Tuesday, 18 August 2015

India (Rajasthan and Kashmir) Trip - 1st August - Day 8

After much um'ing and ar'ing we decided to head back to Yousmarg today and bird the area of woodland to the west of the restaurant. The toss-up was between here and Gulmarg, the latter is a higher elevation site where Black-and-yellow Grosbeak sounds relatively easy and other species such as Pink-browed Rosefinch, Rufous-breasted Accentor and White-tailed Rubythroat can be seen. However, given that this site was around a two hour drive and we had to get an internal flight back in Shrinigar for 16:15 we decided against it and went back to Yousmarg. We were in the woodland by around 07:00 and fairly quickly picked up the distinctive two tone note of Spectacled Finch but saw we walked towards the call we picked up a finch like bird which flew high overhead and disappeared from site - that was our bird. After playing the tape for a while longer there was no response and so we wandered onwards. A short way further into the woodland we heard the Spectacled Finch again and there, perched on top of one of the tallest trees, was the male - brilliant and then as we played the tape two birds flew towards us and perched in a pine high above us. We could at last make out the red spectacles of the male and the yellow ones of the female and the big white greater covert and tertial spots present in both sexes - result! Four White-cheeked Nuthatch showed well in the same clearing, much better views than previously. We then dropped down towards a river and birded along the river and through scattered trees before climbing back up the hill and into the pines. A pair of Plumbeous Water-redstart showed very well along the river dipping and flashing their white tails in the case of the females and red tails in the case of the males, the latter remarkably Black Redstart like.

As we climbed through the forest it started to rain just as we bumped into a big bird flock, we donned our rain-jackets and opened the umbrellas and scanned the flock, Spot-winged Tit, Rufous-vented Tit, White-cheeked Nuthatch, Western Crowned Leaf Warbler, Lemon-rumped Leaf Warbler, Tytler's Leaf Warbler, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Himalayan Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Kashmir Nutcracker and Long-tailed Minivet were all present.

It was 10:00 and the rain was getting heavier so we decided to make a bit of a dash for cover i.e back to the car and the restaurant so Ian, using his GPS, guided us in more or less a straight line back, via valley and ridge, through mud and scrub, it seemed to be a lot further than I had remembered as the rain got progressively heavier. By the time we got back to the restaurant we were soaked so we took cover and changed into drier clothes before deciding it would be an idea to make a move down the mountain. As we began the drive the severity of the rain became obvious with flooded roads and woodland and the relatively gentle mountain river now a torrent of mud and rocks washing away houses and eroding the river banks. The roads were awash with water, mud and rocks, having been stranded for two days in Colombia because of washed out roads I was feeling particularly nervous about the drive but as we descended conditions slowly improved.

We got to the airport in good time, battled the intense security and pushing and shoving throngs of people and got to the relative tranquility of the departure lounge. Our flight left at around 17:00 and we landed in Delhi at around 18:30. Martin's flight back to Singapore was a little before ours so we said our goodbyes while Andy, Ian and I went back to the Hotel Shanti Palace where a final Indian was enjoyed while listening to a live Indian band. Andy and Ian left the hotel at around 22:30 for their midnight flight back to the UK while I chilled out in the hotel for a little longer before leaving at around 23:30 for my flight back to the UK at 01:50. I was upgraded to business class and had a bed for the journey - mega bonus!! I landed back in the UK at 06:30 and was home by 08:30. What a great trip, some fantastic birds and great to be travelling with my old friends again.

Dawn in the pine forest at Yousmarg

The pines in Yousmarg are particularly tall and many of the birds stay high due to the 
generally sparse understory

Oriental Turtle-dove - Yousmarg

Oriental Turtle-dove - Yousmarg

Spectacled Finch, the female is to the left and the male to the right, very high in pine tree. The type specimen of this species comes from Shrinigar. Once classified with the Carduelis (Greenfinches, Siskins, Goldfinch etc) the species is now placed in the monotypic genus Callacanthis - Yousmarg

White-cheeked Nuthatch - Okay, its a shitty photo but these birds always seem to be at the tops of dark pine trees and today was a particularly gloomy one - Yousmarg

Andy had had enough of the fungi twitching

Twayblade species - Yousmarg

Fungi and cranesbill - Yousmarg

Fungi and slug - Yousmarg

Plumbeous Water-redstart (female) - Yousmarg

Plumbeous Water-redstart (male) - Yousmarg

Yellow-billed Blue-magpie of race cucullata - Yousarg

The rain starts, we were still smiling at this point - Yousmarg

Road back at the restaurant - Yousmarg

video
Driving down the mountain at Yousmarg


Repacking some rather soggy bags before the flight back to Delhi

Links to the other Days of the Trip:
Day 1 - Background and Travel day
Day 2 - Surajpur Wetland and Nahargah Biological Park
Day 3 - Sonkhaliya
Day 4 - Ajmer Thorn Forest and drive back to Delhi
Day 5 - Fly Delhi to Shrinigar (Kashmir) then Yousmarg
Day 6 - Yousmarg
Day 7 - Dachigam National Park, Shankarachariya Temple and Dal Lake

