Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lifebird #5000 at Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park

When I returned to Kathmandu from Chitwan, I knew that I was close to seeing my 5000th lifebird; my first estimate was that I was about 30 birds away, but I also knew that there were likely some errors in my lifelist spreadsheet, ones I had forgotten to add during recent tours and trips, and various splits I hadn’t noticed. So in the next few days I carefully compared my spreadsheet and everything I had in eBird, and I had to do some research on photos and sound recordings of birds I had made in Africa over four years ago and hadn’t quite caught up on. I also found some errors of omission from my Australia trip 7 1/2 years ago. It turns out my lifelist stood at 4995 after Chitwan. Add two lifers right in Mich’s yard (migrant Golden-spectacled Warber and Amur Falcon) in the following week and a half, we were both pretty certain that a morning of birding in Shivapuri-Nagarjun National on the outskirts of Kathmandu would put me over the edge.

For the second annual World Big Day of Birding on May 14, Mich and I were joined by Rajendra Sawal, who works for the WWF and whom Mich met through his contacts at the US embassy. One of Rajendra's claims to fame is having guided Jimmy Carter on birding trips in Nepal, in fact right along this road.

We weren’t doing a real big day, which is a 24-hour race to see as many birds as possible; we were using this half day of birding as an excuse to boost eBird’s world total for the day, and of course I was looking forward to my 5000th bird, only three away.

My first lifer was Speckled Piculet, a bird I have long wanted to see. An amazing quirk of biogeography, it is in the genus Picumnus, shown by genetic studies to be more closely related to all the piculets of of Central and South America than it is to the three species of Sasia piculets found from Africa to SE Asia. (But all of them form a distinct subfamily within the woodpecker family.)

This Slaty-backed Forktail was my second lifer.
Slaty-backed Forktail

They love to be near water, like this rushing creek.

We came across a huge amount of bird activity the form of mixed flocks. In them we had several Lesser Yellownapes, a woodpecker I had first seen at Chitwan National Park.
Lesser Yellownape

It had rained overnight and into the early morning,  and the mist was lifting from the forested hillsides.

We heard several Golden-throated Barbets and finally saw a couple in a tree just above eye level.
Golden-throated Barbet

Muntjac were everywhere, but still shy. They make an explosive snort that gives them their alternate name, Barking Deer.

Then we saw a bird that might have been my 5000th – but I couldn’t remember if I had seen Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo in Borneo three years ago. I certainly had seen either Greater or Lesser, or maybe both, but wasn’t sure. And then we saw White-bellied Erpornis, the first Old World bird recently to be recognized as being a member of Vireonidae, which until then had originally been strictly a New World family. But then again, I couldn’t remember if I had seen it in Borneo or not. It’s a rather tit-like, arboreal, greenish bird with not much in the way of field marks, and I do remember at least hoping to see it Borneo. To make a long story short, back at Mich’s I found that both were indeed lifers and at first declared the Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo #5000. But then a few days later I discovered that I had to remove Changeable Hawk-Eagle as a lifer from Chitwan, as the bad photo I had gotten showed it was only an immature Gray-headed Fish-Eagle. So now as it stands, the very cool White-bellied Erpornis takes the honor.

As the sun came out, so did some nice butterflies, all new for me. Orinoma damaris, Tiger Brown.
Orinoma damaris, Tiger Brown

Ypthima sakra, Himalayan Five-ring

Lethe confusa confusa, Banded Treebrown

Delia sanaca oreas, Pale Jezabel
Delia sanaca oreas, Pale Jezabel

Much of the time we were on an old road that gradually gained elevation, but then we got onto a trail that went straight up the mountainside, and the habitat became moister and more temperate.

Here’s a view looking down to Kathmandu’s northeastern outskirts.

We hiked until we were in a beautiful forest with some big trees.

There was even a bit of seeding bamboo, but none of the birds that specialize in this habitat (such as parrotbills) were here.

