INTRODUCTION & LOGISTICS
My husband Rick and I have been threatening Peter Lobo of All India Birding for some time that we were coming to visit him in West Bengal so he could take us on a trip to see Satyr Tragopan and Red Panda in the Singalila National Park. In the event Rick was unavailable, so instead, I invited my intrepid friend Verity Picken to come with me and she readily agreed. Peter was not free to take us on the dates that we were free, but he recommended Sudesh, one of his best guides, who acts as the local guide for top bird tour companies. We booked our flights for the middle of March because the weather was supposed to be clear - not too cold and we then set about preparing for the trip. British Airways was our best non-stop option and they linked up with Vistara Airways for the internal return flights to Bagdogra. This military airport in the north of West Bengal services Darjeeling and is the closest to the Singalila National Park.
The Singalila National Park is an interesting destination. The area does not have a huge bird list and and we did not see any other birders. Our particular aim was to concentrate on two target species, Satyr Tragopan and Red Panda and this is the best area in the Himalayas to see these two species. The forest is also in excellent condition, almost pristine in the areas we visited anyway. There has recently been an increasing number of Indian tourists taking trains up from Kolkata, but they stay on the main roads so are not a bother. The Nepali home-stays, which are built of corrugated iron or wood were very cold and certainly not luxurious, were nevertheless suitable for our needs and situated in the right places. The food was healthy and nourishing and snacks were produced out in the field between meals where necessary.
The old British-built road between Kayakanata and Kalpokhri was a superb site and we spent many hours birdwatching there. This wide road gave us space for viewing from the roadside with no paths to manoeuvre along so we all had unrestricted views into the forest, down into the gullies and also out into the open sky.
On the negative side, we were very unfortunate with the weather. We had cloud blowing in almost every afternoon, but this was unseasonal as the monsoon had arrived early. Apparently Red Pandas sit out on branches, digesting their bamboo diet when the sun shines, so the lack of it was probably the main reason they were either staying down in the forest or sitting where we could not see them through the mist.
The temperatures were often close to zero but we were prepared for this with seven layers of clothing available on very cold days - padded trousers, thermal underwear, shirts, jumpers, gilets, thick fleeces, waterproof jackets, gloves, scarves, warm hats and thick-soled walking boots. We also used hand and foot warmers at night. We each had our own room so we could use the extra blankets and quilts from the second bed to supplement the bed we used. We only took a sleeping sheet with us rather than a sleeping bag which saved space in our suitcases, but if room sharing in March we suggest taking a sleeping bag.
We used a scope on very few occasions - I took mine, but one between three people would have been sufficient. We took the Helm Guides to Birds of India and also the Birds of Nepal and we also read a very interesting and helpful report; “Red is the Colour” (Singalila National Park, Darjeeling. Nov/Dec 2018, No author given). We used a torch in the evenings as there were often no lights because everything was run by generators. There was usually a working power point for recharging phones and cameras somewhere in our home-stays, but mostly no phone service. Dumber, the Singalila Park guide knew where we could catch a signal and would walk us out to a hilltop where necessary. All visitors to Singalila have to be accompanied by a local park guide.
Sunday - 17th & Monday 18th March – Heathrow to Delhi
Verity and I met at the BA check-in area at Heathrow Terminal Five. The flight was late leaving, due to disrupted schedules caused by bad weather earlier in the day and also took about two hours longer than usual due to a recent political dispute with India which meant that we could not overfly Pakistan. We eventually arrived in Delhi after midday on the Monday. We booked a taxi from one of the booths outside the airport (Rs.300) and drove to the conveniently situated Lemon Tree Hotel, a four star hotel in Aerocity, ten minutes drive from the airport. As requested our rooms were single, non-smoking and in a quiet corridor and were perfect for what we needed (through Booking.com - £79 a night).
I had arranged some weeks previously to have tea with my friend Usha at her house when I was next in Delhi so after a delicious Indian lunch at the hotel, we freshened up and waited in the foyer for her driver. The journey of about 45 minutes in the plush air-conditioned car, took us into a quiet, private compound somewhere in the south of the city. We were greeted by Usha and her sister and then spent a very pleasant couple of hours chatting and consuming delicious savouries, cakes and drinking tea sitting in Usha’s house and then when cooler in her very tranquil garden. Verity and I had some difficulty concentrating on the conversation at times, because birds were flitting about in the trees. Nevertheless we managed to get our eye in well enough to identify fifteen species, mostly common Delhi regulars.
Overnight - The Lemon Tree Hotel - Aerocity, Delhi
Day 1. Tuesday 19th March – Delhi to Sukhia Pokhri
We ordered an Uber taxi to the airport (Rs. 500), checked our baggage in at the Vistara Airways desk, sailed through Immigration and then boarded our flight at around 11.50am. Two hours later we stepped out at the Bagdogra Airport and there was a smiling Sudesh waiting for us. We loaded up the 4x4 and set off, getting acquainted as we headed north and totting up lower altitude species along the way including a Red-naped Ibis that flew across a field. Interestingly we then drove along the same road that the old, British-built Darjeeling Railway follows, the one that runs through various towns where the stall holders hurriedly move their wares off the track just before the train passes by, seen on the telly frequently in travel programmes.
