Chukar, Rumbak, 3.7.2004
This birdwatching trip report to Ladakh covers Leh and the Indus Valley, the Rumbak Valley in Hemis NP, the Changtang area with the two high-altitude lakes Tso Kar and Tso Moriri and the Nubra Valley. More than 100 species of birds were found in 3 weeks, many of them much sought-after and difficult to see anywhere else in the Subcontinent. The report includes information on sites of nearly all the species one will wish to
find in Ladakh. However, it does not include details on logistics – Ladakh is a familiar tourist destination (although still rarely visited by birdwatchers) and various guidebooks are readily available.
Our trip would not have been such a success without the help of various people. Very special thanks go to Otto Pfister who shared his broad knowledge on the local avifauna with us and gave us many essential tips – without Otto’s help many of the rarer species
would not have been found. His new book `Birds and Mammals of Ladakh` was unfortunately not yet available when we prepared our trip but will prove to be indispensable for future visitors to the area. We would also like to thank Tsering Tashi, our local guide and cook, for his help in finding some difficult species, for his delicious cooking and not least for his great company. Many thanks also to Dorgey for miscellaneous help during the treks and to Tashi, our driver, for his safe
driving and enjoyable companionship. Special thanks also to Manoj Sharma, who accompanied us during the first 10 days of our trip, and to David Sonam of Snow View Hotel in Leh for some helpful tips and nice birding discussion.
29.6. arrival in Leh early morning by air; resting (hard but absolutely essential at this altitude...) and a short walk in the evening 30.6. walk from Shey Marshes to Thikse and Choglamsar
1.7. trekking from Zinchen to Rumback (Hemis NP)
around Rumback & surroundings
3.7. trekking from Rumback to Yurutse, walking almost up to Ganda La and back to Yurutse
4.7. birding around Yurutse, mainly in the hills south of the valley
5.7. trekking from Yurutse to Zinchen
6.7. in and above Leh
7.7. driving from Leh via Mahe Bridge to Upper Sumdo, birding on the way and around Upper Sumdo
8.7. Upper Sumdo, driving to Tso Moriri
9.7. birding around Tso Moriri (mainly northern end), driving to Puga
10.7. Puga, driving to Tso Kar
11.7. Tso Kar Caragana-plain & salt lake
12.7. Tso Kar freshwater lake (Startsapuk Tso)
13.7. driving from Tso Kar to Leh
14.7. walking from Thikse to Shey
15.7. driving from Leh via Khardung La to Hundar in Nubra Valley
16.7. Hundar River, driving / walking from Hundar to Diskit
17.7. birding around Diskit and Summur
18.7. birding around Summur and Panamik
19.7. driving from Summur to Leh
20.7. driving from Leh to Jispa (Himachal Pradesh) on Leh – Manali Road
Great Crested Grebe
Most birds were observed at Startsapuk Tso, the freshwater lake at Tso Kar, where around 60 birds were estimated on 12th, many of them with chicks or still breeding. A few were seen at Thazang Guru Tso (between Upper Sumdo and Tso Moriri) and at Tso Moriri (maximum of 15 birds on 9th) and a single bird at the Shey Marshes on 30th of June.
An estimated 30 birds were reported from Startsapuk Tso on 12th,
all of them in full breeding plumage. No birds had been present 3 weeks ago, when Otto Pfister checked the area. Quite a few Black-necked Grebes were sitting on nests inside the breeding colony of Great Crested Grebes – however, these nests might have been abandoned nests of Great Crested Grebe. No chicks were observed, so breeding could not be proven. Black-necked Grebe is known from Ladakh only as a rare vagrant during summer and autumn, so our observation is quite exceptional and
future visitors might well be able to find the first breeding of this species for Ladakh (and India).
Indian Pond Heron
A single bird was observed near the campsite at Tso Moriri on 8th, at an altitude of 4520m. The species is a rare summer visitor to Ladakh and has been seen up to altitudes of about 3500m, so our bird might be the highest observation of this species ever!
Tso Moriri (4520m!), 8.7.2004
Up to 60 birds
(including chicks) were present at Tso Moriri on 8th and 9th and around 500 birds were estimated at Startsapuk Tso on 12th.
Commonly seen at high altitude lakes (both salt and freshwater lakes) and at marshes in the Changtang region: Tso Kar, Startsapuk Tso, Tso Moriri, Thazang Guru Lake and Puga. Highest numbers were noted around Tso Kar, with 200 birds estimated at Startsapuk Tso on 12th. May be breeding at dry mountain slopes several kilometers away
from nearest water.
A few hundred ducks were present at Startsapuk Tso on 12th but could not be identified due to huge distances and bad weather.
Anas strepera About 6 birds were observed at the northern end of Tso Moriri on 9th and a pair was present at a small lake south of Panamik (Nubra Valley). May have been present at Startsapuk Tso (see above).
Anas penelope About 8 birds were seen at the northern end of Tso Moriri on 9th; may
have been present at Startsapuk Tso (see above).
Anas crecca A single male bird was reported from Startsapuk Tso on 12th. There are few summer records from Ladakh.
A pair was observed at Tso Moriri on 9th and at least 20 (probably many more) were present at Startsapuk Tso on 12th.
Anas acuta About 10 birds were observed at the northern end of Tso Moriri on 9th; probably present on Startsapuk Tso (see above).
