Himalayan Birding - Feb'18

Part - 2

Day 4 (18-Feb-2018)

Today’s plan was to get into the jungle for some specific species of birds. We intended to start early as usual. Quick tea in the morning and we were out to a different location. Little further from our resort, our guide spotted an Asian Barred Owlet. Barely spent 10-15 there as we could not be late at the intended spot.

This was little far off and we reached there after about an hour’s drive. Our target in that cold weather was “European Goldfinch” but it seems we were little delayed in reaching there and hence they could not be seen at the expected spot. We did see them a little later but at some distance and had to remain content with record shots.

But around that place, we could capture some other verities like “Yellow Breasted Green finch”, “Green tailed Sunbird”, “Grey bushchat”, and few others. The mountains did offer us a lovely vista as a bonus. The whole surrounding was looking magical in the morning sun.

  European Goldfinch  

  Green Tailed Sunbird  

We then moved towards another hill area but on the way, we had breakfast at a roadside place. Samosas, Chole-Puri and multiple rounds of tea made it a lovely breakfast in that weather. Just outside on the road, we could also see a few Barn Swallows seating on the electricity wires, I quickly took a few snaps before Abhay started hurrying us into the vehicle.

From there we moved on to another location in the hills. We did a small trek by descending about 2 to 3 hundred feet on a plain but failed to get any significant catch. Getting down on that plane was a task but then coming up was an altogether different challenge. In that low-oxygen zone, even the 300 odd feet was a big trek. Carrying heavy lens along with tripod made it even more difficult. That was just that one occasion throughout our trip when we were sweating (and huffing and panting). At least for a few minutes, the jackets were off.

Till afternoon we could get some more Thrushes and Tits. We then decided to head back to resort for lunch. In-between, we kept seeing few more varities of birds, some we could take good photos of and some we could just observe or listen. Either way, it is anyway enjoyable. One of the species was “Bar Tailed Tree Creeper”, this bird actually keeps moving on the tree bark (as if it is walking on it). And it’s coloration allows it to gel seamlessly on the bark.


  Road-side Action  

On the way, there was discussion (between Abhay and Mikma on the possible spots) about the after-lunch trail. By now, Abhay had got some information from his sources about sightings at one other hide location (studio setup). This was also at a place close to our resort (but in different direction from yesterday). That place had some local disputes because of which it was closed some time ago but it seemed they just opened again. We decided to take that chance after lunch.

Just as we were about to have lunch, we saw a nice Wagtail inside the compound, there was no time to be lost, the cameras came out immediately and we followed it’s movements for the next 10 minutes.


Around 3 o’clock we ventured out of the resort, and did get an entry into the new hide. This was more congested than the one we used earlier. There weren’t any charging facilities either. We anyway had a couple of hours more before the day-end, so thought of taking our chance.

The setup didn’t look very promising but Abhay had some inside-info that he was banking on. First few minutes, we could see the usual suspects “Leiothrix” and “White Throated Laughingthrush”. But our luck was about to turn gold that day.

Within a few minutes, we could see a group of the lovely “White Crested Laughingthrush”. That was definitely a scene worth waiting. They came and just won our hearts immediately. But wait, that was not all! Within next 10-15 minutes there entered the “Rufous Throated Partridge”. Another set of colors, another rarity and huge round of clicks followed.

We could observe both the varities to our heart’s content. Besides the two we could also snap the “Chestnut-headed Laughingthrush” before day-break. All-in-all, the decision to come here was just too good. Immediately we decided to come here for another session tomorrow morning. Our plan actually was to check-out early tomorrow and shift base to Pangot. But this location was just too juicy to miss another go.

  White-crested Laughingthrush  

  Chestnut-headed Laughingthrush  

  Rufous-throated Partridge  

Day 5 (19-Feb-2018)

We had packed our bags in the night and were now ready for the morning setup. With yesterday evenings session going well, we thought of spending an hour again and then be back in Hotel for breakfast and leave for Pangot.

Although we had seen most of the target species here. The Green Magpie was still not seen and we hoped to see it here.

We were once again greeted by the White Crowned Laughingthrush and once again we had the fortune of seeing another flock of “Kalij Pheasants”. Quickly following were the Partridges. So the decision of having an additional session here was definitely working for us

Within next couple of hours, we could see the usual Leiothrix, Woodpeckers and also the Slaty-Headed Parakeets. Very soon even a Black-headed Jay made an entry there. Today we could also get some nice images of the Himalayan Bulbul. Evem the Blue-Whistling Thrush gave us some nice poses there. Around 10am, we could get some photos of “Rufous Chinned Laughingthrush”, which we realized was another rare variety.