The road was winding and our young driver very enthusiastically hurled the car around corners and very soon Verity was suffering from car sickness, so we stopped and she moved to the front of the vehicle which sorted that problem out. En route we drove through Kurseong and past the famous Sonada Station, the highest point so far (2160m). We also stopped to have a plate of Nepali steamed ‘momos’ and instant coffee in a shop in a town called Ghoom. The going was slow due to the curving road and the gradual ascent up the mountains, however we arrived at Sukhia Pokhri (2194m) in the late afternoon. We settled into the Norbuling Homestay situated on the main street of the town.
A young researcher named Avintika who lives in Sukhia Pokhri and who knew Sudesh had booked our rooms for us in advance and also our meal in a cosy restaurant called the Wayside Inn just off the main street. She told us a little about her research and was a very pleasant enthusiastic young lady. The temperature had dropped and in fact that night we needed several quilts and at least four blankets on our beds to keep warm. There was hot water in the ensuite bathrooms but I never managed to work out the system of switches and the half a dozen taps under the water heater, so unfortunately I missed out on a hot shower, the last bathroom with hot water for eight days! We were also kept awake some of the night by barking dogs and also a Nepali monk blowing some sort of horn, a custom where they wander from village to village in the early hours of the morning allegedly gaining karma.
Overnight at Norbuling Homestay - Sukhia Pokhri
Day 2. Wednesday 20th March – Sukhia Pokhri to Tumling
First thing, we had tea and biscuits whilst looking out from the back balcony of the home stay. The steep hillside below was covered in rubbish from the town and very unsightly but was excellent for bird species and we totted up at least a dozen new species for the list - including Striated, Streaked, Scaly and Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrushes. Onwards and upwards, today the road wound around many corners on steep mountains gradually gaining height. The route we took is a bit obscure as there aren’t any good maps available, so I’m not actually sure where we went! We stopped a few times on the roadside and I picked up my first lifer, a Rusty-flanked Treecreeper. We then passed through Mane Bhanjan before reaching the entrance to the Singalila NP (1943m). Here we said goodbye to our ‘city’ driver and his normal 4x4 and packed ourselves into an ancient, battered Rover (with a plaque on the dashboard saying it was built in 1954 by ‘The Rover Company, Birmingham’). This was driven by our driver for the week, a man named Suraj who turned out to be a marvel at handling this obviously difficult to drive machine, which as it turned out was perfect for the difficult terrain ahead. How he got us up and down those treacherous slippery, steep tracks we will never know, but he did, in safety and comfort and without Verity or I ever feeling terrified (only just a trifle nervous here and there)! We had also picked up a man named Dumber, the designated guide from the national park and a friend of Sudesh’s. He acted as our ‘logistics manager’ organising our food, accommodation, phone charging etc as we went along, a local man who knew just about everyone en route and was vital for a successful trip.
All the towns and hamlets we stayed in during our nine-day stay in the Singalila NP were actually in Nepal rather than India and 95% of the population were also Nepali, including Dumber. Building is prohibited in the Indian Singalila NP but since the road runs literally along the border with Nepal, all the home stays have been built on the left/Nepali side of the road. Peter Lobo had advised us not to bother securing Nepali visas in advance, because Sudesh, who spoke fluent Nepali knew most of the border guards so there was never any problem with our crossing numerous times daily.
The road became suddenly steeper immediately we entered the national park. Suraj constantly had to change to a lower gear and use four-wheel drive. Actually he seemed to have three gear sticks including one with a red knob on top and this was used for VERY steep sections! Verity was sitting in the middle seat but just ignored these constant changes of gears between her knees. A concrete barrier lined sections of the road and much to our surprise we came across our first Fire-tailed Myzornis, not on a mossy branch, but on one of these barriers. We saw this species (one of Verity’s targets) on most days. We passed the Chitrey Gompa (2550m) then after a few stops to bird we arrived at our accommodation, the Shikar Homestay in Tumling (2970m) which was basically a set of several buildings down a short alleyway. We arrived in time for a late lunch, then we walked out and up the main track for several hours of roadside birding. A strong wind repeatedly blew the clouds over the ridge we were walking, at times reducing visibility to 10m and we were eventually forced to return to the home stay. It was cold, very, very cold. I had a room in a separate building with three windows, no heating and an en suite bathroom flooded with ice cold water. Verity had a room next to Sudesh in an older building which might have been warmer, but not by much. I removed all bedding from the spare beds and set it up on one bed with my sleeping sheets tucked between two duvets and four heavy thick blankets. In fact after the initial half hour of shivering I was finally able to get warm in the hard bed.
Overnight at Shikar Homestay - Tumling
Day 3. Thursday 21st March – Tumling to Gairibas
We woke to clear skies and we could see Kanchenjunga mountain (the third highest on the planet) from the road, tinged pink in the early morning sun. The view was spectacular but we hurried on worrying that the cloud would return before we got in any decent hours of birding. We slowly birded our way along the road seeing a few new species, including Darjeeling Woodpecker, Brown Bullfinch and Black-throated Thrush, some species in wintering flocks and some in pairs. After several hours Suraj picked us up in the Landrover and we continued on along the road, having breakfast en route to Gairibas (2625m) and stopping every time Sudesh heard an interesting bird call.
