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Uttarakhand Birding – Final chapter

If you have followed adventure of the desk ninja so far, I thank you. This is the last post in the Uttarakhand series, which got delayed as I relocated to India and could not make time for updating the blog. Finally after setting up the base-camp, I got back to the task of finishing the series. 

A few times during my stay at Makkumath, we decided to bird around the villages. I was quite apprehensive of the idea at first but went ahead with the plan trusting Negi Ji’s instinct. First outing into the village did wonders to my apprehensions. A few minutes of walking to into Mukku village, and we heard Tesia’s calls. Marching on, we came across a flock of snow pigeons who were busy feeding at a distance. Stonechats, rufous sibia, russet sparrow were the common birds around. 

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In fact, I had a chance of photographing (only 1 picture) scaly breasted wren babbler, while I was standing the backyard of Negi Ji’s ancestral house in the village. As soon as I got a picture of the babbler, I saw a movement from the corner of my eye and there was a bar tailed tree creeper followed by Himalayan Woodpecker. While walking back from the centre of the village, we took the path that leads from the cattle yard, and I got lucky with a rusty cheeked scimitar babbler feeding on the dung. 

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scaly breasted wren babbler

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rusty-cheeked scimitar babbler

Himalayan Woodpecker

Himalayan Woodpecker

Bartailed Tree creeper

Bartailed Tree creeper

Striated laughingthrush

Striated laughingthrush

We also made a few trips to Makku Farms. This is a small settlement (and I mean really really small) of farmers near a Govt. funded secret lab where they experimented on sheep. The cover story is that a obscure Govt department was planning to check feasibility of raising sheep that will produce better/more wool. The real story I have gathered so far goes like this: There is a secret govt organization known only as USWDB have carried out some experiments on the sheep and now we have a strong possibility of a mutated herbivore, whose powers are still unknown. I can’t write any more about this without endangering several lives… but I digress. This is an awesome place to go birding. 

Villagers make fences of a local bush called “Bicchu-booti”, which gives a serious bout of itching to anyone who was lucky enough to touch it. It is a painful itch which takes a bit of time to subside. I was lucky enough to have touched it for a brief moment and ended up with certain parts of my body getting way more attention then they usually do. However, birds are attracted to seeds of Bicchu-Booti and come down to feed on these fences. I saw two types of accentors, himalayan blue tail, chestnut crowned laughing thrush, streaked laughing thrush, russet sparrow, finches and some more, within a radius of 10m. Moving about in the village, we stumbled upon a distant maroon oriole, white throated laughing thrushes and a family of read headed bullfinches. 

Red Headed Bullfinch (M)

Red Headed Bullfinch (M)

Red Headed Bullfinch

Red Headed Bullfinch

White Throated Laughingthrush

White Throated Laughingthrush

Greywinged blackbird

Greywinged blackbird

Himalayan Bluetail

Himalayan Bluetail

Pink Browed Rosefinch (f)

Pink Browed Rosefinch (f)

Rufous Breasted Accentor

Rufous Breasted Accentor

Soon we saw an opportunity to explore the USWDB campus. Being the ninja that I am, I jumped over the fortified gate (the key was with the guard who was away for some personal errand), and rolled into the compound. As we moved about, we saw some of the interesting birds including missile thrush & black faced warblers. Mutant sheep not withstanding, this is an awesome place with great birding potential.

Another interesting area was Makku bend. This was basically an area where we stopped for an evening and walked around for a couple of hours. The results were really good with findings like rufous bellied woodpecker, great barbets, white throated fantail, plum headed parakeets and more. While going back to the accommodation, I requested Negi Ji to drop me a bit before the house. Walking for about 2KMs in absolute silence was amazing. As a bonus, I also snagged a few pictures of striated laughingthrushes, while they were calling and preparing for roosting.

Rufous Bellied Woodpecker

Rufous Bellied Woodpecker

Grey Treepie

Grey Treepie

All the while one of the bird that I wanted to see was scarlet finch. This bird eluded us for long, so we decided to look for it in a newer place. We drove down to a neighbouring village called Chonda. There was a steep climb (for a desk ninja) that I undertook with only Maggi as my fuel. And tea. And some toasts. The path was littered with signs of one of the animal I do not want to meet on foot, bear. There was scat (quite fresh), pug marks and works. We proceeded with caution till we heard some ladies coming down the path. They mentioned that bears do frequent these paths but generally during nights. I could only admire the courage of these women, who were walking down the path frequented by bears with incredible loads of hay and wood. I would not want to get on the wrong side of these ladies.

