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Birds of Manali
by Anand Prasad
1996 & 1997-98



Dates: From 15th Oct. to 12th Nov. 1996 and from 10th Nov. 1997 to 25th April 1998.


In Autumn 1996 I spent one month birding in Manali and then returned for the following winter when birding was severely restricted by early and late snow. That winter much birding was done from my balcony. (Between January 10th and February 22nd I was birding the Jomosom trek in Nepal.) Most of the best birding was in the Manalsu valley, (the tributary of the Beas), which runs through the Manali Wildlife Sanctuary. This area is easily accessed from Manali. To make this a more relaxed birding hike I suggest camping for at least one night at Lamadukh and at the Forest Rest House on the north side of the valley. Quarry is the name of another campsite where Western Tragopan are supposed to occur but I didn't make it that far.
I spent four days plus some part days at Lamadukh and three days plus some part days at the Forest Rest House area.
The area around the small school up the road from the Hadimba Temple (on way to Lamadukh) is worth checking. The Forest in Manali is also worth exploring. There is also one tree on the left hand side, about a half km up the road from Manali to Old Manali which was always teeming with birds.

There are two main tracks into the sanctuary, both good:

1.The North side of the valley to the F.R.H.. Follow the path out of Old Manali by turning left at the top of the paved road. Continue for about 2km until you start to climb. Keep to the track near the cliffs, unless of course you want to detour.
The Forest Rest House is very run down and it's better to camp out. There is a source of water below the large rock. I got mine further up where the path runs close to the stream.
The F.R.H. is easy to miss as it is impossible to see from the path but it is in the first completely open area (no bushes, nettles or ganja just grass) about three hours' walk from Old Manali. It is just after a clever little path through a gorge and then a small corral for sheep. Look out for the large rock to the E.N.E. from the far end of this open area and head for that.

2.The South side of the valley to Lamadukh. This is quite a climb but it's so beautiful I hardly noticed, even with a heavy back-pack. Here there is both coniferous and deciduous forest so probably more diversity than on the north side.
At the first steep dry boulder-strewn stream-bed you might lose the path but you have two choices, either approach it level and boulder hop straight across, to meet the clear path on the other side or scramble up the slope before the stream and head for the little stone "bridge" you can see from below. Here also there is a good path. There is a path earlier which meets this path but you can miss it. Both these two paths which cross the ravine, meet quite soon further on.
Also you might lose the path out of the last and largest open area but if you head about S.S.E. or upwards to the left you will find it. I found all these paths myself without a guide or instructions so it's not so difficult.
Other good areas are marked on the map I made. There is a source of water here but you need some method of water purification.
The ridge running N.W. from Old Manali is very steep but reaches deciduous patches on any east facing slopes. Every time I climbed up to the top of this area I had to turn back either due to bad weather or because it was getting late. In this area I saw Koklass, the only Red-headed Bullfinch of 1996, the only Grey-sided Bush Warbler and White-throated Tit.
To see a wide variety of birds you have to climb! Manali is 1800m and Lonely Planet has Lamadukh at 3400m. I also climbed up from Lamadukh towards Rani Sui but had to turn back because of deep snow.
I also explored the Solang Valley up to Beas Kund (3500m). Apart from one small detour I kept pretty much to the path. The small side valleys look good but are very steep.
The Beas Kund trek took four days. We took a taxi to Solang and with two porters for two of us we hiked to Dundhi by an army radio station. I climbed up the hill north of here at dusk and saw my only Spectacled Finch of 1996 and Spot-winged Grosbeak.
Next day we stopped at Baga Thatch and the next day walked to Beas Kund and back. The bushes around Baga Thatch were good for accentors.
The following day we walked all the way back to Old Manali.
It would have been good to stay longer and explore the side valleys but you need an extra porter for food. A word about porters: they eat like horses and of course need tents, so the fewer you have the less you need to have carried. One way would be to take one porter just to carry food up to Dundhi and then send him straight back to Manali and use Dundhi as a base. There is no point in hiring porters just to wait for you. You should be able to find a local who will act as a cook, guide and porter. This same method would be perfect for trips to Lamadukh, Forest Rest House and Quarry.
Quarry is at least a six hour walk so set off early!
In April 1998 I explored the valley upstream from Shenag which had good habitat.
Accommodation in Manali is easy. I stayed in the house of a friend ½ hrs walk north of Old Manali.
On 25-29 of December I also visited the periphery of the Great Himalayan National Park which is extremely rich in diversity.
I saw 10 more birds which I hadn't seen in Manali and to top it off I discovered a delightful guest house in Guishani on the river Tirthan.
This guest house is very close to the forest rest house there, and both are accessed by crossing a wire pulley affair. You can cross by footbridge later when you discover the way, but it is very easy to find the wire bridge, which is about 300 metres before the village. The guest house is right there on the other side of the river and I can honestly say it's the best food I've had in India (several courses and dirt cheap). Their son comes in regularly to keep the tandoor (stove) going and even tries to ply you with charas, all part of the service. It really is cosy.
The park is enormous so to explore further you need to camp.
The forest rest house was extremely unwelcoming. In fact he refused me even though I had permission from the forest officials by phone. I know he would have given in but I had already been offered a room in the guest house so luckily I gave up and discovered an "Oasis".

