Nepal: Home to over 8% of the world’s bird population; indulge your fanaticism for birds in this plentiful land.
The recreational activity of watching birds is admittedly, not one of the more popular or well-known activities in Nepal. Enthusiasm for birding is generally contained among a select few, dedicated birders. However, Nepal is one of the finest places in Asia for bird watching with over 850 different species of birds being recorded here. The striking contrast in the topography of Nepal, from the highest mountains in the world to flat plains of the southern border makes for a varied ecology and habitat for its wildlife. The variance of forest systems at different altitudes, abundance of water bodies like lakes, streams and rivers, apt refuge of the floodplains and wetlands and protected regions like the Annapurna Conservation Area makes Nepal a sanctuary for diverse species of birds. All you need for a successful bird watching trip are decent binoculars, right tour operators and lots of luck. You can get started as soon as you land in Kathmandu as the capital alone plays host to over 500 species of birds in its hills, wetlands and fields. Then there is always the stretch of the country to take your pick from, from Bardia in the west to Koshi Tappu in the east. Expect to fill your log book with records of innumerable sightings of Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Swamp Patridges, Herons, Black headed Oriole, Eurasian Cuckoo, Chestnut headed bee-eater and more; a fair mix of birds native to this Sub-continent and migrant birds in the summer and winter months. Rare sightings of the 9 endangered species of Nepal like the Great Pied Hornbill, Bengal Florican and Crimson-Horned Pheasant, make for an extra special trip.
1. Kathmandu Valley: Kathmandu with its wetlands on the banks of Bagmati and Manohara rivers, surrounding hills of oak, pine and rhododendron forests and open fields is a happy habitat for over 500 species of birds. A few notable places for eventful day-trips of bird watching are the hills of Phulchowki, Godavari, Taudaha, Shivapuri and Nagarjuna Royal Forest.
A) Phulchowki: 20 kms southwest of Kathmandu lies Phulchowki, the highest hill on the Kathmandu valley rim at 2782 m. The Royal Botanical Garden on its foothills and the enclosing hills are a natural hub for over 256 species of birds. A perennial wet spot by means of receiving the heaviest rain fall in the valley, the hills of Phulchowki are brimming with wildlife. Start your excursion from the garden and hike uphill for sightings of Babblers, Minivets, Wablers, Woodpeckers, Tibetan siskin and Spotted Forktail among others. The stunning views of the valley from the hilltop are a major plus. Entrance to the garden is NRS 100 per person, Cameras and Video Cameras are charged extra at NRS10 and NRS 100 respectively. Local Buses available from the bus stand in Lagankhel.
B) Shivapuri Watershed and Wildlife Reserve: 12 kms North of Kathmandu, Shivapuri Watershed and Wildlife Reserve is located in Shivapuri lekh. The Shivapuri hill standing tall at 2732 m is the second highest in the valley, and home to 177 species of birds like Bonelli’s Eagles, Great Himalayan Barbets, Laughing Thrush, Crested Serpent Eagle etc. The climate ranges from sub-tropical to temperate which is reflected on the diversity of the flora and fauna found here. Medicinal herbs, Rhododendrons, Orchids, 129 different Mushrooms, Leopards, Wild boars and Barking deer, make this reserve a haven for nature lovers. Entrance is NRS 250 per person and Cameras an additional NRS 1000.
C) Nagarjuna Forest Reserve: Nagarjuna also known as Rani Ban (Queen’s Forest) lies North-West of the city, 2.5 kms from Balaju. It is also a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site, with a shrine dedicated to Guru Rinpoche built on the summit , at an elevation of 2095 m. The bird calls of magpies, sunbirds, pheasants among others, ring through the forests and you can observe them in their natural habitat for a small fee of NRS 10 per person. Additional charge for your mode of transport, NRS 10/30/100 for Bicycle/Bike/Car respectively.
2. Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve: Koshi Tappu is a protected network of wetlands in Terai, on the floodplains of SaptaKoshi, the largest river in Nepal. The Koshi embankment on the southern end of the reserve creates a perpetual dipping pool for over 300 species of birds including the Water fowl, Waders and the endangered Swap Partridge among others. You can catch a flight from Kathmandu to Biratnagar and another two hours ride from the airport will get you to the reserve. A 10 hours drive to determine the 500 kms from Kathmandu is another alternative. Arguably the best means yet could be to raft down the SunKoshi River on a 9-10 days trip that ends with a stay in one of the tented camps inside the reserve. Entrance fee is NRS 1000 for foreign nationals.
3. Annapurna Conservation Area: Covering around 2946 sq kms of North-central Nepal, ACA is the world’s largest protected region. It is spread over several districts below the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massif. The terrain changes significantly with altitudes, ranging from sub-tropical lowlands in the south to dry subalpine conditions in the north. This makes for a rich bio-diversity that supports over 441 species of birds like Spiny Babbler, Crimson Horned Pheasant, Bearded Vulture etc. Migration coincides with peak trekking seasons in spring and autumn, making it possible to combine the joys of bird watching with trekking. The convenient starting point for the foray into ACP is Pokhara, a 35 minutes flight from the capital. Entrance fee to ACP is Rs 2000 per person.
Practical Information: Carry your binoculars, telescopes, cameras, video cameras, all the kit required to get the most out of your trips. Sun-block, insect repellents, walking shoes, comfortable clothing in natural colours that will blend with nature and a cheerful disposition are a must. The peak seasons for bird-watching in Nepal are the months of March and December. Catch the summer and autumn months for migrating birds from Siberia, Africa and Asia.
Notes: There are several other hotspots for bird-watching. Nepal with over 40% of its land mass covered in forests is a treasure trove of rich bio-diversity. Any serene area with forested hills and water bodies is an open invitation for birders. Also, ask around for nearby parks, ponds, temples, picnic spots, for a casual stroll into your favourite time pass.