North Bengal & Sikkim
Trip Report

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Trip Report symbol © Sumit Sen                        North Bengal and Sikkim
                        by Peter Logtmeijer
                        10 April -04 May 2005


© Peter Logtmeijer
Fulvous Parrotbill

1. Introduction

Last week I came back from a 24-days birding trip to West Bengal and Sikkim (10/4 - 4/5). Wouter Puyk and I visited Lava (which included a one-day visit to Neora Valley NP) and a few places in Sikkim.
We arrived at Kolkata at 5.30 a.m. local time on the 10th of April by British Airways (ca.800 Euro, incl. tax.) from London and had a few hours for birding because we had to wait till noon for our flight by Jet Airways to Bagdogra (218 Euro/return). We took a taxi in the direction of the By Pass to Kolkata city, and 6 km. from the airport we saw lots of Bengal Bushlarks, Oriental Skylark (8), Richard's and Paddyfield Pipits, Citrine Wagtail (1 male), Striated Grassbird (2), Oriental Pratincole (6), Asian Palm Swifts and a group of eight White-rumped Vultures.

2. Darjeeling & Tiger Hill (11/4)

© Peter Logtmeijer
View from Tiger Hill

The next morning in Darjeeling we enjoyed the sunrise at Tiger Hill and afterwards when all the tourists had left, we birded over the road and the trail around the mountain. Best birds were: Hill Partridge (1 heard), Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler (a pair), Black-throated Parrotbill (20), Golden-breasted Fulvetta (12), Chestnut-headed Tesia (10 seen/10 more heard), Aberrant Bush Warbler (4), Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler (2), Orange-flanked Bush Robin (2), Golden Bush Robin (1 heard), Broad-billed Warbler (2 seen/6 more heard), Blue-fronted Redstart (2) and White-tailed Robin (2males).

3. Sikkim (12/4 - 15/4)

12/4 we left Darjeeling for a four-day trip to Sikkim. We hired a van with driver for Rs. 2000 per day from Trek-Mate, Nehru Road, Darjeeling. We drove to Pelling and took a room for Rs. 450 in Hotel Green Valley. This hotel has a friendly staff and has also a good restaurant, which is not expensive.
We had nice views from our room in the morning of the Kanchenjunga and a lot of birds in the immediate surroundings of the hotel. From our room we saw :White-collared Blackbird (2), Tickell’s Thrush (a pair),  a White-browed Shortwing was heard every morning, Asian Barred Owlet (1), Grey-headed Woodpecker (2), Red-tailed Minla and Tickell's Leaf Warbler etc. But the best bird was a Sulphur-bellied Warbler. The bird walked like a Nuthatch over a branch a few meters from our window. The orange-yellow supercilium above the eye was seen well. The bird had a different appearance than the Tickell's Leaf Warblers. The under parts were more brownish-yellow, the upper parts brownish-grey (darker and not a hint of green like Tickell's). I suppose that Sulphur-bellied Warbler is an uncommon visitor to Sikkim (?). 
The sites visited in Sikkim were: Pemayangste, Sanga Choeling Gompa and Kecheoperi Lake. Best birds at Pemayangste: Scaly Thrush (1), Chestnut Thrush (2), White-tailed Robin (3 males), Hodgson's Redstart (an imm. male), Cutia (a female heard), White-browed Shrike Babbler (a pair), Red-tailed Minla (3) and Rusty-fronted Barwing (2).
At Sanga Choeling Gompa workers were busy creating an access road to the monastery. So here it was a bit difficult birding due to all the noise. On the last part of the road to the monastery we found a very obliging female Cutia, a pair of Black-winged Cuckooshrikes, a nice Grey-bellied Tesia (with 5 more heard), Little Pied Flycatcher and overhead two pairs of White-throated Needletail. The best birds were found along the trail behind the monastery. First you pass a small stable-complex and follow the trail along the pipeline. Pass two tree trunks, a small and a big one, then the path turns round a corner to the left. From here 500-600 m. further, we heard two pairs of Spotted Wren Babbler singing. Both birds gave excellent views ! Probably this is a new spot for this species ?!
Other birds were seen along this trail: Grey-sided Laughingthrush (12), Rusty-fronted Barwing, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Grey-bellied Tesia, Blue-fronted Redstart, Black-faced Warbler, Black-throated Parrotbill etc.
Early morning we saw 3 males Kalij Pheasant on the road outside Pelling. We also had several parties of White-crested Laughingthrush and along the road. 5 km. before Kecheoperi Lake I heard another Spotted Wren Babbler singing. At Kecheoperi Lake we had 6-7 more Spotted Wren Babblers singing! So definitely we were in the peak singing season for this species.
Other birds: White-throated Needletail (2 pairs flying low over the lake!), Maroon Oriole (2), Tickell's Thrush (a male), Pale-blue Flycatcher (a female), Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (a pair), Dark-sided Flycatcher (1) and Smoky Warbler (1).
On the way to Darjeeling we crossed a bridge (sign 10km Pelling/10 km Dentam) over a waterfall. Here we had a pair of Little Forktails who chased a third bird out of their territory. We also heard another Spotted Wren Babbler at this location.

