Eastern Himalaya
Trip Report

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Trip Report symbol © Sumit Sen                       North Bengal and Sikkim
                       by Rajneesh Suvarna
                       22 April -27 April 2008


© Rajneesh Suvarna
Blue-fronted Redstart

When we had some free time in the end of April, Satyendra and I decided to make a quick trip to Sikkim. Though it was not the high season it was a good time to see the birds nesting.

The first stop was Darjeeling where I had long wanted to make a trip to Tiger hill. An early morning start to catch the 5:20 sunrise was ok but the sea of vehicles that greeted me there was unexpected. The top of Tiger hill was choc-o-block with people. I gave up hope of seeing any birds. With the dark clouds gathered, there didn't seem much hope for the sunrise but still the hopeful stayed on until it was well past sunrise time. I hung around until the last of the tourists were off. The serenity then was amazing. The only evidence of the massive crowd there a few moments ago were the empty tea cups blowing around in the wind. I started walking down and immediately heard the calls of the Black Faced Laughingthrush, of which there were numerous flocks. The area behind the temple too turned out to be productive with laughingthrushes, flycatchers, sunbirds and pipits.

The overcast conditions, low light and intermittent rain meant that I could not sight too many birds but the calls were all around.

As it started raining, I headed back to Darjeeling which looked to be sunny, but not for long as it started raining when I reached there. This meant a change of plans. Instead of going to the Mall road I made a trip to the Zoo where I had some interesting sightings.

Taking a call due to the rain, I cut short my Darjeeling itinerary and started off with the Sikkim leg one day in advance, but here too my rotten luck held true and the sun popped out just as I was getting out of Darjeeling.

The road to Sikkim was very scenic but the road conditions back breaking. This improved dramatically once I crossed the W. Bengal border into Sikkim.

I arrived to more rain at Pelling, and got a room facing the Kanchenjunga but the clouds were still obliterating the majestic mountain.

On day 3 I decided to walk up to Sangachuli monastery, the 2nd oldest in Sikkim. There was no change in the weather so enjoying the view was the only option. This walk provided good sightings of nesting Chestnut Bellied Rock Thrush, Oriental Cuckoo, Grey Treepie and Minlas.

The monastery itself was very serene and well worth the climb. To top it there were sightings of Besra, Raven, Short Billed Minivet among others. The monastery does have a basic 'guest house' for somebody who is interested in having a close look at the life in a monastery. There is a trek that further goes on to the Queen's stone but I turned back halfway as there didn't seem to be much bird life to track.

The rains continued but even then I headed to Rabdentse, the old capital, to see the ruins. This place is supposed to be good for fowl and flycatchers but all that I could see were Minlas and Whistling thrushes. This somehow forced me to use my wide angle to shoot the ruins; architecture was my favorite subject until birds kind of took over.

On day 4 we drove to the holy Khechoperi Lake, and settled down at the Trekker's Hut. We had a hearty brunch of oily noodles and momos with a travel guide from South Korea who was on a recce trip before we set out to the lake. The lake itself was quite beautiful and quite touristy. I actually met up with a group of doctors from my home town who were batch mates in the early 60's. We went around the lake and up the hill behind it, highlights being the White-tailed Robin.

In the afternoon we trekked up to the monastery, which was cloaked in clouds. Not much of birding there but it was a good workout with the walk down being quite treacherous.

On day 5 we birded around the lodge during the early morning, and set off for Yuksom after a heavy breakfast. On the way, we passed the Kanchenjunga falls where we had a good sighting of the Little Forktail. We reached Yuksom late in the afternoon with only enough time to visit the local monastery.

On day 6 we trekked up the hill towards the monastery. The most productive areas were before the climb began and right on the top. Highlights included the Striated Bulbul and the Ferruginous Flycatcher.

© Rajneesh Suvarna
Ferruginous Flycatcher

When we climbed down the sun burst out from the clouds for the first time during our stay in Sikkim raising visions of a good birding session in the afternoon. But that was not to be because after we had our lunch and were 15 minutes into our walk that the rain really started coming down, again proving how fickle the weather in the hills can be.

