Monday, December 31, 2018

Birding in Sattal and Pangot (Naina Devi Himalayan Bird Conservation Reserve)

Apart, from being the most important pollinators, birds are also very colourful and play an important role in keeping the forest healthy. For instance nuthatches and woodpeckers clean up the larvae and eggs of moths and other insects from the trees. Owls, efficiently hunt the rodents using their excellent vision, strong beaks, and sharp talons.

Birds do depend on trees and water bodies for their survival, but have faced a decline in numbers because of urbanisation and deforestation. In the face of rapid urbanisation, wildlife is losing its place in the race of survival. 

It seems the growth of lantana by human settlers around forest areas at one time was one of the factors responsible for the disappearance of the Himalayan quail (considered extinct as hasn't been sighted since 1876) from the lower and middle Himalayan range, located in the state of Uttarakhand, INDIA.

The government is surely taking some steady steps to preserve nature and one such reserve was notified in the month of March 2015, the Naina Devi Himalayan Bird Conservation Reserve, the region starts from Kilbury road to Pangot and beyond. It's about 15 kms further up from the famous Himalaya Darshan point.

Having being into birding for seven odd years, was commonly asked by fellow birders, if I had been to Sattal and Pangot. It sounded as if a ritual and important area was being missed. Our trip began by connecting with Mr. Hari Lama, a naturalist and bird guide, who has been managing Birder's Den, in a small village near Sattal, between 22nd Dec 2018 ~ 27th Dec 2018

A drive through a beautiful countryside road after we crossed the town of Kathgodham (nearest railway station), surely did soothe the urban soul.

We reached Birder's Den, the perches along the feeders were dotted with birds, all the commoners came here in large numbers like the Greater and Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpeckers, Brown capped Woodpecker to name a few.

Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (Sitta castanea almorae) - by Aseem Kothiala
Himalayan Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys) - by Aseem Kothiala

Black Francolin (Francolinus francolinus asiae) - Image by Yash Kothiala

Just after the morning session, drove to experience the natural beauty of Chaafi, a hilly area, which  should be on everyones birding destination as it offered forest birds and birds that are found along the streams.

Golden Bush Robin (Tarsiger chrysaeus whistleri) - by Aseem Kothiala
Striated Prinia (Prinia crinigera) - by Aseem Kothiala
Rufous-bellied Niltava (Niltava sundara whistleri) - by Aseem Kothiala
Small Niltava (Niltava macgrigoriae) - by Aseem Kothiala
Whistler's Warbler (Seicercus whistleri) - by Aseem Kothiala
Yellow-bellied Fantail (Rhipidura hypoxantha) - by Aseem Kothiala
Sattal is a pristine location about 45 km away from Nainital. Tucked in between mountains of Uttarakhand, the Sattal Lake supports bounteous flora and fauna. The evening was well spent exploring the areas around the lake.

The migrants like the White-tailed Rubythroat, Slaty-Blue Flycathers had arrived. They were skulking and had to spend some time to get a decent view of these.

Slaty-blue Flycatcher (Ficedula tricolor) - by Aseem Kothiala
White-tailed Rubythroat (Luscinia pectoralis) - by Aseem Kothiala
The next day morning was a visit to another hide, we planned and reached there very early, here it was not the early bird, that gets the worm, but early birder gets the bird on the perch. The light was less but we were thrilled as the much awaited visitor had arrived. Many commoners of the region come in turns like the Red-billed Blue Magpies, White-crested and White-throated Laughingthrush's, Red-billed Leiothrix to name a few.

Common green magpie (Cissa chinensis) - by Yash Kothiala

Grey-winged Blackbird (Turdus boulboul) - by Aseem Kothiala 

Rufous-throated partridge (Arborophila rufogularis) - by Yash Kothiala

Afternoon we were driven to the fields a few miles below Nanital, where we scouted to look for some more winter migrants.

Red-fronted (Serin Serinus) - by Aseem Kothiala

Pink-browed Rosefinch (Carpodacus rodochroa) - by Yash Kothiala
On the way back, as we drove into chaafi area again, were pleased to sight the Tawny Fish Owl, roosting on a far away tree, which was on the other side of the flowing stream.

Tawny fish owl (Ketupa flavipes) - by Yash Kothiala
Later we drove till we could access the stream and trekked along it, sighted the Brown Dipper. As we had already seen the fork tails and Crested Kingfisher, did not wait there too long.

Brown dipper (Cinclus pallasii) - by Aseem Kothiala
The afternoon session was dedicated to look for the Aberrant Bush Warbler, and while we eagerly awaited saw few more commoners of the region like the Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Rufous and Grey Treepies, Black headed Jay to name a few. The sun was shining bright and the Great barbet looked all the more colourful.

Great Barbet (Megalaima virens) - by Aseem Kothiala
Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus erythrogenys) - by Aseem Kothiala
Striated Laughingthrush (Grammatoptila striata) - by Aseem Kothiala
Aberrant Bush Warbler (Cettia flavolivacea) - by Yash Kothiala
Early morning we had to reach out to another hide, where the most commonly heard bird of the forest is seen, the Hill Partridge. After waiting for about an hour, a small flock arrived there, just after the Kalij Pheasants had left.

Common Hill Partridge (Arborophila torqueola millardi) - by Yash Kothiala
Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum) - by Aseem Kothiala
Great tit (Parus major) - by Aseem Kothiala
Black-lored Tit (Parus xanthogenys) - by Aseem Kothiala
Blue-capped Redstart (Phoenicurus coeruleocephala) - by Aseem Kothiala
Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus temminckii) - by Aseem Kothiala
Rufous Sibia (Heterophasia capistrata) - by Aseem Kothiala
Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus sanguiniceps) - by Aseem Kothiala
Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus monticolus)
Just after have a successful sighting, started to drive towards the often eclipsed by its other half of Sattal, Pangot. It has a charm that is quite like no other. It is a few kilometres ahead of Nanital, Pangot is a quiet hamlet in the Kumaon region and definitely offers a variety of species that would tempt any birder. 

