Archive for the ‘Chambal River Lodge’ Tag

Northern India part two: The Chambal River: 22nd – 23rd November 2019.   Leave a comment

This is the second post about our private trip to India in November 2019 which was organised by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel

The previous post dealt with our time at Tadoba National Park and our overnight train journey from Nagpur to Agra. Arriving at Agra at 0500. We were met by our driver who took us to the Chambal River Lodge to the east of the city where we stayed for one night.

 

We arrived at dawn and after breakfast I decided to have a look around the grounds while it was still cool. Margaret, feeling very tired after our overnight train journey opted for a rest.

 

Indian Peacocks were ubiquitous and noisy …

 

… and garrulous groups of Jungle Babblers fed in the ornamental hedges and open areas.

 

Northern Palm Squirrels were easy to find …

 

… and Common Mynas lived up to their name. This omnivorous and adaptable species has a wide range in southern Asia but regrettably has been introduced to places like Australia, New Zealand, parts of the USA, South Africa and many islands across the Indian and Pacific Oceans where it has done untold damage to native species.

 

Also around the gardens were these Ashy Prinias …

 

… and in deep cover I came across a Golden Jackal.

 

Although of course you see more when accompanied by a local guide, it was fun to spend that morning finding my own birds, which included Greenish Warbler, Pied Starling and this Coppersmith Barbet.

 

We spent the afternoon on the Chambal River, the reason for our visit with local guide Gajendra, photos of which are shown below. On the second morning he took us around the gardens again and also outside the lodge into the surrounding countryside. Here we came across a wider range of species including – Verditer Flycatcher …

 

… a roost of Indian Flying Foxes (or Indian Fruit Bats) …

 

… Common Tailorbird, so called because it sews leaves together to make a nest …

 

… roosting Spotted Owlets …

 

… and Indian Scops Owl.

 

More species awaited us outside the walled gardens …

 

Here we saw a new range of open country species like Black-breasted and Baya Weavers, Red-headed Buntings from Central Asia and good numbers of Brahminy Mynas (pictured above).

 

Other species included Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, one of the easiest to see of the 30 species in the genus Treron which occur from Africa east to to Wallacea.

 

Also seen were Brown-headed Barbet …

 

… Indian Rollers …

 

… and the distinctive Siberian race tristis of Common Chiffchaff which surely deserves specific status.

 

At Tadoba langurs had been the common monkey species, here Rhesus Macaques abounded.

 

Wet areas held White-breasted Waterhens …

 

… whilst Red-wattled Lapwings …

 

… and Greater Coucals (a species of cuckoo) could be found at the field edges.

 

In general I approve of most taxonomic splits, the insights provided by genetic and acoustic research has shown that there are more ‘good species’ than examination of museum specimens alone ever could. However there is one recent split that I feel uncomfortable with, the apparently arbitrary division of Cattle Egret into Eastern and Western. This non-breeding Eastern Cattle Egret looks the same as the Western ones we see in Europe. Colour of the plumage in breeding plumage is supposed to be the clincher but I have seen breeding Westerns in the Caribbean as orange-tinged as breeding Easterns are supposed to be. It is claimed that there is a difference in vocalisations but others have disputed this and said that the comparison has been made between non-homologous calls.

 

We spent the afternoon of the first day on the nearby Chambal River. A bridge is being built across the river …

 

… but until it is complete locals will have to depend on overcrowded ferries.

 

We set off in a boat like this, initially it was quite overcast but as the afternoon progressed the murk cleared. The Chambal is a tributary of the Yamuna River, which itself is a tributary of the Ganges.

 

Among the many species we saw from the boat were River Lapwings …

 

… wintering Desert Wheatear …

 

… here showing the diagnostic all black tail.

 

Ruddy Shelducks here for the wintering from their north Asian breeding grounds …

 

Joined by Mongolian/Tibetan Bar-headed Geese which fly over the high Himalayan peaks to reach their wintering grounds.

 

A couple of imposing Great Thick-knees, a species of stone-curlew, were seen on the bank …

 

… as were Sand Lark, a species closely related to Lesser Short-toed Lark (which has recently been renamed Mediterranean ST Lark following the splitting off of Turkestan ST Lark). Note that some primary tips can be seen beyond the tertials, an important feature to distinguish members of this group from Greater ST Lark.

 

The black-and-white wagtails are a confusing group, White Wagtail, here of the race leucopsis which breeds in mainly in China, can be seen along with race personata from central Asia and possibly other Asian races as well. All these races are of the same species as our familiar yarrelli Pied Wagtails in Britain. Add to that the marked variation between 1st winters/adults and and males/females and the situation gets most complex.

 

On the other hand the resident White-browed Wagtail are considered a separate species …

 

… and we had close up views of several along the river.

 

Non-avian highlights included this large and comparatively aggressive crocodilian – the Muggar …

 

… and the bizarre yet benign Gharial …

 

… this crocodilian is exclusively a fish eater and its long snout and 110 pairs of interlocking teeth are adaptions to enable this. Now occurring in only 2% of its historic range and is now considered critically endangered.

 

Another reptile we saw was the Indian Roofed Turtle.

 

Asian ‘big river’ birds are in trouble, the enigmatic White-eyed River Martin of Thailand apparently went extinct as soon as it was discovered, Indian Skimmers and Black-bellied Terns are seldom seen and we didn’t encounter them on this trip. Pollution, mineral extraction and disturbance have taken their toll. Fortunately this section of the Chambal River is a reserve and lets hope it will protect these birds for future generations.

 

The next post will cover our visit to the tourist hotspots of the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri in Agra.