The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

Munsiari, April 28—May 09 2009


This report is about a very productive bird-watching trip to Munsiari (near the Nepal border, in Uttarakhand) in the summer of 2009. I hiked to the summit of Khalia Danda (a 3747m peak-let over Munsiari) with a group of NOLS students who were learning about the alpine habitat.

Route: Delhi-Haldwani-Bhimtal-Almora-Berinag-Munsiari;

Here are the highlights of the trip, arranged by habitat.

Interface between warm-temperate and cold-temperate forests

c.2200m, Sarmoli village

This is the very interesting zone where the warm-temperate forests of the lower altitudes give way to the cold-temperate forest that cloaks the slope up to the ridge. Trees like Alder (Alnus nepalensis), Banj Oak (Quercus leucotricophora) and Horse Chestnut (Aesculus sp.) are mixed in with higher-altitude species like Rhododendron barbatum, Kharsu Oak (Quercus semicarpifolia) etc. in an altitudinal zone of a few hundred metres.

The particular patch of the forest that I spent the most time in is relatively undisturbed, and has a few small rain-fed streams running through it. It is an extraordinarily rich habitat for birds, and I have counted over fifty species in a summer day just walking back and forth along a single 1km track.

Cold-temperate forest

c.2500–2800m, Mesar Kund to Budgair Dhar

The forest gives way to cold-temperate species such as Kharsu and Timsu Oak (Quercus sp.), Maple (Acer sp.), Hornbeam (Carpinus sp.) and Ash (Fraxinus sp.).

This forest supports dozens of nearby villages with fuel wood and leaf litter throughout the year. Despite extensive disturbance, this is a fairly dense forest; and a long, difficult climb.

Near the higher end of its altitudinal range, this forest is the habitat for mammals such as Musk Deer, Serow, and Barking Deer (all commonly hunted here; large swathes of forest are burned every season to flush Musk Deer).

The true "highlights" of this and the former zone were of course the mixed hunting parties that comprise most of the common species seen there: Tits, Warblers, Flycatchers, Treecreepers, Woodpeckers, even Laughingthrushes and Babblers. Difficult to follow and observe, but always entertaining for anyone interested in more than tick hunting.

Subalpine krummholz ("bent wood") forest

c.3100m, Lal Singh Gair

An extraordinarily difficult habitat for birding, dominated by the fantastic twisted forms of stunted Rhododendron campanulatum trees with their glossy green leaves and pale lilac flowers, but with a smattering of Silver Birch (Betula utilis) and Rowan (Sorbus sp.) in the middle of the forest, and even a few Rhododendron barbatum slightly lower down.

These forests have suffered extensive damage this season due to people felling trees to recover various lichens (notably Usnea longissima), which are sold for, among other things, use to produce textile dyes.

I was disappointed, on the whole, by the apparent reduction in bird life overall in this habitat, compared to my experience here in 2006 slightly later in the season. Perhaps the delayed onset of the rain has something to do with it, since the damage to the habitat didn't seem to be so extensive as to serve as the sole explanation.

Alpine zone

c.3500m+, Khalia Danda

After climbing up through the krummholz forests, one emerges into a broad alpine meadow below the summit of Khalia (3747m). These pastures are used for grazing through the monsoon season by herds of sheep and goats. Higher up, the dry straw-coloured Danthonia grass covers the summit dome.

The route up from the campsite to these meadows follows the bed of a seasonal (now dry) snow-fed stream. A number of flowers grew in and around this path, including Buttercups, the big five-petalled yellow flowers of the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), and the delicate purple globes of Primula denticulata. Many of these also bloomed in the meadows above.

I didn't do as much birding from the car as usual on this trip, but I did see a Little Forktail at a rain-fed stream on the way down from Munsiari to Thal; and a Lesser Yellownape en route to Kausani.

Morni/Sukhna wildlife sanctuary, January 2009


I must apologise to Narbir and Navjit for sending this report nearly two months late, after having such an excellent time at the survey organised by AHWS Chandigarh at the end of January this year.

