Friday, April 11, 2014

Birding in Chopta Valley (Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary)

Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, also called the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary, is a national sanctuary in Uttarakhand, India. It is the largest protected area in the western Himalayas. Rhododendrons are in abundance in and around the sanctuary especially during the spring and summer.

Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) - Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary

It's been almost a year, haven't been birding. I recalled Ramesh Rawat had mentioned during our Ladakh trip in 2012 that Chopta Valley and its surroundings in Garhwal Himalayan region is good for birding. The only apprehension we had was due to the recent disaster (June 2013) was not sure how much habitat was lost for the winged friends.

With a few round of discussion with Yash (my son) decided and started to plan the trip to explore the region. Ramesh confirmed he would take care of the travel into the region and make arrangements for camping near birding sites. This time Seema (my wife) promptly said yes and was keen to join us too.

The Map                                                                                   Ramesh Rawat
The closest airport from Mumbai being Jollygrant was our obvious choice for reaching Rishikesh.

Our journey began along with Ramesh and his team from Rishikesh on 31st March 2014. The repairs on the roads was in full swing as by the first week of May, the Badrinath-Kedarnath yatra would be commencing. Drove for about eight hours (220km) and reached Ukhimath (Approx elevation 4300 ft) before evening set in.

En-route the landscape was stunning, the forests were dense, meadows so green, flocks of birds, innumerable river confluences having shades of green and emerald, mosses hanging from the trees. We kept sighting varieties of birds including the Thrushes, White-throated Needletail and stopping enroute to watch them hop and fly.

The most common is the Blue-whistling Thrush, virtually seen at every water source. (see bottom for the complete list)
Ukhimath is situated on the cliff overlooking beautiful Mandakini River valley and views of Kedar Peak massif (6800m).  
Seema, Me, Yashpal Negi ji, Yash - in Mukkumath
After a good breakfast we started exploring the surrounding area, managed to contact Mr. Yashpal Negi, whose camp along the river Mandakini was destroyed completely in the recent disaster. As we had heard a lot about him, decided to meet him in his hometown - Mukkumath (Approx elevation 6900 ft) . He had discussed with Ramesh, the locations where we should be stopping enroute to see the Alpine Swifts.

Negi ji was kind enough to spend the afternoon with us inspite of being busy in erecting his new camp. We did sight flycatchers, finches, forktails, Small Niltava and the Collared owlet apart from a few other birds. Our bird count and names in the lifer list kept increasing.

As the evening was drawing close, started to drive back to the base camp, enroute sighted the Kalij Pheasant (Female and Male) on two different instances.
Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos)
Stop... Stop whispered Yash, look there is a Maroon Oriole. It would come out and while we would focus, would hide again. Within seconds it took the flight over me and like always kept admiring it without clicking. Enroute we also sighted the Yellow-throated Marteen. It was agile and moved fast, Yash managed to get a reference click.

Yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula)
The next day after a luxurious breakfast drove towards Sari (approx - 1hr) and then walked about 2km to Deoria Tal also spelled as Devariya. (Approx elevation 7900 ft). Devariyatal is sure the best place to view the Himalayan. While we kept trekking, were having a great time watching species of birds we had never seen. 
Yash treks towards Devariya tal and keeps a eye on the birds enroute.
Soon we saw a flock of Himalayan griffons hovering over the valley. The place was serene and far from the madding crowd's. To our luck we were the only ones who camped there for the night.
Himalayan Griffon Vulture (Gyps himalayensis)
View into the Himalayas - Devariya tal
It started to get cloudy as we walked around this small lake and sighted two pairs of Greater Cormorants, Northern Pintail, a few more Thrushes, Jays, Sun-birds and Woodpeckers. By early evening it seemed quite dark and we could not move into the thick and dense forest around the lake.

As the night fell, the climate changed drastically and it rained with hail, thunder and lighting. All we did was had our supper in the tent and got cozy into our sleeping bags. We were told a few mammals come in the night to quench their thirst. Being chilly, all could do was hear the calls of Owl, Nightjar and a few which we were new to.
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus)
Did not realise, when we had dozed off, only to wake up early morning to the chirps of birds. A large flock of Dark-throated thrush and Woodpeckers were seen along with thrushes, Sunbirds, Tits.

