Saturday, 22 October 2016

Tso Kar

Thought i'd just post a few more photos from the Tso Kar area...

Friday, 21 October 2016

Snow Leopard Expedition Day 12

What a terrible night’s sleep, with the temperature well below freezing and sleeping at 4100m proving hard for me. I had a headache, racing heartbeat and with the driver switching the minibus engine on at 1am to keep warm meant minimal rest tonight. So an early start was a huge relief and I was up and out of the tent before dawn, but there’s an art to getting dressed quickly in the freezing cold air I can tell you. So after breakfast we drove out towards the lake, passing the first of many Kiangs to be seen today. 

Kiangs are very common here

My main hope today was to firstly see and then get some reasonable photos of Tibetan Sandgrouse – this being a reliable site for them. I’ve seen it before on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau but never close enough for a good photo. And sure enough after a short drive we came across the first of many groups of sandgrouse seen this morning, with flocks on the road and flying past us. And all this within a stunning setting of open plains and snow capped mountains in the distance. Beautiful. We tried initially to get close to a group feeding in the stony desert floor but after a few aborted attempts I gave up and turned my attention to another group across the road. We drove closer and I sneaked out and crawled through the grass towards them. There were many more than I was initially aware of but all of a sudden another flock flew in and landed right in front of me and this is where I managed some nice flight shots. It was a great experience to sit so close to these awesome birds and they are definitely easier to see here than on a Tibet tour.

Tibetan Sandgrouse

Anyway, moving on we caught up with a few shorebirds such as Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Sanderling etc but they were all pretty distant. But I really enjoyed the Black-necked Cranes (9 in total), not because they were close but the setting was stunning. 

Black-necked Cranes

Then we stopped to look at a flock of Hume’s Short-toed Larks just when it looked like we were doing our best to ignore them! Odd pools on the drive held plenty of wildfowl including Ruddy Shelducks and Bar-headed Goose.

Stunning scenery all around us today

Once we reached the far side and the freshwater lake we discovered it was teeming with thousands of common ducks including some nice Ferruginous Ducks, plus we enjoyed seeing Little and Temminck’s Stints and the surrounding hills held some distant Argali.

Back at camp for lunch we discovered quite a few Blanford’s Snowfinches near the tents, and there was also a pale-phase Booted Eagle, Citrine Wagtail, Horned Larks etc.

Blanford's Snowfinch

Horned Lark

I enjoyed just sitting down with a nice cup of tea and looking at the fantastic scenery after lunch.

Our camp at Tso Kar

In the afternoon we once again drove to the far side of the lake to look for Wolves – but it was a disappointing half-hearted attempt and everyone of us felt let down by the attempt. In hindsight I should have been more aware of what was going on but the altitude was taking its toll once again on my head. 

Still in awe at our surroundings

But we did get close views of more Tibetan Snowfinches around an abandoned village this afternoon. 

Tibetan Snowfinch
So we returned to camp before 5pm – perfect Wolf watching time.… But we had better views of Argali that matey seemed more intent on finding than any canines. 

Here's our celebratory Snow Leopard cake

Oh well it was still a grand day.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Snow Leopard Expedition Day 11

Got up at 6.10am and began the tedious process of packing up our camping gear. It took longer than expected due to shortness of breath at this altitude. So after breakfast we walked down the Rumbak Valley to Zingchan unaware that we had to walk a further 3kms than expected to meet our waiting vehicle – making a 7kms hike in all. The good news was that we didn’t have the smallest car in the world waiting for us (like on our journey in here) but a minibus – fantastic. The walk down did produce our first Brown Dipper and Sulphur-bellied Warbler, and I was lucky to see a Wallcreeper flying across the ridge above us.

Leaving here we drove back towards to Leh, making a few stops to scan for Urial (Red Sheep) and after a rather too prolonged search managed very distant scope views thanks to our local trek guide. In hindsight we probably spent way too much time searching for it. Anyway, we drove through Leh and on towards Tanglang La Pass through ever impressive scenery. We stopped in a town to show our passports to the local constabulary before driving on and then made another stop in a scenic valley for a picnic lunch. Some big cliffs were home to immature Lammergeier and Golden Eagle and we had the unique experience of seeing both birds in the same field of view. I managed some reasonable photos and experimented with some phone-scoping as well.

Golden Eagle

From here the road wound ever upwards and the view from the pass (17,582 ft) was outstanding, calling for yet more scenery shots. 

The view from Tanglang La

Dropping down the other side we searched for Tibetan Snowfinch without any success. As we approached Tso Kar we took a side road across the desert and found the road to be lined with Desert Wheatears. And all of a sudden we were seeing lots of birds, unlike the previous week back in Rumbak Valley. And good birds too! The track took us several kilometres into the middle of nowhere and as we drove along we spotted some movement which turned out to be a Ground Tit. I was particularly pleased with this bird as it was another India tick. But things got better as I spotted my lifer Blanford’s Snowfinch (having dipped previously in Tibet somehow) and boy was I pleased to finally get it. There was also Horned Lark, Rosy Pipit, and several Olive-backed Pipits

Our first view of our new camp

Not a bad view from camp

Our camp was nearby and in a splendid location overlooking a small wetland with vast, open plains across to Tso Kar itself and picturesque softly rounded hills all around. David and I walked to the camp from here , seeing 3 Tibetan Snowfinches just a stones throw from our tents. From camp we scoped Upland Buzzard, some Pika’s and 100’s of distant Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass).

But boy it’s colder here and once the wind picked up the temperature dropped dramatically. But it’s a very exciting place to be and what was also interesting was the Snow Leopard pug marks I found as we drove in….

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Snow Leopard Expedition Day 10

Watch No 12 – nothing. After breakfast we walked up to Yurutse, a one house village! It was amazingly scenic and we constantly scanned for Leopards. At the settlement, well a huge house that is used as a homestay we enjoyed a nice cup of tea and the guys brought lunch all the way up from camp.

Posing at Yurutse


Inside the Yurutse Homestay

On the way back down a cold wind suddenly blew up, which kept the temperature down but was nice whilst we were walking. The highlight of the day was a group of Himalayan Snowcocks walking across the path just a few metres in front of us. I don’t know who was more surprised! Anyway, they scuttled up the hillside and I managed to follow them a short distance and get a few nice pics. 

Himalayan Snowcocks

By the time we returned to camp we’d walked 8kms and it had been tough at times but good fun.

Watch No 13 – nothing.