Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharastra
This grand tour of western India takes us through four states, after searching for Sind Sparrow and Rufous-vented Prinia in the Punjab wetlands we head south for Indian Spotted-creeper and wintering Yellow-eyed Stock Doves in Rajasthan before heading west to the 'The Golden City of India'; Jaisalmer. Though it is a wonderful, historic and scenic city the draw for us is the Great Indian Bustard, as it teeters on the brink of extinction. Heading south, via the spectacle of 'The cranes of Keechan' into the dry-state of Gujarat birds are literally everywhere.
Visiting four areas we take in some of India's rarest species amid spectacular scenery with masses of game - Indian Wild Ass, cats, Blackbuck, Spotted Hyena and a chance of Leopard. Green Avadavat, Hypocolius, White-naped Tit, Sykes's Nightjar, Mottled Wood Owl, Indian Eagle Owl, Stoliczka's Bushchat, Macqueen's Bustard to name a few of the particularly noteworthy species before we fly across to Maharashtra in search of the Forest Owlet, a species that went missing for 113 years until it was rediscovered in 1997.
This tour not only harbours some of the subcontinents rarest avian delights but is one of the most bird-filled tours possible anywhere in Asia. Coupled with wonderful scenery, mammals galore and some of India's finest food this makes for an exhilarating tour.
International arrivals into Amritsar International Airport. Night in Amritsar.
Full day birding the extensive marshes at Harike (1-hour drive) in search of the range-restricted speciality Rufous-vented Grass-babbler as the primary goal, with Sind Sparrow and White-tailed Stonechat also likely, while there is a chance of Jerdon's Babbler if we're lucky. Wintering birds abound and can include the scarce White-crowned Penduline-tit, Moustached Warbler, Brooks's Leaf Warbler and Mountain Chiffchaff. Night in Amritsar.
After early morning at Harike, we have a long drive south, to Tal Chhaper. Night at Tal Chhapar.
Full day at Tal Chhapar, birding grassland and remnant thorn forest. Our main target here is Indian Spotted-creeper. The grasslands and surrounding scrub we have a chance of Indian Eagle Owl, Demoiselle Crane, large numbers of Pallid and MontagueÕs Harrier, a variety of Aquila eagles predominately made up of Steppe Eagles with the odd Imperial Eagle possible, and a broader, large numbers of passerines and raptors that winter in and around the reserve. Mammal-wise, Blackbuck is present in numbers. The thorn forest (1 hour drive) gives us our first chances with Rock Bush Quail, Black Francolin, Eastern Orphean Warbler and even White-bellied Minivet, as we go in search of Indian Spotted-creeper. Night at Tal Chappar.
Depart pre-dawn to reach Bikaner rubbish dump to search for Yellow-eyed Dove, which should be present in numbers, as 500-2000 winter in the area. Also a fantastic site to see Steppe Eagle and other Aquila at the dump up close. After this, drive west to Jaisalmer.
Late afternoon birding for Striolated Bunting, Persian (Red-tailed) Wheatear, Desert Whitethroat, Indian Eagle Owl and Desert Lark if we have the time. Night at Jaisalmer.
Two full days in-and-around Desert National Park. Our priority will be securing views of India's most famous, but unfortunately now rarest species - Great Indian Bustard. The population has suffered a recent catastrophic decline and really is facing imminent extinction, with likely less than 100 remaining. However, the area is also full of birds including another declining, rare species Stoliczka's Bushchat, which we hope to find whilst searching for the bustard. A whole range of semi-desert species are also possible here - Cream-coloured Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Desert Whitethroat, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Asian Desert Warbler, Punjab Raven, Black-crowned Finch Lark, Desert Lark, Imperial, Tawny and Steppe Eagles, Variable Wheatear, and Lagger Falcon. Three critically endangered vultures are also possible; Indian, White-rumped and Red-headed, along with the more widespread Eurasian Griffin and Egyptian.
If we have been successful early with the Indian Bustards, we can spend morning day 7 visiting the famous Demoiselle Cranes of Keechan, and return to Desert National Park for afternoon birding, otherwise we continue our search for the bustard.
Night at Jaisalmer.
This morning we plan to visit the Demoiselle Cranes of Keechan. Standing on a nearby roof-top we watch in awe as huge flocks of crane fly over from the nearby sand-dunes to feed in a football pitch-sized compound on grain put out by villagers. Number of cranes vary but will likely be between 5000-8000! If we have already visited Keechan the previous day, then we head directly to Siana from Jaisalmer.
