Thursday, 20 December 2012

Wallcreeper at Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu

Sunday 4th November 2012

So, here's the first of my catch-ups and it's a special one as on this half-day trip to a site on the southern edge of Kathmandu, I finally got to see Wallcreeper, a lifer I've tried for and failed to see on many occasions over the years.

With final departure from Nepal rapidly approaching, I arranged to meet up with local birder Arend van Riessen on his monthly survey of the Bagmati River from Chobar Gorge to Taudaha Lake and back again. You can read about my first outing with Arend in an earlier post 'A day out in Kathmandu' dated 9th April 2012 (

Which Bus? Ratnapark, Kathmandu
As anyone who's ever visited Kathmandu will know, getting about on the local buses can be a bit of a challenge as the buses (actually minibuses on the whole) aren't 'labelled', there don't appear to be regular stops/starts/pickups, they're often overcrowded and very few people speak English. However, they are a cheap way to explore the valley with relative ease and certainly take you places you'd never normally see. So after a short walk to Ratnapark, I managed to find the correct bus within a couple of minutes (excellent), get on knowing pretty well where I needed to get off (good) and headed off across the city with my neck bent at an awkward angle trying to look out of the window (painful). Needless to say, I missed my stop by almost 2km and had to walk back to where I'd hoped to be and then continued an extra 15-20 minutes to meet up with Arend at a small teashop at Chobar Gorge. However, I was still bang on time and ready for some Autumn birding.

'Spider Bush' - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu
Long-tailed Shrike - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu
We had a quick breakfast, consisting of masala tea, fried chickpeas and a hard-boiled egg, at the teashop whilst waiting for another friend, Stephen Biggs, to arrive. Within a few minutes he was with us and by 7:30am we were ready to get going. However, as Arend wasn't feeling so good, he suggested we perhaps visit the nearby quarry, a site he'd not been to for some time and one where he thought I just might have the chance of seeing Wallcreeper. Of course I was all for that, so off we went, up the side of the gorge passing several spider-infested bushes, back across the road and down into the old disused quarry. On this short walk we saw Black Drongo, a lovely Long-tailed Shrike, Tree and House Sparrows, Black Kite and always a stunner - White-capped Water Redstart. Not a particularly big site, the quarry had been abandoned some years ago but a few locals could be seen still working it, breaking rocks down into small thumb-sized chips. Later in the day, we talked to one old lady who said she could fill 3 large baskets with chippings a day - making, on average, 40 rupees (about 50 US cents) per basket.

Male Red Avadavat - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu 
Unsure which route we should follow, we began our morning at the south-eastern edge and just scanned the rough grass around the top. We were immediately rewarded with an obliging pair of Red Avadavat apparently nest building. They both performed very nicely and after a short while were joined by a couple more birds too. After enjoying our fill, we picked an obvious trail that followed the inner wall of the quarry to the west and set off. Within 2 minutes, we were rewarded with our quarry (pun definitely intended) - a single Wallcreeper! It was flushed from the rock face right in front of us and flew leisurely across our path and back to a small pinnacle of rock, right back where we'd been watching the avadavats. None of us could really believe that we had actually found our target so quickly and easily - me least of all. Trembling with excitement, we all enjoyed some good views before I edged much closer and obtained some fantastic views, perhaps within 30 metres or so. However, the bird was in deep shade so my pictures didn't come out as well as expected. However, this one isn't too bad.

Wallcreeper - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu
So that's how I saw my first Wallcreeper. It was all rather easy in the end - just took almost 30 years! Moving on, we began to have a bit of a raptor fest with (over an hour or so) numerous Black Kites, 4 Booted Eagles, 1 Steppe Eagle, 1 Common Buzzard and 1 Long-legged Buzzard. I later questioned the Long-legged as I wasn't convinced that Upland had been excluded as a possibility but after much back and forth between Arend, Birdforum and I we eventually came back to Long-legged Buzzard. However, the whole discussion did highlight the point that these buzzards can be quite tricky, even with good views. Arend actually had Long-legged up with Black Kite a few days earlier which helped him clinch that ID, and I had another Long-legged the following day on a trip to Shivapuri. I would certainly be interested in sightings of Upland Buzzard in Kathmandu Valley.

