Sunday, June 19, 2022

2022-04-13 Dehradun-Rishikesh-Kakdagad-Chopta : Birding along the streams

Have been reading about Chopta, a birding hotspot in western Himalayas and also called mini-Switzerland, for many years but somehow could not manage to plan a trip to this.

 

It was March 2022 and I was desperately trying to plan a trip on the long weekend on April 15. First part was to finalize on the place that can be visited during this timeframe. Had shortlisted Latpanchar and Chopta, but came to know that bagdogra airport was closed from 11th to 25th of April so Latpanchar was out. 
For Chopta tried with few birding groups but either the trips were full or they had no trips. 

Finally had contact with Jason who is a very enthusiastic bird photographer whom I had met on a trip to Malang. Jason contacted Dilip Guptaji of Avian Trips and he arranged for trip logistics and guide.

It was an amazing arrangement and our local expert Mr Pushkar Negiji is a great birder and made sure that we are able to make most of our time.

Finally it was four of us Me, Jason, Jagdish and Sridhar (from Bengaluru).

We stayed all days at the Snow View Hotel, Pothibasa (Chopta). It is an amazing place to stay with open space behind with lot of birding activity.

We reached Dehradun by 7.30am, picked up Sridhar from Rishikesh and proceeded towards Chopta.

First sighting was itself of a very graceful bird the Steppe Eagle. And that too not one but 3. They were sitting on a tree next to the highway.
The road was all along the river and we were searching for Crested kingfisher. 

While searching for that we got a Goral on the other bank of the river. It was quite far but still quite a good sighting.

At one point we stopped because we spotted something and it was the Crested Kingfisher on a wire running along the river.
Also here got some sand martins sitting on the wire and their id is yet to confirmed.
Next stop was at Kakdagad. It has a beautiful stream with very cold water. 
We got some wonderful sightings and I got many lifers. 

There was a small restaurant on the side of the road just before the bridge and a path leading to the stream below. 

At the stream the Plumbeous Redstart was calling and the male was doing a wonderful display to the female. 




There was also a Grey Wagtail in breeding plumage. 
First time saw such wonderful plumage of Grey Wagtail. 


Also there were the regular suspects.
 

Blue Whistling Thrush




White Capped Redstart


Common Kingfisher


Crested Kingfisher with a big fish which it seemed it was not able to eat. It flew from the stream to a tree on the road and we quickly climbed up to the road. It sat there for sometime but then flew away. 



Meanwhile on the other side of the stream our local bird expert Pushkar Negi ji spotted the Brown dipper. A beautiful juvenile with many spots. 



There was activity on the trees along the bank,
Himalayan Black-lored Tit
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
Russet Sparrow

Indian Paradise-Flycatcher
Himalayan Black Bulbul

While looking at these Jason suddenly saw the Spotted Forktail in the stream below. From the top we could nicely see the long forktail with spots on the black back. 


There was a single Chestnut-headed Bee-eater.

As the evening started to set the activity increased along the stream with birds coming down to take bath in the water.
White-throated Fantail


Blue-throated Flycatcher


Blue-capped Rock-thrush


And lots of Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush



By the time we reached the hotel it was almost dark.
And we were in for a wonderful surprise - Himalayan Civet in front of the hotel, What a wonderful animal.



Sunday, February 27, 2022

2021-09-19-21 Passage Migrantion Trip to Greater Rann of Kutch

Back in January 2014 Me along with 11 friends from our office had planned a trip to see tourist places around Kutch along with White Rann.

If  you are interested, please read the following blog.

Kutch Travel Blog 2014

But while sight seeing as well seeing birds is equally easy in this area.

Read the following blog for birding along with sighseeing.

Birding along with sightseeing 2014


Out of these friends 3 of us had special interest in bird watching and we decided to extend the trip by 2 more days to do bird watching.

Here are the 2 birding blog from that trip

Banni, Chari Dhand, Pot Mahadev 2014

Banni, Chari Dhand, Pot Mahadev 2014


That time Mandar and Adesh (Nature India) had helped me in getting the guide and a good place to stay in Nakhatrana.