If you have any comments or queries on this post then please do not hesitate to contact me at simon@ecosa.co.uk

Sunday, 16 August 2015

India (Rajasthan and Kashmir) Trip - 31st July - Day 7

We had to be at Dachigam National Park for 5:30 to meet the park guard today so the alarm went off at 03:30 and after a quick coffee we were off in the dark heading to the park gate. We parked someway from the gate, gathered our gear and planned to be in the park all day. It felt like an undercover military operation when we got to gate two and it was locked with no sign of life, we then walked round to the main gate and there were two guards. However, it appeared that they had no idea that we were due to be there and after much head shaking one of the guards reluctantly agreed to accompany us. However, we were not able to have Farook accompany us and it quickly became apparent that the guard spoke very little English and was not at all keen on us being in the park but he agreed to take us in until 10:00. The target was then to get to the area where the Orange Bullfinch occur at the end of the access road and it appeared that the guard understood this. As we walked the road the first bird of note was a Spotted Forktail which showed well as it fed on the road, we 'chased' this bird up the road in front of us for some time before it eventually decided to head into the forest. In a clearing a Hangul showed well but i can't get very excited about deer! And then things got a bit weird, the guide insisted on taking us off trail and we spent the next couple of hours randomly walking around in the scrub, it was clear that the guide was nervous about showing us around and that we clearly weren't meant to be in the park - he was doing his utmost to keep us off the main access road where we wanted to be. We saw little and when it became apparent that the guard was not going to take us to the Bullfinch area we decided to cut our losses and leave - but, we took an arduous route via back paths and eventually had to climb over a fence to leave the park rather than leave via the main park gate. We had had a somewhat wasted morning and saw little but for a Sulpher-bellied Warbler and Himalayan Langur plus some very fresh Bear poo. We left the park at 09:45 and after some discussion decided that our best option was to head back to the house boat for an afternoon siesta and then head out again in the afternoon.

We spent a couple of hours at the house boat birding from the balcony which overhung the lake and taking some shots of the common lake species (Little Bittern, Whiskered Tern, Little Grebe, Moorhen, Black Kite and Common Kingfisher) before heading out for lunch and then heading for the Shankarachariya Temple.

We parked at the summit of the hill below the temple and walked up with the masses to the temple but other than the view it was pretty uninspiring so we quickly escaped the masses and wandered down the road birding as we went. Very quickly, after a bit of pishing, Andy found a cracking male Kashmir Flycatcher and we spent some time getting views of this bird. The road was generally very birdy and we encountered a few bird flocks which were largely dominated by Oriental White-eye with species such as Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Western Crowned Leaf Warbler, Two-barred Greenish Warbler and Ultramarine Flycatcher. We birded the road from 15:00-18:00 and then spent the last hour of daylight at Lake Dal photographing boats, Whiskered Tern (breeds in good numbers on the lake) and Kingfisher before heading back to the boat house to drink some Kingfisher.

Todays Weather: Generally sunny with cloudy spells.

Spotted Forktail (immature) - Dachigam

Entrance sign to Dachigam National Park - If only they had given us the chance to 'be alert and look for'.

Very fresh Black Bear poo- Dachigam

Swallowtail Moth at Dachigam

Stream in the deciduous forest at Dachigam

Our exit from Dachigam the least welcoming National Park in the world

Little Bittern - Nigeen Lake

Whiskered Tern (Juvenile) - Nigeen Lake

Little Grebe of race albescens, note the yellow iris - Nigeen Lake

Black Kite of race govinda - Nigeen Lake

Marco Polo Houseboat - Nigeen Lake

Kashmir Flycatcher came into pishing about 100m below the main temple car park - Shankarachariya Temple 

Oriental White-eye - Shankarachariya Temple

Hobby attacking Black Kite - Shankarachariya Temple

Hobby - Shankarachariya Temple

Himalayan Woodpecker - Shankarachariya Temple

Ashy Drongo - Shankarachariya Temple

Common Kingfisher, we found the nest of this bird approximately 200m from the lake in a bank in a woodland - Dal Lake 

Common Kingfisher - Dal Lake

Whiskered Tern (adult) - Dal Lake 

Whiskered Tern - Dal Lake

Whiskered Tern (juvenile moulting to first winter) - Dal Lake

Whiskered Tern - Dal Lake

House Crow of the race zugmayeri a much greyer more Hooded Crow like bird than the familiar nominate race

