No matter what season it is in Sangla, there are always two families of birds to be found: flycatchers and thrushes. In the months September through April there are Taiga and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers and Black-throated and Scaly Thrushes. And in April through September there are Blue-throated and Indian Paradise-Flycatchers and Orange-headed and Pied Thrushes.
Now that it is early May, I have my sights set on one of these species in particular: the Indian Paradise-Flycatcher, a summer visitor. The females of this species are rufous and white and black, and the adult males are all white with black heads and long, streaming tails. They are probably the most wanted bird in this area, as far as the more common birds go. They breed in groves and forest edge, and often near ravines and streams or some type of water.
I set out to try what I thought would be a likely place for the species. There were groves of trees and bamboo, a ravine, and the Bhishnumati River running by. It was a twenty-minute walk away, and en route I was able to spot plenty of birds. There were Cattle Egrets, Indian Pond Herons, a Little Egret, and a pair of White-breasted Waterhens foraging in the wet fields. Rufous Treepies, koels, doves, orioles, cuckoos, barbets, magpie-robins, kingfishers, a bushchat and Verditer Flycatchers all joined in the dawn chorus, and Rose-ringed and Alexandrine parakeets flew overhead calling.
Migration was mostly over, but I spotted a Himalayan Buzzard and Greenish Warbler, both stopping over on their way to higher latitudes and higher elevations. There were no other buzzards or wintering eagles, and the Hume’s Warblers, so abundant in winter, were nowhere to be seen. But there were plenty of Gray-hooded Warblers, and I could hear their songs and calls as they sung and foraged.
It didn’t take me too long to reach the spot where I might find the flycatchers. There were minivets calling from the trees, and Blue-throated Flycatchers singing from the lower story. A pair of Plumbeous Redstarts called from the rocks in the river, but I didn’t take time to get any good photos: I already had good photos of this species, and I was concentrating on finding the paradise-flycatchers.
I made my way uphill to a bit of an open area that overlooked a smaller portion of the river. There were fields behind me, and a steep, tree-covered hillside below me. There was bamboo to my left and a river below. It seemed like the perfect habitat for the paradise-flycatchers. So I waited, my eyes peeled for a fleck of white and a long streamer. And I waited. And I waited.
There were no paradise-flycatchers.
Then, I saw a movement above me. A bird with the colors of orange, black and white flew onto an obscured branch. Maybe it was a female paradise flycatcher, I thought. Certainly not a male like I wanted, but then maybe that meant a male was nearby. I need better views to confirm the sighting, so I waited until the bird moved into the open. It was kind enough to humor me, and soon I could see it well. It had a white belly. It had black on its head. It had an orangish-brown back.
It was a Long-tailed Shrike. I didn’t even bother with a photo.
I mournfully directed my attention to the other birds around me. There were more warblers and minivets, and another Blue-throated Flycatcher. I didn’t bother with the Blue-throated Flycatcher, because there was a cooperative male in the bamboo next to my house, and he was familiar with me and I with him. I knew his favorite perches, and he was comfortable with me as long as I was careful not to get too close. So I let this male alone, and turned to my left when I saw a Blue-throated Barbet land in front of me. I snapped several shots and then moved closer and whispered, “Don’t,” as he bent over to fly. As if that was going to help anything, I thought in retrospect. I had to crop instead.
I secretly hoped the ravine nearby held an Orange-headed Thrush, but there were none. At least, coming out here, I was able to add several new species to my May month list: Scarlet Minivet, Common Iora, Himalayan Bulbul, Small Niltava, Plain Flowerpecker, and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, all which are species that prefer more wooded areas during the breeding season.
Back at my house, I waited for the male Blue-throated Flycatcher. I prefer to get the brightly colored birds on shaded perches; the shade makes the oriole’s yellow, the barbet’s green, and the flycatcher’s blue all to glow. I didn’t have long to wait – in two or so minutes the male flycatcher flew to one of his favorite perches and began to sing. The pros of this situation, I thought as I lifted my camera, is that the bird is in the sun, so I don’t have to raise my ISO very high. The cons, I thought, is that he wasn’t in a shaded area, so his blue back won’t pop with color.
And another con: he flew away while I was thinking.
At least the morning wasn’t an utter failure. I was able to get exercise, see beautiful birds, and record 73 species in one morning. And to top it all off, right after the Blue-throated flycatcher flew away, a tiny White-rumped Munia landed behind me in the bamboo and was kind enough to pause for some photos.