Day 3 29th Nov: Ravangla (Mt. Narsing resort)
Our first morning in Sikkim found us ready at dawn, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and raring to go. We were going to explore the area around the resort, and set off on a path going towards the forest from which a myriad birdcalls emanated enticingly. What followed was most frustrating as the skulkers disappeared into the undergrowth where we couldn’t follow, and we discovered a whole new class of birds which we named the “dashers” who refused to be still for a micro-second. An hour later, as the sun crept out of the clouds, our fortunes shifted dramatically, with a flock of mountain bulbuls, little buntings and a dark-breasted rosefinch. J and I found a good spot in the undergrowth around the resort, and sat watching a flock of red-billed leiothrix gambolling around. The others soon joined, and then we set off to explore the adjacent hill, where we really hit the jackpot with a superb sighting of the much-coveted sultan tit. A pair of skulkers with bright red markings on the face and wings were later IDed by piecing together pictures of various parts of their anatomy, and confirmed to be red-faced liocichla!
Subhasis Roy now joined us, having just missed the action, when a sudden shout from Dhanesh and the mention of the dreaded L word brought us back to the ground with a thud. The BULBs raced back to the resort and close inspection of our footwear revealed several offenders trying to sneak into our socks. Various kinds of insect repellant was produced and liberally sprayed on everything in sight, including on one unfortunate specimen which promptly expired, to our collective satisfaction. The famous leech socks were donned, salt was sprinkled on our shoes, and after considerable entertainment and posing for photos, we set off again, gingerly down the paved road to much teasing from the tubes. Along the road we came upon a feeding flock of the cute-looking black-throated tits, green-backed tits, several grey bushchats and the ubiquitous rufous sibias. A rufous-breasted accentor gave us a good sighting, while a path to the left leading to a forest echoed with the calls of the common green magpie. Dhanesh and Ranjeet set off on a walk into the forest, while we accompanied Subhasis a little further downhill. On our return, we found that Dhanesh had come upon a pair of flower-breasted flowerpeckers, and post lunch some of us explored that area.
Day 4 30th Nov: Ravangla – Pemayangste
I had decided this morning that I would stake out in the area where the sultan tit and red-faced liocichla had been sighted the day before, and attempt some photographs. There was some concern among the group about the resident dog, a large and floppy creature which had attached itself to us and was sure to flush out all possible birds. As I set off for my destination, Happy decided I would be the chosen one, and trotted along determinedly. All attempts to shake her off were futile, while the others sadistically watched my plight from the adjacent hill and decided to take another route abandoning me to Happy’s company.
Other than a pair of green-billed malkohas near the resort, the birding was absolutely dismal, with the hillside devoid of any calls or activity. Dhanesh joined me after a bit, and got a shot of a golden bush robin which perched in front of him. Some blue-fronted redstarts later, I headed down to the forested area where the others had gone, when some raucous calls indicated the presence of laughingthrushes. Soon a flock of chestnut-crowned laughingthrushes appeared, feeding and hopping from tree to tree. I tried to imitate the call and had a longish conversation with one which also posed for a while, but in very poor light conditions which made me resolve to get a camera with better ISO performance.
Back at the resort after the morning session, and our vehicle had arrived to take us to our next destination, Pemayangste. The others returned with a similarly dismal birding report, and we were soon on our way, albeit late enough that a birding session with Subhasis en route at Rangitnagar was ruled out. We nevertheless met up with him on the way, where an Asian barred owlet also waited to say goodbye. The stop was fortuitous, as we discovered that the overhead carrier of the vehicle was about to fall off, unable to withstand the weight of our luggage, and the remaining journey was spent in ultimate discomfort with the bags in the back and 4 of us crammed into the middle seat. En route we added slaty-backed forktail to our list, and reached the hotel in Pemayangste where a late lunch and another spectacular Himalayan view awaited us behind the clouds. The late afternoon was very overcast, and a brief exploration of the area around the luxurious Mt. Pandim resort yielded only some female blue-fronted redstarts, green-backed tits and a flock of olive-backed pipits.