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TRIP REPORT KASHMIR LADAKH 14 DAY BIRDING

This trip in about clicking the birds at the highest altitudes of the country and takes about 14 days.

The first day is about reaching New Delhi from where Asian Adventures will transport you next day to Srinagar by noon. Thus, the actual trip begins at Srinagar and takes us though Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Kargil, Leh and areas of Ladakh.

I join the trip on the second day at Srinagar where I and local guides meet the tour guests and accompany them to the Ibrahim Houseboat where they can take rest for a while before the evening birding tour near the Dal Lake and in the forest near Shankaracharya Temple. A large number of waterfowls join the residents of Dal lake during migration. Black-
crowned Night Heron and Pied Kingfisher are resident. In summer, Clamorous Reed Warblers are common and a few Little Bittern inhabit the reed beds while Whiskered Terns hunt over the water. After an enjoyable evening I bring them back to the houseboat for a serene Sunset where lots of birds return to the nest. And overnight stay at the houseboat amid Kashmiri food and music is a an amazing experience especially for the foreign birders.

The third day begins at Sunrise when I take the birders to Dachigam National Park for a full-day birding tour. Tourists are delighted to know that Dachigam used to be a game reserve and was later turned into a National Park to protect Hangul, or Kashmir Stag. The park lists numbers more than 150 birds many of which breed. Dachigam is a big natural reserve requiring the permission of the Kashmir Bird watching Wildlife authorities for exploration purposes. And I ensure that all such permissions are in place well beforehand. Dachigam is divided into Lower Dachigam and Upper Dachigam. While Upper Dachigam is ideal for bird-watching and mammals in summer months on the other hand Lower Dachigam is ideal for watching mammals in the autumn and winter months and bird watching during spring. Among the most notable birds here are Besra, Northern Goshawk, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Himalayan Monal, and Tawny owl to name a few. Also, mammals like Hangul, Jackal, Langur, Leopard and Yellow-throat-ed Martens are common.

The fourth day is about a birding trip from Srinagar to Pahalgam and then back to the houseboats. I take tourists out at 5am in the morning to catch early birds enroute to Pahalgam via Hokarsar. The latter is a marshland which pulls several migratory birds and bird watchers every year. This is the best region to enjoy sights of large variety of ducks including Brahminy Duck, Tufted Duck, Garganey, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Gadwall and Northern Pintail. After full day birding, we drive back to Srinagar where the the tourists spend another night at the Houseboats.

The fifth day is about me leading the tourists and local guides to the Gulmarg Biosphere Reserve, which is some 50 kilometers away from Srinagar. And the two hour drive throws open a variety of birds. Avi-fauna at the reserve includes pheasants and upland birds amongst other resident and migratory species. Griffon Vulture, Snow Cock, Koklas Pheasant,
Monal Pheasant, Eurasian Hoopoe, Blue Rock Pigeon, Kashmir Roller, etc. are found here. Birders are elated to see such a vibrant display of coloured wings which also includes Coal tit, Rufous-naped tit, Fire-capped tit, Himalayan Woodpecker, Brown fronted woodpecker. Finally, post lunch birders tracked Tytler’s leaf warbler followed by Kashmir Nutcracker which we saw after a small hiatus. By the time we return to Srinagar by early evening where we can expect sights of Whiskered tern, Common Kingfisher and lots of black-eared kite around our houseboat. And ofcourse the Sunset at the Dal Lake – a sight to behold.

On the six morning we bid adieu to Srinagar and head to Kargil via Sonmarg. While the drive throws open a plethora of glimpses of birds from various regions in Kashmir, on the other hand Sonmarg is about capturing amazing clicks of the European goldfinch, Fire-fronted Serin, Pink browned rose Finch, Rock Bunting,Kashmir Flycatcher, Himalayan Woodpecker, Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Golden Eagle, White-capped Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Brown Dipper among the 150 plus winged beauties of the region. The guests, especially the ones from abroad, were delighted to catch close glimpses of Greenish warbler, Tytler’s leaf warbler, Brown-flanked bush warbler, Kashmir Nutcracker along with Kashmir nuthatch. Post lunch we drive to Kargil which is some five kilometers from Sonmarg. And we need to reach there before Sunset since temperature takes a sudden dip post that. Safer to reach before that and sit by the bonfire for an early dinner.

The seventh day is about birding enroute to Leh. As a guide I have to ensure that the guests reach Leh by early eveing, so we take only a few stops at the green as well as the barren lands, to capture a few birds in the cameras. But primarily this drive is about capturing the changing face of the landscape which is again a sight to behold – the magic of nature.