This time I was going along with Nature India so it was for sure going to be more interesting.

On top of it, it was special since there were 6 passage migrants which were my lifers.

Another speciality about this trip was it was my first travel by train after the COVID hit the world in March 2020.

19th September: The start of passage migrant sightings

Started on Saturday 18th September 2021 from Dadar via Dadar Bhuj Special and reached early morning 6.35am at Bhuj station.

We were 6 participants (it was going to be 7 but one person cancelled) + Mandar.

Mandar as usual was on time to receive us with 2 enthusiastic Local Bird experts + owners of resort Kutch Birding Lodge : Kartik Bhai and Vikram Bhai (Vikramsinh Sodha). And they were also going to drive us around various birdinglocations.

More stories about them later.


We had nice tea outside the station over some witty jokes by Mandar :-)


The group jelled together pretty quickly.

5 of us (Me, Ritesh, Mr. Nandan, Mr. Uppal and Mr. Rajesh) had met in the train and had dinner together the earlier night over introductions.

Dr. Ramgopal had boarded the train in the middle of the night at Ahmedabad so we met him directly at Bhuj station.


While in the traing, getting inspired from Ritesh, tried some hand on Landascape photography from mobile to capture some scenes around sunset.



The weather as warned by Mandar was extrmely humid in Bhuj.

Immediately after tea the birding session started.

The first encounter was with the juvenile Red-Tailed Shrike.



Next we saw another passage migrant Greater Whitethroat. This was just the first sighting of many more sightings. And then another sighting some hours later.




Then we saw the desert / scrubland speciality the Variable Wheatear.



With the wonderful hearing and sighting of Vikram Bhai we could get wonderful views of Eurasian Wryneck.



And reached the place to find roosting European Nightjar.

But unfourtunately it was not there but Vikram Bhai assured us that we will try again later at a different spot.

This is how the vegetation was at that spot.


There were Purple sunbird, jungle prinia, White eared bulbul and redvented bulbul at this spot.

And we got another speciality the Spotted Flycatcher in the area around that place. Again these are very abundunt in the area and this was just first of many sightings of the spotted flycatcher.


The red vented bulbul looked as it it was puzzled by its own image in the window :-)



Some more birds seen while returning to the resort

Spotted Flycatcher





Jungle Prinia



White-eyed Buzzard



Red-Tailed Shrike



Rufous-Tailed Lark



Spotted Flycatcher Juvenile



Also got another lifer the Black Francolin.


After freshning up had lunch and quick nap.

Just before leaving we went around the Kutch Birding Lodge property to explore some birdlife.

Behind the kitchen where some leftover food is kept there was a congregation of birds.

White-Eared Bulbul, Red-Vented Bulbul and Squirrel.



We started afternoon session with a European roller sitting on a cactus 

which is a rare sight as mostly they are seen only "online" i.e. sitting on wire :-) :-)


During this season European roller are seen in abundance. 


Then we proceeded to the waterbody where marbled duck were sighted earlier.

When we reached there was not even a single duck in sight which was shocking.


We decided to go ahead by vehicle and scan from the fringes of the waterbody.

We could see only following

A Montagu's Harrier flying over the waterbody

12 Little Grebe

4 Northern Shoveler

Garganey


Whiskered Tern

River Tern

2 Greater Crested Grebe


Few Blue Cheecked Beeeaters


3 Little Ringed Plovers


Black Winged Stilts

Little Stint

Wood Sandpiper


Common Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Ruff


But no Marbled Duck


As the sun started to set we finally decided to wrap-up the session.

We had dinner and retired early to bed. The next day was going to be a long day.


20th September: The big sighting day

We started at 6.30am and the plan was to visit a nearby scrubland for some specialities.

There is a dam nearby and we started sighting the whiskered terns flying around.


As soon as we got down Kartik bhai exclaimed Striolated Bunting.