We arrived at Gairibas in time for lunch. Gairibas is the hamlet which has the Panda Release Facility inside an enclosure. The Solu Homestay was pleasant, nice rooms with en suite bathrooms, but only one with a European-style loo. Lunch with the family, including a tiny seventeen-day old baby, was in a pleasant family room. It was misty, the cloud streaming over the pass from the Nepal side, very disappointing indeed, we had expected better weather than this. However there were breaks and after lunch we made our way past the cow byres onto a path around the Nepali side of the mountain. This was the area where, on other trips led by Sudesh, Satyr Tragopans had been seen, and as we walked along the path Sudesh did hear an alarm call which got our adrenalin going, but we didn’t manage to see the bird. It began to rain and as tragopans are apparently not active in the wet we retired to a cafe for chai where Sudesh revealed his plan for the next morning - at first light we would stand by the cow byres where the cow dung had been dropped over the side of the cliff for many years thus producing a very insectivorous hillside. Back at the homestay we all met in the family room for supper. A small charcoal fire provided heat so we sat around after dinner and watched the little baby being massaged with herbs and oil in front of the fire.
Overnight: Solu Homestay - Gairibas.
Day 4. Friday 22nd March – around Gairibas
We headed out well before light at about 4.45am and stood by the cow byres for some time, but unfortunately no sign of any tragopans. We then crossed the road into India and walked to a track on the other side of the village. It was very peaceful walking along this forest track with plenty of activity bird-wise including White-browed Bush Robin, Yellow-browed Tit and a Grey-sided Bush Warbler. After about a half a mile Sudesh suddenly stopped and indicated that he had heard the alarm call of a tragopan, his ears were incredible. He left us on the path instructing us to keep very still and then crept further on to the shaded corner. After about a minute, he started gesticulating frantically, we leaned forward and both of us had superb views of a male Satyr Tragopan walking across the track in clear view. An absolutely exquisite bird, we could see the stunning red upper half, including spots, everything, amazing. High fives all around as the adrenalin finally settled. Later, at one point on our return along the path Verity spied one of Avintika’s camera traps, stood in front of it and took a photo, it would be quite a surprise for the researcher when she next checked her footage!
After breakfast back at Solu, we set off walking past the cow byre and along the uneven rocky track on the Nepali side that eventually lead to a more open higher grassy area where a new road was being graded. There was a digger, a lot of mess, newly dug soil everywhere, a bit of a surprise as we had been under the impression that we were miles from anywhere! We were also out in the sun now and it was quite warm, in fact the warmest few hours we experienced on the entire trip. We removed our jackets and walked on, finally circling around and down and then back to the homestay for lunch.
In the afternoon, low cloud, blown by the winds, swirled over the pass obliterating everything, so we decided to walk down the road back towards Tumling, but didn’t see many new birds, apart from a Chestnut-bellied Tesia and a quick view of a female Satyr Tragopan seen crossing the road by Verity. The mist just damped everything down and it was very quiet indeed. A second night dining in the family room this time with some Scottish whisky brought from the UK which we drank to celebrate our tragopan sighting.
Second night at Solu Homestay - Gairibas.
Day 5. Saturday 23rd March - Gairibas – Kalpokhri
At first light we spent a short time at the top of the ‘dung chute’ slope by the cow byre, but again no luck so we moved to the hillside that looked across to this same area and then a little later scrambled along the bottom of this slope, but saw nothing apart from the usual laughing thrushes etc. We then walked a few hundred metres down another track there and ran into a flock of birds, scoring a few new species including Yellow-bellied Fantail, Greenish Warbler and Gould’s Sunbird, but not the parrotbills that Sudesh was hoping for. Back to Solu for breakfast.
We then packed up and drove towards Kayakanata en route stopping intermittently - at one point so that Suraj and Dumber could walk up into the forest to a strategic area looking for panda whilst we birded along the road. We arrived at Kayakanata, a settlement of two or three shacks a few miles further on, where the lower end of an old British-built road, that was closed to traffic ran round the Indian side of the mountain away from the noisy well used main track. There were a good number of Indian tourists in jeeps driving up for views of Kanchenjunga and the snow on their short holiday breaks. They were an excited bunch and no problem except when we were birding along the main thoroughfare. We continued on uphill towards Kalpokhri (3186m), stopping at the upper end of the old British-built road, for a short walk along it and surprising a Himalayan Wood Owl flying in the day time, also a Pink-browed Rosefinch and two Spotted Nutcrackers. We returned to the jeep and drove on to Kalpokhri and settled into the Chewang Lodge. This was an extensive building with a few small rooms and several dormitory rooms. Verity chose the room with two beds, I got the room with three beds which meant less room but more blankets! After lunch in the cosy combination kitchen cum shop and restaurant and a short break we then drove back down to the upper end of the old British-built road and walked along it for a couple of hours, seeing the Himalayan Wood Owl again and our first Red-headed Bullfinches for the trip. In the early evening Dumber walked me to an area just over the hill along the Dzo tracks where I could get a phone signal. The main room at the Chewang Lodge was a hive of activity with lots of guests and much coming and going, very atmospheric and we enjoyed eating supper here. In the cooking area, thin strips of beef were hung up to dry over the fire, a method of preserving because of lack of refrigeration. Seemingly random people were involved in the rolling out of dough, shaping it into parathas and even Suraj helped in cooking them in the round sided oven.