We had two options either to trek from Devariyatal to Baniyakund (Chopta Valley) or drive till Baniyakund. It had rained quite heavy in the night so decided to take it easy. After breakfast drove from Sari into Chopta. (Approx elevation 9900 ft).
View into the Meadows and Chopta Valley - from the Camp Site
Chopta had these amazing grassy meadows and mesmerising views, no wonder its called 'Mini Switzerland' in Uttarakhand. In fact we did meet tourist here who had come from Switzerland and said "we don't have such huge mountains!"
Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
It was almost evening and we started to move around the valley, the mission for the evening was sighting the Himalayan Monal. We moved as silently as possible as were aware the bird is very shy and sensitive. As we moved into up into the valley could see snow along the cliffs and sighted an awesome rock climber, a near threatened species - Himalyan Tahr. Maybe, we weren't quite enough and had scared it, who soon joined the herd waiting a little higher.
Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus)
We kept moving and sighted the Monal, far away on a cliff. The prominent shades and colours of the bird were very obvious. However, not close enough to get a clean image. So kept on moving the sun had almost set amongst the clouds and high mountains. as we took a bend sighted 4-5 female Monals being led by a Male!
Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus)
No sooner they noticed us, started to move fast. we went and managed to get a couple of frames (in high ISO). We kept moving hoping to sight the Koklass Pheasant, but in vain. But we felt good as we had sighted the Monal atleast. 

Returned to the base camp, where hot soup and dinner was waiting for us. During the trip we had the moon shining on us, making star trial photography difficult. So simply took some slow frame shots.

Camp Site - in Twilight
Early morning, we took a stroll around the meadows next to the camp sight. The place had so many bird calls by 6am. However, noticed the birds were too small and too shy. On slight movement of ours, they would fly to distant trees. We did manage to sight and identify the different redstarts, woodpeckers, thrushes. As always a few warblers which we will need to ID later.
(see bottom for the complete list)

Today is 4th April and have planned to trek towards Tungnath which is at an elevation of about 12100 ft. Tungnath (believed to be 1000 years old) the highest Shiva temple in the world and is one of the five and the highest Panch Kedar temples, all charged up as we had a new mission for the day sighting the Snow Partridge.

We were aware its a 3-4kms trek to the top and another one km to reach Chandrasilla. The trek is well paved, though at some stretches the climb is very steep. Soon we were taking off the extra layers of clothing as it was getting warmer. Mid-way we sighted almost half a dozen Monals (all females), flycatchers, whistling thrush, warblers. The sun was shinning bright and soon entered the area where it seems it had snowed recently.
Enroute to Tungnath
We looked frantically and planned to return as it was getting colder, our boots were not totally snow proof. While we were around Tungnath sighted the Golden Eagle, Griffons, Lammergeier, Red-billed Chough.

We had decided to turn back from Tungnath itself, as the snow was too heavy and couldn't have completed the last one kms stretch to Chandrasilla, surely missed seeing the highest peak in India called the Nanda Devi.

Stopped by a deserted shrine to have the packed lunch we had carried. Due to the heavy snow, not a single shop/tea stall was open. In fact they were all submerged under layers of snow. While we were munching, Ramesh sighted a small bird, looked more like a Alpine Accentor to us.
Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris)
As always Ramesh's Hawk eyes sighted some movement in the rocky patch around the Alpine Accentor. Yes... there were two pairs of snow partridges. Slowly we started to climb towards them with absolute caution. Standing in knee deep snow and watching them through the lens and otherwise was a delight. They also felt comfortable and kept foraging. 
Snow Partridge (Lerwa lerwa)
Before the evening set in we trekked back to Chopta Meadows.

