Sattal – The avian wonderland (Siddhartha Dey)

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“How far is Sattal papa?” my six year old daughter was bombarding me with this question every quarter of an hour now. We’ve been on the road for almost seven hours. The long drive from Delhi had probably started taking its toll on the kids. The mood changed while we crossed Haldwani and started ascending through the winding roads. We put off the AC and rolled down the glasses. The cool mountain air mixed with the wild aroma of pine and oak refreshed all our weariness. As we drove past Bhimtal we received the call from Hari Lama, who was to be our birding guide for the next few days. Lamaji asked us to drive past Sattal and beyond Nal-Damyanti Tal, where he would be waiting for us. Sattal at a height of 1370mt is located 21Kms north east of Nainital and is a conglomeration of seven lakes named after mythological heroes. While Ram, Sita and Lakshman Tal form the main Sattal lake, Hanuman, Bharat, Garur and Nal-Damyanti are the other ones. The
entire area is a forested habitat endowed with a salubrious climate and is the abode of many species of wild himalayan birds. Lamaji was waiting for us at Nal-Damyanti Tal, and he escorted us all the way to a private property on a hillock beyond a pear orchard. Our accommodation was arranged by Lamaji and from my queries; I could sense that he was not keen in revealing much about it, but was rather planning to spring out some sort of a surprise. We drove almost a Kilometre past the main gate when our car finally came to a halt and Lamaji announced “Aa gaya!” I was surprised, for unlike most resorts or hotels this one did not seem to be interested in announcing its name. I had no clue what this place was called. There was neither a word written on the main gate nor a signboard inside. As soon as we stepped out of our vehicle we were greeted by almost half a dozen staff. The place had three buildings. The main building had
four guest rooms, each having private balconies which are as big as the rooms. A little down the hill was an isolated cottage, and in between, a wooden hut which hosted the kitchen and the dining hall. The entire place was surrounded by huge pine and oak trees with a couple of manicured grass lawns at different elevations. I asked Lamaji what this resort was called and he explained that it was a new property yet to be named, but they were planning to call it ‘The Birder’s Den’. Before I got to the rooms, I glanced upon a small clear area which had meticulously arranged natural looking perches with some water baths placed here and there. A Great barbet and some Himalayan bulbuls were already occupying the stage, but the light conditions were not encouraging enough to initiate the effort of unpacking the gadgets to start a photo session. I preferred to wait till the next morning.

Blue Whistling Thrush

 

The wakeup alarm came from the melodious call of the Blue Whistling Thrush. As I came out of my room, I could see a pair of Great Barbets sitting on the pine tree. I spent the morning birding around the Resort which fetched me Blue-winged minlas, Red-billed Leothrix, Red-billed Blue Magpies, Long-tailed Minivets, Slatyheaded Parakeets, White-throated Lughingthrush, Rufous Sibia, Grey Bushchat, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, the Lesser and the Greater yellow nape. While the Russet sparrows and the Himalayan bulbuls were vying for attention, the constant chattering of the grey tree pie reverberated in the background. After  reakfast we moved on to the much famed Sattal sudio. This is just a shallow water trail that flows besides bushes into a small clear area surrounded by the forest. The birds prefer to bathe in this shallow water and perch on the branches and twigs nearby. The studio did not bring forth too many models for me. Only an Ashy Bulbul, White-browed Fantail and a Black-headed Jay came to quench their thirst. The forest nearby however yielded four types of warblers – the Aberrant Bush Warbler, The Whistler’s Warbler, The Black-faced Warbler and the Buff-barred Warbler. Amongst the flycatchers were the Grey-headed Canary, a female Ultramarine and a Small Niltava. There were lots of Red-billed Leothrix and Bluewinged Minlas around. A Chestnut-headed Tesia was moving around under the bushes, but never came out in the open to give me a clear shot. This part of the forest was extremely vibrant with lots small birds around.

Ashy Bulbul

 

Our destination for the post lunch session was Chafi –a small hamlet besides a creek. This place is famed for the Crested Kingfisher, the Brown Dipper and the Spotted Forktail. Unfortunately we found none. Only a Whitecapped and a Plumbeous Water Redstart were busy with their daily course. The area around however fetched us the Bar-tailed Tree Creeper, Striated Laughing Thrush, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Russet Sparrow, Greenbacked tit, Black-throated Tit, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Blue Whistling Thrush, Grey Treepie, and the Lemonrumped Warbler. The day ended on a high with two female Khalij Pheasants coming out majestically from the bush into the clearing of our resort to feed on the grains dispersed by some hotel staff.

Khalij Pheasant (Male)
Khalij Pheasant (Female)

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