The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

My first Wallcreeper

Late in December 2009, as a birthday present to myself, I went on a solo trek to Dayara Bugyal, a high-altitude alpine meadow in Garhwal. I meant to write about the week I spent in the mountains, but upon my return, I found the experience too overwhelming to try to describe all at once.

Some six months after the trek, I posted a a photograph from my first campsite. Nearly a year later, I wrote about my decision to forego a field guide on the trek; that's where the paragraph quoted above comes from. It's been nearly five years since then, and I've typed that first sentence a dozen more times, but I never got much further.

One of my most enduring memories of the trip is of a small grey bird crawling up the face of a rock cliff just below Barsu village. I was driving back to Uttarkashi in the late afternoon after the trek, and I caught a flicker of movement on the cliff from the corner of my eye. I knew instantly what it was—a Wallcreeper, a bird I had been hoping to find for the past five years. I had barely a minute to admire it, but I'll never forget the sudden flash of scarlet when it flew away.


It's almost Wallcreeper season where I live now. They're a familiar sight in passage to lower altitudes in early winter, but that first sighting will always be the most precious.

Harike, January 30–February 1 2010

I've had a hectic start to the new year as far as bird-watching and travel are concerned. I went on a solo trek to Dayara bugyal in Uttarakhand in late December, participated in the annual waterfowl census at the Pong dam reservoir in Himachal Pradesh in mid-January, did a lightning weekend trip to the Chambal river in UP a week later, and went to Harike in Punjab at the end of the month for another waterfowl survey.

I've had a great time, of course, and it's been wonderful birding in new places, but it's also been demanding and tiring. My memories of the time I spent at Harike are already fragmented, and I don't feel up to writing another exhaustive report. Instead, here's a selection of the more vivid moments that I will remember the trip by—not in any particular order, and with no attempt to fill in the fuzzy grey areas in between.

What happened at Harike?

The survey was organised by the Avian Habitat and Wetland Society in Chandigarh, with the support of the Punjab Wildlife Department. Nearly fifty volunteers from different parts of the country had arrived at Harike by the evening of the 30th. The next two days saw teams going out to different parts of the sanctuary on foot and in boats to record the species they saw, and count the waterfowl. Outside the two hour survey sessions in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, participants were free to explore the area on their own.

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One afternoon on the Chambal

I packed a bag and pulled on my boots at a few hours' notice this last weekend for a trip to the Chambal river with Mr. and Mrs. D. S. Pandit and Devashish Deb of Delhibird.

We reached Agra at 2200 on Friday after a stressful drive through dense fog, and stayed the night in a forest rest house. The next morning, we heard both Hume's Phylloscopus humei and Brooks's P. subviridis Leaf Warblers calling outside our window; but it was still foggy, and Devashish's attempts to locate the latter species in the scrub resulted only in grainy photographs of a Lesser Whitethroat.

We left after 0900, took the road towards Etawah, and drove some 70km to a village named Bah (no, really!), where Mr. Pandit had booked rooms at the forest rest house. We learned that we needed to hire a boat from the Chambal Safari Lodge (at Jarar, a few kilometres before Bah), so we went back to the lodge around midday to meet the proprietor, Mr. R. P. Singh. It turned out that a boat was only available from 1400 that afternoon, and not at all the next day.

Birding at the lodge

The lodge stands on lightly forested land adjoining agricultural fields, and we spent the next couple of hours walking around while waiting for a boat to become free for us. The lodge building has a thick Bougainvillea creeper clinging to the edge of the tiled roof, and I spotted a Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides almost as soon as we walked in. It hopped in and out of the tangled mass of foliage for a good while in the bright sunlight, giving me an unusual opportunity to study it at some length (and giving Devashish an excellent photograph).

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Pong Dam waterfowl census, January 15–17 2010

I have wanted to visit the Pong Dam reservoir in Himachal Pradesh for a long time, having read about it in Jan Willem den Besten's book Birds of Kangra, and in many other birders' trip reports over the years. Apart from being an area of remarkable avian diversity, it held a special attraction for me as one of the few reliable wintering sites for Skylarks Alauda arvensis, a species I have yearned to see for as long as I can remember.

I knew about the census conducted by the Forest Department every winter, but I never quite got the timing right to participate in previous years. I'd forgotten about it this year, and was planning a trip to Tal Chhapar Sanctuary in Rajasthan on the weekend of 15–16th January; but a friend forwarded the census announcement to me, and I changed my plans at the last minute to pay a long overdue first visit to Pong Dam.


The Pong Dam lies over the Beas river in the southern end of the Kangra district. The reservoir is a Ramsar wetland, and it is much bigger than I had ever imagined, covering an area of some 250km² even at times when the water level is low. It is roughly triangular, with the dam at its south-western corner. The Beas flows in from the south-east corner, past the town of Dehra Gopipur, and some small tributaries join in along the northern edge. Nagrota Surian, the best-known point of access to the lake, is close to the north-western corner (30km from Dehra); Haripur is halfway along the northern edge, and Dada Siba is halfway along the southern edge.

The entire area is towards the tail-end of the Shivaliks. The reservoir itself is in a bowl whose altitude is a little more than 400m above sea level, set amidst low rolling hills that are at most a couple of hundred metres higher. Further to the North—enclosed in mist but forever in the background—is the Dhauladhar range, rising like a snow-capped wall above the edge of the plains. The range of habitats available for birding is extraordinary: deep open water, shallow water, mud and sand flats, wet and dry river beds, marshes, agricultural fields, and light forest.

Three days on the reservoir

I contacted the organisers by email to express my interest, and received instructions to arrive at Dehra Gopipur, where I would be met by someone from the Forest Department. When I arrived, I was driven to the PWD rest house by Mr. Ramesh Kumar (the forest guard assigned to be with my group during the survey), who introduced me to the other members of the group (who were staying in the adjoining rooms) and told us we would leave for the Dada Siba area after breakfast at 0900.

My group would, along with more than twenty other groups in different locations around the reservoir, spend the next two days covering our assigned area first on foot and later by rowboat, counting species and individuals, and submitting our results at the end of each day on the standard AWC census form. These results would be collated, and a total number announced at the end of this exercise.

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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.

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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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Orchha (June 2008)

Hassath and I scraped a few days off from a busy month to visit Orchha with Ammu over a long weekend. We had a surprising and refreshing getaway that helped us to recover from the disappointment of having to cancel a visit to Munsiari in early June.

Update 2015-11-08: I started writing this in August 2008. Seven years later, I can no longer remember what happened on the rest of the trip well enough to complete the account, but I'm posting what I wrote back then.

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Confluence-Hunting in Uttaranchal, January 2005

In January 2005, inspired by, Gaurav Rai and I decided to look for three degree confluences North of Delhi:

  • 29N 79E (visited successfully)
  • 29N 80E (not attempted, but subsequently visited by someone else)
  • 30N 80E (visit abandoned due to snow)

These are my recollections of this long-overdue trip to the mountains. Rai has written his own account of our travels.

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