Saturday 29 June 2013

Birdwatching in Nepal 2013 - Part 2 - Koshi

Flight to Koshi.

The following day, Monday 18 March, we took a morning flight to Koshi. Suchit made sure we got seats on the right side of the plane to be able to see the mountains. He pointed out Annapurna, Everest and several others during the short flight. As we neared Koshi we could see from the air the huge scale of the Koshi River.

We were quickly on our way to Koshi camp in an open topped Jeep. Koshi camp is a great place, next to some old fish-farming lakes. We were to spend four nights here in tented accommodation. The tents were basic but of good quality and semi-permanently pitched under a very permanent roof. There was electricity only when the generator was running but this was not a problem. There was no electricity in the tents of course. We had been warned of the limited facilities but the fantastic birdlife made up for any minor inconveniences.

Koshi camp showing the tents under the solid canopies.
While the others had a lie-down after the journey I wandered around the reserve on my own. I came across bronze-winged jacana, moorhen, oriental magpie-robin, jungle babbler, rufous treepie, purple heron, olive-backed pipits, etc. on my travels.

Jungle babbler
Indian golden oriole
Bronze-winged jacana
Bronze-winged jacanas getting to know each other!
Oriental magpie-robin - male
Oriental magpie-robin - female
Olive-backed pipit
Rufous treepie

In the afternoon, we explored the raised track to the West and this turned up many new species including Common Tailorbird, Blue-Throated Barbet, Black-Rumped Flameback, Stork-Billed Kingfisher, White-Throated Kingfisher, Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater, Asian Koel, Red-Wattled Lapwing, Black-Shouldered Kite, Red-Naped Ibis, Asian Openbill, Lesser Adjutant, and Rose-Ringed Parakeet!! Yes, we get those parakeets in England too, but I like them!

Blue-throated barbet roosting in a nearby bamboo

Asian openbill (left) and Black-headed ibis

Stork-billed kingfisher

Asian Koel (pronounced 'coil'). The male
In the quiet of the camp, the Koel had a very loud rising call. Here is the best one I found on YouTube. The note at the start of this video is typical of the region. You only need to listen to the first half minute or so.  The female Koel looks (and sounds) quite different.

Asian Koel (pronounced 'coil'). Female

White-browed wagtail
The following day we were up early to go on our first Koshi river trip. We soon arrived at the enormous flood plain, picking up sand lark before the gorgeous oriental courser. Coursers certainly can run but we got to within a couple of hundred metres and saw them mating!


Oriental coursers
While having breakfast on the banks of the river we enjoyed flocks of ruddy shelduck, bar-headed geese, great crested grebes, small pratincoles and little terns flying over.

Getting ready to cross the Koshi river to a semi-permanent island.
Notice how vast it is, and it's not even monsoon season!

Bar-headed geese over the Koshi river

Great-crested grebes. Remember them?

The island we crossed to was semi-permanent. Depending on the monsoon and the height of the river, islands were formed or removed every number of years. If one happened to remain for a few years, grass and small bushes would grow attracting wildlife.

During our walk on the island we encountered common kestrel, Montagu’s harrier, wryneck, red-wattled lapwing, oriental stone curlew, different prinias, and the critically endangered Bengal Florican, a bird about the size of a goose.

The quite rare Bengal florican - distant.

Little terns

Yellow-wattled lapwing

Oriental stone-curlew
Lynne and I were fascinated by the dung beetles. Before being able to roll the dung away, the beetle has to cut it into a sphere. It does a handstand on its front two legs against the ball. The rear two pairs of legs run forward on the ball of dung, pushing it backwards, while the front two legs run backwards to keep up with the rolling ball. This photo may make things clearer:

Dung beetle rolling its prize

By lunchtime it was hotting up so time to go. While crossing again, we drifted slowly down the river guided by our expert boatman. Many of the waders present were also Eurasian and familiar to us, but it was lovely to see all the small pratincoles all along the bank.

