Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Snow Leopard Expedition Days 1 - 2

Met up with David, Pete, Graham at Heathrow for the 8 hour direct Virgin Atlantic flight to Delhi and the start of our Snow Leopard expedition. It’s been a hectic build-up and it’s definitely not something to take lightly. I mean, the idea of camping at around 3500m – 4500m for 9 nights is definitely going to be testing for me, but I’m in love with the adventure of it all and the excitement of looking for Snow Leopard is overpowering. But whatever happens it will definitely be easier camping at this time of year than in the peak period of Feb/March when temperatures can drop down to -25 degrees Celsius and you've got 3 feet of snow. Although it’s meant to be easier to track them then and heavy snowfall pushes the Leopards and their prey lower down the mountains – so it might mean we have to trek higher! I’ve been looking at maximum and minimum temperatures currently around the town of Leh in Ladakh leading up to the kick-off and reports differ wildly. Some websites give it up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit dropping to 50 degrees overnight, whilst others range from 60 degrees down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and others have it dropping down to freezing point. I’m just thinking that our camp is 500m higher than Leh, so it’s going to be cooler than the reported Leh temperatures. Anyway, I have just received news that a group of Swedish guys have had 3 sightings of Snow Leopard last week, which is very encouraging.

So we arrive on 20th September (my birthday) at around 11am and quickly drop our bags into the nearby Shanti Palace Hotel and then drive to a nice little wetland. We want to see Bristled Grassbird here but upon reaching the correct habitat of tall grassland there’s nothing calling at all, which isn’t very surprising considering its 90 degrees and very humid! But there’s plenty of other birds around such as Western Osprey, Black-necked Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Purple Heron, along with some recently returning wintering birds such as Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Black Redstart and Garganey. Plus Eurasian Cuckoo and 3+ Pied Cuckoos.

Eventually, our persistence is rewarded when a grassbird is located bringing food to a nest hidden somewhere near the base of a small bush in the grassland. So we watch an adult Bristled Grassbird for some time going to and fro across the grassland, noting its thick, long tail and very thick bill. Pete & Graham also seemed pretty pleased with the close views of Red Avadavat and Indian Silverbill nearby as well. But by now I was feeling extremely overheated and maybe suffering mild sunstroke so was very happy to get back to the air-conditioned vehicle. But it took nearly 2 hours to get back to the hotel due to the crazy Delhi traffic and upon arrival I met up with Mohit & Iqbal from Asian Adventures who had brought along a birthday cake – a nice touch and very tasty! Thanks guys.

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