By mid-April, most of Nepal’s winter visitors have left, and any wintering species that are still left are most likely passage migrants, stopping for a few days on their journey north. That’s how it was when I went out birding Sunday morning – compared to the numerous Olive-backed Pipits and Black-throated Thrushes I had seen two weeks ago, there was only one thrush, two Olive-backed Pipits, and a Rosy Pipit. Both Olive-backed Pipits were flyovers, easy to identify because of their ‘tszew’ flight call.
Besides the pipits and thrushes, there was a Taiga Flycatcher calling its dry rattling chrrrr call, and a Thick-billed Warbler inside of patch of bamboo calling its punctuated chuck… chuck… chuck… call. Rose-ringed and Alexandrian Parakeets flew overhead, and a pair of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers sang their duet (Hickup? Keep!) from a distant grove of trees.
But you could hear one species above the songs of Indian Golden Orioles, Black-winged Cuckooshrikes, Oriental Magpie-Robins and Blue-Whistling Thrushes, and they were the Asian Koels. Koels aren’t just a sound of spring in Nepal, they are spring. They start singing at 4:00 AM through the late morning, and then they start up again in the evening and don’t stop till after dusk.
Koels and cuckoos are brood parasites, meaning that they don’t build nests themselves, but instead lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. One of the koel’s main targets are House Crow nests. For this reason, House Crows are especially suspicious of koels, and don’t pass up an opportunity to chase them around. The koels will often call their loud, shrill ‘keek – keek - keek’ call when they’re being chased, which encourages all the other koels in the area to call and sing all the louder.
The bottlebrush tree in my yard is in full flower, and its brush-like blooms attract Crimson Sunbirds, Red-vented Bulbuls, and Chestnut-tailed Starlings. I have been able to get good photos of a female Crimson Sunbird and a female Chestnut-headed Starling, but for some reason the males of both species are more skittish than their mates, and today there was no exception. My attention was quickly drawn, however, from the bottlebrush tree to an Ashy Drongo that landed in front of me, calmly consuming a honeybee from our neighbor’s hive. I didn’t waste any time documenting the carnage, before and after.
First I heard it: a harsk keek-keek-keek-KEEK, followed by loud guffawing sounds. There was no mistaking those sounds – they were coming from a Red-billed Blue Magpie. Soon I spotted a pair of the colorful magpies flying toward me, and they landed in a tree some distance away. It was a new yard bird for April, and I was now at 97 species, and the 37th place for monthly world yard totals in eBird. Red-billed Blue Magpies are frequent enough to my house during winter, where parties ranging from 5 to 15 show up about twice a week. During spring and summer though, the birds retreat to the surrounding hills and other forested areas to breed, so a sighting in mid-April was unusual.
I’m lucky that the local magpies here are so colorful. Actually, there are many colorful birds in my area: Indian Golden Orioles, Crimson Sunbirds, Great Barbets, Indian White-eyes, and Himalayan Black-lored Tits, to name a few. And when lockdown ends, I’ll be taking to the foot of the hills to find two more species: Orange-headed Thrush and Indian Paradise Flycatcher.