Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Tso Kar Sandgrouse Magic!

Headed across to the far side of Tso Kar to a fresh water lake that was teeming with birds. 

More great scenery this morning

On the way we scanned the salt water lake that held countless shorebirds around the edges with the most numerous being Common Redshank, followed by Lesser Sand Plovers and Little Stints, with a small group of Pied Avocets seen as well. A pair of Black-necked Cranes were also feeding at the water’s edge with 2 young. 

Lesser Sand Plover with chicks

At the freshwater lake there were flocks of Bar-headed Goose and Ruddy Shelduck, with numerous common species such as Northern PintailEurasian Wigeon, Red-crested Pochard, a few Black-necked Grebes, loads of Brown-headed Gulls and other species.

Tso kar Eco-Lodge

We left here to return to the lodge for a late breakfast seeing a close Little Owl en-route. Afterwards we walked along the road through the village where many Black-winged Snowfinches were the most prominent species, and we also saw a few Great Rosefinches, lots of Twite, a flyover Saker with an immature perched on a cliff overlooking the road and a couple of Upland Buzzards.

Great Rosefinch is common

Little Owl

Eastern Saker

Black-winged Snowfinch

After a siesta we headed out at 3pm and drove across Tso Kar in search of Tibetan Sandgrouse, which at a stony, sandy plateau we came across several groups numbering over 80 individuals. Wow! We managed to get great views as these groups fed either side of us and we watched them for a long time. 

The bird of the trip - Tibetan Sandgrouse

What a bird and with snow-capped peaks and the vast open spaces of Tso Kar all around us this was the most perfect and unbelievably breath-taking setting to observe our main purpose for coming to this magnificent place. Driving back to the lodge we heard a snowcock calling but couldn’t locate it high up in the mountains, so returned to the lodge for another great meal.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Monsoon India Day 11

This was a day that exceeded all of our expectations as we set out on the drive to Tso Kar and the main purpose of this leg of the tour – to see Tibetan Sandgrouse. Our route took us east along the Indus River valley and then through numerous steep-sided valleys as we climbed ever upwards. Along the way we saw plenty of Chukar, and at one area we encountered the first of many Great Rosefinches we were to see today. 


There was also a group of Red-fronted Serins present, Eurasian Crag-Martin, Blue Rock Thrush and Common Cuckoo before we got slightly further up the road and found Black-winged Snowfinch to be common. As the road zig-zagged up to Tanglangla Pass, Guldenstadt’s Redstart appeared with at least 4 males and 2 females, with one male along the road being particularly cooperative and there was also a superb Robin Accentor.

Guldenstadt's or White-winged Redstart - stunner!

What a simply stunning bird! There was also Golden Eagle, Brandt’s Mountain-Finch, and many more Black-winged Snowfinches as well. 

Robin Accentor

The pass was a whopping 17,582 feet and my altimeter read 5336m and this is apparently the second highest drivable pass in the world. We searched for Tibetan Snowcock here without any success and were 2 days late according to the roadworkers here! But a soaring Saker Falcon was a bit special!

It's high up here.....!

Great scenery on the drive to Tso Kar 

So we dropped down towards Tso Kar and the first birds we saw here were a pair of Ruddy Shelducks and a Hume’s Short-toed Lark, followed by yet more Black-winged Snowfinch, Desert Wheatear etc. 

Our first view of the fantastic scenery at Tso Kar

Driving into Tso Kar we were extremely fortunate to come across a pair of Tibetan Sandgrouse with 2 chicks right beside the road. They slowly walked away but from the car we had amazing views of this most-prized bird and the reason for coming here in the first place – and we had only been here 10 minutes! We watched as the chicks tried to shelter in the shadow of the parents bodies from the harsh midday sun and totally lapped up this amazing scene. How lucky were we? 

Tibetan Sandgrouse within 10 minutes of arriving....

At the Tso Kar Eco-Resort we were pleasantly surprised to see our rooms were en-suite and even more delighted to see a couple of male Great Rosefinches perched on the roof beside some colourful Tibetan prayer flags! 

Great Rosefinch was common

We had a nice lunch of fried rice before heading out into the plains where we found a family of Ground-Tits, flocks of Twite, many Blanford’s Snowfinch, an Upland Buzzard and what appeared to be a Long-legged Buzzard. A further search for sandgrouse wasn’t successful so we returned to the eco-lodge for an early finish to an extraordinary day.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Monsoon India Day 10

We said our goodbyes to the houseboat crew and headed to Srinigar airport, where David was flying back to Delhi and the rest of us were heading for the next leg of our adventure to Leh, Ladakh. We arrived around 11.10am and reached our delightful hotel some half an hour later. We enjoyed a nice rest and some of the best food of the tour before heading out to the River Indus to search for Ibisbill. The water level was very high due to snow melt and we searched various areas seeing Hume’s WhitethroatMountain ChiffchaffBluethroat and numerous Citrine and a few White (alboidesWagtails

Spot the Ibisbill

At the last spot we could try we struck gold with great scope views of a pair of Ibisbills feeding on a shingle bank on the far side of the river where we watched them for quite some time in the early evening sunshine before returning to the hotel.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Monsoon India Day 9

We returned to Gulmarg this morning in our quest for Spectacled Finch but neither heard nor saw this invisible species! We patrolled the same area of forest where we had heard it on our previous visit without any joy and had to content ourselves with some perched Himalayan VulturesWhite-cheeked Nuthatch,Black-and-yellow GrosbeakYellow-billed Blue Magpie and other common species. 

Himalayan Griffons

White-cheeked Nuthatch

We checked out an area of fields covered in flowers and some crop fields to see if the finches were coming down to feed and saw some Yellow-breasted Greenfinches but no other finches. The forest was on both sides of this nursery area and a pair of Variegated Laughingthrushes were seen. 

It was already 9.40am and we were at a loss what else to try for the pesky finch so a bit of inspiration came to me and we headed to the cable car. Fighting with throngs of people we eventually got into a gondola/cable car and headed up the mountain, which entailed a 2-stage journey but in pretty quick time we were at the top reaching an altitude of 3945m. 

Great scenery at the top of the cable car
Exploring the mountain top...

I had no idea what to expect and with mist covering the landscape to begin with we began walking away from the cable car station just as the mist began to slowly lift. The boulder field seemed devoid of birds initially until we heard something singing, which turned out to be a cracking male Himalayan Rubythroat

Himalayan Rubythroat

Over the next hour we saw 3 males and at least 1 female, all collecting food for their hidden young. Sat amongst the rocks we enjoyed watching them flying around and collecting food, with one male very bold perching on a rock right in front of us. What a bird! Our exploration of this area also produced Blue-fronted Redstart, Rosy Pipit, Plain Mountain-Finch, Alpine Accentor and Northern Raven

Plain Mountain-Finch

We then took the cable car down one stop and had some lunch before checking out the bushes where Keith spotted a male Pink-browed Rosefinch singing. We then walked 4kms down the mountain seeing Rufous-breasted Accentor, Tytler’s Leaf-Warbler, Eurasian Wren etc.

Pink-browed Rosefinch

 We returned to the houseboat in time to watch the sunset and enjoy a cup of chai.