On the eight day I take the birders for an extensive birding tour of two different regions of Leh – the Shey Marshes in the morning and the Trishul Lake post Lunch. The first on the itinerary of the day are the Shey Marshes – a must visit place for any birder. Just 7 kms away from Leh, this region is famous for winged beauties like Eurasian Golden Oriole,Hume’s lesser white-throat, Ibisbill, little grebe, blue rock thrush, northern pintail, Eurasian Hobby,red-crested pochard, White-winged Redstart, Citrine Wagtail, Carrion Crow , tufted duck, common teal,Hume’s short-toed lark ,garganey, Streaked Rosefinch, plain mountain finch among others. Siena Charmaine of Polan was elated to see Black-billed Magpie, Reed Bunting, Mountain Chiffchaff, Humes Whitethroat, Carrion Crow, Eurasian Hobby, White- winged Redstart, Winter Wren, Ibisbill, Northern Lapwing, Common Rose finch, Black Redstart, Oriental Turtle Dove, Citrine & White Wagtail. Post an early lunch I take the tourists to the Trishul Lake. This lake is the best place to spot water birds like the Wall creeper, Ibis Bill, brown dipper, Mallard, Winter Wren, Solitary snipe, Comman Pochard, Ruddy shelduck. In the near by dry grounds, rocky hillsthe birders sighted the nesting Robin Accentor, a pair of Brown Accentor, the flying flock of Red fronted Serrain as well as the Long Leg Buzzard and Upland Buzzard. After a heartful birding experience and a lovely Sunset at the Trishul Lake, we retire for the night at the lodge in the mountains.

The ninth day is the most exciting one – tell many a birder to me, every time I bring different ones here. You may ask me why? This is because this day is not just about birding but also about discovering the exotix beauty of Leh as a barren-hill town landscaped by monasteries! The first half of teh day is spent bird watching at the Khardung La Pass – which is the region of the highest motorable road in the world. Enroute to this pass birders are excited to camera Khardungla birds like Chukar, Plain-backed Snowfinch, Wallcreeper, Brandt’s mountain Finch, Blue-fronted Redstart. Located at the height of appox 5,500 meters, Kahrdung La Pass gives us opportunity to see some very high altitude birds like Upland Buzzard, Little Owl, Snow Partridge, Great Rosefinch, Lammergier, Robin Accentor, Yellow & Red- billed choughs, Raven, Golden Eagle, etc. This birding tour ends by noon when the birders are drive to the Leh town where they can explore the local life and places. Birders spend the

10th Day travelling with me and lcoal guides to Puga stopping enroute for birding at Chumathang. Here the birds get amazing glimpses of the Golden Eagle, Common Merganser, Ibisbill, Horned Lark. Towards noon we sit around for lunch at the Sulphur Stream at Puga, which is the favourite spot of Black-necked Crane, Brown-headed Gull, Ruddy Shelduck etc. After an extensive birding, the birders enjoy the bonfire around their tented accomodation at Puga itself. Yes, we do not return to Leh, it is from Puga from where we will stride ahead.

Day eleven is about birding enroute from Puga to three regions namely and the pictureqsue Tso Moriri Lake. Morning excursion to the lakes for ruddy shelduck, bar-headed goose, ruff, lesser sand plover, white-winged black tern, long-legged buzzard etc. Black-necked crane is big a possibility too. Spend the noon and evening respectively at Namshang La and Thadsang Karu checking the bushes and shrubs amind rocky terrain for the Eurasian eagle-owl, white-winged redstart, robin accentor, Asian house martin, white-throated dipper, lammergeier etc. For night there is bonfire
waiting birders at the Puga Camp tents.

On the twelfth day I take the birders from Puga to Across Polo Konga and then to Tso Kar before we return to Leh. Enroute to and at the Polo Kongka Pass, one can enjoy the sights of large flocks of Brandt’s Mountain Finch. Explore the area for little owl, Tibetan sandgrouse, plain-backed snowfinch etc. Horned lark, Hume’s short-toed lark and Tibetan snowfinch. Post lunch I direct the birders to “Tsokar” – meaning the WHITE LAKE OR SALTY LAKE in local language. Orinithologists consider it among the best birding place in Ladakh which is famous for Tibtan Wild Ass & endangered Black- necked Cranes. And if the birders are lucky, the birders get great glimpses of breeding Bar-headed Geese & Ruddy Shelduks. Other birds here include Great-horned Lark, Tibetal Snow Finch, Plain-backed Snowfinch, Twite, Eurasian Linnet, Streated & Great Rosefinch, Raven, Tibetal Partridge, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Red-throated Pipit, Altai Accentor, Hill Pigeon, Brown-headed Gulls, Red-crested Pochard etc. As the is about to set, I take the trip members to for spotting Eurasian Nightjar, Upland Buzzard, Little Owl, etc before we head back to Leh. The last two days of the trip are about transporting the birders back to Delhi from where they will head back to their homelands. The high Altitude regions of Kashmir and Ladakh are infact miracles of nature to showcase how life thrives even in the harshest climates. So when are you taking our trip?