Darjeeling, Sandakphu and Lava areas of West Bengal, North-east India, April 2004

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)


by Tim Allwood

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This brief report details a trip to the Darjeeling, Sandakphu and Lava areas of West Bengal, North-east India made by Tim Allwood, Dave Showler and Claire Stephenson. Contact allwoodt at aol.com

The aim of the trip was to try and see a few of the skulkers and specialities of the region such as Fulvous and Brown Parrotbills, Cutia, Rusty-bellied Shortwing and Rufous-throated Wren Babbler plus a few goodies like Cutia and thrushes. Overall, the people were fantastic; the food was good, beer likewise; getting around was very easy in minibuses etc. Hotels were good value and the trekkers huts on the Sandakphu route were very welcoming. Aside from the target species the place is great for tits, phylloscopus warbler, bush warblers, rosefinches, cuckoos, laughingthrushes and fulvettas etc.


We used the Grimmskipp guide and it was excellent but i'd suggest annotating it with more calls before you go. A tape is very useful for skulkers. We only used playback a few times but it got us a couple of difficult ticks. The shortwing would be very difficult without one. A lightweight waterproof and good torch are essential and you might want to take leech socks too if you don't like the little darlings. A plastic bag for your book and notes is useful due to the damp conditions. An umbrella enables you to continue birding during showers. It can be very misty and wet at times during spring but beautifully clear at times too. A whistle is very important too as it wouldn't be all that hard to get lost in the misty forests if you go off trail - as Claire found out! Boiled sweets and chocolate are great for the trek.

Birding Tips

Get off trail now and again and just sit in good spots. Can be tedious and leechy but we got good birds this way. Early morning was very good for thrushes but the light was poor - use your torch. Don't give up on skulkers. We were often sure something had disappeared only for it to pop up again close by.

We birded three main areas: Darjeeling/Tiger Hill; Sandakphu Trek up to 3,500ish m; Lava. See Krys Kazmierczak and Raj Singh's A birdwatchers' guide to India for details of access etc...

Darjeeling/Tiger Hill

There are several birds to be seen here and it makes a steady start to the trip. We spent a morning at the top (hotels in Darjeeling will get you a lift cheaply) and then walked the loop described in Krys' book but lost the trail, so be careful. Good birds included Broad-billed Warbler, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, White-tailed Robin and Black-throated and Brown Parrotbills. Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers are common by voice and probably easily lured out.

Sandakphu Trek

Spent a week here and really enjoyed it. We got a minibus to Manehbanjang at the start of the trek and hired a couple of porters (very easy to do) called Umtom and James who were both excellent. We paid 200 Rupees a day for them and paid their food and accommodation too (very cheap). On the way up we stopped at Tumling Hut and Gairibans Hut. Both extremely welcoming places after a 12 km walk. Birding is good all the way up the track. The area below Tumling for an hour or two appeared to be good for Satyr Tragopans - we heard a few but didn't go after any. The forest before Gairibans was excellent too and this was where we saw a Red Panda - an incredible experience - we were very fortunate indeed. Looks good for Purple Cochoa too. Gairibans was great for White-capped Water Redstart (River Chat), Rosefinches and the cracking Rosy Pipit were more in evidence above Sandakphu and a nice selection was seen. It can get very chilly here though so bring a good sleeping bag. Prices of food and accomodation were negligible on the trek - less than £3 all in per night. There is good bamboo on the track down to Rimbik about an hour from Sandakphu - this was where we found the Fulvous Parrotbills. It was also good for thrushes too (White's and Plain-backed) The rest of the 20+ km walk to Rimbik was scenically wonderful.


Spent a week here too. Birding was a little difficult due to the mist and cloud and the skulking nature of the birds but very rewarding.

The track to Neora Valley was good and would repay further investigation, perhaps you could get right into the park....Ward's Trogon awaits! We had Rusty-bellied Shortwing past the two cattle sheds mentioned in recent gen. We had to go right off trail and sit on the forested hillside for a while before remarkably one started singing right beside us. It still took absolutely ages to see it though. Rufous-throated Wren Babbler was found right by the path just before the first cattle shed, again we were very lucky I feel. Also here were Blue-winged Laughingthrush

The main road to Kalimpong was good and easy to work. Highlights here were Cutia, Sapphire Flycatcher (on trail just above the Forest resthouse), Ashy Wood Pigeon, Five Maroon-backed Accentors, Hodgson's Redstart, Striated and Grey-sided Laughingthrush etc. Didn't get a sniff of Blue-fronted Robin though......

