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A Report from


Chris and Alison Hall

Nepal, sits on the 'roof' of the world, where the Indian subcontinent collides with the orient to the north. This pivotal position within Eurasia, with a massive range in altitude is home to a list of almost 850 bird species, about ten percent of the world's total. To British birders, there are  some familiar species like Golden Eagle, Swallow, Stonechat and Raven, some that are scarce prizes such as Olive Backed Pipit and Red Flanked Bluetail, and many  more which are totally exotic. Did you know that the Golden Oriole is also available in maroon?

Springtime in the Himalayan foothills, with its warm sunny days, is an ideal choice of season.

Despite the chaos of tour reps and eager would-be porters at the arrivals door of Kathmandu airport, we are quickly spotted by our local guide, Suchit, who bundles us and our luggage into the back of a rickety old banger of a taxi. Checked in to the Hotel Himalaya, we patrol the grounds for some early life ticks; Spotted Dove, Red Vented Bulbul, Asian Magpie Robin and Jungle Mynah.

Early next morning we meet Suchit and our team of staff, the cook and his three assistants, four porters and a driver, our own private expedition! Leaving the narrow bustling streets of Kathmandu, we soon begin a grinding ascent through hillsides patterned with bright green terraces of newly planted rice, fished by Indian Pond Heron and Smyrna Kingfisher. Buffeted by the rough track, we doze in the heat, to be woken by interesting spottings beside the road, like the beautiful monochrome plumage of Spotted Forktail, among the boulders of a hillside torrent, an assortment of  Long Billed, Eurasian Griffon and Red Headed Vultures, resting after a roadside snack, the incredibly long legged Richard's Pipit and an Asian Barred Owlet starring back at our binoculars. Snow capped peaks stand so high above the clouds, can they really be attached to the earth? After almost one hundred miles in seven hours we arrive at Dhunche village, starting point of the trek. Tree Sparrows are as common around the village as House Sparrows back home.

From Dhunche a rough road descends to a turbulent river with typical species like Plumbeous and White Capped Redstarts, Little Forktail and Brown Dipper, capable of diving into the fastest of currents. Beyond the river on a bare rock face, the unique Wallcreeper, grabs our attention with red flashes of  wings, flicking from rock to rock.

In the afternoon we sit watching a mixed flock of almost twenty species of Tits, Warblers and Flycatchers appearing so fast we can barely keep pace, though Suchit has the situation under control, distinguishing the various leaf warblers with ease. By the end of the day we have thirty five new ticks, a dazzling assortment. All so vividly coloured, like the red and yellow male and female Long Tailed Minivets, the electric blue of the Rufous Bellied Niltava and the incredible iridescent colour patterns of Mrs. Gould's and Nepal Sunbirds.

Another morning dawns clear and bright. At 7.30 am we drop down through the wooden houses of Syabru village with their intricate window carvings, many with cows and chickens outside and children playing in the dirt. Below, deep in the valley of the Langtang river, the chirping sounds of thousands of invisible Cicadas add to the mystery of this forest of tall trees and dense bamboo understorey, home to furtive species like Grey Bellied Tesia and Golden Throated Barbet. On the far bank of the river, huge honeycombs, clothed in dark masses of bees, hang from the cliffs, out of human reach. Suchit points out a small Orange Rumped Honeyguide, perched motionless, guarding his valuable food stock against marauding males.

At around 9,800 feet the forest opens at Ghore Tabela to views of immaculate white peaks, towering against a blue sky to some 21,000 feet. While the staff set up camp, a stroll with the scope gets good views of Nepal's national bird, the male Himalayan Monal, a pheasant which shines iridescent with every colour of the rainbow, according to how light catches it, two cocked head feathers ruffling in the breeze.

The uppermost village in the valley is Kyanjing at 12,200 feet. Gasping for breath in the thin air, we marvel at the porters with their heavy loads. At this altitude Red Billed and Alpine Choughs flock around the tents on the lookout for scraps. The sinister outline of a Lammergeier soars so close it gives clear views of the cinnamon breast, black hanging beard and starring white eye. After sunset pink hues wash the snow on the mountains  as the air quickly chills. Morning tea comes at 5.30 am and warm washing water at 6. By now the dregs in the tea cups are frozen. Thermals are essential at breakfast until the first rays of sunshine bring welcome warmth.

In this barren tundra landscape, bird species are few; Snow Pigeon, Rosy Pipit, Plain Mountain Finch and Altai Accentor, eyes glistening like amethysts in the bright sun. Ice breaking underfoot, we trudge across the frozen ground to an expanse of shingle braiding the milky glacial stream. Scanning the uniform grey pebbles, the scope picks out a pair of Ibisbills,  their grey-brown plumage perfectly camouflaged, with a curved black breast band, like a shadow from a stone. We are not so lucky with Tibetan Snowcock which remain invisible on the rocky slopes above.

Retracing our route to Syabru, six species of Laughing Thrush; Striated, Variegated, Streaked, Black Faced, Chestnut Crowned and Spotted, looking like some kind of miniature pheasant as it scratches the ground. Near camp an Oriental Cuckoo, distinguished by its deep bellowing "Cuck - kook - kook" call, picks hairy caterpillars from a tree trunk.

With a four hour steep climb to Sind Gompa, we make regular stops for birding. Good views of male and female Red Bellied Sapsucker, possibly the most handsome of pied woodpeckers. With magnificent snowy peaks in every direction, including the sacred Ganesh Himal, shaped like the profile of an Elephant's head, the trail levels out into the most beautiful enchanted forest of Pine trees, all of 150 feet tall and festooned with thick cushions of soft moss, and an understorey of sweet scented Daphne and Rhododendrons ablaze with red blooms. The whole forest rings with unfamiliar bird songs except for the White Collared Blackbird sounding remarkably like a Song Thrush, even repeating each note "thrice over". We link some shrill piping notes to Collared Grosbeak, males jet black and golden yellow, females green with grey heads, both sporting massive grey beaks. On top of the Blackbird, other life ticks here include a Thrush (White's), a Wren (Scaley Breasted),  a Tit (Grey Crested) and a Treecreeper (Rusty Flanked).

On the steep descent back to Dhunche, we pick up Slatey Blue Flycatcher, yet another Laughing Thrush, this time White Throated, and a tiny Jungle Owlet, with 'eyes' in the back of its head, mobbed by Ultramarine and Verditer Flycatchers.

This amazing trek is completed with a fly past by a Steppe Eagle, and a welcome bath and beer back at the Hotel Himalaya! 

Why not join us on our tour of lowland Nepal for birds & big game 23rd March to 6th April 2002? For more details telephone Alison or Chris Hall on 01773 716550

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