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Winter Birding along the Bagmati

The southern stretch of the Bagmati River near Chobhar is historically one of the best places to find waterfowl and shorebirds in the Kathmandu valley. Although pollution has taken a toll on the Bagmati’s bird life in recent years, one visiting during winter can still be sure to record lapwings, snipes, and some shorebirds. Several days ago, a European Starling was spotted, a first for the location, and I set out in the morning to search for it. I also hoped to find Gray Heron, Northern Lapwing, and Long-billed Plover.

I met with Uvin, but before we drove to Chobhar, we stopped at Nagdaha, a small lake in Lalitpur. Because Taudaha and other lakes in Kathmandu have been “improved,” Nagdaha is now the only lake in the valley where lily pads and reeds still exist for birds. It is currently the only reliable spot for Eurasian Moorhens in the Kathmandu valley, and since I hadn’t observed this species yet, I wanted to get it on my life list.

There were several moorhens, some Eurasian Coots, and a bonus Eurasian Wigeon. Although the railings lining the lake prohibited me from getting eye-level shots of the moorhens, I was still able to get a few photos. Unfortunately the moorhens didn’t really feel like striking poses that morning, and most of my shots showed them with their heads down, feeding.

Eurasian Moorhen

After seeing my target bird, and a quick cup of chiya, we arrived at Chobhar. Our first hope was to find the vagrant European Starling, but after almost an hour of searching we had found nothing, and we needed to move on to other parts of the river. In the meantime we recorded Common Rosefinch, Wallcreeper, Small Niltava, and Gray-headed Lapwing.

As we moved up the riverbank, three lapwings flew out from us. Even before they landed, their white wingtips and black wings identified them as Northern Lapwings, and uncommon bird in the valley that is normally only recorded from Chobhar. Further along we encountered Steppe Eagles, Black Bulbuls, Black-throated Thrushes, Common Greenshanks, and a Brown Shrike.

At this point we were getting close to where the heron was often seen. I was on the lookout for it, but it was apparently much more circumspect than I was, flying out from the bank with a loud croak before I had even spotted it. I fired several shots as it wheeled and then flew past us.

Gray Heron

We continued downriver, observing more wagtails, sandpipers, and then flushing a volley of snipes all at once. (Anyone who has flushed snipe will perfectly understand the volley analogy). We identified two Pin-tailed Snipes and several Common Snipes among them, but the rest of the snipes had to be entered under “Snipe sp” on our eBird checklist, because they had flown away too quickly to be identified. We had to try to sort out what we could after they landed, but snipes happen to be excellent at hunkering down and blending into their surroundings, even if their surroundings are a rocky riverbank.

But then we forgot about the snipes for a moment when I spotted a plover in front of us – a Long-billed Plover. Though they are generally rare in Nepal, one or two individuals visit this stretch of the Bagmati in past winters. I had been hoping we would spot the species, but as none had been seen this winter, I had no assurance that we would. The plover let me get a few photos before it flew off, plastic bags and other trash surrounding the stones where it perched.

Long-billed Plover

Except for the European Starling, we had found all my target birds for the day. But there was one small surprise still on store. Uvin heard it first: a small psit note, which could only be a bunting. It was a Little Bunting. Normally rare in the valley, they have shown up in the Kathmandu valley in small numbers this year. The bunting was tame, and was able to get several shots of this small visitor from the Mongolian Steppe. It was a fitting end to a nice morning of birding.

Little Bunting


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