India Red Panda Quest 2020
March 2020 (9 days)
Dates16 Mar 2020 - 24 Mar 2020
Tour LeaderAdam Walleyn
Tour Size8 Participants & 1 Rockjumper Wildlife guide
Flight Cost (Approximate)INR31500
Spaces AvailableSpaces Available
Type of TourWildlife
Red Panda, Yellow-throated Marten, Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrel, Leopard Cat, Assam Macaque, Himalayan Serow, Satyr Tragopan, Blood Pheasant, Hill Partridge, Brown Dipper, Spotted Forktail, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Gould’s Shortwing, Spotted and Scaly Laughingthrush, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Great and Fulvous Parrotbill, Fire-tailed Sunbird and Gold-naped Finch.
Day 1: Delhi to Bagdogra and transfer to Kurseong
Our exciting adventure begins with a flight to Bagdogra in the Darjeeling district of northern India. From here, it is a short drive to our accommodation for the night in Kurseong. We will be staying in a delightful old colonial house perched high upon a ridge, with rooms overlooking the mighty Himalayas and lush tea gardens below us. We will no doubt savour a tasty dinner and a cup of the famous tea as we prepare for the exciting days ahead!
Day 2: Kurseong to Singalila National Park
After breakfast this morning, we will drive to Maneybhanjang, which is the gateway to Singalila National Park. We will continue through the park and arrive at our homestay, which is located just on the Nepali side of the border. The setting here is truly incredible, with the tiny and remote village of Kaiyakata situated in the midst of the Tinchuley Forest, right in the heart of prime Red Panda habitat. The homestay is built in the Nepali design typical of the region, and is the perfect base from which to explore.
Given the quality of the location, Red Pandas are even possible on the grounds of the homestay! So, once we are settled in, we can immediately begin our search. The grounds also have a bird-feeding station, which will only add to the excitement of initial discovery.
Days 3 to 8: Singalila National Park and Tinchuley Forest
Over the next 6 days, we will be exploring these lush eastern Himalayan forests on both sides of the border. On the Nepali side, there is the Tinchuley Forest; while on the Indian side, we have Singalila National Park. Set amidst the Singalila Ridge, at an elevation around 2,800 meters above sea level, these forests are cloaked in fir, hardwood and Rhododendron. With a thick bamboo understory and hundreds of orchid species, the trees are adorned in mosses, lichens and bryophytes. The world’s highest mountains, including Everest, tower above us and can be seen if conditions allow. Slowly walking different trails each day, armed with the latest knowledge from local researchers and assisted by skilled trackers, we will set about to find the distinctive Red Panda.
Instantly recognizable, it is one of the most striking and unusual mammals in the world. Although previously considered to be either a Raccoon or a Bear, we now know that it is not particularly close to either of those, and is indeed in its own family, the Ailuridae. Furthermore, it is quite unusual for a ‘carnivore’, in that its diet is primarily bamboo! An Endangered species, this area holds one of the highest densities within its limited range, which spans from the eastern Himalayas to southern China. Conservation-minded folks on both sides of the India/Nepal border have teamed up here to help conserve the species with research projects and tourism initiatives.
It is widely accepted that nothing in nature can be guaranteed; however, we have allowed ourselves enough time in the area that several quality sightings of Red Panda are highly likely. We have also timed our tour so that, if we are fortunate, we even have an excellent chance of seeing them with cubs! Of course, in such bountiful forests many more exciting mammals occur; however, apart from the Red Panda, all others are typically shy and very difficult to find in the dense vegetation. Possibilities could still include Assam Macaque, Indian Muntjac, Himalayan Serow and Yellow-throated Marten. With some spotlighting at night, there is a chance for Leopard Cat and Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrel. It is also worth noting that, although sightings of any of the following mouth-watering species will be very unlikely, there is still an opportunity for Indochinese Clouded Leopard, Asian Golden Cat, Marbled Cat, Himalayan Black Bear and even Chinese Pangolin.
The birding in this area is sensational. Nearly 300 species have been recorded, and at the top of the list are some exceptional pheasants. The stunning Satyr Tragopan is arguably the most alluring of the lot, and we stand a great chance of seeing this amazing species. Other exciting gallinaceous birds in these forests are Blood Pheasant, Hill Partridge and Kalij Pheasant. Overhead, we can watch the skies for Himalayan Swiftlets and White-throated Needletails zooming around, or perhaps a flock of Ashy Wood Pigeons passing over or perching to enjoy the early morning sun. The massive shape of a Himalayan Griffon is likely to come soaring overhead at some point, and we will watch for Golden Eagles and Mountain Hawk-Eagles as well.
Of the songbirds, the stunning Fire-tailed Myzornis is perhaps the most exciting. The skulking Gould’s Shortwing is another possibility, and the mind-blowingly colorful Golden-breasted Fulvetta will be looked for in some of the mixed flocks. We should also see some boisterous flocks of Yellow-billed Blue Magpie and Spotted Nutcracker. A fine array of thrushes move around on the forest floor and visit fruiting trees. Amongst more than 10 species recorded here are Black-throated and Red-throated Thrushes and White-collared and Grey-winged Blackbirds. Flycatcher and chat diversity are similarly outstanding, and we will be on the lookout for such stunners as Large and Small Niltavas, Orange-flanked and White-browed Bush Robins, Himalayan Bluetail, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher and White-throated and Blue-fronted Redstarts. Along cool rushing streams, we can watch for Brown Dipper, Little, Slaty-backed and Spotted Forktails, and Plumbeous Water and White-capped Redstarts. As is typical of these eastern Himalayan forests, there is an outrageous diversity of laughingthrushes, with an exceptional nine species occurring! They are always a highlight, and we will have opportunities to find Spotted, Grey-sided, Chestnut-crowned, Striated, Scaly and Black-faced. Parrotbills are bamboo specialists that are also very well represented here, with the scarce Fulvous, Great and Brown all possible, along with the commoner Grey-headed! We will carefully bird the various mixed flocks moving through the mossy forest for species like White-browed Fulvetta, Stripe-throated and Rufous-vented Yuhinas, Hoary-throated Barwing, Green Shrike-Babbler, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Rufous-vented and Grey-crested Tits, Green-tailed and Fire-tailed Sunbirds and an array of Phylloscopus warblers, all here on their breeding grounds. There are also several accentors available in the region, including Altai, Alpine, and Rufous-breasted, as well as a fine array of colorful montane finches, such as White-browed, Beautiful and Dark-breasted Rosefinches, with Plain Mountain Finch, Red-headed Bullfinch, Red Crossbill, and the beautiful Gold-naped Finch.
A nocturnal foray could yield sightings of some of the owls in the region, which include the impressive and scarce Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl, Tawny Fish Owl and Brown Wood Owl. Grey Nightjar is another nocturnal species that we could find.
Apart from our birding in the forest, there is also a photographic station on site at our homestay. Here, we have a special chance to get some amazing views and images of some of the shier forest birds at close range. Species that sometimes visit the feeder setup include Kalij Pheasant, Great Barbet, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Blue Whistling Thrush, Black Bulbul, Spotted and Scaly Laughingthrushes, Rusty-cheeked and Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers, White-browed and Golden-breasted Fulvettas and Common Rosefinch, amongst others!
Day 9: Kaiyakata to Delhi via Bagdogra
This morning, we will drive back to Bagdogra, where we will catch our flight back to Delhi. The tour will conclude here.