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Blog Posts (23)
  • Birding Along the Manohara River

    Late March always brings its own share of spring migrants in the Kathmandu valley, so Uvin, Arend, Rajendra, and I decided to meet at the Manohara river and see what we could find. Migration has seemed a bit slower than usual, and it might be tied up with the smokey air here: for almost a week now, fires have been burning in the dry coniferous forests of west Nepal, and the smoke is covering much of the country like a blanket. Add Kathmandu’s unusually foul late-winter air pollution into the mix, some smog drifting up from India, and the hills around the valley to contain it all, and you’ve got a nice little pocket of polluted air that has been ranking as hazardous for several days now. It seems to have impacted the movements of migrating birds and the arrival of spring visitors. I reached the river faster than expected, because the bus I was on was racing with another bus of the same route (we won). Here’s a forty-five second clip of some of the action: Soon Uvin, Arend, and Rajendra had arrived. As we were discussing our plans for the day, Rajendra pointed out a falcon flying by swiftly, low over the fields. We all looked at it just in time – in a few more seconds it was lost in the distance – but we had seen enough to decide it was a Red-necked Falcon, most likely the bird that had been hanging out in this area several months ago. It was an interesting sighting, and it made us wonder what the falcon’s plans were for the year. It had not been sighted in several months, and we had assumed it was back in the lowlands. We started towards the main birding area, ticking Siberian Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, Little Ringed-Plover, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, White Wagtail, and Rosy Pipit. The Rosy Pipits seemed to be everywhere, foraging in the fields, although they were shy and were not easily approached. Their namesake, the rosy tinge on their underparts which comes in the breeding season, was now quite visible on most of them. Another small, gray-backed raptor glided by, landing in a distant tree. Instantly several drongos started mobbing it. Our views were not satisfactory, so Arend and I walked across the fields to the tree. We had been hoping it was the Red-necked Falcon from earlier, but it turned out to be just a male Shikra. Over the next hour we saw nothing abnormal, and added Asian Koel, Eurasian Kestrel, Red Avadavat, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-browed Wagtail, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Dusky Warbler to our checklist. Once we came upon several Bluethroats foraging in a field and giving occasional chuck notes, but I wasn’t able to get any good photos of them. Too bad, because in another week or so they’ll be back in the Russian tundra. Later, as we were walking back toward the road, a Eurasian Wryneck suddenly flew out and perched on a stick in front of us. It stayed there for almost ten seconds as we snapped away, and then it flew off behind some brush and we couldn’t relocate it. Wrynecks and their cryptic feather patterns never fail to interest me. We stopped for twenty minutes at a tea shop for a snack, and then we headed for the north side of the river to explore the birds there. There were more wagtails and plovers, three Temminck’s Stints, and a group of Gray-throated Martins skimming the water. Moving from the others a moment, I spotted a wagtail land in front of me and stay for several seconds before flying off. It was clearly either an Eastern Yellow Wagtail or a Western Yellow Wagtail, both which were a good find in the Kathmandu valley (later we found it again and confirmed it was a Western Yellow). It was approaching 11:00 AM, and as Arend and Rajendra had to leave, Uvin and I decided to drive forty minutes up the road to another portion of the Manohara river around Sankhu. Normally an excellent spot for lowland birds such as Woolly-necked Stork, Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon, and Common Kingfisher, Sankhu proved to be a bit slow, mostly due to the time of day. There were no green-pigeons, but we found a Brown Shrike and four Common Chiffchaffs on their way to Siberia. Because Uvin had work and I had a two-hour trip home, we decided to leave it at that. eBird:

  • 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. 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. 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. eBird:

  • A Full Day of Birding on Shivapuri

    Shivapuri is a national park on the north side of the Kathmandu valley, a long stretch of hills that encompasses about 60 square miles. The lower northern slopes start at 4,000 feet and ascend to just under 9,000 feet at the peak. The elevation changes throughout the hills make for a wide variety of birds, each change in fauna resulting in changes in bird life. Still, some birds can be found at any elevation, regardless of the time of year: among them are Kalij Pheasant, Spotted Forktail, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Striated Laughingthrush, and Blue-Whistling-Thrush. Shivapuri has been closed since March, and only opened three weeks ago. After months of waiting for it to open, I was now finally able to visit it. There were five of us: me, my brother, Uvin, Shankar, and Michael. We started walking near the entrance at Panimohan. Soon we had started recording birds: a Gray-hooded Warbler, two Scaly Thrushes foraging on the track in front of us, and three Spotted Forktails which perched briefly on the roadside. Unlike many winter days, where the sun is shining, today was overcast and cloudy. Walking through the dark forest, our only hope was to come across a bird wave; except for the occasional thrush, everything was silent. But by the time we reached the Nagi Gumba, we had about twenty birds on our list, and the sun was showing faintly through the clouds. Anomalies in habitats have always interested me. A meadow in a forest or a forest in a meadow attracts many different birds than just a forest or just a meadow do. The Nagi Gumba is one such anomaly. It is a Buddhist nunnery, surrounded by gardens and shrubs, with jungle all around. In winter, many birds come off the hills and pass through the gardens, feeding on the flowering plants and berries. The Gumba serves as a magnet for birds and it’s an excellent spot to find thrushes, warblers, sunbirds, and all the rest. As soon as the Gumba came into view, we started adding new birds to our list: there was a Hair-crested Drongo, an Oriental Turtle Dove, two Gray Bushchats, and a female Blue-fronted Redstart. In contrast to the still, silent forest where we had just come from, birds seemed everywhere here, and the air was filled with the sounds of Great Barbets, Black Bulbuls, and Green-backed and Himalayan Black-lored Tits. But the biggest surprise were the sunbirds. There seemed to be two or three of them on the top of every tree or bush you looked at. The majority of them were Fire-tailed Sunbirds, although there were two Green-tailed Sunbird, a Crimson Sunbird, and a Black-throated Sunbird. Unfortunately, none of them were close enough for decent photos. We started near the Gumba, adding Streaked Laughingthrush, Himalayan Bulbul, Olive-backed Pipit, Blue-throated Barbet, and Orange-bellied Leafbird to our list. Then we moved down to where some trees with berries were. There was a large flock of Black Bulbuls, a smaller flock of Gray-winged Blackbirds, and enough warblers hopping around to keep us busy looking for something unusual. Suddenly Uvin called out “Chestnut Thrush!” and all glass turned in that direction. There were two Chestnut Thrushes, and I was able to grab a quick photo of one before they both flew away. It was a great find, and one of the highlights of the day: Chestnut Thrushes, like many Himalayan thrushes and finches, tend to be both uncommon and erratic in their winter movements. There might be four sightings here one winter, and then none the next. This winter is probably a good one for thrushes, because there have already been several sightings of Chestnut Thrush, Alpine Thrush, and Long-tailed Thrush from Phulchowki, the hill opposite Shivapuri. After the thrush sighting, we continued around the Gumba’s premises, finding more new birds. There were Gray-throated Babblers, White-crested Laughingthrushes, Nepal Fulvettas, a Small Niltava, and two Mountain Bulbuls. Then we decided to leave the Nagi Gumba and continue up Shivapuri—we still had at least two hours to get to the top. Just as we were leaving the area, William and Uvin spotted a female Kalij Pheasant. It was a lifer for Michael, who had seen all except two China’s pheasants but had never ticked Kalij before. Our time at the Gumba had been especially fruitful, and the loud songs and calls of birds throughout the whole time made the experience only nicer. After the Gumba, the motor road ends, and the remaining 3,000 feet climb is mostly all stone steps. As you climb, it’s neat to see the trees around you change. The forest around the Gumba is predominately Chestnut Oak, but soon bits of rhododendron and stunted oaks start to appear. Then, near the top, the stunted oaks give way to huge towering ones, Kharshu Oaks, with large clumps of moss growing from their upper branches. About half an hour after leaving the Gumba, we stopped to rest and to eat some snacks, but Michael kept walking. Just as we were finishing up, he called me and said he had a Long-tailed Thrush that was sitting on the trail in front of him. We rushed up ahead to where he was and there was the thrush, standing quietly on the steps in front of us. It stayed there about five minutes and gave us excellent views. Normally Zoothera thrushes tend to be skittish, staying hidden in