4. Sandakphu (16/4 - 24/4)

© Peter Logtmeijer

From 16/4 - 24/4 we walked the Sandakphu Trek. A km. after Chitre were the bamboo starts, we found a group of 12 Fulvous Parrotbill, a Broad-billed Warbler (+ 2 more heard) and Rufous-fronted Tits (15). Before Megma we found our only male Crimson-fronted Woodpecker for the trip. At the slopes in front of some tea stalls we saw a Plain-backed Thrush and a pair White-collared Blackbirds and a few Black-faced Laughingthrushes.  We stayed in the Trekker’s Hut at Tonglu. The following morning we had a female Crimson-browed Finch in a bush next to the road (only 100 m. from Tonglu). We also had very good views of a pair Yellow-throated Marten on the road. 3-4 km. before Gairibas, Wouter got a glimpse of a female Satyr Tragopan in the bamboo. The bird disappeared quickly.
© Peter Logtmeijer
Black-faced laughingthrush

In Gairibas we also stayed in the Trekker’s Hut. We got a double room on the second floor for Rs. 300. The food was o.k. and the Nepalese girls who run the hut were always singing. In Gairibas we stayed one day extra. In the morning we birded the old jeep track in the direction of Kalipokhari. We saw Blue-fronted Redstart (3), Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler (3), Broad-billed Warbler (2 heard). After 3-4 km. we passed a huge fallen tree and then after a 200 meters, we took a trail along a stream to the left. Here we flushed a female Satyr Tragopan and further on the trail we saw a White-browed Shortwing, Black-throated- Parrotbill, Hoary Barwing etc. Later I followed the stream in the valley which starts in front of the Trekker’s Hut. Here I found a territorial Large-billed Leaf Warbler. Wouter found the Maroon-backed Accentor near the Trekker’s Hut which was also seen a week ago by Carol (from the UK).

On the jeep track on the other side of the stream we had a flock of 15 Fulvous Parrotbills, a pair of Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers, a Streaked-breasted Scimitar Babbler and Golden-breasted Fulvettas (10). Brown Parrotbill was heard but not seen. On our second morning at Gairibas we walked 3-4 km. back over the road in the direction of Tonglu. At the place were Wouter saw the Tragopan. Ca. 1 km. from Gairibas before the first small bridge I saw a Long-billed Thrush. The bird flew from the roadside into the forest. A little further we had a pair Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler in the bamboo beside the road. Then I heard a bird in the leaf-litter and we flushed our third female Satyr Tragopan. Then suddenly, after a km. I saw a male Satyr Tragopan quickly crossing the road! So this stretch seems very good for this species. We also had a pair of Black-headed Shrike Babblers and Large-billed Warbler (3 seen and 2 more heard) along the road.

