ABOUT INDIA BIRDING
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India is a vast country with a population of some 1.2 billion people. What first comes to mind tends to be densely packed cities, poverty, and monsoon rains. But India is an excellent and diverse birding destination that features some 1230 regularly present or visiting species including some 84 endemics and around 53 near endemics. Of those species regularly present in India or over 630 have restricted ranges. Some 500 of those restricted range species are widely distributed species in other countries, especially in China or Southeast Asia whose ranges follow the mountains into Arunachal Pradesh of northeast India and/or Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradeshes of northern India, extend west across the Bay of Bengal to the Andaman//Nicobar Islands or peninsular southern India. A few are desert species whose ranges extend eastward into the desert of eastern India. A number are Palearctic migrants whose wintering ranges barely reach northern India or barely touch northeast India. Nearly 250 species are only present during Palearctic winter while about 17 are only present during breeding season.
Prime time for birding in India is October-April but especially November-March. April is dry season but becomes increasingly hot as the month progresses, while October is a transitional month between the monsoons of May-September and the dry season of November-April. For those wishing to see tigers, the preferred time to visit is late in the dry season during March-April. They're hard to see during Octiber-November especially as they are generally dispersed rather than congregating around water.
It's not practical to bird all of India on a single tour given its great diversity and vast distances. The country extends 3214km (1998 miles) from north to south and 2933km (1822 miles) from east to west. The country can be divided into 6 regions as a birding destination. These are the north around Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the east aroudn NBihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal, the northeast around Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, central India around Madhya Pradesh, the west aroudn Guharat and Rajasthan, and the south in the western Ghats Mountains of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. Classical birding tour itineraries typically cover the north and central regions together, the northeast, the west, and the south as separate tours.
India can be divided into 10 biogeographical regions. The diversity of these regions leads to the diversity of species in the country.
The Trans-Himalayan Region includes the high altitude, cold and arid mountainous regions in the far north. It is home to high altitude specialty birds such as Tibetan Snowcock, Snow Pigeon, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Himalayan Griffon, Red-billed Chough, Red-flanked Bluetail, Great Rosefinch, Mongolian Finch, and Rock Bunting. Various migratory birds also appear there. Also present are Snow Leopards, Mountain Goats and a large population of Bharal or Blue Sheep.
The Himalayan Zone includes the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in northern India. The Nainital District in Uttarakhand and nearby Sattal are prime birding destinations in this zone. The northernmost part of Uttarakhand extends into the high Himalayan Mountains. At lower elevations on the slopes of the Himalaya are alpine and sub-alpine forests, meadows, and deciduous forests. Over 1000 species of birds have been recorded in the Nainital District along with more than 20 species of mammals including Himalayan Musk Deer, Eld's Deer, Takin, Markhor, Alpine Ibex, Himalayan Tahr, and Bharal.
The Indian Desert Zone includes the Thar Desert of the northwest in the Indian states of Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat, Punjab, and Haryana. A variety of desert birds are found there including Great Indian Bustard, a variety of raptors including Laggar Falcon, various larks, wheatears, and other species including a number of migrants.
Two semi-arid regions are recognized in India, on in the north contiguous with the Thar desert and the other to the south in parts of Deccan and Madras. Some birds of this zone include Indian Peafowl, Painted Francolin, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Painted Sandgrouse, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Indian Gray Hornbill, Rufous-tailed Lark, Indian Bushlark, Large Gray Babbler, Crested Bunting, and Black-headed Bunting.
The Western Ghats Zone is a mountainous region along a narrow swath of thewestern Indian peninsula. It is characterized by tropical evergreen forest and is one of India's premier birding regions. It is one of the 10 most biodiverse regions in the world with some 140 mammal and over 500 bird species recorded. Many peaks reach 2000m (6600ft) with the highest being 2695m (8842ft). These mountains form one of the four main watersheds in India with rivers flowing east into the Bay of Bengal. The climate is humid and tropical at lower elevations with frost and freezing temperatures possible at the highest elevations. Since this region spans an extensive distance north to south, there are four distinctly different ecological regions including tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests, deciduous forests, and evergreen forests. At higher elevation are montane rainforests, some montane grasslands, and some stunted alpine forests. There are 16 species of birds and 16 species of mammals endemic to the Western Ghats including several threatened and endangered species.
The Deccan Peninsula or Plateau encompasses the vast majority of the Indian Peninsula, with only the western and eastern coastal regions not included. It covers 42% of the country and is in the rain shadow of the Western Ghats region, causing it to be semi-arid in the north though most of the region is tropical with distinct wet and dry seasons. Most forests are deciduous, with the best tracts located in Madhya, Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha states. Most rivers flow from north to south. This region is heavily agricultural. The region is home to some 300 species of birds as well as a variety of mammals including tigers. The main tiger reserves of India are in this region.
The Ganges River is located in northeast India and flows from northwest to southeast into the Bay of Bengal. The surrounding plains are very fertile thanks to the river and hence is heavily agricultural. At the same time, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with some 400 million people living in the region. Birding in the region is excellent. 24 species present there have globally restricted ranges.
The Northeast Region is a transitional zone between the Ganges floodplain and the Himalayan Mountains. It includes the Brahmaputra River Valley bordering Nepal and Bhutan along with the Arunahcal Pradesh and Assam. The climate is subtropical with heavy monsoon rains. Adriatic cooling with rising air currents in the Himalayan to the north lead to heavy precipitation on the slopes. It's the rainiest region of the country, averaging 79" annually. The best time to visit is November to March. There are some 17 national parks in the region including Kaziranga and Nameri. Other important reserves in Assam are Hoolongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, home India's only great ape, the Hoolock Gibbon, Manas National Park, an extension of Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, and Dehring-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, which protects the last remaining lowland tropical rainforest in India. Key reserves in Arunachal Pradesh include Namdapha Tiger Reserve, Eagles Nest and Sessa Wildlife Sanctuary, best place to see Bugun Liocichla, and Mishmi Hills, a mega diverse hotspot featuring over 500 bird species. The Mizoram area includes 7 important bird areas (IBA's) and is home to 670 species including 32 that are globally threatened.
The Coastal Region along the coastline of the Bay of Bengal is a narrow zone of sandy beaches, mangroves, mud flats, coral reefs, and marine angiosperm pastures. It's heavily populated and frequently visited by tourists.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands off the southeast coast of India are in the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. They are closer to Thailand than they are to India. There are 20 species of birds endemic to the Andaman Islands and 8 endemic to the Nicobar Islands. Various companies offer tours to the islands. Most go to the Andaman Islands as only Great Nicobar Island is open for birders in the Nicobar chain.