Nepal boasts over 800 species of birds, almost 8% of the world's recorded population. This is not surprising, in a country which rises from near sea level in the Terai Region through the low hills and the foothills to the mighty Himalayas and the highest place on earth, all within a distance of approximately 200km.
Bird Watching in the Kathmandu Valley
Within the Kathmandu Valley alone, over 500 species of birds have been recorded. The surrounding hills offer a varied ecology ranging from primary and secondary forests to rhododendron, oak and pine forests. In addition, the wetlands and open fields inside the Valley make up a diverse habitat for many species of birds.
The most popular bird watching spot is the Phulchoki hill, the highest peak on the Valley rim situated 20 km southeast of Kathmandu, with some 265 species recorded to date. The birds seen here included babblers, warblers, tits, thrushes, minivets, woodpeckers, eagles and many migrant birds. Godavari, at the foot of Phulchoki hill where the Royal Botanical Garden is situated, records over 100 species of birds including the lesser Racket-tailed drongo, Tibetan siskin and the spotted forktail.
The Shivapuri Watershed and Wildlife Reserve, situated 11km to the north of Kathmandu, is another exciting location. Nagerjun Royal Forest on Jamacho hill is situated 5km from Kathmandu on the way to Kakani from Balaju. It delights bird enthusiasts with blue magpies, kalij pheasants, Bonelli's eagles, Great Himalayan barbets and other exotic birds.
As for the wetlands in the Valley, the banks of the Manohara river on the way to Bhaktapur, and the Bagmati river, which flows into the Valley from Shivapuri hill and out through Chobhar Gorge, are good places for watching waders and waterfowls. Harbouring 40 species of birds mostly dependent on wetlands, Taudaha, a lake on the way to Dakshinkali, attracts flocks of migrant birds.
Good roads lead to all these places and guides are also available. Accommodation is easy to find in the Valley with a wide range of hotels to suit all pockets.
Popular Bird Watching Sites Outside the Kathmandu Valley
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
As well as other kinds of fauna, the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is renowned for being one of the best locations for birding. Still within Nepal's sub-tropical Terai belt, this is the smallest (175 sqkm) and easternmost reserve in Nepal, just to the northeast of the convergence of the Sapt Koshi and Trijuga Khola rivers. Its situation on the Sapt Koshi floodplain means that the environment of this reserve varies dramatically according to the seasons. During the Monsoon (May to September) the flow becomes torrential and covers most of the floodplain, while during the dry seasons, many flat, sandy islands are exposed. The habitat is a combination of scrub grassland and deciduous riverine forest, with over 280 species of birds recorded so far, including 20 species of duck, ibises, storks, swamp partridges (Francolinus gularis); herons, egrets, Bengal floricans (Eupodotis bengalensis); and many other exotic and migratory waterfowl not found elsewhere in Nepal. To avoid the twelve hour bus ride, it is advisable to take an internal air flight to Biratnagar from Kathmandu.
Chitwan National Park
Is approximately five hours by road from Kathmandu or a 35 minute flight situated in the Terai region. It is renowned for its array of birds, with over 255 species recorded. There are many species of parakeets. Other birds include Blue-Throat (thrush); Long-tailed Nightjar, Indian Peafowl, Great Barbet, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Tickell's Red-breasted Blue Flycatcher. A two night/three day package, staying at a lodge within the Park, is an ideal way to combine birdwatching with other pursuits.
One of the best ways of viewing birds in Nepal is a leisurely trek through the foothills of the Kingdom. There are three main trekking areas in Nepal: the Langtang region six hours by road north of Kathmandu, the Solu Khumbu region eight hours by road east of Kathmandu and the Annapurna region, six hours by road or a 30 minute flight west of Kathmandu. Of the three trekking regions, the Annapurna region offers the widest variety of species. The region is also easily accessible.
To set the scene a little, the Annapurna region is a Conservation Area (ACA); covering around 2600sq km towards the north-central region of Nepal. The Kali Gandaki River runs north to south through this region, the world's deepest gorge, some 6,000m below the highest peaks of ACAs central Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massifs, seven of these peaks at over 7,000m, the highest (Annapurna I) at 8,091m.
To set the scene a little, the Annapurna region is a Conservation Area (ACA); covering around 2600sq km towards the north-central region of Nepal. The Kali Gandaki River runs north to south through this region, the world's deepest gorge, some 6000m below the highest peaks of ACA's central Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massifs, seven of these peaks at over 7000m, the highest (Annapurna I) at 8091m.
A few facts and figures above, but as you can imagine, the ACA therefore supports a remarkable but delicate biodiversity, with 441 recorded species of birds (so far); including the only endemic species of Nepal, the Spiny Babbler (Turdoides nepalensis). Bird habitat ranges from the sub-tropical lowlands towards Pokhara in the south of ACA to dry sub-alpine conditions above the tree-line towards the north.
The Kali Gandaki valley is also a major migration pathway in the autumn, when 40 species, including Demoiselle Cranes (Anthropoides virgo); can be seen around Jomosom and Tukche. Happily this coincides with one of the two trekking seasons (spring and autumn).
Migrating west about this time further south around Kaare and Dhampus are about 20 identified species of eagle and other birds of prey. The most commonly observed are: Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus (Bearded Vulture); known as the Giddha in Nepal, it frequently occurs at 4,100m. Golden Eagle Aquila cryaetos, known as Baaj in Nepal.
There are six Himalayan pheasants to be found in ACA: Himalayan Monal Lophophorus impejanus Satyr Tragopan Tragopan satyra (Crimson Horned Pheasant)Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha Cheer Pheasant Catreus wallichii Kalij Pheasant Lophura leucomelana, most commonly occurring of Nepali pheasants, though easily hunted
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