This special tour focusses on one main bird that, with a population of just over 100 individuals, sadly could well be extinct in our lifetimes. The spectacular Great Indian Bustard is by no means the only highlight of this trip though, for the western deserts of India provide some wonderful birding in one of India’s richest cultural regions.
Our tour will head out to the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, the last remaining stronghold of the Great Indian Bustard. First though, we will spend some time at India’s most famous bird reserve, the Keoladeo National Park, or Bharatpur. En route from there to the desert we will enjoy one of India’s avian spectacles at close quarters, the wintering flock of thousands of Demoiselle Cranes at Khichan. 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.
This tour is specially arranged so that you can take just one week off work or school – Spring half-term in February is the perfect time of year for Rajasthan – and be back in the office (or school) on Monday morning to regale your colleagues (or school friends, if they’re interested!) with stories of an unforgettable week!
Day 1: Arrive in Delhi
After your international flight, the night will be spent in a comfortable airport hotel ready for the drive to Bharatpur tomorrow.
One good flight option currently, assuming you are coming from the UK, is to fly Air India from London Heathrow at 09:45, arriving 22:50.
Day 2: Delhi to Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur
We will leave after an early breakfast direct for Bharatpur, where we will spend the afternoon enjoying the large numbers of waterfowl and other birds, and possibly experiencing your first ever cycle-rickshaw birding!
Day 3: Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, to Tal Chhapar Sanctuary
Keoladeo National Park, better known as Bharatpur, has a history of large-scale hunting, but became a World Heritage Site in 1985. One of the most outstanding wetland reserves in Asia, it attracts large numbers of wildfowl, herons, storks, cranes, waders, owls and raptors, after the monsoon has refilled the shallow ‘jheels’. On this short tour we will only have a morning to enjoy the sanctuary, but are still likely to see over 100 species of birds. There is so much to see that it will be difficult to tear ourselves away, but we have a long drive onwards to enter desert habitats and some of the real specialities of this tour. One of these is Indian Spotted Creeper, and we will try an area of their favoured habitat, Prosopis scrub forest, near Salasar, in the late afternoon.
Day 4: Tal Chhapar to Bikaner
We will have most of the 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.
After our birding, we will drive to the city of Bikaner for an overnight stop.
Day 5: Bikaner to Jaisalmer via Khichan
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 an amazing sight and sound, and large numbers of birds are present in the surrounding area all day. Afterwards we will drive past the fortified city of Jaisalmer to our luxury desert camp, conveniently located just outside the Desert National Park, and our base for three nights.
Days 6 – 7: Jaisalmer and the Desert National Park
West of Jaisalmer lies 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.
We have two full days to explore the Desert National Park. Aside from the Bustard, 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 Delhi, via Jodhpur
After some final birding in the Desert National Park we drive east to Jodhpur for our afternoon flight back to Delhi.
Day 9: Depart from Delhi
Depart Delhi for your onward journey.
For example, Air India currently fly direct to the UK with departures at 02:30 and 14:45. The former arrives in London at 06:35, meaning you have plenty of recovery time before work the next day! If you take the 14:45 departure we can arrange a short morning birding session, most likely at Sultanpur National Park.
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 an exclusive 2 person tour. Larger group sizes attract a discounted per person price, which we will confirm to you on enquiry.
International flights are excluded.
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.