In terms of photography, there weren't many opportunities to use the camera and the birding list might not seem too long. But we had an opportunity to see most of the birds that we see in winter nesting. Also, Sikkim is still a beautiful place unspoilt by mass commercialisation.

Sumit Sen helped with the planning of the trip. Not just through the vast repository of information at Birds of India, but also by responding to all queries that I pestered him with. Dipankar Ghose, though he was not in Sikkim at that time, was kind enough to share his knowledge of the local conditions. Finally, Kenzong Bhutia of the KCC (Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee) helped us greatly with local arrangements. KCC is a grassroots NGO working for the conservation of the biodiversity and natural resources of Khangchendzonga National Park and adjoining areas. For more info you can visit www.kccsikkim.org. Many thanks to Sumit, Dipankar and Kenzong.

Bird list for Darjeeling and Sikkim, excluding common species

1. Great Barbet (Megalaima virens)

2. Fork-tailed Swift (Apus pacificus)

3. Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella)

4. Bronzed Drongo (Dicrurus aeneus)

5. Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush (Monticola rufiventris)

6. Blue Whistling Thrush (Myiophonus caeruleus)

7. Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher (Ficedula strophiata)

8. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

9. Himalayan Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys)

10. Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)

11. Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus)

12. Spotted Laughingthrush (Garrulax ocellatus)

13. Black-faced Laughingthrush (Garrulax affinis)

14. Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush (Garrulax erythrocephalus)

15. Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea)

16. Golden-breasted Fulvetta (Alcippe chrysotis)

17. White-browed Fulvetta (Alcippe vinipectus)

18. Whiskered Yuhina (Yuhina flavicollis)

19. Mrs. Gould's Sunbird (Aethopyga gouldiae)

20. Green-tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis)

21. Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni)

22. White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus sylvatica)

© Rajneesh Suvarna

23. Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus)

24. Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis)

25. Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus)

26. Besra (Accipiter virgatus)

27. Common Raven (Corvus corax)

28. Short-billed Minivet (Pericrocotus brevirostris)

29. Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassina)

30. Wire-tailed Swallow (Hirundo smithii)

31. Grey-hooded Warbler (Seicercus xanthoschistos)

32. Blue-winged Minla (Minla cyanouroptera)

33. Chestnut-tailed Minla (Minla strigula)

34. Rufous Sibia (Heterophasia capistrata)

35. Whiskered Yuhina (Yuhina flavicollis)

36. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)

37. Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus saturatus)

38. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus)

39. Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)

40. Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)

41. Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)

42. Common Green Magpie (Cissa chinensis)

43. Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)

44. Grey-winged Blackbird (Turdus boulboul)

45. Small Niltava (Niltava macgrigoriae)

46. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)

47. White-tailed Robin (Myiomela leucura)

48. Blue-fronted Robin (Cinclidium frontale)

49. Red-headed Tit (Aegithalos concinnus)

50. Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus)

51. Grey-bellied Tesia (Tesia cyaniventer)

52. White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)

53. Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush (Garrulax pectoralis)

54. Striated Laughingthrush (Garrulax striatus)

55. Blue-fronted Redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis)

56. Grey Bushchat (Saxicola ferreus)

57. Nepal Fulvetta (Alcippe nipalensis)

58. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum ignipectus)

59. Black-throated Sunbird (Aethopyga saturata)

60. Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

61. Rufous-bellied Niltava (Niltava sundara)

62. Grey Treepie (Dendrocitta formosae)

63. Greater Yellownape (Picus flavinucha)

64. Ferruginous Flycatcher (Muscicapa ferruginea)

65. Striated Bulbul (Pycnonotus striatus)

66. Great Tit (Parus major)

67. Rusty-flanked Treecreeper (Certhia nipalensis)

68. Grey-bellied Cuckoo (Cacomantis passerinus)

69. Scarlet Minivet (Pericrocotus flammeus)

70. Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus hottentottus)

71. Blue-capped Rock Thrush (Monticola cinclorhynchus)

72. Tickell's Thrush (Turdus unicolor)

73. Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

74. Plumbeous Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosus)

75. Little Forktail (Enicurus scouleri)

76. Spotted-winged Grosbeak (Mycerobas melanozanthos)

77. Asian Barred Owlet (Glaucidium cuculoides)

© Rajneesh Suvarna 2008

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