This post is a continuation of a series documenting our time in the Chopta region of Uttarakhand in April 2022. We had been to Tungnath ( Chopta Diaries, Part 2 – Hiking to Tungnath, the highest Shiva Temple in the world) done birding around the Makku farms region (Chopta Diaries, Part 3 – Birding in & around Makku farms) and near the Mandakini River at Kakragaad (Chopta Diaries, Part 4 – Birding by the Mandakini river at Kakragaad). We were scheduled to stay a night at the Magpie’s Ecoresort at Deoriyatal. So we decided there was no better way to spend my 40th birthday by hiking up to Deoriyatal and spending the night there.
The Saari village at the base of the Deoriyatal hike is also known place where the Chukar partridge is regularly sighted. So Bharatji , our guide suggested that we spend an evening there prior to our hike to Deoriyatal and try our luck. We started from our camp after an afternoon siesta and started towards Saari. We had driven only a few minutes when we sighted a Khaleej Pheasant on the side of the road. I’m never one to let a pheasant photo op pass, so we stopped and I slowly crept forward. The pheasant made my effort worthwhile by displaying it’s magnificent plumage for us, making for some great photos!
A Male Khaleej Pheasant shows off for the camera
The session had just begun and I already had a smile on my face before we reached Saari. It was about to get broader. We had come across groups of Himalayan Langurs in our days in the region. But they always seemed to run into the trees as we got close. So it was great to find a group that was willing to pose for me. These cousins of the Himalayan Langur have a bright white hair surrounding their face and it looks striking, especially with the dark dense forest in the background. The photos don’t do them justice but I had to give it a go! I am certainly pleased to see how they came out though. One of my favourite photos for this trip.
The Himalayan Langur poses for the camera
It was slowly getting cloudy and overcast. There was prediction of rain in the coming 2 days so we were keeping our fingers crossed that it didn’t rain the next morning when we hiked up to Deoriyatal. We reached Saari after an hours drive and it was already dark and ominous for 4.30 pm. We got down from the car at a field where Bharatji had spotted Chukar partridges and decided to walk around the area.
We were greeted by a great barbet that was sitting on a bare tree in the middle of the field. These larger cousins of our local Coppersmith barbets in Mumbai are regulars in the foothills of the Himalayas & always a joy to photograph.
A great barbet on top of a tree in the middle of a field
We walked around up and down the road but had no luck with the Chukar pheasant. We did see a lot of common Himalayan birds though . I am not the type of birder who will not pay attention to a prettily posing bird just because it’s not the species I’m looking for. A pretty pose deserves all the attention, so I took photos when a Himalayan bulbul posed with a moth he had caught for lunch.
A Himalayan bulbul with it’s catch
The same courtesy was extended to a striated laughing thrush foraging in the bush for its meal.
A Striated Laughing Thrush finds it’s dinner
We came across a group of Common Rosefinch when it was really too dark to get decent photos of these hyperactive little birds. Nevertheless, always upto a challenge I gave it a shot and came away with some photos that were acceptable.
The Common Rosefinch at Saari in at dusk
Then there were a pair of the ever present on this trip, Grey Bushchat. This couple was busy setting up a nest and I took even more photos of this pretty couple.
A pair of Grey Bushchat in the middle of their nest making activities
We finally decided that today was not the day when the Chukar was making an appearance and started on our way back to camp before the heavens opened up. Travelling in the rains on mountain roads is never a good idea and we wanted to be back in our tents before the path leading to them got soaked. We were driving at a fair clip for that reason when Bharat excitedly asked our driver to stop. Before I could enquire Bharat was out and pointing at a large group of pigeons on a tree. Only when I pointed the 300mm at them did I realise that they were Speckled Wood Pigeon, a rarer variety that only lives in high altitude forests. They sat and posed around for a while before taking off en masse and flying into the forests above us. It was a great end to the day’s birding.
Speckled Wood Pigeon in the forests near Saari
We got back to camp just in time as it started pouring minutes after we reached our tent. It continued to pour down after it became dark. We went to dinner with our rain gear on and as soon as we got in the dinner tent we heard the ominous thuds on the roof of the dinner tent which was reinforced. It was a hail storm in mid April! It lasted for what seemed like a very long hour and when it ended the entire meadow was covered in hailstones.
Hailstones carpet the meadows at Magpie Jungle Camp, Chopta
We went to sleep hoping that the weather gods would be not as angry with us the next morning. Hiking in the pouring rain is a nightmare on its own, plus you have to keep the camera gear away making for a dreary, boring climb. Luckily we woke up to see the sky and meadows both clear, as if the storm last night had been a bad dream.
Waking up to clear skies after a stormy night
We thanked the weather gods for being kind to us and got ready quickly, gobbled up our breakfast and started for Saari to begin our hike, lest they changed their minds again. We reached Saari and restarted our search for the Chukar pheasant. We were again greeted by the Great Barbet and this time he had brought a friend!
A couple of great barbets on a sunny morning at Saari
Great light always makes for great photos and I could capture the Great Barbet grooming and preening in all it’s glory.
The Great Barbet poses in great sunlight at Saari
We came across the resident common rosefinch flock again but this time the light was on my side and I made full use of it capturing the little birds flying among the bushes.
The common rosefinch in much better light
There was still no sign of the Chukar Pheasant but we saw our Khaleej Pheasant for the day while searching for it and took some more photos of the beautiful bird.
The Khaleej Pheasant of the day at Saari
I was taking photos of a blue capped rock thrush sitting on top of an electric pole when Bharatji got all excited at a call. I knew straight away that he had managed to find a Chukar Pheasant after all.
