The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia (and its islands)

NORTHWEST INDIA – A host of regional specialities combined with wonderful birding spectacles

Sunday 9th February – Wednesday 26th February 2025

Leaders: Hannu Jännes and a local bird guide

18 Days Group Size Limit 9
Chambal, Bharatpur & More Extension

Thursday 6th February – Sunday 9th February 2025

4 Days Group Size Limit 9


Birdquest’s Northwest India birding tours are the ‘alternative Northern India’ birding tours we pioneered and which take in an extraordinary array of wonderful speciality birds as we journey through the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra. This is undoubtedly the most comprehensive itinerary available for garnering the numerous speciality birds of the deserts, plains, wetlands and hill country that characterizes northern and western India. And this tour is not just about specialities, but about fantastic, easy and highly enjoyable birding in its own right. There are few places in this world that can compete with Northwest India for a mix of avian spectacles, lovely weather, easy walking and great general birding, never mind the fascinating cultural aspects of this wonderful country.

Our Northwest India birding tour features such great birds as the stunning Painted Spurfowl, Rock and Jungle Bush Quails, Indian Vulture, the endangered Great Indian Bustard, Macqueen’s Bustard, Demoiselle Cranes by the thousands, the endangered Indian Skimmer, the endangered Black-bellied Tern, Painted Sandgrouse, Yellow-eyed Pigeon, the famous Forest Owlet, the magnificent Mottled Wood Owl, Indian and Dusky Eagle-Owls, Pallid Scops Owl, Sykes’s Nightjar, Laggar Falcon, Sykes’s Lark, White-bellied Minivet, Marshall’s Iora, Brooks’s Leaf Warbler, Mountain Chiffchaff, Rufous-fronted Prinia, White-browed (or Stoliczka’s) Bush Chat, Variable and Red-tailed Wheatears, Rufous-vented Grass Babbler, Jerdon’s Babbler, White-naped Tit, Indian Spotted Creeper, Vigors’s Sunbird, Green Avadavat, Black-breasted Weaver, Sind Sparrow and last but not least the sought-after Crab-plover and Grey Hypocolius, the sole members of their respective bird families.

If you should visit anywhere in India fast, western Rajasthan has to take priority as it is home to the last major concentration of India’s most emblematic yet critically endangered bird, the magnificent Great Indian Bustard. This species has declined by over 80% in the last 50 years and it is estimated it could be effectively extinct within 15 years if the present rate of attrition from habitat degradation and hunting continues! We must all hope the disaster of extinction can still be avoided, but in the meantime, we are still seeing this bird on every Birdquest tour to the region.

Of all the bird-rich regions of the vast Indian subcontinent, it is the arid northwest that holds the greatest diversity of endemic species. During this unique itinerary, which is designed to focus on the many speciality birds of the region, we will visit the historic desert state of Rajasthan as well as the Punjab (situated at the base of the Himalayas), Gujarat and Maharashtra. During the tour extension, we also visit Uttar Pradesh.

The main tour begins at Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs. Amritsar is situated in Punjab, the ‘Land of the Five Rivers’, which is nowadays divided between India and Pakistan.

Here we shall see a rarely visited part of India as we explore the wetland reserve of Harike on the River Sutlej, a place that is still ‘undiscovered’ but which offers some great birding. As well as a superb array of waterbirds, Harike offers wintering Mountain Chiffchaffs from Central Asia and also specialities of the Indo-Gangetic plains such as Rufous-vented Grass Babbler, Jerdon’s Babbler (of the geographically isolated Indus form which may well represent a distinct species), Striated Babbler, Sind Sparrow and Black-breasted Weaver. We will also pay a visit to the famous Golden Temple of the Sikhs in Amritsar.

As our Northwest India tour heads south, we again come to the huge, largely desert, state of Rajasthan. Rajasthan with its turbulent history, warring yet cultured rulers and extraordinary cities and fortresses is surely the region that epitomizes the romantic India of a bygone era. Here the Moghul emperors constantly battled for supremacy with the local rulers, who in turn fought each other whenever they were not having to face an outside threat. The riches they accumulated were used to build awesome strongholds in the hills and some of the most fabulous palaces ever constructed. Their lives and times seem like a fairy tale to we inhabitants of a much more crowded and less simple era, but they live on in the remarkable monuments they built that now emblazon India’s rich architectural heritage.

For most birders who have travelled in India, or who have dreamed of going there, Bharatpur and Ranthambhore sanctuaries in the east are the places they associate with Rajasthan, but this huge state extends far to the west, where other remarkable places await the travelling naturalist.

