Vinayak/Pangot/Sat Tal, February 2008
By Abhijit Menon-Sen <email@example.com>
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:
- A Common Kingfisher
- More than a hundred Brahminy Ducks (Tadorna ferruginea)
- A small flock of Red-Crested Pochards (Netta rufina)
- Several River Lapwings
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
- A huge flock (~200) of Altai Accentors feeding on the bare rocky
slopes, taking flight in a cloud, then landing and becoming invisible
like Larks. They scrabbled around on the hillside so much that a shower
of small (and some not so small) stones rained down on the road below,
and thus on me.
- A Shaheen (Falco peregrinus peregrinator) stooping on the
Accentors from a cliff-top; its descent so rapid that I nearly dropped
my (borrowed!) pair of binoculars in trying to follow it. We later saw
it flying to another perch, and heard its loud, piercing calls.
- Several Himalayan Griffons (perhaps the fourth- or fifth-largest
flying bird in the world) soaring higher as the sun rose higher. We
saw at least two adults, and up to six juveniles.
- Several Grey-Hooded Warblers (Phylloscopus xanthoschistos) and
Red-Headed/Black-Throated Tits (Aegithalos concinnus) flitting about
in the foliage of the few trees there were.
- A Lemon-Rumped Warbler, a Rufous Sibia, and a White-Tailed Nuthatch
at very close range.
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:
- An excellent view of a pair of Alpine Accentors by the roadside a
kilometre or so before Kunja Kharak.
- A Bar-Tailed Treecreeper
- Several Orange-Flanked Bush Robins (Tarsiger cyanurus)
- Several Spot-Winged Tits
- A female Dark-Breasted Rosefinch (Carpodacus nipalensis)
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.
- A small flock of Grey-Crowned Prinia (Prinia cinereocapilla)
in the scrub near the temple
- Whistler's Warbler (Seicercus whistleri)
- White-Throated and Yellow-Bellied Fantails
- A pair of Bar-Winged Flycatcher-Shrikes
- A huge noisy flock of Black Bulbuls
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.
- A Snowy-Browed Flycatcher (Ficedula hyperythra). Most
unexpected, and I wish I could have observed it for longer.
- Green-Backed and Black-Lored Tits
- An Asian Barred Owlet perched like a puffball in a bare tree
- Several Grey-Winged Blackbirds
- A huge flock of noisy and destructive Slaty-Headed Parakeets who
dropped hard round seeds on my head.
- An Olive-Backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) of the less-streaked
wintering race yunnanensis
- An Upland Pipit
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
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.