Luckily I was there while others were still getting down and I got some shots of it plucking some seeds from the grass.



There was lot of calls and activity around and as always alert Vikram Bhai announced there is a White-Naped Tit, another speciality of this region.

We saw it clearly on the top of the bush but briefly as it disappeared quickly.

We also saw Orphean Warbler clearly in the open just behing the White-Naped Tit.

There was also a silverbill collecting some material mostly for nest


This day was turning out to be very rewarding as soon a pair of Marshall's Iora appeared on the same bush as the White-Naped Tit.

It gave very good time to take some good pics.




There was also Lesser Whitethroat here


Next started the search for another passage migrant.

The place had small bushes in between the scattered grassland.

Within this Vikram Bhai spotted the Rufous-Tailed Scrub Robin.




It was doing the typical tail cocking and fliting its wing while walking on the ground.

Also it was feeding on ants while doing the same.


We had breakfast sitting in nature while observing birds around us.

It was the best place to have breakfast.

While having breakfast we observed the Spotted Flycather and Grey Necked Bunting.


After breakfast we continued our birding session.

Saw the same spotted flycatcher and later Striolated Bunting Female.

    

Later ahead at one place we encountered an amazing scene.

First we just heard the call of a White-Naped Tit.

Then we saw 2 of them flying around in a bush and then 1 individual started displaying.

It was an amazing sight.

Just then a third one entered the scene.




This was not enough when a 4th one entered scene.

It was simply amazing to see 4 individuals of a rarity the White-Naped tit in one frame.



While returning back we got a wonderful specimen of the European Roller but on wire.




Also on the same wire were green beeeater and spotted flycatcher.

Spotted flycatcher seemed to be everywhere.


We then proceeded towards a spot to find streaked weavers but did not sight them.

But there observed Indian Silverbills picking some material from Streaked weaver nests may to build their nest.


Streaked weaver had a special nest construction as if a grass is growing from the nest.


Now we were used to ignoring European Rollers but this one was sitting on a tree top and had to climb on the cars sideboard to take this pic.


Then came the next passage migrant lifer the Red-Backed Shrike Adult.

But it gave only few front view shots and then flew away.



At one spot there was a huge colony of Baya Weaver nests around 10-15 of them.

We ended this wonderful session with some common babbler pics and videos in the resort.



The evening session was going to be longer starting 2.30pm from resort and returning back at 10.30pm.

But this was going to turn out to be another amazing session.

It started with now considered regulars the red-back shrike, red-tailed shrike, European Roller and Spotted Flycatcher.


Got some wonderful sighting and dust bathing of Chestnut bellied sandgrouse male and female.




After staying silent for around 5min they became comfortable with our presence feeding and even doing a dust bath.

<<Video>>

After another 5min we decided to leave them feeding.

It always a pleasure to be able to observe behavior and then leave the place without making them flyaway especially birds like sandgrouse which are very sensitive and fly away at slightest sense danger.


Then came a bird which I had longed to see for a long time.

I had tried it multiple times near Pune but had only succeeded in seeing its female one time just last month near Saswad.

This is the White-Bellied Minivet.



We could get wonderful views of both Male and Female and that too sitting next to each other.


We moved towards Chari Dhand and got 

- A Monitor lizard crossing the road


- Small Minivets

- Marshall's Iora

- A beautiful Adult Red Tailed Shrike


The vehcile in front of us had stopped at a small field by the road.

They informed us there are Greater Whitethroat on the hedge of the field.

For sometime there was no movement and we waited patiently for sometime.


The patience paid of we got not 1 but 3 Greater Whitethroat with 2 females and 1 male.



Could also caputre and wonderful video of both of them together.


By now our eyes had become quite trained to differentiate the Bay-Backed from Red-Backed.

We had read in the book but finally identifying birds on field is a complete different ball game.


This is a Bay backed Shrike. Here one can see clearly the broad black band extending to forehead and being an adult the back and front contrast are quite noticible.

