A week long excursion into the less oft visited middle Himalayan range of Kumaon in Uttarakhand during Holi Weekend found us getting surprisingly well acquainted with the colour “White” for a major part of it. Where the greens and browns of the valleys and foothills were replaced first by the greens and blooming red Rhododendrons as well as rocky mountain streams of grey and blue with rising altitude, to be finally washed over by unprecedented flakes and lumps of white snow. Though the birding and wildlife was not as busy as we expected, and almost getting stuck in the car in thick clayey mud on the slopes going up and coming down was certainly a challenge that we didn’t wish to face time and again. The memory of walking towards Khati from Kharkia village in my first ever snowfall will certainly remain for a long time. The first sight of Khati Village surrounded by its lush green wheat fields under the snow clouds and dwarfed in by 3000m+ forested and grassy slopes still lingers. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGLATuUdHsQ)
The amazing sight of waking upto a Snow covered landscape with Rock Buntings and Rosefinches flitting by. The haunting whistle of the Mountain Hawk Eagle tweeting above the forest before it landed 60m away in full view. The amazing sight of Common Mynahs and Large-Billed Crows and even a Common Hoopoe in the 2200m high village covered in Snow. The first sight of the rapidly flowing Pindar river with the ubiquitous Brown Dipper hunting insects in its freezing current. A sight of a flock of birds with a Starling like flight shape and allowing us the wink of their stunning Blue colour underneath the ever darkening snowy sky letting us know the Grandalas (who I last saw at 4000m in peak summer 4 years ago) had come down to 2100m because of the weather change. To follow this up with watching the beautiful white flash of fluttering and feeding Snow Pigeons on the grassy slopes nearby, and another surprise of an Egyptian Vulture passing overhead into the rocks as we watched them. To walk for close to 6 hours in the almost people less scape of white and grey wilderness with the whispers of the snowfall around and the powerful sound and sight of the Pindar River as it crashed from source to confluence breaking over the scape in its path. To feel like a small being literally looking at oneself in a film when left alone with nature in this form.
Where the oft seen Himalayan Goral also seemed to have a mystic feel as one watched an adult female with a yearling bound up the grassy slope through the curtain of falling snow. Where lifer sightings of Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler as it annoyingly bounded around and played its own peek a boo with rocks and the dark spaces in between them, teasing a picture, yet never allowing it. To be preceded by a lifer sighting of 5 cute and pretty White-browed Fulvettas as they flitted through the vegetation. Where Hot Tea, Bun Butter/ Bun Omelette, Maggi, Spicy Peanuts and Chocolates made the necessary body fuel and fuelled the taste buds for each day. Where surprises kept coming with sighting a usual Terai river valley resident like the Rufous-Chinned Laughingthrush perched and cackling at 2700m in deep snow. Where the final morning of sunlight was as welcome as water to parched lips and brought with it a lifer sighting of two male Beautiful Rosefinches on a regular grassy patch in Jaikhuni village at 2400m.
To be followed up by a sighting of 3 Alpine Accentors in rocks near the road as we drove back later in the day, with a final hurrah of a last meal at Mohan’s Café in Kasar Devi on the way back where we reached from Bageshwar in record time thanks to some not to be repeated everyday driving speeds by Sachin Pushkarna. To a welcome feeling of warmth after 3 nights and days in snow and sub zero temperatures.
Important final notes that stick from the trip.
1. Walking in Snowfall
2. Waking up to a Snow Covered Landscape that was green just the evening before.
3. Some warm and lovely hosting by our host Kharak Singh jee and his family in his village homestay, having not one but two Western Style bathrooms.
4. Surprise to find electricity and not just solar lighting in Khati.
5. To see a Common Hoopoe in the Snow covered village at 2210m.
6. To see the Flock of Grandalas flying from tree to tree beside the Pindar River at 2100m.
7. To see the Rufous-Chinned Laughingthrush at 2700m.
8. Lifer sightings of Beautiful and Spot-winged Rosefinches.
9. Lifer sightings of Alpine Accentors.
10. Lifer sightings of Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler and White-browed Fulvettas.
11. Playing in the snow with some beautiful and highly energetic Pahaari Bhotiya Dogs.
12. Adult editing an innocently made Snowman.
13. Playing with two adorable St. Bernard Puppies in the Hotel in Bageshwar.
14. The incredibly made Tea and Maggi at Shanti Pavan Dhaba in Karmi village. The last dhaba in the village as one goes up towards Kharkia.
15. The lifer sighting of a Grey Wagtail male in full breeding plumage in a stream at Karmi village.
16. To find out that we went through a minimum temperature of -14’C almost everyday we were in Khati. Thanks to our Decathalon bought equipment, the stunning landscape and amazing food, the amazing homestay blankets doubled up and a bit of natural inner heat we managed to not figure it as that extreme while there.
