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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Top 7 Birding Holidays in India

India is a birding paradise with as many as 1301 species recorded. This includes endemic, terrestrial and migratory birds. With a variety of forests and landscapes, India offers a wide variety too that includes endangered species like the Great Hornbill, Great Indian Bustard, Jerdon’s Courser and more. Below is a list of my favorite 7 birding holidays in India.

White Tailed Nuthatch
1) Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh
This is the place where Bugun Liocichla, one of the most recent bird species was discovered. Named after an Indian army camp and located in Western Arunachal Pradesh and bordering Bhutan, the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is a heady mixture of bamboo thickets, evergreen forests and alpine forests. This diversity in forest cover ensure a wide variety of avifauna. This place is really special for the smaller birds, but very beautiful species like the Yuhina, Tit, Sibia, Nuthatch, Bush Robin and more. The lovely Eastern Himalayan terrain, perfect solitude and the snow capped peak views are a bonus.

Bird watching mode: On foot and in jeep, but ideally on foot. You might have to walk long distances to cover wider number of bird species.

Best time to visit: March-April or November to January, but place remains open throughout the year.

Bar Headed Geese fly with the Himalayas in the background
2) Pong Dam Wetands, Himachal Pradesh

This is undoubtedly Kangra’s hidden gem. Not a lot of people know about this place in spite of it being one of the prettiest spots of India. The Pong Dam Wetlands is located on both the Punjab side as well as the Himachal side, though I personally prefer the Himachal Pradesh side at Nagrota Surian owing for its rich numbers and brilliant views. Imagine this setting…The snow capped Dhaula Duan Himalayan ranges in the background, the Shivalik ranges in front of it, golden wheat and mustard fields at the ground level and the highest congregation of bar-headed geese in India. Doesn’t it sound imaginary? Well, such a sight is real during winter every year. Apart from the Bar-headed geese, Pong Dam also sees  about 200 waterfowl. Some of them are terrestrial, but most of them fly in from Tibet or Europe.

Bird watching mode: On foot. You can drive close to the water body, but then onwards, you will have to walk in either slush or on pebbles depending on water levels.

Best time to visit: October to February to see the birds in huge numbers.

Black Rumped Flameback (Lesser Golden-Backed) Woodpecker
3) Silent Valley National Park, Kerala

The Silent valley is not really silent as the birds here make quite a racket. This national park, which houses one of the rarest forms of rainforests in the world is home to some very colorful birds that are endemic to either this forest or the Western Ghats in overall. The Greater Racket-tailed drongo, Paradise Flycatcher, Laughing thrushes, Whistling thrushes, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, black and orange flycatcher and more. Some years back, a new species of raptor, the Long-legged buzzard was discovered in one of its peaks.

Bird watching mode: Mainly by jeep to Sairandhri. On foot after that.

Best time to visit: Anytime except the monsoons. The park is generally closed from June to September.

Great Hornbill at Nameri National Park, Assam, India
4) Nameri National Park, Assam

Nameri is one of those places where the probability of sighting the rare Great Hornbill is quite high. Its helicopter wing-flapping sound is synonymous with its jungles. The snow fed Jia-Bhoroli river and the surrounding forests ensure a rich variety of birds right from raptors to water fowl to small and large birds in the deep inside the forest. The Ibis bill and the woody duck are some of the other rare species sighted here.

Bird watching mode: If water birds interest you, then come down the Jia-Bhhorili river on a raft. If forest birds or raptors interest you, explore the park on foot under the supervision of an armed forest guard.

Best time to visit: October to February

The extremely pretty looking lesser flamingoes at Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India
5) Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

How does millions of flamingos sound to you? Add to it the beauty of a vast salt desert and you have a brilliant holiday panned out. Little Rann of Kutch or LRK as it more commonly known is home to the largest concentration of lesser flamingos in India. You can spend hours together watching them feeding in a frenzied fashion in the algae-rich waters of LRK. Apart from the lesser flamingos, one can also see the rare Houbara Bustard, common and demoiselle cranes, reef egrets and some desert birds.

Bird watching mode: You will definite need a jeep to commute the mighty LRK. After that, you can cover the last mile by foot.

Best time to visit: November to February

Sarus Crane Couple at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Rajasthan, India
6) Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Rajasthan

A birding site that has been conferred the World Heritage status. What else does one need to know? The Keoladeo Ghana or commonly known as Bharatpur bird sanctuary hosts a wide variety of birds in an extremely small area. It’s wetlands and forests attract everything from the magpie robins, water hens, lapwings, herons, storks, egrets, spoonbills to the very rare Sarus Cranes. Ideally, it should have been on the top of my list, but lack of rains in the past, over-grazing by the cattle and increasing pollution levels have caused the winged visitor numbers to reduce. Nonetheless, it still is a formidable birding destination.

Bird watching mode: Either on foot or a cycle rickshaw.

Best time to visit: All year around. If migratory birds is your interest, then winter months. If photography is your interest, then skip winter months as fog or smog can be quite dominating.

Grey Malabar Hornbill at Monica Garden Tea Bungalow, Valparai
7) Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu

Evergreen forests, Shola forests and montane rainforests make up the Anaimalai tiger reserve that nestles in the Western Ghats. It’s vibrant ecosystem makes it a great place for a variety of birds, the hornbills especially. It is one of those places where one can spot the near threatened Great Hornbill along with the Malabar pied Hornbill and the Grey Hornbill. You can also see the colorful woodpeckers, flycatchers, barbets, parakeets, orioles and more. The best part about this tiger reserve is that one need not be inside the park to do birding, but can also watch these birds in and around Valparai, a colonial tea estate town, which cuts across the Anaimalai tiger reserve.

Bird watching mode: Only in a closed vehicle if you are inside the park perimeters, but in the buffer zone or at Valparai, you can explore by foot.

Best time to visit: All year around at Valparai and in the buffer season and non-monsoon months inside the park area.

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