  Slaty-headed Parakeet  

  Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush  

  Himalayan Bulbul  

All of us knew we had to make a move and start for Pangot, but everyone kept quiet (as we all wanted to continue in this paradise). Finally by about 10:30 (we were there from 7 am), Abhay signaled us for moving back. With heavy heart we started packing things (and we probably were heavy as the makeshift table that was created for seating inside the hide-out gave way to our weight, luckily there wasn’t any injury to anyone).

We quickly had our things moved into the vehicle and went for breakfast. Quick bite and we were on our way to Pangot via Nainital. We said goodbye to our guide Mikma as we were to have another local guide in Pangot.

We passed Nainital town without stopping there but from one of the hills on the way, we had a nice view of the Naini lake (from which the name Nainital is derived). Even the Himalayan Mountain View was surreal.

  Panoramic view of the Valley  

  Naini Lake  

By around 2 pm we reached Kafal House in Pangot, our stay was arranged there. Since it was already late, we immediately had our lunch. That place had a heritage kind of look with old British style chair/dinning-tables.

One area I have consistently missed during this tour is to take pictures of the places where we stayed or had our meals that would have given a better feel while reading this blog. Hope to rectify this mistake in next outings

Our local guide (Mr. Puran Joshi) was already waiting for us to finish our lunch. Our evening session was at another hide (studio) located in the valley just below our hotel. We had to walk down some 200 odd steps to reach there. This hide was much smaller in size (could barely fit 4 of us there), and we could not stand upright (as the ceiling was very low). We somehow made ourselves comfortable there and eagerly waited for some new sightings.

For first half hour it was Black-Headed Jays that occupied the field in front of us. One mother/juvenile pair of barking deer made a quick visit but didn’t stay long. The bird activity was very sporadic and we were fast losing interest. That’s when our able guide located a few monkeys on the adjoining trees that was the deterrent for the birds. He then rushed and managed to move the monkeys away thereby clearing way for the birds to come in.

Slowly and steadily we started seeing "Streaked LaughingThrush", The Chestnut-crowned LaughingThrush. We soon had the entry of Kalij Pheasants again.

At around 4:30, another barking deer family was seen on the horizon. Their approach was very cautious and we all kept complete silence, we even stopped making any movements during that time. Within 10 minutes, they came ahead to drink the water.

And as the evening was approaching, we got an additional bonus. In quick succession, our field had visits from “Pink Browed Rosefinch”, “Hume’s Leaf Warbler” and one more bird that we could not identify. The fascinating part was at every hide/studio, we could see some different varieties (“Lifers” as they are called in birding parlance).

  Barking deer  

  Barking deer  

  Pink-browed Rosefinch  

  Hume’s Leaf Warbler  

As the sun was setting down, the visibility was dropping quickly, we ascended our steps back towards our hotel. But the valley and the setting Sun made us stop there. We decided to have our evening tea/biscuits in the lawn itself overlooking the nice hills. There was just no way, we could have missed taking the Sunset pictures. And each location has it’s own characteristic Sunset. Pangot was no exception.

The light dropped quickly and pretty soon we were once again discussing about the nuances of photography. The usual chore of taking HDD backups and so on. This place was even colder than Sattal. The temperature after dinner (at about 10pm) was 3 degrees. But good part was, the rooms had a heater and made it very comfortable really.

Day 6 (20-Feb-2018)

This was practically going to be the last day of our trip (as tomorrow we would only be spending time on the airport and then in the flight back home). The tea was served right at 6am on the doorsteps but some of us were little delayed. We had planned to start by 6:15, ended up moving out by 6:45 instead. The bags were packed as such for check-out as we were to come back from the trail and immediately start our return journey. We had packed our breakfast for the trail too.

On the way, Puran (our local guide) and Abhay made us aware that today’s target were the elusive “Koklass Pheasant” and if we were super-lucky then the “Cheer Pheasant”.

We started from Pangot and continued on way to a place called Vinayak. This place has the best chance to see these rarities. The entire patch was hilly and very soon, there were very few vehicles on the road (and all those were probably like us). Our guide had asked us to keep all windows open (in that cold weather) as he did not want to miss out on any bird-calls. On the way, we found a team of European birders who had got down on the road and pointed there spotting-scopes towards the deep ravine below. Their local guide asked us if we saw the Koklass as he had heard the call coming from our direction. Our guides actually thought this was a bluff as he did not want us to go further on the road and disturb their chances of seeing one ahead. (But he wasn’t and in reality the vehicle that was behind us, did see the Koklass crossing the road, and it waited there for 7 full minutes!! That's luck!!).

On one of the road turns, we saw a different bird perched on the valley side, being in front-seat (with Puran) it was difficult for me to take a photo but did that with help of Abhay. The “Upland Pippit” remained there for a minute or so but by the time we managed to get out of the vehicle, it flew away quickly.

