I'm writing this from an internet caff in Nainital, Northern India. I would rather be out birding but unfortunately a rather heavy blizzard has just started and we had to take cover.
Since the last update we've spent a few days at Royal Chitwan National Park, in southern Nepal, which were absolutely excellent.
After getting a posh tourist bus down to Narayanghat (stopping at the bus company's hotel en-route for all you can eat buffet lunch included with ticket, my god they regretted that, properly cleaned them out of noodles we did) we somehow managed to find a poxy little local bus down to the village of Meghauli. For this short journey we decided to sit on the roof of the bus, seemed like a fun idea at the time, 2 hours later we were scratched to hell from low hanging branches and bruised all over from a sightly bumpy ride. Somewhat shakily we made our way to Chital Lodge, a rather quiet place right on the edge of the National Park, where stayed for thre next 3 days/2 nights.
On our first full day we hired Jib, the owner for a visit deep into the jungle. Before we had even left the 'buffer zone' outside the park boundary, we scored with stunning close-up views of a massive Indian Rhino, we just hadnt reaisewd how big these things are, at about 30metres distance it was just huge, a real tank of a mammal. Stillbuzzing from this close encounter we headed into the park proper, wading through 2 rivers and catching a punted boat across another. We soon racked up plenty of decent birds including Great Hornbill, Black-backed Forktail, Speckled Piculet and Stork-billed Kingfisher to name but a few. Also some very fresh tiger pug prints in the sandy soil raised the heartbeat slightly. After a quick stop off at the exclusive Tiger Tops resort to "ooh and awww" at the baby elephants we headed back. Halfway back to meghauli we suddenly became aware of a load smashing sound nearby, Jib squealed "battling Rhinos, run!!!" and legged it down a side trail, needless to say, we decided that discretion was the bette part of valour and legged it after him, unfortunately, one of the rhino's, presumably the loser decided to come after us, we sprinted on back to the main path with several tons of hard, angry grey stuff close behind. On reaching the main path we took a turn towards the nearby checkpoint and its armed guards. Luckily, when the rhino emerged on the track soon after it only took a short stare at us, decided we werent weorth it and lumbered off into the jungle, phew!!! An incredibly scary moment but one hell of a rush at the same time!
The next day we just wandered around the buffer zone on our own for the morning , a wlak along the banks of a river we crossed the day before yielded a few pintail snipe, cinammon bittern, brown crake and a load of Hog Deer. Crossing over to the Rapti River we waded over to a large grassy island in the middle of the river. A quick scan of the opposite bank and i was onto a mid-sized greyish bird with a black crescent across the breast, it was sleeping, so i couldnt be sure, but if it was, boy was our luck in. Jib had told us he had seen one on the river a few weeks ago, but didnt expect it still be there. If only the bloody thing would wake up.
Soon enough a group of Golden Jackals appeared nearby, causing it to raise its head from under its wing, fucking IBISBILL, what a bird, and not expected at all at this site. it sat there for a few minutes showing of its downcurved reddish bill, like some murdering curlew, then went back to sleep, what a way to end the stay at Chitwan.
That afternoon we headed back to Narayanghat, and caught a bus for what would turn out to be the most hellish 12 hours of our lives, all the way over to Mahendranagar, on the Indian Border. my god, i have never been on such a shit bus, it was freezing cold from all the draughts, but this paled into insignificance against the bumpy ride, it had no suspension whatsoever and so jolted around all over the show, not helped by the appaling state of the roads. We were flipped around like rag dolls and bashed on the celing floor and seats in front, a night of utter hell. Still we made it on time (almost) and soon were on our way to the hill station here at Nainital.
I spent this morning birding around the town and nearby Snow View and Cheena Peak, picking up a few quality lifers including Rufous-backed Redstart, Spot-wiged Tit, Himalayan and Brown-fronted Woodpeckers, along with a load of other good mountain stuff.
If all goes plan we're catching a bus down to Ramnagar tomorrow, and from there heading into Corbett NP for tigers and avian goodies.
Oh, and i'm 3rd in the Surfbirds World Year Listing Rankings for 2008, cant see that lasting. Good luck to the current leaders Alan Davies and Ruth Miller in their attempt to break the world record, they're doing exceptionally well so far!