NOTE: Please wear UV resistant Sunglasses, Scarf and a Hat to avoid SNOW BURN.
Breakfast and we set off with our cameras and binoculars to Mandal, which is located in Chamoli district, east of Chandrasilla mountain to see more varieties of birds in this area that can be seen at lower altitudes. (Approx elevation 5900 ft)

Enroute birding is always fun. This deodar forest is very dense and full of birds. Here we sighted the Magpies, Parakeets and loads of Bulbuls.
Red-billed Blue Magpie (Urocissa erythrorhyncha)
Slaty-headed Parakeet (Psittacula himalayana)
We did explore Anusuya Devi area for more birding. Anusuya Devi temple is situated deep inside the forest full of birds, Langoors and Goral's. There are few very beautiful waterfalls in the route, where we sighted the Brown Dipper, Redstarts and Forktails.

The day later we traveled towards Rudraprayag. (Approx elevation 2900 ft) Stayed in a resort overlooking the river. Sighted birds like the Barbets, Yuhia, Treepies, Oriental White-eyes and thrushes.

Day 9 it was we were birding, even when we closed our eyes would see beaks and wings. After a 4 hours drive reached Rishikesh. Stayed in the Hotel and relaxed ourselves.

Final day we had planned a visit to Rajaji National park for wildlife/Birding. Drove into the park only to realise that the entry stops at 9AM ! Had to wait around the park till 2.30PM, until the second entry opened. Recent Leopard sighting in the park had made the guide very alert and managed to show us its markings on the bark.

Leopard - Claw Markings
During the four hour safari we sighted Lapwings, Waders, Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, Flycatchers, Red-Jungle Fowl's, Indian Roller's, Changeable-Hawk Eagle, Hornbills apart from Wild Boar's, Spotted deers and Elephants. It was evening soon and the lighting was getting very low. The park closes at 6PM and we had to head out.
Changeable Hawk-Eagle
Asiatic elephant (Elephas maximus)
Spotted deer
The trip came to an end on 9th April 2014 (10 days) with loads of clicks and memories we will cherish all our lives.

Note : This trekking trip was one of the most beautiful and easiest in Garhwal Himalayas. There are many varieties of birds in this area. One can do easy walks around and go bird watching. The other attraction of this trail is fabulous views of Himalayan peaks from any point of trail. During this trip we can see dense alpine forest and lay back villages.

Special Thanks to Mr. Ramesh Rawat and his Team (Puran Singh, Amar ji and Rana ji) who drove us safely, made delicious meals and kept us cozy in tents.

Landscape photos by Seema, Bird Photographs by me and Yash.

Seema, Me, Rana ji, Puran, Ramesh ji, Amar ji and Yash

Happy Birding!
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LIST OF BIRDS: (Click on names for links to Images)

   1.  Snow Partridge (Lerwa lerwa)

   2.  Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus)
   3.  Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus)
   4.  Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos)
   5.  Indian Peadowl or Blue Peafowl (Pavo cristatus)

   6.  Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

   7.  Brown-fronted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos auriceps)
   8.  Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus)
   9.  Himalayan Woodpecker (Dendrocopos himalayensis)
 10.  Scaly-bellied Woodpecker (Picus squamatus)
 11.  Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus)
 12.  Black-rumped Flameback (Dinopium benghalense)

  13.  Great Barbet (Megalaima virens)
  14.  Brown-headed Barbet (Megalaima zeylanica)
  15.  Blue-throated Barbet  (Megalaima asiatica)
  16.  Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala)

  17.  Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris)
  18.  Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)
  19.  Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis)

  20.  Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)

 21.  White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
 22.  Crested Kingfisher (Megaceryle lugubris)

 23.  Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
 24.  Chestnut-headed Bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti)

 25.  Alexandrine Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria)
 26.  Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
 27.  Slaty-headed Parakeet (Psittacula himalayana)
 28.  Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala)

 29.  White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus)
 30.  Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba)

 31.  Collared Owlet (Glaucidium brodiei)
 32.  Jungle Owlet (Glaucidium radiatum
 33.  Spotted Owlet (Athene brama)

 34.  Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
 35.  Snow Pigeon (Columba leuconota)


 36.  Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)
 37.  Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis)
 38.  Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

 39.  Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
 40.  Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
 41.  Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
 42.  Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)

 43.  Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)

 44.  Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris)
 45.  Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
 46.  Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)
 47.  Shikra (Accipiter badius)
 48.  Crested Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus)
 49.  White-eyed Buzzard (Butastur teesa)
 50.  Steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis)
 51.  Crested Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus)
 52.  Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
 53.  Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 

