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Birding in Gurje Bhanjyang

Posing for a photo and listening to a Mountain Scops-Owl

Gurje Bhanjyang is a forested pass on the edge of the Kathmandu-Nuwakot district boundary. Looking south from the pass, one can see most of the urban sprawl of the Kathmandu Valley. There are lots of and the distant forms of Champadevi, Chandragiri, and Phulchowki, the three main hills that border its southern edges.

Looking north from the pass there are layers and layers of hills, most of them still forested. Beyond the hills rise the Himalayas, and on clear days there are excellent views of the Ganesh Himal and Mount Langtang.

Part of the view from Gurje Pass in December

When we reached the pass around seven thirty in the morning, there was no view of hills or mountains or much else other than clouds. Clouds were everywhere. They spread below us in a great sea and around us in a sort of mist, giving a feeling of isolation.

Looking north from the pass

The air was moist, and the songs of birds came from the forest around us. There were Striated Laughingthrushes and Mountain Bulbuls and Gray-headed Canary Flycatchers, and the monotonous songs of Golden-throated Barbets carried across the ridge.

Gurje Pass is a bit unique for at least one reason: it’s a good place to find high-altitude birds that favor moist, mossy forest. These types of birds can normally only be found on the top ridges of the surrounding hills, because that is where the cloud cover is. The moistness from the cloud cover enables moss and ferns grow from trees, and thus gives opportunity for unique flora and fauna to exist.

Gurje Pass is by very definition a pass – it’s a low spot where vehicles and people can go over the ridge. But it’s also a spot where clouds go over, too, and that’s why the forest is so moist in that section. And that’s also why at that moment I was watching some Green-backed Tits, small colorful songbirds that favor moist broadleaved forest.

Green-backed Tit foraging

The bird wave mostly comprised of Gray-hooded Warblers, Green-backed Tits, Gray-headed Canary Flycatchers, a single Red-billed Leiothrix and a brilliantly plumaged Scarlet Minivet. Around us were Green-tailed Sunbirds, Pygmy Cupwings, a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, and a White-bellied Erpornis. And of course there were the cicadas. They would be silent for minutes at a time, and then suddenly their loud hum would fill the air.

My brother and I continued through the forest, and the jungle around us became less moist and a bit more open. There were more Mountain Bulbuls and Golden-throated Barbets, and there was a Himalayan Cuckoo too, and three Long-tailed Broadbills. There was a Black-winged Cuckooshrike too, and that was a bit unusual, because they normally shy away from dense forest. But there was no mistaking the familiar song, a set of three descending whistles.

Birds were everywhere. From the trees and mist came the song of a Mountain Scops-Owl, and two Maroon Orioles perched on a nearby tree. Suddenly I heard the song of a flowerpecker, a sharp jumble of notes that seemed surprisingly close. It was a male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, and he was singing loudly from the top of a bush. He was tame and inquisitive and let me snap a few photos.

Male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
Male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker

After twenty minutes of walking through the forest, the trees opened up to scrub and low bushes and fields. I heard a Black Francolin calling, and there were stonechats and Red-vented and Himalayan Bulbuls and some Large-billed Crows. A pair of Black Eagles soared overhead, and a male Gray Bushchat posed against a fresh green background for me, his arching white eyebrow contrasting against his gray and black head feathers.

Male Gray Bushchat

The view wasn’t stunning or breathtaking, but it was certainly very interesting. There was a swirling, billowy whiteness that stretched as far as the eye could see, and the peaks of blue-tinted hills poked through the waves of clouds. A strong breeze rustled the bushes and blew the mist towards us. The air was cool and the sky was gray and time seemed suspended.

Looking south back at Gurje Pass where we had begun from
A sea of clouds


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