Booted Eagle (light phase) - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu
Booted Eagle (dark phase) - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu

    Long-legged Buzzard - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu    
 Long-legged Buzzard - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu  
Zitting Cisticola - Chobar Quarry, Kathmandu
Continuing west along the southern edge of the valley we encountered Siberian Stonechat and Pied Bushchat as well as a prinia which was most likely non-breeding Grey-breasted. On close-cropped grass a little further on we added both Paddyfield and Olive-backed Pipits as well as a singing Grey-backed Shrike, watching us intently from some nearby bushes. Coming back along the northern grassy slopes allowed Arend some 'butterfly time' with him showing us what he described as 'probably Nepal's tiniest butterfly', Least Grass Jewel, probably just 5-6mm in size. Still on the northern slope, we then saw Wallcreeper again, this time with great flight views of not one but two of these magnificent birds directly overhead. Superb. Rounding off our trip to the quarry, we had great views of Zitting Cisticola crawling through the undergrowth before perching out in the open. I must admit I felt an initial flush of excitement when seeing the bird crawling through the undergrowth, believing I was onto a Locustella warbler of some sort.

Grey-headed Plover - Bagmati River, Kathmandu
We returned to Chobar Gorge and decided to have a quick walk along the river to add a little variety to the day's birding. Without going more than about 500m, we added a number of birds to the tally including Cinereous Tit, Oriental Magpie Robin, Large-billed Crow, Grey and White Wagtails (including a single leucopsis among the many alboides), numerous Cattle Egrets and the odd Indian Pond Heron and Little Egret. Waders were a little thin on the ground but as we hadn't really gone too far the Green and Common Sandpipers encountered weren't too bad. However, the true highlight for me were the 36 Grey-headed Plovers nervously proceeding downstream ahead of us as we walked along the bank. Returning back to Chobar, we added probably the last goodie of the day, 2 Hodgson's Redstarts. Relatively common in the winter, these cracking birds are always a delight to see.

All in all, it was yet another good day out in the Kathmandu Valley. Of course, Wallcreeper was my 'Bird of the Day' but the supporting cast wasn't too bad either.

Thanks again to Arend and Steve for their company and local knowledge!

Till next time,


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Now in Canada

10th November - 15th December 2012

Well, it's certainly been some time since I wrote anything here - due to a variety of factors - but I'm now settled once again, with decent Internet and some time on my hands.

Much has happened since June, including more trips and lifers in Nepal, a 6-week stint in Thailand (mainly to see my daughter) and now a more permanent move to Canada which is where I'll begin. Other day trips and reports will come retrospectively but while the last month is still fresh here goes...

Male Hooded Merganser - Clyde Lake, Ontario

For the last month, Terri and I have been staying with her parents in their self-built log cabin on Clyde Lake on the Lanark / Renfrew County border, Ontario. After 20 years in the woods, they have just sold up, so we spent much of our time helping them pack and move. With a 'real winter' coming, we experienced temperatures as low as -17°C but not much more than a few centimetres of snow. Birdlife is always thin on the ground during the Canadian winter and with the lake soon freezing over even less was to be seen. However, before that happened regulars on the lake included Common Goldeneye, Ring-billed Duck, Hooded Merganser and the odd Bufflehead. Always a touch nervous, these shots were taken from some distance and are not too good...

Male and Female Ring-billed Duck - Clyde Lake, Ontario
As the harsh weather kicked in, the amount of open water decreased rapidly, but just before it closed over completely American Black Duck and Common Merganser (Goosander) made brief stopovers from, I assume, even colder climes. Out and about, other birdlife did reveal itself. Perhaps the commonest of all (or at least most visible) was the Wild Turkey. Often seen in flocks of 10-40, these somewhat 'unreal' birds could be easily seen along the edges of woodlands and in open pasture. However, for some reason, I completely neglected to take any shots. Other 'game' included Ruffed Grouse - a striking bird of the forest undergrowth. Talking to Terri's father, these birds are apparently somewhat scarce this year, so we were both pleased to see a cracking male displaying with full ruff and cocked tail to 4 females along the trail.

