the night, and we were very glad for the hot water bottles and the heavy blankets.  We saw 53 bird species today, 6 of them new, bringing our totals to 224 for the trip with 48 new birds.

Wednesday, March 14
The storm system moved out overnight, and we went back up the mountain to look for the Cheer Pheasant.  This time we found it, far down below us feeding in the grasses.  We also saw a gorgeous Lammergeier perched on a rock, then the Brown-fronted Woodpecker and a flyby by Besra.  We had a lovely walk in the woods below the grasslands looking for thrushes.  At this time of year winter birds are leaving and summer birds are arriving so it is a gamble on what we would see.  We did see several noisy Eurasian Jays.  In the afternoon, we went to  Killbury where the British took activist leaders, executed them and buried them, thus the name “kill” and “bury”.  Our target was again thrushes.  We had good looks at the beautiful Chestnut Thrush but it was not new.  The forest was beautiful and as we walked through it we flushed a pair of Eurasian Woodcock.  On the way back to Pangot, we walked up a streambed.  We had good looks at a Long-billed Thrush which we had seen in Corbett and flushed a Eurasian Eagle-owl which was new.  

Plain-backed Thrush
Upon returning to the lodge, we took a short walk down the road in search of a ground-feeding woodpecker and while we didn’t find it, we did spot a Plain-backed Thrush in a neighboring garden.  Nancy and Vaibhav got some good pictures of this target bird.  The power was finally restored at about 6:30 pm.  The dining room had a small fireplace and since it was still cold we enjoyed having the heat during dinner.  The garden just below the dining room had bird feeders and during the lunch break Nancy enjoyed photographing some of the birds there. With 40 birds today, 6 of them new, our totals now stand at 239 total species, with 54 of them new for us, such as the White-throated Laughingthrush.

White-throated Laughingthrush
Thursday, March 15
We awakened at 5:15 am and with power restored, we were able to enjoy coffee in bed for first time in Pangot.  At 5:37 am we were surprised to hear a knock on the door and found one of the staff delivering Chuck’s laundry!  We guessed they saw our light on.  We drove to the outskirts of Nainital where we spent two hours looking for birds on the edge of a neighborhood where residents unfortunately but routinely pitched their garbage down the steep wooded hillside.  After considerable searching, Hari called in a beautiful male Hill Partridge.  Nancy was disappointed that she hadn't carried her camera.  She went back to the car to get it, in time to photograph another target, a Long-tailed Thrush.  Then it was back to Pangot for lunch and to pack up.  We went back through Nainital and on to Sattal, which is a small mountain resort community tucked into the hills.  In HindI, "Sat" means "seven" and "tal" means "lake”.  Thus, it is the community of Seven Lakes.  

Along the way, we stopped at a garbage dump on the side of a steep hill, where garbage trucks back up to the cliff edge and send their load over the side.  This is a great attraction to raptors, especially Steppe Eagles.   Nancy stood among all the garbage at the cliff edge to photograph flying birds.

Our lodgings were at the Sattal Birding Camp, a series of nice wall tents with ensuite bathrooms set on terraces spilling down the hillside.  The tents are bright and airy in the daylight and cozy at night.  The climate here was much warmer than at Pangot.  We had some problems checking in as they did not seem to expect us.   A light fixture in our bathroom -- if you want to call a socket hanging from a wire a "fixture" -- was broken and the camp cook replaced it at our request.  Then we found out the hard way that we only had one propane bottle for the room and it was hooked to the in-room heater so when Chuck went to take a shower, there was no hot water. He had to pull on a pair of pants and climb the hill to the dining room to get someone to move the gas bottle from the room heater to the water heater.  These folks need a little more training!  
Our tent at Sattal Birding Camp