A blue capped rock thrush on a electric pole at Saari
We saw the Chukar’s silhouette on the crest of the hill just above. Bharatji said there was a way we could try and get close. Needing no second invitation we were climbing up the hill on a small path behind a group of houses towards the pheasant.
Bharatji is way fitter than both of us so he was tearing ahead and we huffed and puffed to keep up. All the effort paid off as standing on the rocks in front of us was a beautiful Chukar Pheasant.
First Sighting of the Chukar Partridge for me
We clicked away to glory and I would have walked away when the Chukar climbed up, but not Bharatji. He was confident that we would get a closer shot if we kept on after it. Guide always knows best – We got the Chukar standing amidst a few wisps of grass in beautiful sunlight. Now that was a great sighting!
The Chukar Partridge in superb sunlight at Saari
Finally with “Mission Chukar” completed successfully we came back down to the road and drove to the start point of the 2.3 km long trek up to Deoriyatal. Though it was a much easier one then Tungnath this time I had a much heavier overnight bag plus all my camera gear on my back.
At the start of our trek to Deoriyatal
We started early so the path wasn’t crowded and it made for a pleasant hike on a beautiful morning. We spotted the Striated Laughing thrush with a mouth full of insects that it was taking back for its chicks.
A striated laughing thrush takes back breakfast for it’s chicks
We also spotted some oriental white eyes flitting among the trees lower down as we started our hike.
An oriental white eye poses for the camera
The most consistently spotted creatures on the hike were Himalayan mountain lizards. They were seen basking on the rocks on the path scurrying away as we approached. With their bright blue limbs they have always been good posers and I took photos whenever one was brave enough to let me get close.
Himalayan Mountain Lizard on the trail up to Deoriyatal
We were half way up the hill when we came across a patch with some bird activity and stopped to see what would appear. We first got a grey hooded warbler singing away to glory and patient enough to sit at one place for more than second.
A grey hooded warbler sings its song
Then we spotted something very brightly coloured flying from one flowering tree to another – it was a sunbird. So we waited and tried to see what type of Sunbird it was. I finally managed to get a couple of photos and it turned out to be an extremely rarely sighted Mrs Gould’s Sunbird. First a Chukar and now this, our luck had been great that morning!
A rare Mrs Gould’s Sunbird on the trek up to Deoriyatal
Happy us on the trek up to Deoriyatal
We were almost at the top of the climb when Bharatji said we should wait some time as usually Himalayan Vultures are spotted circling here in the morning. We waited at a tea stall run by a kindly old man and had some packed buttermilk while Bharatji had his tea. As if on cue when we had finished a Himalayan Vulture flew overheard and started gliding around the valley.
An Himalayan Vulture circles the valley on the way up to Deoriyatal
It was getting cloudy now in the distance so we quickly covered the rest of the distance to the Magpie Eco camp and dumped our luggage there and headed straight to the lake before the rains started. The lake is supposed to be beautiful in the morning with the sun reflecting off the mountains in the background. But knowing the fickle nature of the weather we went to the lake, anyway we would return at dawn if the weather was on our side again.
At Deoriyatal with the clouds in the background
We walked around the lake and Bharatji said that Hill Partridges were seen in this area. These are beautiful little birds that I have always admired in other peoples photos. We heard the call of one but it never came in sight. We returned to the camp as it got cloudy and dark and right in time for a piping hot lunch. It was the tastiest food we had in this trip and both of us over ate in our time there.
Hot and tasty lunch at the Magpie Eco camp Deoriyatal
We returned to our room satiated and it started pouring. It wasn’t just a passing drizzle but heavy rain with accompanying strong winds. Happy at having a permanent structure protecting us we went to sleep. It was the perfect time for a long nap hoping that the rains stopped and allowed at least some birding in the evening.
Just before the downpour from the safety of our porch
We woke up and it was still pouring and I almost gave up for the day. As soon as I did the rains stopped and there was a brief break in the clouds with the sun peeking through. The staff there had said that the hill partridge is seen very commonly near the path leading to the camp. So we left and tried to use the respite from the rain and hoped that the partridge might have the same idea.
An oriental turtle dove at Deoriyatal
We walked up the path and heard the distinctive call of the hill partridge close by. So we waited just out of sight in cover of a closed shed. Soon the calls got closer and a colourful head ducked out from behind the track. Now I would have photos of my own!
A hill partridge makes it’s appearance
It then tentatively made its full appearance making me gasp from behind the viewfinder. We had our Darshan of the Hill Partridge! It was worth all the hype as it is one of the prettiest birds I have seen.
The Hill Partridge makes it worth our while
The Partridge moved around for some time before descending back into the bushes after giving one last look back. I had a very satisfied grin on my face, Chukar & Hill Partridge in a day – amazing!
The Hill Partridge says goodbye
It was getting dark now and the skies were clearing up. So we walked back to the camp where the excellent staff had prepared a piping hot plate of pakoras for us. What a roller coaster of a day!
Eating hot pakoras with the Himalayas in the background
The Magpie Eco Camp in Deoriyatal at dusk
We had started with bright sunshine then had torrential rains and ended up with a clear evening. We hoped that it would stay this way in the morning so that we get to enjoy the famous Deoriyatal sunrise. For now we enjoyed the moon rise over Tungnath and enjoyed a delicious dinner capping off a memorable birthday in the Himalayas.
The moon rises in a clear sky at Deoriyatal
A delicious dinner to cap off a memorable 40th birthday
We went to sleep once again hoping that the weather gods stayed on our side at least for a day more. Whether we would get our lake photos is the topic for another post. Some other time, Some other day.
This has been a long one but I couldn’t cut any of it out as it was a special one for me.
Till next time,