At the highest point in our hike, at 2300 meters, we coaxed out a singing Snowy-browed Flycatcher from the mid-story, a hard bird to see well (and even harder to photograph).
Snowy-browed Flycatcher

This fragrant orchid, Coelogyne corymbosa, was abundant on the trees at the higher elevations.
Coelogyne corymbosa, Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park

I then had brief views of one last lifer (which turns out to be #5001), a White-tailed Robin, before we had to head back down the mountain.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Two Visits to Chitwan National Park, Nepal

During our four days in Sauraha, I visited Chitwan National Park twice. It’s kind of a hassle, as you have to get a ticket to enter each day, at a cost of about $17, and the booth doesn’t open until 6:30 a.m., an hour after sunrise. On our first day, Andrew and I hired a jeep and driver and the obligate guide for a full day. A couple days later I did a half-day walking trip into the park, hiring a local guide and a park ranger – two guides are required on walking tours for safety from the dangers of Indian Rhinoceros and Tigers.

Our guide for the full day was young Abinash and his son. This being Saturday, the only weekend day for Nepalis, his son wasn’t in school for the day, and mom was busy.

The first step to entering the park is crossing the East Rapti River. We did this along with a throng of other tourists, mostly Nepalis on their day off.

From the banks we could see a few Gavialis gangeticus, the Gharial, a long-snouted crocodilian.
Gavialis gangeticus, Gharial

...and the huge, distantly related Crocodylus palustris, Mugger Crocodile.
Crocodylus palustris, Mugger Crocodile

An Indian Peafowl – yes, a real wild one – was on the on same river bank
Indian Peafowl

Red-wattled Lapwing is common in this area, and a pair were apparently protecting a nest, diving on all the tourists arriving on the south bank.
Red-wattled Lapwing

This Sand Lark was foraging quietly near the lapwings.
Sand Lark

During our drive I made the driver stop incessantly for birds, but Andrew was very patient. The Long-tailed Shrikes here have a solid black cap here, unlike the masked ones from the Kathmandu Valley.
 Long-tailed Shrikes

I saw so many new birds, but we were largely limited to seeing things from the back of the jeep. This is a Greater Flameback, one of 61 lifebirds I saw here.
Greater Flameback

Our first Indian Rhinoceros was sleeping just off the road – this animal is one of the main attractions in the park.
Indian Rhinoceros

Crimson Sunbird, an abundant bird in all forest types.
Crimson Sunbird

An interesting habitat is this grassland with scattered kapok (Bombax ceiba) trees.

A Semnopithecus hector, Tarai Gray Langur, closely related to the Nepal Gray Langur we saw in the high mountains.
Semnopithecus hector, Tarai Gray Langur

This was my lifer pair of Red-breasted Parakeets, one of several species of confusing Psittacula possible here. One can identify them by voice, but that takes a lot of experience to get down pat. I was lucky to have three species perched and a fourth easily identified by its huge size and low voice (Alexandrine).
Red-breasted Parakeets

We saw a few Lesser Adjutants, a stork resembling the Marabou of Africa, but most were in very distant flight like this one.
Lesser Adjutant

Jungle Owlet was common here, and the little birds loved to harass them.
Jungle Owlet

We had three of these very handsome Oriental Pied-Hornbills.
Oriental Pied-Hornbills

The wild ancestor of domestic chicken, Red Junglefowl is truly a wild and countable bird here. We heard them crow all the time, making it seem like we were just around the corner from a farm.
Red Junglefowl

Our second rhino showed us only his butt.
Indian Rhinoceros

One of many termite mounds we saw. The Sloth Bear does eat termites, but it seems to prefer to dig up subterranean ones rather than destroy these beautiful structures.

Mich identified this lifer Gray-bellied Cuckoo for me only after I got back to Kathmandu with all my unedited photos. I did remember photographing this as an unknown bird, then got distracted by the next one and plumb forgot about it.
Gray-bellied Cuckoo

The bird that distracted me as I was snapping the above photo, was this Common Hawk-Cuckoo that Andrew spotted sunning in the middle of the road. It's called a hawk-cuckoo (among several other species), as it looks very much like an accipiter in flight, in build and feather patterning.

We stopped to check the wildlife around two old oxbow channels of the river. Bronze-winged Jacanas were at both.
Bronze-winged Jacanas

This Varanus flavescens, Yellow Monitor was a good 3 meters off the ground.
Varanus flavescens, Yellow Monitor

The only Oriental Honey-buzzard we saw.
Oriental Honey-buzzard

We took a long break to wander around the Gharial breeding center, an attempt to prevent the complete disappearance of this critically endangered species. A measurable proportion of the world’s population is in these pens.

