At just over 9,000 feet, Phulchowki is the tallest hill overlooking the Kathmandu valley. In the dense forests that covers its lower flanks, Red-headed Trogan, Blue-naped Pitta, Common Green-Magpie, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, and many other interesting species can be found. The cloudforest that covers the upper half of Phulchowki is home to birds such as Red-tailed Minla, Himalayan Cutia, Hoary-throated Barwing and Darjeeling Woodpecker.
April and October are the best times to visit the area, especially upper Phulchowki: from December to February, the peak is cold and windy (with snow occasionally) and from June to September, it is obscured in clouds and mist. However, if one is willing to brave the cold, a December or January trip can still yield many exciting winter visitors: thrushes, redstarts, and flycatchers descend from higher elevations for the winter.
Uvin, Shankar, and I arrived at the Godawari village area, the base of Phulchowki, a little after 7 AM. Our objective for the day was to record more than 120 species. We all felt that reaching 100 would be easy enough, and the eBird app’s Explore tool actually said that 148 species were likely, but that would require a lot of effort and a lot of luck.
We began birding around the village area, ticking some much-needed species that would be impossible to find later. Oriental Turtle-Dove was our first bird; soon we had Hodgson’s Redstart, Cinerous Tit, Himalayan Black-lored Tit, Gray Treepie, Black Bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, and many other common species. Within ten minutes we were at twenty species; within thirty minutes we had reached around forty species. By the time we had left the village area, we had recorded around fifty birds, and had missed two incredibly common ones: Spotted Dove and Black Drongo were just nowhere to be seen.
As we moved on closer to the hills, we were fortunate to meet a bird wave. Soon we had recorded Green-backed Tit, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Red-billed Leiothrix, Black-chinned Babbler, and Chestnut-headed Tesia. Nearby several houses we ticked House and Eurasian Tree Sparrows, and on the stream below Godawari Bus Park, Shankar spotted a White-capped Redstart and Spotted Forktail. Now we were at sixty species for the morning, and although we were theoretically halfway to our goal, we had recorded all our easiest birds. The next sixty species would be much harder to find.
At this point, we split up for about an hour, Uvin and Shankar birding inside the Godawari Botanical Gardens while I explored the lower bit of Phulchowki road. Among other birds they found Snowy-browed Flycatcher and Northern Goshawk. I recorded several new species as well: Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, and Booted Eagle.
The very beginning of the Phulchowki road is surrounded by open forest and undergrowth, and this combination creates a magnet for wintering bird species. The undergrowth provides cover for birds, and the open forest allows for feeding parties of birds to move through. I saw Cinerous Tits, Gray-headed Canary-Flycatchers, Mountain Bulbuls, Black Bulbuls, Red-flanked Bluetails, Blue-fronted Redstarts, a Blue-Whistling Thrush, a Rufous Woodpecker, and two Hair-crested Drongos in this area. As the road curved into a shady part of the hill, the forest became moister. Here there were Green-backed Tits, a Scaly-breasted Cupwing, and a Gray-bellied Tesia. I particularly wanted to get a photo of the tesia, because like the cupwings, the tesias have alluded me on several different occasions. The tesia always stayed in cover, hopping around out of sight, making its loud chrrrr call the whole time. After about ten minutes, I was able to get a photo of it. A horrible photo, but a photo, nevertheless. (It turns out this is the first photo for the species for the Kathmandu valley on eBird).
Not long after that, I met up with Shankar and Uvin again. We decided to visit a spot that Uvin knew of that was good for birds. Here we recorded several new species for our list: among them Black-eared Shrike-Babbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-throated Tit, Nepal Fulvetta, Gray-throated Babbler, and Asian Barred Owlet. Right after finding the owlets, I spotted a brownish bird flying over the ground. It seemed to be a thrush, but I couldn’t identify it. But then, a moment later, we flushed it again, and it landed on a branch for us all to see. It was a Long-tailed Thrush, a lifer for Uvin and I. Soon Uvin had spotted a Scaly Thrush, too. The highlight of this area was seeing a flock of Red-billed Leiothrixes, a tiny, colorful bird. While it’s not unusual to find one or two of them in a bird wave, it was a treat to see so many of them in one spot at once.
