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The ABA India Safari – Tigers & Taj behind us, and Penguins ahead!

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Ellen, Mike and Rachel locate a Bengal Tiger! The ABA teamed up again with Rockjumper Birding Tours to bring members together for the India Safari.

India is unique. It defies easy summary. A sea of humanity and a land of stark contrasts, it overwhelms. At times characterized as an assault on the senses (with all the beauty and grimness that implies), it is a place brimming with force, propelled by a rich history and unique culture.RJ logo

With a population of 1.3 billion people, only China owns a larger population today. The U.S. ranks third worldwide with over 300 million, making India well over 4 times bigger in population, yet only about 1/3 the size in area. That’s a fair few folks to say the least, and they’re pretty well concentrated to boot. As an experienced traveling friend told me before I left, “you will never feel alone on the Subcontinent”.

Ladies on their way to temple in Ranthambhore National Park. (Photo by G. Armistead)

Ladies on their way to temple in Ranthambhore National Park. (Photo by G. Armistead)

Yet as imposing as all this may sound, as a first-time visitor to India I was struck not so much by the numbers of people, but rather by the friendly, curious nature of those who we met. Of course, everywhere we go in this life, we birders are a curiosity. Whether we are craning our necks for warblers in Central Park, or as we pursue Stork-billed Kingfishers in Ranthambhore National Park in India, birders evoke interest. We appear intent, intense, focused and enthralled, so people want to see what we’re seeing. And this was true of our experience during the ABA India Safari in February of 2016, when we enjoyed a great many interactions and experiences.

Fatehpur Sikri was one the striking sites we visited in Agra. (Photo by G. Armistead)

Fatehpur Sikri was one the striking sites we visited in Agra. (Photo by G. Armistead)

Certainly the renowned cultural sites and history were a huge part of the inspiration for us to partner again with Rockjumper Birding Tours (as we did in South Africa in 2014), and arrange this excursion for ABA Members. From the Red Fort to Fatehpur Sikri, to the world’s most famous edifice, the Taj Mahal, there is a lot to see. We marveled at each. But of course we are birders, obsessed with nature and animals, and so it was the many birds and in particular one very large cat that loomed large at the forefront of our consciousness. And the times we had….

Some might balk at the notion of traveling in a larger group (we had 62 members on this trip), but we enjoyed many benefits. The first being that the price was well below what it would be for a small group, yet we enjoyed the small group experience. Field trips were limited to groups of 15 people or less, while dinners were festive occasions for all 62 to gather, grab a beer, and share experiences from the day. And people enjoyed having the chance to mix up their groupings each day, to bird with close friends on many days and also meet new people on other days.

An ABA India Safari group scans a lake in Ranthambhore National Park. Moments later, a pair of Barred Buttonquail scurried into view.

An ABA India Safari group scans a lake in Ranthambhore National Park. Moments later, a pair of Barred Buttonquail scurried into view.

Our time was focused at two famous wildlife reserves, including the wetlands ofKeoladeo National Park (Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary), and Ranthambhore National Park, famous as a Bengal Tiger reserve. Both sites rewarded us richly. Below are some images and videos to give you a glimpse of what we enjoyed.

NEXT UP we have New Zealand in January of 2017 (click here). Don’t miss out. Penguins, albatrosses, the unique landbirds, and maybe even the odd endemic Kiwi will be our quarry. One thing’s for sure… whatever we see, we’ll have a heck of a good time seeing it!

ABA INDIA SAFARI – Photo Gallery

Black Bittern is a small, skulking heron. A crepuscular species, we saw it stalking the water's edge at Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur). (Photo by Jeff Gordon)

Black Bittern is a small, skulking heron. A crepuscular species, we saw it stalking at the water’s edge at Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur). (Photo by Jeff Gordon)

 

Sightings of Painted Spurfowl were fairly frequent in Ranthambhore. (Photo by Adam Riley)

Sightings of Painted Spurfowl were fairly frequent in Ranthambhore. (Photo by Adam Riley)

 

A major target for our group was seeing Bengal Tiger. Miraculously everyone on this ABA Event saw at least one within their first few hours of being at Ranthambhore. (Photo by G. Armistead)

A major target for our group was seeing Bengal Tiger. Miraculously everyone on this ABA Event saw at least one within their first few hours of being at Ranthambhore. (Photo by G. Armistead)

To see a video of this Tiger, known as T-28, the largest in Ranthambhore National Park, click here. The tigers of this park are pretty habituated to vehicles, and this guy walked by us very close.

Plum-headed Parakeets provided a nice splash of color. (Photo by Jeff Gordon)

Plum-headed Parakeets provided a nice splash of color. (Photo by Jeff Gordon)

The Brown Fish Owl lurks in large trees along creeks and streams in Ranthambhore. (Photo by Donna Schulman)

The Brown Fish Owl lurks in large trees along creeks and streams in Ranthambhore. (Photo by Donna Schulman).

To see more about Donna’s experience, see her blogpost on 10,000 Birds (click here).

Most unexpected was that many in our group had sightings of Sloth Bears in Ranthambhore. There are only a few dozen in the park. (Photo by Greg Johnson)

Most unexpected was that many in our group had sightings of Sloth Bears in Ranthambhore. There are only a few dozen in the park. (Photo by Greg Johnson)

See more of Greg Johnson’s images from the ABA India Safari by clicking here.

Near Bund Baretha, there was a large roost of serveral hundred flying foxes. (Photo by Jeff Gordon)

Near Bund Baretha, there was a large roost of serveral hundred flying foxes. (Photo by Jeff Gordon)

Sometimes referred to as the world's most spectacular bird, the Indian Peafowl is the national bird of India, and quite a sight.

Sometimes referred to as the world’s most spectacular bird, the Indian Peafowl is the national bird of India, and quite a sight.

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George Armistead

George Armistead

George Armistead is a lifelong birder and since April 2012 is the events coordinator for the ABA. George spent the prior decade organizing and leading birding tours for Field Guides Inc. He has guided trips on all seven continents, and enjoys vast open country habitats and seabirds most of all. Based in Philadelphia, he is an associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and spends much of his free time birding the coast between Cape May, NJ and Cape Hatteras, NC.
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