In the late afternoon, we went birding down by a couple of the lakes, in a park area.  We were surprised to see Kalij Pheasants -- 8 of them in all -- out in plain sight feeding on the ground.  Nancy got photos of them as well as of a vocal group of White crested Laughingthrushes.  The whole area was a bit run down but quite nice nonetheless.  We saw 38 species today, 2 of them new,bringing our totals to 243 species for the trip, 56 of them new.
White-crested Laughingthrush
Vaibhav Mishra and Hari Llama, our birding guides
Friday, March 16
We enjoyed a cup of coffee in our tent at 5:30 and listened to the forest wake up.  Breakfast was at 6 am.  The food here is more to our liking as they go easy on the spices.  We set off in the car up the mountain to a residential area that is one of Hari's special locales.  Right off, we saw Tickell's Thrush, a lifer, followed by a Fire-fronted Serin.  We then walked down the narrow pedestrian path between the houses to a ravine, where Hari called in a Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler.  The little bird came right out in plain sight, very unusual for this skulker.  We even could admire it through the scope, and Nancy got pictures of it!  Chuck had had a glimpse of this bird in Bhutan, but it was new for Nancy, and Chuck got a much better look at it.  
Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler
We then heard the call of another lifer, a Scaly-bellied Woodpecker and found it high in a thin tall tree.  Finally, it was time to get a good look at a male Dark-breasted Rosefinch, which was almost maroon in color.  After a walk along another forest path, we returned early to our camp as bird activity had slowed and so Nancy could work on deleting photos to make more storage space in the computer.   
Verditer Flycatcher
Ultramarine Flycatcher

Dinner with Hans Peeters & Pam at Sattal Lodge
In the afternoon we returned to the nice park area, where Nancy photographed Verditer and Ultramarine Flycatchers  bathing in a small stream.  She was joined by Hans Peeters, a retired ornithology professor from California.  He and his wife Pam are also staying at the Sattal Birding Lodge and we enjoyed talking with them.   Chuck went off birding with Hari and Vaibhav and had a fast glimpse of a Gray-sided Bush-warbler.  We each got 5 new birds today, bringing our trip totals to 256 species, of which 61 were new.

Jungle Babblers allopreening
Saturday, March 17
This was a rather relaxed birding day.  We started out hiking in a steep valley near our birding lodge.  To Hari's chagrin, we found no bush warblers.  We then went to a stream where Nancy photographed forktails and dippers, including a spotted juvenile dipper.  We returned to camp early for a good midday rest, then drove to Naukuchiyatal where Chuck just happened to be interviewed by a local TV station about the terrible condition of the road.  We birded our way around the lake, and Nancy found a pair of Jungle Babblers to photograph, recording their allopreening .  We had several Phylloscopus warblers, and Hari demonstrated his expertise by pointing out the salient characteristics of each, including the Green Warbler, which was new for us.  We had tea at a Tourism Department rest house, built in 1857 by the British as a hill station retreat.  It is being beautifully maintained.  Nancy photographed an Asian Barred Owlet and a pair of Great Barbets in the garden.  Then it was back to our camp to pack up, eat dinner and say farewell to Hari.  After we returned to our tent, Nancy spent 20 minutes peeping through the canvas door of our bathroom hoping to see what kind of small animal came in each night to steal our bar of soap.  While we heard the pitter patter of little feet, it did not come in until we were fast asleep.  So far, we have seen 264 species, 62 of them new.

