Pure Randomness!

Pure Randomness!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Birding in Himalayas: Part 12

I had promised myself that I will not travel anywhere before I finish all my blogs for my last trip. But then I was having itchy tyres and just had to have a long drive, so I broke the promise and drove to the Nilgiris. But I guess if I finish the blog now all is not lost. So where were we?

I was adamant about seeing the White-crested Laughing thrush and R had told me in no uncertain terms that I need to go to the hide to see it, there is no other way. So I succumbed and went to the hide. It was very early in the morning and the light was very bad. In the first few minutes of reaching there, as promised, the White-crested Laughing thrushes were there. More and more people were pouring in into the hide and I was starting to get suffocated. I left the hide to continue birding by the roadside. V stayed back and ended up seeing the Rufous-throated partridge, which I missed. I guess I will find it somewhere some day, without a hide. While doing roadside birding I saw two White-crested Laughing thrushes which were possibly on their way to the hide. 
Tiny beauties wearing lipstick: Red Avadavats

We packed up from Sattal and traveled to Ramnagar for the last leg of our trip: Corbett National park. The driver and the guide told us right away that the hides are all outside the park, when they heard that we would want to do some birding. So in Corbett also, birding means hide birding. We ended up seeing a lot of birds during the safaris, but for them to stop and let us get a few pictures turned out to be an extremely challenging task. There they are after only one life; tigers. The whole safari revolves around tracking tigers, once spotted even chasing them, and taking their pictures. When I reminded them about birds they reminded me that all the good birds have gone back, this is not the right time for birding. Good birds, really?
Red-breasted parakeet, doing some acrobatics 

A male Sambar Deer majestically stood in the middle of the road with the morning sun streaming behind it. I was in awe of the sight and expected the driver to stop the jeep. The driver just drove the jeep right on to the deer and it turned and ran for its life. Luckily they both were disappointed at the lack of a tiger sighting by the time we spotted an Indian Golden Jackal and we managed a few pictures. 
Indian Golden Jackal

We packed up the last of the safaris and traveled to Delhi for our flight to Bangalore and landed up directly into the middle of a dust storm. Luckily we managed to reach the airport without any issues. On this trip I was not destined to have a single flight on time, so we were looking at more than five hours to kill at the airport. We picked up playing cards and played the extremely addictive open rummy for the rest of the night. A good end to a nice long trip.
Black Stock; not a good bird apparently
With 345 species and out of that 218 lifers, the trip was an exhilarating one, even though I have seen only a small part of the birds from all the places I have visited. 

Note: All pictures are taken by me

eBird lists: Sattal
Corbett: 1, 2, 3
Previous blog in the series: Part 11

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Birding in Himalayas: Part 11

Red-billed Leiothrix: such a cute little fellow
R called it his feeder, but it was just another hide. The birds kept coming and we kept clicking. Surprisingly there were other people also who were a little taken aback by the "hide culture" and was cribbing. I got out of the hide and some others followed. The place where the hide was setup was beautiful and we started birding there itself. After some time we asked P to take us to some other hotspot and we went near the Garur lake and did some roadside birding. That put me back on my elements.

Common Rosefinch: Another beauty

I told P that I wanted to see White-crested laughingthrush as I had missed it in Arunachal Pradesh while all the other birders with me had seen it. He informed me that it comes to the hide and that is the only place where I can catch a sight of it. Later while we were driving back I asked him what all raptors are seen it Sattal and without missing a beat he told me the raptors also come only to the hide. After that I kept my trap shut.

The Sattal Studio: Pic credit S

Later in the day we went to the Sattal studio again, but we walked around the place doing birding and totally got mobbed by 2 Red-wattled lapwings.

Down there somewhere, there are two Cheer pheasants!

Next day we took off to Pangot with another set of R's group and R. After doing some birding on the way we went to the Cheer pheasant point. R kept scanning the grassland below and spotted 2 Cheer pheasants. He knows his stuff. It took quite some time for some in the group to see the birds as they were far down and quite camouflaged. We sat at the cliff (while S sat in the car) and watched the 2 birds making its slow progress through the grass for a long long time. 