 54.  Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
 55.  Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)
 56.  Himalayan Griffon Vulture (Gyps himalayensis)
 57.  Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus)
 58.  Red-headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus)

 59.  Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

 60.  Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
 61.  Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii)

 62.  Black Stork (Ciconia nigra)

 63.  Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)

 64.  Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
 65.  Black-headed Jay (Garrulus lanceolatus)
 66.  Yellow-billed Blue Magpie (Urocissa flavirostris)
 67.  Red-billed Blue Magpie (Urocissa erythrorhyncha)
 68.  Rufous Treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda)
 69.  Grey Treepie (Dendrocitta formosae)

 70.  Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)
 71.  Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
 72.  House Crow (Corvus splendens)
 73.  Jungle Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)

 74.  Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)
 75.  Maroon Oriole (Oriolus traillii)

 76.  Long-tailed Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus)
 77.  Yellow-bellied Fantail (Chelidorhynx hypoxantha)
 78.  White-throated Fantail (Rhipidura albicollis)

 79.  Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus)
 80.  Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus)

 81.  Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasii)
 82.  Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisie)
 83.  Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa latirostris)
 84.  Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher (Ficedula strophiata)
 85.  Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus)
 86.  Ultramarine Flycatcher (Ficedula superciliaris)
 87.  Small Niltava (Niltava macgrigoriae)
 88.  Taiga flycatcher  (Ficedula albicilla)

 89.  Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush (Monticola rufiventris)
 90.  Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus)
 91.  White-collared Blackbird (Turdus albocinctus)
 92.  Grey-winged Blackbird (Turdus boulboul)
 93.  Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
 94.  Tickell's Thrush (Turdus unicolor)
  95.  Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis)
  96.  Indian Robin (Saxicoloides fulicatus)
  97.  Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
  98.  Blue-fronted Redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis)
  99.  White-capped Water Redstart (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus)
100.  Plumbeous Water Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosa)
101.  Little Forktail (Enicurus scouleri)
102.  Spotted Forktail (Enicurus maculatus)
103.  Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus)

104.  Common Stonechat (saxicola tarquatus)
105.  Grey Bush Chat (Saxicola ferreus)
106.  Brown Rock Chat (Cercomela fusca)
107.  Pied Bush chat (Saxicola caprata)

108.  Spot-winged Starling (Saroglossa spiloptera)
109.  Asian Pied Starling (Gracupica contra)
110.  Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)

111.  Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (Sitta cinnamoventris)
112.  Bar-tailed Tree-creeper (Certhia himalayana)
113.  White-tailed Nuthatch (Sitta himalayensis)

114.  Fire-capped Tit (Cephalopyrus flammiceps)
115.  Rufous-naped Tit (Periparus rufonuchalis)
116.  Spot-winged Tit (Periparus ater melanolophus)
117.  Grey Crested Tit (Lophophanes dichrous)
118.  Great Tit (Parus major)
119.  Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus)
120.  Indian Black-lored Tit (Parus aplonotus)
121.  Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus)

122.  Plain Martin (Riparia chinensis)
123.  Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)

124.  Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)
125.  Himalayan Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys)
126.  Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus)

127.  Striated Prinia (Prinia crinigera)

128.  White-throated Laughingthrush (Garrulax albogularis)
129.  White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
130.  Striated Laughingthrush (Garrulax striatus)
131.  Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum)
132.  Variegated Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron variegatum)
133.  Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron erythrocephalum)

134.  Black-chinned Babbler (Stachyridopsis pyrrhops)
135.  Jungle Babbler (Turdoides striata)
136.  White-browed Shrike Babbler (Pteruthius flaviscapis validirostris)
137.  Chestnut-tailed Minla (Minla strigula)
138.  Rufous Sibia (Heterophasia capistrata)
139.  Stripe-throated Yuhina (Yuhina gularis)
140.  Whiskered Yuhina (Yuhina flavicollis)

141.  Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus)
142.  Green-tailed sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis) 
143.  Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja)

144.  House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
145.  Russet Sparrow (Passer rutilans)

146.  White-browed Wagtail (Motacilla maderaspatensis)
147.  Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

148.  Rosy Pipit (Anthus roseatus)

149. Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus)
150. Pink-browed Rosefinch (Carpodacus rodochroa)
151. Crested Bunting (Melophus lathami)
152. Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)

