When you think of Indian wildlife and birdwatching, the first destinations that come to mind are probably verdant forests, Himalayan mountain passes, or bird-filled wetlands. The western deserts, however, provide some truly spectacular birding in one of India’s richest cultural regions, and are home to some of the rarest birds in India.
Our tour will head out to the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, in the Desert National Park, the last remaining stronghold of the Great Indian Bustard, a species that sadly could well be extinct in our lifetimes. En route we will enjoy one of Indian’s avian spectacles at close quarters, the wintering flock of thousands of Demoiselle Cranes at Kheechan. Other key birds include Spotted and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Yellow-eyed Pigeon, Stoliczka’s Bushchat, and a fine assortment of cranes, raptors, larks, wheatears and buntings.
A break from desert landscapes awaits us at the charming hill station of Mount Abu, the only regular site for the endemic Green Avadavat.
Moving on to the state of Gujarat we will spend time in the Little Rann of Kutch Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary, before ending up at the vast salt desert of the Greater Rann. This unique region is astonishingly rich in bird life, particularly in winter when large numbers of waterfowl, along with desert species, can be seen.
This is a tour of quality and quantity with some of best winter birding that India has to offer. Continue on with our Coastal Gujarat, Gir and Velavadar extension to add more spectacular birding and some rarely seen large mammals!
Day 1: Arrive in Delhi
You will be met and transferred to the hotel. Depending on your arrival time, we can arrange some birding in the Delhi area, such as Okhla Bird Sanctuary.
Day 2: Delhi to Jaipur, via Sultanpur National Park and Jhalana Safari Park
We will start our birding with a few hours this morning at Sultanpur National Park, just outside Delhi. This superb small wetland has excellent all-round birding that could provide us 100 species in the morning, including some difficult to see species, such as White-tailed Lapwing, Brooks’s Leaf Warbler and Sind Sparrow. Then we continue on our way to Jaipur, arriving in time for an afternoon jeep safari in Jhalana Safari Park. This small park on the edge of the city is remarkable for its relatively large numbers of Asian Leopard, and we have a good chance of seeing one on our drive.
Day 3: Jaipur to Tal Chhapar Sanctuary
We will drive to Tal Chhapar in time for an afternoon’s birding, either inside the sanctuary or in some excellent habitat outside.
Day 4: Tal Chhapar
Full day to explore the grassland sanctuary of Tal Chhapar. Once the hunting ground of the Maharaja of Bikaner, this small protected area has a large population of Blackbuck and Chinkara, and a very impressive list of birds. These include Indian Eagle Owl, Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, White-eyed Buzzard, Laggar Falcon, large flocks of the declining Yellow-eyed Pigeon, Indian Spotted Creeper, Rufous-tailed and Great Grey Shrikes, huge mixed flocks of Greater Short-toed and Bimaculated Larks, and Water and Buff-bellied Pipits.
Day 5: Tal Chhapar to Khichan via Bikaner
Today has two amazing birding spectacles, in very contrasting locations! After breakfast we leave for the drive to Bikaner, and the unpleasant surroundings of the Jorbeer Carcass Dump! If you can ignore the stench of rotting cattle carcasses you can enjoy close views of the largest congregations of raptors to be found in India. Hundreds of Himalayan, Eurasian Griffon and Egyptian Vultures gather here, joined by equally large numbers of Steppe Eagles, Black-eared Kites, and smaller numbers of Tawny and Eastern Imperial Eagles, with the chance of something rarer such as White-tailed Eagle or Saker Falcon, both of which have wintered in recent years. It is also fascinating to see birds such as Hoopoes feeding amongst the carcasses.
Somewhat more pleasant surroundings await us in Khichan, which is famous for its wintering flock of several thousand Demoiselle Cranes. For years the villagers have put out grain, as much as 500 kg per day, for the cranes. Feeding times in the morning and evening provide a truly spectacular sight and sound, which we will be able to experience at close range during our overnight stay at a nearby lodge.
Day 6: Khichan to Desert National Park, Jaisalmer
After enjoying the Demoiselle Cranes, we will drive west of the fortified city of Jaisalmer to the Desert National Park, close to the border with Pakistan. This is the last remaining stronghold of the Great Indian Bustard, now sadly reduced to a population of less than 200 birds and with a real risk of extinction during our lifetimes. A captive breeding programme has started with some success, but whether sufficient habitat will always remain available for them, with the pressures of an increasing population and associated development, will be key to their survival.
Day 7: Desert National Park
We have a full day today to explore the Desert National Park. There are several specialities to find here, including many raptors, Spotted and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Cream-coloured Courser, Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, Desert and Greater Hoopoe-Larks, the little-known Stoliczka’s Bushchat, Red-tailed Wheatear, Plain Leaf Warbler and Trumpeter Finch.
Day 8: Jaisalmer to Siana
After a final morning in the Desert National Park we drive south to Siana, our base for the next two nights. Siana is the Leopard village featured in David Attenborough’s Life of Mammals. Unfortunately, numbers have declined recently but we still have a reasonable chance, as well as of seeing Striped Hyena at night.
Day 9: Siana
We have a full day in Siana and will do morning and afternoon jeep safaris in search of our mammalian targets, as well as birds such as Indian Vulture, Rock Bush-Quail, Painted Sandgrouse and White-bellied Minivet.
