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A Morning in Tokha Chandeshwori

North of the town of Tokha there is a small village called Chandeshwori that is nestled right at the foot of Shivapuri. There are a good mix of birds to be found in the fields, shrubs, and lower flanks of the hills, and I try to visit the area several times a month, as it’s only about twenty minutes by bicycle from where I live. Here are a few photos from recent trips to Chandeshwori:

Now it’s mid-March (it’s been a year since I started this blog) and while there are a few winter visitors left, most spring visitors have yet to arrive in the Kathmandu valley. Not having much of either season might sound a bit slow, but March is one of the best months for birding in Nepal, especially in the lowlands. Better yet, it’s too dry in most places for leeches, the insect numbers are still low, and there are less mosquitoes. Those are always pluses for me. (But as the weather is in the high 70s and 80s, it shouldn’t take too long for the mosquitoes to get their act together).

The sun had risen over the eastern hills of Nagarkot by the time I reached Chandeshwori. The morning was coming alive, and as I locked my bicycle and walked into the forest, I could already hear Great Barbets, a Common Iora, and the whimsical song of a whistling-thrush. A House Crow was closer, and afforded me a brief recording of its caws.

In the shrubs around me there was a female niltava, a Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, and several Gray-hooded Warblers, and near the small creek were three forktails, two of them Spotted Forktails and the other a Slaty-backed Forktail. A Gray-throated Babbler sang from the ravine, and the thin song of a niltava came from some nearby Lantana bushes. Although there had been four or five niltavas in this ravine area during winter, now only two birds were left: a male and a female.

As a general rule, niltavas don’t like to come in the open, but during the spring, the males are more prone to sing from prominent perches. I waited for about twenty minutes as the male moved from bush to bush, singing from different positions in his territory. When he reached the bushes right in front of me, I played several strands of his song, and he popped right out onto an open branch and continued to sing. It was almost too easy. I snapped dozens of photos and got a recording and a video of him before he flew away.

Small Niltava

By now it had been about forty minutes since I’d arrived, and I decided to move up the trail. Up ahead came the songs of White-crested Laughingthrushes, Gray-headed Woodpeckers, a Golden-throated Barbet, and the fluty notes of Maroon Orioles. In my haste to find the orioles I rounded a curve too quickly and flushed a group of four Kalij Pheasants, two brown females and two sharp-looking males. They took off uphill into the pines, keeping the brush and tree trunks between us so that I only managed one flimsy photo. I really wanted a better shot of one of the males, so I climbed up after them. The pine needles made the hillside very slippery, but in a few minutes I reached the top of the ridge. They saw me and doggedly ran deeper into the forest. After half an hour of this, I decided they had the upper hand, and I made my way back down to the trail.

Chir pines

When I reached the bottom of the hill, I paused to listen for birds. Over the twitters of a bird wave I could hear a Sikkim Treecreeper, a Verditer Flycatcher, and a Rufous Sibia. Then, from the forest where I had just come from came a tooting song, too ta-too too, over and over, similar to the call of the Northern Pygmy Owl of North America but at a different interval. It was a Collared Owlet, and I started back up the hill toward the sound.

Of the three owlets that occur in the Kathmandu valley, Collared Owlets are the most sought after. They are less common than either Spotted Owlets or Asian Barred Owlets, and are more partial to tracts of dense forest. Because I’d not photographed this species before (plus it was a treat for this location) I set out after it immediately.

I reached the ridge again, and made my way to where there were some densely leaved trees growing among the pines. Of course, since I had now come, the bird was silent. I waited for about twenty minutes, but there was nothing. I played a few Collared Owlet notes from my phone, hoping it would answer, but still nothing. After about half an hour another Collared Owlet called from way up hill, but other than that, all was silent. I had been searching fruitlessly through the trees this whole time, looking for a little bump on a branch, but that didn’t yield anything either.

Owlets often like to perch near the trunks of trees, but that’s not a strict rule, and it wasn’t of any help here. Either I just had hopelessly bad owlet-spotting skills (very possible) or the bird was out of sight from my angle on the hillside (also possible) or I had unconsciously flushed it when I came up (less possible). At any rate, I found a trail back down hill and soon was back on the main trail below.

I ran into a party of Red-billed Blue Magpies and another party of White-throated Laughingthrushes. There was a bird wave too, full of Gray-hooded Warblers, Hume’s Warblers, Himalayan Black-lored Tits, Velvet-fronted and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, two Blythe’s Leaf Warblers, and a Black-chinned Babbler. The soft peer-peer­­ of white-eyes could be heard, too.

But then I heard something else: the Collared Owlet called again, this time a volley of notes. Of course. Granted it was a bird worth chasing, I climbed back up to the ridge. I spend the rest of the morning around that area with no luck, being reminded that every day isn’t a special day. Not even most days (that’s what makes the special ones special).

But I had photographed the male niltava, and that was nice. The morning was well-spent, and I had seen a decent number of species. What could be better? A Collared Owlet could be. I’ll be back.


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