Black-capped Chickadee - Flower Station, Ontario
Other than Wild Turkey, the commonest local birds were Black-capped Chickadee and Blue Jay. Both species allowed relatively close viewing, though the chickadees would, at times, almost land on you. Often seen in association with the chickadees was White-breasted Nuthatch and on occasion, Hairy Woodpecker. I also had a couple of viewings of Pileated Woodpecker, a spectacular species and one of the world's largest woodpeckers. Corvids included Common Raven and American Crow but other than that a single Slate-coloured Junco graced the cedars for just one day and was replaced by Common Redpoll the next.

Blue Jay - Flower Station, Ontario
North American Beaver - Flower Station, Ontario
Packing and moving meant that we took many trips out to Perth, where a storage locker had been rented. This allowed for other wildlife sightings. After spending much time looking for beavers a couple of years ago, sightings came in thick and fast this time around. I guess they were just 'running' around trying to collect as much food as possible before it was too late. In places, they actually cut down trees 8-10 inches across - apparently nothing spectacular, but quite amazing to me. Other mammal life included regular sightings of Northern River Otter, American Red Squirrel, American Grey Squirrel (mainly black variety) and the odd White-tailed Deer, American Mink and single Fisher. Mammals that left tracks but were unseen included Moose, Coyote, Red Fox and Cottontail.

Female Pine Grosbeak - Lanark, Ontario
Other than the birds highlighted above (and a brief trip to Niagara which I'll come to later), daily outings to Perth added a number of other highlights to the list. Red-tailed hawk was seen almost daily and, before the weather turned icy, both adult and immature Bald Eagle were quite regular. My latest eagle sighting however was an immature Golden Eagle - very nice. European Starling seemed quite common but it's certainly worth checking the flocks as occasionally they turned out to be Cedar Waxwings! Ring-billed Gull was present at a few mainly urban sites and Canada Goose was often seen flying overhead at dusk or sometimes grazing in arable land. I did also see approximately 1500 Snow Geese split across 2 flocks on a trip to Winchester in late November - quite a sight indeed. Northern Shrike and Merlin both performed well on separate days but my personal highlight was both White-winged (Two-barred) Crossbill and Pine Grosbeak on yet another day out - the latter my first, and so far only, lifer here in Canada. The crossbill was a cracking red male that obligingly landed right in front of the car but the grosbeaks (seen later) were an entirely female flock of about a dozen birds feeding, within just a few feet, on ripe fruit.

Male Northern Cardinal - Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Well, I did have a side-trip to Toronto/Niagara which I've kept separate since there was a noticeable difference in the birdlife. It could have been that birds were still moving through (20/21st November) but I believe the slightly milder weather must have made a difference. Garden birds seen only on this trip included American Robin, Mourning Dove, House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal  and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Of course, there were the expected waterbird differences too including Mallard, Great Black-backed Gull, Bonarparte's Gull and Double-crested Cormorant but the waterfowl highlight was 2 male Long-tailed Ducks seen flying from Canada into the US and back again! Noticeable were the high numbers of Red-tailed Hawks and American Crows. A treat though was an immature Cooper's Hawk perched in a tree just across from our friend's bird feeder - no doubt waiting for its own turn.

Mourning Dove - Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Immature Cooper's Hawk - Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Well, that's about all for now. Hopefully, I'll get caught up with things before too long.

Till next time...


