I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in India on an amazing university fieldtrip. It’s taken me a few days to get over the jetlag, and I haven’t got a lot of time to spare to write a full report, so I’m going to do one single (very long) post about it…
(I’ve made all species names bold, and (bird) lifers are bold and in red)
Day 1 – 11th
We landed at Bagdogra airport around midday, having made a brief stop at Delhi airport a few hours earlier. Immediately after getting of the plane, we managed our first species of the trip; a Common Drongo on the airfield. There were several more around the airport, as well as good numbers of Common Myna, House Crow and Asian Pied Starling.
We got into the cars and – in convoy – headed north through the hot, dusty city. More new species were seen from the car, including Red Collared-Dove, many Black Kites, Cattle Egret and Glossy Ibis in the roadside fields and two Common Sandpipers took flight as we crossed one of the rivers. Perhaps the highlight of the journey was the pair of Little Green Bee-Eaters which were seen flying around and perched on some roadside wires, as we passed through an agricultural area just north of Bagdogra.
As we were constantly on the move, views were always brief and photographs were impossible, but it was still a very enjoyable journey (despite the questionable Indian driving)! The sun set as we headed up into the mountains, but it was enough to get a glimpse of the awesome himalayas before darkness fell. It was also nice to see a few Hanuman Langur monkeys on the roadside to round things off for the day.
Day 2 – 12th
I woke up just after dawn, at the Hidden Forest Retreat Lodge, near Gangtok, Sikkim. I headed down to the veranda to some pretty stunning views!
The birds weren’t bad either! Before breakfast, in the grounds of the lodge, I had seen several Red-Vented Bulbul and White-Rumped Munia, Oriental Turtle Dove, White-Spectacled Warbler, Green-Backed Tit, Blue-Whistling Thrush, Ashy Drongo and Cuckoo.
A visit to Gangtok town produced more Common Mynas, as well as several Large-Billed Crows. Other species seen later at the Hidden Forest were a Bronzed Drongo (feeding on nectar from flowers), Tree Sparrow and an unbelievably colourful Verditer Flycatcher.
Day 3 – 13th
I was out the door at 6:30, and it was another great first hour of birding. The highlight was an Asian Barred Owlet, which I initially saw in flight, and then managed to pic out perched up in the canopy.
Indian Magpie Robin, Grey Treepie, Steppe Eagle and Grey Wagtail were also added to the list, plus a nice supporting cast of the species seen on 12th.
The rest of the day was spent visiting the monasteries at Rumtek. Birding here was slow, but it was good to see another Bronzed Drongo.
A small group of us stopped for a short and very productive visit to the Ranikhola river, on the way back. The highlights here were a pair of Black Eagles and a Long-Tailed Shrike over nearby farmland, and Slaty-Backed Forktail, Plumbeous Water-Redstart and White-Capped Water-Redstart. (A Crested Kingfisher was also seen, but not by me).
Day 4 – 14th
Another early morning session around the Hidden Forest garden proved productive. The Verditer Flycatchers, Red-Vented Bulbuls and Oriental Turtle Doves were still about, but the highlight was a large mixed group of passerines that came through the trees below the veranda, feeding actively. Species identified were; Oriental White-Eye, Tickell’s Leaf-Warbler, Red-Tailed Minla and Common Tailorbird.
The day’s trip was to the Banjhakri water park, and the highlight species there was obvious! More than ten Oriental Honey Buzzards were seen, including several perched in trees, and others flying fairly low overhead. They varied greatly in appearance, with some being dark chocolate-brown, and others being pale cream-white.
Other good birds seen were; Little Forktail, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, White-Capped Water-Redstart, Black Eagle, Goshawk and White-Rumped Munia.
A brief visit to the Plant conservatory at Lachung’s garden also produced split second views of a Chestnut-Crowned Laughingthrush, two more Black Eagles and another Oriental Honey Buzzard.
Day 5 – 15th
A lot of good birds were seen on day five, during a visit to the Temi tea plantation. Grey Bushchat, Siberian Stonechat, Olive-Backed Pipit, Common Green Magpie (from the car), Pacific Swift and Little Swift (also both from the car) were all new for the trip.
Long-Tailed Shrike, Grey Treepie, Oriental Honey Buzzard and Goshawk all also featured.
Day 6 – 16th
With assignment work to be done, day six was a quiet day for birds, spent mostly at the lodge. A brief Blue-Throated Barbet and a Grey-Backed Shrike saved the day, both showing well from the veranda.
Day 7 – 17th
The day started very well, when a large mixed passerine flock came through the trees below the veranda. Species identified were; Verditer Flycatcher (1), Hume’s Yellow-Browed Warbler (2+), adult male Little Pied Flycatcher (1), immature Taiga Flycatcher (1) and Oriental White-Eye (2+).
Our first stop of the day was Tashi viewpoint, and the views were truly awesome.
There were some good birds around too, with Besra Sparrowhawk and Nepal House Martin both new for the trip.