Dal Lake

Links to the other Days of the Trip:
Day 1 - Background and Travel day
Day 2 - Surajpur Wetland and Nahargah Biological Park
Day 3 - Sonkhaliya
Day 4 - Ajmer Thorn Forest and drive back to Delhi
Day 5 - Fly Delhi to Shrinigar (Kashmir) then Yousmarg
Day 6 - Yousmarg
Day 8 - Yousmarg then return to Delhi and flights home

If you have any comments or queries on this post then please do not hesitate to contact me at simon@ecosa.co.uk

Saturday, 15 August 2015

India (Rajasthan and Kashmir) Trip - 30th July - Day 6

We were up at 04:30 and headed back to Yousmarg at 05:15 and spent the entire day in the park. We first birded a stretch of road where the pines were mature and the ground flora and scrub layer looked well developed and we hoped looked productive for Black and Yellow Grosbeak and Orange Bullfinch but failed on both. We added Brown-flanked Bush-warbler, Tytler’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch and enjoyed good views of the rather odd looking caniceps race of Goldfinch and more Kashmir Woodpecker and Scaly-bellied Woodpecker After around two hours we headed to a patch of forest that we had seen from the roadside yesterday across the river from the park tollgate. Large areas of the park have been fenced against livestock and these areas have developed a rich ground flora containing many species familiar in the UK such as Foxglove, Meadow and Creeping Buttercup, Yarrow, Red Clover and Ox-eye Daisy and while the species/races may be different to those in the UK the overall appearance of the sward is very English meadow like. We figured that these ‘natural’ and less grazed areas would be better for birds. We climbed a small valley, following a tumbling mountain stream where White-capped Redstart and Grey Wagtail were new for the trip. We then headed ‘off-piste’ and cut through the scrub and pine forest seeing more Tytler’s Warbler, Kashmir Nuthatch, White-bellied Nuthatch, Oriental Turtle Dove, Lemon-rumped Leaf Warbler and Western Crowned Leaf Warbler but things were pretty slow going and we decided to head for lunch at 12:00 seeing a Himalayan Griffon Vulture while we waited for our lift.

After lunch we again birded the forest opposite the reservoir until 16:00 walking a loop away from the road, and back down the hill to rejoin the road but it was very slow going and we added nothing new to the list although we had great views of a Common Cuckoo feeding on caterpillars alongside the trail and a pair of Ultramarine Flycatcher. Much time was spent messing around with fungi, butterflies and dragonflies. We then spent the final hour or so walking down the road birding as we went, again it was pretty slow-going with Oriental Honey Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Mountain Bulbul and a Long-tailed Shrike being the highlights.

We headed back to the boat house after a pretty slow day in the field and hoping for  better day tomorrow, a day arranged via Ibrahim and the house boat in the Dachigam National Park. We had been informed that the park was closed but Ibrahim new the head-ranger and so we had high hopes of getting to a known site for both the Bullfinch and the Grosbeak. Beers, curry and bed!!

Goldfinch of race caniceps - Yousmarg

Himalayan Woodpecker (Juvenile) - Yousmarg.

Grey Bush-chat

Western Crowned Leaf Warbler with bush-cricket - Yousmarg

Pine Bunting - Yousmarg

Blue Whistling Thrush - Yousmarg

Oriental Turtle Dove of sub-species orientalis - Yousmarg

Tytler's Warbler - Yousmarg

White-capped Redstart - Yousmarg

White-capped Redstart - Yousmarg

Common Cuckoo of race bakeri - Yousmarg

Ultramarine Flycatcher (male) - Yousmarg

Silver-washed Fritillary - Yousmarg

Butterfly resembling Grayling - Yousmarg

Ladies-tresses species, a type of Orchid - Yousmarg

Skink species, one of only two reptiles seen during the entire trip - Yousmarg

Oriental Honey-buzzard of subs-species ruficollis. The six primary fingers (versus five for European Honey-buzzard) can be clearly seen - Yousmarg

Booted eagle - Yousmarg

Himalayan Bulbul - Yousmarg

Long-tailed Shrike of race erythronotus with Cockchafer - Yousmarg

View from Marco Polo Boat House at sunset

Links to the other Days of the Trip:
Day 1 - Background and Travel day
Day 2 - Surajpur Wetland and Nahargah Biological Park
Day 3 - Sonkhaliya
Day 4 - Ajmer Thorn Forest and drive back to Delhi
Day 5 - Fly Delhi to Shrinigar (Kashmir) then Yousmarg
Day 7 - Dachigam National Park, Shankarachariya Temple and Dal Lake
Day 8 - Yousmarg then return to Delhi and flights home

If you have any comments or queries on this post then please do not hesitate to contact me at simon@ecosa.co.uk