The Complete Birding Calendar for a Delhiite

Short of time? Birding enthusiast? Based out of Delhi? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then you have reached the right place! We bring to you The Complete Birding Calendar. Delhi's location is such that the mountains of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand and the wetlands of Punjab and Rajasthan are easily accessible. These regions have the richest birdlife in North India and abound with avi-fauna, both common and rare, especially in the migratory season when flocks of birds fly in from the North. Each of the following destinations have been so curated that you can visit them on long weekends because they are all less than 600 km from Delhi and less than 12 hrs of driving. 

January: Harike Pattan Bird Sanctuary

The Harike Wetlands is the largest wetland in North India and was formed by constructing headworks across the confluence of the Sutlej and the Beas Rivers. It is located in the Tarn Taran Sahib district of Punjab. The number of migratory waterfowls here is said to be next only to the Bharatpur Sanctuary. During the winter, over 200 species of birds, including some globally endangered species, flock here. Mauve hyacinths and pink lotus blooms cover large parts of the water body. Testudines Turtle and Smooth-coated otter thrive here. The Indus Dolphin, which is supposed to have become extinct, has been spotted here recently.

Birds Spotted: Cotton pygmy goose, tufted duck, yellow-crowned woodpecker, yellow-eyed pigeon, water cock, Pallas' gull, brown-headed gull, white-winged tern, white-rumped vulture, hen harrier, black-headed gull, yellow-headed gull, Indian skimmer, Eurasian tree sparrow, hawk, Eurasian hobby, horned grebe, sulphur-bellied warbler, diving duck, white-browed fantail, brown shrike, common woodshrike, great crested grebe, white-tailed stonechat, white-crowned penduline tit, rufuos-vented prinia, striated grassbird and Cetti's warbler.

Distance from Delhi: 434 km via NH1
Driving Time: 7-8 hrs

Cetti's Warbler

Cetti's Warbler (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

February: Tal Chhapar

Located in the Sekhawati region in the north-west of Rajasthan, Tal Chhapar is actually a flat saline depression in the Thar. Open grasslands marked by acacia and prosopis trees and small seasonal ponds characterise the region. There are hillocks and exposed faces of slate and quartzite. Tal Chhapar is also known for the famed blackbuck. From September to March, the wilderness comes alive with the chirping of migratory birds. Small quantities of the sweet mothiya grass- the seeds resemble fine round pearls- grow here.

Birds Spotted: Marsh harrier, pale harrier, imperial eagle, tawny eagle, short-toed eagle, sparrow hawk, partridge, sand grouse, skylark, crested lark, ring dove, brown dove, blue jay, green bee-eaters, black ibis and demoiselle cranes.

Distance from Delhi: 371 km via NH8
Driving Time: 6-7 hrs 

Special Mention: Uttarakhand Spring Bird Festival

Since the last two years, Dehradun has played host to the Uttarakhand Spring Bird Festival. In 2014, it was held at the Asan Barrage and this year, the Pawalgarh Conservation Reserve. The festival draws passionate birders from around the world. You can take your pick from a number of trails that are demarcated keeping in mind the density of avi-fauna. Knowledgeable guides will lead you on the walks. Not only is the festival an amalgamation of enthusiastic birders who are keen on protecting our feathery companions, it is also a wonderful melting pot of cultures that sometimes leads to innovative collaborations. Needless to say, it is the quietest festival in the country!

Demoiselle Cranes at Tal Chhapar

Demoiselle Cranes at Tal Chhapar (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

March: Dudhwa National Park

Located in the forested Terai region along the Indo-Nepal border of Uttar Pradesh, the Dudhwa National Park is a part of the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. It was originally established as a sanctuary for the swamp deer. The rich flora comprises deciduous trees like sal, asna, shisham, jamun, gular, sehore and bahera and grasslands of tall elephant grasses. Dudhwa is home to a variety of animals like swamp deer, sambar deer, barking deer, spotted deer, hog deer, tiger, Indian rhinoceros, sloth bear, ratel, jackal, civets, jungle cat, fishing cat, leopard cat. Almost half the world's Barasingha live here. The park was a number of wetlands and marshes that host numerous birds during their winter migration. The area around the Banke Tal has some of the richest birdlife in the area.

Birds Spotted: Swamp francolin, great slaty woodpecker, Bengal florican, painted storks, black and white necked storks, Sarus cranes, woodpeckers, barbets, kingfishers, minivets, bee-eaters, bulbuls & more.

Distance from Delhi: 424 km via NH24 & SH25
Driving Time: 8-9 hrs

Green Bee-eater

Green Bee-eater (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) 

April: Jim Corbett National Park

India's oldest National Park is home to the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger and boasts of some spectacular landscapes. Dense forests of sal, haldu, peepal, rohini and mango trees cover vast tracts of land, beyond which rises the lower Himalayan ranges. The Ramganga River flows through the park. There is a certain magic about this park, a certain scent of nostalgia that hangs from the low branches of the trees. Leopards, barking deers, Himalayan goral, Indian pangolins, and langur and Rhesus macaques are also found here. There are breeding programmes for local crocodiles and gharials. Over 586 species of birds have been recorded here. 36 species of dragonflies are also found here. In recent years, the management has started promoting community-run initiatives.