Gavialis gangeticus, Gharial

This hairstreak Arhopala amantes, Large Oakblue, was abundant in the forest understory.
Arhopala amantes, Large Oakblue

I watched several Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches interacting at very close range.
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches

This Chestnut-headed Bee-eater is one of four species of bee-eater we saw today.
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

We had three Gray-headed Fish-Eagles at a second oxbow.
Gray-headed Fish-Eagles

I couldn’t get a photo of this gorgeous Indian Paradise-Flycatcher showing his ridiculously long tail.
Indian Paradise-Flycatcher

White-throated Kingfisher is amazingly common here.
White-throated Kingfisher

These Pied Kingfishers were at also at the second oxbow.
Pied Kingfisher

White-breasted Waterhen is found in all sorts of wet ditches, hedges, and pond edges.
White-breasted Waterhen

The Red-breasted Parakeet from earlier distracted me from looking more closely at the tree. Then we had some of them closer to the road and I recognized the fruits from a tree in the Pantanal of Brazil. Indeed it’s in the same genus, Sterculia.
Sterculia sp.

My best photo of the very attractive Plum-headed Parakeet.
Plum-headed Parakeet

This Streak-throated Woodpecker is one of the most common woodpeckers here.
Streak-throated Woodpecker

We saw many Axis axis, Chital (or Spotted Deer) throughout our drive. We also saw and heard several Muntjac and one huge Sambar.
Axis axis, Chital

A few Indian Rollers were in the forest mid-story, most attractive in flight.
Indian Roller

Here we passed through and area of elephant grass savannah.

Andrew in the back of our Jeep.

And the boat ride back to Sauraha.

This rhino was cooling off in the river just below the bank, and a huge group of people had gathered to watch it.
Indian Rhinoceros

Indian Rhinoceros

On my morning walking tour two days later, I hired Prem, whom we had met the previous afternoon. He knew his birds quite well, and our park guard Som was also exceptionally good with their voices.

This rhino was visible from the bank before we crossed the river.
Indian Rhinoceros

This Oriental Honey-buzzard flushed in the riparian forest understory, which didn’t have many birds (through Orange-headed Thrush was a highlight).
Oriental Honey-buzzard

This appears to be Dysdercus koenigii, called the red cotton bug by my guides. They were abundant on tree trunks all over the park, and even a few were the hotel garden.
Dysdercus koenigii, red cotton bug

One has a better chance for Tiger deep in the national park, but they are also here at the edge. This is my pen and fresh Tiger track in the dust. An Indian Muntjac (also called Barking Deer) was making a racket in the forest a couple hundred meters away; my guides suggested it was possible that this Tiger was stalking it.

Much more common, but still not seen by us today is Sloth Bear. Here is the result of their termite diggings.

We found most of our birds, and a bunch of really good ones, in the savanna habitat. Striated Grassbird and Spotted Bush-Warbler were two of the more interesting ones, but they were impossible to photograph. Easier was this Chestnut-capped Babbler.
Chestnut-capped Babbler

Striated Babbler was common as well, but shy.
Striated Babbler

This is a drongo-cuckoo, but as of yet I’m stymied as to which species. Fork-tailed and Square-tailed have been split, but it seems as if visual and vocal identification haven’t been completely sorted, nor have their distributions and seasonal movements.
Surniculus Sp., drongo-cuckoo species

I saw this Yellow-eyed Babbler on our day trip from the jeep, but only this morning did I get a photo of it.
Yellow-eyed Babbler

A very distant Ashy Prinia was a nice bird to see.
Ashy Prinia

We hadd seen a few Indian Peafowl on the jeep drive, but the only evidence this morning was this feather.
Indian Peafowl

An even better photo of Chestnut-headed Bee-eater.
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

At the end of our walk the bird activity had died down a bit, and we had entered the much more quiet forest understory, but there were some nice butterflies. I thought I had obtained a perfect shot of this grass skipper for a identification, but I only got as far as Potanthus sp., one of several very confusing species called darts.
Potanthus sp., dart species

This hairstreak is Castalius rosimon, Common Pierrot
Castalius rosimon, Common Pierrot

Tirumala limniace, Blue Glassy Tiger
Tirumala limniace, Blue Glassy Tiger

Hypolimnas bolina, Great Eggfly
Hypolimnas bolina, Great Eggfly