At Wild India Eco Tours, Chopta – Uttarakhand is one of our favourite bird-watching destinations and this tour in April 2016 as good at it gets. We sighted over 140 species of birds and got some mesmerising views of the the beautiful snow clad Himalayas. Key sightings from bird-watching perspective included the Pygmy Wren & Scaly-breasted Babblers, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Bearded Vulture, Red-billed Chough, Golden Bush Robin, Koklass Pheasant,Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Mistle Thrush, Snow Pigeons, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Himalayan Monals, Kalij Pheasant and more….
Day 1 – Chakki Bend, Makku Farm
1st day of birding and our excitement was sky high. We were up by 5:30 AM and as we came out of the room, we were greeted by Himalayan Bulbuls, Streaked Laughingthrushes, Grey Bushchats, Common Stonechats, Common Rosefinches, Grey Treepie and loud calls of Black Francolin and Great Barbets. But what kicked off our trip was the huge flock of Snow Pigeons. We were completely mesmerised as they flew in sync and as we were observing, all landed in an open field. We ran towards the field, albeit taking cover of an old stony structure. We got lucky to observe and click this beautiful species from close quarters to our hearts content.
A sumptuous Aloo paratha breakfast and we were on our way to a place called Chakki bend. We also did some birding en-route where we came across two of our key highlights; Chestnut-headed Tesia and Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler. Exploring next 3-4 hours around Chakki bend resulted in sightings of the Dark-sided Flycatcher, Black Bulbuls, Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Striated Laughingthrush, Common Stonechat, Oriental White-eyes, Verditer Flycatcher, Whiskered Yuhinas and Dark-chinned Babblers.
Post lunch, we started off to a place called Makku Farm. Birding along the way we encountered the White-throated Laughingthrushes, Greater Yellownape Woodpecker, Black-headed Jay, Bar-tailed Treecreeper and a 1st glimpse of the Kalij Pheasant. As we arrived at Makku farm, we spotted the beautiful Mistle Thrush. We also got the 1st glimpse of Eurasian Jay here. As we were exploring by the road side, we got to see the Golden Bush Robin for the 1st time. What a beauty it was, but all I could manage is a record shot as it was moving around inside the thick bushes. We waited almost an hour hoping it would show up a bit in open, but it did not. Other birds we managed to capture here included the Green-backed tit, Black-throated tit and Rufous Sibia. Just as we thought we are done for the day, two of the most colourful birds showed up – the Mrs Gould’s Sunbird and the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker. Oh wait, the show was still not over. It was Kalij Pheasant crossing the road in style and that was a perfect end to Day 1.
Day 2 – Tunganath Trek
We started Day 2 journey in dark, at 5:00 AM as we had planned to do the 3 KM Tunganath trek as early as possible, so that we are 1st to climb the trek and have good chance of sighting and clicking the royal Himalayan Monal. We started trekking by 6:00 AM and soon spotted over a dozen of Himalayan Monals, along with long-tailed Minivets, Himalayan Bluetail, Rock Buntings, Black & Yellow Grosbeak, Chestnut-bellied Rock thrush, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Varigated Laughingthrush, Grey-crested tits and White-collared Blackbird.
As we reached the Tunganath Temple, we were greeted by a huge flock of Altai Accentors, Rosy Pipits and a couple of Red-billed Choughs. We also got to observe and click the Alpine Accentor and White-capped Water Redstart from close quarters. As we were taking a break, we saw couple of black kites in the air and just as we were discussing that these kites are everywhere, a mighty Bearded Vulture flew across. After spending 30 minutes or so, we started the descend and this time it was the Himalayan Vulture that flew low and gave some good views. Other species that we saw while descending were the Rufous Gorgeted Flycatcher, White-browed Fulvetta, Yellow-browed Tit, Rufous Sibia and Scaly-bellied Woodpecker.
