FLY LONDON TO KATHMANDU
Our birdwatching tour to Nepal commences with a Qatar Airways evening flight from London Heathrow to Doha (Qatar) and onward connection to Kathmandu.
We arrive in the capital Kathmandu on the afternoon of day two and transfer directly to our comfortable city hotel, where we stay for two nights. Kathmandu lies in a wide valley basin at an elevation of 1400m (c4,600ft) above sea level and is a bustling mix of the ancient and modern. Night at Nepali Ghar Hotel, Kathmandu
KATHMANDU VALLEY: PHULCHOWKI
After an early breakfast we drive southeast for around an hour to reach Phulchowki mountain. Travelling in 4WD vehicles, we take a track that leads right to the top.
At 2782m (just over 9000ft), Phulchowki is the highest peak in the Kathmandu Valley. Having brought a picnic lunch, we are able to spend the whole day in this area - and we have a second opportunity to explore here on our final full day.
Weather permitting, we will concentrate on the upper slopes on one of our two visits, birding a little lower down on the second day. We ascend in our vehicle as far as road conditions allow, our aim being to walk in stages back down so as to cover as much as possible of this splendid forest track on foot. With the range of species changing according to altitude, the list of birds it's possible to see on Phulchowki is exceptional - and if visibility is good, there are distant views through the forest towards the Himalaya’s tallest peaks as they protrude, improbably, above the clouds!
Phulchowki means ‘meeting place of the flowers’, after the thickets of rhododendron trees that clothe its lush, forested slopes. More bird species are found on this mountain than anywhere else in the Kathmandu Valley and a truly mouth-watering crop of warblers, yuhinas, laughingthrushes, babblers, bulbuls, sunbirds and flowerpeckers will keep us on our toes! Although patience and perseverance will be required as always in forest birding, the likes of Black-faced and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Himalayan Bluetail, Red-billed Leiothrix, Ultramarine Flycatcher and Bar-throated Minla are among a long list of colourful gems to watch for.
Amongst the commonest birds on the upper slopes are Rufous Sibia and a range of Phylloscopus warblers: we should be able tocompare Ashy-throated, Blyth’s Leaf, Buff-barred and Grey-hooded. We will also keep our eyes open for Striated Bulbul, Himalayan Black-lored Tit, White-browed and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Blue-winged Minla, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and both Whiskered and Stripe-throated Yuhinas.
On the lower and middle slopes, we hope to find birds such as Kalij Pheasant, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Nepal Fulvetta, Himalayan Shrike-babbler, Black-throated Bushtit, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, White-throated and Striated Laughingthrushes, Great Barbet and Green-tailed Sunbird. If we are very lucky, we might also find the rare and localised Himalayan Cutia, a specialist of mossy trunks. Taking a break from seeking passerines and looking to the skies, Black Eagle and both Cinereous and Himalayan Vultures are possible.
Bird activity inevitably quietens down by early afternoon and after both visits we can expect to arrive back in Kathmandu with plenty of time to unwind before another tasty dinner tonight. Night at Nepali Ghar Hotel, Kathmandu
KATHMANDU TO CHITWAN
Leaving Kathmandu this morning, we drive west then south as we descend from the hills into the lowlands. We'll make a few short birding stops along the way, looking for Plumbeous Water Redstarts and sparkling White-capped Redstarts by small streams, and River Lapwing beside the wide but fast-flowing Trishuli River. If we are very lucky, we may chance upon a wintering Ibisbill (although by mid-March it's likely that they will already have departed for their breeding grounds).
Further on, a roadside grassy bank might seem an improbable place to look for another special bird! But this is the habitat of Nepal’s one and only endemic bird - the Spiny Babbler - and we hope to find one in the short time available here. Wallcreeper and Bonelli’s Eagle both inhabit areas not far from here.
Depending on traffic, we may take lunch at a restaurant with Green-billed Malkoha and Large Cuckooshrike amongst its list of ‘garden birds’. The grounds are also a haven for butterflies, many with names to conjure with such as Lemon Pansy,Great Eggfly and Colour Sargeant; and a water feature is home to a little-known dragonfly called the Granite Ghost! It will be hard to tear ourselves away from the fascinating wildlife and sit down for lunch, but the momos – meat-filled dumplings – are sure to tempt us!