We decided to visit one more place, the Marble factory, before starting up Phulchowki. Our list was at eighty-nine now. Here there was a beautiful male Rufous-bellied Niltava and three species of shrikes, but nothing new for our list. Then, just as we were leaving, we spotted two Fire-tailed Sunbirds at the top of a tree. It was our ninetieth bird for the day, and we hadn’t even started up Phulchowki. Only thirty more birds to go.
Our first stop on lower Phulchowki produced Striated Laughingthrushes and Blue-winged Minlas, but no Rufous-chinned Laughingthrushes, a reliable bird for that location. There were no Black-faced Warblers, either, but fortunately we spotted more of those later. We continued on, finding a Himalayan Shorting, Stripe-throated Yuhinas, a Yellow-bellied Fairy-Fantail, Buff-barred Warblers, and Blythe’s Leaf Warblers. Soon, we had passed over the one hundred mark.
As we gained elevation, the bird life started to change. We saw an Ashy-throated Warbler, a higher altitude species. Uvin and I heard two Black-throated Parrotbills. We also recorded Kalij Pheasant, Green-tailed Sunbird, Rufous Sibia, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, White-tailed Nuthatch, and Orange-bellied Leafbird. As we were listening to some sibias, we heard another call, further off, and Shankar identified it as a Bay Woodpecker, an uncommon bird on Phulchowki.
Uvin spotted a treecreeper but it was gone before he could identify it. Had we been able to identify it, it would have been a new species for the day, but as it was, we had to enter it in eBird as “treecreeper sp.” Shankar, who was sometimes a little behind Uvin and I, also saw two more new birds: Darjeeling Woodpecker and Chestnut-tailed Minla. Uvin and I rushed back to see them, but they already were both gone.
Although the Bay Woodpecker was a nice bird, we missed several quite common species: Hoary-throated Barwing, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Striated Bulbul, and even worse, Himalayan Cutia. I had really wanted to see a cutia, and our location on Phulchowki was the most relieable spot for them in the Kathmandu valley, but it was not to be. Just as the Rufous-vented Yuhinas, Whistler’s Warblers, and Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers were not to be, either.
Now we were coming to the top of Phulchowki. Huge, moss-covered oak trees grew up around the road, large pockets of ferns growing from beneath their bark. At 8,500 feet, the air was colder, too. There is a small pond near the peak of Phulchowki that serves as a watering hole for birds and deer. Here I spotted our 120th bird of the day, a group of White-collared Blackbirds near the top of an oak tree. While breaking open some snacks, we added four more species to our list: Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, White-browed Fulvetta, and Dark-breasted Rosefinch to our list. Then we continued to the peak, Phulchowki Dada.
At Phulchowki Dada there was another Dark-breasted Rosefinch, two more White-browed Fulvettas, and our last bird of the day: two Streaked Laughingthrushes. Now, with the Streaked Laughingthrushes, we had ended our day at 125 birds.
It was cold and windy on the peak, and the sun cast golden light on the trees around us. We could see across the Kathmandu valley to Shivapuri, which is almost as tall as Phulchowki. And behind Shivapuri, from east to west, there stretched a long line of snow-capped mountains, the Himalayas. As chilly as we might be here on Phulchowki, I couldn’t help but think how much colder it was there in the mountains.
At any rate, here are some of the birds that we missed: Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Spotted Dove, Black Drongo, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Speckled Wood-Pigeon, Ashy-Wood-Pigeon, Blue-throated Barbet, Golden-throated Barbet, Red-tailed Minla, Hoary-throated Barwing, Himalayan Cutia, Rufous-vented Yuhina, Whistler’s Warbler, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Crested Goshawk, Crested Serpant-Eagle, Speckled Piculet, Striated Bulbul, Hill Partridge, Steppe Eagle, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Lesser Yellownape, Spotted Laughingthrush, Pink-rumped Rosefinch, and Brown-fronted Woodpecker.
So, yes. A good twenty-five species, most of which are fairly reliable, and some which are quite common. It sounds like we might need to have another go at it.
In case you still smarting from all those misses like we were, check out these two eBird checklists from Arunachal Pradesh, India, and Yunnan, China showing many of the birds we would have liked to have seen: https://ebird.org/checklist/S55423264 and https://ebird.org/checklist/S51790974.
Our eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S77575789