Back at Gairibas the Maroon-backed Accentor was still there and gave very good views. After lunch we walked to Kalipokhri. Enroute we saw a few Plain-backed Mountain Finch. 1-1,5 km. before Kalipokhri we found a pair Fire-tailed Myzornis. The birds were feeding on the rhododendron together with a large flock of Yuhinas. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip!© Peter Logtmeijer
Maroon-backed Accentor

The next day we decided not to climb down at Kalipokhri © Peter Logtmeijer, but to walk back to the place were we saw the Fire-tailed Myzornis. It did not take long before we found both birds. In the end we saw the birds at 4 m.distance. Fantastic view! Other birds were: White-throated Needletail(1), Spotted Laughingthrush (a pair), Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush (a pair), Plain Mountain Finch (60), Dark-rumped Rosefinch (2 males and a female). After lunch we walked to Sandakphu. When we arrived at Sandakphu snowing. In the light snow we saw a few White-browed Rosefinches, a female Golden Bush-Robin and a Rufous-breasted Accentor. We stayed two days extra at Sandakphu. We recommend Hotel Sunrise. The rooms looked nicer and the food was good. We paid Rs. 300, for a small room. Behind PWD-lodge is a rubbish-dump were I found a nice male Collared Grosbeak.

Later we saw a few White-browed and Golden Bush-Robins and Spotted Laughingthrush.© Peter Logtmeijer
Spotted Laughingthrush

On the walk to the northern ridge we saw several Golden Bush-Robins (6 males and 2 fem.), Fire-tailed Sunbird (10) and Pink-browed Finch (a male and two fem.). From the ridge we went down through the bamboo into the valley. Here we saw Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler (2), Fulvous Parrotbill (13), Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler (2), Dark-rumped Rosefinch (2 fem.), White-browed Bush-Robin (1 and several heard). Great Parrotbill was heard in the larger bamboo but not seen.

While climbing up from the valley we saw a beautiful male Blood Pheasant walking from one bamboo-patch to another. In the afternoon we birded the southern ridge, were we found Brown Parrotbill (4). The birds gave excellent views. Again, a Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (1), White-browed Bush-Robin on the trail and two singing Plain-backed Thrushes. The next day we found several pairs of White-winged Grosbeaks, 4-5 White-browed Bush-Robins with Golden Bush-Robin easier to see, White-browed Rosefinch (2 males and a fem.) around the village. 23/4 a nice and bright start to the day with good views of the Kanchenjunga. After breakfast we walked to Rimbik. 3 km. after Bhikebhanjang we saw an Upland Buzzard sitting on a dead tree. The bird took flight and the huge size, long wings with hp-flashes were seen. The light eye-colour suggests a second calendar bird. Other birds enroute: Greenish Warbler (4), Large-billed Warbler (8-9 were heard), a pair of White-winged Grosbeak, Spotted LT (2), Common Rosefinch (10) and Yellow-breasted Greenfinch (2). In Rimbik we stayed at Hotel Green Hill, a double Rs.350. The next day we took the shared jeep to Darjeeling for Rs. 80, p/p (3.5 hours drive). In the evening we had a very nice diner at Glennary's one of the best restaurants in Darjeeling.

5. Lava (25/4 - 2/5)

25/4 we left Darjeeling and drove to Lava. Eight km before Lava we saw a Ferruginous Flycatcher beside the road. At the 4-km marker (before Lava) we met Carol from the UK and saw Slaty-blue Flycatcher (1), Black-eared Shrike Babbler (1 male), Red-tailed Minla (4) etc. First we stayed in Yankee Resort in Lava. But after two days, when there was place at P.P. Hotel we changed to this hotel. P.P. Hotel is the best option in Lava, the hotel is run by a nice Tibetan family. The hotel has a restaurant and a small shop and only 8 rooms. So it is better to book in advance (tel.03552-282211). We stayed 7 days in Lava and on 30/4 we visited© Peter Logtmeijer Neora Valley. This was a bit disappointing, because we had hoped to visit this NP for 3-4 days. But we, and also others birders, could get a permit only for one day. A permit is Rs. 100 p/p and Rs. 50 for a vehicle. Bring the number of the vehicle when asking for the permit. Jeep to the park entrance is Rs.700 to drive you to Neora and Rs. 700 for pick up in the afternoon. Filip Verbeelen, a Belgium birder who stayed two weeks in Lava, found a male Ward's Trogon at Neora Valley in April '05. Probably he has more good sightings ?!  We had four singing Blue-fronted Robins in Neora Valley. Two birds gave good views. I also saw a male Satyr Tragopan. We had another male early morning before our jeep on the road. In the bamboo along the trail left of the green hut were the rangers stay, I saw a Hill Partridge. In the bamboo we saw White-spectacled Warbler (2). A singing male Purple Cochoa was also heard two times, at the same location. The bird was not seen. Around 13.00 it started raining and from that moment the birding sadly came to an end.