Sunday, March 18
Today was a driving day, winding down out of the mountains and onto the plains headed for Agra.  The roads and traffic were awful, especially in the cities.  And as in much of Asia, we passed through huge cities that we had never heard of.  With 230 million people and a relatively small land area, Uttar Pradesh has one of the highest population densities of any Indian state.  And our long trip through it was everything one thinks of about India, and more so.  We were well off the tourist route and saw teeming cities in which the quality of life is awful, reminiscent to Chuck of the back streets of Lagos or Kinshasa.  Infrastructure such as water, sewer, maintained roads, trash collection, etc. is sorely lacking, attesting to the corruption and incompetence that characterizes the political leadership of this state.  And the corruption extends down to the local level.  Our car was from Delhi, i.e. out of state, and we had to stop at an office to pay a road tax.  In addition, our driver had to pay a 100 rupee bribe to get the receipt.  Outside of the towns, the area was intensively farmed, with wheat, rice and sugar cane among the main crops.  Saplings are also grown for matchsticks.  In some areas, the roads had so many potholes it was like Zambia after the rainy season.  We drove through a seemingly endless stream of villages with people, motorbikes, 3-wheeled taxis, ox carts, cattle, dogs, more dogs, monkeys and lots of people milling around in the roads.  It took forever.  We stopped at a roadhouse at lunchtime.  Vaibhav and Lakmi had food, but Nancy and I opted against it as it was probably not safe for us to eat.  Vaibhav concurred.  Nancy and I ate power bars, fruit and had soda from a bottle.  Our earphones were the saving grace for us.  We both had them on a good part of the time, listening to soothing music and cutting out the constant blare of horns, loud trucks, etc.  We went 230 miles and it took us just over 12 hours to do so, meaning our average speed was only 20 mph!  In Agra, we stayed at the Pushp Palace Hotel, with "Pushp" meaning "flower."  It was fairly basic but had a good shower and was quite ok.  We had dinner in their revolving restaurant up on the 7th floor that overlooked the city of Agra.  Exhausted, we fell into bed.

Bar-headed Goose
Monday, March 19
We got up quite early and left with packed breakfasts for the Chambal River.  We first stopped at the Chambal Birding Lodge, a beautiful old establishment with beautiful woods and gardens and a main building bedecked with blooming bougainvillea.  We picked up the hotel assistant manager who was to accompany us on the boat ride.  We drove quite a ways down to a river access point.  While getting the boat organized, Nancy photographed a nice flock of Bar-headed Geese that had not yet set off on their extraordinary migration over the 25,000+ foot peaks of the Himalayas.  Once aboard the boat, we concentrated on finding our targets.  We first found a couple of Red-crested Pochards,a Great Thick-knee, then a nice flock of the endangered Indian Skimmer, a Pied Kingfisher, a Comb Duck and finally a few endangered Black-bellied Terns.  
Great Thick-knee
India Skimmers
Pied Kingfisher

Comb Duck

Black-bellied Tern
We also saw several big "muggers" or crocodiles, and the long-snouted Indian Gharial, which superficially resembles an alligator.  
By about half way through the boat trip, Nancy had severe cramping and had to get off the boat and head behind a dune.   She made it back to the Chambal Birding Lodge, where we arranged for her to have a room with a bathroom to rest in while Chuck had lunch in the garden, with the other guests.  
Chuck asked a nice British woman for some Imodium, which she helpfully supplied, giving Nancy what she needed to make the long journey back to the hotel in Agra.  In Agra, Chuck went out with Lakmi and Vaibhav in search of an ATM to get more Rupees (the tips here this time are killing us!) and to look at a garment shop.  He found a nice shirt but did not want to buy it until Nancy could have a look too.  

They went back to the hotel, fetched Nancy, and went to visit the Taj Mahal before it closed.  The nearest ticket window was closed, so we had to walk through a bunch of back streets, which was tough on Nancy in her weakened condition, but she persevered.  Once inside the Taj Mahal grounds, we joined thouands of Indians and a few foreigners to take pictures of this marvelous structure, gleaming in the late afternoon light.  Nancy took pictures from many different positions, and Chuck took quite a few too.  A very nice local gentlemen directed us to several vantage points to get particularly good photos.  He said he was an avid photographer and liked helping others get good images.  We then went back to the shop, where Chuck bought the patterend silk shirt he liked, and Nancy bought a tunic shirt.  That evening, Nancy, still not feeling well, skipped dinner and worked on deleting unwanted photos from the laptop, while Chuck and Vaibhav went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant Lakmi recommended.

