Chopta Birding in an Asthmatic Ertiga – Part Four

Read part three here.

The next morning we were in the car at the crack of 5:30, for it takes an hour to drive from Ukhimath to Chopta, and we didn’t want to be late on this crucial day of looking for monals and tahrs. 

En route our paths crossed with those of quite a few kalij pheasants, but none could be photographed due to the light conditions being quite appalling. Further up, past the Sari deviation, and the first bridge thereafter, we saw a grey-winged blackbird flit across the road and take up a perch. To our delight, it stayed until I could get a portrait.

The rest of the drive up to Chopta, and past the Tungnath base, was uneventful, except on bad stretches of road, with four adults in the car (including Dinesh and his brother, Mukesh), I had to ride the clutch quite a bit to have enough torque to climb. 

In good time we reached the little stretch past Chopta, where I had seen a tahr and several monals right on the road four years before. Dinesh spotted an Alpine accentor, which we promptly got off from the car and climbed up a rise to photograph. 

Further up, we finally saw the first monal of the trip, high up to the left of the road, a female. And not far from her was a pair of Himalayan tahrs!

Neither opportunity was photographically satisfying, so observing them to our hearts’ content with binoculars, we moved ahead, to find a male monal this time, across the valley on a hill on the on the opposite side. Although far away, it made for a nice set of habitat pictures.

With the number-one target species of the trip seen to the heart’s content, it was time to pursue the second – the koklass pheasant – but we didn’t have much luck with it, despite driving towards Mandal, and walking some way up the temple path at the hairpin along the way.

By now it was past 9, so we turned back and drove slowly back to Chopta.

At Chopta we sat down to breakfast. Just as we were finishing downing our tea, Dinesh, who was already out and about, called out to us frantically, and we plugged the distance to him with a swift run, to find a pair of stripe-throated yuhinas flitting among rhododendron flowers.

Not far away, I found an incredibly bold rufous-gorgeted flycatcher. Following this success, we got into the car and started driving back towards Ukhimath, and were stopped dead in our tracks betimes, by a yellow-throated marten who shot past the road and then assumed a rocky vantage point whence he watched us with keenness for sometime, before moving on.

Then, past Baniyakund, not far from the dhaba in which we had had tea the previous morning, we managed to make portraits of several species, including coal tit, rufous sibia and green-tailed sunbird, on a lovely rhodo tree.

With that, it was time to return to the homestay, but that didn’t mean there was a hiatus in the birding, with verditer flycatcher and Himalayan griffon photographed right from the luxury of our patio!

The amply comely verditer flycatcher

When we set out again that afternoon, the fuel reserves seemed to be depleting to dangerous levels, with the instrument cluster forecasting a range of merely 30 kilometres, so it was time to pay a visit to the petrol pump, in Chunni. While there, I was fortunate to find a slaty-headed parakeet. 

Then it was time to go to the riverside, and bird from the bridge, where a female kalij pheasant was perched interestingly. Then, on the honeyguide path, I managed to snap up a streaked laughingthrush. Witnessing a dip in activity, we decided to drive back towards Ukhimath, and found a Himalayan bulbul perched beautifully.

There were a couple of great barbets decorating the trees, but none perched well enough for beautiful photographs. Driving ahead, Mukesh ordered the vehicle to a halt when he spotted a pair of common rosefinch.

Then we dropped off Dinesh and carried on further up just to see what else we could find, and a rhesus macaque sitting dramatically on a precipice was the answer.

We pulled over at the Brahmakamal dhaba to end the evening with a cup of tea. Across the valley, on the opposite hill, a fire was raging, and the singed forest was rising to the sky. Wildfires are almost always caused by humans, and with deliberate intent, and having seen several such conflagrations already on the trip was dispiriting. Sourabha made this image that was rife with irony, before we returned to camp:

A forest burns while we have smoking-hot tea. Image by Sourabha on iPhone 11.

Read part five here.

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