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To the land of Lamas, laughing thrushes, landslides and Sleeping Buddha


Chakra

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Atravelynn

I see @janzinhas persuaded you to name the birds.  The fog certainly lifted.  Your latest bird photos are crystal clear!

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Treepol

@Chakrathanks for posting your TR. You have some beautiful bird photos and many are complemented by the foliage and flowers in the background.

 

Look forward to more when you have time.

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13 hours ago, xelas said:

No Way I have given up, Chak!

India is truly Incredible, and places that you are showing us ... wow!

 I'm touched with your confidence in my abilities Amigo.  I'm sure your India trip will happen in not too distant future.

 

12 hours ago, Jil said:

What beautiful bird photos...what camera etc did you use.  What a great area of India and what a wonderful report.

 

Thanks very much Jil. I used a Nikon D500 with Tamron 150-600 G2.  This is a relatively lightweight combo but still my aging arms and shoulders were complaining bitterly as most of the times you are aiming high  :D The lighter the gear the better it is. Not like Africa where you have the luxury of shooting from inside of a car with tripods, bean bags etc for support. My friend who has loads of money uses Nikon 500 pf prime lens which is much lighter and takes very good photos but costs a few thousand pounds more. 

 

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Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. I hope it brings some distraction from the relentless bad news. Just today I had a Facebook message from good friend Emmy from Uganda. He has seen some of my photos in Facebook and thought I was ready to travel again. Emmy asked me when I'd be coming to Uganda. A trip which was planned with him and @Galana with military precision to every minute detail, just as everything collapsed in 2020. I had to regrettably tell him that Uganda had to wait. Hopefully for not too long.

Third day dawned with absolutely crystal clear sky with unobstructed view of Kanchenjunga and the whole Sleeping Buddha range. When you see this range it does look like a man sleeping on his back.  Everest was not visible form here but if you go a little more  north and do an easy trek from Sandakfu to Falut then you'll have the unobstructed view of one after another after another mighty peaks. In my opinion that view of Sleeping Buddha with Everest has to be one of the most stunning mountain views in the world, especially if you are lucky enough to catch the morning sun.

The landscape photographer in me was in full swing, even though the photos were taken by phone.  My pixel does take fantastic landscape photos in good light and I'd say in fifty percent times I actually  do not miss my SLR for street or landscape photography. 

Once again a very cold day but lot more bird activity today. Today we decided not to go inside the core park area and instead travel towards a small village called Kolakham.  Birding was done mostly from the roads and then on some trails inside. I'd only post the ones which were new today.

 

But the landscape first

 

Missing Lord Buddha's head and of course Everest is not visible from here 

 

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Close up 

 

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Framed Kanchenjunga. I feel sorry for all the Bengali tourists who get packed like sardines in a tin at Tiger Hill of Darjeeling to watch sunrise on Kanchenjunga and then return dejected because of clouds

 

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Lava with its beautiful monastery nestled among pine forests

 

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Trekking through pristine forest. Forget birds, I just loved the atmosphere. The sound of silence only punctuated by the noise of water falls

 

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My host and our guide Ramkumar 

 

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And now some of the highlights.  There are a few more which I have not managed to process yet. There were several small tits that didn't show their faces properly so I could not capture although I did see them through the viewfinder.

 

Kalij pheasant 

 

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Some sort of tit. I think this is  Black browed 

 

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Sibia 

 

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laughing thrush again ? spot bellied 

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Orange bellied leaf bird. 

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Cuckoo dove 

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Another thrush : I think we had seen this one before.  Maroon backed 

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It looks like a beautiful place.The Pheasant is a stunner!

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Atravelynn
10 hours ago, TonyQ said:

It looks like a beautiful place.The Pheasant is a stunner!

Agree.  A king of the forest kind of bird!

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Chakra
Posted (edited)

Happy New Year everyone. Hope you all have recovered from the excitement of last night, mine was somehow staying awake till midnight , dozing in front of the TV and then off to bed within five minutes of the gong of Big Ben. Second year in a row. But not all is doom and gloom. I can see lots of positives at present. Vaccines have certainly blunted the sharpness of the virus and we have better arsenals than last year when we were absolutely clueless.  From my and my colleagues' experiences I do feel that this will be an endemic affair within next 12-24 months,  the frontiers will reopen and we'd be able to travel without the fear of getting stuck in an airport hotel for ten days.  

