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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.