OVERVIEW: NORTH-INDIA BIRDING TOUR FEBRUARY 2018
An exciting tour set for us around some natural and religious places in Kumaon valley Uttarakhand, a new destination for the participants. Uttarakhand is very rich in culture, history and indeed flora and fauna. We visited some great destination during the trip, the famous national park Corbett, important birding hotspots in Uttarakhand such as Pangot and Sattal, and a very famous temple Jageshwar.
The tour connected with so many beautiful and rare birds such as Ibisbill, Wallcreeper, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Brown Dipper, Cheer, Koklass, and Kalij Pheasants, Hill and Rufous-throated Partridge, Scaly-breasted and Pygmy Wren-babbler, Chestnut-headed Tesia, White-tailed and Siberian Rubythroat and a very rare bird indeed, the Grey-crowned Prinia. We focused on quality birding instead of quantity and added only those birds on the lists which Roger Smith had the great view. A total of 210 birds recorded ( 202 seen by Roger). We also managed to locate some mammals such as Asian Elephants, Sambar, Hog and Spotted Deer, Red Muntjac, Himalayan Brown Ghoral, and Yellow-throated Marten, few interesting reptiles like Marsh Mugger and Gharial and Golden Mashree Fish were also seen. All species lists are at the end of this report.
We had a short afternoon birding after meeting and lunch at Tiger Camp. We walked from the temple gate to Koshi river through a road with bushes on either side, good for many small birds. Here we saw Slaty Blue Flycatcher, Small Niltava, Yellow-bellied Fantail, and Taiga Flycatcher. We then went down to Koshi river bank and picked up Ibisbill quickly and enjoyed many brilliant birds such as River Lapwing, Crested, Pied, and White-throated Kingfisher, White-capped and Plumbeous Redstart, Hume’s and Greenish Warbler and finally Wallcreeper which was very close and posing for the photo. Lineated Barbet and Lesser Goldenback were seen on a fig tree along with a Brown Rock Chat on a roof of a house while we were returning from the river. It was a great afternoon birding at Koshi river.
After early breakfast, we headed to dhikala by a safari jeep. Weather was misty so birds movements were very less. Although we managed to pick up Grey-headed and Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Ashy Bulbul and Blue-winged Siva. On the way, we heard a terrible alarm call by Sambar and waited a long time for the suspect but didn’t get any glimpse and continued driving. We enjoyed Blue-throated and Lineated Barbet feeding on berries and Black-hooded Oriole, Red-breasted Parakeet on the way to Adhikari. After checked In into dhikala we hanged around the hotel campus and scanned down to Ramganga River and got Black Stork and River Tern. Afternoon safari started after Lunch and last till the sunset but no Tiger. We saw a big herd of Asian Elephant, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Hog deer along with Collared Falconet, Black-winged Kite, Red Jungle Fowl, Pallas’s and Lesser Fish Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Long-billed and Tawny Pipit.
We drove to Cumbria after breakfast to find out some birds for Roger but the weather was much windy this morning. We encountered with a feeding flock of Common Woodshrike moving fast on the tree to tree. On the way down to Koshi river, we picked up Black-throated Sunbird, Long-tailed Minivet, and Greater Goldenback better view than last time. Koshi river was very quiet due to strong wind so we had to try hard and wait a long time for Brown Dipper and finally got him. We heard Tawny Fish Owl inside from the hill covered by trees and tried some playback which he responded but didn’t come out in open. We managed to get a better view of White-crested Laughingthrush along with a group of Oriental White-eye. We then moved back to tiger camp and headed to pan got after lunch. On the way, we stopped at Corbet Waterfalls and had a short walk around then continued the drive and reached Pangot by late afternoon.
Pangot is one of the best birding hotspots for Himalayan birds so we started earlier with our packed breakfast. Driving slowly on the road and scanning both sides on ground is the best method to catch pheasants and partridges. After a while, we encountered with a Rufous-throated Partridge walking on the road slowly. It was unusual sighting of this bird at this area for me although we had really good view and Roger tried to shoot with his gun but ran away and we again tried by jumped off from the car but it flew off. We then continued driving and picked up some brilliant birds such as Himalayan Bluetail, Plain-backed Thrush, Grey-winged Blackbird, Blue Whistling Thrush and of course Himalayan Brown Ghoral and Red Muntjac . We stopped at Cheer Point for short time and scanned around the Rocky mountain with Grass in the valley for Cheer with no result . We picked up Blue-capped Redstart, a big flock of Altai Accentor, Black-throated Tit and Common Kestrel. We kept our driving further to catch other pheasants and got a family of Kalij Pheasant feeding on foliage down from the road. We moved further and stopped at a place for breakfast and enjoyed with Fire-tailed Sunbird, Coal, Yellow-browed and Green-backed Tit. We again tried for pheasants around that area and decided to return to the Cheer point. On the way back to cheer point we encountered surprisingly with a family of Koklass Pheasant on the road. They were feeding on ground by the roadside and a male walked slowly and came on the road, observed our car and climbed up on hills but others ran way down in the valley. We again did an unsuccessful approach for the photograph. Then we directly came to cheer point and scan around those valleys for the long time. We had good view of Himalayan Vulture getting thermal soaring up in the valley. We did scan almost every corner of the valley and finally got a family of Cheer Pheasant very far from us and observed through a spotting scope. It was an incredible morning birding. We then picked up some beautiful birds such as Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Himalayan Woodpecker, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker at Woodpecker Point on the way back to Jungle Lore Birding Lodge. At afternoon we drove down to Ghughukhan valley and walked along the roadsides and got some colorful birds such as Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Black-lored Tit, Rock Bunting, Blue-fronted Redstart and Rufous-breasted Accentor. A perfect birding day came to end with a flock of Speckled Wood Pigeon.
