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Birding Trip Report

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Sikkim and West Bengal, India 28 March -15 April 2004
Report compiled by Roger Ahlman

INTRODUCTION

We decided to do a three week hardcore birding trip to the northeastern part of India in the Himalayas. Originally we had ideas of doing it on our own by hiring vehicles, finding hotels en route and buying food. We did however find Gorudongma tours and treks on the internet and asked for their prices and services. We got a price for a full package including guide and all transports, food and accomodations. We accepted and we never regretted this. We can strongly recommened any birders to use the excellent services of Gurudongma Tours and Treks with Peter Lobo as guide. He knows the birds well although he lacked a bit regarding the sounds. The logistics worked as good as it possibly could and we are highly satisfied with all arrangements.
 

 
 

Participants on this trip were:
Roger Ahlman, Värnamo, Sweden          All photos taken by Roger
Christer Brostam, Täby, Sweden
Seppo Haavisto, Vallentuna, Sweden
Lars Högström, Gårdby, Sweden
Ulf Karlsson, Farsta, Sweden
Anders Lundkvist, Gårdby, Sweden

Red tapes
None. We found people up here to be very friendly and honest. The roads are generally narrow and not very good but our drivers were careful. Only in Siliguri we found a few mosquitos and at lake Khecheoperi leeches were plentiful.

Equipment
All of us had high quality binoculars and good telescopes too. Telescopes are very useful in all situations except when walking in dense forest. Roger had two MiniDisc taperecorders and microphone. We also had Birds of Nepal and Birds of the Himalayas tapes (Scott Connop) for playback and reference. Peter Lobo also had a taperecorder with prerecordings. Using tape playback is vital to see some species like Shortwings, Scimitar-babblers etc.

We all had the Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent (Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp 1999) and also one copy of the bigger version with more text. This book was very useful as a reference. We also had Birds of Thailand and south-east asia (Craig Robson 2000). This book covers Burma and thus is very useful for northeast India, specially since the pictures are very good and also the sound descriptions are very good. It is also more up-to-date regarding taxonomy, for instance the Seicercus warblers. The pocket guide is reasonably good but as you bird you realise that the pictures are not perfect.

Gurudongma Tours & Treks
Gurudongma House, Hilltop,
Kalimpong, 734301, India
Phone: 91-3552-255204
Fax: 91-3552-259146
e-mail: gurutt@sancharnet.in
e-mail: gurutt@satyam.net.in
web: Tours & Treks: www.gurudongma.com 
web: Birding: www.birdingindiatours.com

BIRDING SITES

East Metropolian Bye Pass, Calcutta

We had a few hours before our flight from Calcutta to Bagdogra and got info about an easy-to-visit site from Sumit Sen at Calcutta birdclub. Thank you Sumit! To find this site drive from the airport to Ruby hospital. Go straight past the hospital, cross a bridge and after about a kilometre there is a dirttrack to the left with some paddies and wasteland on either side. This is a good site for Bengal bushlark and some wetland birds. 30 minutes from the airport.

Mahananda Wildlife Sanctury (Mahananda WS)

This site is only about 20 mins north of Siliguri. We birded the first afternoon at a site called Sorea. The next two full days were spent in the west and south part of the park and also walked along the river Teesta riverbed. As it is in the lowlands the wheather was hot. The forest was very dry and birding not very good. The understorey was almost completely clean of birds and very few birds were singing. This site is probably better when the area is wetter.

Mahananda Forest Reserve (Mahananda FR)

This site is nearby but in the foothills and thus with a different avifauna. Higher up, at about 600 m, bamboo started to be a sigificant part of the vegetation and we started to see more birds. This site was also very dry. One full day was spent along the road from 250-800 metres. Birds seen at both the lowlands and the foothills are put as Mahananda.

Samtar

This is where Gurudongma has a farmhouse with great hospitality. We started to bird about 20 mins back from the house along the road. The habitat is dry scrub with some patches of forest. The altitude around 1000-1500 metres. We birded here for a full day. Birding was very good.

Lava

This is a traditional site about 45 mins from Kalimpong. If reading tripreports most people bird the road around Lava and also the nearby Neora trail. We spend one full day walking the absolutely superb Pipeline trail. This trail is 11 kms and goes from 1960 m down to about 1700 and then steep up to 1860 when it meets the main road back to Kalimpong about 10 kms from Lava. The trail goes through excellent forest and gently sloping downhill along the pipeline. Lots of birds and we encountred many flocks. Birding was however challenging as the flocks were moving very fast.
Day two was spent on the track up the Neora valley. Rather slow birding compared to the day before.

Sandakphu trek
We spent five full and two half days on this trek. From Manaybanjang at 2000 m the 31 km jeeptrack ascends to 3660 m at Sandakphu and the birds vary accordingly as do the scenery. Nights were spent in trekkers huts along the track. We were unfortune to have too much fog/low clouds on this trek. We also had two afternoons completely lost to rain. During the second night at Sandakphu some snow and hail fell. The next morning was clear and produced some birds and a spectacular scenery of the Kanchenzonga massif.

Map of Sandakphu and the Sandakphu Trek
Map of Sandakphu and the Sandakphu Trek.


Best birding was undoubtedly around the Gairibas lodge at about 2600 m. Birding around the Tumlin lodge was completly useless and, although the food and accomodation here was good, another night at Gairibas is better.


Hilley

This small cluster of houses in western Sikkim offered very good birding and is also the launching point for visiting the Varsey Rhododendron Sanctury. We camped here two nights and birded the road back. The first two-three kilometres goes through open country with patches of bamboo but still birding was good. The road then enters good forest and birding was very good. Broad-billed warbler was found to be rather common here once we learned the song.

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Bird photographs by Yashodhan Bhatia,

Ronald Saldino,  Niels Poul Dryer, Ketil Knudsen
Kalypso Adventures & Gurudongma Team
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