(DEV BHOOMI IN TRUE SENSE)

  By Dr. Dilip Verma*

Birders often have their eccentric wish lists before they set off on a pursuit. Some may want to see a gaggle of bar Headed Geese; some may want to chance upon their favourite and elusive—warbler. Others may wish to see that ever-elusive Himalayan wood owl. I had mine as well. Since long time I wanted to photograph RED BILLED LEIOTHRIX & LAMMERGIER (BEARDED VULTURE). It was with this desire that I found myself on a flight to Dehradun. Last year I had the chance of visiting UTTARAKHAND & my bird watching trip was scheduled in April 2020, but due to nationwide Lockdown, the whole trip was cancelled. I had to wait for another year to visit this BIRDS PARADISE.

Uttarakhand, popularly known as ‘Devbhumi’ i.e. ‘the land of Gods’ is a small state in the northern part of India. 85% of the terrain is mountainous while 65% of the land is covered in forests.

Uttarakhand has not only been blessed in having an astonishing flora but is also endowed with extraordinary fauna, especially avifauna. Of the 1303 species of birds found in India, almost 755 species are found in Uttarakhand. More than 50% of birds’ species of India are found in Uttarakhand (450 plus species alone in Sattal). That’s why Uttarakhand is one of the best birdwatching destinations of India.

Uttarakhand, naturally blessed with mountains, rivers and forests, is rightly known as birdwatcher’s heaven. During the peak migratory seasons, the beautiful land of Uttarakhand gets prettier with a number of gorgeous migratory birds flocking the various regions of the state. The entire state becomes a welcoming shelter for birds from across the globe. If you have a penchant for birds and want to witness birds in their natural habitat, then Uttarakhand is your destination.

In my quest & pursuit I wasn’t alone. We were a group of six enthusiastic people from across the country. The tour was organized & managed by ‘HIMALAYA BIRDING TOURS’ run by the incredibly talented trio of Naturalists Rohit Nayal, Sandeep Nayal, and Mohit Joshi.  It was amazing to know, how much they knew about birds and their nuances, about the features that separate one species from another. As we steered as close to the birds as possible, slinking up without alarming them, they with their alert vision and hearing, ensured that we did not miss out on any bird that crossed our path.

My journey through this beautiful land, situated to the north of India, started when we arrived at Dehradun Airport. Our first halt was at Mandal (6–7 hours drive) a long journey but the beautiful landscapes & occasional birds didn’t make us felt the tiring journey.

The next morning was a complete surprise. We woke up to a beautiful snow clad mountain right behind the hotel. We went to a nearby village & got some beautiful perched pictures of Red Headed Bullfinch, Yellow Billed Blue Magpie, Blue throated Barbet (calling), and Grey winged Blackbird.

Birding often gives you surprises & I would never have dreamt of getting a picture of Yellow Rumped Honeyguide on a Bee Hive. This small sparrow sized bird feeds on Beeswax & tends to thrive on active Hive. In the afternoon, we went near a hill (300 ft height) & we could see 2–3 large Bee hives just on the undersurface of the top of the hill cliff. We were happy seeing the Hive (with Binoculars) but our Naturalist, Sandeep Nayal, had other ideas. He could locate the movement of the Yellow Rumped Honeyguide & made us move atop the Hill. He not only kept a safe distance from the Hive, but also got us some best pictures of Honeyguide on Bee Hive after we climbed the 25ft cliff.

Our next halt was at Chopta Village called Makku village; chilly winds, with out-&-out clear skies made it the perfect spot for Birding. We had a track of Tungnath Temple, one of the highest altitudes (12–15000 feet above the sea level) Shiva Temple in the World. The four KM trek with breathtaking views of the Himalayan Ranges with rising sun was absolutely mesmerizing and we were in complete awe with the views of Kedarnath and other prominent peaks right in front of us. We got some beautiful shots of HIMALAYAN MONAL (STATE BIRD OF UTTARAKHAND) and the Koklass Pheasant in its natural habitat as these are normally found 3000–5000 m above the sea level. After returning from Tungnath Trek, while we were resting on Bench at the hotel, we saw a Lammergier Hovering in the sky. It was a dream come true for me! A small trek before noon got us the glimpse of the rare – Yellow throated marten and Himalayan tahr.

Next we stayed in Manila where we got excellent shots of Cheer Pheasant, Brown wood owl, and the Great Barbet. We were also lucky to see the beautiful Red Rose finch, Bluefinch, Yellow-billed Magpie, Long tailed Minivet. I even took some short videos.

Our final destination was sattal (7 lakes) – an interconnected group of seven freshwater lakes. Sattal is the epitome of Bird photography & I was not disappointed. There’s a hide in Sattal ideally made for bird photography having a platform where you can rest your gears & click the birds from a safe, non disturbing distance. Normally bird movements start at about 6:30 am & believe me, we were busy with them till 9:30 nonstop. There’s a shallow valley in front of the trees where birds perch & the valley is in continuity with the forest. We got innumerable number of Birds coming to & fro on that perch & again disappearing into the forest. I got my PRIZED BIRD ‘RED BILLED LEIOTHRIX’ there. I could capture every moment possible with my dream bird. We moved out of the hide bidding Good bye to the little angels, promising them to visit once again.

Birdwatching is an activity, reserved not only for the well seasoned but also for bird enthusiasts who can practice utmost patience and perseverance. If you are a photographer of birds, or simply love spotting new types of birds, there’s no better place than Dev Bhoomi, Uttarakhand. The mighty hills of Uttarakhand provide a sanctuary to various types of birds, whose beauty is a sight to behold. Most towns in Uttarakhand have managed to maintain a healthy balance between nature and human settlements because of which wildlife there continues to flourish. In fact, out of the known 1,500 species, more than 50% species of birds can be found in Uttarakhand alone.

Having gone birdwatching in several parts of the country, I must confess that never have I seen these birds with such ease, or at such close proximity—luxuries that most birdwatchers would be envious of.

Can’t wait to GO TO PARADISE ONCE AGAIN!

*Author is the Director of Sarvodaya Hospital & Maternity Centre, Raipur (Chattisgarh)

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