Anyway, lets' get back to the birds.  About 90% of the shots I've posted here are taken while birding from roads, some a bit busy, some not all. This really shows the scope of birding in this area. You don't even need a guide if you have some experience. 

As @janzinknows Sattal is a productive spot but that is now very well known in the birding community of India. The Facebook groups are full of photos of mid-altitude birds from Sattal, Nainital and other places of Uttrakhand , all relatively easily accessible from big cities. With that comes crowd, lens envy, jostling for the right spot, expenses to use the hides and the usual problems of inconsiderate people, which sadly many of my fellow Indians are. 

While in North East these places are mostly free from these evils. Only hard core nature lovers will go and stay at the very basic accommodations of Eagle's Nest. 

 

BTW, in case someone wants to read more about Arunachal Pradesh they can have a look here :

 

https://www.eaglenestbirding.com/

The info is out of date though 

 

These are more accurate

https://www.arunachalbirdingtours.com/mishmi-hills.html

 

http://www.birdfinders.co.uk/tours/india-eaglenest.html

 

More beautiful orchids 

 

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 Green Backed tit 

 

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Sibia again. They were everywhere 

 

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Russett sparrow

 

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 I think this is Speckled Piculet, smallest woodpecker. Did not come out at all 

 

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Cuckoo dove 

 

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I'm unsure about the ID here 

 

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some butterflies 

 

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Slaty backed forktail : quite far off

 

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I really regret missing this shot. We were walking and came across this water fall suddenly.  Ramkumar should have warned us and I would have approached more cautiously. It was in shade. There were several species of birds bathing there. I had focused on one species only to realise it was the Sibia again but there were Red Billed Leiothrix around. But they were too quick and flew away. 

So here focus on the upper part of the photo please :

 

 

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White capped Redstart 

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Chakra
Posted (edited)

Plumbeous redstart male 

 

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Pumbeous female

 

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I loved sitting by this stream watching the Redstarts 

 

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Lots of Minivets around

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Yummy yummy worm 

 

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Very well behave Redstarts posing nicely 

 

 

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Most likely Pied flycatcher

 

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Id please ? flycatcher

 

 

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Unsure 

 

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The ever present myna

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? ferruginous flycatcher

 

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Atravelynn

Your New Years was more eventful and lengthier than mine. 

 

We always dwell on "the one that got away" whether Sibia or something else.  You were a success with most of your shots.

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Galana
On 12/25/2021 at 11:10 AM, Chakra said:

 My wife wasn't very keen for me to travel alone in these times, but when she heard that I'd be going with my trusted school friend she grudgingly allowed me.

On 12/27/2021 at 5:43 PM, Chakra said:

So you think there is still hope for me? @xelas and @Galana had tried and given up. 

Well the Lady is certainly taking care of you. At Galana Towers the same 'suggestion' of travelling alone would have been followed by the sounds of Lady G packing my kit.:D

There is hope for everyone. Like @xelasI have not given up hope for you. More a Work in progress.And as for the photo quality, I don't see a problem at all. Compared to some of my offerings I need to take lessons from you in return. Now THERE is a thought.

Just back from my staycation where the Wiffy was decidedly iffy so I have been catching up this morning, now afternoon by I finished and you are now guilty of opening up the temptation of a return to India despite that Government making Visas an obstacle course for me. You already know my fondness for the northern provinces and the itch has flared up again. It seems incurable much like its African cousin.

 

Thanks for sharing your trip with us and the sights you saw whilst there. Trains too are really the only way to get around although my experiences on InkJet (sp?)

 

 

 

 

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Chakra
Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Galana said:

At Galana Towers the same 'suggestion' of travelling alone would have been followed by the sounds of Lady G packing my kit.:D

Lucky you. I may tag along as well. 

Quote

There is hope for everyone. Like @xelasI have not given up hope for you. More a Work in progress.

