Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Weekend in Pokhara, Nepal

On the last full weekend in April, my second here in Nepal, we took a road trip to the touristy town of Pokhara. Andrew Broan arrived on Tuesday, not quite off his jet lag (we’re 11 hours and 45 minutes ahead of Tucson) but raring to see some more of Nepal; Kate spent much of the day packing and getting the babies ready; and Mich got off work at the embassy early to help load the car and start the drive. We then spent the next hour and a half in a long, slow line of traffic just getting to the outskirts of Kathmandu.

We didn’t quite make it to Pokhara. In fact, we made it halfway, traveling just 66 miles in 4 ¼ hours. Nepal clearly has the worst overall highway infrastructure of any country I’ve been to. We found a nice hotel right on the highway to spend the night, and it looked like there would be some habitat on the grounds for birds.

As usual, the next morning I was up before anyone else, and looked out over the highway from our balcony.

Red-vented Bulbuls were chattering and flying about, a Blue-throated Barbet chortled somewhere, and I heard lots of bird sounds I didn’t know.
Red-vented Bulbuls

Almost immediately, I saw a brown bird fly towards the hotel from across the highway. I rushed to get my camera and found this Asian Barred Owlet on his morning hunt.
Asian Barred Owlet

It was a lazy start the morning, giving me and Mich some time (mostly with Mara, just under two years old) to see what was on the hotel grounds. My first Black-chinned Babbler, Gray-breasted Prinia, and Crimson Sunbird were here, and there were surely many more lifers calling unseen from the wooded slope behind the hotel. While I was looking over a grassy patch across a ravine, a pair of White-rumped Munias flew in. I thought these were also new for me, but it turns out I saw them on Lombok almost exactly three years ago.
White-rumped Munia

While we were having breakfast, Mich noticed something like a Squirrel Cuckoo from high on the slope. They turned out to be four Sirkeer Malkohas, an oddly similar cuckoo, and a lifer for both of us.
Sirkeer Malkoha

We finally set off for Pokhara in the late morning. This leg of the trip was only about 60 miles, but it still took us 2 ½ hours of driving. My view from out the back of the Mahindra Scorpion.

There are dozens and dozens of hotels in Pokhara, and my friends settled on one of the pricier ones, Fishtail Lodge. And it was definitely overpriced, with watered-down alcohol and internet in the
rooms only if you paid extra (whereas hotels at a 10th of the price have free internet). But the grounds are lovely, the construction beautiful, and it seems clear from its location that this hotel is the best for birding, located against the forested hillside across a narrow arm of the long, skinny reservoir that makes Pokhara so famous.

You can get here only by this human-powered passenger ferry.

I spent a lot of time at the edge of the gardens, along the lake shore, and on trails-of-use on the steep slope behind the property. Here are the few I managed to photograph.

Gray-hooded Warbler
Gray-hooded Warbler

Cinereous Tit (formerly considered a subspecies of Great Tit)
Cinereous Tit

Himalayan Bulbul
Himalayan Bulbul

Gray Treepie (rhymes with magpie)
Gray Treepie

Asian Koel – a huge, noisy, and common cuckoo, but devilishly hard to see
Asian Koel

I just barely managed to get a copy of the Illustrated Checklist of Nepal’s Butterflies by Colin Smith before I left home. It’s hard to use, with small, only ok-quality photos of specimens, but it’s been very helpful, and better than just the internet. Here are a few.

Parantica aglea, Glassy Tiger (a Monarch relative)
Parantica aglea, Glassy Tiger

Petrelaea dana, Dingy Lineblue
Petrelaea dana, Dingy Lineblue

Delias hyparete, Painted Jezebel
Delias hyparete, Painted Jezebel

Heliophorus epicies, Purple Sapphire
Heliophorus epicies, Purple Sapphire

Graphium sarpedon, Common Bluebottle
Graphium sarpedon, Common Bluebottle

I had to rely upon the internet (and the moth experts who comment on photos) to ID this Gazalina sp., a notodontid in the subfamily Thaumetopoeinae.
Gazalina sp., Notodontidae, Thaumetopoeinae.

The same goes for this mushroom, maybe Xerula species.

Mich is much more into mammals than I am, so he had already  identified this as Callosciurus pygerythrus, Hoary-bellied Squirrel.
Callosciurus pygerythrus, Hoary-bellied Squirrel

We don’t have a herp book, but it didn’t take too much internet searching to ID this as Calotes versicolor, Oriental Garden Lizard.
Calotes versicolor, Oriental Garden Lizard

The dragonflies here are abundant and gorgeous but have me totally stumped. In my next life…

On Sunday morning, Mich, Andrew, and I took a short drive to the back side of the mountain to one of Pokhara’s more famous tourist attractions, the World Peace Temple, on top of a ridge overlooking the part of Pokhara called Lakeside.

Mich’s birding contacts said we could find Nepal’s only endemic bird in the scrubby habitat here, Spiny Babbler. We scored big time, getting a photo and some good recording of its thrasher-like song.
Spiny Babbler

Fishtail Lodge gets its name from the translation of the mountain Machhapuchhre, which we could just barely see through the smoky haze that has been dominating the atmosphere over Nepal for the past weeks. It’s the most prominent peak in the Annapurna range, one of the more famous groups of peaks in Nepal's Himal.

Mich, Kate, and the babies left for the long drive back to Kathmandu, while Andrew and I stayed in Pokhara, found a cheaper hotel at my request, and made plans to do a short trek towards those very mountains.


  1. thanks for these exceptional pictures and comments, very informative indeed - jason

  2. Nice pics with details of species, getting rarer now.