Click the play button to hear the sounds of the forest while you read the blog.
The initial three weeks didn’t allow for much time outdoors, as my priority, being an organizer, was to prepare for an upcoming event. However, even during this busy period, I could still hear and observe various birds around my house, particularly the Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler. It had a distinctive two-note call and could be seen gracefully flying from one tree to another.
Finally, I had the opportunity to spend the month’s final week in the wilderness. As part of a project’s Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), I was assigned to document local wildlife. The destination was Surkhet, which I had merely passed through on my route to Mugu around 2018.
The one-hour, ten-minute flight to Surkhet was uneventful, with views of the mountains to the north as stunning as they could be as we passed over the sea of clouds. The valley was visible from above, surrounded by forested hills. Birendranagar’s airport was located on the city’s north-eastern outskirts. The single approach runway on a flat valley was unusual, with a berm closing off the opposite end.
After landing, we drove 27 kilometers south to our accommodation for the next three days. The weather was pleasant because the cloud cover kept the heat at bay. We took the jeep to scope out the community forest and make plans for the afternoon’s activity. At first glance, this Sal-dominated woodland appeared dense, and silent, except for the occasional cricket calls and the sounds by some locals as they collected forest fodder.
Strolling along the jeep trail nestled in the tranquil forest, I finally catch the calls from a couple of birds. Great Tits are flitting from one tree to another in search of food. Simultaneously, a Spangled Drongo perches on a branch across the road. With a sudden surge in excitement knowing that there are some birds and a presence of natural life in these forests I get around to recording the sightings. Further down the trail, I got to see a Crested Serpent Eagle, and while heading back to the town an Indian Roller perched on a tree.
With more information about the wild animals in the forest, I returned after lunch to document the sightings. The forests here are not only dominated by Sal trees but also by Stemless Date Palms (Local Name – Thakal), a dwarf flowering plant in the palm family. Other tree species I saw around were Sallo, Mahua, Jamun, etc.
The afternoon posed a challenge for bird-spotting, pushing me to shift my focus to documenting the insects in the area. I started documenting insects along the jeep trail, notably the Common Palm Butterfly, which was abundant and widespread. As I explored the forest filled with Stemless Date Palm, I encountered various other insect species. The only challenge while traversing this forest was avoiding contact with red ants and being poked by the leaves of the palm.
Moving slowly and carefully among the Stemless Date Palm, I noticed a pair of eyes peering at me from behind a blade of grass. Initially hesitant and shy, the creature adjusted its position to reveal only its eyes. After a few minutes, it seemed to grow more comfortable, allowing me to capture some photographs. This was my first encounter with an Antlion, which appeared smaller than the one I would encounter a few days later.
Another first was spotting a Mantis with oversized grasping forelimbs. A very shy and hard-to-photograph insect that I was able to document from a bit further away than the usual distance when taking macro photographs. As I explored the spaces in between the Sal and the Stemless Date Palm I was able to see a Jumping Spider briefly before it went inside its web built in between a folded dried leaf.
Caterpillars, Dragonfly, and Spiders were documented before the late afternoon sun mellowed the environment. In the distance, I could hear the loud calls of some Orange-billed Blue Magpie so I slowly walked towards the bush nearby and hid behind it, watching them fly around. The Rufous Treepie had also entered the chaos as it moved from one tree to another.
As I was hiding behind the bush, I saw a Stick Mantis walking slowly moving. When sitting still it looked similar to the small grass and pine leaves around that area. I was also able to spot some Grey-breasted Prinia a little further up the jeep trail as well.
The second day in the forest proved to be captivating as I explored a new region. En route to the destination, we encountered a family of Golden Jackals walking along the road. A short distance away, there was an Indian Peafowl foraging, and a bit further from it, a pair of Black Francolins gradually disappeared into the thickets of the forest.
I found the forests in Surkhet interesting as there weren’t any leeches and a minimal mosquito presence. While the vegetation remained consistent, the trees were closer together compared to the previous day. The tranquility of the forest was interrupted by the distinctive high-pitched kreeak call of an Alexandrine Parakeet.
In the distance, I noticed a bird gracefully gliding down to a Sallo tree. As I slowly approached the spot where I believed I had seen the bird initiate its glide, I carefully scanned the tree. On one of the branches, I spotted a Jungle Owlet. Positioned behind another tree, amidst the roots of some epiphytic plants, was another Jungle Owlet attentively observing its surroundings.
Owls are renowned for their stealth, making it challenging to discern their flight or pinpoint their perching location. The distinction became apparent as I could hear a rapid series of short flutters emanating from behind, witnessing a bird gracefully flying along the tree lines.
An hour of silence in the jungle was broken by the distinctive tzsib…tzsib…tzsib calls of Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, gradually drawing nearer to the trees around me. The foraging mania began, with the birds moving in various directions—up, down, sideways, and even upside down—exploring the nook and corners of the trees. A little later a couple of Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers also joined the frenzy.