Really touched by the show of faith. This work has been in progress for quite a while though.  I can't deny that I do enjoy watching them and photographing them. It's just that there are so many thrushes and they all look the same, grey sided, grey headed, chestnut crowned, chestnut bellied blah blah blah !!  Anyway, not many more to go. I really need to return when the rhododendrons blossom, red pandas frolic and trogons and tragopans queue up for photos. 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
Chakra

Time to pack my bags and leave the Himalayas back to the plains again. I'm not really a beach boy, a "Mountain Man" any day.  The mountains hold something special for me which I can't find in other places, even though I have huge respect for each habitat,, from the prairies to cloud-forests. 

 

But before moving I'd like to highlight the extent of Landslides and the impact of climate change and human habitation on this fragile environment. Landslides is nothing new in the Himalayas. I distinctly remember in 1977 , my first foray to the Himalayas, we got stuck in a landslide and missed the train back to Calcutta. But that was in June, in the monsoon.  People expect that and learn to live with that. But the climate has changed totally and nowadays North East get huge downpours as late even in October. This time it rained for three whole days and Sikkim was cut off from rest of India.  Our guide said, " We have never seen such rain in October which led to massive landslides."

My friend told me that he had gone to see a waterfall in September and stayed in a small home stay by the waterfalls, went back in October after the rains , the whole area including that home had been wiped away. 

And on top of that there is road building. Border Road Organisation ( BRO) is the backbone of India's defence strategy against China and they are extremely good in clearing landslides  and repairing roads but even they were overwhelmed this year and many roads remain damaged. In some areas I encountered landslides , some small , some big almost every few kilometres. Road building had led to destabilization and the old roads have also suffered because of huge increase in vehicle traffic. A narrow road through a village which was built with a load calculation of infrequent traffic now regularity sees long army motorcades of huge lorries carrying the infantry. The roads simply cant cope.  And also unregulated building constructions are everywhere. We really need trees in the slopes , otherwise the whole region is going to turn into one big landslide zone. 

The sheer force of landslide is mind boggling. In one place I saw that BRO had put massive concrete boulders to strengthen the road. During the landslide all those massive blocks actually went under the road and lifted it up while the house on the other side sank thirty feet. 

It is a sad and very scary state. 

 

Country Road : take me home

 

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Local school and football ground 

 

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Walking through landslides 

 

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Pristine landscape pockmarked by landslides

 

 

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One of many streams which caused so much devastation in the monsoon

 

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Like Dr Indiana Jones I crossed the rickety wooden bridges battling the baddies 

 

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Used to be very popular tourist spot with nearly hundred cars parked by the side. Clearly the road was not built for that much traffic 

 

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 This house was at eye level

 

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Only divine intervention can save us. Mother Durga sitting on her lion in a small temple by the landslide. 

 

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Or prayers to Lord Buddha. Show us the Path, Lord

 

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Lord Tathagata : we need you again to show us our follies. 

 

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Colors of India : home made snacks 

 

 

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This time the train journey was overnight so not much to see but on the I took a break and sipped one of the most delicious teas I've ever tasted. I hardly ever drink tea , I'm a total coffee fan and have always found the tea to be a little insipid and lacking the kick of the coffee. My friend who also runs several restaurants is a tea aficionado and insisted that I must visit one of his favourite tea estates to try the "First Flush" and the "white" tea. First flush I have had before from various well known tea estates of Bengal and Assam, like Mokaibari and Hatikhuli, but the white tea intrigued me. 

So I had a lesson from my friend. 

White tea is known to be one of the most delicate tea varieties because it is so minimally processed. White tea is harvested before the tea plant’s leaves open fully, when the young buds are still covered by fine white hairs, hence the name “white” tea.

These buds and unfurled leaves from the newest growth on the tea plant are handpicked and then quickly and meticulously dried, so the leaves are not allowed to oxidize as long as leaves plucked for green or black tea production. This minimal processing and low oxidation results in some of the most delicate and freshest tea available.

