Category Archives: Trips

Birding in Kashmir | Mission Kashmir – Part 2

Destination – Srinagar
Date – 21, 22 & 23 June, 2021

Evening – 1

We reached Kashmir late, the sun had already set and there were only a couple of places we could have visited that evening. We decided on going to the Avantiswami Temple in Awantipora, Pulwama.

Avantiswami Temple in Kashmir
Ruins of Avantiswami Temple

We spent half an hour or so and left for Srinagar which was only an hour’s drive from there. We found a decent hotel near the Boulevard Road and after settling in went to have dinner.

Day – 2

Next morning, we got up pretty late and in the afternoon went to the Dal Lake. I could see hundreds of Whiskered Terns in breeding plumage flying in the lake form the Boulevard Road. The only problem was that they were super fast flyers and only after firing about 200 shots did I manage to get a couple of usable photographs.

Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage
Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage
Whiskered Tern in flight

While photographing the terns I found a very long-awaited species – Eurasian Jackdaw. I found out later that Jackdaws are pretty common throughout Kashmir.

Eurasian Jackdaw
Eurasian Jackdaw
Eurasian Jackdaw
Eurasian Jackdaw

After I was done with the jackdaws, we went towards Pari Mahal and were stopped on the turn and were told that both Tulip Garden and Pari Mahal were closed due to Covid restrictions. That was rather disappointing but that was not all. We then decided to go to Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh, the main attractions in Srinagar, and they also were closed due to Covid restrictions. Now we had no idea how to spend the day.

After a lot of discussion we decided to go to Doodhpathri. We searched doodhpathri on google maps and started off. After reaching Pulwama, where google showed doodhathri was, we asked some locals for directions and all of them gave us surprised looks and told us that doodhpathri is not here, it is in Budgam district, close to Yousmarg.

They then told us to go to Chadoora and ask for directions there, so, we did just that. In Chadoora, we were stopped again by military personnel and were told that we can’t go to Doodhpathri because it’s late in the evening and no entry is allowed after 5pm.

Disappointed we all went back to Srinagar. Next day we had planned to go to Dachigam National Park. On the way I thought I’d better call somebody and confirm if that is open or not. So, I called a couple of people and…surprise, surprise…it was closed as well.

So, in short our whole day was wasted. We went back to Srinagar, had dinner and went to the hotel.

Day – 3

Next morning, since everybody was so tired from yesterday’s exertion, we decided not to go anywhere till evening. The afternoon was pretty dull and boring but the real fun began in the evening. While the rest of my family went shopping in the market around Lal Chowk, I called up Ansar Ahmad Bhat, a local resident and an excellent birder, and together we went for an evening birding session around Dal Lake and Zabarwan Mountains.

First we went to the interiors of Dal Lake in search of the elusive Little Bittern. While walking towards the main area where these birds are found, a couple of them flew past us but I couldn’t get any shots of them.

Within ten minutes or so Ansar bhai spotted a male hiding in the water lilies. He pointed out to me the location but, I could see nothing there except water lilies. I asked him where it was and he said only its head is visible. He is hiding under the lilies. I knew Little Bitterns are small but I had no idea they were so small that they could get under the water lilies! I finally saw the bird in question when it moved out after 5-10 minutes.

I tried to get some shots of it but he was so small and so far away that I had a really hard time focusing on him. We waited for some time and eventually he started moving closer and into an opening. When he came into the opening he suddenly got into into a weird stance and stood still there. I was about to ask Ansar bhai if the bird is hunting when he said, ‘Get ready, he is locked onto a target and is about to hunt it’. I thought to myself, ‘What a stroke of luck!. First time seeing this beauty and getting hunting shots too! How cool would that be’.

Within minutes the bird dived down and caught a huge fish. The sequence didn’t go exactly to plan. I expected him to catch the fish and swallow it in front of me but rather after catching the fish, it turned its back on me, swallowed it and then turned around again. I couldn’t get any shots of it actually swallowing the fish but after he did swallow he turned around and stretched his neck up to get the fish in his belly. And that for me was the highlight of the day!