In the morning, I documented Himalayan Bulbuls and Rufous Treepies among other birds. I was also able to do some macro photography, capturing images of Dragonflies, Robberflies, Damselflies, and various fungi.
I spent the afternoon walking a few kilometers within the jungle, capturing images of insects and intriguing fungi. During one instance, I attempted to capture images of a pair of Red Ants on high alert, positioned on a leaf. In a remarkably brief period, they quickly sensed my presence, and a few of them swiftly approached me. I was taken aback by the timing as I was focusing on photographing the ant on the leaf, and it promptly bit me. These ants are formidable creatures, and their bites are quite unpleasant, each attempting to clamp their jaws as tightly as possible.
Except for the ant encounter the jungle was remarkably quiet during the day, I decided to stay on the jeep track in the evening, to see if we would come across any nocturnal animals.
An overwhelming silence became profound after 6:30 PM, with the Waxing Gibbous moon casting a gentle glow through the forest canopy. There was not even a whisper in the forest thicket, just the occasional sound of dry Sal leaves gently descending to the forest floor. As we progressed down the trail, numerous fireflies came into view, creating a captivating spectacle in the forest.
While I’m accustomed to seeing only a couple of fireflies behind my house, this spectacle was truly magical. We paused to witness the yellow lights gracefully navigating the dark forest floor until it dawned on me that I should document this magical moment. With the night being relatively uneventful, we slowly made our way back to civilization.
On the last part of the day in Surkhet, I was determined not to leave any species I saw undocumented. While traversing a broad expanse of rice fields and a small village, I observed a dark object on the ground. A Tropical Leather-leaf Slug, an invasive African slug, was leisurely making its way towards the edge of the trail. Although I don’t have the date of the introduction of this slug species in Nepal, it has been a concern in various countries, including India, where it was introduced.
Upon entering the community forest, I resumed my exploration from the point I had concluded the previous day, progressing down. I had another first sighting and this time it was the burrow of a Sweatbee. Unfortunately, I couldn’t document the process as I unintentionally got too close to its burrow while attempting to photograph a dragonfly. I didn’t want to disturb the Sweatbee with sudden movements and scare it away. It fixed the opening of the burrow and flew away.
Walking further down despite appearing dense from the jeep track, the forest revealed patches of visible grassland as I entered the singletrack. The distinctive call of a bird, unfamiliar to me, grew louder as I ventured deeper. Scanning the trees from where the calls come out, I spotted a Sirkeer Malkoha. A beautiful bird with a unique colored beak. While documenting this bird, I also observed a pair of Oriental Turtle Doves perched on a Sallo tree.
The morning expedition in the forest yielded positive results as I managed to capture images of various birds and insects. Including a significantly larger Antlion with striking spotted wings compared to the one I had encountered on the first day. Additionally, I documented some Great Tits, Grey-breasted Prinias, and various insects.
The return journey to Kathmandu was equally intriguing, offering sightings of Terai Grey Langurs, Rhesus Macaques, and Spotted Deer along the route from Babai Valley to the eastern gates of Bardia National Park.
In the initial week of the month, I had an overnight work trip to Dhulikhel. While my focus was primarily on the tasks at hand, I did manage to make a few observations during an early morning walk the next day. As I strolled through a community forest, hoping to spot some birds, the weather took a turn, and fog began to envelop the surroundings.
Another challenge was the frequent helicopter landings at a hotel near the community forest, causing disturbance and making it difficult to observe the birds, as they were easily spooked.
Following a month of diverse observations in different areas, below are the species I encountered or documented during September.
Spangled Drongo, Crested Serpent Eagle, Indian Roller, Alexandrine Parakeet, Jungle Owlet, Himalayan Bulbul, Rufous Treepie, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Eurasian Collared Dove, House Sparrow, Sirkeer Malkoha (♂), Great Tit, Bengal Bush Lark, Grey-breasted Prinia, Orange-billed Blue Magpie, Indian Peafowl(♂), Black Francolins (♂,♀), Oriental Turtle Dove, Black drongo, Spotted Dove, Verditer Flycatcher, etc.
Common Palmfly Butterfly, Antlions (family Myrmeleontidae), Red Ants, Mantis (Acromantis genus), Dark Grass-brown Butterfly, Yellow-spot Swift Butterfly, Robberfly (family Asilidae), Wasps (family Sphecidae), Firefly, Damselfly, etc.
Golden Jackel, Terai Grey Langur, Spotted Deer, Indian Fruit Bat, Irrawaddy squirrel.
Ground Skink, Bronze Grass Skink, Garden Lizard, House Gecko.
Tropical Leather-leaf Slug (Laevicaulis alte) and other small aquatic snails.
Stemless Date Palm थाकल (Phoenix acaulis), Sal (Shorea robusta), Sallo (Pinus roxburghii), Mahua (Madhuca longifolia), Jamun (Syzygium cumini), Siru grass, Oak trees, etc.
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Ajay Narsingh Rana