Minimal processing. I must say it was totally different from what I had tasted before. Picked up some for my mum who can't function without tea and she was also floored. Because I only got two hundred grams for her so nowadays she is reusing tea leaves by boiling them at least twice so that her stock lasts longer. 

Daughters had also ordered organic green tea which seems to be very popular with young health conscious ladies. Apparently it suppresses appetite.  Why ?  Tea must be taken with rich creamy biscuits !! Anyway picked up some for them and they were also impressed. 

Tea estate owners used to be extremely wealthy people in the past before labour trouble and political interference forced them to sell off to big companies like Tata or Lipton. Mission Hill is a medium size estate and the owners had clung on to that. Sadly the owner succumbed to Covid last year but the estate remains in the family. The wealth can be seen in their collection of classic cars. 

 

Tea moments 

 

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Like Single malt good tea also must be Single estate. Blended tea is for the riff raff

 

 

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A selection of tea. From the most expensive White Tea to various leaves plucked at different stages

 

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Wonderful color and aroma

 

 

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Price if anyone is interested. White tea is 8000 rupees per Kg, which is pretty high by Indian standard.

 

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Bought a few packets 

 

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Some classic cars for the enthusiasts 

 

 

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Jeep : this was THE symbol of a Macho Man in our college days.  Driving a Jeep with an  open chest shirt and smoking a Char Minar Cigarette while casually rescuing a damsel in distress. 

Char Minar I smoked many but never managed to drive one of those iconic WW2 Jeeps. Much later in my middle age I did rent a jeep once on a holiday but somehow the charm and ruggedness were gone 

 

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Chakra

On my return to my home town Burdwan I heard that a flock of Siberian Ruby-throat had arrived nearby. Could not resist the opportunity, especially after seeing my friend's photos. Although I did manage to see them but could not manage to capture any in camera  properly. These are really pretty birds, especially when they sing. I'll share one of my friend's photos. Saw a few other birds though and a new species. This species used to be known as Cattle Egret but has been rechristened as Tractor Egret

 

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Baya weavers

 

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I think this is a Prinia

 

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Open bill storks and Ruddy Shell ducks

 

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Ever present bulbuls  and kites 

 

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Spotted Dove 

 

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Yellow wattled lapwings 

 

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Juvenile shrike

 

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Pied starlings 

 

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Rubythroat : PC my friend

 

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G.O.A.T. = Greatest of All Time.

I was patiently waiting by the roadside along with two other ace birders for the Siberian Rubythroat to appear when I heard a motorbike approaching. Cursed my bad luck and tried to move away.

This bike was particularly loud and had a weird bleating horn which was going off every two seconds.

On closer inspection I realised there was big plastic bag tied to the side of the bike and a healthy wealthy Black Goat with a proper Goatee  was happily sitting inside the bag, enjoying the ride and bleating away.

The Goat looked so relaxed. It was clearly a part of his daily commute.

Such a smart goat! I expect it to ride on the pillion of the bike next time, wearing a helmet and holding on to the belly of the bike rider. He is clearly The G.O.A.T among the goats : Greatest Of All Time.

Rubythroat was also shocked to see that and never appeared after this. I'm planning to go to Siberia, hopefully the Russian goats haven't learnt the art of bike riding.

 

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Incredible India indeed. I miss you. I shall return !! 

 

 

Edited by Chakra
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Galana

A great ending to an interesting adventure. Whetted my appetite again.

And for White Tea which we both love.

Thanks for sharing your travels with us to this unique place.

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Atravelynn

Great ending. I'll be looking forward to your Russian goats.

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Zubbie15

I caught up on this trip report just in time for you to finish up. Really great variety of birds, almost enough to make me interested in becoming a birder. I was surprised on my one trip to country just how much I enjoyed it, even the challenges. Hopefully I can return sometime soon and see some new areas - we certainly didn't get anywhere towards the north. Thanks so much for sharing! 

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  • 2 weeks later...

A great report, thank you.

Excellent bird and scenery photos.

It is worrying that the rains carry on so late, and the problem with landslides.

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Zim Girl

Just caught up with the whole report.  Very interesting and the variety of birds is amazing - as were the pictures!

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