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Trip Report, Ladakh 2004
by Mathias Ritschard & Daniel Matti (pictures)


  Ladakh   Checklist

Page 1

© Daniel Matti
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) 
2.7.   birding 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 

Annotated Species List: 

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 
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.

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 
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 Ardeola grayii
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!

© Daniel Matti
Tso Moriri (4520m!), 8.7.2004

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 
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. 

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 
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. 

Unidentified ducks Anas sp. 
A few hundred ducks were present at Startsapuk Tso on 12th but could not be identified due to huge distances and bad weather. 

Gadwall 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). 

Eurasian Wigeon 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). 

Common Teal Anas crecca A single male bird was reported from Startsapuk Tso on 12th. There are few summer records from Ladakh. 

Garganey Anas querquedula 
A pair was observed at Tso Moriri on 9th and at least 20 (probably many more) were present at Startsapuk Tso on 12th.

Northern Pintail Anas acuta About 10 birds were observed at the northern end of Tso Moriri on 9th; probably present on Startsapuk Tso (see above). 

Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata 
Was seen at Shey Marshes, Tso Moriri (ca. 5 on 9th) and Startsapuk Tso, where at least 10 birds (probably many more) were present.

© Daniel Matti
Shey Marshes, 14.7.2004

Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina 
A few birds were observed at Tso Moriri on 9th; may have been present at Startsapuk Tso. 

Common Pochard Aythya ferina A pair was seen at a small lake south of Panamik (Nubra Valley) on 18th. There are few summer records from Ladakh. 

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula A single male was present at a small lake south of Panamik (Nubra Valley) on 18th. Rare in summer. 

Common Merganser Mergus merganser Small numbers were observed along the Indus near Mahe Bridge and at Tso Moriri. 

Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus 
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. 

© Daniel Matti
Taglang La, 13.7.2004

Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis 
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). 

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 
A single bird was seen at Zinchen in lower Rumbak Valley on 1st and (presumably the same) on 5th. 

Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 
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). 

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 
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). 

Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus 
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. 

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 
Present in small numbers throughout most of the area. Reported from Leh, Indus Valley, Rumbak Valley and Tso Kar. Not seen in Nubra Valley. 

Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo 
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. 

© Daniel Matti
Shey Marshes, 14.7.2004

Tibetan Snowcock Tetraogallus tibetanus 
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.

© Daniel Matti
Taglang La, 13.7.2004

Himalayan Snowcock Tetraogallus himalayensis 
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. 

© Daniel Matti
Upper Rumbak Valley, 3.7.2004 

Chukar Alectoris chukar 
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. 

Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae 
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 

© Daniel Matti
Polokongka La, 10.7.2004

Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis 
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. 

© Daniel Matti
Tso Kar, 10.7.2004

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 
Single birds were present at the Shey Marshes on 30th, 7th and 14th. 

Common Coot Fulica atra 
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). 

Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii 
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. 

© Daniel Matti
Choglamsar, 30.6.2004

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 
A single adult bird was seen along the Indus near Thikse on 30th of June and 14th of July. 

Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 
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. 

Common Redshank Tringa totanus 
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. 

Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 
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! 

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 
2 birds were seen near the camp site at Tso Moriri on 8th and 9th. 

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 
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. 

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 
The only observation was a single bird, maybe an early migrant, at Hundar River (Nubra Valley) on 16th. 

Brown-headed Gull Larus brunnicephalus 
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. 

Common Tern Sterna hirundo 
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. 

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© Mathias Ritschard & Daniel Matti (pictures), 2004
Questions and comments to Mathias Ritschard:


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