Khati and Bageshwar Bird List
1. UFO Partridge. Possible Snow Partridge? (3 birds seen flying away in the snow at 2700m)
2. Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos)
3. Striated Heron (Butorides striata)
4. Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii)
5. Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
6. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
7. Great Cormorant (Phalcrocorax carbo)
8. Black-eared Kite (Milvus migrans lineatus)
9. Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)
10. Himalayan Vulture (Gyps himalayensis)
11. Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)
12. Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
13. UFO Buzzard (Either Common or Himalayan)
14. Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis)
15. Mountain Hawk Eagle (Nisaetus nipalensis)
16. Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
17. Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
18. Common Pigeon (Columba livia)
19. Snow Pigeon (Columba leuconota)
20. Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
21. Spotted Dove (Stigmatopelia chinensis)
22. Alexandrine Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria)
23. Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
24. Slaty-headed Parakeet (Psittacula himalayensis)
25. Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala)
26. Asian Barred Owlet (Glaucidium cuculoides)
27. Common Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
28. White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
29. Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
30. Crested Kingfisher (Megaceryle lugubris)
31. Great Barbet (Megalaima virens)
32. Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus)
33. Himalayan Woodpecker (Dendrocopos himalayensis)
34. Lesser Yellownape (Picus chlorolophus)
35. Scaly-bellied Woodpecker (Picus squamatus)
36. Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus)
37. Long-tailed Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus)
38. Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)
39. Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus hottentotus)
40. Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
41. Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus)
42. Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandularis)
43. Black-headed Jay (Garrulus lanceolatus)
44. Yellow-billed Blue Magpie (Urocissa flavirostris)
45. Red-billed Blue Magpie (Urocissa erythrorhyncha)
46. Rufous Treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda)
47. Grey Treepie (Dendrocitta formosae)
48. Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)
49. House Crow (Corvus splendens)
50. Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
51. Great Tit (Parus major)
52. Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus)
53. Fire-capped Tit (Cephalopyrus flammiceps)
54. Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus)
55. Asian House Martin (Delichon dasypus)
56. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
57. Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)
58. Himalayan Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys)
59. Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)
60. Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus)
61. Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis)
62. Lemon-rumped Warbler (Phylloscopus chloronotus)
63. Black-faced Warbler (Abroscopus schisticeps)
64. Grey-hooded Warbler (Phylloscopus xanthoschistos)
65. Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler (Pnoepyga albiventer)
66. Black-chinned Babbler (Stachyridopsis pyrrhops)
67. Jungle Babbler (Turdoies striata)
68. White-throated Laughingthrush (Garrulax albogularis)
69. Striated Laughingthrush (Garrulax striatus)
70. Variegated Laughingthrush (Garrulax variegatus)
71. Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush (Garrulax rufogularis)
72. Streaked Laughingthrush (Garrulax lineatus)
73. Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush (Garrulax erythrocephalus)
74. White-browed Fulvetta (Fulvetta vinipectus)
75. Rufous Sibia (Malacias capistratus)
76. Oriental White-Eye (Zosterops palpebrosus)
77. Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasii)
78. White-tailed Nuthatch (Sitta himalayensis)
79. WallCreeper (Tichodroma muraria)
80. Bar-tailed Treecreeper (Certhia himalayana)
81. Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
82. Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus)
83. Plain Backed Thrush (Zoothera mollissima)
84. Scaly Thrush (Zoothera dauma)
85. White-collared Blackbird (Turdus albocinctus)
86. Black-throated Thrush (Turdus atrogularis)
87. Himalayan Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus rufilatus)
88. Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis)
89. Plumbeous Water Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosa)
90. White- Capped Redstart (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus)
91. Blue-fronted Redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis)
92. Little Forktail (Enicurus scouleri)
93. Spotted Forktail (Enicurus maculatus)
94. Grandala (Grandala coelicolor)
95. Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
96. Pied Bushchat (Saxicola caprata)
97. Grey Bushchat (Saxicola ferreus)
98. Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush (Monticola rufiventris)
99. Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva)
100. Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus)
101. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)
102. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum ignipectus)
103. Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus)
104. Green-Tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis)
105. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
106. Russet Sparrow (Passer rutilans)
107. Altai Accentor (Prunella himalayana)
108. Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris)
109. Rufous-breasted Accentor (Prunella strophiata)
110. Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
111. White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
112. White-browed Wagtail (Motacilla maderaspatensis)
113. Rosy Pipit (Anthus roseatus)
114. European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
115. Plain Mountain Finch (Leucosticte nemoricola)
116. Dark-breasted Rosefinch (Carpodacus nipalensis) Female
117. Beautiful Rosefinch (Carpodachus pulcherrimus) Male
118. Spot-winged Rosefinch (Carpodacus rodopeplus) Male and Female
119. Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)
120. spotted laughing thrush
1. Himalayan Goral (Naemhoredus goral)
2. Himalayan Langur (Semnopithecus schistaceus)
3. Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta)
With Pushkarna Sachin, Ruchi Pushkarna, Dancend Shivani, Dancend Siya , www.facebook.com/travelderness