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Birding In Uttarakhand

Some of the world’s best birding hotspots are located in the lee of the Himalayas, where the climate is pleasant and geography perfectly suited for flora and fauna to thrive.

The north Indian state of Uttarakhand boasts just such conditions to make it a choice destination for birding in India.

A traveller entering the state from south will firstly come upon the plains in what is called the terai region. Moving northwards, the landscape begins to show the first bumps of the outermost Himalayas. This fertile region, called Bhabar, is where the Indo-Gangetic plain meets the Himalayas. Pressing upwards, one enters the lower Himalayas in the Shivalik mountain range, and from there on, the elevation keeps going skywards to the peaks of the mightiest mountains in the world.

Such is the range of Uttarakhand’s geography – from a few hundred meters above sea level in the plains to India’s second highest mountain, Nanda Devi, at 7816 meters, in the Himalayas.

This incredible geographical arc of Uttarakhand hosts the ecosystems that make for excellent bird habitats. Moist deciduous forests and grasslands abound in the lowland region and give way to the western Himalayan broadleaf forests and subalpine conifer forests in the higher altitudes. The Ganges and Yamuna rivers originate high in the glaciers of Uttarakhand and meander southwards, fed on the way by lakes and streams. In this biodiversity hotspot of hills, forests, rivers and plains, as many as 700 species of birds have been spotted, as per the latest checklist. That is over half of the bird species found in India.

The best perk of birding in Uttarakhand is that one gets to see here the birds of Western Himalayas, both resident and migratory. A smartly drawn-out birding trip of Uttarakhand is sure to reward you with the sightings of fantastic birds like Western Tragopan, West Himalayan Bush Warbler, Cheer Pheasant, White-throated Tit, White-cheeked Tit, Orange Bullfinch, Spectacled Finch, and Tytler’s Warbler.

Himalayan Quail, which was once said to be endemic to this region, is now feared extinct, but then, a true birder never says no. In her place, Himalayan Monal, the state bird of Uttarakhand, is now most sought-after by many on a North India birding trip. The adult male of this species is particularly endowed with dazzling looks – multi-coloured plumage in several shades of blue and green, a regal crest, reddish neck, rufous tail, and, not to mention, the proud gait. Birders touring Uttarakhand are known to go the extra mile just to catch a glimpse of Himalayan Monal, which, thank goodness, enjoys the least concern IUCN status.

Relatively harder to sight are the critically endangered birds such as Baer’s Pochard, Slender-billed Vulture, White-rumped Vulture, and Red-headed Vulture.

The success of any Uttarakhand birding tour depends on the birding locations and the time of the year one chooses to visit. The state has 6 national parks, 7 wildlife sanctuaries, 4 conservation reserves, and many birding areas to leave a first-timer confused as to where to start. But anyone who has done birding in North India even once will vouch for Jim Corbett National Park as the best bet.

Home to an incredible variety of wildlife – including the Bengal tiger, leopard, tuskers – Corbett National Park gives you the adrenaline kick of birding in raw wilderness. About 600 species of birds have been spotted here, including a wide variety of water birds, raptors, woodland birds and night birds. On an average day of birding in Corbett National Park, it is not a stretch to see birds like Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Cinereous Vulture, Crested Serpent Eagle, Ibisbill, Black Stork, White Stork, Hodgson’s Bushchat, Rosy Minivet, Bright-headed Cisticola, Indian Alpine Swift, Red Junglefowl, Red crested Kalij Pheasant, Franklin’s Nightjar, Great Stone Plover, and many others.

Migratory birds of prey like Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Booted Hawk and Steppe Eagle throng the park every year. Water birds such as cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, storks and a wide variety of ducks make quite a splash. And a birder’s stroll in the woods throws up sightings of parakeets, cuckoos, hornbills, drongos, pies, thrushes, woodpeckers, barbets, babblers and orioles.

Situated on a much higher altitude than Corbett are the Valley Of Flowers National Park and Nanda Devi National Park. These are good Western Himalayan birding locations – teeming with hundreds of avifauna species and surrounded by magnificently beautiful mountains.

Valley of Flowers particularly turns into a floral heaven every spring and summer. A birding trip of Valley of Flowers treats one to sightings of the winged stunners like Gold-billed Magpie, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Chestnut-bellied Rockthrush, Oriental White-eye, Verditer Flycatcher, Green-backed Tit, White-capped Water Redstart, Great Barbet, Long-tailed Minivet, and Pink-browed Rosefinch.

Nanda Devi National Park, sprawled at the height of 3500 meters, is a superb setting for birding in the vicinity of India’s second highest mountain. Here, around 114 bird species have been spotted, but the count could be much higher.

Equally promising from the point of view of birdwatching in Uttarakhand are Gangotri National Park, Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, Rajaji National Park and Neel Dhara Pakshi Vihar.

Situated in the western parts and at lower altitude is the Asan Barrage, which is a pit-stop for trans-Himalayan migratory birds, especially waterfowl. Towards the east is a network of lakes at Sat-tal (seven lakes) where one gets to see a whole host of woodland and water birds.

In short, there is no dearth of birding locations in Uttarakhand. What one needs is an unvarnished passion for birding and an experienced guide or birder to lead the way.

That is where India Birding Tours come in. We have years of experience in organizing successful birding trips in Uttarakhand for birders from India and across the world. From Corbett National Park to the Valley of Flowers, from Asan Barrage to Sat-tal, we have covered the Himalayan state extensively and know well the best birding hotspots of Uttarakhand to make your India birding holiday chockfull of bird sightings, many of them quite rare.

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