Saturday, August 24, 2013

Birding at Saat Taal

Birding at Saat Taal

After bidding adieu to Jim Corbett and its denizens, we had a sumptuous lunch at Rajesh’s home. We started driving towards Nanital. Just 30 KMs in to the drive and I started forgetting about the summers. I felt like an air conditioner working around me all the time, Mixed forests dominated by thick ban-oak, pine and rhododendron cover most of the area and surrounding hills. A large part of the landscape is characterized by dense vegetation. Numerous perennial creeks and streams crisscross the area. As we were driving down the narrow roads of this acclaimed hill station, we came across this sharp turn after finishing through the narrow roads of Nainital, we reached the approaching road of Saat-tal. On the way we were discussing about beauty of “Red Billed leothrix” and about other birds found in Saat-tal, all of a sudden we spotted a group of Black headed Jays across the road, sitting on road and trees near bye. It was my first sighting of this beautiful bird and the region is full of them.

Black Headed Jay

As we reached Saat-tal a crested Kingfisher darted its way in to nearby bushes and as I and Rajesh observed it in awe, Rajesh explained me that we should move ahead as lots of such sights awaits us in near water body and we moved on.

As we parked our car and moved towards the nearby water body, we observed a barking deer retrieving after drinking water, and as we reached near a small stream of water flowing alongside a cover of dense bushes, Rajesh told me that we have reached our destination and we sat down near the stream for birding and before any birding activity to start we heard a big noise out of opposite bushes and as we focused on the source of noise out came the biggest surprise emerged out of bushes, it was a black head with black nose that resembled like that of a midsized dog with a yellow coloured neck line emerged from the bushes. It was a yellow throated Marten, coming out of the bushes, to have a sip of water. As soon as the marten came out of the bushes and observed us, it retreated immediately, a brief moment of joy and awe suddenly turned in to a disappointing moment. But luck was shining bright on us. Shortly after moving back, the marten emerged from the away corner of the bushes, quickly moving towards the steep slope on the other side of the stream. We got up and took some photographs of this fast moving Marten. It was again an auspicious start to our second expedition in the day. 

Yellow Throated Marten

As we sat down besides the water stream, I was amazed to see the play of nature unfolding in front of us. Out came a “Red Billed leothrix” from the Lantana bushes nearby to take a dip in to water and I could not believe my eyes, the beauty of this bird is unbelievable and unforgettable, till date this bird remains etched in my memory for sheer beauty of it. A Bright reddish-orange bill. Crown, lores, nape, and back are dull olive-green. Bright yellow-orange throat and a bright Yellow chin as if fire has kissed it with its colours. Dull-yellow belly and under tail coverts. Black primaries and secondaries with yellow-orange edges. Yellow-orange base on secondaries forms a small square patch on closed wings; this adds more glory to this magnificent bird. These birds live in small parties of 8 to 10 members and this was paying to our advantage. At any moment during the flock’s presence at the stream one or other leothrix was occupying a position which had sufficient sun light and was forming a terrific backdrop. 

Red Billed Leothrix

The procession of beautiful birds continued with Verditter’s flycatcher, White browed fantailed flycatcher, Himalayan and Mountain Bulbul, Blue throated flycatcher which can easily be wrongly identified as Tickel’s blue flycatcher also graced the perch. I could not believe my luck. In matter of minutes my bird count was increasing at rate of knots. 

Blue Throated Fly Catcher

Himalayan Bulbul

Mountain Bulbul

Juvenile Verditter's Fly Catcher

Verditter's Fly Catcher

Blue headed rock thrush along with rusty Chinned laughing thrush along with Grey Headed Woodpecker added more variety to the bouquet of surprises. Common birds like oriental white eye were also making an appearance just to remind us that we are not in a dream. 

Blue capped Rock Thrush- Male

Grey Headed Pigmy Woodpecker

Rusty Chinned Laughing Thrush

Sun started to slant and make angles, this made sun glinting water look marvelous and during this time a Blue winged Siva (Aka blue winged Minla) came out of the bushes and as it was taking a dip in the water I suddenly realized that I have just clicked best photographic moment of my life. 

Blue Winged Siva (Minla)

Yellow lored tit came out and sat on a bush branch as if it has come out for a portfolio shoot. Along with it came a Rusty cheeked scimitar babbler. It was a precession which was going on as there was no end to it. I could barely stop myself smiling as before this I had just seen so many birds together only in reference books.  

White Browed Fan-Tailed Fly Catcher

Black Lored Tit

Scarlet Minivet

As the light started to fade we decided to take a round of the small lake juxtaposed to our stream. As we started moving the very next tree was graced by a female Scarlet minivet and as we proceeded further we observed a big activity in the canopy of saal trees and we observed a pair of Dusky Eagle owl came out of the canopy and flew towards the farther end of the lake. We followed them and were rewarded with some good photographs of the birds.

Dusky Eagle Owl

Rusty Cheecked Scimitar Babbler

Saat Taal is a heaven for birders; I say this because the legendary Jim Corbett in his customary style had divided the birds in to six broad categories. 

The Birds that beautified Natures Garden: Birds like Oriole, Minivets, Tits etc.

Birds that fill garden with melody: Birds like Thrushes, Robins and Shamas etc.

Birds that regenerate the garden: Like Barbets, Hornbills, and Bulbuls etc. 

Birds that warned of Dangers: Like Drongos, Red Jungle fowls, Pheasants and Babblers. 

Birds that maintain the balance in Nature: Like Eagles, Hawks and Owls etc. 

Birds that performed duty of scavengers: Like Vulatures, Crows and Kites. 

At Saat Taal within a span of 3 hours we came across birds of each category. For me Saat-taal must feature in 7 wonders of birding in the world…

Go explore it…

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