Friday, January 06, 2012

Pangot to Delhi (North India - Day 15)

Our penultimate day in India and our last birding opportunity was after breakfast at the Birding Lodge in Pangot.

Streaked Laughinghtrush put in an appearance:

As did the Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler:

Harry had found out the previous day, that he would have just one night with his family before heading off on a 28 night trip with some more Brits, so rather than hang around on the off chance of more species or better views we asked to head off promptly, back to Delhi. The trip in the end was mostly uneventful, other than spotting numbers of Sarus Cranes as we drove back to Delhi and a huge traffic jam outside of Delhi. Once you enter the city the roads are wide and traffic moves. We were soon ensconced in our room, with heating, air con, a comfortable king bed, tea and coffee, hot running water, etc. It was a good way to relax on our last night and we celebrated with some wine.

We were collected the following morning and dropped-off at the airport, gave both Harry and our guide their trip tips and then settled down for the flight home.

We saw 321 species of bird on the holiday, including 165 new life species, and now have an India list of some 412 species. As we were leaving we were also making plans for our next trip, possibly as soon two years hence, and are working back from a list including Assam, Sri Lanka (OK, not India, but close), Nepal (ditto), Central India or the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Kalypso have provided us with a 17 day itinerary that takes in both Assam and the Islands.... hmmmmm.... food for thought :)

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Sattal (North India - Day 14)

New Years Day! We were headed for Sattal. During the night it had rained heavily, we estimated for about 90 minutes ... the metal roof helped us in this estimate...

From Pangot you have to go up to go down, anywhere. So we set out. We were the second car of the morning, you can tell from the tyre tracks left in the snow:

Yep. It had snowed higher up. Cue panic from me as we slid around on mountain roads adjacent to precipitous drops, some with large holes in and other hazards somewhat obscured now by the white powder.

As we headed down a growing number of visitors were heading up, anxious for the first experience with snow. Harry predicted traffic jams on our return later.

We drove through a very quiet Nainital and on down to Sattal, a major birding destination. Unfortunately it was very grey, damp and bird quiet. A couple of Grey Treepies were in the Sattal Birding Camp grounds, where we stopped for a tea/coffee:

The local Sattal guides had already been out but looked glum. Hey ho, we'd had splendid weather for the whole trip thus far, so couldn't grumble.

We did go for a walk in the forest by a small lake and then down the road to the main lake. We saw quite a lot too, however the light was appalling. Please excuse the quality of the images... so, White-throated Launghingthrush:

Whistler's Warbler (amongst a foraging group of some six species of warbler):

A close Rufous Sibia:

Red-billed Leiotherix:

More Red-billed Blue Magpie:

Long-tailed Minivet:

Greater Yellow-naped Woodpecker:

A noisy flock of Slaty-headed Parakeets:

Ashy Bulbul:

I would love to bird Sattal on a sunny day, or two, it has huge promise. At one point we followed a small group of White-crested Laughingthrushes. No decent images I'm afraid but listening to them was magic.

We had lunch back at the lodge then decided to head back to Pangot, approaching Nainital from the south:

The lake was much less busy as was the town in general as the crowds started to head back to Delhi for work the next day.

We were still wreathed in cloud though:

The trip back was properly stressful involving lots of drunk idiots, driving in the snow, standing in the snow, sliding around in the snow, all on the single track mountain road. It took ages. The car was hit twice by other drivers... lots of shouting, arm waving.,. more shouting... one chap parked his car alongside the hill. In un-parking he bashed-up the entire side of his car. It was mental and characterised by a few selfish and inexperienced drivers just parking anywhere they felt and leaving the roads to snarl-up around them.

We all needed a cup of tea when we got back.

That night the gas ran out at 01:30. By the time we got up for breakfast around 7am it was completely freezing in the room. At least it hadn't snowed any more though!

