From Floricans to Cranes – Monsoon and the Tibetan Plateau

Black-necked Crane

India is often known as a land of extremes, and this short tour brings you exactly that. We start in the lush green landscapes of the Indian monsoon, targeting some birds that are seldom seen at other times of the year. Key amongst them is the rare endemic Lesser Florican, seldom seen due to its very secretive behaviour. Monsoon is when it does its spectacular jumping display, which we will look for mainly in agricultural fields near Sonkhaliya. In the same area of Rajasthan, the similarly secretive Rain Quails will be calling and obvious, and this is the best time of year also for seeing Rock Bush Quail, Painted Francolin, Singing Bushlark and Bristled Grassbird. On our way here we will also do a jeep safari at Jhalana in Jaipur, which gives us an excellent chance of seeing Asian Leopard.

After this taste of Rajasthan, it is time for a complete change of scene. The Tibetan Plateau of Ladakh at the northern extreme of the Indian Subcontinent, across the Himalayas, offers a stark contrast to the rest of the country, in landscape and culture as well as birds and wildlife. After our flight from Delhi we will rest awhile in Leh to acclimatise to the altitude of over 3,500 m. We then head east to our base at the Tso Kar lake and plains, at an altitude of over 4,500 m. Black-necked Crane breeds here and our two full days here should also enable us to catch up with species such as Tibetan Snowcock, Tibetan Partridge, Upland Buzzard, Ground-Tit, Horned Lark, Brown Accentor, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Fire-fronted Serin and Mongolian Finch. Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang) is common here, and we might also find ‘Shanku’, the Tibetan Wolf.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Delhi, afternoon at Surajpur

After your arrival in the morning in Delhi we will head to Surajpur wetland on the outskirts of the city, a reliable site for the scarce breeding Bristled Grassbird, a bird that is incredibly secretive and difficult to see except for a couple of months when it performs its short song flights.

Day 2: Sultanpur National Park to Jhalana Safari Park, Jaipur

Leaving early this morning we first stop at Sultanpur National Park. This small wetland is another site for Bristled Grassbird, and provides great all-round birding at any time of year. Monsoon is the time for the spectacular displays of Indian Peafowl, and we should see several birds here, as well as Asian Openbill, Red-naped Ibis, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Indian Thick-knee and Pied Cuckoo. 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 Ajmer

We have the option of another game drive at Jhalana this morning before we leave, or alternatively some birding at Nahargarh Biological Park, an area of thorn forest which has good numbers of regular species with breeding Indian Pittas, Bay-backed Shrike, Black-headed Cuckooshrike and a chance of the scarce White-naped Tit. Leaving Jaipur we head southwest towards the prime areas for Lesser Florican, with some exploratory birding en-route.

Day 4: Sonkhaliya from Ajmer

The arable farmland of Sonkhaliya is the stronghold of the severely declining Lesser Florican. Seldom seen at other times of year because of their secretive nature, from July through to September they perform a remarkable jumping display. Our two full days in the area gives us a very good chance of finding them, as well as other monsoon specialities including Rain Quail, Rock Bush Quail, Painted Francolin, Indian Eagle Owl and Singing Bushlark. Autumn passage migration has started by now also and we may find Rosy Starlings, European Rollers, Sykes’s Warblers and even a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin.

Day 5: Ajmer to Delhi

After some final birding at Sonkhaliya, we will drive to Delhi to spend the night before our early morning flight to Leh tomorrow.

Day 6: Delhi to Leh

A morning flight to Leh gives some spectacular Himalayan mountain views, with the peaks of K2, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum on one side and the Nun Kun massif on the other. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure. With Leh being at an altitude of more than 3,500 m, it is important to acclimatise to avoid acute mountain sickness (AMS), and the best way is to rest as much as possible for the first day or so. Nothing more strenuous than a chat over tea in the hotel today!

Day 7: Leh

Another rest day in Leh, although in the afternoon we will so some relaxed birding in the local area to get used to some of the common species. We can also take a short stroll through Leh’s main bazaar and enjoy a taste of the local Tibetan cuisine!

Day 8: Leh to Tso Kar via Mahe Bridge and Puga (210 km, 5 hr)

Tso Kar, a salt lake, and the nearby freshwater Startsapuk Tso, are important breeding grounds for Great Crested GrebeBar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Lesser Sand Plover and Brown-headed Gull, amongst other species. The boggy marshes here have several other species, and are where we should come across pairs of the spectacular endangered Black-necked Cranes.

Days 9 – 10: Tso Kar

Two full days from our base at Tso Kar gives us ample opportunities to discover the wildlife in what is probably the most productive area of Ladakh for its specialities. At this migration time we should find flocks of waterfowl and waders, whilst the nearby grasslands and barren hillsides support many accentors, larks, and finches, including the rare Blanford’s (or Plain-backed) Snowfinch. Both Himalayan and Tibetan Snowcocks occur here, with Tibetan Partridge also, and flocks of Tibetan Sandgrouse are likely. Raptors hunting over the plains should include Golden Eagle, Upland Buzzard and maybe the milvipes form ‘Eastern’ Saker Falcon, and we will also try to find Eurasian Eagle Owl, and the distinctive desert Little Owl: adjusted to very different habitat here than any European birders amongst us will be used to. The easily overlooked Hume’s Groundpecker, or Ground Tit, is another key bird for us here.

Mammals here include Kiang, the Tibetan Wild Ass, as well as Tibetan Wolf, Indian Fox, Tibetan Argali, and Himalayan Weasel.

Day 11: Tso Kar to Leh via Taglang La (160 km, 4 hr)

With a final morning in Tso Kar, it is time to start the long journey home, initially with our drive back to Leh. We will take the route via Taglang La and spend some time birding here (particularly if we didn’t visit it in the previous two days from Tso Kar) as it is particularly good for Tibetan Snowcock, as well as Bharal (Blue Sheep).

Day 12: Leh to Delhi

Morning departure from Leh for Delhi, and a transfer to the airport for late evening or early morning flights home. If your flight is later the following day, we can provide suitable accommodation.

Checklist

View species bar chart on eBird.

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Important information

Asian Adventures logo

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 quoted are per person, assuming a group of 4 or more people.
  • International flights are excluded.
  • We may change the itinerary described due to various reasons such as latest birding information, availability of accommodation, state of the roads, and other unexpected factors that, this being India, do pop up from time to time!
  • The final price and itinerary 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 larger groups, single room supplements, and booking details.

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