First, we will visit Tal Chappar and Bikaner region in the northwestern part of the state, where the localized Indian Spotted Creeper can regularly be found and where Yellow-eyed Pigeons from Central Asia winter.

Next, we will experience the extraordinary spectacle of thousands of fearless Demoiselle Cranes right next to us at the village of Khichan, something relatively few birders have so far witnessed.

After that, we will travel far out into the Thar Desert to look for the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard and for White-browed (or Stoliczka’s) Bush Chat close to the romantic desert citadel of Jaisalmer. Other specialities of the desert include the splendid Laggar Falcon, Rufous-fronted Prinia and Red-tailed Wheatear.

Continuing further south, we will pause to hunt for Indian Eagle-Owl and the rare White-bellied Minivet around the small village of Siana.

From here we will travel to Mount Abu in the rugged Aravalli Hills, where we will look for the little-known Green Avadavat as well as Red Spurfowl, Indian Scimitar Babbler and many other birds before ending our journey through Rajasthan.

To the south of Rajasthan lies the state of Gujarat, bordering India’s Arabian Sea coast. Here we first explore the vast saline flats of the Little Rann of Kutch, famous for its herds of Indian Wild Ass (or Onager), and also home to some great birds including Macqueen’s Bustard, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Pallid Scops Owl and the little-known Sykes’s Nightjar.

After that, we will head westwards to Kutch, the most westerly region of India. Our visit to Kutch will be one of the highlights of our journey through western India, for this once-remote region harbours some very special birds, including the striking Crab-plover, Sykes’s Lark, Marshall’s Iora, the strange Grey Hypocolius (a must-see bird for all family collectors) and the rare and endangered White-naped Tit, all of which we can expect to see well during our explorations!

Finally, we shall go in search of the little-known Forest Owlet at Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra state in west-central India. Only recently rediscovered after a gap of over 100 years, Tansa has been found to hold an important population of this enigmatic species. This rarely visited sanctuary is also a great place for seeing the sought-after Mottled Wood Owl and the localized endemic Vigors’s Sunbird.

Before the main tour there is a short and targeted extension for a number of major specialities that cannot be seen further west and indeed are not usually seen on any other bird tour apart from our classic Birds & Tigers of Northern India and similar offerings.

First, we will travel southwards across the edge of the Gangetic Plain to the southwestern region of Uttar Pradesh state in order to explore the wonderful National Chambal Sanctuary. This little-known reserve on the Chambal River is the haunt of the rare and endangered Indian Skimmer and the equally rare and endangered Black-bellied Tern, plus Gangetic River Dolphins and some huge crocodiles (both the long-snouted Gharial and the more traditional Mugger),

Next, we head westwards to the famous wetland reserve of Keoladeo Ghana, near Bharatpur in northeastern Rajasthan. Here we will be looking in particular for the impressive Dusky Eagle-Owl, a bird with a big range but one that, rather surprisingly, only regularly gets seen on tours at Bharatpur. And of course, we will see masses of waterbirds, including such things as Sarus Crane and Painted and Black-necked Storks, during our short visit.

From Bharatpur, we will penetrate further into the dry landscapes of eastern Rajasthan and explore the rugged hills near Alwar. Here our major target is the beautiful Painted Spurfowl, another species that you need to make a special effort for as it does not occur further west.

By the time we return home from Northwest India we will have seen a truly amazing number of Indian subcontinent specialities as well as a rich variety of more widespread birds. This is a truly amazing birding trip that is for sure. Great specialities and wonderful, rich and easy birding. Who could ask for more?

Birdquest has operated Northwest India birding tours since 1985.

Taj Mahal Option: If you would like to visit the famous Taj Mahal before the tour we can arrange it for you. The incomparable Taj Mahal, a mausoleum of ethereal beauty built at the city of Agra by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, really does live up to its reputation and more. This immense building seems to float on its white marble plinth whilst inside the light filters gently down to softly illuminate the jewel-encrusted tombs of the emperor and his beloved

Please let us know at the time of booking if you would like to arrange a visit to the Taj Mahal. You can also opt to include the impressive Agra Fort if you wish. The visit can be arranged as a day trip from Delhi or you could opt to stay overnight in Agra and join the Chambal, Bharatpur & More Extension the following day.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels and lodges are of a good standard, but a few guesthouses in remote areas are fairly simple. All rooms have private bathrooms. Road transport is mainly by small coach or car. Roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Northwest India tour is easy throughout.

Climate: Typically it will be cool to warm, dry and sunny (although early mornings are sometimes chilly). Although overcast weather is not infrequent, rain is uncommon during this time of the year.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Northwest India tour are good.