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Pangot (North India - Day 13)

After a hearty breakfast of flat fried rice with masala omelette, we headed out for a location known for a rare pheasant. We were early so had time for a couple of stops, including one replete with Tit species, including the Spot-winged Tit:

Green-backed Tit (identical to our Great Tit, whereas India has a Great Tit, with the same Latin name as ours, that is notably different in plumage to ours... weird):

the local bird guide was quite excited to see this Yellow-browed Tit:

Another group at another site included Great Barbets:

We got to the right spot but after fully 90 minutes of trying agreed we'd dipped out on the Cheer Pheasant. We did however enjoy the fly-overs from Eurasian Gryphon Vultures:

On the way back, we were dropped off at the top of a trail for us then to walk down to the camp. We enjoyed seeing White-tailed Nuthatch:

Bar-tailed Treecreeper:

Grey-hooded Warblers:

and a female Maroon Oriole:

Back at camp it was filling up with people checking-in. They all saw me run from lunch to grab my camera to capture this Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler:

Harry wanted to know why I fussed, apparently they'd been out by the kitchen every time he popped down for a meal...

Lunch was typically fabulous so we enjoyed a brief pause before then heading out again, this time driving through Nainital on New Year's Eve in the middle of the afternoon. Suffice to say it was absolutely stuffed with people, the vast majority tourists from Delhi. It was heaving, really madly busy and took ages to navigate through.

I was expecting with a name like 'the dumping yard' it would be a tipping site, walled in, for the local waste. It is in fact, typically for India, a cliff-edge over which huge amounts of rubbish is chucked. Hence it is frequented by lots of Steppe Eagles:

I wish I'd taken a picture of the litter. It's an appalling blemish, as it is pretty much everywhere in India, with the exception of the National Parks. If I was in government I'd build incinerators to burn the rubbish and provide energy to the local communities that provide it, thereby providing an incentive for the rubbish to be collected and removed. In our whole time in India we saw one group of people collecting rubbish, and they were young American volunteers. It's a hopeless task currently though.

Anyway, back from Nainital the view again was stunning:

As was the sunset.

So. New Year's Eve. Time then of course for a few beers (I had bulk bought some earlier in our travels) and then an early night. We crawled into bed around 9:30pm, apparently the Indian guests wrapped up around 1:30am having got through loads of spirits (they don't drink beer during the cold spell of winter to avoid catching cold). We woke up occasionally to the revelling and the music from a few nearby parties, but mostly slept through ahead of another early start...

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Corbett to Pangot via Mangoli (North India - Day 13)

From Corbett it was time, after an early breakfast, to drive up into the foothills of the Himalayas, destination Pangot. We stopped for a walk on the way at Mongoli, a small village around the road, walking down a trail on the mountainside.

The Streaked Laughingthrush was really hard to pick while it rummaged in the undergrowth under the shrubbery but eventually conceded and sat in the sun for me:

A Russet Sparrow joined some Red-vented Bulbuls having a drink:

Followed then by a Black-headed Jay:

Below the path and again another hard bird to see was this Rufous-breasted Accentor:

A female Plum-headed Parakeet let me take this picture before squawking away:

A Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch came remarkably close:

From Mangoli we headed up, past Nainital, stopping to admire the view on the way. This is Truchal, or the Trident, a 3-peak mountain in the Indian Himalayas:

Some hillside cultivation:

A sense of the scale of the foothills and indeed the mountains:

The ants around these parts nest up trees:

We checked-in to the Bird Lodge in Pangot, had a great lunch (the food was the healthiest and some of the tastiest we had on the whole trip, we tucked in!) then headed out in the afternoon looking for more birds.

We weren't disappointed, first a White-browed Shrike-Babbler:

This is our driver Harry (it isn't spelt like that but it's our best guess), sat at the base of a tree, smoking, while we wandered about:

A tree of bushes:

Next the extraordinarily tailed Red-billed Blue Magpie:

Female Grey Bushchat:

Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker:

Back at camp we settled in to our room before having a wander around the camp, spotting Streaked Laughingthrush:

Black-throated Tit, fabulous little birds:

Striated Prinia:

And initially mistaken, a Blue-fronted Redstart:

He was a regular in the garden, sallying around for food.

We sat on our balcony watching the setting sun as it moved to the valley floor:

Then started to freeze! It was so cold and the rooms are built for cool, with warped wood in the windows and doors. We had a single fan heater to combat the unusually bitter cold (even in the mountains it was unusually cold for this time of year) and pleaded for help. They very kindly gave us a gas heater, which we figured would be sufficiently well ventilated in our room. It took until 4am for the room to regain a sensible temperature.

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