Day 4 1st Dec: Rabdentse and Mount Pandim
We had planned to spend the morning at Rabdentse ruins, the second capital of Sikkim, located a short distance from our hotel. The Himalayan view was still shrouded in clouds, and from the hotel garden we could see dozens of grey treepies and some olive-backed pipits. As we waited at the hotel gate for our driver to show up, we were entertained by the green-backed tits, white-tailed nuthatches and great barbets attracted to a tree laden with huge fruit swinging from it like giant pomegranates.
We were the first visitors at Rabdentse, and the first bird was a blue whistling thrush by the pond. The paved walk to the top revealed hundreds of grey treepies and white-throated laughing thrushes noisily flying across the path ahead of us. Among them a Eurasian jay was a really good find. At the top, the clouds cleared intermittently and the birding activity would then go up, with sightings of whiskered yuhinas and green-tailed sunbirds. After several hours of leisurely birding (mixed with a disastrous fall for one of the cameras) at the top, I was sitting alone overlooking the view by the chorten when a magnificent raptor flew into the tree next to me, almost directly above my head. It was a juvenile mountain hawk eagle, and I somehow controlled my excitement and managed to get a couple of shots before it took off again! Soon after, we saw an adult mountain hawk eagle in flight, and subsequently a greater spotted eagle
and tawny eagle.
In the afternoon after a sumptous lunch at our hotel in Pemayangste, we decided to “take in some culture” and go for a leisurely walk to the monastery next door, but the birds had other plans for us. No more were we out of the hotel door than we discovered a large flock of black-and-yellow birds high up in the trees around the hotel, which after frantically looking through the book were IDed as yellow-breasted greenfinch. We literally ran up the road to the guesthouse of the Roads & Bridges dept, just above our hotel, to get a better view, which also served as a superb vantage point for what was to follow.
And what followed was a superb mixed flock consisting of chestnut-tailed minlas, black-eared shrike-babblers, a single hoary-throated barwing, whiskered and stripe-throated yuhinas, and yellow-cheeked and green-backed tits. Most of the birds were new to us, and while Madhavi made some attempts at ID, Jainy and I went on a clicking spree shooting everything in sight, almost rendered incoherent at the bounty. The flock passed on in ten minutes, leaving us exhausted at the adrenaline rush of sighting so many lifers in so short a time. “Birding on steroids”, was the only way I could express the feeling!
Day 5 2nd Dec: Sangachoeling and Khecheopalri
We were scheduled to move to Yuksom today, but decided to check out Sangachoeling monastery in the morning, since the birding path around Pemayangste (refer report on kolkatabirds) had a lot of disturbance with a road under construction there. While waiting for the others to be ready, I snapped up a striated bulbul perched high in the trees around Pemayangste monastery. At Sangachoeling we found that a large portion of the forest here had been cut down as well, and a broad road was under construction under “Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna”. Walking up on a rocky path a male green-tailed sunbird posed for a minute, and at the top red-billed leiothrix and grey-crested tit (which we IDed only later from images, having dismissed it then as a whiskered yuhina!). As we turned to climb down, a rusty-flanked treecreeper landed within ten feet of us, and we watched, enthralled, and struggled to take pictures as it speedily traversed the tree trunk. Further down, another fast-moving mixed hunting flock, in which rufous-winged fulvetta (and nepal fulvetta IDed later from images) and green shrike babbler got added to our list.
Back at the hotel, we got held up catching the antics of the great barbet in feeding frenzy, shown in the sequence of pics above.
step 1: attack the ripe fruit with its heavy-weight bill
step 2: tear out and discard the fleshy portion
step 3: dig in for the yummy stuff
step 4: success!
step 5: gulp!
Finally we set off for our destination, Yuksom, intending to take a break at a high altitude lake, Khecheopalri. En route, we had our eyes peeled for birding stops when a green magpie flew across the road and our collective screeches nearly gave the driver a heart attack. We tumbled out of the vehicle, but the alarmed green magpie wouldn’t allow itself to be photographed. At the same spot though we found a more obliging golden-throated barbet, followed by a striated laughingthrush feeding on a ficus tree, which compensated somewhat for the loss of the magpie. Further on, overlooking the Rimbi river, sightings of male and female white-capped and plumbeous water redstarts scurrying around the rocks, and at another halt a rufous-gorgeted flycatcher.
With these numerous halts, and a road-block en route to the lake, we found ourselves much behind schedule and could only manage a short time at the lake. The first glimpse of the lake revealed some far away ducks, which Ram eerily prophesied to be merganser. Closer to the lake, we confirmed their ID and watched 4 males chasing the 2 merganser females around, while a pair of mallards peacefully went about their business, and a pair of Indian cormorants far off practised synchronized swimming. Possible white-tailed robin sighting by Madhavi could not be confirmed. En route to Yuksom another mixed hunting flock which contained several of the usual suspects seen that morning, but frustrated us as we struggled to ID the warblers in it. A roadside sighting of red-billed chough by Ram was the only other notable record before we pulled into the Yuksom hotel, exhausted.