Another morning birding with no rush started after a warm breakfast at the lodge. We did the same route up to the same point where we had breakfast yesterday. We heard something scratching on the ground and moving slowly on foliage. We also walked slowly kept our eyes on the ground, suddenly a male Hill Partridge ran away in front of us and hid inside another bush. I told Roger to stay still at a place and made the bird to came out near to him, after a while, it flew off just in front of him. We then moved down to a village and waited for while in front of a bush. Here we had a really good view western Himalayan restrict range species Black-throated Accentor.
Along with many Rock Buntings and Russet Sparrow. We stopped at Cheer Point and look around for the Raptors and got a Steppe Eagle mobbed by a Himalayan Buzzard and had a nice view of an Upland Pipit on a big rock. We went down to Bagar for the afternoon birding and picked up a very colorful male Crimson Sunbird, a nice male of White-tailed Rubythroat, Common Rosefinch, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch.
Speckled Piculet and an elusive species Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler. We then drove further to try to get other and got a male Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker and finally the target one of the very rare bird Grey-crowned Prinia.
We had very quite birding around Killbury this morning. Most of the species repeated such as White-throated Laughingthrush, Black-headed and Eurasian Jay, warblers and tits, some woodpeckers, at last, we had a great view Lesser Yellownape. After lunch we had around 4.5 hrs drive to JJageshwhar. On the way, we picked up hundreds of juvenile Steppe Eagle near dumping site at Bhawali and Almora. At a time my eyes stuck on raptors which have narrow wings and longer tail than those Steppe Eagles, suddenly I asked the driver to stop the car. That was definitely an adult Bonelli’s Eagle, what I had doubted for. Arrived very peaceful hotel Van Serai at late afternoon.
PC- Padmanab Kundu
It was a very worst birding day of the trip. We started birding on the way to Vridhda Jageshwar after a warm breakfast at hotels but the weather didn’t favour us. But we continued our birding before the rain had started and picked up some tits, warblers, Himalayan Bluetail and a Green Shrike-babbler ( which was in a very rush). When the rain started heavily we drove up to Vridhda Jageshwar temple for the short look. The temple had been running construction and repairing work. We then returned to Van Serai and made us warm inside our blanket. Later the rain was stopped for a while and Roger an Anne had a nice walk to the Jageshwar temple and he saw a Spotted Forktail along the side of the creek.
We walked on the road following by a creek looking for the forktail and other birds and got a Slaty-backed Forktail as expected. We then entered in Eco park area on the trekking trail along with another small creek. Most of the birds were repeated species such as Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler, Grey-hooded, Lemon-rumped and Buff-barred Warbler, all Tits and Treecreeper. At the last place, we had a wonderful view of Ashy-throated Warbler and Grey Treepie, We then returned to the lodge and headed to Bhimtal after lunch. After did a quick check-in to hotel Mapple Hermitage we birded around Chanfi and Picked up two pairs of Spotted Forktail along with Yellow-bellied Fantail and Whistler’s Warbler in the vegetation near the creek. A female White-tailed Rubythroat was seen and found a Brown Fish Owl roosting on a pine tree. Not being late we picked up Asian Barred Owlet roosting on another pine tree nearby. it was a perfect ending of the day.
After the pre-sunrise breakfast, we had a very wonderful time at a little birding hotspots before sattal. We first encountered with a male White-tailed Rubythroat in a bush just near the roadside. We then moved further and surrounded by Red-billed Leiothrix either side of the bushes. Not being late; a pair of Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush show off surprisingly close on the top of the bush. We had really brilliant birds such as Grey-backed Shrike, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Slaty Blue Flycatcher, and finally a gorgeous male Siberian Rubythroat here. After catching them we entered in Sattal park area and walked along the forest. Here we had encountered with many feeding parties of warblers and tits. We found a big feeding group of Blue-winged Siva, Some Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch. We followed a small trail from Lantana bushes and picked up Whistler’s Warbler, Himalayan Bluetail and Blue-capped Redstart. Suddenly I noticed a call and moved faster toward the sound and got gorgeous Common Green Magpie; what a beauty!. We enjoyed with Tickell’s Thrush, Grey-winged Blackbird and Woodpeckers and moved further to Studio (a place where all photographers come and stay with their big guns). We spotted Green Sandpiper and Red-wattled Lapwing on the bank of the lake and I was dragged by an interesting call by a skulker and waited for him to come out. Finally, a Pygmy Wren-babbler appeared skulking in undergrowth alongside tracks. After a while Chestnut-headed Tesia joined the party, a brilliant sighting of both skulkers, cracking!. We spent our afternoon again around the same place and picked up Black Bulbul and Rufous-georgette Flycatcher as new species. Later on, we had a good view of a Mountain Hawk Eagle before the day off.
Last day of the tour ended after a short morning birding around again in Sattal. We birded shortly and picked up some mostly the same species which we had seen before with their feeding flocks. A Mountain Bulbul saw as a new along with some Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher second time for the trip. Fantastic morning session closed by a brilliant view of Green-tailed Sunbird. We then drove back to the hotel and departed. I directly came to pan got and they headed to Delhi. At last the tour was very successful. All birding days were so excited except one day at jageshwar. More than 200 birds recorded during this trip including three species of Accentors, six species of Laughingthrushes, three species of Pheasants (including globally threatened Cheer), seven species of Bulbuls, two Wren-babblers, twelve species of Woodpeckers and finally Ibisbill, Wallcreeper, Brown Dipper and rare Grey-crowned Prinia.