Post lunch we started our return journey and decided to do birding on the way. We came across the beautiful Rufous-breasted Accentor this time, a Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush and a pair of Green-tailed Sunbirds. We halted again at another point which was very dense and light had gone pretty low but was buzzing with activity. This is when we saw the Speckled Wood Pigeons for the 1st time. We also spotted the Grey-winged Blackbird, White-throated Laughingthush, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler and the beautiful Small Niltava. So that was Day 2 – another fantastic day of birding.
Day 3 – Kakra ghat, Chakki bend
Day 3 started by 06:00 AM as we had planned to Kakra ghat which was at a lower altitude. Just as we started our journey, we came across 3 Yellow-throated Martens on the road. We had multiple halts in the journey that resulted in sightings of Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Chestnut-headed Rock Thrush and the rare Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. We also spotted the Asian Barred Owlet, Indian Paradise Flycatchers and Crimson Sunbirds along the way.
As we reached Kakraghat, we moved below the bridge where the stream flows. Immediately we could spot a juvenile Brown Dipper, and soon an adult Brown Dipper showed up as well. For the next couple of hours we came across the beautiful Spotted Forktail and a number of birds that came to the stream for a quick bath – Whiskered Yuhina, Verditer Flycatcher, Chestnut-crowned laughingthrush and Black Bulbuls. We got to see the Spot-winged Starling as well, however the highlight was the largest kingfisher of India – The Crested Kingfisher. We also managed good shots of the Emerald Dove here.
After our lunch, we started return journey and decided to spend a good amount of time again at the Chakki bend. A small stream yielded close views of the small Niltava, Russet Sparrow, Black Bulbul and Black-lored tits as they took turns to have bath. Highlight at the stream was the beautiful Golden Bush Robin, which showed up right in-front of us for 10 seconds or so and disappeared. We also sighted the Slaty Blue Flycatcher, White-tailed Rubythroat and the Speckled Wood Pigeons – much better views this time.
Day 4 – Chopta, Musk Deer Sanctuary
So the final day was here. We started early today as we were going to pass Tunganath gate and move further ahead to Musk Deer Sanctuary. Our birding started with some lovely views of the Kalij Pheasant, and in good numbers. We also came across the magnificent Koklass Pheasant as it posed for us next to the road, yet another superb moment of the trip. We crossed Tunganath Gate and halted at a place called Monal Point. This is where sighted the Bearded Vulture again and also Himalayan Tahrs.
After having breakfast at the Monal Point, we entered the Musk Deer Sanctuary. The conditions were overcast today with some rain and light had gone pretty low in morning itself, although the birds were a plenty. We sighted the Scarlet Minivet, Coal tit, the beautiful Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, White-tailed Nuthatch, White-collared Blackbird, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Blue-fronted Redstart, Himalayan Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush.
We came back to Monal point for lunch and started our return journey with birding en-route. At our 1st halt, we came across a huge mixed flock of the Nepal House Martins and Indian House Martin in flight, a group of White-throated Laughingthrushes that were busy preening and a lone Long-tailed Shrike. We got back onto our journey and took the final halt of the trip where we saw the Black-faced Warbler, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, and Black-headed Jay. And then came one of the most important moment of the trip, when Bhavesh heard a unique call which was of the tiny Pygmy Wren Babbler!. The light was pretty low already, still we spent around an hour and did get some good views of it, and managed few record shots. We couldn’t have asked for a better end on the final day.. was truly an icing on the cake..!
Here are some of the landscape shots we managed to capture..
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Total bird species sighted: 145
Key highlights: Pygmy Wren Babbler, Scaly-breasted Babbler, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Bearded Vulture, Red-billed Chough, Golden Bush Robin, Koklass Pheasant, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Mistle Thrush, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Himalayan Monal, Kalij Pheasant, Grey-crested Tit, Speckled Wood Pigeon, Snow Pigeon, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Blue-fronted Redstart, Asian Barred Owlet
Mammals sighted: Himalayan Tahr, Pika, Yellow-fronted Marten