Large-tailed Nightjar: Let me sit here in peace, please

In the evening it was drama time. R took us to a see a Large-tailed nightjar. The bird was sitting on the ground and R told us that it has an egg underneath. We pussyfooted close to the bird to get a few pictures. I asked R whether we would be disturbing the bird by coming this close; we were still quite far, he said this should be fine. After a few snaps I and V wandered off to click the Red-billed Magpies flying around and R was joined by another group of his. They also clicked pics. Then R started going close with his mobile camera, went closer than a meters length from the bird. The bird panicked and flew up revealing an egg it was incubating. I was returning towards them and I clearly saw what had happened. I was beyond furious. Then R made the mistake of telling everyone to take pictures of the bird sitting on the tree (now it is on eye level). I was hopping mad by then and started stamping my foot and screaming at R (loud enough to make my point, but not loud to bother the bird further) for disturbing a bird that too while it was on an egg. I told him that I refuse to take any further pictures and walked off. I didn't hear any clicking sound from behind me. I think none of the others took any pictures either. Bird photography is fine, it is a good hobby, but it can never be at the cost of the comfort of the birds.

Note: All photos are taken by me unless credit is given to S
eBird lists 
Sattal: 1, 2, 3, 4
Pangot: 1, 2, 3, 4

Previous blog in the series: Part 10
Next blog in series: Part 12

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Birding in Himalayas: Part 10

We 3 stood in the cold at 4.40 in the morning as were supposed to start at 4.45 to Garampani. We stood there stifling yawns, looking at one another, and doing some birding in the hotel premises. By 5 am people started waking up and getting our tea ready. When R, our guide, came after 5 he could see that we were quite angry. He apologised and explained that usually people come some 20-30 minutes late. I had to tell him that we might be slightly different from the people he is used to dealing with and we don't need buffers in our starting time.

It is a common bird here! Himalayan Bulbul.
That morning was dedicated for Chukar partridge and we traveled to Garampani. The birds in flocks of 8-10 raid the fields, so they said. It is a sure sighting, so they said. We parked the car and started climbing the hill. P, an assistant to R, accompanied us. I stopped at the first bird which I couldn't identify, started taking pictures and asked P to help me identify the bird. He told me it is a very common bird, with a confused look which asked "why am taking its picture?". I explained to him that I come from the south of India and there it is not seen, so it is a new bird to me. We climbed more than a kilometer up puffing and panting, trying not to roll down the cliff, camera and all. Through the ordeal I kept asking the names of the birds to P, he found it amusing that I am interested in all the birds around. Finally I wanted a final check before I decide how much I can trust his knowledge. I saw an Indian golden oriole and asked him which oriole it is. He seemed to think for a second and told it could be Eurasian oriole. For his luck Eurasian golden oriole and Indian golden oriole look very similar; they were considered conspecific earlier. But I didn't think he knew that, he just ploughed his way through with that answer. I thought you can become an Engineer without any passion for Engineering, but you cannot become a birding guide without having passion for birding.

Eurasian collared dove
We reached the top and kept looking for Chukar partridge, we found many other birds but no Chukar. We sat there for some time and started our climb down and realised our folly, S with an acute case of cremnophobia cannot climb down with his eyes open. If his eyes are open and he sees the depth down his legs just lock up, he just can't move. So we all took turns holding his hand and guiding him down while he kept his eyes closed. Once we reached the road P told me that the partridges are seen daily even in the fields on the side of the road. I was beyond furious. I asked him if they are seen right here why did we climb all the way up there. He told me very innocently that they are seen up there also. If I was not that exhausted, I would have just wrung his neck. We returned without seeing the partridge and no, we didn't sing 'chukar mere man ko'.

On the way back we went to the premises of Kainchi temple and did some birding there. P told me that Steve Jobs had come here long back and the baba at the temple gave him an apple after biting a piece off and that is how the Apple logo is a bitten apple. He was dead serious and he believed what he was telling me. I asked him with all the innocence I could muster, "Is that so?" 

Now jump to that stone! V and S, going for the Crested kingfisher. Pic credit: S
Later in the day we went to Chafi in search of Crested kingfisher and Brown dipper and found success with both. I was surprised to see the dipper  having a kind of glitter in its eyes. I later figured out that the eyes were not glittering, but I was seeing the white eyelid which they use to protect their eyes while dipping in the water. On the way S took a fancy to some local variety of tomato being grown. Later he collected a half rotten tomato from the hotel to carry all the way back to Bangalore to plant it in our vegetable garden. 

And we nailed it: Crested kingfisher

All pictures are taken by me, except for the one where picture credit is given to S.
Previous blog in the series: Part 9
Next blog in series: Part 11

Monday, June 11, 2018

Birding in Himalayas: Part 9

East Himalayas to West Himalayas
Green-backed Tit
Over the one week we spent in Arunachal, I saw 163 species of birds, of which 122 were lifers for me. I do not know how many more seasons and how many more places I have to visit in Arunachal Pradesh to spot all the birds that are there. During the trip we also added a species into the Arunachal Pradesh list of birds (Sulphur-bellied warbler), which was hitherto not reported from there.