Its quite different than Red-Backed.


Little ahead on a barren land where at one end there was some water we found another beautiful bird - The Painted Sandgrouse.



This was my lifer till few months back but got it at Bhigwan. This was also another bird which I wanted to see for long time.


On the way there are some wonderful spots to do landscape photography.

But that was not our aim for this trip so had to be just satisfied with some mobile clicks.



We reached Chari Dhand quite late in the evening.

In the middle of nowhere we did some landscape photography and had wonderful surprise snack.

The snack was a kutchi specialty the "Kutchi Dabeli" with tea. Thanks to wonderful hospitality of Vikram Bhai, Kartik bhai and Mandar.


After watching the wonderful sunset we started our return journey.

This was also filled with excitment and surprises.


The first one was the Savanna Nightjar.


Then came a sighting of just 2 eyes in grass far away. 

We did not get clear views but by the size and experience of Kartik bhai it was concluded to be a Jungle Cat.

And also a second one walking clearly on the mound but too far for photographing it.


Then was a lifer the Sykes nightjar.

Such a dull colored bird it is but then in daylight with the background of Rann it was the perfect camouflage.


We almost concluded our evening and were returning back to the resort when Mandar and Vikram bhai spotted a nightjar.

This turned out to be a bumper surprise the "European Nightjar". 

One of the rarest of the nightjars to be found and only a passage migrant.


This was not enough that a few kms later we got another individuals.

2 European nightjars in a night was something.


At the gate of the resort we were stopped by the presence of an Indian Nightjar on the track.


It was like a never ending train of sightings till the time we reached the resort.

Simply amazing evening which extended till night and we had dinner quite late.

We retired very late by normal standards of a birding day at around 12 midnight but never the less it was a satisfying day.

21st September: Concluding day with Interesting sightings

With all the passage migrants and local specialties done we went to a nearby place to see whatever we get.

The day started with the call of Eurasian Collared Dove in our Kutch Birding Lodge Campus itself.

We got some good views of 

- Some red rump swallows sitting on a bush



- A European roller on a top of bushes

- Marshall's iora again

- A black naped hare


While having breakfast saw an Indian Crimson-tip butterfly.

Similar looking to a Orange-tip but instead of orange it has bright wonder crimson colored tips.

Such a wonderful butterfly.


We had seen the Wryneck the first day of the trip and now got another view of this individual calling on the last day.


As if it had come to say goodbye :-)


But this was not the end of the trip yet.

We sighted some more birds

- Bay-Backed Shrike


- Variable wheater on a rock


- 3 Grey Necked Buntings on a vertical mud bank which was quite unique


We received a call from our other vehicle to come to a spot. It seemed they had spotted something

It was a nice patch with some big bushes and trees. It was full of activity

- An Orphean Warbler in clear view but no pics

- 2 Hoopoe

- 4 Grey necked buntings mostly resting in the shade of a bush

- Spotted flycatcher hunting


- And 3 Rufous fronted Prinias calling and creating a ruckous. They gave some wonderful close views.





- Lesser Whitethroat


- Chestnut Shouldered Petronia

- An adult marshall's iora feeding a juvenile


And with this we ended this session and returned back to resort.

Had lunch and some rest as we had to checkout and proceed to Bhuj station for our return train.


We had decided to take another chance for the Marbled Duck on the way at the same spot as yesterday.

But without much luck.

But at this spot we met a great photographer Mr. Niranjan Sant whose photographs I had been seeing for years on a very famous platform in earlier days the India Nature Watch.

He still posts wonderful pics from Belgaum and it always brings a different perspective.


Also met Mr. Suyog Ghodke whom I had known through common friends but had not had a chance to meet on field.


So it was nice end to a wonderful trip of passage migrants.

These trips not only bring good sightings which makes wonderful memories,

But also introduces to new people like our group and the 2 enthusiastic birders  who also own a resort :-)


Finally thanks to Nature India (Mandar and Adesh) for another wonderful trip :-)