We found a total of 10 singing males Blue-fronted Robin (incl. the 4 from Neora). Four birds were heard along the road to Neora Valley NP. One bird was seen well on this road, 300 m. after a logging track which goes to the right (don't take this). There lies a small rock from 1 m. height on the right side of the road. Here on both sides is a territory. Especially the birds on the left side of the road was seen a couple of times very well. Here we also heard Rusty-bellied Shortwing and saw a Broad-billed Warbler. But it's very sad to see that a few 100 metres further the trees were already cut and this spot will not have a long life. The two other Blue-fronted Robins were heard at the Rusty-bellied Shortwing spot as described by Dave Sargeant on WorldTwitch. The song of the Blue-fronted Robin is less obvious than it's relative, the White-tailed Robin. We heard the first Blue-fronted Robin singing when we stopped to put our leech-socks on. The song is available at the site of Dave Farrow
The Rusty-bellied Shortwing we saw and heard at the spot of Dave S. I also found another bird along the logging track to the right from the road to Neora NP. At the Rusty-bellied Shortwing-site we also had 3-4 Slaty-bellied Tesia, Golden Babbler (2), Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler (a pair seen and 2 more heard), Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo (1 heard), Spotted Wren Babbler (1 singing), Blue-winged Laughingthrush (4), Yellow-cheeked Tit (1-2) and Brown Bullfinch (6-10, also along the road to this spot). Rufous-throated Wren Babbler (1-2) were seen in the two gully before the 4 km marker (coming from Lava). Here we also found a nice Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Lesser- and White-browed Shortwing and a Large-billed Warbler. We also had on one evening 1-2 Lesser Cuckoos and another calling. Along the Algarah-road between 6-4 km marker we saw Ashy Woodpigeon (1), Barred Cuckoo Dove (10-12), Plain-backed Thrush (1), Scaly Laughingthrush (4), Blue-winged LT (2), Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (a pair), Sapphire Flycatcher (1 male), and Brown Bullfinch (4-6). The first 3 km. from the road to Neora Valley NP was very good for Speckled Woodpigeons. Some days we saw 12-14 birds flying, but also several birds gave good views while sitting on the top of a tree.

© Peter LogtmeijerGold-naped Finch was rather common along the Algarah Road, the pipeline trail and the road towards Neora. The upper trail above Lava was good for Sapphire Flycatcher. We found at least 3 males and a female. Before dusk a Red Giant Flying Squirrel was soaring two times overhead and gave spectacular view while it was sitting on a tree afterwards.

The only Brown-throated Treecreeper was found along the road in the direction of Loylegaon, a few km's below Lava. A female Rufous-breasted Bush-Robin was found on 2/5 along the road to Neora Valley.
Along the lower jeep track we heard 1-2 Spotted Wren Babblers and we heard on one day another singing Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo. Other birds were: Bay Woodpecker (1-2), Pygmy Blue Flycatcher (2 heard), Ferruginous Flycatcher (2), Pale blue Flycatcher (1 male), White-browed - and Lesser Shortwing, White-tailed Robin (3 and more heard), Grey-cheeked Warbler (2), Black-eared Shrike Babbler (1 fem.), Cutia (a male), Grey-sided Laughingthrush (4-8), Black-throated Sunbird (1), Scarlet Finch (a pair).

6. Mahananda WLS (3/5)

On 3/5 we stopped along the main road to Siliguri at the Mahananda WLS (a few km's in the park by the first small bridge over a dry riverbed we stopped). Here we saw a Great Hornbill, Asian-barred Owlet (1), Chestnut-headed Bee-eater (a pair), Dark-sided Flycatcher (1), Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (3), Oriental White-eye (2), and a Greenish Warbler (2). When we walked through the riverbed we flushed a Malayan Night Heron! A very good species to end this fantastic birding trip through West Bengal and Sikkim!
At 13.45 we took a flight from Bagdogra to Kolkata. And the next day we flew early morning to London and from there to Amsterdam.

Peter Logtmeijer
Bussum, The Netherlands

© Peter Logtmeijer 200

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