  • Looking for Rufous-vented Grass Babbler, Jerdon's Babbler and Sind Sparrow at Harike with Sikh priests chanting in the background
  • Just enjoying the sheer wetland spectacles of Harike and Bharatpur
  • The Golden Temple of Amritsar at dusk
  • All those eagles and Yellow-eyed Pigeons at Bikaner
  • The extraordinary spectacle of thousands of Demoiselle Cranes at Kichan
  • Great Indian Bustards and White-browed (or Stolizcka's) Bush Chats at Desert National Park
  • The golden walls, citadel and temples of Jaisalmer before sunset
  • Searching for Painted Sandgrouse, Rock Bush Quail and White-bellied Minivet in the scenic hills of Siana
  • Perky little Green Avadavats at Mount Abu, a great rarity
  • Indian Wild Asses, Macqueen's Bustard and Sykes's Nightjar in the Little Rann of Kutch
  • The strange Grey Hypocolius at close range in Kutch
  • The rare and attractive White-naped Tit at one of its last strongholds
  • Strikingly-plumaged Crab-plovers on the shores of the Indian Ocean
  • The rediscovered Forest Owlet, in the daytime, at Tansa. A bird 'lost' for a century!
  • Gliding along the Chambal River - a last refuge for endangered species like Indian Skimmer, Black-bellied Tern, Ganges River Dolphin, and amazing long-nosed Gharial
  • Wandering the trails of Bharatpur's famous Keoladeo Ghana Sanctuary in search of Dusky Eagle-Owl, Indian Spotted Eagle and huge Sarus Cranes
  • Tracking down the superb Painted Spurfowl


  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Delhi. Drive to Chambal River for boat trip.
  • Day 2: Drive to Bharaptpur. Keoladeo Ghana.
  • Day 3: Keoladeo Ghana, then drive to Alwar.
  • Day 4: Alwar, then drive to Delhi and fly to Amritsar.
  • Day 1: Evening tour start at Amritsar.
  • Day 2: Harike wetlands. Overnight Amritsar.
  • Day 3: Harike wetlands, then continue to Bathinda.
  • Day 4: Drive to Tal Chappar.
  • Day 5: Tal Chappar, then drive to Bikaner.
  • Day 6: Bikaner to Jaisalmer via cranes of Khichan.
  • Days 7-8: Desert National Park and Jaisalmer.
  • Day 9: Jaisalmer to Siana.
  • Day 10: Siana.
  • Day 11: Mount Abu, then drive to Zainabad, Little Rann of Kutch.
  • Day 12: Little Rann of Kutch.
  • Day 13: Zainabad to Bhuj region.
  • Days 14-15: Kutch. Overnights near Bhuj.
  • Day 16: Kutch, then flight to Mumbai and drive to Tansa.
  • Day 17: Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Day 18: Tansa, then transfer to Mumbai airport for early evening tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights:

Delhi-Amritsar (for those taking the extension)


Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)

2025: confirmed £4320, $5550, €5050, AUD8380. Amritsar/Mumbai.
Chambal, Bharatpur & More Extension: £1000, $1290, €1170, AUD1940. Delhi/Amritsar.

Single Supplement: 2025: £480, $620, €560, AUD930.
Chambal, Bharatpur & More Extension: £110, $150, €130, AUD220.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.


Northwest India: Day 1  Our Northwest India birding tour begins this evening at Amritsar in the northern state of Punjab, where we will stay for two nights in the holy city of the Sikhs.

(Airport transfers will be provided.)

Northwest India: Day 2  The entire day will be spent birding at the Harike wetlands situated to the south of Amritsar. The extensive but as yet infrequently visited Harike wetlands were formed by the creation of an irrigation barrage on the River Sutlej, one of the five great rivers of the Punjab (which derives from the local words for ‘five rivers’). Above the barrage is a large lake and the slow-flowing channels of the Sutlej and its tributary the Beas, fringed by large marshes.

At dawn, a light mist often hangs over the Harike wetlands, and as the new day begins we will hear the beautiful singing and accompanying music of the sunrise prayers at an attractive Sikh temple that is situated right on the edge of the lake. As the sun rises, huge and noisy roosting flights of House Crows and Common, Bank and Indian Pied Mynas pass overhead.

As we explore the Harike area we will be looking out in particular for nine specialities of Harike – Sand Lark, White-tailed Stonechat, the restricted-range and threatened Rufous-vented Grass Babbler (which favours the denser reed and cane growth and which was formerly considered to be a prinia), the patchily-distributed Moustached Warbler, Mountain Chiffchaff (a winter visitor from the Pamirs and surrounding region), the restricted-range Jerdon’s Babbler (here of the Indus form, geographically isolated from the range in NE India and possibly a distinct species), Striated Babbler, the restricted-range Sind Sparrow and Black-breasted Weaver.

