Vinayak/Pangot/Sat Tal, February 2008

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2008-02-25

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:

Other sightings included several White and Grey Wagtails, the male White-Capped and female Plumbeous Redstart that I always see, some Green Sandpipers, a Blue Whistling Thrush, a very small number of Plain Martins (compared to the huge flocks two months ago), and a possible (unconfirmed) Siberian Rubythroat.

We reached Pangot slightly after midday, and stopped to say hi to Lokesh at Jungle Lore (whom I had met on my trip in December, although I wasn't staying at JL). Mohit's dad very kindly invited us to lunch, after which we continued on to Vinayak and finding a camp site not far from the site where I had heard Cheer in December.

On a brief walk just before dusk that evening, we saw a pair of Goral poised on the edge of a precipice, and what might have been a distant Black Eagle (too little light to tell for sure).

The next morning (17th), we broke camp fairly late (after the sun had already risen), walked back to the Cheer site, and scanned it for some hours. Highlights:

We spent the rest of the day climbing the hill where we had camped (for some spectacular views of the Himalayan range to the North, and further sightings of Steppe and Mountain Hawk Eagles, a Blue-Capped Redstart, and more Griffons). For those willing to climb a few hundred metres upwards, there are several areas where Cheer and Koklass are likely.

Later in the day, we drove onwards from the camp site towards Kunja Kharak, where there was a little snow and the streams by the road had frozen over. Highlights en route:

The next morning (18th), we were woken up at 0423 by Cheer and Koklass calling loudly. We waited for the sunrise some way up the road, hearing Cheer again just before dawn (~0610) and surprising some Mountain Goats that were feeding in the forest just below the road. We did not, despite a long search, see any Cheer, but the Accentors and the Shaheen (perched on the rock where we saw it the day before) were still there. A Griffon that got too close was immediately repelled, and beat a hasty retreat for something an order of magnitude larger than the Falcon.

We drove down to Pangot again at about 0900, and on the road to Vinayak a pair of Koklass suddenly appeared in front of us, the male stopping and calling so close to my (the driver's side) window that I could see in my viewfinder a yellow seed flying out of its beak when it called. It paused for several seconds before making its way further up the hill. A second female was seen below the road, as was a Hill Partridge, which responded to my whistled imitation of its call (something I have been trying to get right for years!). We also saw several Eurasian Crag Martins (Hirundo rupestris) in flight nearby.

We drove down from Pangot towards Bagar village, stopping first at the stream near the temple, then going on to the end of the road, walking for an hour or so, then coming back to the stream and climbing down a precarious trail to reach the water level further downstream. Highlights:

Miscellaneous: A female Plumbeous Redstart at the stream (no Forktail, no Niltava). A huge flock of Oriental White-Eyes, several Grey-Hooded Warblers, a Green-Backed Tit, a small flock of Long-Tailed Minivets, Red-Headed/Black-Throated Tits, Rufous Sibias.

Then we made our way back to Nainital, and onwards to the Sat Tal area, arriving just before dark. Our plans to pitch the tent were ruined by a sudden violent thunderstorm (with very painful hail!), so we had to beat a hasty retreat to a nearby hotel and spend a night drying our gear in front of a room heater. Rai went off on his own the next morning to break in his new rucksack, while I walked around in the forest. Highlights:

I also saw three Barking Deer in the shrubbery. I've heard them often in the mountains, but never been close enough to see one.

That night, Rai felt unwell and stayed on at the hotel, but I pitched the tent in a clearing by the edge of Panna Tal and slept alone. I lay awake listening to forest noises most of the night, notably Mountain Scops Owl and Asian Barred Owlet, which called nearly all night, but including several other species which I was, unfortunately, not able to identify.

We left early the next morning and made our way back to Delhi. We did not see anything terribly interested on the way home. Not a very long bird list, maybe, but a very relaxing and enjoyable trip nevertheless.

Oh, and the new tent rocks.