Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sightseeing and birding in Srinagar

Our journey to Srinagar was uneventful… however our stay was anything but! Having never been to the beautiful city, I looked forward to discovering whether Srinagar quite lived up to the sometimes (over) hyped descriptions of it. Especially the birding to be had there. Though nowhere in our itinerary was a birding excursion planned, I had high hopes of spotting at least the common and some not-so-common winged specimens during our sightseeing there.

The first evening after reaching was spent just recuperating from the journey which had been rather tiring. A few of our party including the children discovered renewed energy on seeing the mulberry trees surrounding the holiday home which was to be our base in Srinagar. A half hour of pandemonium followed with everyone reaching out to the nearest branches which were absolutely covered with the fruit.

Tickell's Laughingthrush (F)
At dusk we noticed a pair of birds on the lawns, probably trying to appease the insatiable appetite of fledglings in the nest since they kept making harried trips to and from the tree nearby. To be absolutely fair, it was the female who did most of the foraging while the male kept a lookout. They were a pair of Tickell’s Laughingthrush as I later confirmed from my birding guide.

The next morning, our time out was at 0800 hrs, so we thought a short walk early in the morning might yield some birds. The dawn breaks very early there and to our amazement, it was light before 5 am and we awoke to the chirping of the numerous birds busily going about their morning’s business. Quickly, we got ready and were out. Considering the morning haze and the low-lying clouds, we did not expect much but did see some Himalayan bulbuls, sparrows (which were ubiquitous), common stonechats, black kites, an unidentified eagle, a bay backed shrike, sunbirds, black bulbuls and doves. Not bad for an hour’s walk.


Visited Pahalgam in the day. What an outstandingly beautiful countryside it is. We saw the saffron fields on the way, stopping to buy some too. Halfway there, the canal from the river appeared alongside the road. So now we were travelling beside the hasty waters of the irrigation canals with their brightly festooned floral edges keeping us mesmerised. Soon enough, we came upon the river Lidder and followed its banks upstream to Pahalgam. A little stroll along the river yielded plumbeous water redstarts, grey herons, lots of pond herons and blue rock thrushes.  
Plumbeous water Redstart (M)


Plumbeous water Redstart (F)


Grey Heron
On the way back we stopped by a stream to have a little impromptu picnic. What a heavenly feeling to gingerly dip one’s toes in the ice cold waters and feel all the fatigue from the day miraculously melt away…


At dusk, the pair of Tickell’s Laughingthrush was again busily foraging on the lawns. They were pretty confiding and really allowed us the time to observe them. A movement caught my attention and I followed to find a brown fronted woodpecker! Unfortunately, the light was so far gone by then that the best picture I could manage was one which only confirmed identity, not otherwise printable!

Grey Bushchat (M)

Grey Bushchat (F)
 
The next day’s routine was much the same except that the destination was Gulmarg. Spotted a booted eagle with a kill during our morning walk. Quite a sight that was!

Booted (?) Eagle with prey
The route to Gulmarg is not as picturesque as the one to Pahalgam. All the same, it had it’s own perks. The numerous road-side stands selling cherries and strawberries were very tempting and needless to say, we promptly stopped to buy some. YUMMM! The best cherries I have ever had!

Gulmarg was beautiful. The ski slopes were snow capped only in the upper reaches while the lower ground was a glorious carpet of lush green grass and the most vibrant flowers… Even the grass on the edges of the roads was like manicured perfection.

Russet Sparrow


Blue rock Thrush

The place was teeming with birds as soon as we left the cacophony of the touts behind us. There were numerous russet sparrows, grey bushchat pairs, abundant blue rock thrushes, various warblers and of course, the black kites.




The way back through the walnut tree-lined avenues was otherwise quiet and we made good time, getting back to Srinagar with time to catch a Shikara ride at the Dal lake. The waters of the Dal are totally infested with weeds and efforts are on to remove them. Hope it happens sooner than later and restores the fabled beauty of the place.

Black crowned night Heron

No sooner had we set out in the Shikara, that we saw black bellied terns circling around. A little further off, we noticed a coot, a few watercock chicks with their mom keeping an eye on them, a few pond herons and a black crowned night heron.

Back to our holiday home and we decided to turn in early for the next leg of our trip to Kargil and Leh. I will cover that part of the journey in my next instalment. We did come back to Srinagar to board the flight back to Delhi and onwards to Goa. We were in Srinagar then for a day, visiting the gardens and lakes. A lot of the fruit trees drew our attention since they were laden with fruit… apricots, mulberries, cherries, apples (still pretty raw) and walnuts.

Himalayan Bulbul









Eurasian Goldfinch

The highlight of this day was the excellent birding in the evening with sightings of the Eurasian goldfinch, the oriental white eyes, the lesser whitethroat, golden orioles which were common, paradise flycatchers, streaked Laughingthrush, numerous great tits and the omnipresent bulbuls. We were totally surprised to see the blue headed rock thrush there which we see in Goa quite regularly.

Oriental White eye

Common Stonechat

Streaked Laughingthrush


Lesser Whitethroat

Great tit

Apricot laden tree
It was an amazing journey through the magical valley of Kashmir. I left with the promise that I would be back. Some day.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Kranti,
    It felt lovely to mentally revist the places of my childhood, and join you in your wondrous journey!!LOVED the pictures!! They're very good quality, your new camera's great...I never cease to be amazed at your vast knowledge of birds of every region, and your dogged determination in making every trip an opportunity to capture them for posterity :-)
    May I suggest that since each and every picture here and the accompanying description deserves to be savoured and read, maybe you should split up the post into two, three or even four, so that you leave your readers wanting for more....?? Great going, and looking forward to more such stuff...which means more travel...this time round count me in :)

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  2. Thanks Smita! The next installment is the Leh bit... That should be interesting too. And yes, your comments are always very motivating, thank you very much:-)

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  3. Dear,

    I really loved the photographs of the smaller birds...great clarity!!!

    b.wishes
    Sabrina

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  4. Thank you Sabrina! I'm glad you enjoyed the post...

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