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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

India: The North

Ranthambhore, Bharatpur, Nainital and Corbett

Monday 10 February to Friday 28 February 2020
with Paul Holt and Susan Myers and a local leader
featured image

A Tiger roams the forest at Ranthambhore. Photo: Paul Holt

India is a mystical and exotic country that for many people epitomizes foreign travel. It is an extraordinarily varied land, and long after you have returned home images will remain to enrich and liven your daily round: the cool marble splendor of the Taj Mahal; the snows of the Himalayas, flamingo-pink at dawn; and the lush green jungles. And above all the birds: the thrill of your first Siberian Rubythroat, a Red-flanked Bluetail or Altai Accentor beside a mountain stream a Sarus Crane striding majestically through the cornfields an Orange-headed Thrush lighting up the undergrowth or minivets streaming through the emerald canopy. With so many birds on the potential list, the examples can only be arbitrary, and the total for the tour should be between 380 and 400 species.

We have been running up to three tours a year to Northern India for many years. Now we’ve added a visit to Ranthambhore, thereby offering the very real possibility of an encounter with a tiger and making this one of the most comprehensive northern India itineraries available.

Day 1: The tour begins this evening with dinner at an airport hotel in Delhi. Night in Delhi.

Paul Holt is amazing —- especially his ears, which can pick out a bird call even when every vehicle on the road is honking their horns (which is pretty much all the time in India!) His seemingly endless energy and unflagging sense of humor, even in the face of what must have been an unusually high number of obstacles (weather, political unrest, closed roads, etc) made the trip an absolute delight! Local guide Rajveer is also outstanding —- in addition to making things run smoothly (which is no small feat!) he is an excellent birder!

Kathy Brown, Mar. 2019

Day 2: After an early breakfast we’ll transfer to one of Delhi’s bustling railway stations, where we’ll begin our grand tour with a train ride south to the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Gliding through the open countryside of the Gangetic Plain will be a wonderful introduction to rural India, and we can expect to see Indian Pond Heron, Black-shouldered Kite, Common Peafowl, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Indian Roller, Black Drongo, and Common and Bank Mynas along the way. Arriving around midday, we’ll go straight to our hotel, and in the afternoon we’ll have our first of six safari drives in the reserve in search of the majestic Bengal Tiger. Night at a comfortable lodge outside the Tiger Reserve at Ranthambhore.

Day 3: Ranthambhore is the subcontinent’s most famous and accessible tiger reserve, and we’ll take a number of drives inside the park during the mornings and early evenings. Our open-topped vehicles will allowing excellent views of the wildlife, and we will undoubtedly see good numbers of Spotted Deer, a main prey item for the elusive tigers. Elusive they may be, but the habitat here is fairly open, and a healthy population ensures that we have a good chance of at least one encounter with this magnificent cat. Ornithological distractions could include Painted Spurfowl, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, and White-naped Woodpecker. Night at Ranthambhore.

Day 4: This will be our second full day in and around Ranthambhore. If we still haven’t seen a tiger we’ll concentrate our efforts to find one. There are numerous other attractions here as well, including a spectacular ancient fort and a series of bird-thronged lakes, and outside the reserve we have a good chance of finding regional specialties such as the gorgeous Indian Courser and elusive Painted Sandgrouse. Night at Ranthambhore.

Days 5: After a final morning drive in the reserve, we’ll leave Ranthambhore and take the train to Bharatpur, one of the ornithological wonders of the world. We’ll arrive in time to sample some of the region’s ornithological delights. Night at Bharatpur.

Days 6-7: Keoladeo National Park, or simply Bharatpur, was originally a vast wetland developed for duck shooting. Coaches are not allowed inside the park, so we’ll explore the 10 square miles on foot, by bicycle-rickshaw, and in the park’s electric bus. Those whose overriding memories of birdwatching abroad are dusty and bumpy roads and whistle-stop stakeouts will find this a marvelously relaxing time. Nevertheless it will be very rewarding, with the possibility of more than 150 species ranging from Sarus Crane to Small Minivet, from Brown Crake to Eastern Imperial Eagle. Among the numbers of waterbirds, Black-necked and Painted Storks, Intermediate Egret, and Darter will vie for our attention as we search for less usual species such as Ferruginous and Red-crested Pochards or Greater Painted-snipe. In the trailside trees we’ll look for Marshall’s Iora, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Common Wood-Shrike, Indian Paradise-flycatcher, White-bellied Drongo, Coppersmith Barbet, and Ashy Prinia. Beneath the bushes the slightest movement could herald a Bluethroat or, with luck, an Orange-headed Thrush or Siberian Rubythroat. In the sky above there might be Greater Spotted Eagle, Red-headed Vulture, or Crested Serpent-Eagle. Dusk may bring us Collared Scops Owl, Dusky Horned Owl, or a nightjar or two. Note that Bharatpur is suffering from an acute water shortage, and although the actual amount of water in the park varies, depending largely on the magnitude of the previous summer’s monsoon, the sanctuary has been very dry for most of the 21st century. Because of this, we now spend only one full day inside the reserve, and we will visit other sites outside the reserve during our time here. Nights at Bharatpur.

Day 8: Leaving Bharatpur we’ll drive through Agra an on towards Chambal Safari Lodge where we’ll take a boat up the Chambal River. Indian Skimmers still breed here, and we should be able to find several of these increasingly rare birds, along with Black-bellied Tern and perhaps Sand Lark. Gharial, Mugger Crocodile, and even Gangetic Dolphin are also found here, and we’ll hope to see all three. Night at the comfortable family-run Chambal Safari Lodge.