After Keechan we drive through the heat of the day to Siana, renowned as the village featured in David Attenborough 'Life of mammals' to film Leopard. Though we have only a slim chance of seeing Leopard now as the numbers have declined here, we have better chances of spot-lighting Striped Hyena. Bird-wise, White-bellied Minivet, Critically Endangered Indian Vulture and other species that could include Rock Bush Quail and Painted Sandgrouse are possible. Night in Siana.
We have a full day around Siana for the previously mentioned species, taking both morning and afternoon jeep safaris. Night in Siana.
Another early, predawn drive. Spending the morning around the open scrub and fields on the top of Mount Abu will hopefully bring us into contact with another rare Indian subcontinent endemic Ð Green Avadavat. Mount Abu is one of the few known localities for the species and we have an excellent chance of finding a small flock feeding quietly at the base of nearby bushes. White-capped and Crested Buntings are also possible here and any time spent in the forest lower down could include Indian Scimitar Babbler. Following lunch we drive back down the mountain and across the plains to the Little Rann of Kutch in time for some late afternoon birding unless the roadside birding has caught up with us. Night at Little Rann of Kutch.
We take a morning and afternoons jeep ride into the heart of the Little Rann of Kutch today, returning for lunch. The Little Rann is most famous for its still healthy population of Indian Wild Ass, and we should see several as we go in search of the areas avian specialities. Our main targets include wintering Macqueen's Bustard, Sykes's Nightjar, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Pallid Scops Owl, Lesser Flamingo, Indian Courser, White-tailed Lapwing, Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans, Montagu's and Pallid Harriers, Imperial, Tawny and Greater Spotted Eagles. Night at Little Rann of Kutch.
Today is a driving day, moving west to Bhuj. If we depart early enough we should arrive in Bhuj for late afternoons birding in search, probably in search of Sykes's Lark, White-naped Tit, Marshall's Iora and Painted Sandgrouse. Night at Bhuj.
Bhuj is situated in the Greater Rann of Kutch and, like the rest of Gujarat, teeming with birds, however it is home to a few rare, range-restricted species we are unlikely to see elsewhere. During our two full days birding in and around Bhuj main targets include Hypocolius, Marshall's Iora, Sociable Lapwing, White-naped Tit, Sykes's Nightjar, Sykes's Lark, Dalmatian Pelican, Grey-necked Bunting, Indian Eagle Owl, Red-tailed Wheatear and Crab Plover to name a few. Night in Bhuj.
Early morning flight to Mumbai, followed by a drive into the countryside, with time for afternoons birding.
We spend a full day at a reserve outside of Mumbai where the critically endangered Forest Owlet was found at the end of 2014. This central Indian endemic remained undiscovered for 113 years until its discovery just over 15 years ago and is still very little-known. We will have a full day and following morning in search of this once-mythical species and other species possibly while we search for the owl include Vigors's Sunbird, a range-restricted endemic, Mottled Wood Owl, Indian Scops Owl, Jungle Nightjar, Jungle Owlet, Western Crowned Warbler, White-eyed Buzzard, Indian Golden and Black-hooded Orioles, Jungle Bush Quail, Red Spurfowl, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Indian Paradise-flycatcher, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Pale-billed and Agile Flowerpeckers, Jerdon's and Gold-fronted Leafbird and plenty more widespread central Indian species.
After final mornings birding we head back to Mumbai in the afternoon for a final, sumptuous dinner. Night at hotel close to Mumbai Airport.
International departures from Mumbai International Airport.
Deposit: £ 500 or $ 700
Single room supplement:
£ 480 or $ 625
Maximum group size: 8
Tour cost includes: all accommodation, main meals, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, entrance fees, drinking water, tips to local drivers and guides, and guide fees.
Tour cost excludes: International flights and departure taxes, visa, travel insurance, drinks, tips to tour guides, and other items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: comfortable twin-bed, and single rooms, all with private facilities except for Toal Chhapar, where single rooms may not be available.
Walking difficulty: generally easy throughout, with a lot of time scanning.
Throughout we remain below 1,000m
Expected number of species: 320-360 species.
Number of endemics of range-restricted species: several species now restricted to this region, and some of the most highly-threatened birds on earth, such as Great Indian Bustard, Stoliczka's Bushchat, Forest Owlet and White-naped Tit.