Tuesday, March 20
We were up and out of the hotel with our luggage at 5:30 am for the 1 1/2-hour drive to Bharatpur and Keoladeo National Park.  At the park, we picked up a seasoned bird guide and boarded rikshaws to look for our target species.  We did quite well.  We saw 3 Dusky Eagle-owls and Nancy managed to get some pictures of them. She got an excellent shot of another of our targets, the Orange-headed Thrush and the Oriental Honey-buzzard.  Vaibhav spotted an Indian Vulture perched on a distant tree, and we had good scope views.  Then the guys found us a White-tailed Lapwing.  While we looked long and hard for the Common Hawk-cuckoo and the Indian Golden Oriole, both eluded us.  
Orange-headed Thrush
Oriental Honey-buzzard
Then it was back to Bharatpur to Vaibhav's house for lunch and to meet his family.  It was really nice to meet them, after having spent so much time with Vaibhav both this year and last.  His lovely wife and mother cooked us a meal fit for a king.  It was the most delicious food of the trip.
Then we said goodbye to Vaibhav, with this part of our birding trip finished, and Lakmi drove us the 4 hours to Delhi.  We had the VIP suite in the Star Grand Villa Hotel, which had been arranged for us by Asian Adventures in lieu of that terrible hotel we had found on the web.  With both of us tired, and Nancy still recovering, we had soup and chocolate ice cream in the hotel restaurant before turning in.  At 9 pm, Nancy looked at our e-tickets for our flight the next morning and discovered that Chuck had never changed the time in his PDA from the earlier flight we had booked on Kingfisher.  He then had to call IndiGo to confirm the later departure, then change the pick up time for our car from 4:30 am to 6:30 am and advise Harshad in Nagpur.  With that all accomplished, we fell into bed about 10 pm.

We saw 316 species of birds, 69 of them new, on the North India part of our trip.  We also saw 14 species of mammal, 5 of which were new. 

Our room at the Royal Tiger Resort
Wednesday, March 21
Our car was right on time to pick us up, and we headed to the Delhi domestic air terminal where we promptly checked in for our IndiGo flight to Nagpur.  Security was a bit of a drill, as they wanted us to take out all cameras, optics and electronics before scanning our hand luggage.  We then went to the food court, where Nancy had fruit and Chuck had a cheese sandwich, as well as reasonablly good coffee.  Our flight was great.  IndiGo is a very switched on airline.  And Nancy's big camera bag even fit in the overhead storage compartment.  Once in Nagpur, we had to wait only a few minutes for Harshad to come.  We drove straight to Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, after a brief stop for gas and another ATM.  Harshad had a copy of his beautiful photo book on tigers for us, which Nancy had ordered.  It just came out in the last week.  

The drive to Tadoba took about 3 hours.  The Royal Tiger Resort was basic but quite comfortable, though the food was nothing to write home about and mostly too spicey.  We had a late lunch (late for us but not for Indians with their very late eating schedule), and boarded an open jeep, or gypsy, for our first safari into the park.  We drove around looking for tiger, seeing a huge Gaur along the way, as well as lots of Chital, Muntjac, Sambar and Nilgai.  An orphaned, semi-tame Nilgai came up to our car and licked the salt off Nancy's arm.  

We wound our way to a small pond where it was known the tigress with her four 14-month-old cubs was hanging out.  At this age the cubs look like adults but are not proficient in stalking and making a successful kill.  Mom still has to take care of them.  After waiting some time, a cub was spotted.  But it stayed down in the tall grass.  Since the park closes at 6 pm, we needed to leave this pond by 5:30 pm.  At about 5:28, the cub got up and came down to the water to drink.  It was soon joined by a second cub.  Nancy got some good pictures of both of them, and then we had to leave.  
Bandu, our driver, put the petal to the metal to get us to the gate before it closed.  What a ride, bouncing over the rough, though paved, road out of the park!  We did stop once, though, for three Dhole, also known as Asian Wild Dog, that crossed the road in front of us.  

In getting back to the lodge, we found that in typical Indian fashion, dinner was not served until nearly 9 pm.  But we had a good rest, a walk around the lodge, and spent some time chatting with a Frenchman who comes often to India to see tigers.  Our room is large, has a ceiling fan plus an air conditioner, which lets us be quite comfortable in this very hot, arid place. 