We reached Nameri at the resort we would be staying for the night, to the ground and trees covered with millions of blinking lights. It took me a moment to realise that they were fireflies. The evening was dark and there were no lights outside the cottages. It was the most amazing sight of the whole trip. There were literally millions of fireflies. I forgave the bad stay at the resort (who would put the outlet of the wash basin into the middle of the bath area?) and the inedible omelette (Calvin and Hobbes had made it, see how he puts 2 eggs, that was exactly how the eggs were added for my omelette) for the fireflies. 

Add 2 eggs and stir! ©Bill Watterson
Next day morning we did some quick birding at the resort itself and headed to Guwahati airport. We didn't stop anywhere on the way for birding. I kept dreaming of some nice food and long rest in Delhi, before we start on the next part of the trip, as we were supposed to reach Delhi by 6pm. That remained a dream as our flight got delayed by 4 hours and we landed up at the hotel at 11.30 pm.
Blue-throated blue flycatcher, posing in studio

The birding in Western Himalayas is unbelievably commercialised. I am used to birding in natural habitats. The only hides I have been to are one in Bangalore and Old Magazine House, if that can be called a hide. But in Sattal, birding in synonymous with bird photography in hides. I should have been warned while we were driving to Sattal from Kathgodam itself. My friend who was attending a bird photography exhibition, was traveling with us to Sattal. When she mentioned that she is traveling with some friends who have come to Sattal for birding, the organiser who was coming to pick her up asked what birding are they going to do, all the hides are booked by them. I was so intoxicated on the roadside birding which we had done in Arunachal I just didn't think this could be much different. 
White-throated laughingthrush, another studio picture

We went to the 'studio' in the evening. Of all the heinous crimes I saw in Sattal, this was the least heinous, as there was no feeding of the birds. It is a small stream with some perches kept for the birds. We sat there for some time and clicked. We pushed off from there when the crowd started growing and called it a day, with 33 species and in that 10 lifers.
Verditer flycatcher, the ultimate sensuous pose

Note: All pictures are taken by me.
eBird lists: 
From Dirang to Nameri: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Nameri resort
Previous blog in series: Part 8
Next blog in series: Part 10

Monday, June 4, 2018

Birding in Himalayas: Part 8

Arunachal Pradesh-3
This day would trump all other days for the starting time. We started from the hotel in Dirang at 3 am to reach Sela pass by sunrise. Sun rose before we reached Sela pass though, and we stopped en route and did some pre Sela pass birding. 

White-capped redstart! What a beauty!

I said "I am not going to leave from here before I can get a good picture of this bird" only once in my whole 20 day trip; that was when I saw the Fire-tailed myzornis. Luckily for me, and also for the other birders as they got to leave from there soon, within few minutes the bird came and sat close enough for me to get a picture in which I can almost count its feather barbs.

Fire-tailed Myzornis; the bird which stole my heart!

A lot of times through the day thick fog descended on us. At times we had to wait for the fog to clear before we could continue searching for the birds. One bird which I didn't expect to see during this trip was Himalayan monal. When we got out of the car to search for some other birds we found a Himalayan monal on our path. I always say the first axiom in bird watching is that the bird would see you before you see the bird. Before we said monal, the bird cried "humans" and took flight. I was screaming in delight, even though I managed to click only a hazy picture of the monal flying in the fog.

Nostalgic Sela Pass. Pic credit: S

S wanted me to take a pic of him with a Himalayan yak. I told him that with my camera I cannot get both of them in the same frame. They both scared each other when he started moving towards the yak and it lifted its head with a grunt. 

Himalayan yak (after scaring off S; can you spot a faint satisfied smile?)

While we were returning from Sela pass we saw a troop of Arunachal macaques. Possibly the only other animal we spotted other than the yaks in a few days. We were taking a stroll after food, so I was without my camera. While watching the monkeys I realised the magnitude of the garbage problem in the hill state. Garbage, mainly plastic covers and soft drink bottles, was piled on to the hillside overflowing onto the valley and to the river, polluting their own water source.  Most of that plastic is going to be carried down to the ocean.  

If you haven't got scared enough about the plastic pollution in the world, this article should do the job: beat-plastic-pollution. I am telling you, it is scary. Please banish single use plastic from your life. Give up bottled water and start carrying your own reusable bottles for a start. 