Little Bittern male
Little Bittern male
Male Little Bittern hunting
Male Little Bittern walking
Compare its size to the leaves in the background. That is how small this bird is!
Male Little Bittern with a catch
Little Bittern male with a catch!

After that we left the bird alone in order to not disturb him too much. On the way back I got another new one – Clamorous Reed Warbler. I tried very hard to get a decent shot of it but it was far too active and was constantly moving around in the tall reeds.

Record shot of Clamorous Reed Warbler

I found a Common Copper butterfly near our car. I fired a couple of shots but it didn’t stay there for long and flew away. While I was reviewing those shots, I found out that I managed to get a rather cool looking flight shot of it when it took off from the flower!

Common Copper Butterfly flying
Common Copper butterfly taking off

The next part of the birding session involved climbing the Zabarwan Mountains in order to see the rare European Bee-Eaters.

Distance-wise the climb was not too difficult. It was half a kilometer or so but, the slope in combination with the rocky terrain and the scorching heat of the sun made it seem like a never ending hike. But, after half an hour or so and 2-3 breaks we finally reached where we were supposed to. Exhausted, we all sat down in the shade of the huge Chinar Tree there.

On the way we did actually see some European Bee-Eaters flying but we hoped to see some individuals sitting later. We spent another half an hour there hoping that a Bee-Eater might come and sit somewhere near but none did. So, we started descending and on the way down, I clicked some flight shots of the Bee-Eaters just for the purpose of at least having a record shot.

European Bee-Eater flying
European Bee-Eater
European Bee-Eater flying

I really hoped to see an individual sitting but I think it was fine. At least I got to see them!

That was pretty much it for the day. After that I went to my family, spent some time in the market and went back to the hotel.

To be continued…

~Arjun Basandrai

Birding in Kashmir | Mission Kashmir – Part 1

Destination – Patnitop, Udhampur district, Jammu and Kashmir
Date – 20 & 21 June, 2021

Day 1

We started our journey in the morning and reached Mansar lake by noon. Apart from a couple Pansy butterflies, there was not much to see there. Mansar was a big disappointment and thus we did not spend much time there and left for Patnitop.

Mansar lake in Udhampur district
Mansar Lake

The outskirts of Patnitop were full with sounds of Siberian Stonechats. Just outside Patnitop, I got my first Kalij Pheasant, but the light was too low and it was impossible for me to get any usable shots of it.

Siberian Stonechat male
Siberian Stonechat male
Siberian Stonechat male with kill

Day 2

I got up early next morning and went for my customary morning bird walk. In the parking lot of the hotel I got a very long awaited species – pair of Gray-Capped Pygmy Woodpeckers – climbing up and down an electricity pole. The male flew immediately on seeing me but the female was rather cooperative and gave me some pretty decent shots.

Gray-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Gray-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker female
Gray-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker

The next species I saw was a also a long-awaited one – Yellow-Breasted Greenfinch! These were pretty common throughout Patnitop and I saw around 10-15 individuals there.

Yellow-Breasted Greenfinch
Yellow-Breasted Greenfinch male
Yellow-Breasted Greenfinch female

After photographing the greenfinches, I started walking towards the Naag Temple. On the way I saw a male Brown-Fronted Woodpecker and while photographing him I found a pair of Himalayan Woodpeckers. Here also the male flew away but the female didn’t mind giving me some photographs.

Brown-Fronted Woodpecker
Brown-Fronted Woodpecker male
Himalayan Woodpecker female
Himalayan Woodpecker female

Green-Backed Tits, Cinerous Tits and Streaked Laughingthrushes were also pretty common there.

