Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Nepal, the roof of the world, holds a great diversity of bird species, thanks to its altitudinal range and its biogeographical position being at the intersection between the Indian subcontinent and the Orient. Despite a great list of almost 850 species, Nepal holds only one truly endemic, the Spiny Babbler. A number of himalayan specialities as well as some difficult species, especially pheasants, convinced me to organize a trip to this destination. Nepal holds also a great potential for mammals and has marvellous scenic views. The great concerns about the political situation in Nepal are exaggerated and should not prevent birders, at present, from a trip to this mythical country. Nevertheless I would recommend to travel with a local guide as the situation sometimes changes rapidly. I used Nature Safari Tours Pvt Ltd (contact Badri - email: email@example.com). They provided us with a local bird guide (Hathan) and organized all facilities for a fair price. Hathan is a very good birder and showed us a few specialities we would have missed otherwise such as Nepal Wren-Babbler. He also knows the local guide at Ghasa who knows the place for pheasants. He also organized the facilities and found out an alternative solution while stocked in Pokhara because of technical problems with the plane for the flight back to Kathmandu. Contact Nature Trek and tell them your plans and schedule and they will organize everything for you.
We flew with Gulf Air (500 Euro from Paris to Kathmandu). But we had to stay 8 hours in Abu Dhabi on the way back, allowing us half a day of birding at the Whatba Camel track giving us the opportunity of adding some middle-east species to this trip. To visit the UAE while in transit, we only needed a passport and international driving permit for renting a car. The total trip cost was around 1800 Euros/pers with 3 internal flights, 3 porters (sherpas) on the trek and Hathan accompanying us during the 12 days of the trip.
Field guide to the birds of Nepal (2000) Richard Grimmet; Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp. Helm guide. 288 pp.
A birdwatchers guide to Nepal (1988). Caroll Inskipp. Birdwatchers guide. 165 pp
Field guide to the mammals of the Indian subcontinent (2002). K. K. Gurung and R. Singh. Helm CD-ROM for windows Birds of Tropical Asia 2 by Jelle Sharringa Price : 64,45 euros Order at : http://www.birdsongs.com/TropicalAsia/main.htm
STRATEGY This was our first trip to Nepal. I focused on 2 full days in Ghasa for the pheasants (we scored 4 species out of 5 potentials) and 2 days in Chitwan. We managed to see 310 species. We missed almost completely Pulchowki because of flight problems from Pokhara to Kathmandu on 5 April.
The trek of Jomosom is easy walking but takes 2 days to reach Ghasa. Birding en route to Ghasa from Pokhara is more or less rewarding depending on luck. We had great views of Spiny Babbler and Snow Pigeons, 2 species difficult on the Jomosom. I would recommend a flight from Pokhara to Jomosom and walking down to Ghasa. In any case, it takes 2 full days to reach Ghasa.
We arrived at Kathmandu airport on 25 March around 10H00 am. We met Hathan at the hotel and headed straight to Pulchowki with a 4 wheel vehicle arranged by our guide. The afternoon was quiet there. The last year Blue-naped Pitta spot was worthless. On the forested upper slopes, we had fantastic views of a perched Black Eagle and good look at a skulking Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler, but we missed the Cutia (only distant callings) and most of the specialities there.
Other birds seen: Verditer and Ultramarine Flycatchers, Asian-barred Owlet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Mountain-Hawk Eagle - White-throated, Striated, Chestnut-crowned and White-crested Laughingthrush - Great Barbet, Oriental Turtle Dove, Besra, Black Basas, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Long-tailed Minivet, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Hodgson's Redstart, Black-lored, Black-throated and Green-backed Tits among others. On the way back to Kathmandu, more than 10 Kalij Pheasants of the "melanota" race showed well.
On the 26th March, we took a flight to Meghauli and birded the afternoon in search of invisible Rufous-rumped Grassbird. Our best birds seen : migrating Blue-tailed Bee-Eaters, Golden-throated Barbet, Large-tailed Nightjar, Small Pratincoles, White-eyed Buzzards, Steppe Eagles, Red-naped Ibis, Darters, White-tailed Stonechats (common), Chestnut-tailed Starlings, Golden-headed Cisticolas (very common), Chestnut-capped Babblers, Striated babbler, Rufous-winged Larks, Sand Lark, Oriental Skylark, Citrine, White-browed and "alboides" White Wagtails, Baya Weavers and Rosy Pipits.