Spotting Himalayan monal and Black eagle, and getting a nice picture of Fire-tailed myzornis made the birding more exciting than the previous day, even though the lifers  for me were only 20.

All pictures are taken by me except the ones for which picture credit is given to S.

Sela Pass eBird lists: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Previous blog in the series: Part 7
Next blog in series: Part 9

Friday, June 1, 2018

Birding in Himalayas: Part 7

Arunachal Pradesh-2
By now starting out for birding at 5 am had become a habit. Unlike a lot of other groups I have traveled with for various reasons, this was one group which was always on time to start. Usually birders are on time, but we were all much too much on time. I think I was a little upset that I couldn't complain about people not being on time. We drove to Mandala and stopped en route at various places to spot and photograph the birds. 

Striated bulbul, possibly posing for us.

Omkar going "there there", we going "where where" Pic credit: S

Through the day we walked and walked, up and down Mandala road for birds. The only other vehicles were army vehicles or trucks, very rarely cars with some locals, and 3-4 times other birders. Almost all those birders were from Bangalore and we figured out that if you find someone carrying a 600mm prime lens, the chances that the person is from Bangalore is some where near 100%. 

Walking up and down Mandala Road. Pic credit:S

All of us took a fancy to a skin shedding Birch bark cherry tree. People were telling that these skins were used for writing scriptures in olden times. I wonder what color ink they would have used to write on red skin!

Birch Bark Cherry. Pic credit: S
I was happy to see all the musically named birds I have been seeing in my bird book finally.

A sulky looking, musically named Whiskered Yuhina.

The whole road belongs to us. Pic credit: S

With 36 lifers, this day would turn out to be the day with maximum number of lifers for me. Happy ending!

All pictures taken by me, unless picture credits are given to S.
Mandala road bird lists: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Previous blog in series: Part 6
Next blog in series: Part 8

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Birding in Himalayas: Part 6

Arunachal Pradesh-1

A Blue whistling thrush on the way.

When you have a guide like Omkar who knows nooks and corners where specific species of birds are to be found, even a drive which takes 10 hours to cover 100 kms will become enjoyable. The road from Bhalukpong to Dirang was under construction when we traveled in 2014, it was still under construction when we traveled in 2018. It didn't look like much has changed in four years. Apparently this time the work was for widening the road. Hopefully next time when I travel through these roads I would have an uninterrupted drive. We stopped every few miles, walked around and spotted birds before we continued.

Beautiful Arunachal; pic credit: S

The roads were blocked at places for the construction work and were open only at certain times. We didn't know about the times and were wondering at places why the other cars and trucks were in such a hurry. But when we figured out that we will have to wait for an hour before we can pass through a particular stretch we happily turned back and went to the hot spot nearby and continued birding. Our drivers found this stopping for birds a little strange in the beginning, but soon they too got into the groove and started spotting birds, stopping the cars, and urging us to take pictures. They would also insist on me showing the picture taken to them at times and would comment "achcha hei".

Look at the picture after imagining a fat, shiny horse. Beautiful Arunachal!

After 10 hours, 10 stops, 55 species of birds out of which 34 were lifers for me, we reached Tenga by sunset. The roads were pretty bad till then. Suddenly the roads were smooth like some movie star's cheeks and the drivers stepped on the gas. But the fog which descended suddenly spoilt the fun for us passengers. The drivers continued to drive fast taking revenge for the slow driving they had to do through the day, while passengers prayed and held hands and thought about the Wills which are yet to be written. At times they slowed down just enough to figure out where the road ended and the gorge started, through the fog, rubbing their eyes. Finally we reached the hotel which would be our base for the next couple of days.

Beautiful Sangti Valley; pic credit: S

Next day our birding started with Sangti Valley. You don't need to be a birder to enjoy Sangti Valley, it is a really beautiful place. If I was traveling with P and R see the Small blue kingfisher below to see what we would have done for at least two to three in the valley! 

The best thing to do in Sangti Valley: Small blue kingfisher

The birding for the rest of the day was mostly done by the side of the Mandala road. After 8 checklists, 45 species out of which 22 were lifers, we called it a day as the light started to fade and went back to the hotel, to start another day of birding with more lifers the next day. Another good thing about birding with a guide like Omkar is not to miss species for the lack of pictures. He was spot on in identifying the birds and of the 230 species we spotted we misidentified only one single species. 

A tiny beauty at the hotel lobby: Black-throated tit

Note: All pictures are taken by me, except where credit is given to S

eBird lists:
From Nameri to Dirang: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
On Mandala road: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Previous blog in series: Part 5
Next blog in series: Part 7