Himachal Pradesh
Trip Report

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Trip Report symbol © Sumit SenMid-summer Birding
Five days in South-eastern Himachal
by Bikram Grewal
29 May - 2 June 2008 



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Himalayan Griffon © Sumit Sen

I shall raise my eyes unto the hills from whence commeth my help

'The Bible'

The annual summer debate started, in earnest, as early as April. While others wondered where to take their families for the summer break, Sumit Sen and I laboured, painfully, over where we could bird in the hot season. Goa, North Bengal, South India and Andamans were quickly rejected, as the rains would have struck by then. That only left the Western Himalayas and we settled for a five day trip to the South-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. It would be dry, it would be in the high hills and we had heard that the White-cheeked Nuthatch lurked in the coniferous forests. It was also from Rampur Bushair that a specimen of Large-billed Reed Warbler had been described by A.O. Hume in November 1867. It had remained unseen thereafter for several years till Philip Round found it in Thailand in 2006 and Sumit and his team in Kolkata in April 2007. I was privileged to see this bird when I went hot-footing to Kolkata. It was the last time it was seen in India despite several subsequent searches. The thought of going to the place where it was first discovered was alluring and that Sumit had never made a serious visit to Himachal Pradesh clinched the issue. We scoured the net for birding reports from this area and were truly surprised by the lack of them. The only 'sensible' reference we got was that N. F. Frome, in 1946, had visited the area and published a report called Birds noted in the Mahasu-Narkanda-Baghi area of the Simla Hills in the journal of the BNHS. We could not, however, lay our hands on this worthy document.

Map © Sumit Sen

A date was fixed and Sumit's ticket booked. The only problem was that Col. Kirori Singh Bhainsala also thought this was the auspicious day for the Gujjars to lay siege on Delhi. Sumit's flight, predictably late, arrived only at nine in the morning and we fled the airport in haste. The first two hours were tense, but we managed to get away without any major problems. This was fortuitous for the next day's papers revealed we had missed the road-block by a mere thirty minutes. Lucky that the Gujjars were late-risers.

© Sumit Sen 2008
Hodgson's Bushchat - 1st winter male
This Himachal vagrant was identified after
the trip from images and is a key sighting - EDs

Our first stop was to be the charming and unspoilt hill-station of Kasauli, where we have a family house. Situated on the first range of the Shiwaliks, overlooking Chandigarh on the south and Shimla on the north, this cantonment town is situated at about 6000 feet and the Army's presence here ensures that it remains untouched by the curse of modernity. I had grown up here and spent my childhood in the nearby school at Sanawar, and knew the back-lanes rather well. After travelling on the on the NH 1, full of smoke and heavy traffic, we decided to veer off at Shahabad, and take the (much) longer but more scenic route to our first stop. We entered Himachal at Kala Amb, literally 'Black Mango' and started our serious birding from this point. Kala Amb is an interesting place, with a large fossil park. It was here that the early man Ramapithicus roamed. Those with an interest in pre-history would do well to avail of the services of "Kala Amb Resort" and spend a few hours investigating the fossil park. We had no such inclination, and just as we had crossed the border, we espied a White-eyed Buzzard sitting atop a bare tree, an uncommon bird for the Kolkata based Sumit. He had been itching to get his camera into action, and this was a good opportunity to get his eye in. We then drove on to Nahan, the capital of erstwhile Sirmour State, seeing Chestnut-shouldered Petronia on the way. The climb really starts from here and we could discern the subtle change in birdlife.

White-eyed Buzzard © Sumit SenRusset Sparrow © Sumit Sen

Russet Sparrows appeared and we saw the first of the several Red-billed Blue Magpies. Striated Prinias, with incredibly long tails, started showing atop tall reeds, singing.

This road is charming, broad and well metalled with little traffic. It winds its way through pine forests with patches of Ban Oak. A Himalayan Griffon suddenly made an appearance and Common Kestrels balanced delicately on the thermals. A mixed hunting flock produced a pair Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, a Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Oriental White-eyes and Great Tits. A Black-headed Jay was seen briefly, but a Black Francolin who perched on a pine tree was a perfect model for Sumit's skills.

Black Francolin © Sumit SenBlack-headed Jay © Sumit Sen

A pair of Rosy Minivets was a surprise sighting and we were thrilled to see them. A lone Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon was also seen, but perhaps the most splendid of all was to see five soaring Slender-billed Vultures.

Rosy Minivet © Sumit SenGreen-backed Tit © Sumit Sen





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