Was seen at Shey Marshes, Tso Moriri (ca. 5 on 9th) and Startsapuk Tso, where at least 10 birds (probably many more) were present.
Shey Marshes, 14.7.2004
A few birds were observed at Tso Moriri on 9th; may have been present at Startsapuk Tso.
Aythya ferina A pair was seen at a small lake south of Panamik (Nubra Valley) on 18th. There are few summer records from Ladakh.
Aythya fuligula A single
male was present at a small lake south of Panamik (Nubra Valley) on 18th. Rare in summer.
Mergus merganser Small numbers were observed along the Indus near Mahe Bridge and at Tso Moriri.
Single birds were reported from Upper Rumbak Valley (around Yurutse), Mahe Bridge, Upper Sumdo and Khardung La as well as at a nest at Taglang La.
Taglang La, 13.7.2004
This species was reported from upper
Rumbak Valley (maximum of 6 birds at prey near Ganda La on 4th) and Upper Sumdo (2 birds on 8th).
A single bird was seen at Zinchen in lower Rumbak Valley on 1st and (presumably the same) on 5th.
Only in the Changtang region, with single birds observed at the northern end of Tso Moriri (9th), Puga (9th and 10th) and Startsapuk Tso (12th).
Mainly observed in Rumbak Valley, with 1-2 birds
observed on 4 out of 5 days in the area. Single observations also from above Leh (6th) and near Hundar in Nubra Valley (16th).
Single observations from the Indus Valley, with 1 rufous morph bird near Choglamsar on 30th of june and 2 birds (rufous and dark morph) near Thikse on 14th. There are few, summer records from Ladakh.
Present in small numbers throughout most of the area. Reported from Leh, Indus Valley, Rumbak
Valley and Tso Kar. Not seen in Nubra Valley.
Rather common in the Shey Marshes (maximum of about 5 birds on 30th of june) and around Hundar in Nubra Valley (3 birds on 16th). A single bird was seen at Startsapuk Tso at nearly 4600m on 12th.
Shey Marshes, 14.7.2004
This species was only observed at the northern slope of Taglang La, where a
total of 13 birds (including 7 chicks) were observed on 13th and 4 individuals
showed very well along the road on 20th.
Taglang La, 13.7.2004
Common in Rumbak Valley where observed daily, with most birds seen around Yurutse. Largest group was 18 birds near Ganda La on 4th. Moreover, a group of 25+ birds (including chicks) was observed above North Pullu on the northern slope of Khardung La.
Upper Rumbak Valley, 3.7.2004
Very common in
Rumbak Valley, where 40-50 birds were observed daily. Smaller numbers were noted above Leh and around Hundar and Sumur in Nubra Valley.
The usual sites around Upper Sumdo and up to Namshang La were thoroughly scanned but no birds were found. They may have been disturbed by the road construction work going on in the area. Finally a pair was found in Caragana bushes at the western slope of Polokongka La (between Puga and Tso
Kar) on 10th, with an additional bird a bit lower down. Tibetan Partridge, Polokongka La, 10.7.2004
Polokongka La, 10.7.2004
Two birds were present at Tso Kar and were observed at different locations in the area: at Tso Kar salt lake, at Startsapuk Tso and circling above the Caragana plain north of the lakes.
Tso Kar, 10.7.2004
Single birds were present at the Shey Marshes on 30th, 7th and 14th.
This species was reported from the Sey Marshes, from Tso Moriri (northern end) and Startsapuk Tso (maximum: around 40 birds at Startsapuk Tso on 12th).
A pair was observed along the Indus near Choglamsar on 30th. Moreover, calls were heard near Thikse and between Thikse and Choglamsar on the same day.
Little Ringed Plover
A single adult bird was seen along the Indus near Thikse on 30th of June and 14th
Lesser Sand Plover
Common at lakes and marshes in the Changtang region; observed around Tso Moriri, Tso Kar salt lake, Startsapuk Tso, Thazang Guru Tso as well as at Puga; chicks were observed at several locations. Maximal count was around 50 birds at Startsapuk Tso on 12th.
Rather common in the Changtang region, where the species was observed at Tso Moriri, Tso Kar salt lake, Startsapuk Tso and Puga. A few were also seen
near Hundar in Nubra Valley. Highest number was an estimated 300 birds at Startsapuk Tso on 12th. Singing birds were noted from several locations, but so far there is no breeding record from Ladakh.
A single bird in breeding plumage was observed among Common Redshanks at Startsapuk Tso on 12th. This is the first ever observation of Spotted Redshank in Ladakh!
2 birds were seen near the camp site at Tso Moriri on 8th
Mainly observed in the Changtang region, where between 3 and 10 birds were noted almost daily. Sites include Tso Moriri, Puga, Tso Kar salt lake and Startsapuk Tso. Two birds were seen at Panamik in Nubra Valley on 18th.
The only observation was a single bird, maybe an early migrant, at Hundar River (Nubra Valley) on 16th.
Only observed in the Changtang region, including
Tso Moriri and Tso Kar as well as a few individuals flying through at Upper Sumdo and Puga. Maximum count was around 50 birds at Tso Moriri on 9th.
Best sites were Tso Moriri and especially Startsapuk Tso, where about 10 birds were seen on 12th. Singles were observed along the Indus near Choglamsar and near Mahe Bridge as well as near Diskit and Summur in Nubra Valley.
© Mathias Ritschard & Daniel Matti (pictures), 2004
Questions and comments to Mathias Ritschard: