Late March always brings its own share of spring migrants in the Kathmandu valley, so Uvin, Arend, Rajendra, and I decided to meet at the Manohara river and see what we could find. Migration has seemed a bit slower than usual, and it might be tied up with the smokey air here: for almost a week now, fires have been burning in the dry coniferous forests of west Nepal, and the smoke is covering much of the country like a blanket. Add Kathmandu’s unusually foul late-winter air pollution into the mix, some smog drifting up from India, and the hills around the valley to contain it all, and you’ve got a nice little pocket of polluted air that has been ranking as hazardous for several days now. It seems to have impacted the movements of migrating birds and the arrival of spring visitors.
I reached the river faster than expected, because the bus I was on was racing with another bus of the same route (we won). Here’s a forty-five second clip of some of the action:
Soon Uvin, Arend, and Rajendra had arrived. As we were discussing our plans for the day, Rajendra pointed out a falcon flying by swiftly, low over the fields. We all looked at it just in time – in a few more seconds it was lost in the distance – but we had seen enough to decide it was a Red-necked Falcon, most likely the bird that had been hanging out in this area several months ago. It was an interesting sighting, and it made us wonder what the falcon’s plans were for the year. It had not been sighted in several months, and we had assumed it was back in the lowlands.
We started towards the main birding area, ticking Siberian Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, Little Ringed-Plover, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, White Wagtail, and Rosy Pipit. The Rosy Pipits seemed to be everywhere, foraging in the fields, although they were shy and were not easily approached. Their namesake, the rosy tinge on their underparts which comes in the breeding season, was now quite visible on most of them.
Another small, gray-backed raptor glided by, landing in a distant tree. Instantly several drongos started mobbing it. Our views were not satisfactory, so Arend and I walked across the fields to the tree. We had been hoping it was the Red-necked Falcon from earlier, but it turned out to be just a male Shikra.
Over the next hour we saw nothing abnormal, and added Asian Koel, Eurasian Kestrel, Red Avadavat, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-browed Wagtail, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Dusky Warbler to our checklist. Once we came upon several Bluethroats foraging in a field and giving occasional chuck notes, but I wasn’t able to get any good photos of them. Too bad, because in another week or so they’ll be back in the Russian tundra.
Later, as we were walking back toward the road, a Eurasian Wryneck suddenly flew out and perched on a stick in front of us. It stayed there for almost ten seconds as we snapped away, and then it flew off behind some brush and we couldn’t relocate it. Wrynecks and their cryptic feather patterns never fail to interest me.
We stopped for twenty minutes at a tea shop for a snack, and then we headed for the north side of the river to explore the birds there. There were more wagtails and plovers, three Temminck’s Stints, and a group of Gray-throated Martins skimming the water. Moving from the others a moment, I spotted a wagtail land in front of me and stay for several seconds before flying off. It was clearly either an Eastern Yellow Wagtail or a Western Yellow Wagtail, both which were a good find in the Kathmandu valley (later we found it again and confirmed it was a Western Yellow).
It was approaching 11:00 AM, and as Arend and Rajendra had to leave, Uvin and I decided to drive forty minutes up the road to another portion of the Manohara river around Sankhu. Normally an excellent spot for lowland birds such as Woolly-necked Stork, Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon, and Common Kingfisher, Sankhu proved to be a bit slow, mostly due to the time of day. There were no green-pigeons, but we found a Brown Shrike and four Common Chiffchaffs on their way to Siberia. Because Uvin had work and I had a two-hour trip home, we decided to leave it at that.