Green-Backed Tit
Green-Backed Tit adult
Green-Backed Tit
Green-Backed Tit
Green-Backed Tit juvenile

After about one hour or so I went back to the hotel and found an Argus sp butterfly. It didn’t give me any shots and flew away. I followed it and in the process found a small flower garden.

There were butterflies flying from everywhere to everywhere in that little garden. The new ones I saw there were Common Argus, Himalayan Common Five-Ring, Himalayan Common Beak, Plain Marbled Skipper, Common Silverstripe, Silvery Hedge Blue, Azure Sapphire, Common Copper and Kashmir Dusky Blue Cupid.

Azure Sapphire
Azure Sapphire
Azure Sapphire
Common Copper
Common Copper
Himalayan Bath White
Himalayan Bath White
Common Argus
Common Argus
Common Beak butterfly
Common Beak
Himalayan Common Beak
Plain Marbled Skipper
Plain Marbled Skipper
Common Five-Ring
Common Five-Ring

After my butterflying session, I went to Naag temple again but this time with everyone else and not for birding. After visiting the temple we packed our bags and left for Srinagar. On the way I found a pair of Himalayan Woodpeckers and this time the male at least let me take a couple of record shots of him. I also photographed a couple of Yellow-Breasted Greenfinches, Egyptian Vultures and a Blue Whistling-Thrush there.

Himalayan Woodpecker male
Himalayan Woodpecker male
Yellow-Breasted Greenfinch
Yellow-Breasted Greenfinch
Blue-Whistling Thrush
Blue Whistling-Thrush
Immature Egyptian Vulture
Egyptian Vulture

To be continued…

~Arjun Basandrai

Rann Roadies – Part 4 – Ahmedabad, Churu, and Back to Base

After spending a wonderful day at the Salt Desert in Dhordo, we started towards Ahmedabad in the afternoon. On the way, we stopped at a marsh that spread on both sides of the highway. There we found several Common Pochards, Northern Shovelers, Little Grebe, Common Coots, Great White Pelicans, some Little Egrets, and a Eurasian Marsh Harrier.

Somewhere close to Ahmedabad, I found my first Yellow-Wattled Lapwings at a construction site.

Yellow-Wattled Lapwing


We reached Ahmedabad late at night and the next morning we left for Thol Bird Sanctuary.

Thol Bird Sanctuary

The first bird I saw at Thol was a much-awaited one – Spot-breasted Fantail.

Spot-Breasted Fantail

Within a few minutes of seeing the Fantail, I found another much-awaited species – Red-Collared Dove. Though it is a fairly common dove, I had never seen it properly before. This one also didn’t stay for long but, at least it gave me a decent record shot.

Red-Collared Dove male

Near the entrance, I found a Clamorous Reed Warbler and a Sulphur-Bellied Warbler both of which were new additions to my list. I took turns photographing both of them. The Reed Warbler flew off within a minute, the Sulphur-Bellied Warbler, who kept scaling up and down the length of a signboard, however, gave me some interesting shots.

Clamorous Reed Warbler
Sulphur-Bellied Warbler

Next up, I found a White-Browed Fantail (another new addition) by the side of the trail I was following.

White-Browed Fantail

There was a waterhole inside the dense tree cover where I could see a lot of bird activity. I found an opening and tried photographing the birds present there, but it was very dark – just enough to see the birds and identify them. There was a Spot-Breasted Fantail, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Common Chiffchaff. I found a couple of Indian Robins, a Red-Breasted Flycatcher, and another Sulphur-Bellied Warbler in the vicinity.

Sulphur-Bellied Warbler

By then, we were getting a bit late because we planned on reaching Udaipur by the end of the day. So, we said goodbye to Thol and to Ahmedabad and headed towards our next destination.



There was not much birding at Udaipur except a long-awaited Brooks’s Leaf Warbler and a fairly common Yellow-Throated Sparrow, that I saw at Moti Magri.

Brooks’s Leaf Warbler

Since there wasn’t much to see in Udaipur, we left for Chittorgarh in the evening.