Chestnut-crowned laughingthrush (Trochalopteron erythrocephalum) - by Aseem Kothiala
The drive to Kunjakharak transiting through Vinayak is very secluded, pristine and one can experience the meditative silence in the forest. It was cold and the multi layers ensured we stayed cozy. During the drive (19~22kms) we did sight the Koklass Pheasant on two different instances.

There were plenty of raptors flying over the Cheer pheasant spot and maybe that could be the reason, could not sight them. Large flocks of Altai Accentor's were seen that would keep perching along the mountain cliffs and then fly on to nearby open trees and fly back and forth to save themselves from the birds of prey.

Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) - by Aseem Kothiala 
Altai Accentor (Prunella himalayana) - by Aseem Kothiala
Mist-laden clouds that vie with the sun for their place in the sky every evening was mesmerising. Mystery-shrouded and hedonistic havens to some of the panoramic views of the Nanda Devi range will leave you spellbound.

Mighty Himalayas (View from Vinayak) - by Seema Kothiala

Mighty Himalayas (View from Vinayak) - by Seema Kothiala
The entire region was full of wildlife and could sight the Himalayan Buzzard waiting on the edges, the Hen Harrier would make a sudden appearance into the skies and disappear into the valley.

Himalayan Buzzard (Buteo refectus) - by Aseem Kothiala

Hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) - by Aseem Kothiala

The secretive Scaly thrush was seen foraging along the fallen leaves that has gone moist due to slight drizzle.

Scaly thrush (Zoothera dauma) - by Yash Kothiala

Himalayan Woodpecker (Dendrocopos himalayensis) - by Aseem Kothiala 

Himalayan shrike-babbler (Pteruthius ripleyi) - by Aseem Kothiala

The Oak forests in the Kumaon Himalaya is predominate, as we go higher one can find Pine forests, where birds greet you with their mellifluous hymns.

These locations had many places to suit each ones requirement across different economic status.

Ecotourism is indeed a vehicle for community-based conservation if it is conducted with an emphasis on the well-being of local ecosystems and human communities. 

L-R (Seema Kothiala, Yash Kothiala, Satish Thayapurath, Hari Lama and myself)
Thanking Seema Kothiala, Yash Kothiala who travelled along and contributed the images for this post. Special thanks to Satish T who has been accompanying me on most to my birding trips.

Finally thanking Hari Lama, who arranged for all our stay, travel and was a great host. Wishing all my friends, readers and fellow birders a very Happy New Year 2019

Happy Birding!

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  1. Amazing write up.. it was good to meet you there..

    Someday we will bird together..

    Your photos are stunning.

    1. Thank you so much Saad, yes it was nice meeting you there. Glad you liked the post. Sure will meet up sooner someday, till then Happy Birding!

  2. A beautifully descriptive account with amazing pictures .
    Thanks Aseembhai

    1. Thanks a lot dear for appreciating, much obliged!

  3. Fantastic description, fabulous images as always!!! What a beautiful experience to read and to look at the cracking images of the Himalayan birds!!

    1. Glad you liked it too Pankaj, thanks for appreciating the post. All thanks to mother nature for creating these beauties!!

  4. Fantastic writeup and great shots sir, its a previledge to be alongside with you on our trip to Munnar. Look forward for many more of such occasion and glad to be a part of your company. Happy New year sir. Keep sharing such blogs which quenches the thirst of birders around you.

    1. Onkar, thank you so much for you lovely comment. The feeling of being together during that trip was indeed awesome. Looking forward to meet you and Sameer guruji soon. Thanks for the good wishes, happy birding!

  5. Superb blog amazing images.You are a great birder 👍

    1. Thanks a lot Gopi bhai, you are way too kind with your words. Happy birding and thank you once again!!

  6. Beautiful images with nice writeup..��

    1. Thank you very much for the appreciation, glad you liked the post. Happy Birding!!

  7. Superb images with a writeup. Waiting for your next and many more.

    1. Thanks so much Gautam bhai, sure will plan a trip soon, thanks again for the good wishes, Happy Birding!

  8. All these places are like home to me as I visit here very often and have seen most of the Birds. However I always look forward to read your Blogs which is a must read for any Birder and of course the Beautiful photos taken by you and Yash. I am happy you had a good time with Hari Lama and explored the area well. Best Wishes

    1. Yes have seen many images taken by you from the region. Indeed it is a fabulous place and worth visiting a few times. Thank you very much for appreciating the images and the post, your comments are always very motivating. Looking forward to meeting you soon, regards and happy birding Kaajal!

  9. Stunning images .. beautifully written sir .. congratulations

    1. Sharad ji thank you so much for your appreciation, it is always a pleasure to hear from you. Regards

  10. SUPER write up and fantastic images

    1. Thanks a lot Dr Anil, glad you liked the report. Regards and happy birding!

  11. A beautifully fluid narration with some superb photographs makes for a riveting read! Makes me want to plan a trip there sooner..! Keep travelling, birding and sharing!

    1. Thanks so much for appreciating, glad you liked this report. Happy birding to you as well!

  12. Cracking images Aseem .
    Super fantastical
    BTW , where is this second hide?

    1. Thanks so much Dr. for the wonderful comment. The second hide is again managed by Hari. Worth a visit. Happy Birding!

  13. Stunning as always. Thanks for sharing.

    1. James that's so kind of you. Thanks so much for your support. Regards


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