Click on the play button to listen to the sounds of nature while you read the blog
I didn’t realize that I would see and document a lot more new species this year than before. April was no exception. The primary trips this month were to Phaplu in Solu and Priti in Ramechap. What I saw – April 2021 will be centered on these two locations.
Phaplu is a town in the northeast region of Nepal, also a gateway to a lot of trekking areas especially the Everest Base Camp trek. A town at the lower end of the Solukhumbu region, Phaplu also has an airport but with fewer flights than the one in Lukla, a couple of days of trekking from here. The drive from Kathmandu to Phaplu takes around 10 hours on a 270km hilly road.
The trip this time was centered on doing a trail safety check for a mountain bike race called Everest Enduro. While working and riding on the trails I was exposed to the beautiful alpine landscape that contained thick forests and grasslands. As spring had come the timing couldn’t be better as we could see some of the landscapes covered with Primula flowers in full bloom.
Inside the forest, the giant moss-covered trees would filter the sunlight on the forest floor where some species of wild daisies would be popping out. Apart from the occasional stoppages due to the fallen rotten trees while going down, the grippy trail had the flow that defiantly made me smile or should I rather say, a grin.
The work finished on March 31st, it was time to relax and head towards Phera where a friend lived. The first two days of April turned out to be amazing. The forest in this area was primarily covered by Rhododendron trees of which some were blooming and the forest ended at the banks of a river. Walking on the single track through the Rhododendron trees we ended up near a beautiful waterfall.
As I sat down to take some photographs and listen to the sounds of the water crashing down on the rock, I saw a familiar sight. A brown bird flying alongside the stream brought back memories from the Rara to Khaptad trip I had done a couple of years back. This bird would float downstream, catch aquatic organisms on the way, fly back up again and repeat the process.
Commonly known as the Brown Dipper, it was finally time to document one. I headed downstream until I had a glimpse of it. Waiting for the next couple of minutes for it to reappear again it was time to give my all and not miss. Taking a couple of pictures that satisfied my need I watched it float down the stream and catch its prey again.
The morning in Phera was cold, the grass and leaves around me were covered in frost. Fresh air reigned supreme after a couple of days of smoggy weather. A camera on my hand I moved out towards the field to wait out for the birds to perch on the treetops and start singing. Rufous Sibia could be heard in the distance with their mellow sound as the warblers were busy down in the pine forest. Up ahead Mt. Numbur gleamed in vibrant orange as the sun touched the white snow. The fog in the valley was rolling down towards the forest only to disappear midway.
A Long-tailed Shrike was singing on top of its voice while a Grey Bushchat was overlooking the ground filled with Primula flowers in full bloom. Documenting the activities of the birds was a pleasure. I will be back again to this amazing place as the season change will bring out more wildlife to document.
The second stop for the month was at Priti in Ramechap. Priti is a town also in the northeast region of Nepal and 215km from Kathmandu. I along with the team from Sattya, were there to give workshops on art, photography, and a crash course on first aid for a local school to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Sattya Media Arts Collective.
As usual, early mornings were about exploring the place and seeing its natural diversity. Priti didn’t disappoint. The first three days were just about finding the possibilities as work was the priority. Waking up at 5 am and heading out towards the nearest meadow and forest till 8:30 am was an adventure on its own. While on the meadow I could hear the calls from the Himalayan Bulbul, while a Verditer Flycatcher was perched on top of a shrub. The beautiful blue plumage highlighted even more by the morning sun light.
Sitting on top of a fallen log silently listening to the songs of the birds that filled the forest as the light breeze would sweep through the leaves of the trees was a delightful experience. Warblers could be heard a lot as they would hop from one branch to the other and wouldn’t stay still as they searched for food. Rufous Sibia would be whistling from an Angeree bush while the crook..cru..croo call could be heard from a Spotted Dove perching on an Utis tree nearby.