Monday, 11 June 2012

Nagarjun NP, Kathmandu (Part 2)

Thursday 7th June 2012

Trail to Jamacho Gumba, Nagarjun NP
After a very pleasant Saturday morning spent at Nagarjun with BCN last weekend, I felt inspired to visit the park once again and waking early on Thursday morning, I just went for it. The entrance to the park is only 40 minutes walk from where I am currently staying in Kathmandu so I was at the gate for a little after 6am. However, it took 15 minutes or so for the soldiers stationed at the gate to find a park official who could sell me a ticket and let me in. At 250 Rupees (about £2), it's not too pricey in the grand scheme of things but it is 25 times the price a local pays! As a volunteer on a local salary this does seem a little unfair at times.

Scorpion - Nagarjun NP
Just inside the gate, on the right, is a trail that heads steeply upwards for a few hundred metres before reaching a military post where it joins a more gradual trail that winds its way to the peak. From the park gate to Jamacho Gumba summit is approximately 5 kilometres - it took me less than two and a half hours at a very comfortable pace. The birding was actually a bit slow on the way up though I did see both male and female Kalij Pheasant on numerous occasions, though it was this freshly dead scorpion that was the first sighting of the day.

Blue-capped Rock Thrush - male
Red-billed Blue Magpie, White-crested Laughingthrush and Grey Treepie were all seen well but the highlight on this section of the trail was a pair of mating Blue-throated Flycatchers. I arrived at the summit just after 9am and spent half an hour or so birding the shrubby slopes. First up were two birds I never mannaged to identify; obviously freshly fledged, I would guess at some type of flycatcher/niltava but unfortunately they didn't stay around for long. Next up was this cracking male Blue-capped Rock Thrush. I must say I was unaware that these birds have such a yellow gape.

However, the highlight for me was the first of 2 Nepali ticks for the day - Bonelli's Eagle. Even better, there were at least 3 birds, with a possible 4th. Two of the birds were an adult pair in full (but silent) display. The third bird was an clearly an immature and I'm pretty certain the fourth bird was an immature Bonelli's too, though I didn't get very good views of this latter bird. I did manage to get a couple of interesting record shots though, one of them highlighted against a smoggy Kathmandu.

Bonelli's Eagle - adult
Jamacho Gumba

Bonelli's Eagle - immature

Bonelli's Eagle - adult
One of my side-hobbies is to track all the trails I follow using GPS and then compile them into maps for later use. Since there was an access road to the Gumba, I decided to follow this back down to the gate - I'd already been along some of it the previous week with BCN but I had no idea how long it would be. In total, I walked more than 30 kilomteres over the day but I must say the road down provided good birding and I'd do it again - though with an extra bottle of water next time. Still fairly near the top, I had some goodies with White-tailed Nuthatch perhaps unexpected. This was followed by a pair of Orange-bellied Leafbirds, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, several Verditer Flycatchers, House Swift, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush and a very close pair of Velvet-fronted Nuthatches working the lichen covered trees. A Great Barbet allowed me to take its picture - and for once the shot wasn't too bad.

Great Barbet
As I continued down the trail, other goodies were encountered. In particular, I had more raptors - quite unexpected really for the time of year. Of course Black Kite were everywhere but I also disturbed a perched Crested Serpent Eagle, again an adult with a massively impressive immature Crested Goshawk a little later. The goshawk came in very low around a corner of the trail and landed less than 10 metres from me. I would guess it was a female due to its size. Unfortunately, the process of aiming the camera at the bird scared it off but the memory will certainly remain. Much later on, a male shikra did almost the same though it flew directly towards me instead, getting larger and larger through the bins - just like a BBC wildlife documentary!

Other birds picked up along the trail were Large Cuckoo-shrike, Eurasian Cuckoo, Black-throated Tit (a personal favourite), Speckled Piculet, Maroon Oriole and to round off the day, Lesser Yellownape.

Other wildlife sightings of the day included fresh Leopard faeces packed full of fur, Barking Deer and numerous butterflies. Unfortunately, I don't have my butterfly book with me but one of them I've since discovered is a Grand Duchess. I think the yellow-striped one is a lascar of some sort but that's as good as gets.

