Friday 14 August 2015

India (Rajasthan and Kashmir) Trip - 29th July - Day 5

We were up at 03:00 for 03:30 departure from our hotel to Delhi Airport for a 05:45 flight to Sringigar. The flight was on time and after a 1.20 minute flight, during which we enjoyed views of the Himalayas, we landed and were very soon waiting for our bags at, what seemed, a very low key, low fuss airport. We were picked up by our guide Farooq and our driver and were soon on our way to Yousmarg, a journey of two hours or so. We drove through the hectic streets of the outskirts of Sringigar where dogs and children played alongside one another on the road sides and wild Marijuana grew in thickets along the roadside filling the air with a sweet fragrance. We climbed from Sringigar to Yousmarg via Chadoora and Jeroha, through winding mountain roads, rice paddies and pastures, through broad-leaved scrub and into tall pine forest and flower rich alpine meadows.

Our first stop was adjacent to the reservoir a kilometre or two below the main restaurant and main carpark at Yousmarg, we climbed up the hill through the tall pine forest and walked a short loop up the slope and back to the road – energy levels were low due to the very early start and thinner air at higher altitude. There were singing Western Crowned Leaf Warbler, Himalayan Woodpecker, Spot-winged Tit and a single singing Brook’s Leaf Warbler while a Booted Eagle soared overhead. Then we hit a small feeding flock and added Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Rufous-naped Tit, Lemon-rumped Warbler and our first Kashmir Nuthatch. I had a brief view of a female Spectacled Finch but by the time the others had found the spot the bird had dropped out of view and we didn’t see it again. We then headed to the main visitor centre restaurant for a much needed sit down with a couple of Cokes and a nice spicy Dal.

After a bit of a chill we headed into the forest to the west of the restaurant with its tall pine trees but rather overgrazed understorey. By now we were shattered and birding was tough going in the heat of the afternoon but we did see a few new species including Kashmir Nutcracker, Hodgson’s Treecreeper, White-cheeked Nuthatch, Ultramarine Flycatcher and Rusty-tailed Flycatcher. The birding was generally pretty slow going with occasional bursts of activity as a flock moved through led by Spot-winged Tit and Rufous-naped Tit. This low level of activity was no doubt due to the time of year which appeared to be in-sync with the UK with birds now longer singing, young birds fledged and adults in moult.

We birded this area until 17:00 before heading back to Shrinigar. The traffic through town was appalling and despite the dodging and weaving of the car we remained stationary for some time before progressing through the town bumper to bumper through dusty streets, past a massive stone quarry that appeared to have sprung up amongst houses, past army checkpoints and a captured Pakistani tank. Beer was a must after a hard day in the field but little did we know that nowhere in Shrinigar sells it and so our guide took us to a hotel where a ‘black market’ in beer is operated and Ian and guide smuggled our stash of 16 Kingfisher into the car. After the one hour or so beer diversion we checked into our accommodation for the next three nights, the Marco Polo Houseboat on the edge of Nigeen Lake. We had a rather bland dinner amongst the wood clad, colonial settings and crashed at 23:00.

View of the Himalaya's from the plane

Jhelum River, Chadoora and House Crow

Himalayan Woodpecker sunning - Yousmarg

Large-billed Crow - Yousmarg

Brook's Leaf Warbler - This was the only definite Brook's that I saw, Lemon-rumped seemed to far out number this species - Yousmarg

Silver-washed Fritillary - Many of the butterflies we saw were familiar or were certainly very similar to British and European species including Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Queen of Spain Fritillary and Painted Lady - Yousmarg

Lichen on pines at Yousmarg

Puffball - We got a bit distracted by the amazing variety of fungi - Yousmarg

Fungi- Yousmarg

Earth-star - Yousmarg

Coral Fungus - Yousmarg

Pine Forest to West of Restaurant. The pines are very high and subsequently many birds are high in the treetops - Yousmarg

Spot-winged Tit. Formerly lumped with Coal Tit, this really is quite a distinctive looking bird differing from that species in many respects - Yousmarg

Grey Bush-chat - Yousmarg

Rock Bunting of race stracheyi which extends from China to Kashmir- Yousmarg

Dark-sided Flycatcher, adult and juvenile (right bird) - Yousmarg

Kashmir Nutcracker also known as Large-spotted Nuthatch this species was once lumped with Spotted Nutcracker but Kashmir replaces that species abruptly in the NW Himalayas and hybrids are little known  - Yousmarg

Kashmir Nutcracker - Yousmarg

Rusty-tailed Flycatcher - Yousmarg

Kashmir Nuthatch, once treated as a race of European Nuthatch but differs in more extensive rufous underparts and vocalisations - Yousmarg

Greenish Warbler of race trochiloides (Two-barred Greenish) - Yousmarg

Scaly-bellied Woodpecker - Yousmarg

Temple Repairs

Streaked Laughingthrush - Yousmarg

Kashmir Nuthatch - Yousmarg

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 6 - Yousmarg
Day 7 - Dachigam National Park, Shankarachariya Temple and Dal Lake
Day 8 - Yousmarg then return to Delhi and flights home

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