Sattal and Pangot in Northern India’s Uttarakandh State is undoubtedly the Mecca of Western Himalayan Birding.
It was July 2012, when I was discussing with my dad V.Ram Narayanan about the birdlife in Uttarakandh’s Sattal & Pangot. Within a few days, we decided to travel early next year. Another friend of ours Kittu Uncle was also to join in for the Himalayan Expedition. All bookings were done and on the 19th of January the 3 of us flew to Delhi and stayed over close to the airport. The next morning at around 6:00 we left to Uttarakandh. Our first destination was Pangot. But the birding began much earlier as we spotted a pair of Sarus Cranes followed by Egyptian Vultures and a Grey-headed Lapwing in Rampur.
After 8 hours, we arrived at Kathgodam, where we stopped for lunch. Soon we were back on the road and began ascending the hills. At around 5:15 we reached Nainital and there was snow in most parts of the hill station. I was doubtful if I would see any birds.
The road from Nainital to Pangot was also blanketed by snow. After a total of 13 hours on road, we arrived at The Jungle Lore Birding Camp in Pangot. We were to stay in Pangot for 3 nights.
I opened the car door and it was freezing. Temperatures was about -1 degree centigrade or lower. The room was comfortable but not very well insulated. We met our guide Surender, grabbed an early bite and hit the sleeping bags for an early start. We were up by 5:30, picked up our heavy gear and started walking. Pangot was very scenic and there were all over. the place.
The Streaked Laughing Thrush was the first bird at which I pointed my lens. It stayed in the thicket and never came out. After a while of waiting, it suddenly perched itself on one of the higher perches.
I was looking into a small valley and suddenly this Black-lored Tit flew onto this perch. They are very fidgety, but this guy didn’t move for a while and gave me enough time to shoot.
On our way to the Vinayak Valley near Pangot, we decided to take a small de tour and look for some birds. But the road was covered by snow and the spot was inaccessible. So we walked down the road and I spotted this Rock Bunting. Setup my tripod and clicked just one image. He was gone.
After searching the slopes of Vinayak Valley for over an hour, we located 3 Cheer Pheasants (1 male & 2 females). I was very thrilled in seeing these rare beauties. But they were very far. I didn’t hesitate and I started walking down the valley. It was a steep descend and I perched myself on a ledge. It took a while for me to spot these birds again. They are very engrossed in feeding and it is difficult to get them with their heads up.
We were having breakfast at Vinayak and suddenly this Himalayan Vulture was soaring. None of us but our guide Surender spotted this vulture. I put aside my plate, picked up my camera and ran to a clearing. He flew straight at me, banked and flew away.
2 days in Pangot was great. I photographed a total of 19 species there. We packed our bags and were leaving to Sattal. But the Jungle Lore Birding Camp is a great place to shoot some birds like the Eurasian & Black-headed Jay, Striated & White-throated Laughing Thrush and Blue-whistling Thrush.
I put my camera near the birdbath and waited in the dinning deck. No birds came to the birdbath. After a while this Striated Laughing Thrush came for a drink. I triggered the camera with Nikon’s ML-3. After a late breakfast we leisurely started for Sattal.
Enroute – Pangot to Sattal
The road from Pangot to Nainital was frozen and the Innova wouldn’t move. It took us about 2 hours to cross 11 km. We then reached Sattal in the evening.
The Uttarakandh Trio. From Left: Kittu Uncle, myself (Gaurav), dad (Ram)
We checked-in at Sattal Birding Lodge. It was a tented camp. We planned to stay for 6 nights in Sattal.
I walked out of the camp and heard this Rusty-cheecked Scimitar Babbler calling. I waited and he flew to this perch. Then I realized that another bird was calling and this guy was reacting to that call.
I was waiting for the White-crested Laughing Thrush near a dump. I saw a number other species including this Kalij Pheasant except the White-crested Laughing Thrush.
The Rufous-chinned Laughing Thrush is always in the dense undergrowth. But this guy came out in the open to eat off a dump.
We turned a corner and this Yellow Throated Marten was sitting on this tree. He stayed there for a brief moment before he jumped off.
Siberian or Himalayan Ruby Throat is a strikingly coloured bird and I saw only 1 individual.
The Crested Kingfisher is endemic to the Himalayan Region. It is a treat to watch these birds fish in the fast streams and rivers.
Red-billed Leiothrix is a bird which is mostly found inside a bush. When I was waiting near Hanuman Tal one late afternoon, a flock of about 15-20 Leiothrix flew in to quench their thirst. They waited in the thicket and took turns to come to the water. They would sit on this perch and then go to the water.
A flock of White-rumped Munias came to the stream where I was waiting. They had a quick drink and flew away. I could not get a photo. An hour later, the flock returned.
It was time to bid adieu to Uttarakandh. We embarked on our last bird session before we returned to Delhi. Sightings were not very good. It was 9:30 and I was folding my tripod to get back to the resort when suddenly this Great Barbet flew onto this perch. I hand-held my camera and shot. Didn’t have much time to setup the tripod. We returned to the hotel, had breakfast and started for Delhi. We reached Delhi at 10:30 and flew back to Coimbatore the next day.
Author: Gaurav Ramnarayanan