Day 9: After breakfast we’ll return to Agra and visit the Taj Mahal—“no mere building, but a love immortalized in marble.” Birders unmoved by Shah Jahan’s promise to build a tomb that would forever recall the love he shared with Mumtaz Mahal, should at least enjoy seeing the profusion of raptors over the Taj; there is also a chance of Pallas’s Gull or River Lapwing on the Yamuna, and Asian Koel and Brown-headed Barbet can be seen in the leafy gardens. In the afternoon we’ll continue north back to Delhi. We’ll have dinner and access to two day rooms there before we take an overnight sleeper train to Kathgodam at the base of the mighty Himalayas.

Day 10: We’ll arrive in Kathgodam in the early morning, then switch to a fleet of jeeps for the rest of the drive to Ramnagar. Here we’ll search the boulder-strewn river for the rare and increasingly elusive Ibisbill, as well as wintering Wallcreepers. From there we’ll drive up to a delightful lodge just outside Corbett National Park, with superb views across the Kosi River and surrounding dense woodland where we are free to wander on foot. Night near Corbett National Park.

Day 11: During our full day here we’ll explore the river edge for Brown and Tawny Fish-Owls, Crested Kingfisher, Brown Dipper, and Plumbeous Water and White-capped Redstarts. The surrounding area is full of surprises, and in recent years we have regularly seen Long-billed Thrush and Little Forktail, as well as Rufous-bellied Eagle and Mountain Hawk-Eagle. The many new species possible in the forest could include Collared Falconet, Crested Tree Swift, Hair-crested Drongo, and Orange-bellied Leafbird. Night near Corbett National Park.

Day 12: After breakfast we’ll enter the highly scenic Corbett National Park, where Red Junglefowl and Kalij Pheasant are immediate possibilities. Please be warned that the accommodation here is spartan by Western standards; we can expect leaky plumbing and unpredictable supplies of heating, electricity, and hot water. But the food is good, and the location and its birds are magnificent. Night in Corbett National Park.

Day 13: The internationally famous Corbett National Park, established for Project Tiger in 1935, covers 200 square miles. The tigers here are extremely hard to find, and with vast areas of forest in which to roam, encounters are now very rare. Exploration on foot is not allowed—indeed, it is possible only in areas adjacent to our lodge or if accompanied by an armed guard. Happily, the park is easily accessible by our open-top jeeps. Located in the Himalayan foothills between 1,300 and 3,500 feet above sea level, the reserve is divided by the River Ram Ganga (which harbors two species of inland crocodile) and offers a variety of habitats from dense jungle and mature forests to open grassland, broad river valleys, and rolling hills. The wealth and variety of species seems almost inexhaustible: Great Hornbill, Asian Barred Owlet, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Himalayan Swiftlet, Lesser Fish-Eagle, or even Great Thick-knee, Stork-billed Kingfisher, or White-tailed Rubythroat. As well as tiger, mammals include Indian Elephant, Indian Muntjak, and Hog Deer. Night in Corbett National Park.

Day 14: After a final morning in the park we’ll drive to the old hill station of Nainital, a journey that takes us along one of the world’s more spectacular mountain roads as we climb into the Kumaon Hills to this delightful “lake city.” We’ll stop along the way to look for birds including Long-tailed Broadbill, Black-throated Jay, Black-throated Bushtit, Blue-capped Redstart, and the stunning Spotted Forktail. Night in Nainital.

Days 15-16: Driving up to the mountain ridge above Nainital we’ll look across to the snow-capped Western Himalayas and the borders of China and Nepal. If the weather is clear, we’ll be able to see Nanda Devi, at 24,500 feet India’s highest peak, from a viewpoint often alive with Oriental Turtle Doves, Chestnut-crowned and White-throated Laughingthrushes, Gray-winged Blackbirds, and Red-flanked Bluetails. The gentle downhill stroll back into town will add many sub-Himalayan species to our list. On walks through the surrounding valleys and forested hills we’ll hope for Hill Partridge, Altai Accentor, White-tailed Nuthatch, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, Golden Bush-Robin, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, and Common, Dark-breasted, and Pink-browed Rosefinches. From a nearby mountain lookout, close-passing raptors could include Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, and Steppe Eagle while other surprises could range from Cheer or Koklass Pheasant to Great Barbet, White-browed Shrike-Babbler or Rufous Sibia. Streaked Laughingthrush is virtually a garden bird here, and the numerous wooded gullies and gardens around town can hold many other exciting birds. Recent tours have produced Chestnut Thrush, Fire-fronted Serin, and Russet Sparrow—all within walking distance of our hotel.

On one day we’ll visit the lake at Sattal, passing through coniferous forests, a patchwork of farm fields, and deciduous woodland surrounding the lake. Each of these habitats holds different birds, and highlights on previous visits have included Brown Wood Owl, White-crested and Rufous-chinned Laughingthrushes, Red-billed Leiothrix, Scaly Thrush, Black-throated Accentor, and White-capped Bunting. Nights in Nainital.

Day 17: After a final day around Nainital, we’ll return to Kathgodam and take another overnight sleeper train back to Delhi. 

Day 18: Arriving in the early morning, we’ll transfer to a hotel and have breakfast, followed by an optional birding excursion to a site close to the capital. Even after nearly three weeks in this fascinating country, there will still be new species to distract us, perhaps including Eastern Orphean Warbler and regional specialties such as Brooks’s Leaf Warbler and Sind Sparrow. Night in Delhi.  

Day 19: The tour concludes with transfers to the airport. 

Updated: 17 January 2020


  • 2020 Tour Price : $5,400
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $910


This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

Questions? The Tour Manager for this tour is Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 or 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 13 with three leaders. Single rooms cannot be guaranteed at Corbett National Park.


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