dark, moist, areas, so it was great to get such nice, open views of this one. We continued up the trail, and besides adding to our list Whiskered Yuhina, we saw more Ashy-throated Warblers and Black-throated Tits. At one point, Uvin and Shankar were ahead on the trail, and I was right behind them. Uvin called out as we flushed a dull brown thrush into the forest. Fortunately, instead of flying deep into the trees, the bird landed on a mossy branch in front of us, a medium-sized thrush with a plain back and no prominent wingbars. It was an Alpine Thrush. Michael was ecstatic: it was the last thrush he needed to tick from the Plain-backed Thrush complex, after Plain-backed had been split into Himalayan, Sichuan, and Alpine thrushes. (Later we ruled out Himalayan Thrush, out of range here but always a possibility). Further up the trail we came upon an open grassy area, with shrubs on the edges of the forest. It was the perfect habitat for rosefinches, but, in keeping with most of my rosefinch pursuits, there weren’t any to be seen. Instead, there was a bird wave, with a nice mix of highland birds: there were Yellow-browed Tits, Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Stripe-throated Yuhinas, Rufous-winged Fulvettas, and one Rufous-vented Yuhina. It was starting to get late, and we still needed to walk back down. Instead of hiking to the peak, like we had intended to do, we decided instead to visit a lookout point about a ten minutes’ walk away. Soon, the oaks and bamboo gave way to a cliff, and the scenery was amazing. Green hills dropped below us, and in front of us rose mountains, blanketed by a fresh snow. From the Likhu river thousands of feet below us, to the Himalayas in front of us, I wondered how many different types of birds could be found in the view I was seeing. The wind was strong, and we watched two Black Eagles soaring in circles, riding the winds. First they were circling hundreds of feet below us, then in less then a minute the wind had carried them above us. The younger of the two birds glided away, and only then adult was left. Then, suddenly the adult bird started to do its display flight: it flew directly up into the sky in a straight line, then folded its wings and dropped. It did this maybe twenty or twenty-five times till at had passed out of sight in the distance. Now we turned around and started down towards Kathmandu. Shankar and Uvin stayed a moment talking to someone (I should have known not to let them out of my sight—Shankar has a knack for finding rare birds) and we waited for them to catch up. Suddenly they rounded the trail, and Uvin called out that they had gotten a Spotted Laughingthrush, so tame you didn’t even need binoculars. I rushed back with them to get the bird while William and Michael continued down the trail. Spotted Laughingthrush wasn’t a lifer, but it was a neat bird for here, and if it was tame, I might get some decent photos. But the Spotted Laughingthrush wasn’t there—there was only a Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush that promptly disappeared into the bamboo when we came up. We searched through the bamboo quickly, but as daylight was running out, we decided to hurry down hill to William and Michael. On the way back we ticked White-collared Blackbird and Scaly-breasted Cupwing. Cupwings are generally secretive, staying in shadows and in moist dark areas, and this was the first time I managed to get a photo of one (albeit probably the worst photo ever of one. Well, maybe not). As we walked, I got a call from Michael saying he had just seen a thrush that looked to be either Long-billed or Dark-sided. That spurred us onward—Long-billed was generally uncommon and hard to see, but Dark-sided was rare. We got to the spot and searched the adjacent forest, but there were no thrushes to be seen. Michael, who had just been looking at photos on eBird and Merlin, decided it was indeed a Dark-sided Thrush. It would have been a pretty nice bird to see, and a lifer for me, but oh well. Can’t get everything. Including that cutia on Phulchowki. There was one more surprise in store before the day ended. As we were checking out the rosefinch spot, Shankar (ever the rarity spotter) called out that he had a Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, an unusual but nevertheless possible bird here. Though it was far away, we all got to get decent views of it before it flew down into shrubs. It was a great ending to the day, and Michael said it was an especially hard bird to get in China, almost mythical, and that he had been chasing it for a while. Having already gotten three lifers today, the flowerpecker, he said, was the cherry on top. It was the cherry on top for all of us. eBird checklist:

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  • Bio | Ian Hearn

    Bio I'm Ian Hearn, a teenage photographer living in Nepal. I have been birding since I was six years old. In more recent years, I have taken up photography. I enjoy taking photos of anything in the outdoors, but especially birds. For my bird photos I currently use a Nikon D500 and a Nikon Nikkor 200-500 lens. You can contact me . here ​ But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? ​ Job 12:7-9

  • Photos | Ian Hearn

    Photos Birds Landscapes

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