Thursday, March 22
It was up at 5 am for a cup of coffee in our room, then some good Indian chai out on the lawn, and aboard our gypsy with Harshad to head to the park and be first in line when the gates opened at 6:30 am.  We learned that there are two strategies for finding tigers.  One is to look for tracks in the dust of the road; the other is to go to a location where they are known to be and just wait in hopes that they will appear.  We tried the first strategy first, and though we saw spor, we did not find any tigers.  So we went back to the pond where we had seen them the previous evening.  We saw one tiger in the distance, but only briefly before it disappeared for good in the high grass.  Later, we talked to a couple of Indian photographers who had found the tigress with two little cubs right out near the road, and they had great pictures.  We were jealous and disappointed, but such is tiger "hunting" in any Indian park.  At least we have seen tigers on both of our outings so far.  We returned to the lodge around 10 am for breakfast and a break in the heat of the day.  And the temperature at midday is really hot, reaching at least 105 degrees Farenheit.  The early morning in the gypsy, though was quite cool, and we resolved to bring jackets tomorrow.  We went back in the gypsy at 2 pm.  As we careened down the rough road through the intense dry heat it was a bit like being dragged through a convection oven with its fan on high.  We returned to the pond with the four 14-month-old cubs.  We saw all 4 at different times over the course of a couple of hours.  But best of all were two of them cooling off and playing in the water.  Nancy got some great pictures.  

Later, a Wild Boar came down for a drink, and one of the young tigers began to stalk it from out in the pond.  The boar saw it and moved off.  On the way back, we saw two Sloth Bear, one of which crossed the track so close in front of us that Nancy could not get it all into a photo. Finally, we both got a quick look at a Jungle Bush Quail despite an aggressive gypsy driver that rudely pulled in front of us and cut us off.
We have now seen 321 bird species, 70 of them new, and 18 species of mammals, 7 of them new.

Friday, March 23
We began the morning with a quick look for the tigress with the small cubs but to no avail.  So we headed north to where the four older cubs were.  But we only had a brief sighting of them.  On the way back we had a good sighting of the Sloth Bear.  It was on the right side of the road, then went through a culvert under the road right in front of our gypsy and popped out the other side.  Nancy got some good pictures.  We ate breakfast at 10 am, then had a long break in the air conditioning until lunch at 1:30 and a 2 pm departure for the park again.  We went straight north the full 22 km to the pond with the young tigers.  They appeared briefly and Nancy got some pictures, but the viewing area was very crowded with the weekend traffic.  
There were many Indian photographers here, and we were impressed with the number of high-power lenses and high-end cameras on display.  The Indians really take their photography seriously.  The affluence represented by such expensive equipment was also a reminder, especially as we thought back to our long road trip through Uttar Pradesh, of the huge income disparities in today’s India.  On the way back, we had a very good sighting of Asian Wild Dog and got some good pictures.  We swung through the area with small cubs and learned that we had missed by only a few minutes five tigers crossing the road, including a male, the cubs and the cubs' mother, who apparently challenged an approaching Sloth Bear to keep it away from her babies.  We resolved to return to that area and stay there all morning tomorrow instead of going back up to where the 14-month-old tigers are, as we have done them rather well.