As we examine the rich wetlands we shall see a superb variety of waterbirds, including Little Grebe, Great, Indian and Little Cormorants, Oriental Darter, Little, Great, Median (or Intermediate) and Eastern Cattle Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Indian Pond Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Glossy Ibis, Greylag Goose (and perhaps the handsome Bar-headed Goose), Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Indian Spot-billed, Ferruginous and Tufted Ducks, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Red-crested and Common Pochards (and perhaps Red-crested Pochard), White-breasted Waterhen, Grey-headed Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing, the elegant White-tailed Lapwing, Ruff, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green and Common Sandpipers, Pallas’s (or Great Black-headed), Lesser Black-backed, Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls, and River and Whiskered Terns.

Raptors are frequently observed, and may well include Black-winged and Black Kites, Western Marsh Harrier, Shikra, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Greater Spotted Eagle and Common Kestrel. There is even a chance of the uncommon, restricted-range Indian Spotted Eagle.

In the small patches of shisham and acacia woodland, along the wooded bunds, or in open areas, we may well come across at least two or three of the more uncommon wintering passerines, which include Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits, Long-tailed Minivet, the little-known Brook’s Leaf Warbler (a northwestern Himalayan breeding species), Black-throated Thrush, White-crowned Penduline Tit and Bar-tailed Treecreeper.

Other species we should encounter at Harike include Grey Francolin, Eurasian Collared and Laughing Doves, Greater Coucal, Rose-ringed (or Ring-necked) Parakeet, Spotted Owlet, White-throated and Pied Kingfishers, the near-endemic Indian Grey Hornbill, Black-rumped Flameback, Oriental Skylark, Grey-throated Martin, White-browed, White, Citrine and Western Yellow Wagtails, Red-vented Bulbul, Common Woodshrike, Bluethroat, Siberian Stonechat, Indian Robin, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinias, Common Tailorbird, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Striated Grassbird, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Jungle Babbler, Long-tailed Shrike, Rufous Treepie, Black Drongo, Purple Sunbird and Oriental White-eye. With luck, we will also come across Streaked Weaver.

One evening, those who wish can visit the famous Golden Temple, the holiest place of the Sikh religion. It is a moving place to visit, being both very beautiful and so obviously of deep spiritual significance to the many Sikh pilgrims that come here every day. As one enters, bare-footed, the temple compound, the Golden Temple (or Harmandir) itself, which lies in the middle of a lake, glows like a golden boat rising from the waters, contrasting with the white marble of the rest of the temple precinct. The beautiful singing of the priests attending the Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh religion, carries throughout the complex, adding to the intensity of the moment. We can join the pilgrims as they make their way to the Harmandir to see the great book itself.

Northwest India: Day 3  After spending the morning at Harike, we will head southwards to the town of Bathinda where we will overnight at a comfortable hotel.

[Note: The journey from Amritsar to Tal Chappar is a very long one indeed, taking 12 hours including a lunch stop and without any birding stops! We have given up on doing this grim journey in one day, with only a very simple guesthouse to look forward to at the end of it. In any case, Harike has so many good birds that extra time there is beneficial.]

Northwest India: Day 4  Today we continue our journey southwards, crossing into the desert state of Rajasthan en route to Tal Chappar, where we will stay overnight. We will be able to start our exploration of the sanctuary this afternoon.

Northwest India: Day 5  At Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary our major target will be the localized endemic Indian Spotted Creeper (which we have a very good chance of seeing). We also have our first opportunity to find the restricted-range White-browed (or Stoliczka’s) Bush Chat. There is also a very good chance for Black Francolin.

Tal Chappar’s principal purpose as a wildlife reserve is to protect a large population of the magnificent Blackbuck, India’s most impressive antelope, which we will be able to admire during our visit.

Raptors are still common in this part of India and we can expect to find Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, the hulking Cinereous Vulture, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Laggar Falcon and perhaps Red-necked Falcon. We will also encounter a number of passerines typical of the Thar Desert such as White-eared Bulbul, Great Grey Shrike, Variable and Desert Wheatears, the near-endemic Brown Rock Chat, Common Babbler and Brahminy Starling.

After some very enjoyable birding, we will transfer to the city of Bikaner for an overnight stay.

Northwest India: Day 6  This morning we will visit an area outside Bikaner that attracts large numbers of wintering Yellow-eyed Pigeons from Central Asia (we should enjoy good views of this declining and endangered bird, right down to the broad yellow orbital ring) and where numerous Steppe Eagles, Black Kites and other raptors roost, providing extraordinary views and photographic opportunities.

