Dates: 8-13 Dec ‘17
A and I spent five days at a tiny settlement called Bayali in the Shivaliks. Although it was a family outing, we did get considerable time to savour the wildlife in the area.
The mornings were bitterly cold and eschewing Gypsy drives through the forest, we chose instead to bird around the settlement. Evenings were spent driving down through the forest, towards the Vindhyavashini temple some fifteen or twenty kilometres away.
We set out one forenoon to a place called Kanda Khal – which is essentially a little cluster of shops lining the road – and took a path that plunges into the valley from here. A grueling climb up the opposite slope took us through some spectacular birding spots, to a sparse cluster of homesteads called Basaan and then to a slightly larger village called Kasaan, before descending via a circuitous route to meet the waiting Gypsy on the road. The trek lasted a few hours and took us past a grim scar on the hillside where in the July of 2006, two cloudbursts triggered landslides that destroyed a homestead, killing five people in the process.
On another afternoon, we drove down to the Tal river valley and spent a while sighting goral on the surrounding slopes. We saw a small Accipiter here which we initially assumed to be a Eurasian sparrowhawk – but I’m not certain now after checking. We flushed a small flock of quail which promptly disappeared into the lantana before they could be identified.
Tattoo fern, possibly Pteridium sp. Leaves a delightful white print on the skin.
Commonly seen species included Great barbet (whose call was often heard), Lineated barbet, White-throated and White-browed fantail, Grey bushchat, a Tree-creeper (we didn’t know which), Grey-headed woodpecker, Himalayan flameback and Black-chinned babbler. There was a species of prinia (possibly) in gregarious flocks around Bayali, greenish brown in the upper parts, with a pale supercilium, white underparts, a prominent white throat and black barring on the underside of the tail. We were not able to conclusively ID this bird (non-breeding form of the Grey-breasted prinia?). We made the mistake of not noting the call – this would have made the task easier.
There were enormous flocks of Eurasian tree sparrow (or maybe Russet sparrow) in the lantana thickets. Vultures (& eagles on occasion) were seen overhead several times but we were unable to ID them. Plumbeous and White-capped water redstart were seen by the streams and rivers. In and around Kasaan were several flocks of Streaked laughingthrush. We spotted what appeared to be a Brown fish owl in flight once.
We also saw Black-lored tit, Lemon-rumped warbler, Grey treepie, Blue whistling thrush, Mrs. Gould’s sunbird, Grey-hooded warbler and the spectacular Yellow-billed blue magpie.
More pedestrian species (if I dare call them that) included Oriented turtle dove, plenty of Indian treepie & bulbul (Himalayan, Red-whiskered and Red-vented in equal measure), Cinereous tit, Velvet-fronted nuthatch, Oriental white-eye, Indian robin, River lapwing, White and Yellow wagtail, Ashy-crowned sparrowlark, Long-tailed shrike, Coppersmith barbet, Plum-headed parakeet, Paddyfield pipit (I think), Greenish and Dusky warbler, Magpie robin, Tailorbird, White-throated kingfisher, Jungle owlet, Orange minivet, Red junglefowl (hens only, for some reason), peafowl, Black-hooded oriole, Jungle babbler and Asian pied starling.
The drives turned up some interesting experiences. We were on our way to the Vindhyavashini temple one evening when we stopped to look at a flameback (Himalayan I think). The woodpecker fled to a tree some distance away. All of a sudden, a shikra swooped in out of nowhere and barrelled straight for the flameback, which in turn squealed and dived for the undergrowth. This set off an excited chattering amongst the other avifauna around, which subsided once the shikra exited the scene as rapidly as it had entered it.
There’s a sharp turn to the left at one point, angled at almost ninety degrees. We were approaching this turn when the sharp, ascending notes of a Changeable hawk eagle shattered the stillness of the forest. We found the raptor feeding off a chital kill, on a branch some twenty feet up and not too far from the roadside. The kill appeared fresh and we bookmarked the tree for a dekko on the return journey.
It was well after dark when we made our way back and we swerved the jeep at an angle and climbed the gentle embankment by the roadside to light up the branch broadside on. Sure enough, the owner of the kill was there, feeding greedily on the carcass. So sharp was his hunger that the leopard didn’t glance our way once. We watched for a while and then left him to his meal.
On crossing the Kaudia checkpost, the road winds through flat land for a few kilometres before it begins its ascent into the hills. The forest here is old growth Sal, with Rohini (Mallotus phillipinensis) and Hill glorybower (Clerodendrum infortunatum) among others in the understorey. A and I were being driven back along this road well after dark one evening when she caught fleeting sight of a large feline on the road ahead. Our driver Suraj caught sight of it a second later. With the Gypsy approaching, the cat nimbly stepped off the road and into the dense thickets. I had my eyes on the undergrowth on the far side and by the time I was alerted, all I could see were swaying branches with the cat out of sight. Suraj surmised that it was a leopard, but based on its size and behaviour, A felt she’d sighted her first wild tiger.