Next came a long but impressive drive over to the dammed river at Dikchu. A pair of Booted Eagles were seen high over the ridge on our arrival, and other good raptors such as Oriental Honey Buzzard, Black Eagle and Kestrel were seen during the visit. Undoubtedly the highlight was the Mountain Hawk Eagle, which flew around over the forest for a long while, giving great scope views for all present!
Other highlights here included hundreds of Nepal House Martins (with one Himalayan Swiftlet briefly), a Himalayan Bulbul, Common Sandpiper, White-Capped Water-Redstart and Plumbeous Water-Redstart.
Lots of butterflies and other colourful invertebrates were seen at this site too:
The scenery got even more stunning too, as we drove back to Gangtok and the sun set.
Day 8 – 18th
A quiet day on the wildlife front, with lots of work to be done. I did manage to see three Himalayan Buzzards from the veranda, along with better views of the Indian Magpie Robin.
Day 9 – 19th
This was the day of our hike at Fambong Lho, which was expected to be one of the highlights of the trip. We set out early, and were climbing by mid-morning. This was the only place that I really felt the altitude, and the humidity also made things very tough!
The birding was also a little frustrating. We could hear a lot, but actually seeing stuff was a different matter altogether! Of those that we did manage to Id, the highlights were; Yellow-Billed Blue-Magpie (2) (seen in flight only), White-Throated Fantail, Stripe-Throated Yuhina, Chestnut-Crowned Warbler, several Rufous Sibia, several Hume’s Yellow-Browed Warbler (seen well) and Wedge-Tailed Green-Pigeon (2).
Despite the frustration, it was a truly remarkable place to visit!
Day 10 – 20th
The group visited the Himalayan Zoo on the tenth day of the trip, and it was a surprisingly good site for birding. The birds appeared to be moving in large mixed flocks, and I came across two of these during the visit. The first flock was found by the track just up the hill from the car park. It consisted mainly of Rufous Sibia, with more than ten seen. Mixed in were a female White-Tailed Blue-Robin, a Ferruginous Flycatcher and a Rufous-Gorgeted Flycatcher (which I didn’t see).
The next group was found further up the hillside about an hour later. Species identified here were; Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, Whistler’s Warbler, Whiskered Yuhina, Scaly Laughingthrush and Black-Spotted Yellow Tit.
Other good birds were about too, with two Mountain Hawk Eagles low overhead, a Black Eagle more distantly and a single Verditer Flycatcher.
This stunning moth was also seen:
Day 11 – 21st
Pre-breakfast birding produced some more good birds on day eleven. Two Grey-Throated Babbler were seen with two Red-Billed Leiothrix, but the definite highlight was the Great Barbet which finally gave itself up, having eluded me for a few days:
As a day set aside for our group project, we were able to visit any agricultural sites that we wanted. We headed for an area near Rumtek, and this is were we spent most of the day. We visited a paddyfield first, where I carried out some surveying. Birds present were; Red-Vented Bulbul (10+), Long-Tailed Shrike (1), Grey-Backed Shrike (1), Oriental Honey Buzzard (2), Oriental Turtle Dove (2), Hair-Crested Drongo (4), Tree Sparrow (20+), Himalayan Swiftlet (1), Nepal House Martin (50+) and Hodgson’s Redstart (1 female).
A few hours at various different farms were interesting, but not very productive on the birding front.
We finished the day with a visit to an orange plantation, and there were some good birds there; a large flock of Red-Rumped Swallows were seen from the car on the way, a Blue-Throated Barbet was seen around the plantation as well as two Olive-Backed Pipits, a Siberian Stonechat and two Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush to round things off for the day.
Day 12 – 22nd
Of all the days of the trip, this was the only one in which I had no lifers. It was spent working at the lodge, but I did manage to see an Oriental Honey Buzzard being mobbed by a few Large-Billed Crows, and grab this record shot:
Day 13 – 23rd
Another day spent around the Hidden Forest Retreat, but the birding was a lot better! The highlights were Common Green Magpie (1), White-Spectacled Warbler (1), Hume’s Yellow-Browed Warbler (2), Tickell’s Leaf Warbler (1), Blue-Winged Minla (1), Red-Tailed Minla (2), Oriental White-Eye (15+), Grey-Headed Canary-Flycatcher (1), Blue-Whistling Thrush (1), Blue-Throated Barbet (2) and Blue Rock Thrush (1). The ever present Red-Vented Bulbuls, Verditer Flycatcher, House Crow, Common Myna and Oriental Turtle Dove were also seen.
The birding was cut short however, by a heavy thunderstorm, which provided some dramatic scenery over the valley.
Day 14 – 24th
We left the hotel shortly after dawn, and began our 36 hour return journey. The first leg – a six hour drive back to Bagdogra was the only part which yielded birds. Firstly, a River Lapwing was seen just south of Rangpo, closely followed by a group of Cormorants. Next, Spotted Dove and Asian Palm Swift were added to the trip list, and the Black Kites and Asian Pied Starlings which had been seen at the start of the trip, were seen again.
Between us we had seen over a hundred species of bird, and 73 of these were lifers for me! It was an amazing trip in general, and great to experience such a different and inaccessible place!!