The Chittorgarh Fort is the largest fort in India, covering an area of roughly 700 acres.

There were a lot of birds inside the fort, but time was our enemy and so I couldn’t spend much time birding. I found another Sulphur-Bellied Warbler there along with a White-Capped Bunting and a few Gray-Breasted Prinias.

Gray-Breasted Prinia

After some sightseeing inside the fort, we left Chittorgarh and headed towards our next destination – Tal Chhapar.


On the way to Tal Chhapar, we stopped for a coffee break at Ajmer. We found a nice cafe there, overlooking Anasagar Lake. There, I got the opportunity to photograph a few Black-Headed Gulls.

Black-Headed Gull

Tal Chhapar, Churu

We reached Churu pretty late and as there are not a lot of hotels in Tal Chhapar, we decided to go to Salasar instead to spend the night. We got up early the next morning, went to the Salasar Balaji Temple, and left for Tal Chhapar Black Buck Sanctuary which is only an hour drive from there.

Tal Chhapar Black Buck Sanctuary

Even before entering the sanctuary, we were already amazed by the sight of hundreds of Indian Blackbucks, feeding in the golden grasslands of Tal Chappar.


Right outside the sanctuary, I found my first Great Gray Shrike.

After photographing the Shrike I found a flock of Rosy Starlings on a dead tree nearby. They were sitting against the light so, I couldn’t get decent shots of them.

After that, we entered the sanctuary and were greeted by a couple of Blackbucks and another Great Gray Shrike.

Great Gray Shrike

There we encountered a very curious male Blackbuck who kept on poking his snout in my lens hood! Our guess was that it was an old individual and was thus very friendly.

Indian Blackbuck

Within a few minutes of this wonderful encounter, I found a large flock of Greater Short-toed Larks a bit far off and a female Common Kestrel.

We spent some more time inside and were getting very frustrated by the lack of Raptor Activity when my dad spotted a few Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses. After spending some time hopelessly trying to photograph the grouse, we left the sanctuary.

Besides the Blackbuck encounter, Tal Chhapar was mostly a disappointment. I expected a lot of raptor activity and was really looking forward to finding some Laggar Falcons, which are the area’s specialty, but except a few female Kestrels, I found pretty much no raptors at all.

I later found out that all these birds are mostly found in the Gaushala area of the village and are not as common in the sanctuary. I guess now that gives me a reason to go back there again.



  • Common Pochard
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Little Grebe
  • Common Coot
  • Great White Pelican
  • Eurasian Marsh Harrier
  • Long-Legged Buzzard
  • Little Egret
  • Western Reef Heron
  • Yellow-Wattled Lapwing
  • Spot-Breasted Fantail
  • Red-Collared Dove
  • Sulphur-Bellied Warbler
  • Clamorous Reed Warbler
  • White-Browed Fantail
  • Shikra
  • River Tern
  • Common Chiffchaff
  • Lesser Whitethroat
  • Indian Robin
  • Red-Breasted Flycatcher
  • Brooks’s Leaf Warbler
  • Yellow-Throated Sparrow
  • White-Capped bunting
  • Gray-Breasted Prinia
  • Black-Headed Gull
  • Great Gray Shrike
  • Rosy Starling
  • Indian Rock Chat
  • Common Kestrel
  • Oriental Honey Buzzard
  • Greater Short-Toed Lark
  • Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse


  • Indian Blackbuck

and the main highlights of the day for me were the two fantails – Spot-Breasted Fantail and White-Browed Fantail!

Also checkout – Rann Roadies – Part 1 – Phillaur to Khichan
Rann Roadies – Part 2 – Jodhpur to Dholavira
Rann Roadies – Part 3 – Bhuj and the White Rann

__ Thank you for reading __

~Arjun Basandrai

Rann Roadies – Part 3 – Bhuj and the White Rann

Bhuj is a small city in the Kutch district of Gujarat. It has great historical importance and is famous among tourists going to Dhordo for ‘Rann Utsav’. Besides the Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal, there is not much to see in Bhuj city. So, after spending some time there, we left for Mandvi in the evening.

