The dusty safari track seemed never-ending to the naked eye. While it was always the impala crossing from one side of the road to another, it was pleasant surprise to see the tallest animal of the African bush block our path and watch us with curiosity. A minute later, the second one joined and together they crossed the track.
As we moved ahead, we spotted a herd of giraffe on our left. Counting upto five individuals, only two were out in the open. The rest of the herd hidden behind the tall tree and only their heads gave away!
Two individuals however, stood motionless looking across the road. Sensing some predator movement, we scanned the area but it didn’t bear any fruit.
Leaving the herd, we moved ahead and later in the evening came across a tusker enjoying a mud bath. That post is for another day.
Pangot is a hill station not too far from the popular Nainital. My first visit was in the year 2013, and the first morning I woke up to snow everywhere and a horde of white-throated laughing thrush on a tree outside my room.
Last year, Mahesh and I travelled to Pangot, post Sattal, Munsiyari and Khaliya Top. We stayed in a comfortable guesthouse called Kafal House with friendly and courteous staff and simple tasty food.
At Kafal House, a bird bath and a few perches were set up. Our sessions started at the set-up which attracted common birds like the white-throated laughing thrush, black-headed jay, grey-winged blackbird, rufous-chinned laughing thrush, himalayan bulbul. Other exciting species were the rusty-cheeked scimitar babbler, chestnut-crowned laughing thrush, spot-winged grosbeak, oriental turtle dove to name a few.
Spot-winged Grosbeak (m)
Spot-winged Grosbeak (f)
The plum trees surrounding Kafal House were in full bloom and many russet sparrows were seen perched on these trees. My favourite picture of the sparrow is shared below.
On another day, we left in the early hours hoping to reach another birding destination called Vinayak which is immensely popular for the cheer pheasant. Barely few kilometers from our lodging house, we bumped into a pair of koklass pheasants. Extremely low light conditions prevented any good photographs.
Our trip to Vinayak for the cheer pheasants was unsuccessful, but it did yield a few landscape photographs. In the picture below, early morning rays kiss the mountain top.
A drive down the road from Kafal House was productive too. A long awaited picture of the verditer flycatcher was finally done.
Langur! They were everywhere and how does one avoid bumping in to them or seeing them? Here is one photograph when I caught an individual making faces at me.
Bad weather on a couple of days did affect birding but it was still an enjoyable trip. I prefer Pangot as a destination to Sattal, simply because it is very picturesque. I long to go there soon!
List of birds photographed in Pangot and neighbouring areas:
Sattal and its surrounding areas have always fascinated me. Since my first visit to the hill station way back in October 2010 and again in 2013, it has been in my thoughts time and again.
Last year March, I visited this place again with friends Mahesh and Sridhar who made their maiden trip to this birding haven. A week long bird photography trip was planned with the very popular Hari Lama, an excellent guide based in Sattal.
Here is a short compilation of images starting with the photography hide at Birders Den, Sattal.
Birding along the road had its own advantages too! We were lucky to get a Green-tailed Sunbird (female) as she was speedily moving from one branch to another.
The search for the White-crested Laughing Thrush led us to a spot along the highway and lo behold, a sight worth remembering.
Best things in life come in small packages… And the tiny package in the form of Red-billed Leothrix made a few appearances during our time on the road.
Not far from Sattal is an area called Chafi which is primarily for birding by the river. Birds like the shy Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher, Wallcreeper, Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstart, Spotted Forktail are the top birds on the list of usual suspects there.
Despite an unlucky occasion when I had branches covering my best angle, I got lucky on the second attempt shooting the Brown Dipper.
The list of birds photographed in Sattal and its neighbouring areas is given here under:
Many steppe eagles were seen en route to Munsiyari. Despite our eagerness to stop and capture these raptors, the guide suggested we do that on our return to Sattal. As we continued our long drive, quite a few virtual images of this magnificent raptor were imprinted in my mind.
Few days later the opportunity to convert those virtual images to real ones came along. After crossing Almora district, we spotted a few steppe eagles by the roadside. Urging the guide and driver to stop, I fixed a teleconverter to the lens for farther reach. With whatever light that remained of the evening and a cooperative bird, I made a series of images.
An opportunity to shoot the steppe eagle on two of my previous trips to Sattal were wasted due to camera issues. This image was the best of the series and immensely satisfying.
Shot with: Canon 1D Mark IV + 500 f4 IS + 1.4 TC III
This fleeting bird had been a topic of discussion among birders and a lucky few had sighted it. Annual visitor to Ooty and its surrounding areas of higher elevation, it remained elusive to most. The precise location of this species was unknown for most times, hence lesser known sightings.
That year, news of this bird being sighted in the Botanical Garden of Ooty spread like wildfire. A weekend trip with friends was planned and off we went in search of the Kashmiri and a few other endemic birds of the Western Ghats.
Staying mostly in the canopy of trees and shrubs, the Kashmiri came out in the open only to flash-feed. Keeping a track of the flycatcher’s movements, only one time he perched on the dry log. I pulled the camera off the tripod, rushed to the spot, knelt and took a few pictures. This tiny birdie made me run around in circles for this satisfactory picture.