25 Jan 2014

25 Jan 14 - A Meeting With Mr Stoliczka

By late afternoon on the second day at Tal Chappar, I was starting to think I was going to miss the Stoliczka's Bushchat, despite a lot of hard searching. I had planned on two days here before heading on the following day to Bharatpur as I was running out of time in India. But I was starting to consider the prospect of staying over for an extra day. This wouldn't affect Bill as he was planning on a bit more time in the morning at the Indian Spotted Creeper site followed by driving to Jaisalmer. But the decision was made for me by sharp eyed Bill, calling me to say he was scoping a good looking candidate which after getting closer, we were both happy was a Stoliczka's Bushchat. This is a real birders bird, i.e. tricky to identify & not common even at regular sites, but when seen well it's fairly clear it's the real thing. Although it wasn't approachable at first, with care I was able to get close & get some reasonable views & photos.
Stoliczka's Bushchat: The initial views weren't close, but through the scope, we could see a long, thin black bill & pale supercilium & the general paler grey wash to the upperparts, so it was looking promising
Stoliczka's Bushchat: Then it did this extraordinary hovering flight for well over a minute. I've seen Stonechats do similar hovering flights for a few seconds occasionally, but not for that long a duration. Fortunately, it was facing away & it was possible to see a pale rump & strong pale edges to the base of the tail when checking the photos in the field. This made the bird look convincing, as Siberian Stonechats have a pale rump, black tail & they do not have the pale extending along the edges of the upper tail
Stoliczka's Bushchat: Male. The main features are the long, thin, black bill, the pale supercilium, which while not strong is more obvious than a Siberian Stonechat. Also, the overall colouration is paler & greyer than any of the Siberian Stonechats
Stoliczka's Bushchat: Male. All my photos show it sitting horizontally like a small Wheatear, rather than upright like a Siberian Stonechat. The pale white wingbar points to it being a male
Stoliczka's Bushchat: Male. This is a male as it has a pure white throat, whereas females have a throat colour which is the same colour as the cheeks
Stoliczka's Bushchat: Male. Showing the white outer webs on the upper tail
Stoliczka's Bushchat: Male. A more distant view of the mantle shows a white scapular patch which though not bold, still indicates this is a male
Stoliczka's Bushchat: Male. The pale supercilium could be quite noticeable in some views 
With both of my main species seen at Tal Chappar & only 4 days left in India, then it was time for me to head East to the next birding site at Bharatpur. Bill was going to give it another try for the Indian Spotted Creeper, before heading off towards Jaisalmer & the Great Thar Desert National Park area of Rajasthan. So that evening, I was packing the bags & sorting out a taxi ride for the following morning to Bharatpur. But there was still time for another excellent Indian meal at the restaurant in Ratangarh. Bill had been an sound birding companion & I learnt a lot about the finer points of Indian bird identification from him. Additionally, both Bill & Shiva had made it a great part of the trip to remember. Thanks guys for letting me tag along.
The goodbye meal with Bill & Shiva: Despite looking like it was out of the 70s disco era, the food was excellent
The following morning, it was an early start for me in the taxi to Bharatpur to try to get there for mid afternoon, so I could squeeze a couple of hours of birding in. Unfortunately, the taxi driver didn't speak any English, but that wasn't unusual for taxi drivers. The first part of the journey was OK and within about two or three hours we arrived in his home town of Jaipur & he quickly stopped to say hello to his family. Next step should have been taking the toll road to Agra, with the town of Bharatpur being part way on the Agra road. That's when it all started going wrong. He ignored the Agra signs in his home town & carried on. For a while I thought he was taking a short cut to the toll road, but after a while I asked were we on the Bharatput-Agra road, which he said yes. Still no signs & 30 minutes later I asked again & was told yes. After over an hour of driving, we eventually came to a road junction & he stopped to ask. That's when he finally realised he was heading South to Tonk & not East to Bharatpur. We started down the side road which quickly deteriorated into a bumpy dirt road & a 20 mph top speed. It took about 2 hours on this road & then a metalled side road before we finally got back onto the toll road. The result is I lost the afternoon's birding & a 6 hour journey, became 9 hours. I was also being charged per kilometre & he had added quite a few kms to the journey. He wasn't happy when he told of my displeasure of his incompentence & there was no tip.
Camel carts are a common sight in this part of India
Another variation on the tuk-tuk: This one having a large passenger cab
Roadside stone carving centres: There were large numbers of these roadside stone carving centres making & selling their stone ware as we got closer to Bharatpur
Brick works: There were also large numbers of small brick works around Bharatpur
By the time I got to Bharatpur, there wasn't much light left & it wasn't worth a visit to the park. I stayed at the Birders Inn 200 metres from the entrance. On the face of it, it looks a nice, if over priced hotel at 28 quid for B&B. The room was good, but the hot water was at best luke warm & needed a complaint to get a bucket of proper hot water for washing. By this time, I was fairly used to Indian claims that anything slightly warmer than the cold water was hot. More frustratingly, the wifi was not working, despite the usual claims by the manager that it was working fine when I was checking in. Eventually, he logged me onto a different network & I could just about get a signal. He assumed I wouldn't be computer literate enough to see what he had done, but he had actually logged me onto the wifi network for the next door hotel. He that said when that signal was still poor, that I should sit outside in the cold garden after dark (it was probably only about 5C at the time) as I would get a better signal. In the end I managed a slightly better signal in my upstairs room. They finally fixed their wifi problem the following day & that in the end stopped me moving out. But the hotel is over priced & the management attitude to their guests in poor (except for the restaurant staff who were OK). Also be aware they won't do early breakfasts, but given I had spent 3.5 days here on the first trip, then I wasn't worried about being in the park at first light. But they don't seem to care about their service to the guests as they get plenty of tour groups staying. I wouldn't recommend other birders staying here, given there are plenty of other hotels within a 100 metre walk of this hotel.