Black-Winged Kite hovering

Rann Roadies – Part 2 – Jodhpur to Dholavira

We entered Jodhpur at around 8pm which wasn’t very late but according to the Covid Regulations, all restaurants had to be closed by 7pm. After a lot of looking, we found a decent hotel which was still serving food. As usual, by that time we didn’t know where we were going to spend the night. We found a hotel to spend the night, checked in, had a good night’s rest, checked out early in the morning and left for Mehrangarh Fort.

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Indian Peafowl male

Rann Roadies – Part 1 – Phillaur to Khichan

Every New Year, I go on road trips to wonderful destinations across India with my family. This New Year 2021, that wonderful destination was Great Rann of Kutch, Gujarat! The initial plan was a 14-day road trip covering Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Dholavira and Bhuj. But, since we had to be back by 13th for Lohri, we left Jaisalmer for another trip.

Our planning was rather spontaneous throughout the trip. Most of the days we didn’t know which city we were going to spend the night in until about 8 pm. Then at 9 we began the search for a hotel. In almost all the hotels we had late night check-in and early morning checkout.

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Birding at Chakki Mod

Chakki Mod is a small village not far from Chandigarh situated on the Chandigarh-Solan Highway. It was on my bucket list for quite a while and so I planned a 1 day trip there on 15 November, 2020.

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Yellow-Bellied Prinia

Prinia Mania- Birding at Phillaur (#9)

Prinia Mania- Birding at Phillaur (#9)

Date: 18 March, 2020

After yet another birding-break and with the winter slowly drawing to a close and the birds reverse migrating to Europe, Russia etc. to their breeding grounds, I went to Sutlej again.

Just like before, I left before sunrise, but, this time it was intentional because I wanted to shoot some pre-sunrise and sunrise photos.

On reaching the bank, there was no one there, no people, no wildlife, just me, which was perfect for what I had in mind then – Pre-Sunrise Blue Hour photographs. The road there always fascinated me and every time went to the river, I had at least 50 shots of just the road. Now, with Blue Hour slowly ending, and orangey clouds shining above the blue sky and with some low hanging fog, the landscape seemed twice as pretty.

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Black-Breasted Weaver

Weavers and Plovers – Birding at Phillaur (#8)

Weavers and Plovers – Birding at Phillaur (#8)

After taking a long break from birding, on 24 January, 2020, it was time for me to go out and shoot some birds. So, I packed my stuff and left for the Sutlej River. This time I didn’t go to Mao Sahib though. Instead, I went to a different location on the Sutlej River which I had visited once last year. I didn’t get anything exciting there last year, so, I just wanted to try my luck once more.

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Birder’s Day Out – Birding at Pong Lake

Birder’s Day Out – Birding at Pong Lake

It was on 29th December, 2019 that I, finally, got the chance to spend a Day Out Birding at one of my Favourite Birding Locations – Pong Lake. I first visited this place in 2015 and till then it has remained in my ‘Favourites List’.

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Wade in the Water – Birding at Phillaur – Part 7

Wade in the Water – Birding at Phillaur – Part 7

My next Birding Day Out in Phillaur was on 15 December, 2019

The first place I visited was our Local Forest. While exploring the area I noticed a Dead Tree Trunk which was overgrown with Mushrooms. The Sun was just coming out and the light was pretty diffused so I decided to try some artistic frames of the mushrooms.

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Wade in the Water – Birding at Phillaur – Part 6

Wade in the Water – Birding at Phillaur – Part 6

Local birding is much more exciting to me compared to going to far off places to witness a complete new set of wildlife. So, I began this season’s birding adventures by visiting the place that I consider as ‘One of the Finest Spots for Birding around Phillaur’ – Sutlej.