Soon we spotted our quarry, the scarlet finches (males and females) sitting on a tree. Problem was that they were far and there was no way of sneaking near them. We resolved to come back again the next day and did, but without much luck. Then I visited Chonda a third time, a day prior to leaving for home. On my third and final attempt, I did get lucky (figure of speech). While we waited, a male flew in and perched on a tree very near to where were. Soon the whole party joined in.

Scarlet finch (M&F)

Scarlet finch (M&F)

Finally I had seen all those that I wanted to see. As we came down, a golden bush robin greeted us on the road and a scaly breasted wren babbler just scurried across the road to disappear under the bush.

Great Barbet

Great Barbet

Black-lored tit

Black-lored tit

Black Faced Warbler

Black Faced Warbler

Black Throated Tit

Black Throated Tit

Scarlet Finch and Great Barbet

Scarlet Finch and Great Barbet

Golden Bush Robin

Golden Bush Robin

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Scarlet Finch (F)

Long billed thrush

Long billed thrush

My time in Uttarakhand was coming to a close. With a heavy heart and promise to visit them soon, I bid farewell to Negi Ji and his lovely family. As we moved towards Rudraprayag, I saw a Wallcreeper takeoff .. something that I will look forward to next time.  

11 Comments

  1. Santosh · July 13, 2015 Reply

    Excellent series all through… and now being here, I will be waiting to see more from your outings 🙂

    • kartik · July 15, 2015 Reply

      Definitely Santosh. As is customary for everyone on B’lore, I ended up with a quick dash to Kabini couple of weeks ago. Now I will have to make a list of places of interest. 😀

  2. Raghunath Singh · August 5, 2015 Reply

    Great great great blog Kartik bhai. I was eagerly waiting for the remaining part to be documented. Loved every bit. Refreshed my memories of this place, I was with Negiji, guess 10 days before you visited. Was on a official trip to inspect some rehabilitation work that my company had sponsored.

    I’m yet to document the trip. A bigger desk ninja you see…. 🙂

    • kartik · August 6, 2015 Reply

      Thank you for the word of encouragement Raghunath Ji. I hope to visit Chopta and Makku sometime this year again. Meanwhile, I would surely look forward to that undocumented trip report from you 😀

  3. sangeeta · September 30, 2015 Reply

    Wow! I don’t know how I missed reading this post, but – What a trip! You seem to have covered everything, right from birding to secret organizations. Superb images!

    • kartik · August 9, 2016 Reply

      Thank you Vibha, I am glad that you liked my ramblings 😀

      I must thank you for reminding me of Briar, which had been on my list for way too long.

      Regards,
      Kartik

  4. Biplab · July 11, 2017 Reply

    Hi Kartik,
    Your report and photos made me crazy to go for this trip. I have read many things about Negiji also.
    Can you please share the contact number of Negiji?
    And also what the camera gears you have used in this trip ? any specific advice to photograph these shy birds?

    Regards
    Biplab

    • kartik · July 13, 2017 Reply

      I am glad that you liked the trip report. Following is the advice I gave to someone earlier this year, when they were in the same situation. While I am sure that NegiJi would be able to give you better tips, following are some humble suggestions from my end.

      1. Try Tungnath trek early in the morning for sighting and photographing Monals. As the day progresses, you will see lesser of these beautiful birds. They are best seen in shades as their sheen is not quite as dramatic in sunlight.

      2. Do not ignore villages and settlements. Many birds can be found in the vicinity of villages. Try Chonda village and track behind the village to the terraced fields

      3. If you have a car at your disposal, go to Kakragad early in the morning. Aim at reaching there by 8am. You can bird around the area and go upto the old forest bungalow (now abandoned). If you go a little beyond on the old road, you can get plenty of surprises.

      4. Go to Makkumath, Chonda etc. These villages have amazing number of birds.

      5. Go to Makku Farms (a sheep farm actually). Settlement near the farm holds a good number of birds including finches, orioles, thrushes etc.

      6. Duggalbitta rest house and area surrounding it is great too. There is a place called Monal point but I don’t know how to give direction. However you will see plenty of Monals on Tungnath trek.

      7. Most important tip for photographing these shy birds: patience. Apart from patience, you will have better success if your camera gear does not have to hunt for focus. So take your best lens with you. I was shooting with my 7D and 500mm all the time, at times with 1.4x convertor.

      Hope that above information is useful for your trip. I am sending you Negi Ji’s contact in an email. If you visit him, please convey my regards to him. Have a good time.

      Regards,
      Kartik

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