From Bikaner, we will head southwestwards to the small village of Khichan, which lies not far from the town of Phalodi.

Here, during the winter months, thousands of Demoiselle Cranes from the steppes of Central Asia and Mongolia gather to live alongside mankind in extraordinary harmony. This amazing event owes its existence to the custom of the people of Khichan to put out grain for the cranes on the edge of the village. So long has this tradition lasted, and so strongly is the reverence for the birds amongst the local community, that even nowadays, long after the merchant wealth from the trans-Thar camel trade that once made Khichan prosperous has ebbed away, the local people still continue. Today they rely on donations from distant clansmen in Bombay, Delhi, London or New York to cover the huge sum involved in putting out the vast quantities of grain.

At any one time between 3000-8000 cranes congregate around Khichan, making for an extraordinary spectacle. When not feeding, the cranes retreat to rest away from the village, their soft silver-grey plumage contrasting beautifully with the dull orange of the sands or the brown rocky wastes. Sometimes a ‘dread’ affects the cranes and they take off like one gigantic organism with a roar of wings and wild bugling cries. To have been so close to thousands of wild Demoiselle Cranes is an extraordinary privilege, and we shall all feel glad that we made our way to Khichan.

After our encounter with the cranes, we head for the desert city of Jaisalmer for a three nights stay in the area. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Northwest India: Days 7-8  The main focus of our explorations will be Desert National Park to the southwest of the town. Here a large fenced area protects the natural grassland with scattered bushes and trees from excessive grazing by cattle (something which is the norm elsewhere).

The primary role of the park is to protect the huge and highly endangered Great Indian Bustard, a number of which occur in the area (both inside and outside the enclosure). Watching such huge birds wandering across the desert landscape will be one of the highlights of our journey through India’s arid northwest.

The species is declining fast and is not as easy to find in the area as it once was, so two days at Jaisalmer (and a backup third morning if need be!) is now crucial to making sure one has a very high chance of success with this ‘mega-bird’. This is not a bird one wants to miss!

The other star attraction of the ‘DNP’ is the localized White-browed (or Stoliczka’s) Bush Chat, a species restricted to the Thar Desert and its vicinity. We should be able to watch one of these fascinating little birds doing its strange breast-pouting movements as it stalks along on the ground.

Raptors are still fairly common in the area and we may well encounter White-rumped and Red-headed Vultures, Short-toed Snake and Tawny Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard and Laggar Falcon.

Other species that we are likely to find include Cream-coloured Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (and sometimes Black-bellied Sandgrouse), genuine wild Rock Doves, Asian Green Bee-eater, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Bimaculated and Greater Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipit, Isabelline Wheatear, Delicate Prinia, Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Whitethroat, Isabelline Shrike, Northern (or Common) Raven and Indian Silverbill. Indian Gazelles (or Chinkara) are common in the park.

We will also visit an area where a few low, sparsely-scrubbed, rocky ridges break up the monotony of these flat desert lands and here we should find the restricted-range Rufous-fronted Prinia and Red-tailed Wheatear as well as the more widespread Desert Lark.

There will be an opportunity late one afternoon to explore the beautiful and romantic citadel, which dominates the town of Jaisalmer and can be seen from long distances across the flat surrounding countryside. The whole place still has a medieval feeling about it, what with its crenulated golden sandstone walls, beautiful Jain temples and narrow, winding streets lined by exquisitely carved ‘havelis’ (the houses of the merchants and officials).

Northwest India: Day 9  Today we will make our way to the little village of Siana, situated in the Jalor region, for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will explore the surrounding area.

Northwest India: Day 10  The area around Siana, which consists of dry desert plains and rocky desert hills rising dramatically out of the plains, partly clothed in scrub jungle, provides great birding.

Specialities of the Indian Subcontinent’s arid zone include the Critically Endangered Indian (or Long-billed) Vulture, Indian Stone-curlew, the endemic Rock Bush Quail, the near-endemic Painted Sandgrouse, the skulking, near-endemic Sirkeer Malkoha, the impressive Indian (or Rock) Eagle-Owl, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, the near-endemic Indian Bush Lark, the uncommon and nomadic White-bellied Minivet, Large Grey Babbler and Bay-backed Shrike.

More widespread species include Red Collared Dove, Indian Scops Owl, Little Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Dusky Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Small Minivet, Black Redstart, White-browed Fantail, Yellow-throated (or Chestnut-shouldered) Sparrow and Striolated Bunting.

The village of Siana featured in David Attenborough’s epic Life of Mammals as the place where a Leopard wandered at night past the silent houses, and indeed this used to be one of the best places in India to look for this splendid creature. Sadly sightings are nowadays nothing like as frequent as they once were. We should, however, see Jungle Cat and there is even a slim chance for Striped Hyaena or Grey Wolf.