The lower jeep track didn't look all that good to us. We only birded it once and it didn't produce much. There is quite a lot of disturbance there now. Maybe better to concentrate on the other areas or try to get into Neora Valley Park proper.

Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary

On the way back to Bagdogra and a good spot to have an hour's break and add a few species like Orinetal Pied Hornbill, parakeets, Hoopoe, Large Cuckooshrike, Peafowl and Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrush among others.

For any more info or for details on any species or sighting just drop me an email.

Provisional Checklist April 2004

This is approximate taxonomic order and doesn't follow Sibley & Monroe or the OBC checklist I'm afraid. I will endeavour to update it to S & M order and OBC nomenclature as soon as time allows.

Key to sites: B=Bagdogra C=Calcutta D=Darjeeling L=Lava MWS=Mahananda Wildlife Sancutaury S=Sandakphu Trek T=Tiger Hill. [ ] = heard only

Systematic List

Little Cormorant - B
Cattle Egret - B
Indian Pond Heron - B
Oriental Honey Buzzard - MWS
Common Buzzard B. b. japonicus - L,S (been split?- eastern buzzard?)
Black Kite - B,C
Eurasian Sparrowhawk - T
Mountain Hawk Eagle - L,S
Black Eagle - L,S
Crested Serpent Eagle - L
Peregrine - L,S
White-backed Vulture - B
Himalayan Griffon - D,S
Peacock - MWS
Red Junglefowl - [MWS]
Hill Partridge - L, [S]
Rufous-breasted Partridge - [L]
Satyr Tragopan - [S]
Kalij Pheasant - [S]
Ring-necked Parakeet - MWS
Red-breasted Parakeet - MWS
Rock Dove - D,L
Oriental Turtle Dove - L,S
Barred Cuckoo Dove - L
Treron sp. - [L]
Ashy Wood Pigeon - L
Eurasian Cuckoo - L,S
Oriental Cuckoo - L,S
Indian Cuckoo - [L]
Large Hawk Cuckoo - [D],L,S,[T]
Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo - S
Grey-bellied Cuckoo - L
Collared Owlet- [L]
Brown Wood Owl- L
Himalayan Swiftlet - L,S
White-throated Needletail - S
House Swift - C,D
Indian Roller - B
Dollarbird - MWS
Great Barbet - L
Blue-throated Barbet - [MWS]
Oriental Pied Hornbill - MWS
Hoopoe - MWS
Bay Woodpecker - L
Greater Yellownape - L
Darjeeling Woodpecker - S
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker - S
Maroon Oriole - S
Nepal House Martin - S
Barn Swallow - widespread
Red-rumped Swallow - S
Black Drongo - B
Ashy Drongo - L,S
Spangled Drongo - MWS
Long-tailed Shrike - B
Brown Shrike - B
Asian Pied Starling - B
Common Myna - B etc
Common Hill Myna - MWS
Yellow-billed Blue Magpie - L,S,T
Spotted Nutcracker - S
House Crow - B,C,D,MWS
Large-billed Crow - L,S
Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike - L,S
Large Woodshrike - MWS
Short-billed Minivet - L,S
Long-tailed Minivet - S
Black Bulbul - S
Striated Bulbul - L
Red-vented Bulbul - B,MWS
Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler - S
Pygmy Wren Babbler - L,[T]
Rufous-throated Wren Babbler - L
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler - L
Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler - [S],[T]
Rufous-capped Babbler - L,S,T
Golden Babbler - L
Red-billed Leiothrix - L,S,T
Cutia - L
White-browed Shrike Babbler - L,T
Black-eared Shrike- babbler - L,T
Rufous-winged Fulvetta - L,S,T
White-browed Fulvetta - L,S,T
Nepal Fulvetta - L
Golden-breasted Fulvetta - L,S,T
