Monday, 9 April 2012

A Day Out in Kathmandu

Sunday, 25th March, 2012

Over the next week or so, I’ll try to catch up on some of the trips I’ve done and birds I’ve seen over the last two months. I’m going to start with a great morning out in the Kathmandu Valley at the end of March with ‘resident’ Dutch birder Arend van Riessen. Arend has been doing the same walk along the Bagmati River from Chobar Gorge to Taudaha Lake every month for almost 10 years and kindly let me join him on his rounds. I knew I was ‘late in the season’ for many wintering birds but having read his reports over the last few months, I was anticipating at least a couple of Nepali ticks for my list.

Bagmati River at Chobar Gorge, Kathmandu
The first challenge of course was getting across the city (at 6am) without much in the way of language skills or money. Struggling to find a reasonably-priced taxi, I gave up and walked through the old city to the southern ring road, where I eventually found a very decent cabbie who 1) knew where I wanted to go, and 2) wasn’t going to rip me off (too much). So bang on time, if not a little early I met Arend at a little tea shop right at Chobar Gorge – a very impressive sight (if not smell) to start the day.
The Bagmati River is absolutely stunning… in all the worst ways! Catch it in Shivapuri National Park near the source and, yes, I’d probably drink from it but as soon as it reaches habitation (and that’s before it passes through Kathmandu) it becomes an open sewer and repository of rubbish. As I said, the foaming water through the gorge was impressive (due to the detergents) but the stench was… just that!

Green (back) and Wood (front) Sandpipers, Bagmati River
Anyway, back to the birds because that’s what it’s all about. Freshly equipped with my new camera, I was keen to not just see some goodies for the valley but also, if possible, get off a picture or two for the record. Before I got to taking pictures though, my first Nepali tick – a Thick-billed Warbler – gave itself away by chacking as we walked by.  This was swiftly followed by a couple of superb Grey-headed Lapwings –another local tick for me. A female Black Redstart was just the first of the day, and along with a Eurasian Cuckoo, was an indicator of spring passage.

Green Sandpiper, Bagmati River

After a lovely male Hodgson’s Redstart, we started to see a few waders foolishly sampling the water quality, with Common Sandpiper and Common Snipe (the latter another tick) being the first of the morning. However, to kick off the photo record I managed to get these Green and Wood Sandpipers posing together for comparison as well as this lone Green Sandpiper giving a little more detail. With Grey-backed and Long-tailed Shrikes already bagged, I had my fourth Nepali tick of the hour with a couple of (not red) Red Avadavats. Many more were seen later in the day but none in their resplendent breeding plumage.

Steppe Eagle, Bagmati River
Steppe Eagle, Bagmati River
More snipe were flushed as we proceeded along the ever-deteriorating river bank. At one point we had to scale a crumbling and eroding mud bank poised above the sludge of the river – it did however provide the inspiration to hold on! It was at about this point that the other bank, of course, revealed 8 Steppe Eagles feasting on ‘something’ dead. They were a bit nervous of us and as we clambered over and along the river’s edge, they gradually moved on. I managed to get off these few shots though before they all left.

A few more waders were ticked off before we reached Bosan Khola, a small stream heading up to Taudaha Lake. These included another Nepali tick (the last of the day) Temminck’s Stint, as well as Little-ringed Plover and Greenshank. We also added White and White-browed Wagtails along the river’s edge as well as a distant 47 Yellow-breasted Greenfinches perched high up in distant trees.
Just before heading up the stream we came across a recent Christian burial, right on the edge of the river, with home-made cross and piled stones/sand. I can only wonder how long it will be until the jackals and then raptors get to work. Further upstream, at Pashupatinath for example, many Hindu cremations take place, but this was the first Christian ‘use’ of the river I’d come across.
Taudaha Lake, Kathmandu
After a brief rest along the stream, we came out at Taudaha Lake having added Ashy Drongo, Hume’s Warbler, Rufous Treepie and a calling Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler. As predicted the number and diversity of birds on the lake was lower than in mid-winter. However, I was surprised and disturbed by the ‘commercialism’ of the site – the lake is regarded as sacred but this has been interpreted as a need to build up the banks with stone walls, fill the lake with catfish, sell fish food, and serve tea at numerous ‘Lakeside Restaurants’ around this surprisingly small last wilderness. For some reason (disappointment?) I didn’t even try to get any shots of the wildfowl. However, we did clock a couple of Ferruginous Ducks amongst the numerous Teal, Wigeon and Gadwall.

Rosy Pipit, Bagmati River
Arend back at Chobar Gorge, Kathmandu
Cutting across the fields, we got back to the river by a shorter route and returned back to Chobar Gorge in no time at all. Being now midday, bird sightings were less than in the morning, but we did add this cracking Rosy Pipit along the way.
Himalayan Bulbul, Chobar Gorge
After a quick look around the impressive Jal Binayak Temple, situated on the western bank of the Bagmati River, we went back up to the road bridge where Himalayan Bulbul was seen, with a pair of Shikra on the ridge above the bridge and yet another Steppe Eagle in the pine woods higher up. Arend kindly invited me back to his house for a cold drink before sending me in the right direction to catch a 20 rupee bus ride back into town. In total, I recorded 66 species that morning – Arend may well have recorded more, and he certainly keeps a more detailed account of numbers.

All in all, a great day in the valley and one I’m looking forward to again on my return to the capital. Thanks Arend!


1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark.I have covered this area with Shanker Tiwari who lives nearby (his local patch)and we had a Willow Warbler back in Febuary 2011,although only the third reported sighting for the Indian Sub-continent.Was fortunate to use a friends house in Marasgunj for a month.I will be going back May 2013 to Langtang or there abouts for 3-4weeks.Can't get enough of Nepal...fantastic place to bird.Reading your blog has brought back some great memories...thanks