We went further ahead but there weren’t any calls audible. At one point, Puran got down and said he will scout the further area on foot while we wait inside. We did get down there though, not for stretching legs but Abhay had observed some bird activity at a nearby water hole.

It was really a nice scene as all of sat-down on the road right on the edge of the ravine with our camera pointing towards the tiny water hole. One foot on the wrong-side and we could have had a fatal fall there but the excitement was amazing. We settled in that place and had just taken a few shots of “Coal Tit” and “Black-faced Babbler”, immediately there was a hushed cry from Puran who was literally running in our direction. He had sighted a Koklass Pheasant little further down. Immediately all of us started running on the road (luckily there were no other vehicles on that narrow road), as less noisily as possible we made it to the place but alas, the pheasant had disappeared in the valley below. We waited patiently for 10 more minutes but there weren’t any signs of it again!

But that wait was not entirely futile, we sighted another new variety, “Mistle Thrush” there. We saw a pair little further down as well.

  Upland Pipit  

  Mistle Thrush  

  Coal tit  

  Black-faced tit  

We moved still further and after about a km or two, Puran heard one call. We once again stopped the vehicle, and listened intently. There were more calls, and our hopes suddenly increased. All of tip-toed on one side of the vehicle (opposite to the hill side as the calls were coming from up there). Puran went little ahead, Bali-bhaiya backed a few steps and went in another direction. The setup was ready and we were waiting eagerly for the show!!

Minutes went by but there was no sign of the Koklass making its prized entry. After some time, Puran asked us to come ahead one-by-one. The excitement was so much, we actually thought we were moving ahead noiselessly (which was not possible with the tripods and heavy cameras in that cold weather). He then showed us the Koklass pheasant hiding behind a bush, it was definitely there (and as a proof we have a record shot) but was not moving out at all. It has obviously seen us. Abhay even attempted a stunt by going up from the far end (assuming the pheasant will come down towards us). High Hopes!!! It quickly moved further up and wasn’t seen at all anywhere.

  Koklass Pheasant  

  Our Guide in Action  

There was no point waiting any further. All of a sudden, we realized the amazing Himalayan Mountains on the other side of the road. In our excitement, this was completely missed.

We then decided to return back as there was no further hope of sighting (as the day progresses, the sighting becomes impossible). On way back, we waited at a small open area and decided to have our breakfast there. While we were waiting, the European team and their guide passed by, their guide also told us about their sighting of Cheer Pheasants down below.

After breakfast, we moved to the location from where they had seen Cheer. That valley was so deep, there was no way to sight any bird in that dry grass. But Puran did find them for us and we could get another record shot there.

  Himalayan Mountains  

  Cheer Pheasants  

Journey back to hotel had its moments as well. We did sight some more birds on the way like the plain-backed thrush. Every now and then we waited for photos but time was now running out. We had to check-out from hotel and then head for the Kathgodam station. Our train was in the evening but sometimes there are jams on the road, it was therefore safer to start early.

Back to hotel and the packed bags were moved to the vehicle quickly. Abhay had instructed not to pack camera yet and that was a very wise move. This time while passing Nainital, we did not wait for photos but further down we had to make a stop. There were spangled drongos on show along with Slaty headed parakeets, black bulbuls and so on.

Little further down, Sanjay shouted a loud "wait...." pointing to a tree. There were times in this trip, when Sanjay had asked us to wait but we ended up seeing something common. So Abhay naturally ignored it saying its large-billed crow but Sanjay was incessant this time, and he was right. There was Steppe Eagle seating on a tree at eye-level, not more than 20 feet from the road. We had to get down once again. Very soon we realized there were not 1 but 3 eagles in the vicinity and all were perched very close to us.

  Hair-crested Drongo  

  Steppe Eagle  

Our cameras were still not packed. It seems our lunch stop was at a small Dhaba where we were to see the White crested Laughingthrush and possibly Green Magpie. By the time we reached there it was about 3pm and they did not have any meals left. The only option was to have tea and Maggi. But before we filled our stomachs, the White crested show-stoppers made their appearance. Even the group of Leiothrix were very lively there. It was a simple road-side Dhaba over another dep valley but the bird sighting (right near the noisy traffic) was amazing.

  Red-billed Leiothrix  

  Red-billed Leiothrix  

Here we finally got orders to pack our bags including cameras there. Which meant this beautiful trip was over.. what now remained was the tiring journey back home.

It was so boring for us that there is no point going into it at length…. To Kathgodam by 6pm à train journey from 8:40pm to 4am next Day à Taxi to Delhi Airport à Long wait at Airport à Reached Mumbai on time by 11:40 and back home by 1:30pm…

That was the end of a memorable birding trip. Long but absolutely beautiful outing!

There were a few misses this time but hope to make another trip there and correct the mistakes then.. till then.. Bye!