153.  Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris)
154.  Rufous-breasted Accentor (Prunella strophiata)

155. Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus)
156. Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius)
157. Lemon-rumped Warbler (Phylloscopus chloronotus)    
158. Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis)
159. Grey-hooded Warbler (Phylloscopus xanthoschistos)
160. Hume's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus humei)
161. Golden-spectacled Warbler (Seicercus burkii)

Our 10 day trip of blissful birding with a bird count around 160 with 80 lifers comes to an end. ID's of some birds is surely going to need expert advise. Will be sharing photos on Birds in Chopta Valley


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  1. Great Sharing your travels and sights Aseem!

  2. Looks like you had a great trip,and lovely pictures.

    1. Yes Gopi, it was a memorable... will share most of the images soon :)

  3. Absolutely brilliant! The pictures and stories are amazing to read. Felt so inspired to pack my bags now! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much for leaving a comment. Glad you liked it. Surely worth a visit for every nature lover. Thanks again GC.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thank you for passing by @PP , as you read, we camped at birding sites, like Devariyatal, Chopta Valley and stayed in Hotels in Rudraprayag and other places. We had Mr. Ramesh Rawat, who took care of our stay, travel and itinerary. You may click on his name in the beginning of the blog to connect with him for complete details. Hope you have a nice trip too. Happy Birding!!!

  5. Fantastic blog, the pic of the tent with the stars in the backdrop is out of this world! Great work and narration. Super pics!

    1. Thank you so much for passing by @Raghunath Singh and appreciating the clicks. The place is indeed very beautiful.

  6. Nice report Aseem! Have been planning to visit this area for quite some time now...hopefully it should happen next year!!

    1. Hello Tushar, thank you for passing by. Surely, you wont regret visiting this serene birding location in midst of the Himalayas. Happy Birding !

  7. Aseem, no wonder your life list is a sizable number. Close to 600 right? So many trips to the Himalayas surely adds to that list. I'm still at 330 odd and I dream to reach the 1000 mark some day. Let's see.

    1. Yes Sumeet, have just crossed the 600 mark this December (2015) and hope to continue the quest. Sure you shall reach the desired bird count. Best wishes and thank you so much for passing by. Happy Birding!!

  8. I can't have a holiday of 7+ days, but want see himalayan monal + all the lovely birds mentioned above. Also, my tentative travel time would be 2/3 week of May. Can I have the guide name contact details, who will arrange trip for us with his guidance. Please share me contact details on / 9930521931.
    Thanks & regards,

    1. Thank you Vasant ji. Sorry to respond so late. Had missed out reading your comment. Have sent you a detailed email. Should you need any more information, please feel free to write to me. Regards and Happy Birding!

  9. Mr. Aseem, Please send me also the full details of Chopta Valley birding to
    What about birds sighting status in April-May?

    1. Will send you details on the email id as desired.

  10. Excellent Blog. I really want to admire the quality of this post. I like the way of your presentation of ideas, views and valuable content. No doubt you are doing great work. I'll be waiting for your next post. Thanks .Keep it up!
    Best Guest house in Chopta

  11. Brilliant write-ups Mr.A seem ! Lucky to have so many sightings.We are planning to make a trip to Chopta but have only 8 days in hand from Mumbai to Mumbai.Is it possible to cover all the areas ? Which one we can skip ? And is November a good season for birding over there ? Will it be very chilly also during this time ? Can u pl.send me the guide name and his contact details? my mail id -

    1. Thank you very much for your wonderful appreciation. Will send all details on email. Was traveling and hence could not check or reply to you early. Happy Birding!

  12. Very nice… i really like your blog…
    your article is so convincing.
    Impressive!Thanks for the post..
    Interesting stuff to read. Keep it up.
    Also Check out
    Mussoorie Best Valley View Hotel
    3 Star Hotel in Mussoorie
    5 Star Hotel in Mussoorie

  13. I really loved reading your blog. I have also been to Uttarakhand and just loved its vibe.
    Especially Bird Watching at Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and Wildlife at Makkumath, Garhwal.


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