Continuing south, we complete our journey to Royal Chitwan National Park, aiming to arrive as the day draws to a close. We may well be greeted by the calls of Brown Hawk Owl in the grounds of our well-appointed lodge just outside the park, our base for a four-night stay. Night at Jungle Villa Resort, Chitwan
CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK
Chitwan’s splendid Sal forests and riverine grasslands encompass an area of more than 900 square kilometres and boast a greater variety of wildlife than anywhere else in Nepal. Almost 500 species of birds have been recorded within the boundaries of this magnificent park and we can expect to encounter a good cross-section of these during the course of our stay. We spend three full days exploring the jungle by various means: walking in the grasslands outside the park, using open top 'jeeps' to go into the heart of the forest, taking an elephant-back safari and relaxing on a boat trip down the Rapti River.
We are sure to be impressed by the night sounds from our rooms, with the songs of Large-tailed and Savannah Nightjars to listen for, and the manic calls of Common Hawk Cuckoos (or ‘brain-fever’ bird) soon to be ingrained in our memory!
As the nocturnal chorus dies away, the ‘familiar’ crowing of Red Junglefowl (the real McCoy here, of course!) greets the dawn. With the first rays of light, new birds might well include Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Jungle Babbler, Coppersmith Barbet, Black-hooded Oriole and Red-whiskered Bulbul.
The adjacent grasslands have their own distinctive avifauna such as Bengal Bush Lark, Paddyfield Pipit, Slender-billed Babbler, Indian Grassbird and White-tailed Stonechat. Red-naped Ibises feed on the marshy margins, where we also hope to find Himalayan Rubythroat, Spotted Bush Warbler, Chestnut-capped Babbler and Brown Crake.
Chitwan's varied woodlands hold a plethora of exotic species and we won’t need to venture far from our lodge before encountering Oriental Pied Hornbill, Green and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Himalayan Flameback, Common Iora, and both Chestnut-bellied and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches. But it will be on our 'jeep' drive deeper into the jungle that we will have the chance to see more of Chitwan's specialities. With luck, we may find Spot-winged Starling, the most localised member of its family in Nepal, feeding on a flowering Red Cotton Tree. Oriental Darter, Grey-headed Fish Eagle and Stork-billed Kingfisher live side-by-side on one particular lake, whilst woodpeckers here include both Greater and Lesser Yellownapes.
Our eagle-eyed local spotters will be assets as we drive slowly along, looking out for Scarlet and Rosy Minivets, Bronzed and Hair-crested Drongos, Red-breasted and Plum-headed Parakeets, Crested Treeswift and Puff-throated Babbler. If we are lucky, we will come across a restless feeding flock, alive with birds such as Greater Racquet-tailed Drongo, Lesser and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Common Green Magpie and White-browed Scimitar Babbler. Great Hornbill, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Red-headed Trogon, Collared Falconet and Black-backed Forktail are further attractions in the park and their presence will encourage us to keep looking! We hope to find Indian Peafowl in full display, yet another spectacle to live long in the memory.
A boat trip here will provide a lovely contrast to our forest birding. As we drift along, we hope to get 'up close and personal' with birds such as Little Cormorant, Lesser Adjutant, Asian Openbill, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-browed and Citrine Wagtails and Rosy Pipit. If we are lucky we might also see the rare and decidedly odd-looking, long-snouted, fish-eating Gharial.
We specifically look for mammals both during afternoon 'jeep' drives and on our elephant-back safari. The latter is actually one of the best ways to get close to the mammals for which Chitwan is so famous - as well, of course, as adding a thrilling new dimension to the tour! We are sure to encounter the endangered Indian One-horned Rhinoceros - and the sight of one of these great ‘armour-plated’ beasts crashing towardsus through the undergrowth or gazing at us from a safe distance along the track is an experience one is unlikely ever to forget!
Of Chitwan’s other numerous large animals, we are likely to see Wild Boar, Sambar, the lovely Spotted Deer, Hog Deer, Rhesus Macaque, Grey Langur and the aptly-named Marsh Mugger crocodile. Tiger, Leopard, Sloth Bear and Gaur are also present at Chitwan, but our chances of actually seeing one are, unfortunately, extremely slim! Three further nights at Jungle Villa Resort, Chitwan
CHITWAN TO KOSHI
Leaving the jungles of Chitwan behind today, we head east to Koshi. It’s a full day’s drive along the east-west highway, which runs through the heart of Nepal’s Terai region. By making an early start however, there will be a little time for birding en route, with Indian Rollers and Ashy Woodswallows to watch out for as we sit back and enjoy the captivating images of everyday life in lowland Nepal.
