Thursday, February 28, 2008


Well, thats it, all over, end of story!
Back home now (not quite for me, more on that later) after the most amazing 2 months abroad.
After the last update at the end of Gujarat we had an even quicker tour of Rajahstan. Udaipur was a prett interesting place, notably for lake pichola and the floating palace a featured in the James Bond film 'Octopussy'. Unfortunatly the palace is now a mega rip-off posh hotel and no longer inhabited by scores of scantily clad honeys, shame. After a night in Udaipur we caught a bus north-west to the Citadel of Jodphur. The main attraction of Jodhpur is a seriously impressive Fort perched on a rocky outcrop on the edge of town. It certainly lived up to expectations, a very National Trust stylee audio tour around the tour was a really good way of finally taking in some history and culture, seeign some fascinating architecture, beautiful paintings and some savage looking weaponry. I even managed to get in some more birding at this unlikely site, with White-rumped Vulture, Long-legged Buzzard and Brown Rock-chat being typical arid country birds.
In order to save time we took an overnight train to Jaisalmer, arriving at some disgustingly early hour we managed to find a hotel and spent the morning birding around the Gadi Sagar lake, this wa a really cool site with loads of temply things in and arond it and much appealingly, a huge area of scrubby semi desert. This provided a fair few of the hoped for birds, including Desert, Isabelline and Variable Wheatears, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Rufous-tailed Shrike, Desert and Orphean Warblers, Short-toed and Crested Larks.
The next morning we set out on a Camel safari to the west of Jaisalmer, in the area north-east of the Sam sand dunes. Starting off in the cool i was soon seeing good birds like Black-crowned Sparrowlark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Rufous-tialed Wheatear and Brown-necked Raven. Birding was pretty difficult from a moving camel and it was an uncomfortable ride so it was a bit of a relief to set- up camp in the late afternoon in a quiet section of dunes. It was quite an experence watching our dinner being cooked over an open fire, with the obligatory Kingfisher in hand (the beer, not a new tame species of desert halcyon) as the sun set behind the dunes with Southern-grey Shrikes and Desert Wheaters hopping around the camps. After a night under the stars we trekked slowly back to Jaislmer, picking up a stupendous array of raptors on the way, with Laggar Flacon, Indian Spotted Eagle and Imperial Eagle being the stars.
Aftar a final night in Jaisalmer we caught an ubsurdly long train (21 freekin hours!!!!) back to Delhi where we killed a few hours around the cities markets before catching our flight back to London via Qatar.
The expected thing to do after arriving back in London would have been to go home and sleep for the next week. However I had an interview in Dublin with Birdwatch Ireland this morning so had only afew hours at home to clean up before heading north to Brizzle airport for a flight to Dublin, arriving at my hostel at midnight and had my iterview at 10am today, not the best preparation you might agree, but I think it went alright, hopefully i'll be posting new don here in a few days of a new job in Ireland for the summer.

Photos from the whole trip to come sometime next week hopefully, once I can be arsed to go through them all, there is quite a few of them!!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Around Gujarat in 5 days

Ok, so not quite up to the standards of Sir Michael of Palin but still some pretty mental travelling
After leaving Goa we arrived in Ahmedebad 24 hours later, via a 40 minute dash across Mumbai to a different train station, somehow avoiding the political riots as we went.
After arriving in Ahmedebad, cpaital of Gujarat we immediatley headed southwest to Sasan gir, pausing overnight in Junagadh. The obvious targets in Gir ereAsiatic lion and Leopard, our last chance of big cats in the country (Jungle Cat doesnt count). So, after our disappointment with tigers, di our luck change? Did it fuck!! Time and financial restraints meant we could only squeeze in one safari in the park itself and we fialed mmiserably. Some fresh prints and distant deer alarm calls being the closest we got. I reckon that there are no big cats in India, its all jsut a big con to lure in tourists, theyre just another asian myth, like yetis and straight politicians. Anyway, it wasnt a completely wasted trip. The guide assigned to us on our safari new his birds and the location of a Mottled Wood-owl roost site. Biridng aorund the buffer zone of the park was also fairly productive with a few new speices for the trip but nothing spectaular, one highlight was 5 wagtail species feeding together on a muddy riverbank.
I had a very close shave(literally) in Gir village just before leaving. While killing time waiting for our bus out, we decided to have a shave i na roadside barbers. While I was sat in the chair, JP decided to take a quick look outisde the shop, underestimated the height of the door frame and properly twatted his forehead on the frame. Obviously I found this highly amusing (as did all the vilalge kids who were watching the barbers first ever white customers) and broke into a fit of laughter, with the razor gliding over my throat. Luckily the barber was alert to the situation and pulled back before I could do myself a mischief.
Leaving GIR we spent a night in Jamnagar, before heading out to Dwarka, truly the seasdie town that they forgot to close down. It was quite an interesting town, wit hthe somewhat bizzare sight of a modern lighthouse postioned right next to most impressive 1000 year old Hindu temple. Hoever I didnt really give a shit about cultural bollocks like that and we went another 30kms north to the pretty industrial town of Okha. This journey was unddertaken in the most cramped shared jeep i've ever seen, JP was sat next to the driver with the gearstick wedged between his legs. His grimaces were getting worse as the driver shifted up through the gears, he was most relived that reverse wasnt called for at any point. On arrival at Okha we caught a cramped little boat (there appears to be theme developing here) out to Beyt Darka island, marched right past the temple and gathered pilgrims and holy men and out to the beaches on the North-east side of the island with one goal in mind. Our luck was in and the tide was out, leaving a hige expanse of shallow coral reef which was covered in feeding birds, including about 15 Crab Plovers, awesome birds, like soem hideously deformed Avocet. After getting good views of these crackers, we turned to head back to try and catch the last boat back to the mainland. As we were walking a large bird flew quickly overhead and I raised my bins to see the unmistakable silhouette of an Indian Skimmer!!! I had totally forgotten that these things are recorded occasionaly in the Gulf of Kutch, what an excellent surprise. We got the boat back at sunset, and watched holy men lobbing bread at Black and Brown-headed Gulls, only to be shat all over in return, it wa hard not to giggle at them too much.
The next day we had a quick look at the salt pans north of Dwarka and picked up loads of new species inlcuding Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great-white Pelicans, assorted waders and wildfowl and quality raptors inlcuding Long-legged Buzzard and Booted Eagle. Frome Dwarka we went back to Jamnagar and then caught a surprisingly comfortable sleeper bus 13 hours north-east to Udaipur, where we are now. A quick looka round the lkae next to the town this morning revealed loads more new waterfowl and 4 showy Painted Snipe. We leave here tomorrow for Jodhpur, on the edge of the Thar sesert and from there out Jaislamer before flying out of Delhi a week today. Time has just disappeared and we've had to remove a few items from the schedule , i jsut dont know where it all went. Anyway, cant write any more, the power has just gone and i'm running on the last bit of battery, more later!!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Goaing Forwoods