Yellow-throated Fulvetta - L
Red-tailed Minla - L,S,T
Blue-winged Minla - L,S
Chesnut-tailed Minla - L,S,T
Rufous Sibia - D,L,S,T
Black-throated Parrotbill - L,S,T
Brown Parrotbill - T
Fulvous parrotbill - S
Whiskered Yuhina - L,S,T
Stripe-throated Yuhina - L,S,T
Rufous-vented Yuhina - S
Rusty-fronted Barwing - L
Hoary-throated Barwing - S
Chesnut-crowned Laughingthrush - L,S,T
Scaly Laughingthrush - L
Blue-winged Laughingthrush - L
Striated Laughingthrush - L,S
Grey-sided Laughingthrush - L
White-throated Laughingthrush - L
Black-faced Laughingthrush - S
Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush - MWS
Dark-sided Flycatcher - S
Ferruginous Flycatcher - L
White-gorgetted Flycatcher - L
Taiga Flycatcher - S
Sapphire Flycatcher - L
Pygmy Blue Flycatcher - L
Little Pied Flycatcher - L
Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher - L,S,T
Slaty-blue Flycatcher - L,S
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher - L,S
Rufous-bellied Niltava - L,S
Large Niltava - L
Verditer Flycatcher - L,S,T
White-throated Fantail - L,S
Yellow-bellied Fantail - T
Broad-billed Warbler - L,T
Black-faced Warbler - L
Grey-hooded Warbler - L
Whistler's Warbler - L,S,T
Grey-cheeked Warbler - L
Chesnut-crowned Warbler - L,S
Grey-bellied Tesia - L
Slaty-bellied Tesia - L
Dark-necked Tailorbird - MWS
Chesnut-headed Tesia - L,S,T
Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler - S,L
Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler - S
Aberrant Bush Warbler - T
Grey-sided Bush Warbler - L
Russet Bush Warbler - [L},[S]
Tickell's Leaf Warbler - S
Large-billed Leaf Warbler - S
Greenish Warbler - S
Blyth's Leaf Warbler - L,S,T
Lemon-rumped Warbler - S
Ashy-throated Warbler - L,S,T
Buff-barred Warbler - L,S
Red-flanked Bluetail - L,S
White-browed Bush Robin - S
Golden Bush Robin- S
Hodgson's Redstart - L
Black Redstart - S
Blue-fronted Redstart - S
White-tailed Robin - L,S,T
Oriental Magpie Robin - B
White-capped Water Redstart - L,S
Plumbeous Water Redstart - S
Grey Bushchat - L,S
Chesnut-bellied Rock Thrush - D,L
Blue-whistling Thrush - D,L,S,T
Plain-backed Thrush - S
Scaly Thrush - S
Rusty-bellied Shortwing - L
Lesser Shortwing - L
White-browed Shortwing - S
Dark-throated Thrush - S
Grey-sided Thrush - S
White-Collared Blackbird - S
Grey-winged Blackbird - L,S
Green-backed Tit - L,S,T
Yellow-cheeked Tit - L
Rufous-vented Tit - S
Coal Tit - S
Grey-crested Tit - S
Black-throated Tit - L,T
Rufous-fronted Tit - S
Yellow-browed Tit - L,S,T
Eurasian Treecreeper - S
Rusty-flanked Treecreeper - S
White-tailed Nuthatch - L,S,T
Olive-backed Pipit - L,S,T
Rosy Pipit - S
Grey Wagtail - S,T
Black-throated Sunbird - L
Green-tailed Sunbird - L,S,T
Fire-tailed Sunbird - S
Fire-breasted Flowerbird - L
Plain Flower - S
House Sparrow - D
Eurasian Tree Sparrow - D,L,T
Rufous-breasted Accentor - L,S,T
Alpine Accentor - S
Maroon-backed Accentor - L
Red Crossbill - L,S
Scarlet Finch - L
Brown Bullfinch - L
Gold-naped Finch - L,S
Yellow-breasted Greenfinch - D
Tibetan Siskin - L,S
Common Rosefinch - S,L
White-browed Rosefinch - S
Dark-rumped Rosefinch - S
Dark-breasted Rosefinch - S
Beautiful Rosefinch - S
Collared Grosbeak - S
White-winged Grosbeak - S
Spot-winged Grosbeak - S
Plain Mountain Finch - S