We will aim to arrive at our destination just as dusk settles over the great Koshi river. Our base for the next four nights will be a permanent tented facility nestled beneath shady trees in a remote corner of this internationally important RAMSAR site. Although it is situated well off the beaten track, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the standard of accommodation available here, and Koshi Camp has been a firm favourite with everyone on past tours. Night at Koshi Camp
KOSHI TAPPU WILDLIFE RESERVE
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is located in the far eastern corner of Nepal, close to the country's southern border with India. It is renowned as Nepal’s finest wetland but the amount of time we spend looking at the river and marshland actually forms only a small proportion of our birding here.
The grounds of our camp have been developed into a real haven for wildlife. The ponds hold Black Bittern, Bronze-winged Jacana and White-breasted Waterhen - and we have a good chance of seeing SiberianRubythroat, too. Asian Koel (another bird whose repetitive call you'll soon come to recognise!), Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Black-rumped Flameback, Taiga Flycatcher, the spiky-crested Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Scaly Thrush and Blue-throated Barbet are among many other possibilities in and around the 'garden'.
As at Chitwan, the night sights and sounds are simply magical. We can expect to hear jackals, cuckoos and nightjars and to see both Spotted Owlet and Brown Hawk Owl, as well as Black-crowned Night Herons and Indian Flying Foxes as they leave their daytime roosts.
We spend two mornings exploring the local area from a bund which protects the adjacent arable land from flooding. Wetland birds include Grey-headed Lapwing and Black-headed Ibis, whilst Striated Grassbird and Smoky Warbler are found in the reedy fringes. The trees, bushes and long grass are home to an array of birdlife including Swamp Francolin, White-rumped Vulture, Red-necked Falcon, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Whistler’s Warbler and Black-throated Thrush. With any luck, our guides will also know where to find the local pair of Brown Fish Owls.
On one morning, we'll drive to an area of short grassland adjacent to the Koshi river. It may be necessary to cross the water on a boat to an otherwise inaccessible island in search of Indian Courser, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Indian Thick-knee, Sand Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark, Small Pratincole and Pallas’s Gull. To the south, near the barrage across the broad river, we may be fortunate to spot some of the endangered Ganges River Dolphins that live here.
Large mammals at Koshi include Jungle Cat, wild Water Buffalo (now one of the world’s most endangered large mammals) and Nilgai (or ‘Blue Bull’), the subcontinent’s largest antelope. We may also find wild Asian Elephant, Indian Grey Mongoose, Golden Jackal and Bengal Fox.
Given that we are in the lowlands it is likely to be hot enough for us to benefit from a siesta in the afternoon, though the avian delights of our camp are likely to prove irresistible to many! Afternoon explorations around the camp are sure to produce more good birds and in addition those interested in insects can photograph, identify or simply enjoy the feast ofbutterflies and dragonflies. Eventhose whose interest has previously centred solely on birds can hardly fail to be impressed by Variegated Flutterers, Malay Lilysquatters and Fulvous Forest Skimmers - and not just for their names!
The camp is situated next to a village and it is well worth taking time out to wander along the street and see the locals going about their daily lives. The children in particular are sure to give you a warm welcome! Three further nights at Koshi Camp
DRIVE TO BIRATNAGAR, FLY TO KATHMANDU
After some final birding, we reluctantly leave Koshi Camp this morning and make the 90- minute drive east to Biratnagar Airport, where we’ll catch a short domestic flight back west to Kathmandu. The flight takes about 45 minutes and, if the visibility is clear en route, we should be treated to a glorious panorama of Himalaya’s tallest peaks to the north, with the summit of Mount Everest away in the distance.
On arrival in Kathmandu, we head to our hotel for a late lunch. Afterwards, those that wish can spend the remainder of the afternoon on a sightseeing tour of this fascinating capital city with an English-speaking guide (participation is optional but included within our tour price, and we expect to visit Pashupatinath Hindu Temple and Boudhanath Buddhist Stupa). Night at Nepali Ghar Hotel, Kathmandu
KATHMANDU VALLEY: PHULCHOWKI
Our final full day in Kathmandu offers a further opportunity to sample the magic of Phulchowki. With spring migration now in full swing, the birds we see today are likely to be rather different from those on our previous visit. Since a great many species are found strictly according to altitude, we may choose to investigate areas of forest at a different elevation from that which we visited at the start of our tour. In any event, Phulchowki's wooded slopes are always rich in birds and, with no two visits ever alike, we are assured of some splendid montane forest birding as our time in Nepal sadly draws to a close. Night at Nepali Ghar Hotel, Kathmandu
FLY KATHMANDU TO LONDON
We leave our hotel this morning and transfer to Kathmandu Airport for our flight home via Doha. Same day arrival back in London, where our birdwatching tour to Nepal concludes in the early evening.