Still in Goa
I came back last night from a trip up to the legendary "Backwoods Birding Camp", in the foothills of the Wstern Ghats, about 50km inland from the beaches. Strictly speaking, i wasn't actually at Backwoods itself, but if i wrote that i had been to the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife sanctuary, nobody would have a clue where it was, such is the stranglehold that Backwoods have on visiting birders.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, i didnt ant to stay with Backwoods, beacuase a) they're too expensive, and b) i prefer to find birds for myself.
So i got a bus from the coast up to the town of Ponda, which had the closest acommodation to BM WLS (there is a resort on the edge of the sanctuary, but some appaling timing by meant that i arrived at the weekend and it was all full).
The first afternoon i headed up to Bondla WLS, about 15 km from Ponda. It was too hot to bird effectively, but i still picked up some good stuff, notably Blue-capped Rock-thrush, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher and Lesser Adjutant.
The next morning, i took a bus up to Molem, and as suggested in "Kazmierczak and Singh", walked 2 km up the road to the old entrance to the sanctuary, near the 94km marker. Less than 100m down the track i picked up the target bird for the day, when a pair of Malabar Trogons flew in and landed on a branch overhanging the track, msot unexpected. Continuing east into the jungle i was soon picking up more specialities; Malabar Whistling Thrush, Moutain Imperial Pigeon, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Red Spurfowl and Grey Junglefowl being the stars. I took the side track off South towards Sunset point, this went thorugh some excellent dense, damp forest and provided Indian Scimitar Babbler, Yellow-browed Bulbul and Large Woodshrike. As it was getting pretty damned hot and the birdlife was quietening down, i guessed that i wouldnt pick up much more and headed back towards the road. Walking through an unpromisig looking dry woodland with little undergrowth a smallish bird giving an unfamiliar call flew up from the gorund onto a low branch out in the open, bloddy Forest Wagtail, excellent. a superbly smart bird and very difficult to find in this area. A great way to finsih my stay in the area, so i headed back to Molem to catch a bus and return back to the beaches. But my luck was truly in, walking back down the main road, a stonking Crested Goshawk glided slowly over the road, at tree-top height, result.
That was it though, and within a couple of hours i was back in Baga, watching the usual Painted Snipe and Cinammon Bittern with beer in hand (my hand, not the birds) from the balcony of the Beira Mar hotel. Followed by another excellent meal from one of the many restaurants on the beach.
First thing this morning i took a taxi out to Saligao, and scored excellent views of a Brown Wood Owl roosting near the spring, then went up to Chapora for a good look at Heuglins, Caspian and Great-black headed gulls on the beach, along with a load of assorted terns.
We leave Goa tomorrow evening. We're not particualrly looking forward to 24hours worth of train up to Ahmedebad but its just one of those things thats got to be done. Soon though, we should be looking for Asiatic Lions, Onagers and Blackbucks in the plains of Gujarat, follow by camel safaris in the Great Thar Desert, the awesome desert forts of Rajahstani cities, masses of wetland birds at Harike, the golden temple at Amritsar, and then, in just 16 days time we'll be flying back to London, something that i'm really not looking forward too

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Typos glaore

I've just read back thorugh the last post, and noticed that it's quite possible the worst bit of writing on the whole internet. Pretty much every sentance contains a typo error.
Contrary to popular belief, i'm not an illiterate fool (well, maybe a little bit of one) it's just that the keyboards here are rubbish, and dont let you type properly. And i really cant be arsed to go through and correct it all, so this post is will have to do to explain it.
Hopefully you're all gullible enough to believe that pathetic explantion, and i can carry on be dumbass who cant spell for the rest of trip.