Northwest India: Day 11  We will set out early and drive to Mount Abu at the southern end of the Aravalli Mountains. Mount Abu is a small hill station situated below the summit of the mountain of the same name, which at 1722m is the highest peak in the Aravalli range.

Mount Abu is one of the few places in India where the rare and endangered endemic Green Avadavat has been regularly recorded in recent times and we have a very good chance of finding a flock of these little-known birds.

Other species we may well encounter include Red Spurfowl and Indian Scimitar Babbler (both species are restricted to Peninsular India), as well as Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Oriental Turtle and Spotted Doves, Alexandrine and Plum-headed Parakeets, Brown-headed and Coppersmith Barbets, Brown-capped Pygmy and Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers, Common Iora, Ashy and Grey-breasted Prinias, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, the endemic White-spotted Fantail, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Cinereous Tit, the endemic Indian Yellow Tit, Indian Jungle Crow, Ashy and White-bellied Drongo, Common Rosefinch and Crested and White-capped Buntings. Less easy to find is Grey Junglefowl, a species endemic to Peninsular India that is at the edge of its distribution in this area.

Afterwards, we cross into the state of Gujarat. Our destination is the small village of Zainabad at the eastern edge of the Little Rann of Kutch, where we will stay for two nights.

Northwest India: Day 12  At its southern edge the Thar Desert gradually gives way to the vast saline flats that form the Great Rann of Kutch and the Little Rann of Kutch. These flats, which were once part of the Gulf of Kutch (it is said Alexander the Great embarked from a port in the gulf at the end of his abortive campaign to conquer northwestern India), are still inundated by the sea during the monsoon months.

The Little Rann of Kutch is the last stronghold of the Indian Wild Ass (or Onager), which is now protected by the 4954 square kilometres of the Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary. The open flats of the Rann are a wild place, but offer little in the way of sustenance, even to a wild ass, but the bushy and grassy areas towards its periphery are a different matter and here we shall surely encounter a good number of attractive Indian Wild Asses and possibly wintering Macqueen’s Bustards from Central Asia, although an extraordinary level of persecution by falconers from Arabia has brought their population to a perilously low ebb.

At the very edge of the Little Rann are some bird-rich wetlands and here we are likely to encounter large numbers of Lesser Flamingoes (this region of India is the only area outside Africa where this species breeds), as well as smaller numbers of Greater Flamingoes plus Great White Pelican, the endangered Dalmatian Pelican, Western Reef Egret, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Woolly-necked Stork, the attractive Painted Stork, Asian Openbill (an extraordinary stork with a bill adapted to cracking the shells of pond snails), Knob-billed Duck, Garganey, flocks of Common Cranes, the stately Sarus Crane (nowadays uncommon), Pied Avocet, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Little and Temminck’s Stints, Eurasian Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, Slender-billed Gull and Gull-billed Tern. With luck, we will also come across some Small Pratincoles.

Areas of dry cultivation and wasteland hold two more specialities, the attractive Yellow-wattled Lapwing and the beautiful Indian Courser. (Sociable Lapwings sometimes winter in fields in the area, although they typically disperse away by this time of year.) Other new birds are likely to include Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, Common Quail, the near-endemic Rufous-tailed Lark, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, Paddyfield Pipit, Pied Bushchat, Rosy Starling (often in large, very approachable flocks at the edge of villages) and Baya Weaver.

In recent years one or two Pallid (or Striated) Scops Owls have wintered in the lodge grounds, so we can expect to find this sought-after bird. After dark, we can drive around the dusty roads until we find the little-known Sykes’s Nightjar, which is both a winter visitor to this part of India from breeding areas further north (and largely in Pakistan) but also a breeding resident. We should also see Indian Nightjar and, with luck, Common (or Small) Buttonquail.

Northwest India: Day 13  This morning we will head westwards to the once-remote but now steadily-modernising region of Kutch for a three nights stay at Nakhatrana in the Bhuj region.

A detour to the coast will come as a pleasant contrast to the dry woodlands and other habitats of interior Kutch. Here, amongst the sandy beaches and mudflats, we should find the spectacular Crab-plover, the sole member of its family, while other new birds are likely to include Grey (or Black-bellied) and Greater (or Desert) and Tibetan Sand Plovers, Sanderling, Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers, Bar-tailed Godwit and Little Tern. We should also find some more Great Thick-knees, while there is also a chance for the rare Indian Skimmer.

This afternoon we will begin our exploration of the Bhuj region.

