Birding in the Everest Region: Below the Treeline


Looking south from Namche Bazaar Lookout

This is a historical entry of a trek that my brother, my Dad, and I took in Sagarmatha National Park during November of 2019.


Our trek started at 7:00 AM after we landed at our starting point in Lukla, just south of the border of Sagarmatha National Park. For the first two hours of walking or so, the habitat was mostly broadleaved forest and rhododendron. At only 8,000 feet in elevation, bird life was abundant. Rufous-vented Tits, Streaked Laughingthrushes, White-browed Fulvettas, Yellow-browed Tits, Green-backed Tits, Blue-whistling Thrushes, Large-billed Crows and Chestnut-tailed Minlas were all present, and at one point we heard a Mountain Scops-owl calling from the jungle. There were two treats as well: a Red-tailed Minla and a Fire-tailed Myzornis, two birds that occur in the region but are uncommon. As we passed a more open area with some fields, we saw an Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian Tree Sparrows, and a pair of Scarlet Minivets.


The trail followed a river that yielded two more interesting birds: Little Forktail, and a Lifer Brown Dipper. Then we started to ascend, slowly but surely. The forest around us changed from broadleaves to conifers. We would not see broadleaved forest for the rest of our trek. The conifers, though, yielded other types of birdlife: we saw Red Crossbills, Eurasian Nutcrackers, and Yellow-billed Blue Magpies.

Hiking north of Monjo, still a four-hour accent to Namche

The next day we spend in Namche Bazaar acclimating to our altitude – now 13,000 feet. As the sun roses over the mountains, Snow Pigeons took to the air. After breakfast we took an hour hike to a lookout where we could see Mount Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Nupste, and Everest. We managed to collect several lifers – Rufous-breasted Accentors, Red and Yellow-billed Choughs, and a Variegated Laughingthrush and a Gray-crested Tit, besides getting close views of a Himalayan Griffon. Namche itself was full of Large-billed Crows, but there were a few Eurasian Tree Sparrows and three lifer Plain Mountain-Finches. The forest around Namche held a Red-headed Bullfinch, grosbeaks, and one Tibetan Serin. We didn’t find what we were looking for though – Himalayan Monals, the colorful pheasants that are Nepal’s national bird.

Large-billed Crow, Namche Bazaar
Himalayan Griffon, Namche Bazaar Lookout
Eastern half of Namche Bazaar

The next day we spend trekking to Pangboche, via Tengboche. The habitat slowly gave way from conifers to rhododendron and then junipers. We saw more lifers: a White-throated Tit, Black-browed Tits, Goldcrests, and a Bearded Vulture. Black-faced and Variegated Laughingthrushes were also present, and more grosbeaks. I was able to get a photo of a Black-crested Coal Tit (formally Spot-winged Tit). We also saw a lifer Blood Pheasant, but it happened to be a female, and skittish at that. I didn’t get any photos.

Coal Tit, Tengboche

One our return we stopped at Tengboche overnight, a beautiful little village surrounded by rhododendron forest and boasting views of Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam. The following morning, I was able to spend an hour birding in the vicinity, and despite the cold, birds were numerous. I was lucky enough to run into a bird wave of minlas, fulvettas, treecreepers, tits, and laughingthrushes, all fairly tame. The challenge wasn’t getting close but keeping close, and besides having to keep up with the rapidly moving party, I had to fight myself not to run inside and warm up! At 14,000 feet, it wasn’t exactly balmy. After about 10 minutes out, I could barely move my shutter finger. I didn’t want to use gloves though; their thickness would have insured that I could have never pressed the shutter button.

Black-faced Laughingthrush, Tengboche
Black-faced Laughingthrush, Tengboche

Later that day we were able to find and photograph a long-hoped-for lifer – the Himalayan Monal. In keeping with our former pheasant luck, all four of the birds were drab-colored females. Despite this, they were tame enough and let us photograph them in the wooded hillside where they were foraging. It was a good end to a great day.

Female Himalayan Monal, below Tengboche

Pangboche was the edge of the treeline. There were stunted junipers, open stony ground, and only a few species: Gray-crested Tits, Large-billed Crows, and a few accentors and rosefinches. We woke up next morning and bade farewell to the lower-altitude birds: we were entering the realm of the snow mountains, and one would be lucky to see more than ten species on a given day.


eBird: https://ebird.org/checklist/S61691446, https://ebird.org/checklist/S61692626

0 views

All photos © 2020 Ian Hearn

Subscribe