Overnight Chewang Lodge - Kalpokhri
Day 6. Sunday 24th March - Kalpokhri - Sandakphu
We set off at 5.45am back down the road and had turned off to the side for only 50M onto the grazed grassy area before we saw a flock of circa 50 Altai Accentors, but apart from two briefly glimpsed of thrushes, the finches Sudesh expected were not to be found. We passed a small lake surrounded by prayer flags and then reached the upper end of the old British built road. The plan was to walk the six kilometres slowly back down to Kayakanata and Suraj would meet us there. This road, closed to traffic, was excellent for birding with views over the forest and the mountains in the distance in the clear morning air. After about an hour Sudesh suddenly exclaimed and announced that he had heard a Satyr Tragopan down in the valley below. We all peered over the edge of the road into a small ravine and suddenly we spotted a pair of pink legs. I quickly set up the scope and got it onto the bird as it slowly crept about in the leaf litter, initially only showing partially but then gradually moving out into the open. We had the entire bird, a male, filling the telescope for at least a half an hour! We couldn’t believe our luck, the bird was magnificent and the views were probably the best I have ever had of any pheasant type species. High fives all round for the second time in two days!
We finally moved on (albeit reluctantly) from the tragopan, along the road, continuing to tick off new species until we finally turned the corner and in the distance we could see Suraj and the jeep at Kayakanata. The jeep was up on a jack beside the shacks, we had some coffee while waiting for it to be fixed - we never found out what the problem was - then we drove on uphill back to the Chewang Lodge at Kalpokhri. We packed up and then started the very difficult journey up the road towards Sandakphu. Sudesh had warned us in advance of the steepness and poor condition of this section of the road and it was indeed very, very steep and in extremely bad condition with huge holes and soft edges, then patched sections, then more rocks and mud and steep corners. In several places we had to pass other jeeps and this was very tricky indeed. The local rule was that the jeep going up always had to give way to the jeep coming down and all drivers observed this rule. It was fairly nerve-racking reversing, which we did several times but at least we were on the inside of the road and not hanging off the cliff! It was only about eight kilometres to Sandakphu (3680m) but it took us just over an hour to reach there.
This perky tourist village was a bustling untidy place on top of the mountain with patches of melting snow all along the edge of the road and cold, but it was milling with friendly Indian tourists in holiday mood very excited at the prospect of views of Kanchenjunga. The clouds were blowing past obscuring the view but every so often we caught tantalising glimpses of snow-covered peaks to the north. We pulled into the Public Works Building compound adjacent to a small Army camp - this was where we were to stay. The bungalow, built by the British, still retained some ‘Britishness’, two spacious bedrooms en suite both with fireplaces, a dining room and a sitting room. The bad news was that all the pipes were frozen and there was no water at all for toilets nor washing. Not surprising really and Verity and I just accepted it as par for the course. We unpacked then walked up to a nearby building and dined on noodles in the PWD dining room there.
After settling in, we tried to take a short rest but it was so cold I ended up tucked under the quilts and blankets in seven layers of clothing and gloves for an hour reading my book, until Sudesh arrived. He led us out, sadly once again into swirling mist, along the road towards Phalut the next village, for an afternoon of birding. We did manage to see a few birds but the mist was keeping everything down and we eventually turned back and tried the lower road instead. The altitude (3636m) clearly affected our breathing slightly but we merely walked a little more slowly. We would have to wait for the morning and hope that it was clear then. Dinner was served in our own personal dining room in our bungalow and we celebrated the tragopan sighting of the morning with the last of the whisky. In our rooms it was so cold that we piled every quilt and blanket on our beds and I actually slept fully clothed under them, shivering for at least an hour before I dropped off to sleep.
Overnight - PWD Bungalow - Sandakphu.
Day 7. Monday 25th March - Sandakphu
Tea at 5.45am then we headed out along the crisp frozen road. Verity’s temperature gauge registered minus 2 degrees as we birded along the same road as the night before - towards Phalut. However the sky was clear for the moment and the mountains of Kanchenjunga and the two on either side were visible shining pink in the early morning light and we also caught a very quick view of Everest in the hazy distance to the west. After a while we started to see a few alpine species - Red Crossbills, White-browed Rosefinch and Plain Mountain Finch. After about a kilometre Verity pointed out a small open valley just below the road that seemed to have some activity so we climbed down and in fact did see a number of montane species including Rufous-breasted Accentor, a quick glimpse of a Golden Bush Robin and also Beautiful Rosefinch. Then the mist started to obliterate the distant mountains, the road and finally everything disappeared behind the blanketing cloud, so we headed back for breakfast.