Northwest India: Days 14-15  Kutch offers great birding, both inland amidst its largely arid landscapes and along its Arabian Sea coastline. Some very special birds occur here and this is the only part of India where the strange Grey Hypocolius, the sole member of its family, overwinters. (The species breeds largely in Iraq and Iran.) We will be visiting a reliable site where the birds gather to feed on small berries, especially early in the morning.

Kutch is also famous as the most reliable place to find the handsome, endemic but now rare, declining and endangered White-naped Tit. We know several good areas of dry acacia woodland where this species occurs, so we should be able to admire these rarely-seen birds as they forage amongst the trees, regularly uttering their characteristic calls.

The uncommon and localized Indian-endemic Marshall’s Iora is surprisingly easy to find in this same habitat. A fourth speciality passerine of Kutch is the uncommon Sykes’s Lark, another Indian endemic which favours grassy and rocky areas and which is easy to find in this area.

Just to add to the excitement, wintering Sykes’s Warbler is regularly to be found in the woodland and Grey-necked Buntings winter here in good numbers. We also have further chances for Painted Sandgrouse, Indian Eagle-Owl and White-bellied Minivet, should we have missed any of these earlier. The uncommon Jungle Prinia is another target in this area.

Northwest India: Day 16  After some final birding in the Bhuj region of Kutch, we take a flight from Bhuj to Mumbai (formerly Bombay)  and then drive northeastwards, into the Western Ghats range, to the Tansa area for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of the area.

Northwest India: Day 17  Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary protects a large tract of natural habitat in the Western Ghats mountain range that runs from north to south along the western coastal region of India. There are extensive forests of Teak and Sal, with evergreen broadleaf woodland in the more well-watered valleys.

Tansa is one of the best places for seeing the rare endemic Forest Owlet. This enigmatic species, until it was rediscovered in northwest Maharashtra in the 1990s, was known only from a few specimens taken in the late 19th century in the Satpura Range, from what is now Maharashtra to Orissa in east-central India. It is this species in particular that draws us to this area, and with persistence, we have an excellent chance of finding at least one during our visit. Forest Owlet is most unusual in being a diurnal species, perching prominently out in the open until quite late in the morning and again in the late afternoon, as it waits for small reptiles or other potential prey to appear.

Other mega-specialities at Tansa are the superb, restricted-range Mottled Wood Owl (which is positively common at Tansa!) and the lovely endemic Vigors’s Sunbird, species recorded on very few Indian birding itineraries. The latter is restricted to the northern and central Western Ghats.

Additional species that we may well come across include the handsome, restricted-range White-naped Woodpecker and Jerdon’s Leafbird, as well as Crested Serpent Eagle, White-eyed Buzzard, Alpine Swift, the fierce little Jungle Owlet, Savanna Nightjar, Crested Treeswift, Black-hooded Oriole, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Blyth’s Reed and Greenish Warblers, Taiga (or Red-throated), Ultramarine and Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Golden-fronted Leafbird, and Thick-billed and Pale-billed Flowerpeckers. Rhesus Macaques are quite common here.

Less common species, of which we should see a number during our visit, include such Peninsular Indian specialities as the lovely Malabar Trogon and Malabar Parakeet, as well as Jungle Bush Quail, the impressive Black Eagle, Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Jungle Nightjar, Large Cuckooshrike, Western Crowned and Green (or Bright-green) Warblers, Tawny-bellied Babbler and Indian Golden Oriole.

Northwest India: Day 18  After some final birding at Tansa, we will return to our hotel to wash, change and pack. After a good lunch together we will head for Mumbai airport where our tour ends in the early evening.

(Most international flight connections to Europe or North America leave Mumbai during the evening or after midnight, but we can make an overnight hotel reservation for you on request if you are not leaving until next day.)



Note: The many bird species that are likely to be recorded both during the main tour and the extension are omitted from the extension account.)

Chambal, Bharatpur & More: Day 1  The extension begins this morning at Delhi.

(Most international flights into Delhi arrive in the early hours of the morning. It is perfectly possible to fly in early this morning and join the tour. Alternatively, if you would like to be well-rested before the tour starts, you can arrange to arrive in Delhi the previous day and we can book you a hotel room and an airport transfer on request.)

From Delhi, we head southeastwards towards the Chambal River in Uttar Pradesh state for an overnight stay. The grounds of our comfortable lodge frequently hold both Indian Scops Owl and Brown Hawk-Owl, and there is a good chance of seeing Asian (or Common) Palm Civet.

This afternoon we will visit the National Chambal Sanctuary on the border between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states. Here the Chambal River, the last unpolluted major river in northern India, flows between low erosion cliffs as it approaches its junction with the Ganges.

The sanctuary, which also includes part of the state of Rajasthan further upstream, was set up to protect the healthy population of crocodiles that survives here, and also a population of the highly endangered Gangetic River Dolphin.