Chital, or Spotted Deer
Saturday, March 24
There is third way of finding tigers, and it's to go to the general area where there is a known tiger territory,  turn off the engine, and listen for alarm calls from Chital and Sambar.  Then drive toward the source of the sound and hope it means a tiger is moving.  Of course, it could also mean a Wild Dog, a jackal or a python.  This is what we did all morning and while we heard lots of alarm calls, we didn't see a thing.  We did get a fleeting view of a Red Spurfowl but not enough to count it.  Our one new bird of the morning was a White-bellied Drongo, which we saw quite well.  In the afternoon, we explored the east side of the park taking a less used road.  We checked out a number of remote waterholes where tigers have been seen recently but there were no tigers and only a few distant alarm calls.  While the area, known as the Kolas Range, was remote, the forest service had conducted controlled burns over much of it, and the animals were very scarce.  On the way back we did have a Jungle Cat close enough for Nancy and Harshad to photograph, and we had a half dozen huge Gaur peacefully grazing in the bamboo forest. 
We also had good looks at Red Spurfowl and a quick look at a female Gray Junglefowl.  As we neared the end of our eastern excursion, Bandu got a phone call advising that the tigress with the four young cubs was out.  He took off at high speed, and we careened and bounced through the forest hanging on for dear life.  We got to the meadow just in time to see them all before they disappeared into the high grass.  Our French friend, Didier, had spent the afternoon at the meadow, as we had done in the morning.  He was rewarded with the tigress fighting with a Sloth Bear.  We were disappointed that we had not stayed there too, which was our original plan.

Sunday, March 25
It was back to the young tiger cubs first thing this morning and we were second out of the gate.  This was very helpful as there was a long string of vehicles waiting to get into the park.  Many of the roads in the park are dirt and the vehicles kick up clouds of fine red dust that coats everything.  Nancy kept her cameras covered when she was not using them.  She also wore a bandana across her face, like a cowboy, to avoid breathing the worst of the dust.  We did not see the cubs, so we headed onto a track that was new to us west of the main road.  There were some nice ponds there but no tigers. We did have two excellent sightings of Gray Junglefowl cocks resplendent in breeding plumage.  Nancy got photos of the first one in excellent early morning light.  On the way out we had a nice pair of Dhole, or Asian Wild Dog.  We returned to where the small cubs are and managed to get a quick look at two of them before they disappeared into the shade of the forest to rest in the heat of the day.  We then drove all the way north to where the older cubs were.  A couple of them had been sighted crossing the road but we got there too late to find them.  On the way, we did get the Gray-headed Fish-eagle, another life bird.  
We then decided to head back to the lodge as the heat was becoming very intense, hotter than the previous hot days we experienced  at Tadoba.  Didier, the Frenchman, once again had a very close sighting -- this time of a Sloth Bear.  We are getting rather discouraged as we always seem to arrive somewhere just after the good sighting.  We need our luck to change!  When we went back out at 2 pm, it was incredibly hot.  Our thermometer read 105 degrees in the shade of our truck seat, and we were sitting in the sun.  And the hot air was extremely dry.  We drank a lot of water.  
Sambar doe and fawn
We tried for the small cubs again but they were well tucked away in the forest, so we drove the 20 km north to the pond with the older cubs.  We were told they were in the grasses near the water, in their usual place.  But we didn't see them until a female Sambar and her fawn came down to drink.  She sensed the tigers and gave an alarm call.  Two tiger heads popped up in the grasses, and we expected them to give chase.  But after a few minutes, they put their heads back down and the Sambar doe and fawn slowly moved away.  After that, no action, other than the noise of a hundred Indians talking rapid fire all at once and the roar of diesel engines from the gypsies.  It sounded more like the middle of Delhi than out in the bush.  As the sun dropped lower toward the horizon, we decided to go back and check out the small cubs.  Bandu was off today and the substitute driver was very timid and a slow driver.  We were rather exasperated with his unwillingness to pass slow vehicles, rather to follow them in their dust.  Guess we should have been prepared, for this morning we were the first vehicle out of the gate, and our guy went so slowly the second vehicle could pass us, meaning we would eat its dust all the way around to the area of the small cubs.  Anyway, we finally got to the impoundment and the small cubs were out.  We saw them for a few moments, and Nancy managed to take some distant pictures before they moved back into the forest.  We then returned to the lodge for the evening.  After each afternoon safari trip, the lodge offered Indian chai and snacks.  That was to hold us until dinner at 8:30pm.  Our routine was to have some chai and then retreat to our air conditioned room, take showers to wash off the thick red dust and then get a cold soda.  