On 27th March, early morning search of grassbirds was vain and frustrating. We entered the park of Chitwan and birded in the mid-morning the sal forests and grasslands. More than 20 Oriental Pied-Hornbills were flying above treetops while great bird activity was going on in the canopy : Blue-throated, Coppersmith, Lineated Barbets, Fulvous-breasted, Grey-capped Woodpeckers, Himalayan Flameback, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eaters, Green-billed Malkoha, Jungle Owlet, Emerald Dove, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Crested Goshawk, Shikra, Large Cuckooshrike, Black-hooded Oriole, Black-naped Monarch, Asian-paradise Flycatcher, Orange-headed Thrushes and Pale-chinned Blue-Flycatcher.3 Brown Crakes and a superb male Black Francolin were showing well close to tiger tops. The dinner was spend in a gully with great views of Black-backed Forktail, Red-headed Trogons and more Orange-headed Thrushes. We search in the hot mid-day for Rufous-necked Laughingthrush but nothing was moving around. After a short stop on the Rapti river looking at a dozen Ruddy Shelducks and a Bar-headed Goose, the afternoon was devoted for an elephant ride watching these prehistoric looking Rhinoceros. Late afternoon was one of the great moment of the trip with a fine male Bengal Florican displaying in front of us. Breathtaking. The famous Jib is the person to contact as he knows the exact place for this superb species.
The 28th March was our last day at Chitwan, and we still failed having a good look at any of the grassbirds. The day was still going to be frustrating on this matter as we hardly got a glimpse of a Bristled Grassbird around mid-day. Slender-billed Babblers were more cooperative with many contacts and prolonged close views. Highlights of the day were gorgeous male (and female) White-tailed Rubythroat, Lesser Adjudant, female rhino with a young, a nest of Red-naped Ibis, a party of Rosy Minivets, Hill Mynas, Grey-crowned Prinias and a Blyth's Reed Warbler. Chestnut-capped Babbler is very common in the elephant grass. We ended the day back at the Bengal Florican site where the male was still performing on short-grass field among the large stands of elephant grass. A perched Brown-Hawk Owl was also a delight. I strongly recommend not to circulate in the Chitwan NP alone as Rhinos are everywhere. Jib saved us from an angry male who started to charge us. Jib scared him away by throwing a stick and yelling. Without him, I really don't know if I would have written this report.
We spend the all day of 29th March driving the 180 km from Chitwan to Pokhara. It took us more than 8 hours to make it!! Nepalese roads are no-named except Chaos with endless files of trucks and smashed buses in ravines.
On 30th March, because of a declared "strike" by Maoists, we decided to head straight to Ghasa rather than taking the plane to Jomosom. The drive from Pokhara to Beni produced few birds except White-backed and Long-billed Vultures. both are facing extinction in Nepal "thanks" to diclofenac apparently still widely available and used in Nepal. Himalayan Griffons are more numerous as we did see them everyday on the trek. We started the trek at Beni for a "slow birding" day. Bonelli's Eagle is a regular sight along this portion with no less than 5 different birds seen, one of them carrying nest materials. We added a few more species for the trip : Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Black-chinned Babbler, Lammergeier, Red-headed Vulture, Grey-backed Shrike, Brown Dipper, White-tailed Rubythroat, Black-throated and Crimson Sunbirds. We slept at Tatopani.
31st March was another day trek with very few birds from Tatopani to Ghasa. We felt that most of the birds had already moved on the upper altitude for nesting. Highlight of the day was 2 Spiny Babblers. Our guide, Hathan, had never seen Spinies on the Jomosom before. At the same place, a party of 3 Snow Pigeons feeding close in the fields was also unexpected. 2 great ticks within 5 minutes!! Also a target bird for us was a juvenile Upland Buzzard. Little Forktail, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, and (dipping for me) Grey-sided Bushat were good additions. A well performing Wallcreeper was also a nice sight. We slept at Ghasa dreaming on these pheasants we all wanted to see. Ghasa is the only place in Nepal where all pheasants are possible. It is the "only" place for Koklass and Cheer, but you need 2 full days as Koklass are on the west slopes and cheers on the east slopes. Blood Pheasant is the most difficult and has been recorded only a few times at Ghasa.