Birds Spotted: Crest Serpent Eagle, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Red Jungle fowl, Pallas' gull, Tawny Owl, Nightjar, Green Bee-eater, Whistling ducks, Bar-headed goose, Common Pochard, Gadwall, Mallard, Hill Partridge, Khalij Pheasant, Blue-breasted Quail, Grey Francolin, Barbets, Woodpeckers, Hoopoes, Cuckoos, Coucals, Kingfishers, Swifts, Cranes, Sandpipers, Plovers, Tits, Warblers, Terns, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Bluethroat Luscinia, Forktails etc.

Distance from Delhi: 236 km via NH24
Driving Time: 5-6 hrs

Pallas's Gull

Pallas's Gull  (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

May: Dharamshala & McLeodganj

The Kangra Valley has a rich birdlife and the area surrounding Dharamshala & McLeodganj are no exceptions. Lower Dharamshala is a commercial area while the upper parts, around McLeodganj are quieter and is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. Short treks to Triund, Dharamkot, Kareri Lake and Satowari can be undertaken as these bring you further from town and chances of spotting a bird increases manifold. The upper reaches are also home to the Western Tragopan, which, unfortunately, is in the Red list of Endangered Species.

Birds Spotted: Kalij Pheasant, Oriental Turtle Dove, Snow Pigeon, Barn Owl, Collared Owlet, Great Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Himalayan Woodpecker, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Asian House Martin, White-cheeked Nuthatch, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Tawny Owl, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Eurasian Cuckoo, Alpine Swift, Yellow Grosbeak, Brambling, Booted Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Hume's Warbler, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Wood Pigeon, Himalayan Swiftlet, Rosefinch, Green Shrike Babbler, Rufous-vented Tit etc.

Distance from Delhi: 490 km via NH1
Driving Time: 9-10 hrs

Himalayan Woodpecker

Himalayan Woodpecker (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

June: Naina Devi Bird Reserve

Located at a short drive from Nainital, Naina Devi Bird Reserve constitutes the twin sanctuaries of Pangot and Kilbury and is a bird watcher’s paradise. Thick woods of pine, oak and rhododendron, tall mountains and picturesque valleys add to the isolated beauty of this area. 200 species of rare and endangered avi-fauna are found here. The total count is over 550 species. Most of the area is off the tourist trail- mostly wildlife enthusiast and naturalists come here- and as such, you can have a rare uninterrupted and noise-free bird watching!

Birds Spotted: Cheer Pheasant, Maroon Oriole, Verditer Flycatcher, Red-headed Vulture, Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Grey-Crowned Prinia, Black-crested Tit, Green-crowned Warbler, Whistler's Warbler, Green-tailed sunbird, Lammergeyer, Khalij Pheasant, Rufous-bellied Niltava, thrushes etc.

Distance from Delhi: 307 km via NH24
Driving Time: 6.5-7.5 hrs

Maroon Oriole

Maroon Oriole (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

July: Great Himalayan National Park

Verdant forests beckon the adventurer in you the instant you step into the realms of the Great Himalayan National Park. Dissected by the Tirthan and Sainj Rivers, the heavily wooded mountains - some with awe-inspiring glaciers clenched in their throats - are an unspoilt habitat of diverse wildlife. The park was specifically designated to protect the endemic wildlife, for example the Himalayan Tahr, of the Western Himalayas. A number of treks are organised by the park authorities and these are the best way to experience nature here. Endangered species like the Himalayan Musk Deer and Snow Leopard are found here.

Birds Spotted: Western Tragopan, Monal,  Red-headed Vulture, Long-billed Thrush and White-throated Tit, Eurasian Sparrowhawk , Black Eagles, Golden Eagles, Common Buzzards, Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Woodcock, several cuckoos, Oriental Turtle-dove, Grey Nightjar, Ashy Drongo, House Martin, Snow Partridge, Hill Partridge and Himalayan Snowcock, Koklass etc.

Distance from Delhi: 520 km via NH1
Driving Time: 11-12 hrs.

Western Tragopan

Western Tragopan (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

August: Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary

If you are looking for a slice of tranquility, head to Binsar. Nestled in the Kumaon Mountains, Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is a beautiful blend of mountains, oak forests and alpine meadows. Sleepy villages pop out from the thick greenery and startle you. Community-run initiatives mean that the environment is mostly unspoilt as humans and Nature try to co-exist harmoniously. The Khali Estate, the erstwhile home of Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Ramsay, is located here. Animals like leopard, Black Himalayan Bear, Wild boars, Kakars, Monkeys Red Fox and Jackals call this home. Over 200 species of birds are found here.

Birds Spotted: Laughing Thrushes, Nuthatch, Flycatchers, Parakeets, Monals, Khalij Pheasant, Woodpeckers, Forktails, Tits, Blackbirds, Eurasian Jays and more.