Grand Duchess

Till next time - Mark.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Nagarjun NP, Kathmandu (Part 1)

Saturday 2nd June 2012

Last weekend, I finally managed to get out to Nagarjun - forested hills that rise to about 2000m just to the NW of Kathmandu. The site actually forms part of the Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park complex and is remarkably easy to reach. I went as part of a trip organised by Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) and led by Rajendra Gurung. Being aware that the trip was partly aimed at attracting new members I wasn't expecting to see anything too extraordinary but was pleasantly surprised at the results, whilst at the same time very impressed that 29 people would get up early on their only day off to go birding. As you can see from this picture (borrowed from Rajendra - sorry for not asking), the participants were of all ages.

Birding at Nagarjun (by Rajendra Gurung)
After the obligatory milk tea (or two), we eventually entered the park at about 7:30 and set off along the periphery road inside this walled conseravtion area. At times the larger group stayed together and at others we split into 2-3 smaller groups, so the following is an account of my day rather than others'.

Despite the rather long wait at the park gate, the birding was actually quite good right there and, although I saw some of the same species later inside the park, over half of the day's total were seen whilst having tea! Although I failed to get any photos at the gate, the tally included Red-vented, Himalayan and several noisy (and unexpected) Black Bulbuls, Oriental Turtle and Spotted Doves, lovely views of a calling Eurasian Cuckoo, Black-lored Tit, Red-rumped Swallow, the ubiquitous Black Kites, Blue-throated and Great Barbets, Verditer Flycatcher, Blue Whistling Thrush, and numerous Long-tailed Minivets. So as you can see, quite a haul! However, the highlight for me was a lone Dark-sided Flycatcher, briefly entertaining the crowds directly above the tea stall.

Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher
Just inside the park, this Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher finally allowed itself to be photographed. These birds are literally everywhere but I really struggle to catch them stationary.


Not much further along the road/trail, I ended up in front of the group while they watched macaques and a Barking Deer and had good views of a Besra behaving somewhat strangely. It was obviously on the hunt and was very interested in a hole in one of the trees. At times it would stick its head in (not particularly strange I guess) but then it had a real go at getting its right leg in as if trying to pull prey from the hole. It failed but did try on at least 2 more occasions. I managed to get this poor record shot of it perched later.

Apparently, a Besra was also seen eating what was believed to be a Mountain Bulbul, and was quite possibly the same bird. Not much further on we came across a Nepali tick for me, Rufous Woodpecker. Three birds were seen and they all performed well. One bird was busily excavating a hole in an ant's nest 8 metres up in the trees but catching this one on film was tricky.

Rufous Woodpecker (at nest?)
This bird however, allowed a series of cracking shots - this one perhaps the best...

Rufous Woodpecker
As we continued along the trail, the birding seemed to become rather quiet - but a few goodies still revealed themselves including calling (and then reasonable views) of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, an obliging Spotted Owlet, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, several Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, Grey-hooded Warbler and Ashy Drongo.

After a couple of hours slow walking, we all reached a 'pheasant farm', all specimens of the non-native Golden Pheasant. For some reason I didn't take any pictures of the caged birds but did find a pair of cracking Orange-bellied Leafbirds instead. This male, carrying food, would perhaps indicate breeding.

Male Orange-bellied Leafbird
We decided to turn back from here as some members were getting hungry. At first I was a little reluctant and considered continuing but before long the birds were once again providing the highlights - a series of 3 'heard only' included Drongo Cuckoo, Blue-throated Flycatcher and Indian Cuckoo. However, many of the earlier birds were still showing well with the addition of, what at first caused confucion due to lighting conditions, an immature male Shikra. The following photo has been heavily 'worked' in Photoshop but only in terms of lighting and contrast - colours remain as they were at the time. Hard to see, but this bird still has the immature's gular stripe, white flecks on the back, and a terminal bar to at least one of the tail feathers.

Immature male Shikra
Very shortly after this we were rewarded with a couple of Lesser Yellownapes - my second Nepali tick of the day. Despite others getting some decent shots, I struggled. Here are my best two.