At 10.30am we were back outside in the cold, this time to walk/slide down an ice-covered path between the pine trees. We picked up a few more species, including our first martins, swiftlets and Grey-crested Tit, but it was not long before the cold drove us back for lunch and an enforced rest again in bed, fully clothed in an attempt to keep warm. The weather looked as though it was setting in for the worse but nevertheless after our break we walked, this time a short distance down the road towards Kalpokhri and then off onto a side path. This led through the pine trees to a small Hindu temple, (surrounded by Buddhist flags!) and then an even smaller Animist temple. The path circled back up to the Phalut Road where the West Bengali tourists, excited at seeing snow, had built a mini snowman and were throwing snowballs at each other. It started to sleet so we returned to the Rest House. Sudesh was beginning to get concerned that we would not get out in the morning if it snowed heavily, but after much indecision he finally decided to stay as planned and we took the risk as we still had some important species to see.
Second night at PWD Bungalow - Sandakphu
Day 8. Tuesday 26th March - Sandakphu - Sukhia Pokhri
We were up and out at 5.30am to clear skies thankfully, for a last ditch attempt to see the missed species and we did turn up several White-winged Grosbeaks and a few more rosefinches, but the weather was deteriorating fast so at 7am Sudesh gave the order and we quickly packed up and set off down the now treacherous road through swirling sleet and then falling snow. Our jeep did not have windscreen wipers - they were long gone - so it was a frightfully difficult journey, but we managed to make Kalpokhri before the heavy snow and without having to pass any vehicles - thankfully the weather precluded uphill traffic. We ate breakfast amongst the many trekkers and Indian tourists trapped and sheltering as we were from the weather, in the warmth of the Chewang Lodge kitchen and main room. It was cosy and there was a friendly inclusive holiday atmosphere. After our breakfast we headed down to Kayakanata whereupon the clouds suddenly cleared and surprisingly the sun had come out!! Dumber disappeared off to find a local who would search for signs of a panda for us in the forest. Once located, this man headed off along the Old British Road and we followed a little way behind, picking up more or less the same species as two days previously but a few new ones as well. It was a fabulous area to walk anyway, the sky had cleared and we had brilliant views. However a panda sighting was not to be, the man did not find any signs and disappeared before we could even give him a tip for his trouble. We were a little disappointed but that’s the way it is, you can’t succeed in seeing everything you have aimed for.
We were leaving the Singalila NP today as sadly we had run out of days. We drove down to Gairibas, then continued down to Tumling where we had lunch. We stopped a few times, got Black-eared Shrike Babbler and stopped again at the entrance to the national park where we said our farewells to Suraj and Dumber. They had looked after us superbly and really deserved the generous tip we gave them both. We transferred to the original more modern 4x4 and continued to Sukhia Pokhri, arriving there finally at 5pm. We checked into the same rooms at the Norbuling Homestay but this time I made sure I knew how to heat the water, then use the series of taps to shower. After five days with only several small buckets of hot water for washing it was sheer heaven to take a hot shower. In fact, absolute bliss! Avintika, the researcher was out of town unfortunately, but we dined in the same restaurant as before and then had an early night.
Night at Norbuling Homestay - Sukhia Pokhri
Day 9. Wednesday 27th March - Sukhia Pokhri - Delhi
At first light we were all out on the back balcony picking out various species. The rubbish spewing down the hillside was still as ghastly a site as ever, but there were lots for the birds to eat and amazingly we saw 28 species in half an hour or so!! We packed up and drove a short distance along the main thoroughfare to an area of scrub and trees. The path led past an open crematorium and numerous stupas, both old and new. This was called Mim Phatak - Stupa Hill and we managed to pick up a few extra species for the trip including an excellent view of a Golden Bush Robin and three Kalij Pheasants, an amazing find so close to the town. We also discovered a large scat which Sudesh identified as that of a leopard!
After breakfast at the Wayside Inn back in Sukhia Pokhri we set off south, taking an alternate route via Mirik back to Bagdogra as Sudesh explained that the Darjeeling Road and the road through to the airport would be packed with traffic. Our route passed through numerous tea gardens and then through open scrubby countryside before finally crossing into the military area on the periphery of the airport. We added about a dozen species as we drove past areas of old forest and open fields, mostly common birds but we were pleased to add Oriental Pied Hornbill to our checklist.
Sudesh then took us to the Marina’s Hotel and Restaurant in Bagdogra and treated us to an excellent lunch before dropping us back at the airport. It was really sad to say goodbye to Sudesh, he was such a charming man and very good company. He had looked after us superbly and importantly had a very good sense of humour. He is also an excellent guide, knew the species including the calls and had managed to get us three tragopan sightings for the trip.
The flight to Delhi was late but the plane finally arrived and we took off, landing two hours later. This time we were booked into the five star Pride Plaza Hotel also in Aerocity because Verity had managed to get a special deal making the cost about the same as the four star Lemon Tree. The rooms were spacious and nicely presented, especially the all glass bathroom which had a superb rain shower and was a joy after the very basic washing facilities we had experienced over the last week. A Sitar player and a drummer combo in the extensive lobby area entertained us and other guests as we passed into the Sports Bar for a much-appreciated gin and tonic.
