Saturday, May 14, 2016

Nepal Trek Day 4: Ghandruk back to Nayapul

Today is the birding-trekking version of a travel day as we make our way back to Nayapul and then taxi to the city of Pokhara. It’s all downhill, and virtually all in open farm country, and instead of the average of 14 lifebirds each day, today I see eight. But it’s still more than I expected, and it’s a great day.

Before we departed Resham suggested we take a tour of the very hilly and dispersed mountain village of Ghandruk. Here’s a view of one part of the town from near our hotel. All the houses have roof shingles made of a local slate-like rock.

To support the eaves of such a heavy roof, they appear to have a special construction style – a piece of wood built into the stone wall that braces the lower end of a piece of lumber that supports the eaves.

Resham took us past the most expensive hotel in Ghandruk, which he said was over $100/night. Most places, like the one we stayed in, are closer to $15/night. They didn’t appear to have any guests, and a local farmer was curing wheat on the patio.

Here a lady was drying peas, encouraging us to try them.

We walked through the village, past a shop where a woman sold cloth, clothing, and other handcrafts she and her family made. I’m sure Resham was hoping we’d buy a bunch of stuff, giving him a commission, but we weren’t on a shopping trek. This woman (I think the shop owner’s mother) is twining two handspun threads of cotton to make a thicker fiber for use in the tapestry in progress next to her.

We also went into the cultural museum with lots of old household items, including these spinning artifacts.

There were actually some patches of woods, dominated by alder, between the various parts of the village. I was lucky to get both the top and bottom of this Heliophorus androcles, Green Sapphire.

This Aglais cashmirensis aesis, Indian Tortoiseshell was on the path. This must be a very common species here, as I had seen this in Kathmandu area (but had misidentified it as Large Tortoiseshell).

This Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher was in a very busy mixed flock in one ravine near our hotel. It belongs to an odd and small family of only nine species, Stenostiride, which is largely an African family of birds called the fairy flycatchers.

Directly opposite the village was this soaring Himalayan Griffon. Based on my field guide, I would have called this Eurasian Griffon, but the identification and status in Nepal and elsewhere in the Himalayas has been confused for a long time; other birders using this same, out-of-date field guide continue to make the same error and will continue to do so until there is a good update to the book. I sent this photo around to my expert friends at Sunbird and they agreed to Himalayan.

In one of the  last patches of good forest I found a pair of the lovely Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. I had last seen this bird three years ago in the steamy lowland rainforests of Borneo and was surprised to find they also occur in this wildly different habitat.

Hair-crested Drongo was a lifer on my trip in Borneo three years ago as well. In this photo you can barely see the three hair-like plumes originating from near the bill and arching over its crown.

The rest of our descent was mostly through farmed hillsides like this.

But there were still birds. This is Siberian Stonechat, which I’d previously seen only in Germany and Gambell, Alaska, where in both places it is a rare vagrant.

We stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants we passed by. Here we had our best views of a Lammergeier.

With it were my lifer Red-headed Vultures.

This lifer Crested Bunting was a bit of a challenge to identify, but the all rufous wings and the hint of the crest finally convinced me. Terraced farmland turns out to be its described habitat, which helped.

This very widespread Old World butterfly is Junonia orithya, the Blue Pansy or Eyed Pansy; it is in the same genus as the New World buckeyes.

Our final kilometers were along the Modi River, where there were enough scattered trees for some fun birds. I searched in vain for Brown Dipper, which I had had only fleeting views of yesterday higher in the mountains.

But I has some more lifers here, such as a White-capped Redstart and this Gray-crowned Woodpecker.

Great Barbets are everywhere, but they stick to the tops of trees and are very hard to get good looks of. This one sat out in the open but at a great distance in a big tree.

This is the first genuine puddle party I have seen Nepal. They are all Metaporia agathon, Great Blackveins.

Blue Whistling-Thrush is quite common but also shy, almost always flying off, even at great distances, as soon as you lift your binoculars. I was very quick and lucky to get this photo, but you can't reaaly see the lovely blue highlights.

My final lifer of the trek was this Bonelli's Eagle, the photo of which I had to send around to my Sunbird friends again to confirm the ID.

We made it to our hotel in Pokhara in the late afternoon and started finalizing our plans for Andrew’s last few days in Nepal – a relaxing visit to Chitwan National Park. Our total hike today was 12.14 kilometers (7.5 miles), and we descended nearly 900 meters (2950 feet). The flat spot in the graph starts where my GPS batteries had died, which I discovered at lunch.

Outside our room was one of very few moths I’ve seen on this trip, the arctiine (tiger moth) Syntomoides imaon.

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