Gray Langur
Monday, March 26
This was our last day at Tadoba, and we hoped to make the best of it. The morning started out slowly.  We looped around where the young cubs were but saw nothing.  So we headed north to the pond with the older cubs.  We saw them briefly in the grass but nothing for photos.  On the way back, we had three close wild dogs which Nancy and Harshad photographed.  It was hot by 9  but it didn't get as hot as yesterday because of a haze from a forest fire somewhere in the area.  In the afternoon, we headed straight for the pond with the older cubs.  When we arrived, one was sleeping in plain sight on the pond bank and another was mostly hidden in the grass.  They got up once to get a drink and then lay back down again. Nancy got some photos but they were not the close shots she had been hoping for all week.  When the two cubs got up and moved away from us, we drove around behind the pond.  Just after we pulled away, the largest of the cubs emerged from the bush, and we could see from the three vehicles waiting there that they had a tiger. We raced and got into position in time for Nancy and Harshad to begin photographing the approaching tiger.  She slowly walked towards the vehicles and then stopped at a large tree to rear up and sharpen her claws.  It was exciting to watch her.  She disappeared into a thick patch of bush and emerged  out the other side  to come even closer, making for some excellent tiger photography.  Nancy was ecstatic!  The young tigress slowly padded towards the jeeps and you could fully appreciate her beauty and power.  Nancy watched through the camera and fired off pictures as fast as she could.  The tigress was watching several Chittal deer nearby and seemed oblivious of the excited crowd of people watching her.  She was spectacular!  We had been watching her maybe 15 minutes but we all needed to leave to get out of the park by the mandatory 6 pm.  The tigress walked back into the bush and we all left in a hurry.   

Bandu drove very fast, something he really seems to enjoy. However this time he did not slow down for a troupe of langurs, which had a bad habit of running around cars, somewhat like dogs chasing cars.   One langur hit the side of our jeep with a loud smack and bounded off but must have been injured.  He hit hard enough to dent the side panel.  It was an unfortunate way to end our trip.  But we were still elated with such a spectacular close tiger sighting, which came literally in the 11th hour of our trip.  
Harshad Barve

Of course, Harshad came with us on all the safaris. He was a wealth of information on tigers and is truly passionate about them.  He is a fabulous tiger  photographer and knows much about their habitats.  More than just viewing tigers, we learned about tigers and their habits, their needs and how family groups and dominance change over time and how it affects tiger viewing.   

Tuesday, March 27
We left the Tadoba lodge at 3:15 am.  Harshad drove us directly to Nagpur airport.  Before leaving the park buffer zone, we saw an Indian Nightjar lift off the road ahead of us, and we saw two Indian Hares with their black napes. We arrived in plenty of time for our flight.  Chuck ordered what he thought was a cheese sandwich.  It turned out to be some kind of spicy Indian concoction with lots of green peas.  Who ever heard of peas on a sandwich????  And they kept falling out!  Our IndiGo flight was great.  It is an excellent airline.  The Asian Adventures guys were waiting for us and took us directly to the Star Grand Villa.  We had mutton, fries and chocolate ice cream for lunch and rested for the remainder of the day.  It was back to the airport at 6:30 pm through Delhi's slow-moving rush hour traffic where we waited for our flight in a superb lounge.  Our visit to India came to an end as our United flight to Newark lifted off on schedule.  It took us nearly 48 hours from Tadoba to our home in northern Colorado. 

On the combined segments of our trip, we saw 332 species of birds, 75 of them new, and 21 species of mammals, 9 of them new.  In addition, we saw two reptiles, the mugger, which we saw last year in Gujarat, and the gharial, which was new.  What's more, we gained a much better appreciation for the extreme contrasts that characterize nearly every aspect of today's India.

Note:  Harshard Barve has produced a spectacular coffee table book of tiger photos, “Tiger and I”.  His desire is to engage everyone in the splendor and beauty of the tiger and to convey the importance of conserving this incredible animal and its lands.  He can be reached at harshad.barve@remarkableindia.com.

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