1st of April is surely one of my top 5 days birdwatching in my all life. We started at 4h30 am (the army did not let us start earlier for security reasons). For the steep climbing to the tragopan spot, you need good physical shape. The first bird to be seen was the small glaucidium size Collared Owlet, easily attracted with a tape. At 7h00 am Our guide "Subarna" spotted the first Koklass Pheasant in the dense undergrowth forest. We saw 3 different couples and I had a great chance enjoying a nice male just in front of me, not scared at all and walking away carefully. A wonderful start. The next hours climbing on these steep grass slopes did not result on great finds except for a few more additions : Robin Accentor, Black-throated Parrotbills, more Snow Pigeons, Streak-throated Yuhina, Whiskered Yuhina, Golden Eagle, Long-tailed Thrush, Collared and Grey-winged Blackbirds among others. At 11h00 am while hopelessly running on these bamboo's slopes, Subarna flushed a female Satyr Tragopan. That was it. 5 seconds of happiness missed by David and Thomas trying to recover their breathing further down. 5 minutes later 2 females Himalayan Monal were flushed from a dead tree. Fortunately we did see an additional male in flight and a few more females. 3 species of pheasants : unbelievable as we hardly expected to score 2 species with luck. We walked down with light legs and enjoyed a few more good birds : a superb male Orange-flanked Bush Robin, a nice couple Ultramarine Flycatchers, a flushed Hill Partridge, Fork-tailed Swifts, Specked-wood Pigeons, Goshawk, Spotted Nutcracker, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Red-headed Bullfinches, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Rufous-vented Tits, Grey-crested Tit, a nice showing Grey-bellied Tesia, Beautiful and Dark-breasted Rosefinches, Black-faced Laughingthrush, and finally a Green Shrike Babbler. Gould's and Fire-tailed Sunbirds side-by-side are pure jewels. We also heard distant Upland Pipits, and Chestnut-headed Tesia , both species we failed to see on this trip.
2nd April started again at 4h30 for a more gentle climb on eastern slopes in search for Cheer Pheasants. This species favour long grass rather than forest. We found easily at least 5 different birds very close to the "big rock". We had great views of both males and females, sitting and flying. A tick for Hathan after 15 years of birding in Nepal !! We did celebrate this great moment at the Tukche distillery the next day. On the way back, Hathan heard 4 different calling Nepal-Wren Babblers and we managed to see at least one at close range. Another highlight as we didn't expect this species even if it was first described from Ghasa. We did hear other birds on the trek. Nepal Wren-Babbler is clearly overlooked on the Jomosom trek. Other good birds seen : the endemic "leucomelanos" race of kalij Pheasant, Speckled Piculet, a nest of Lammergeier with 2 chicks, Dark-sided Flycatcher, more Ultramarines, Orange-bellied Niltava, Orange-flanked Bush Robins, Spotted Forktails, 4 Spot-winged Grosbeaks and 2 (or 3) rare Chaffinches.
On the 3rd of April, we left Ghasa with the feeling of great accomplishment. The continuous sights of trees being cut down did alter somehow our pleasure as well as the traps we saw in the mountains confirming that poaching is still going on. Another "papi-birding" day with very few additions to our list like Small Niltava, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and a few sunbirds. We arrived at Tukche in the late afternoon and found out a muddy area where I flushed 2 interesting thrushes (probably long-tailed). We decided to return the next morning, flushed a thrush again but the star birds were undoubtedly 3 Ibisbills ! A good find considering the date and place. This spot deserves more time and is situated close to the river in the proximity of the distillery. We than started the trek for Jomosom and, hopeless search for white-winged redstart in the orchards brought some good finds such as Brown Accentors, White-throated Redstart and Streaked Rosefinches. The end of the day was quiet and windy. It was also the end of the birding in Nepal as we spent the next day at Pokhara, after an early departure from Jomosom, waiting for the plane to Kathmandu. Thanks to Hathan we did find an alternative flight, but the day was gone, and the afternoon at Pulchowki too.
We left Kathmandu on 6th of April and arrived at Abu Dhabi around mid-day. We spent the afternoon at the Whatba Camel track. It was quiet with few birds left : A male Pallid Harrier, 1 Pied Wheater, few Isabelline Wheaters and Turkestan Shrikes (phoenicuroides ssp), Syke's Wagtails (beema ssp), Red-throated Pipits, White-winged Black Terns, giving some Arabic taste to the end of this trip.