Goa, Wahey!!!

Well, we finally made it to Goa, after a 15 hour overnight train to Bombay/Mumbai, and then a 12 hour daytime train to Goa from there. The day stopove in bombay was quite interesting. The city basically looks like London, with loads of Victorian style architecture, the only diffeence is that the piles of sht on the pavements anre slightly bigge in Bombay.
To put it quite simply, Goa fucking rocks, its my idea of heaven basically. i can ge up at dawn, spend a few hours birdingm, spend the middle of the day on the beach, bird for a few hours before dusk, and then stuff my face my face with quality cheap food and then down a load of kingfisher beers, also at ery reasonable cost, and then start over again the next day, pure bliss.
I've only doen that for one day so far though (we've only been here for one) and i'm afraid that the cheap beers may have an affect on the early morning birding. Though strangely i have been a proper insomniac this trip, waking up about half an hour before dawn every day, maybe its the excitement of birding in a new area.

In a simialr outline of the above, our first full day in Goa , having arrived late last night went something like this:

Out birding about half an hour before dawn, unsurprisingly, saw fuck all for the first half hour. From then the birds were smply queuing up. A walk up the coat path to Anjuna provided cracking Black-capped and Stork-billed Kingfishers, White-browed Bulbul, Pallid harrier, Blue Rock-thrush, Green Warbler and more. Came back for a breakfast (absurdly cheap).
Having spent the last 5 weeks living like total tramps, we decided to pamper ourselves. I opted for a ahircut and a porfessional wet shave from a barbers, while JP, much to my amusement, got his back waxed, the big tart. We spent the middle of the day burning on the beaches of Baga, my god it was hot out there, and bloody lovely. The sea was awesonme too, bathtub warm, a nice bit of surf and White-bellied Sea-Eagles, Osprey and Brahminy Kite fishing jsut a hundred metres out from the beach, ace!
Towards the end of the afternoon we settled for a beer at the Beira Mar hotel, which by some amazing coincidence, happened to look out over a rather god marshland, what luck!! We (or rather, I) soon got onto a male Painted Snipe hidden in the grass. After a while, it came out into the open and was joined by 3 more males and one stonking female, what a bird!!
A Chestnut-tailed Starling in the middle of a 300=strong flock of Rosy Starlings was another lifer, as was a beast of Clamorous Reed-Warbler, thrashign around the reeds just metres below the balcony. A Cinammon Bittern in the darkness in the pools below us rounded off the evening nicely and we headed to a restaraunt in town for a mungus Tuna Steak meal, with chips and veg, and a 650ml bottle of Kingfisher, all for jsut over 2 quid each, awesome!
and now, just lettign the meal go down nicely in an internet cafe before retiring to one of the pubs for more beer and to enjoy listening to some proper music. Oneof the best things about Goa is that the pubs actually play current English chart musci, which, when you've spent the last 5 weeks listening onyl to shite Asio-pop bollocks, is utter heaven.

Goa certainly isnt the real india, and bascially is just typical pacakge holiday junk, but we bloody love it, and after the squalor we've put up with for the whole of trip so far, i think we deserve it!!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Heading South

Well, we've blown our final chance for Tigers.
Aftre leaving Delhi we decided to head straight down to Ranthambhore NP, via a quick stop at Agra for brief views and record Happy Snaps of the Taj Mahal. We also passed through the legendary town of Bharatpur but thanks to another failed monsoon, the lack of water in the reserve meant it wasnt worth stopping at.
We arrived at Ranthambhore late at night after a 'complicated' journey from Delhi and managed to book on a safari the next evening.
Unfortunately we were allocated zone 5, which basically was total shit, and this combined with a bunch of typically noisy indians on our truck meant that we never really stood a chance. Still, i got good views of the parks 'key bird species' Painted Spurfowl, and we just spent the entire safari having a laugh at how excited the other english tourists were getting over dross like Spotted Deer.
Today we just wandered around the Acacia woodland bordering the park, whihc was very rewarding, with good views of Nilgai and Chowsingha. Chowsingha being a cool little antelope thing and Nilgai an awesome beast, something like a cross between a Giraffe, a Sambar deer and a Horse. We also picked up a few good birds including Barred Buttonquail, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark and Bay-backed Shrike, plus it was nice to be enjoying the sun and 30+ temperatures.
Anyway, got to go. We're catching an overnight train down to Mumbai in a few hours, where we'll stay for a day, and then head on down to Goa for a week or so of proper Package Holiday slobbishness and a few Western Ghats endemics. Ta-ra