List of Birds
(Includes 4 days at Great Himalayan National Park)

All birds are from within a day's walk from Manali except where stated. Even Beas Kund and Baga Thatch in the Solang valley are a day's walk when heading downhill!
All names follow Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp

Grey Heron (4/98)
White Stork (4/4/98)
Black Stork (24/4/98)
2 unidentified flocks of storks? heading north (4/98)
Oriental Honey Buzzard ('96, 1/4/98)
Black Kite (1 in 96, 2 in 11/97, 1 in 12/97, common 4/98 and 5/98)
Northern Goshawk (1 in '96, fairly regular in 97/98)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (common throughout and displaying in 4/98)
Upland Buzzard (26/10/96)
Long-legged Buzzard (1 on 29/10/96, 1 on 5/11/96, 1 poss on 8/11/96. 1 poss. in 97/98)
Common Buzzard (common in late autumn & early spring, peak 24/3/98)
Golden Eagle (common, especially visible in winter)
Bonelli's Eagle (1 poss. 6/4/98)
Booted Eagle (23/3/98, 26/3/98, 29/3/98, throughout 4/98 <display>)
Imperial Eagle (imm. 6/4/98, 7/4/98)
Himalayan Griffon Vulture (common)
Cinereous Vulture (28/3/98, 29/3/98, 6/4/98, 7/4/98, 8/4/98)
White-rumped Vulture (10/4/98)
Egyptian Vulture (1 in 11/96)
Lammergeier (common throughout)
Saker (1 in Manali Sanctuary 9/11/96 and 10/11/96 at F.R.H.)
Peregrine ssp. japonicus (3/4/98)
Eurasian Hobby (1 in 11/96, 2 on 4/4/98, 20/4/98, 24/4/98, 25/4/98)
Kestrel (pair common 96, 16/11/97, 16/3/98, 23/3/98, 2 common after)
Chukar Partridge (few 21/12/97,(2)10/4/98,17/4/98,(2)21/4/98,22/4/98)
Monal Pheasant (common (vocal in Oct/Nov))
Koklass Pheasant (female 3km N.W. of Old Manali 24/10/96, 1 female at F.R.H. 9/11/96, female path to Lamadukh 18/12/97)
Kalij Pheasant (2 in flight 3km west of F.R.H. on 9/11/96)
Solitary Snipe (6/4/98 outside my house 3km north of Old Manali)
Unidentified snipe sp. (prob. same sp. as above 11/11/97, 20/11/97, 25/11/97 11/12/97, 7/4/98, calling whoop or zoo on 25/11 at dusk)
Woodcock (29/10/96 at Dundhi on Beas Kund Trek)
Snow Pigeon (common throughout)
Rock Pigeon (a few in spring)
Speckled Wood Pigeon ((3) 3km N. of Manali '96, 1 N. of Lamadukh 4/11/96)
Ashy Wood Pigeon (1 possible 97/98)
Spotted Dove (12/3/98)
Oriental Turtle Dove (common '96, 2/12/97, (3)4/1/98, (3)12/4/98, common after)
Plum-headed Parakeet (pair 11/4/98 an alt. record 3km north of Old Manali at 1900m)
Eurasian Cuckoo (23/4/98 and common after)
Asian Barred Owlet (1 in '96, common 97/98 except Jan, Feb, March)
Tawny Owl (heard '96 F.R.H.,1 on my balcony 11/11/97 3km N. Old Man.)
Unidentified owlet (Manu Temple 13/11/97)
Unidentified Owl (heard 18/4/98 call ooo-ooo-ooo 2 sec pauses)
Himalayan Swiftlet (common '96, flocks 19/11/97, 20/11/97, 10/4/98, 12/4/98)
White-throated Needletail (7 on 13/4/98 2km west of Hadimba Temple)
Swift (1 '96 F.R.H., 8/4/98)
Fork-tailed Swift (15/3/98, 12/4/98)
Green Bee-eater (pair from 12/4/98 onwards 3km north of Old Manali altitudinal record at 1900m )
Hoopoe (common after 18/4/98)
Great Hill Barbet (common throughout)
Possible Wryneck (10/4/98)
Speckled Piculet (7/12/97 and few sightings in 12/97)
Scaly-bellied Woodpecker (common throughout)
Himalayan Pied Woodpecker (common but none seen Jan., Feb., March.)
Brown-fronted Pied Woodpecker (few 11/96, 2/12/97, 24/12/97, 13/4/98)
Fulvous-breasted Pied Woodpecker (1 on 20/10/96)
Crag Martin (common '96, 10/4/98)
Swallow (17/4/98 and Bunter Airport 13/11/97)
House Martin sp. (common 96, 7/3/98-11/3/98)
Grey-backed Shrike (16/12/97 on road to Kulu, 22/4/98)
Long-tailed Shrike (10/12/97, 3/4/98, 10/4/98, 24/4/98)
Black Drongo (pair from 8/4/98)
Common Starling (10/4/98, (2)12/4/98, (2)18/4/98)
Common Myna (common)
Jungle Myna (20/4/98)
Black-headed Jay (few sightings Old Manali orchards in mid Oct 96)
Yellow-billed Blue Magpie (common)
Red-billed Blue Magpie (1 from bus from Kulu)
Spotted Nutcracker (common)
Yellow-billed Chough (common from 11/11/97 to 8/4/98 at least)
Red-billed Chough (common)
Jungle Crow (Common)
Long-tailed Minivet (common '96, up to 11/11/97 and from 8/4/98)
Himalayan Bulbul (common in Oct and not seen until April when common)
Red-vented Bulbul (common Oct only)
Black Bulbul (common in autumn and spring only)
Variegated Laughingthrush (common except when deep snow)
Streaked Laughingthrush (common except when deep snow)
Whiskered Yuhina (common '96, none 97/98)
White-browed Fulvetta (1 at 3000m 7/11/96, 2 flocks Old Manali 11/97)
Rufous Sibia (2 at school near Hadimba Temple 3/11/96)
Green Shrike Babbler (1 on 18/12/97 3km W. of Hadimba Temple , 1 at G.H.N.P.27/12/97)
Dark-sided Flycatcher (common after 12/4/98)
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher (common after 10/4/98)
Red-breasted Flycatcher (10/4/98)
Ultramarine Flycatcher (common after 10/4/98)
Rusty-tailed Flycatcher (16/4/98)
Verditer Flycatcher (common after 23/3/98)
Asian Brown Flycatcher (10/4/98)
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher (12/4/98)
Yellow-bellied Fantail (common '96, 10/12/97, 16/12/97, 10/4/98 onwards)
Asian Paradise Flycatcher (17/4/98, 23/4/98)
Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler (common)
Grey-sided Bush Warbler (1 3km N.W. of Old Manali 24/10/96)
Striated Prinia (21/3/98)
Common Chiffchaff (1 in 11/96)
Mountain Chiffchaff (1 on 19/9/96)
Lemon-rumped Warbler (Common)
Sulphur-bellied Warbler (1 in '96, 17/11/97)
Tickell's Leaf Warbler (20/10/96)
Greenish Warbler (18/4/98)
Western Crowned Warbler (common from 12/4/98)
Brook's Leaf Warbler (17/4/98)
Ashy-throated Warbler (Common up to 7/12/97 and from 1/4/98)
Hume's Warbler (12/4/98)
Blyth's Leaf Warbler (28/10/96, 10/4/98)
Grey-hooded Warbler (common up to 12/97 not seen in spring)
Goldcrest (common)
White-bellied Redstart (1 possible Solang 29/10/96)
Orange-flanked Bush Robin (common '96 mostly around 2500m, none seen 11/97, few in 12/97 in Manali Park, and a flock on 13/4/98, common after)
Golden Bush Robin (18/4/98 3km North Old Manali)
Blue-capped Redstart (1 Lamadukh '96, common Nov/Dec 97, none spring)
Blue-fronted Redstart (common '96, common up%20to 12/97 and after 1/4/98)
Plumbeous Redstart (common)
Little Forktail (fairly common)
Spotted Forktail (fairly common)
Common Stonechat (common 11/96 and from 16/3/98 on)
Grey Bushchat (1 on 20/10/96, 1 on 11/96 3000m, 1 on 12/96, common from 23/3/98 on)
Isabelline Wheatear (1 28/3/98 in front of my house, 3km N. Old Man.)
White-capped Redstart (common)
Blue Whistling Thrush (Common)
Blue-capped Rock Thrush (2 probable '96, 1 on 24/4/98)
Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush (pair 28/10/96, pair 16/4/98, 22/4/98)
Plain-backed Thrush (1 possible '96, 15/12/97, 3 on 15/11/97)
Tickell's Thrush (common '96, common after 16/4/98)
Scaly Thrush (1 possible 29/4/97)
White-collared Blackbird (common '96, common autumn '97 & spring '98)
Chestnut Thrush (1 flock Lamadukh 23/10/96)
Dark-throated Thrush (common '96 and up to 13/11/97 and from 3/3/98)
Red-throated Thrush (a few with previous ssp. on 3/11/96)
Mistle Thrush (common)
Winter Wren (common)
Brown Dipper (common)
Alpine Accentor (6/12/97, 12/12/97, 30/12/97, flock 16/3/98, 4 on 31/3/97)
Altai Accentor (common throughout depending on snow line)
Rufous-breasted Accentor (1 on 21/10/96, common from 3/4/98)
Brown Accentor (Golden super. and no black on chin prob. next sp. '96)
Black-throated Accentor (2 in 11/96, 2 on 17/11/97, 2 on 20/12/97, 22/12/97, 3/4/98, 4/4/98, 7/4/98)
Great Tit (common except when deep snow)
Green-backed Tit (common up to Nov and in spring)
Spot-winged Tit (common)
Rufous-naped Tit (1 flock Lamadukh 9/11/96, a few in Nov & Dec '97)
Rufous-vented Tit (1 flock Lamadukh 5&6/11/96)
Grey Crested Tit (common '96, none 97/98)
Black-throated Tit (common)
White-throated Tit (1 3km N.W. Old Manali 24/10/96)
White-cheeked Nuthatch (common)
Wallcreeper (1 1km W. Old Manali 10/11/96)
Bar-tailed Tree-creeper (common)
Eurasian Tree-creeper (2 in '96)
Olive-backed Pipit (1 in '96, common after 7/4/98)
Rosy Pipit (1 on 5/11/96, common after 17/4/98 in flocks 50+ at Goshal)
Upland Pipit (1 on 18/4/98 with flock of Rosy Pipits at Goshal 4km N. of Manali)
Grey Wagtail (2 on 17/4/98 at Goshal)
White-eye (12/4/98)
House Sparrow (common in Manali)
Russet Sparrow (common '96, Nov. '97 and spring '98)
Tibetan Snowfinch (1 possible Baga Thatch 31/10/96)
Chaffinch (1 poss on 5/11/96, 1 on 6/11/96, 2 on 22/11/97, 2 males on 12/12/97, 4 males on 14/12/97, 1 at G.H.N.P. on 26/12/97) This has previously thought to be a vagrant)
Brambling (1 above Lamadukh 5/11/96)
Black and Yellow Grosbeak (1 flock 8/11/96, 1 flock 9/11/96, common 11/97, 12/97 and 3/98)
Spot-winged Grosbeak (1 flock Baga Thatch 29/10/96, 1 flock Lamadukh 6/11/96)
Goldfinch (2 flocks '96, a few sightings 11/97 and on 7/12/970
Himalayan Greenfinch (common '96, 10/11/97, 23/4/98)
Spectacled Finch (1 at Dundhi 29/10/96, common 97/98)
Plain Mountain Finch (common at snowline '96, common in valley 97/98 to at least 17/4/98)
Brandt's Mountain Finch (1 probable 29/10/96 at Baga Thatch)
Dark-breasted Rosefinch (common '96, none '97, 2 mid April '98)
Pink-browed Rosefinch (common '96, 17/11/97, common from 13/4/98)
Spot-winged Rosefinch (1 female near Goshal 4km N. of Old Manali 23/4/98)
Gold-naped Finch (1 female above Lamadukh 5/11/96)
Red-headed Bullfinch (5 on 24/10/96, 4 on 18/4/98, 3 on 23/4/98)
Rock Bunting (common throughout, descends to valley bottom in deep snow)
White-capped Bunting (20/4/98)
Chestnut-eared Bunting (2 in 10/96, common from 20/4/98)
Little Bunting (14/4/98)

> Birds seen only near Great Himalayan National Park (25-29 Dec. 1997)
Grey Treepie
Black-chinned Babbler
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler
Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush
Chestnut-tailed Minla
Grey-winged Blackbird
Chestnut-headed Tesia
White-throated Fantail Flycatcher ssp. albicollis

> Between Larji and Banjar
Crested Kingfisher (near G.H.N.P. 29/12/97)

> Between Kulu and Aut (25 and 29 Dec.97)
Common Pochard
Common Sandpiper
Rufous-bellied Niltava

> Kulu(11/97)
Common Kingfisher


Asian Fairy Bluebird in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India,
I spent the winter of 97/98 in Manali and had a fascinating time birding especially in the spring but the most extra-ordinary sighting was an Asian Fairy Bluebird on 13/4/98. The snow had melted a lot in April and finally I could do some walking. I was hiking up a hill about 2-3 km West of the old Hadimba temple, just inside the Manali Sanctuary. I would guess I was at about 2200 Metres A.S.L., along the ridge caused by the meeting of the River Beas and the Manalsu. The north facing slopes were still snow covered. As I was walking near this snow line I passed several Orange-flanked Bush Robins, in larger numbers than I had ever seen before, perhaps 15 birds in a small area, so I was pretty alert. There were also a lot of thrushes about. This area was quite open, with grazed grassy areas, bushes and large deciduous trees. The conifers were more on the eastward facing slope, quite far away. As I flushed one by one, the White-collared Blackbirds, I also flushed an unfamiliar bird also of thrush size. It flew to a low bush quite close, about 20 metres away and stayed long enough to get a good view through my bins and to take mental notes. Then I scanned the area to see if it was alone and that was enough movement to scare it off. It flew north into the snow and I did not re-locate it (even when I returned a couple of days later). I took notes on the spot. The bird's description was very straight forward and it was seen in good light at about 1400 hrs looking eastwards, with Zeiss 10x40 bins. The bird had a very clear two colour plumage of black and blue. The black was the underside and wings and the ear coverts and the tail, the blue was the upperside including the crown and the greater covert tips. The tail was wide and well rounded. This feature is not illustrated Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp, but you can see it in the Pictorial Guide (Ali, Ripley). The only feature I did not notice was the blue vent but this was probably because of it flying off too quickly. I do however have in my original notes the query "Blue outer tail rectrices ?)".

I felt the bill was not so blunt as in the Pictorial Guide but is better portrayed in other field guides. i.e. longer, so appeared less thick. I have looked at every other possibility because the nearest sites for this bird are the Western Ghats and E. Himalayas. The Large Niltava does not have black wings with pale greater covert tips and is equally out of the question, nor does it have a black tail. Male Grandala does not have a black underside with a contrasting effect. Blue Rock Thrush does not have black underparts. I am left in no doubt this was indeed a male Asian Fairy Bluebird. I later saw the Handbook by Ali and Ripley and saw some question marks in Northern India on their distribution maps which I found interesting. Are these old records before a range contraction caused by habitat loss or are they unconfirmed records?

Just before this sighting there was a severe cyclone in Eastern India where many people died and so weather conditions were extreme.

© Anand Prasad


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