Overnight - Pride Plaza Hotel - Delhi
Thursday 28th March - Delhi - London Heathrow
Breakfast in the hotel was an extravaganza of food, a huge buffet served in two rooms with so many tempting choices that it was difficult not to try everything. Afterwards, we packed up and this time took a rather expensive hotel car to the airport (Rs. 800). The flight was at least two hours late leaving Delhi. I must mention here that the economy class British Airways flight was very disappointing, the food was underwhelming, they served chicken at both mealtimes and on the second meal this ran out before they reached our aisle! The staff were pretty nonchalant as well. Unusual, as BA have served us well on the many other flights in the past. We eventually arrived three hours late at Heathrow.
In spite of the weather and consequent low number of species seen, Verity and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. We have both birded at similar altitudes elsewhere in Asia so had a limited number of target lifers - that helped. We had superb views of Satyr Tragopan, our main target bird. Dipping the Red Panda, was of course disappointing but we gave it our best shot and rarities shouldn’t be too easy to find. We saw 155 species during the nine days in the field, with both of us getting onto most of them. Sudesh’s expertise, Suraj’s driving skills and Dumber’s helpfulness all made for an excellent trip.
Guide: Sudesh Pradhan
Lobo House Hill Top,
Kalimpong, Darjeeling - 734301
West Bengal, India
Mob: +91 9434017402
1. Hill Partridge - heard on six days inside the NP.
2. SATYR TRAGOPAN - a male heard on the path at the back of the Sulu Homestay at Gairibas in Nepal, then the next day a male was seen gliding across a track at Gairibas on the Indian side. A female also glimpsed on the Tumlung road near Gairibas (India) in the mist. Our best view though was of a male seen from the old British road between Kayakanata and Kalpokhri (India). This male was feeding in the leaf litter about 30-40m in a ravine down from the road and we had a full scope view for at least half an hour. Astonishing views!!!
3. Red Junglefowl - one was heard crowing en route to the Bagdogra airport on the last day.
4. Kalij Pheasant - surprisingly, three at a buddhist cemetery at Mim Phatak, close to Sukhia Pokhri.
5. Red-naped Ibis - a single bird seen on two occasions, when leaving Bagdogra and then when returning.
6. Indian Pond Heron - two in a field en route back to the Bagdogra airport and also two in Delhi.
7. Cattle Egret - up to nine in fields seen whilst travelling to and from Bagdogra.
8. Little Egret - at least two in Delhi.
9. Great Egret - a single en route back to the Bagdogra airport.
10. Black Kite - common over Delhi and at least one outside the Singalila NP.
11. Himalayan Vulture - up to 15 seen on seven days, migrating across the passes up in the higher mountains in the NP.
12. Steppe Eagle - one probable seen near Gairibas.
13. Himalayan Buzzard - (ss. burmanicus) - two seen near Gairibas.
14. Red-wattled Lapwing - several en route to and from the airport in Delhi.
15. Oriental Turtle Dove - singles and pairs seen on five days at lower altitudes.
16. Eurasian Collared Dove - two seen whilst driving out of Bagdogra.
17. Spotted Dove - one en route back to Bagdogra airport.
18. Laughing Dove - a single in Delhi.
19. Barred Cuckoo Dove - one near Tumling, heard by guide.
20. Alexandrine Parakeet - several seen in Delhi
21. Plum-headed Parakeet - parakeets seen from the car in Delhi were most likely this species.
22. Large Hawk Cuckoo - never seen, but heard on seven days.
23. Asian Koel - heard in Bagdogra.
24. HIMALAYAN WOOD OWL - a single bird surprised us twice by flying overhead in the daylight over the old British road.
25. Collared Owlet - heard on five days, also one seen near Tumling sitting on a branch over the road, then it flew and perched close.
26. Asian Barred Owlet - one heard as we left the NP on the last day.
27. Asian Palm Swift - several in Delhi and around Bagdogra.
28. Blyth’s Swift (A. leuconyx) - three seen overhead in Sandakphu.
29. White-throated Kingfisher - two seen en route out of Bagdogra on day one.
30. Oriental Pied Hornbill - a pair seen flying over the military area around Bagdogra.
31. Great Barbet - one seen in our friend Usha’s garden in Delhi and one heard the next day near Bagdogra en route to the NP.
32. Brown-headed Barbet - at least two in Usha’s garden in Delhi.
33. Golden-throated Barbet - one heard from the jeep close to Bagdogra.
34. Blue-throated Barbet - heard around the Bagdogra airport.
35. Bay Woodpecker - heard on two days, but not seen.
36. Crimson-breasted Woodpecker - three seen from the old British road near Kalpokhri.
37. Darjeeling Woodpecker - a single at Tumling, one at the old British road and one heard by our guide at Sandakphu.
38. Common Kestrel - a single en route to the Delhi airport, and two en route back to the Bagdogra airport.
39. Peregrine Falcon - two from the old British road and another the next day at Sandakphu.
40. Long-tailed Minivet - a pair at Tumling.
41. Long-tailed Shrike (ss. tricolor) - a single en route from the Bagdogra airport.
42. Black-headed Shrike Babbler - our guide heard this species at Tumling but Verity and I never managed to get onto it.
43. Green Shrike Babbler - a glimpse at Tumling, also two from the old British road.
44. Black-eared Shrike Babbler - a single near Tumling.
45. Black Drongo - at least six en route to the NP and two when returning to Bagdogra airport on the last day.
46. Ashy Drongo - several en route to the NP, then up to seven on two days along the old British road.
47. Hair-crested Drongo - a single en route back to Bagdogra airport.
48. White-throated Fantail - a single near Bagdogra, several the next day before the park, then a single in the lower part of the NP.