Lesser Yellownape
Lesser Yellownape

As we slowly wound our way back to the park gate, a calling Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush was added to the list along with a daring Stick Insect trying to disguise itself as a pine needle right in the middle of the trail. However, the final bird of the day was a lovely Orange-headed Thrush just metres from the park gate.

Orange-headed Thrush
In total, I saw 42 species of birds. Maybe not as many as could have been but all in all a very enjoyable trip with fellow and new birders. Thanks to Rajendra for leading and everyone else for participating.

You may wonder why this is 'Part 1'. Well, I was so intrigued by the place that I went again yesterday, with quite a different set of birds seen. More to follow... 


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Two Rosy Starlings in Dhangadhi

Tuesday, 8th May, 2012

After last week's sighting of a Rosy Starling, I today saw 2 birds in exactly the same tree - and once again from my balcony! This time, I used my telescope and digital camera adapter to take some slightly better pictures. Carol Inskipp was kind enough to comment on the original sighting and commented that Rosy Starling "probably fits the catergory of rare visitor now". However, the Great Slaty Woodpeckers also sparked some interest, so today I have more pictures of both.

Firstly, I went to the woods on the 6th May only to find an extensive area of undergrowth completely destroyed by fire. I'm quite sure many birds lost nests, and certainly breeding habitat for the year. However, the 4 Great Slaty Woodpeckers seemed oblivious to everything and continued with their display from the previous week.

Great Slaty Woodpecker - Dhangadhi Woods
Also very nice was a fruiting tree that held large numbers of Yellow-throated Sparrow (Chestnut-shouldered Petronia), Indian grey Hornbill, Alexandrine Parakeet and a pair of Chestnut-tailed Starling.

Yellow-throated Sparrow - Dhangadhi Woods

Indian Grey Hornbill - Dhangadhi Woods

And so to today's Rosy Starlings...

Two birds, same tree, better pictures.

Rosy Starling - Dhangadhi

Rosy Starling - Dhangadhi

Rosy Starling - Dhangadhi
These could be my last sightings from the Far-West for a while. We're now into Day 12 of a total shut-down, with escalating violence. Two colleagues got out in a UN vehicle this afternoon. The remaining 4 of us are probably heading out with a police-escorted convoy tonight. Will keep you posted!


Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Rosy Starling in Dhangadhi

Thursday, 3rd May 2012

Power has become very unreliable this last week with us down to just a couple of hours a day. This is frustrating but expected at this time of year. Likewise, we're into the 7th day of a complete local shut-down/strike with everything pretty much shut down - ceratinly all transportation and banks. A few local shops open at unusual times to supply the essentials but it's most definitely been a slow week. So, to be brief, I'll just post some of the highlights of the week starting with this Rosy Starling seen from my balcony this morning. Listed as a vagrant, this is a very good record for Nepal. None of today's photos are great but the birds themselves certainly are.

Rosy Starling and Asian Pied Starling - Dhangadhi

Rosy Starling and Asian Pied Starling - Dhangadhi
Also very nice (and initially in the same tree) were 3 White-naped Woodpeckers. Again, I managed to get a couple of record shots.

White-naped Woodpeckers - Dhangadhi
And so on to my local woods once again. The highlight this week was a total of 5 Great Slaty Woodpeckers - 3 males, 1 female and the last bird not seen well enough. They were engaged in a bizarre display which involved the birds spreading their wings and then jumping side to side around the trunk of the tree - I saw this species fairly often when I was living in Thailand but never saw anything like this before.

Great Slaty Woodpecker (there are actually 3 males and 1 female here)

Great Slaty Woodpecker (female) - Dhangadhi

Great Slaty Woodpecker (male) - Dhangadhi
Two last ones before the power goes - female Crested Bunting feeding in stubble beside the house a couple of weeks ago and the 'resident' Blyth's Reed warbler next door.

Crested Bunting (female) - Dhangadhi
Blyth's Reed Warbler - Dhangadhi