Himachal Pradesh
Trip Report

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Mid-summer Birding - 2
Five days in South-eastern Himachal
by Bikram Grewal
29 May - 2 June 2008


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We joined the main Kalka-Shimla Road at Kumarhatti, and crossed the hill on the back road towards Sanawar and eventually reached Kasauli. The rest of the evening was spent birding at "Win Haven's" extensive gardens. The star sighting being an Asian Barred Owlet being harassed by several Himalayan Bulbuls. A pair of Blue-capped Rock Thrush had obviously built a nest in the rose-creeper and was busy ferrying food to the young. Great Barbets (the only representative of this species we saw in the entire trip) called raucously from all over, driving us nearly insane.

Blue-capped Rock Thrush © Sumit SenAsian Barred Owlet © Sumit Sen

It had not been a bad day, though the birds had been rather thin and the diversity not too great. We were not to know, at this point, that this was going to be our most productive day of the trip.

The next morning we left Kasauli at sunrise, and drove along the highway till we reached Kandaghat. The only piece of excitement was that while breakfasting at the "Kalol View" restaurant, a Spotted Forktail suddenly appeared close to us and equally speedily flew away. The only other birds of any interest were an inquisitive flock of Red-billed Blue Magpies that entertained us while we ate our aloo-parathas.

Red-billed Blue Magpie © Sumit Sen

We turned off on the road to Chail. At first we were quite optimistic for we found a Shikra straightaway and a Eurasian Cuckoo, who sat high on the electric wires and called merrily. A Crested Bunting perched nearby. And then the birds disappeared all together. It was not till we had descended the valley to Sadhu Pul that we saw a Crested Kingfisher. We started the steep climb to Chail. Not a bird in sight. This was very surprising as the habitat was perfect with little or no disturbance. This was to be the pattern for the rest of the trip. The only bird that was in abundance was the Large-billed Crow, of the intermedius sub-species. We did come across groups of Black Bulbuls (psaroides sub-sp) and a few Grey Bushchats, and while Himalayan Bulbuls and Streaked Laughing Thrushes were not uncommon, other birds on the ground were very thin.

Black Bulbul © Sumit SenGrey Bushchat © Sumit Sen

We drove to the 'Cheer Pheasant Breeding Centre" at Keehum, a few kilometres short of Chail. The road to this centre runs though some of the most pristine forests we had seen and we expected a pheasant to appear any moment. No such luck and to add insult the Chowkidar with the keys to the breeding cages had disappeared. We hung around waiting for him to turn up. He didn't so we turned back. The only interesting bird was an unexpected pair of Red-wattled Lapwings and since we were close to about 9000 feet, it was probably a new height record for this extraordinary survivor.

I had birded on the Chail – Kufri road on several occasions, and based on past experience assured Sumit, that our luck would transform on this stretch. No such thing happened and as we walked for long stretches without seeing any bird, bar a few Green-backed Tits.

I just could not understand where the birds had gone. Only when we were close to Kufri, and walking through a forest of Chilgoza Pine that a loud raucous call attracted out attention. We traced it to a tall dense pine tree but could not see the originator of the cacophony, who continued to cry away merrily. Suddenly a large bird with a strong pointed beak flew away and we identified it as a Nutcracker, probably of the multipunctata race. At last something to cheer about!

Kufri is probably the best example of mass-tourism gone wrong. This pretty small town, renowned for skiing in winter, turns into a nightmare in summer, with several thousand tourists choking the narrow street. Cars were parked waywardly at every point making passage extremely difficult. To add to this mayhem were several hundred mules and it seems the visitor's favourite activity is to ride these beasts and get photographed! The streets were full of dung produced by this equine nightmare. We elbowed our way through the throng, refusing several offers of riding mules, as we had a date to visit the 'Nature Centre'. Sumit wanted to see the pheasants that are kept here. A Koklass in good nick, as well as a few splendid Monals and a few tatty Cheer Pheasants kept us occupied for an hour and we had to content ourselves with seeing them confined in cages.

Koklass Phesant in captivity © Sumit Sen

With our current luck the possibility of seeing them in the wild was non-existent and so it turned out to be. We left the horrendous crowds behind and joined the 'Hindustan-Tibet' road as it is often referred. Our destination was Narkanda, a small hill-resort, set prettily amongst Deodar trees. We drove on, through well wooded, but birdless country, via Fagu and Theog and finally reached the Hatu Resort at Narkanda, run by the Himachal Tourism Department and it turned out to be extremely pleasant. The rooms were adequate and the food and service surprisingly good. Highly recommended for any future travellers. It also provided some much needed birds. The garden of the resort overlooks a long sloping valley and we found nesting Spot-winged Tits, Grey Bushchats and a Western Crowned Warbler.

Spot-winged Tit © Sumit SenWestern Crowned Warbler © Sumit Sen

Sumit even saw a Eurasian Hobby and a Lesser Cuckoo called from somewhere deep below. We had a few hours of daylight left and we decided to go up to the nearby Hatu Peak, in the hope that we might see some birds. The road to the peak was exceedingly narrow and we got into some tricky situations when on-coming traffic appeared. The area appeared very promising, but we saw nothing bar the said Large-billed Crows. Finally we reached the top of the hill at over 13000 feet, where we obtained the most spectacular 360 degrees view of the surrounding area. We had expected to see Choughs at this height but it was completely devoid of any form of life, other than a few Himalayan Griffons circling in the distance. Disappointed we returned to our hotel, where an excellent dinner helped marginally in improving our mood. It had been a long day, with very few birds and we hoped that the next day would bring richer pickings.

Next morning started on a better note, and as soon as we left we notched up a few Himalayan Greenfinches and managed to lure out a skulking Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, a bird more heard than seen. But that was where our luck ended.

Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler © Sumit SenRock Bunting © Sumit Sen

We drove through Kumarsen, Sainj and Dutt Nager, stopping and walking through promising looking stretches, including the banks of the Sutluj river, but the paucity of birds continued. A few Rock Buntings and Streaked Laughingthrushes and a single Eurasian Golden Oriole were about the only interesting birds we saw.





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