49. Yellow-billed Blue Magpie - two on six days in the NP.
50.Grey Treepie - heard en route into the NP, also at least two seen on two days from the old British road.
51. Spotted Nutcracker - one at Tumling, and two on two days from the old British road.
52. House Crow - common in towns but absent as we drove higher into the mountains.
53. Large-billed Crow - seen every day at mid altitudes.
54. Yellow-bellied Fantail - two at Gairibas on the Nepal side of the road and a single from the old British road nearer Kayakanata.
55. Grey-headed (Canary) Flycatcher - we heard this old favourite many times in lower altitudes, but finally saw one driving out of the NP.
56. Yellow-browed Tit - up to five of these underwhelming little birds seen in mixed flocks on six of the seven days in the NP.
57. Rufous-vented Tit - up to four seen in mixed flocks on four days in the NP.
58. Coal Tit - up to three seen on two days at Sandakphu in the pine trees there.
59. Grey-crested Tit - up to five seen on three days in the higher altitudes around Sandakphu.
60. Green-backed Tit - up to three seen on six days in the NP.
61. Yellow-cheeked Tit - a single bird seen at a roadside stop en route back to Sukhia Pokhri.
62. Red-whiskered Bulbul - at least three in Usha’s garden in Delhi.
63. Red-vented Bulbul - up to four in Delhi and en route to Singalila NP, also on the return journey near Bagdogra.
64. Barn Swallow - eight seen flying into nests in shop entrances in the village on the border of Singalila NP and again on the return journey.
65. Nepal House Martin - at least five seen over the pines at Sandakphu.
66. Martin/Swiftlet sp. several unidentified birds at the Delhi airport.
67. Pygmy Cupwing (Wren Babbler) - heard one at a stop en route to the Singalila NP.
68. Broad-billed Warbler - one seen at Mim Phatak, Stupa Hill near Sukhia Pokhri.
69. Brown-flanked Bush Warbler - two heard by Sudesh, then seen by all from the balcony of hotel at Sukhia Pokhri.
70. Hume’s Bush Warbler (ex Yellowish-bellied) - singles seen and one heard on four days in the Singalila NP.
71. Grey-sided Bush Warbler - heard and then one seen at Gairibas and on two days from the old British road.
72. Chestnut-headed Tesia - a brilliant view of a single bird seen emerging from the mist along the road back to Tumling from Gairibas.
73. Black-throated Bushtit - up to four seen on four days near Gairibas
74. Rufous-fronted Bushtit - up to three seen on four days in the NP.
75. Buff-barred Warbler - quite common in the NP, seen in small numbers on seven of the eight days there.
76. Ashy-throated Warbler - again quite common, seen on six days in the NP.
77. Whistler’s Warbler - singles on two days around Tumling.
78. Greenish Warbler - a single seen on the Nepali path from Gairibas, the only one definitely identified.
79. Chestnut-crowned Warbler - one seen in amongst a mixed flock at a roadside stop outside the park.
80. Grey-hooded Warbler - a pair seen outside the park, also two on two days around Gairibas.
81. Black-throated Prinia - two seen and also heard from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri on two mornings.
82. Mountain Tailorbird - two heard at Mim Phatak.
83. Common Tailorbird - two seen and several heard from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri.
84. Golden Babbler - one heard at a roadside stop outside the NP.
85. Streaked-breasted Scimitar Babbler - fairly common, up to three seen but also heard on four days in the NP.
86. Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler - two heard and two glimpsed at the ‘dung chute’ at Gairibas, one heard from the path on the Indian side there.
87. Rufous-capped Babbler - several seen and others heard outside the park, also up to two seen or heard on three days in the NP.
88. Jungle Babbler - common in Usha’s garden in Delhi.
89. Rufous-winged Fulvetta - up to three seen on four days in the NP.
90. Striated Laughing Thrush - a flock of at least six from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri and one on a roadside stop en route out of the NP.
91. Scaly Laughing Thrush - two seen from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri, also seen along the Nepali path at Gairibas
92. Streaked Laughing Thrush - several seen from the Balcony at Sukhia Pokhri, also two en route out.
93. Black-faced Laughing Thrush - the most common laughing thrush, up to six seen on most days in the NP.
94. Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush - several seen from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri, but also at least one on three days in the NP.
95. Rusty-fronted Barwing - at least three seen on a stop before the NP.
96. Bar-throated Minla (Chestnut-tailed Minla) - a party of eight on the road at Gairibas, but also at least three along the Nepali path there.
97. Hoary-throated Barwing - a single bird at Tumling, also two at Gairibas.
98. Red-billed Leothrix - at least six at a roadside stop en route into the park, also two in from the balcony at the hotel in Sukhia Pokhri.