We should be able to closely approach the crocodiles as they sun themselves on the sandbars, both the long-snouted Gharial and the more conventionally-shaped Mugger. We also have an excellent chance of seeing the blind Gangetic River Dolphin and we may even be lucky enough to watch them jumping exuberantly, although sometimes they show little more than their backs.

One of the two most notable bird species of the Chambal is the localized and endangered Indian Skimmer and we should be able to watch these bizarre creatures living up to their name as they flap across the river, intermittently dipping their ‘broken’ bills into the water, or gathering on small islets. The second major speciality is the ever-decreasing and rare and endangered Black-bellied Tern

Other special birds include the declining Red-naped Ibis, the hulking Great Stone-curlew and the localized Sand Lark.

The Chambal is very rich in waterbirds and there is a good variety of other species as well. Birds we will not or may not encounter during the main tour include Striated Heron, Lesser Whistling Duck, the elegant Bar-headed Goose, Red-crested Pochard, Osprey, River Lapwing, Small Pratincole, Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, Bonelli’s Eagle, Grey Francolin, Indian Peafowl, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Asian Koel and Wire-tailed Swallow.

All in all a Chambal boat trip is a memorable and highly rewarding experience. Not just fantastic for birding but all those crocs…!

Chambal, Bharatpur & More: Day 2  This morning we will head westwards to the town of Bharatpur for an overnight stay.

The journey provides a fascinating glimpse of Indian life. The mix of traffic on the roads, consisting of buses, trucks, cars, motorized and cycle rickshaws, bullock carts and pedestrians carrying every imaginable item has to be seen to be believed. Rural scenes of houses and huts, mango groves and mustard fields are interspersed with transits through towns where cows munch the garbage next to lines of cycle rickshaws and lurid billboards shout at one from the walls of prematurely-aged concrete buildings. Even with its recent fast-paced development, much of India is still like this and modern highways and sleek modern buildings still seem the exception rather than the rule outside the cities.

This afternoon we will start to explore the famous Keoladeo Ghana National Park, situated at the edge of Bharatpur town.

Keoladeo Ghana National Park, usually known simply as ‘Bharatpur’, needs little introduction, for it is undoubtedly one of the finest waterbird reserves in the world. The sanctuary is an ecological ‘island’ amidst a sea of cultivation on the edge of the Gangetic plain and attracts great numbers of waterbirds at all seasons, but especially from summer into winter. Thankfully the water supply for this marvellous sanctuary has now been secured by the construction of a pipeline from the Chambal River, so this jewel is no longer in danger of being lost to the world.

The parts of the reserve favoured by waterbirds are the open, flooded areas which are dotted with clumps of trees growing on small islets and surrounded by tree-lined dykes. At the margins of this zone are areas of savanna, acacia-dominated scrub-jungle and groves of tall trees.

Painted Storks and many other waterbirds nest in the trees in late summer and autumn, once the monsoon rains have flooded the reserve, but many continue to use the trees as secure roosting sites throughout the winter. Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas stalk across the carpets of floating vegetation, whilst Woolly-necked and Black-necked Storks, and stately Sarus Cranes, wade in the shallows.

Bharatpur was once famous as a shooting venue for wildfowlers and one can still see the memorial listing the staggering totals of birds slaughtered in a single day in a less conservation-minded era! Nowadays the hordes of waterfowl are unmolested.

Keoladeo Ghana is a good place for seeing nocturnal birds in the daytime as the local guides tend to know precisely where they are roosting. We should be able to watch our major target, the impressive Dusky Eagle-Owl (which has a deep hooting call that is suggestive of the pattern of a bouncing ping-pong ball) as well as both Large-tailed and Jungle Nightjars.

Other species we may well not encounter during the main tour include Cotton Pygmy Goose, Booted Eagle and Streak-throated Swallow. Indian Spotted Eagle would be a bonus, although it is easier here than at Harike.

Chambal, Bharatpur & More: Day 3  After some more birding at Keoladeo Ghana we will head westwards to Alwar for an overnight stay.

This afternoon we will explore some rocky hills covered in deciduous jungle where our major target will be the superb Painted Spurfowl, a really handsome creature and an Indian endemic seen on very few tour itineraries.

We will come across a selection of other dry woodland birds but these will also be recorded during the main tour.

Chambal, Bharatpur & More: Day 4  We will have a second chance to look for the spurfowl this morning before we head off to Delhi airport and take a flight to Amritsar in the Punjab, where the main tour starts.


by Hannu Jännes

View Report


View Report


View Report


View Report

Other India and region birding tours by Birdquest include: