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Uttarakhand Birding – a day of lifers

Morning alarm went off way before dawn and I got up eagerly. Took one step out of bed and jumped right back in after my feet touched the ground. It was cold (even through the carpet). I started dreading the moment when I will enter the bathroom where the water will be cold (not just cold, bbbbbrrrrr cold). Gathering all my courage and strength I freshened up and quickly covered myself up in layers (4 layers to be exact). Soon I heard a sweet melodious call. Later I came to know that it was blue whistling thrush, who gives first as well as last call of the day. By the time I finished wearing my boots, Negi Ji was ready to go. We had a quick tea and started towards Chopta. We went upto Bhulkan while taking a brief stop on the way to have tea. While sipping the hot beverage we spotted some Juvenile Himalayan Griffons around a kill. While trying to shoot some images I noticed a Jackal joining the party. Scanning the area with binoculars we saw some adults perched on distant trees. As it was still early in the morning, we pushed on to see if luck favours us for Himalayan Monals.

We reached a bend after Bhulkan, where we started scanning the slopes for signs of Monal and all of a sudden Vipin (Negi Ji’s son) spotted one male moving up and away from us, on the slopes. This was my first sighting of this magnificent bird and I was thunderstruck to be honest. That is my excuse for not being able to make a picture on my first sighting 🙂 , however it was a sighting that I will always remember. Once the Monal disappeared, we started looking for other males. We spotted a small group of snow pigeons sitting on some high rocks. Looking around, I noticed a small bird which turned out to be a friendly Alpine Accentor. Few minutes later both of us spotted two large raptors swooping in after the snow pigeons. Negi Ji instantly recognised the birds as Golden Eagles. We kept scanning the area and were able to have decent view of one of the eagles when it reappeared briefly from the bushes. One of the eagles did a quick flyby once again. We thought that the reduced bird activity in this area could be due to the presence of this couple. We still ended up having some very close views of Robin Accentor.. We started back and encountered a mixed hunting party after the next bend. This is where I had my only brief encounter with Stripe Throated Yuhina for this trip.

Soon it was bright and we started on our way back. Soon we reached a nondescript roadside restaurant where we stopped for a breakfast. While our Parathas were being prepared, we set off in search for “Winter wren” aka Eurasian Wren, that frequents the hedge around this restaurant. Soon we found one and approached it slowly. Very soon, we were able to get a close audition with this little guy and as an added bonus, a White capped-redstart and blue whistling thrush joined the party. Soon, we were called to the kitchen where some yummy food was ready for devouring. After lunch we started back towards Mukku, stopping en-route for birding at Duggalbitta and few other places. Around the inspection bungalow, we ran into a couple of mixed hunting parties. Black-throated tits, black-faced warblers, whiskered yuhinas, nuthatches, green-tailed sunbirds, grey hooded warblers and friends make a mean hunting party. In a moment you will be engulfed into a cacophony of sounds and sights and next moment you will be wondering where have all those birds disappeared to.

As we reached back to Mukku, we started birding around Negi Ji’s camp and saw quite a few birds around there. Common stonechat, grey bushchat, rock bunting, pink-browed finch, streaked laughing thrush, grey tree-pie were the highlights. There were many others that would chirp, but not show. While birding, I saw a small mammal moving in the field and turned out it was my first sighting of a Yellow Throated Marten. It was a brief sighting but thrilling for sure. I hope to see this little fellow in favorable conditions one of these days.

It was dark by the time I got back into the room, by 6:30 PM it was dark enough to need light. I freshened up and borrowed a Corbett book from Negi ji. After dinner I curled up into my bed with the book and soon I was reading up on the man-eting leopard of Rudraprayag. I do not know when I fell asleep, but I know I must have been dreaming of birds.

To be continued…

4 Comments

  1. Subrato · February 9, 2015 Reply

    It needs great courage to bird at the altitude of Chopta in the end December!!
    Beautiful pictures and write-up……..

    • kartik · February 13, 2015 Reply

      Thanks Subrato. Birding there in winter is quite rewarding, I would not hesitate to do it again in Dec. Although I would like to see how it goes in summer too. Hope you like the next part that I have posted already.

      Cheers,
      Kartik

  2. Santosh · May 14, 2015 Reply

    cold…brrr… how cold?
    chopta is a place that is moving on and off my list…

    • kartik · May 15, 2015 Reply

      It should not move off the list at all 😀 … it was so cold that when I washed my hands, I could not feel the towel. While looking for the dipper on Mandakini, my biggest concern was falling into the icy water rather than breaking my bones while hopping from rocks. 😀

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