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...