99. Rufous Sibia - parties of up to eight on five days, mostly in the NP.
100. Spotted Laughing Thrush - these stunning laughing thrushes were seen on five days, up to five each day, mostly at higher altitudes in the NP.
101. Fire-tailed Myzornis - surprisingly common, up to three seen on six out of the seven days inside the NP.
102. Golden-breasted Fulvetta - up to six seen on four days inside the NP.
103. Yellow-throated Fulvetta - heard by our guide on a roadside stop outside the NP.
104. White-browed Fulvetta - this species was probably the most common bird of the trip, multiple small flocks seen on eight days.
105. Whiskered Yuhina - a single bird was glimpsed at Mim Phatak, but several others heard there.
106. Stripe-throated Yuhina - up to six seen on six days in the NP.
107. Rufous-vented Yuhina - up to six seen on five days in the NP, but also a flock of 50+ birds seen from the old British road on the last visit.
108. Goldcrest - at least eight seen in the pines at Sandakphu.
109. White-tailed Nuthatch - two at a roadside stop en route into the NP, five seen at Tumling and singles seen on two other days in the NP.
110. Hodgson’s Treecreeper - two birds plus singles seen at higher altitude at Sandakphu on three occasions.
111. RUSTY-FLANKED TREECREEPER - three birds seen on two days at lower altitudes.
112. Sikkim Treecreeper (Brown-throated) - two singles seen, one near Gairibas and one at a roadside stop outside the NP.
113. Bank Myna - common in Delhi and around Bagdogra.
114. Common Myna - also common in Delhi, Bagdogra and one seen in Sukhia Pokhri.
115. Asian Pied Starling - a single bird in Bagdogra
116. Tickell’s Thrush - a possible at Sukhia Pokhri, glimpsed from the balcony was confirmed when we saw two on the last day there.
117. White-collared Blackbird - up to six seen on eight days, mostly inside the NP.
118. Grey-winged Blackbird - a pair seen from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri.
119. Black-throated Thrush - a single at Tumling, three males at Sandakphu and two from the balcony at Sukhia Phokri
120. Red-throated Thrush - a single bird at Sandakphu was the only sighting.
121. Magpie Robin - a pair at the hotel gardens in Bagdogra.
122. Rufous-bellied Niltava - a single male seen from the old British road.
123. Verditer Flycatcher - a single on the Nepali Path Gairibas, two along the old British road on two days, also one en route back to Bagdogra.
124. White-browed Bush Robin - up to three pairs seen on four days in Gairibas and Sandakphu.
125. Himalayan Bluetail (ss. rufilatus - split fr. Red-flanked Bluetail) seen on three days at Tumling and Gairibas.
126. Golden Bush Robin - one heard at Sandakphu and a single male seen at Mim Phatak.
127. Spotted Forktail - our guide heard this species call from a stream bed near Gairibas, but we didn’t see it.
128. Blue Whistling Thrush - two from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri on both stays, but also several along the road, mostly outside the NP.
129. Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher - the most common flycatcher, up to five seen on seven days in the NP.
130. Black Redstart - a male seen from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri on both visits.
131. White-winged Redstart (Guldenstadt’s) - at least six seen in Sandakphu.
132. Blue-fronted Redstart - common every day once we reached the NP area, with up to five seen each day on eight days.
133. Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush - two males and a single male on two days at the old British road near Kayakanata.
134. Grey Bush Chat - pairs or singles seen on six days inside the NP.
135. Purple Sunbird - at least three in Usha’s garden in Delhi.
136. Mrs Gould’s Sunbird - a pair in a mixed flock seen from a path leading down from Gairibas on the Nepali side of the road.
137. Green-tailed Sunbird - common in mixed flocks with at least four every day for seven days, mostly in the NP.
138. Crimson Sunbird - a singe bird in Usha’s garden in Delhi.
139. Fire-tailed Sunbird - slightly more common than Green-tailed with up to five seen on seven days in the NP.
140. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - up to six seen in Sukhia Pokhri on both visits.
141. ALTAI ACCENTOR - a flock of at least 50 birds seen close to the Chewang Lodge in Kalpokhri.
142. Rufous-breasted Accentor - up to three seen on three days in the NP.
143. Grey Wagtail - singles seen on four days in the NP.
144. White Wagtail - (ss.personata) - a single bird at the small lake at Kalpokhri.
145. Olive-backed Pipit - up to five seen on eight days, mostly in the NP.
146. White-winged Grosbeak - a pair seen up close in the early morning sun at Sandakphu.
147. Brown Bullfinch - a pair along the Tumbling road.
148. Red-headed Bullfinch - up to three seen on three days along the old British road.
149. Dark-breasted Rosefinch - three at Sukhia Pokhri.
150. Plain Mountain Finch - a flock of 30 at Kalpokhri & also flocks of up to 10 on two days and a single male at Sandakphu.
151. Common Rosefinch - a single male from the balcony at Sukhia Pokhri.
152. Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch - (C. pulcherrimus) - a single bird at Sandakphu.
153. Pink-browed Rosefinch - a female from the old British road.
154. Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch - (C. thura) - up to four along the Phalut road in Sandakphu and a male the next day there.
155. Red Crossbill - a flock of up to 15 on two days around Sandakphu.