Small pratincoles
On the way back to camp we walked along the raised road. Ashy drongo, greater racket-tailed drongo, golden spectacled warbler and Indian scops-owl were some of the highlights.

Ashy drongo

Greater racket-tailed drongo

Indian scops-owl

We sat down in the shade to a well-earned lunch.

Lunch at Koshi camp with Barbara, Will (middle) and me.
In a tree just above our heads lived a spotted owlet and a breeding pair of little egrets. Here's the owlet.

Spotted owlet

Over the next couple of days, we explored other areas of the Koshi delta including the Koshi Barrage. This is a huge dam built in sections but each section is an enormous openable sluicegate.

Koshi barrage

During the monsoon season (June-September) the gates are open along the full length of the barrage to allow the huge quantities of rainwater to reach the sea. Outside of the monsoon season, most of the sluices are closed and the barrage is used to control the river water. The barrage is here on Google Maps. 

Koshi Barrage

If you look up and to the right you will see the vast nature of the river and that some of the islands (really sandbanks) are starting to grow vegetation while some are still white sand.

We saw far more birds than I can show here. Many were too quick or skulking for me to get their photos (or to get them in focus). These included different owls, woodpeckers, shrikes, waders, warblers, bitterns and raptors. Here are a few others that we saw during our stay at Koshi river.

Waders were abundant and most were common in England too. For that reason I haven't shown them here.

Here are a couple of large birds we certainly don't see at home:

Lesser adjutant stork.
There is a greater adjutant but not in the areas we visited.
Red-naped Ibis
(also known as the Indian Black Ibis or just the Black Ibis)

We were lucky to see a good selection of owls:

Brown Fish-owl. This is a juvenile.

Jungle owlets. Well, we did go in Spring!

Brown Hawk-owls.
We could hear these owls but it took us ages to find them.
Swamp Francolins are quite endangered and come out at dusk. We were lucky to see this pair that walked towards us as we waited.

Swamp Francolin

Coucals are crow-sized birds and I think they are technically cuckoos! Greater coucals are all over the place. Lesser coucals are much rarer and I saw only one.

Greater coucal

Lesser coucal

Woodpeckers were abundant but hard to photograph. Here's a common one:

Black-rumped flameback
Smaller birds seen at camp, often during the lunchtime break.

Red-vented bulbul.

Red-whiskered bulbul
We would see many other bulbuls later.

Now, some people (no names but, my family) say that doves and pigeons are boring. There is a huge variety of doves and pigeons and I like them. Here are an attractive spotted dove, a beautiful orange-breasted pigeon and a gorgeous yellow footed pigeon:

Spotted dove

Orange-breasted pigeon

Yellow-footed pigeon
There are several species of myna. Here is the commonest:

Common myna

Black-hooded oriole

Chestnut-tailed starlings
Oriental white-eye. Small, but perfectly formed!
We saw brown shrikes and grey shrikes. Here is a handsome long-tailed shrike:

Long-tailed shrike
Vultures and other raptors flew over quite often. Here are a few of the ones I managed to capture:

Black-shouldered kite

White-eyed buzzard

White-eyed buzzard

Oriental Honey-Buzzard.
This is one of my favourites.

Back at camp, we were lucky enough to see a truly wild cat when it passed through. It was almost twice as large as a male domestic cat and looks quite mean.

A truly wild cat at camp.
It was almost twice the size of a typical large tomcat!!
Mothers watch out for your toddlers!

Elephants are used in this region to carry heavy loads. Shortly after I took this photo our jeep was swept off the road!!

Asian elephants carrying logs.

On our last evening at Koshi camp we witnessed a powerful storm which blew up in late afternoon. Fortunately, we were actually in the camp exploring the lagoons. We were able to run back to the dining room before the storm really got going. We quickly closed all the windows. Just as well, as the storm whipped up a lot of dust and sand from the dry bed of the river and carried it all over the camp and further afield.

Next stop: Chitwan nature reserve far to the West of Koshi
PS. I was joking about the elephants and our jeep.


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