The occasional rustling of the dried leaves on the forest floor would make me excited thinking a mammal would be nearby only to find some Laughing Thrush busy foraging. Even this was a delight as the only sight I would be witnessing most of the time was the flying leaves that the Thrush would throw around while uncovering the layers on the floor.
Looking at the morning sun rays slowly lighting up the forest I could spot a couple of Kalij Pheasant searching for food. Shy, they slowly went deeper inside the jungle while I was scratching my head on why I didn’t take any pictures. Wild Orchids could be spotted growing amongst the rock wall near the Rhododendron trees. It had been a while since I had seen one blooming. Finding an orchid means that the ecosystem of that place is healthy. I hope it stays that way.
One thing that I heard on day one was that there would be wild hares and deers coming to the fields to eat the crops. It had been more than 3 years since I had seen a wild hare so this was my moment to see one again in the wild. The catch was it would come late at night. The wish to see a hare in the wild was granted when we went to a newly planted potato field and was able to spot one which slowly disappeared into the bush nearby.
April 14th and it was Nepali New Year. We had finished all our workshops on the previous day so today it was all about celebrating our New Year. As usual, woke up early and headed out. I could finally let my brain concentrate completely on seeing and documenting the natural diversity of this place. Walking through the single tracks I choose a different spot today overlooking an Utis tree and the shrubs below it with the forest in the background.
Slowly after waiting out for an hour the birds got accustomed to my presence and were back to their usual routine around the Utis tree and the shrubs below. The shy Rufous Sibia that was seen inside the shrubs in the previous days were on the open branches singing. A group of Blue-winged Siva came to the shrub, started searching for invertebrates, and were whistling their songs along the way. This was my first time seeing them in a group.
Whiskered Yuhina, Black-lored Tit, Grey Bushchat, also made their appearance and I was able to document them. The morning got even better when a White-throated Fantail started hopping around with its tail in a fanned position. The White-throated Fantail would come back to the spot a couple of times more.
Apart from the work and the morning stroll, I loved watching the sunrise and the sunsets from this place. If the weather would have been clear the morning drama of the first light touching the mountains would have been epic. Nevertheless, the results I got turned out to be a bit dramatic as the smoggy air from the wildfires in various parts of Nepal acted as a filter. The rain that came from the second half of April finally cleared the air a bit.
Heading back to Kathmandu from Phaplu and Priti was difficult but on the way back I got the opportunity to spot a Barking deer grazing on the outskirts of a community forest and an Irrawaddy Squirrel crossing a dirt road towards an Utis tree.
Blessed to be able to witness nature at its best. Below is a brief list of the species of flora and fauna that I was able to see or document in April.
Darjeeling Woodpecker, White-throated Fantail, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Black-lored Tit, Red-vented Bulbul, Himalayan Bulbul, Common Tailorbird, Rufous Sibia, Whiskered Yuhina, White-tailed Nuthatch, Common Myna, Grey Bushchat, Verditer Flycatcher, Brown Dipper, Yellow Wagtail, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Crested Bunting, Black Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, White-throated Kingfisher, Spotted Dove, Oriental Turtle Dove, Cattle Egret, Kalij Pheasant, Blue-winged Siva, Blue Whistling Thrush, leaf warbler, Streaked Laughingthrush, Tickell’s thrush, Blue-capped rock thrush, etc.
Irrawaddy Squirrel, Barking Deer.
Bel Tree, Simal Tree (Bombox ceiba), Ainsliaea (a genus of the daisy family), Angeree, Chutro (Barberry), Utis Tree, Rhododendron Trees, etc.
Asian black-spined toad, Rock lizard.
Back in Kathmandu and after a couple of days of storm, and rain we finally had the perfect weather. Clear blue skies and the green foliage gleaming under the bright sun. As the days passed and I sit down to write the What I saw – April 2021, I read the news about some 67 vultures dead after eating a couple of dogs that were poisoned. So many things to comprehend with that single news.