Day 10: Siana to Mount Abu
A short drive takes us to Rajasthan’s only hill station, the quaint town of Mount Abu. In birding circles Mount Abu is famous as the only reliable location for the beautiful endemic Green Avadavat, and an afternoon and morning here should mean we will find a feeding flock or two. Other resident birdlife in the forest here includes a few species not generally found elsewhere in Rajasthan, including Grey Junglefowl, Indian (Black-lored) Tit and Indian Scimitar Babbler, whilst we also have a chance of Crested and White-capped Buntings.
Day 11: Mount Abu to Little Rann of Kutch
After some early morning birding we drive to our comfortable lodge at the edge of the Little Rann of Kutch, a fascinating salt marsh landscape that is the only home for the Asiatic Wild Ass, or Khur, and has been declared as the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary. The extensive Rann of Kutch is an ancient seabed, now a saline desert dotted with grassy patches that provide excellent winter birding. After lunch we will take a jeep to explore the Rann, looking for birds such as MacQueen’s Bustard, Indian Courser, Long-legged Buzzard, Short-eared Owl, Greater Hoopoe-Lark and large flocks of Greater Short-toed and Bimaculated, the Desert form of Lesser Whitethroat (now ‘lumped’ again having been split just a few years ago), Desert Warbler, and, with luck, a wintering flock of the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing.
Day 12: Little Rann of Kutch
A full day in and around the Little Rann will also include visits to wetland areas, such as the Bajana Creek and Nawa Talao lake. Here both Demoiselle and Common Cranes can be found in large numbers, with both. Greater and Lesser Flamingos and Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans. Other birds here could include the mighty Black-necked Stork, large flocks of wildfowl and waders including Knob-billed Duck and White-tailed Lapwing, Graceful Prinia, Desert and Variable Wheatears, Rufous-tailed and Bay-backed Shrikes, and Grey-necked Bunting.
As well as the herds of Asiatic Wild Ass we should also see Nilgai and Chinkara and maybe Desert Fox, Jungle Cat and, at night, Pale and Long-eared Hedgehogs.
Day 13: Little Rann of Kutch to Bhuj
A long drive west today, as we move from the Little Rann of Kutch to near the town of Bhuj, on the edge of the Greater Rann of Kutch. The Great Rann is one of the largest salt deserts in the world, at the southern edge of the Thar Desert where we were a week previously. Like the Little Rann, at first glance an inhospitable sun-parched habitat, it is also a landscape rich in bird and animal life. The monsoon leaves natural depressions, or chands, some of which remain filled with water through the winter and attract huge numbers of wildfowl and waters, with raptors and larks in the dry surrounding grassland.
Days 14 – 15: Greater Rann of Kutch
We will spend two full days exploring different areas of the Greater Rann of Kutch. One key target is the unusual Grey Hypocolius, the only member of its family and only known from one regular wintering site in India, around the Fulay village in the Banni grasslands. Sadly the Great Indian Bustard seems doomed in this traditional area of its range, with the population at Naliya, Lala Bustard Sanctuary, now only including one male. If were very unlucky in the Desert National Park in Rajasthan we will hope to connect here, otherwise we will concentrate on other key birds in the different habitats in and around the Rann. White-naped Tit, Stoliczka’s Bushchat, Marshall’s Iora and Rock Bush-Quail are targets in the Phot Mahadev thorn forest, with Indian and Cream-coloured Coursers, Sandgrouse potentially including Spotted and Black-bellied, Red-tailed Wheatear and Grey-necked and Striolated Buntings other good birds of Kutch.
A visit to the coast near Pingleshwar should produce large flocks of gulls and waders, including Crab Plover.
Day 16: Bhuj to Ahmedabad and on to Delhi (or Jamnagar for extension)
Our trip comes to the end with a long drive to Ahmedabad for our flights to Delhi or Mumbai and onward. For the lucky ones though, we will proceed to Jamnagar and some more of the amazing birds and mammals of Gujarat on our Coast and Grasslands extension.
- Greater Flamingo
- Black-necked Stork
- Great White Pelican
- Dalmatian Pelican
- White-rumped Vulture
- Indian Vulture
- Cinereous Vulture
- Tawny Eagle
- Eastern Imperial Eagle
- Pallid Harrier
- Long-legged Buzzard
- Great Indian Bustard
- Macqueen's Bustard
- Demoiselle Crane
- Common Crane
- Sociable Lapwing
- Cream-colored Courser
- Indian Courser
- Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse
- Spotted Sandgrouse
- Black-bellied Sandgrouse
- Yellow-eyed Pigeon
- Pallid Scops Owl
- Indian Eagle-Owl
- Sykes's Nightjar
- Marshall's Iora
- White-bellied Minivet
- Isabelline Shrike
- Northern Raven
- Grey Hypocolius
- White-naped Tit
- Greater Hoopoe-Lark
- Desert Lark
- Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark
- Bimaculated Lark
- Plain Leaf Warbler
- Rufous-fronted Prinia
- Asian Desert Warbler
- Indian Spotted Creeper
- White-browed Bush Chat
- Red-tailed Wheatear
- Sind Sparrow
- Green Avadavat
- Buff-bellied Pipit
- Trumpeter Finch
- Crested Bunting
- Striolated Bunting
- Laggar Falcon
- Near Endemic
As with all Bubo Birding tours, your booking is handled by Asian Adventures. This tour is guided by Mike Prince, plus local birding guides.
Prices are per person, assuming a total group size of between 4 and 8 people, and exclude international flights. They are approximate and will be confirmed before booking and depending on your expected arrival and departure plans. See Asian Adventures for full tour details, including accommodation, what's included, other exclusions, prices for smaller groups, single room supplements, and booking details.