A brief summary: the Avian Habitat and Wetlands Society (AHWS) organised two day-long surveys in Morni and the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary outside Chandigarh. The purpose of this exercise was to review the checklist of these areas. Several teams participated in this event, which concluded with a presentation in Chandigarh on the 2nd of February. I was able to participate in both surveys, but had to return to Delhi on the evening of the 1st.

This is not an official report. It is my own account of what turned out to be two wonderful days of birding for me, and it touches on the other teams only insofar as I encountered them en route.

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Sat Tal, March 2009


Some highlights of a relaxed weekend trip to the mountains. (Delhi—Ramnagar—Nainital—Kainchi dham—Sat Tal and back.)

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Books about Indian birds


I am often asked to recommend a field guide, usually by beginners, or people who have just started to get interested in serious bird-watching. There aren't many available; and since I've used all of them at one time or another, here are some notes about the ones I like best.

(Here's a more extensive annotated bibliography, albeit very dated; and here are some brief reviews of field guides.)

A Field Guide to the Birds of India

By Krys Kazmierczak, illustrated by Ber van Perlo.

Published in 2000 by Pica Press (UK).
Reprinted in 2006 by Om Book Service (India).

If you have to pick just one book, this is the one I recommend.

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Vinayak/Pangot/Sat Tal, February 2008


My friend Gaurav Rai and I went to Uttaranchal for five days last week with a new tent (mine), a new rucksack (his), and a new camera (mine). This is a slightly delayed report (portions of which I have related to several people offline already).

We left Delhi at 0500 on the 16th and travelled to Pangot via Moradabad, Kashipur, Ramnagar, Kaladhungi. We stopped briefly at the Kosi barrage at Ramnagar. Highlights:

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Palam Vihar: bird checklist


Update 2015-10-30: This checklist is no longer actively maintained.

This is a list of bird species I have identified in Palam Vihar, wedged between the borders of Delhi and Haryana.

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Differences between the IOC and Clements bird checklists


This page is a summary of the changes between the International Ornithological Congress's "Birds of the World: Recommended English Names" (Gill, F., and Wright, M., 2006), and the recently-published sixth edition of "The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World" (Clements, J. F., 2007).

Dave Sargeant and David Matson jointly undertook the herculean task of identifying the numerous changes in taxonomy and nomenclature between the two lists. The resulting cross-reference forms the basis for this summary, and I am thankful for their permission to use the data here.

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Sultanpur National Park


Sultanpur is a nice place to go bird watching.

The Park is open from 0630 to 1800 from April 1 to September 30 (it closes at 1630 during "winter", from October 1 to March 31). You might have some trouble getting in at 0630 (you can always sneak in through the Rosy Pelican (the next gate to the left), but I didn't tell you that).

The entrance fee (in INR) is: 5 for an Indian and 40 for a foreigner. Parking fees: 2 for a bicycle, 5 for other two-wheelers, 10 for a car, and 50 for a heavy vehicle. You pay 25 to take a still camera inside, and 500 for a video camera (but if your equipment is imposing enough to look "professional", you get to pay 5000 instead, perhaps with a 2500 license for business use).

If you're tempted to round off a pleasant morning with breakfast at the Rosy Pelican, the aloo-ke-paranthe are nice; but be prepared for their legendary incompetence. Going hungry might well be preferable.


Here's one of the many ways to get to Sultanpur:

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Okhla Bird Sanctuary



One way to get to the Sanctuary is to go straight down NH2 (Mathura road) from Ashram chowk, and turn left under the flyover just after passing Apollo Hospital to the left. Keep going straight on, turn right at the end of the road, then turn left onto the Okhla Barrage. The Sanctuary gates are to your left shortly afterwards.

The other route is to go through NOIDA, but due to ongoing construction, many of the exits off the main road may now be blocked. Thus the former route via the Barrage is to be preferred.

See this map for an overview of the area.

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