Distance from Delhi: 391 km via NH24
Driving Time: 10-11 hrs

Verditer Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher (Image Courtesy: GypsyShack) 

September: Chopta-Tungnath

The varied geography of Uttarakhand translates into a birder’s delight and the Chopta-Tungnath region is no less! The area is frequented by over 220 species of birds. Dedicated walking trails that snake through lovely forests and rocky mountainsides offer countless opportunities to enthusiastic bird-watchers. The Chopta Tungnath trek is a great way to experience the mountains and its wildlife. Despite the bold spiritual undertones, religious tourism is not overwhelming and you can perch your binoculars in peace and spot elusive species like the Monal.

Birds Spotted: Himalayan Woodpecker, Rufuos-bellied Woodpecker, Starling, Nuthatch, Tits, Blue-throated Barbet, Kingfishers, Oriental Magpie, Partridge, Khalij Pheasant, Red-headed vulture, Laughing Thrush, Maroon Oriole, Scarlet Minivet, Large-billed leaf Warbler, Minla, Dark-breasted Rosefinch, Blackbirds, Drongos, White-tailed Rubythroat, Speckled Piculet etc.

Distance from Delhi: 402 km via NH11 & NH58
Driving Time: 11-12 hrs

Laughing Thrush

 Laughing Thrush (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

October: Chail & Narkanda

The Chail Wildlife Sanctuary, 45 km from Shimla, is home to a number of animals like European red deer, ghoral, flying squirrel and the Himalayan black bear. A number of trekking trails pass through Chail. The wooded hills surrounding the town are a great option for long hikes and bird watching. Birds like the golden eagle makes a majestic appearance against the blue skies. Narkanda, 64 km from Shimla, is the starting point of the Hatu Peak trek. All along the trail, you can spot a number of species. The hike itself is beautiful and runs through quiet forests. The upper reaches have snow even in early summer.

Birds Spotted: Indian blue robin, brownish-flanked bush warbler, Himalayan griffon, large hawk cuckoo, black and yellow grosbeak, spotted nutcracker, greenish and lemon-rumped warbler, ultramarine and Asian brown flycatcher, Eurasian blackbird. Cheer pheasant and the Khalij pheasant are common. You can also spot species like russet sparrow, wire-tailed swallow, green-backed and great tit and blue whistling thrush.

Distance from Delhi: 349 km via NH1 & NH22
Driving Time: 7-8 hrs

Kalij Pheasant

Khalij Pheasant (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)  

November: Pong Wetlands

A designated Ramsar site, the Pong Wetlands occupy the area around the Pong Dam, the largest earth fill dam in the nation. Located in the Kangra Valley, this is a must for birders. The surrounding villages of Jawali, Dhameta, Dada-Siba, Nagrota-Surian, Haripur, Guglara, Harsar, and Nandpur provide ample opportunities to a birdwatcher. The bio-geography of the area includes five main types of avian habitats- the mudflats and mud spits along the receding shoreline, the open deep, the swamps, the dry sand banks devoid of vegetation and the shallow water. This geographical variation permits a diverse birdlife to thrive here. During the winter, migratory birds fly from the faraway north and the wetland erupts in a melange of birdsong and pretty plumes.

Birds Spotted: Lapwings, Egrets, Grey herons, Purple herons, Grebes, Cormorants, Warblers, Munias, Babblers, Kingfishers, Moorhens, Stone curlews, Pratincoles, Pintails, Shovellers, Gadwalls, Widgeons etc.

Distance from Delhi: 447 km via NH1
Driving Time: 8-9 hrs

Purple Herons

Purple Herons (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) 

December: Keoladeo National Park

Commonly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, this constitutes one of the must-do on the list of every ornithologist. It is a World Heritage site and hosts thousands of birds during the migratory season. The terrain is a unique mosaic of grasslands, woodlands, swamps and water-bodies. Sir Peter Scott, the first World Wildlife Fund chairman, regarded Keoladeo Sanctuary as the world’s best bird area. You can watch the wonderful courtship dance of the Sarus Crane here. Over 370 species have been recorded here. The Keoladeo National Park is also the only wintering site in India for the critically endangered Siberian Crane. It is also a strategic location for migratory waterfowl as they congregate here before departing for their breeding grounds in the Western Palearctic region.

Birds Spotted: Gadwall, shoveller, common teal, cotton teal, tufted duck, comb duck, little cormorant, great cormorant, Indian shag, ruff, painted stork, white spoonbill, Asian open-billed stork, oriental ibis, darter, common sandpiper, wood sandpiper and green sandpiper. Sarus crane, Warblers, babblers, bee-eaters, bulbuls, buntings, chats, partridges, Quails, Indian grey hornbill and Marshall's iora, Osprey, peregrine, Pallas' sea eagle, short-toed eagle, tawny eagle, imperial eagle, spotted eagle, crested serpent eagle, greater spotted eagle etc.

Distance from Delhi: 209 km via Taj Expressway
Driving Time: 3.5-4 hrs 

Sarus Crane

Sarus Crane at Bharatpur (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) 

Still here? Pick up your binoculars and telephoto lens and set off!

Article by: Mohana Das


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