Just as we
reached the large bustling town of Rampur, we saw an over- wintering White
Wagtail of the alboides kind and a single Plumbeous Redstart.
We decided to
push on to Sarahan, where they breed Western Tragopans. We drove to Jeori
and took a right turn and started the eighteen kilometre climb, consoling
ourselves that even if did not see wild birds we would be content at
looking at captive pheasants of which the Western Tragopans were certainly
stars. As we reached the breeding centre, a large notice proclaimed "Closed
from 15th April to 15th July". It never rains but it pours! I made several
attempts to sweet-talk our way through, but only succeeded in receiving a
polite but firm refusal. At least we saw a pair of Yellow-billed Blue
Magpies at the gate!
disappointed and cursing all-and-sundry we decided to return to Rampur
Bushair without seeing the famous wooden Bhimakali temple.
On the way back,
having just passed the village of Jhakhari, when a pair of Chukars, with
three young, crossed the road. We braked to a sudden halt but by the time
we got off the car and sped to the bank, we could only see one adult. We
spent considerable time waiting for the others to emerge from the
undergrowth but they refused to oblige. Our moods suddenly lifted and we
decided to take a side road through Kotgarh and Thanedar, the prime apple
growing area. The drive and the surroundings were truly stunning but as
usual the birds were scarce. A small grove next to a spring had a single
Asian Paradise Flycatcher and a Large Hawk Cuckoo sang merrily unseen.
Several of the orchards had their trees covered in green perforated cloth
which served as protection from Plum-headed and Slaty-headed Parakeets, who
are great destroyers of fruit and are heard and seen often. We wondered if
the use of pesticides on the fruiting trees could act as a deterrent to
birds, but the presence of Grey-hooded Warblers, in good numbers, disproved
our theory. We returned to our hotel, tired and with mixed feeling. Bar the
fleeting glimpses of the Chukars, the rest of the day had been
disappointing. We had seen some dramatic scenery and driven through a
variety of habitats, but our bird-count was less than the Delhi Daredevils'
score, the night before, in the IPL semi-finals.
morning we bid a reluctant adieu to Narkanda and drove back to Kasauli.
After an un-exciting drive we reached Kufri, before the hordes did and had
an easy passage, though the mules were already there in large numbers,
eager for the day's picking. The plan was to walk through the good patches
of forest, which we did, sometimes for two or three kilometres without
seeing anything move. Occasionally we would stumble upon some Great
Barbets, a Plain-backed Thrush melted away and a small hunting part
consisted of an Ashy-throated Warbler, Black-lored Tit, a pair of
Ultramarine Flycatchers and a Bar-tailed Treecreeper. The normally abundant
Rufous Sibia made a meagre appearance but that was about it.
could hear the low mournful whistle of the Hill Partridge. We trudged on
till the village of Koti, found a dhaba and debated on our future plans
which looked extremely bleak. We decided to drive on straight to Kasauli
and spend the remaining daylight hours birding there.
Just as we were
reaching Chail, Sumit caught a glimpse of a large dark bird. We jumped out
and had great views of a pair of Nutcrackers, this time of the hemisphila
sub-species. It was the highlight of the trip and Sumit got some great
provenance the Nutcracker was treated as one species by Salim Ali et al.
This tradition was continued by Grimmet and the Inskipps, though Krys
Kazmierchek did say it should be split. Obviously Pam Rasmussen heeded his
advice and split it into the Larger-Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga
multipunctata and the Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes with the
western Himalayan sub-species called hemisphila and the eastern one macella.
Where we were, both the species supposedly over-lapped. Elated we walked
the next few miles, but the only birds of any consequence were a female
Grey-winged Blackbird and a Eurasian Jay that quickly melted away.
All attempts to
get into the fabled 'Gyani ka Dhaba' at Dharampur failed, and we had to
console ourselves with the 'Shiwalik Dhaba' next door and a poor cousin.
Getting into Kasauli was even tougher, for being a Sunday, hundreds of
day-trippers from Chandigarh had driven up, playing Punjabi Rap. The
hill-sides were littered with trash. Empty bottles and plastic plates
covered the pine slopes. A very depressing sight indeed. We sought refuge
in the gardens of the family home. The large and old trees were full of
birds and we added Black-throated Tits, Red-billed Leiothrix. Sumit managed
to photograph both the Brown-fronted and the Scaly-bellied Woodpecker, but
his luck ran out on the Himalayan.
A fruiting Fig
tree was a favourite of Asian Koels and the Plum-head Parakeets. The Walnut
tree was humming with tits and flycatchers. It was my kind of birding- Sit
on a comfortable chair, sip tea and the birds come to you!
We watched the
thrilling finals of the IPL and next morning took the back road to the
plains and just as we were reaching the Himachal-Haryana border at Parwanoo,
a most impressive male Asian Paradise Flycatcher floated across the road,
its white streamers glinting in the sun. It had been a mixed trip. Easily
the Chukars and the Nutcrackers were the highlights, but other than these,
it was a very tough trip and we had to work hard for the birds. Our
trip-list barely crossed a hundred. Perhaps we will never know why.