I have traveled a lot in Nepal and seen a lot of places having dog problems. This is a problem that arises when we ignore, abandon, neglect, discard the dogs we keep. To mitigate this problem, I have also been assisting in sterilizing (neutering, spaying) and vaccinating dogs in the Himalayan region of Nepal for the Himalayan Mutt Project.
Dogs are kept by humans for many purposes but whatever may it be, it is our responsibility to prevent them from interacting with wildlife as much as possible. Preventing interactions helps protect both dogs and wildlife because dogs carry many diseases like Rabies and Distemper that can kill wildlife. Many of these diseases have no cure and the best way to protect the dogs and wildlife is to vaccinate and sterilize our dogs.
Dogs when not looked after or discarded to the streets become free-ranging dogs that can be a nuisance for the public and wildlife as they have to fend for themselves, find food, and also shelter. Forming packs in the street or the wilderness is an instinctual habit for them. Puppies will be produced and once again the population on the street increases.
In places where there are forests or wilderness, free-ranging dogs often travel long distances in search of food. A food source can range from insects to mammals. There are records of dogs killing deers, monkeys, and many other wild animals either for food or to defend their territory.
There have been many instances where dogs have attacked cattle and the farmers have retaliated by poisoning and killing the dogs. The poisoned dead dogs are thrown in the landfill or the river which in turn is eaten by scavengers like the vultures.
Although not a pretty-looking bird vultures are important to us. They are nature’s cleaners of the dead. They feed on the dead carcasses that also helps in preventing the spread of diseases. Nepal has some vulture restaurants where farmers bring their sick and about-to-die cattle. As the cattle die the vultures come and clean up the carcass. This helps the farmers with the hassle and the cost of burying and also chemically leaching the ground while doing so.
We should be serious about this problem as we are privileged and blessed with natural diversity, but it is fragile. Incidents like the 67 vultures dead after eating a couple of dogs that were poisoned are a disaster that shouldn’t have happened. Management of dogs should be taken more seriously.
Local governments should come up with processes like registration and collaring of the pets, compulsory neutering or spaying of the pets, and street dogs. Data on vaccination should be maintained more strictly. If the owner wants to breed and sell then detailed records should be kept. The movement of the dogs that are kept for breeding should be monitored strictly. Law on the abandonment of pets should be taken more seriously.
We are people with compassion as there are a lot of examples of the public helping and feeding the street dogs, sending them to shelters, or adopting them. These are all exceptionally commendable things that are being done but it is also time we look at the long-term solution and stop incidents like the news above from repeating.
It’s high time we organize sterilization and vaccination camps locally. For an effective camp, public participation locally should be at its maximum.
I like dogs but I also know the impact that they can have in the wild if not cared for properly. We usually get the news with titles like “ Fearless dog battles a lioness”, etc which sounds good from a normal human perspective but when you think about how domestic dogs can be a threat to wildlife then the title of this news becomes very wrong in every sense.
This is a manageable situation hence the government, local government, us should be more serious. As we slowly urbanize the wilderness these problems will be of a constant occurrence. The outcome will never be good. The solution to the problem exists so let us all help in getting this problem solved. Volunteer or donate to the organizations that are working on sterilizing (neuter, spay) and vaccinating the dogs in Nepal, or in your region.
Please do share the segment What I saw – April 2021, or the blog if you feel like the content was good and the conservation message needs to be shared. Thank you so much for your support.
Also, the virus situation in Nepal is once again becoming a major issue so it would be logical to limit the movements, wash the hands regularly, use a mask whenever going out of the house or meeting someone. As of April 29th Kathmandu is under lockdown as the spread is increasing rapidly so please stay at home. Follow your government’s protocol for COVID-19. Be safe and stay healthy. Take care.
Ajay Narsingh Rana
“Stray dogs kill leopard, video goes viral” (This is a video of an incident in India)