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Of Broadbills and Laughingthrushes

Even though by all accounts spring is gone, and monsoon has arrived, I still find time to look for birds in between the rainy days and thundershowers. So early Wednesday morning I set out with my camera, binoculars, and the complementary umbrella.

The morning was cloudy and cool, and the hills were covered in mist. There were orioles, pipits, doves, koels, and bulbuls as I walked across fields and towards the foot of the hills. A Eurasian Hobby, a type of falcon, flew overhead and caused a big commotion – pigeons, parakeets, and a pond-heron flew into the air. Some Red-wattled Lapwings flew around too, calling their loud, agitated calls: “Did he do it, Did-did he do it?” As one of them landed in a rice field in front of me, I snapped a photo of its outspread wings.

Red-wattled Lapwing

After more walking, I reached the foot of the hill and began up the road that led into Phulbari. The road was steep, and I gained elevation quickly. The trees and brush along the road held Great Barbets, Blue-throated Flycatchers, and a Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker. The five Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters were present no longer, however – they had left three weeks ago as soon as the rains had started.

Himalayan Bulbul
Himalayan Bulbul

But it wasn’t until I had left Phulbari behind that more interesting birds became prevalent. There were minivets, a Spotted Forktail, and three Gray Bushchats. The high trills of Gray-throated Babblers came from bamboo thickets and nearby ravines, and two White-rumped Munias landed on a branch nearby. There were several bird waves moving through the trees, the first one with Gray-hooded Warblers and Indian White-eyes, the second one with Gray-hooded Warblers and Black-throated Tits, and the third one with Gray-hooded Warblers and a single Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher. Yes, Gray-hooded Warblers are very common here. They can be found in a variety of wooded habitats during all months of the year. Yet despite their abundance, I still haven’t gotten a good photo of one, so a Blue-throated Barbet had to suffice instead.

Blue-throated Barbet

There was a loud “swee, swee” call coming from the trees. I wanted to write it off as a minivet (there were lots of them around) but it was a bit too loud and forceful. So I focused my camera on the branches where the sound was coming from, and it wasn’t a minivet at all – it was a green bird with a black and yellow head and blue tail, a Long-tailed Broadbill! I hadn’t recognized its call because it wasn’t their typical loud, ringing, hawk-like “peeeyu-peeeyu-peeeyu.”

Long-tailed Broadbills are fairly common in the broadleaved hill forest that surrounds the Kathmandu valley. They travel in groups and stay mostly in the tops of trees. These birds were no different: there were five of them, and they stayed out of view in the treetops, and I was only able to snap a few bad photos. Not nearly as good photos as an earlier encounter.

My jawdroppingly terrible photo of a Long-tailed Broadbill

The trees opened up into scrub habitat near the end of the road. I could hear Striated Laughingthrushes singing from the forest, and there was a bird wave with lots of Nepal Fulvettas, Gray-throated Babblers, and Black-chinned Babblers. Two Maroon Orioles flew into a tree in front of me and sang their fluty song before flying away and disappearing across the ridge.

I heard of song of a Streaked Laughingthrush and stopped and looked around carefully until I found him. He was singing from the top of a young Himalayan Alder. When I tried to work closer, the bird flew down into a bamboo patch in front of me and I was able to get several photos.

Streaked Laughingthrush
Streaked Laughingthrush

As I continued up the road, I encountered more birds: there were Striated Prinias, a Siberian Stonechat, a Green-billed Malkoha, Mountain Bulbuls, Himalayan Bulbuls, Ashy Drongos, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babblers, and more minivets. I could hear the songs of Golden-throated Barbets and the calls of Gray-headed Woodpeckers.

Green-billed Malkoha

And I could hear something else, too. It sounded like a long moan and a low whistle, rising and falling and then ceasing and then starting again. It was the song of a Wedge-tailed Green-Pigeon. Then I spotted them: there were a pair of the green-pigeons in an alder tree across the ravine. I took a few photos of them before they flew into the forest. It was a special moment -- they were the 600th species I had photographed up to that time.

Wedge-tailed Green-Pigeon

I was against the boundary of Shivapuri now, so I turned and started downhill again, and managed to intercept a pair of White-throated Fantails. One perched on an open branch not far from me, and I didn’t hesitate to get his photo. Then I continued downhill, letting the cloudy forest and the songs of barbets and laughingthrushes and the haunting whistles of green-pigeons fade behind me for another day.

White-throated Fantail


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