How Colourful can you become ??
What does “passing in Flying Colours” mean to you ??
How much fit are you ?? – well get ready with your answers….
I am sure many of you have been to the Himalayas. Some of you as trekkers, seeking the more adventurous path than usual while others to the various pilgrimages & beautiful hamlets spread across the Himalayas & its foothills. But I sincerely doubt if any of you ever gave a thought to cherishing the beauty of the varied avian fauna that exists in this region. Yes, surely now you might recall a bird flying across your car or your path with a long tail and a coluorful beak or may be it came & sat upon the tree perch in front of you but you may have simply ignored it & got busy relaxing.
Let me tell you that there are more than 1200 species of birds found in India among which the Himalayas boost of having almost 500 odd species approximately. In this blog I will be sharing my experience on viewing the most colourful bird of the Himalayas – The Himalayan Monal.
I had been to Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary in Sikkim, India on May 11th 2016 for a period of 5 days along with my wife and travel agency Goingwild. I have heard this area to be Birding Paradise. My friend cum tour mentor Dibyendu Ash had been talking to me throughout regarding the beauty of the Monal & that you will never get tired of clicking it’s photo over & over again. We were also accompanied with Ranjan Dash who had been to the place only 6 months earlier but had unfortunately a tough luck in spotting this beauty from a vantage position. Hence he has revisited to quench his thirst & thereby give his luck a second shot. I was carrying along with me Nikkon D750 with Tamron 150 – 600mm.
Himalayan Monal – Scientific name – Lophophorus impejanus. It is a resident in the Himalayas & boosts of the colours green, copper, purple, blue, orangish red, white patch at its back, cinnamon-brown tail & spatulate – tipped crest. It usually spends the summer months foraging along steep rocky & grass covered slopes of the mountains making it a touch easier to spot. Monal belongs to the pheasant family. It is the national bird of Nepal where it is locally known as “Danphe” & state bird of Uttarakhand, India.
By the time we reached Zuluk ( 10,000 ft approx), I had understood that it is certainly lucky to view this beauty & to click it in perfect lighting conditions even more challenging due to the sudden changes in weather that takes place in the hills.
It was 12th May 2016 & we had started early at 5 am in the morning in search for the avian beauties in the region. We had started to drive up the slopes. I was seated in the front beside Dibyendu & to my right Namgyal ( the driver cum logistics support). It had been only a few bends & BINGO !!! – MONAL it is – the car stopped, we came out cautiously to spot the MONAL right in front climbing up the slopes. But before we could sink in the excitement of the view & get ready to take some shots in the chill, it had already climbed up fast enough to deprive me off a good sideface shot. It moved up further to diasappear behind the upper mountain edges. Dibyendu suggested that we would see it again higher up the slopes.
With adrenaline burning high & everybody in an awestruck situation with the sighting right at the begining of the tour, we started to dream of even better opportunities in the coming days. At first sight it felt as if GOD has displayed all the colours in the palette via this beautiful creation of his. We kept on advancing up the slopes while enjoying some beautiful birds and landscapes on the way. It had been half an hour past our first sighting when our driver stopped to point at something in the distance. What else ??? Monal again, this time at a far off place but it helped me to a beautiful MONALSCAPE none the less. We left it there & moved on in search for better sightings.
By this time, it was mid day & we gathered for lunch before starting our afternoon session. We had packed our lunch & therefore it was not necessary to get back to ZULUK all the way. 3 pm and again, we spotted some movement among the bushes along a hill slope. It was quite some distance away, approximately 80m & not as close as our first sighting. Monal it was, foraging among the thickets & periodically gazing upwards in response to a call from another Monal – it may be coming from a female or a rival male. We also understood that the summer months are perfect mating time & hence this rigorous activity among the creatures. We could also spot them in the very best of plumage as during mating period birds display their most colourful plumage to attract the females. Following are two shots from the afternoon sighting as described above.
13th May 2016, the same routine followed as we got up early & started by 5 am. We had already treated ourselves to some excellent views of avian fauna from the Pangolakha. Still every time we started our journey our interest & expectation was to see the beautiful Monal once more.
We had stopped by a hamlet named Lungthu to have breakfast and carry on further. After enjoying some rosefinches & cuckoo sightings from the area we were all about to board the car to go to some higher altitudes. I was behind the group & we were leaving the hamlet behind us while walking towards our car. It was around 7:30 am. Suddenly I felt like looking back towards the hamlet & surprisingly I spotted some movement among the houses. I instantly shouted out “MONAL”. The whole team stopped & Dibyendu via his binoculars confirmed “YES…its Monal”, this time it was walking straight down the village towards us. We stopped where ever we were, to capture this moment.
While we were motionless & were gazing towards this beauty, the only two movements were that of the camera shutter button pressed down forever forcing it to go into buffer mode & that of the villagers who were scaring the bird away from their houses. For the villagers it was an everyday sight & to them the Monal was like any other pheasant, their behaviour resembling that of ours when we find some chicken straying across the roads. In the meanwhile, the monal carefully guided its way among the cables & wires down the slope of the hamlet to the road and then it took off from the edge. I missed the dream flight shot. What follows is the pictorial representation of the above experience.
14th May 2016, the day was not as bright as the other days. It was raining & the clouds were intruding the valley at their whims and fancies, making it extremely difficult to focus on the avian beauties. I was reducing the exposure to nullify the effect of fog & to get better focussing but it was back focussing like anything. We could listen to some monal calls from Zuluk & were sure to spot it today. It was our last day up the slope from Zuluk & the following day we would search for other species at lower altitude than Zuluk. Luckily at 6:15 am & we found it again along the roadside on a rock but among thick clouds helping me to a silhouette in pretty bad lighting conditions.
We waited for the conditions to improve and 6:30 am we found it again along another bend – but this time we had confused it with the roadside indicators. It was a special sighting as it gave us the same beauty in different circumstances. The conditions were foggy & therefore what could have been a spectacular shot landed up being just another shot. It flew off to higher slopes, I missed my flight shot again.
Conditions were improving with every bend & with our vigil strictly out for the Monal we were able to spot it again this time down the slope. We simply aligned ourselves along the road to cause minimum disturbance while it was foraging right below us along the slope. We understood from Dibyendu that any pheasant has a tolerance distance level of 20ft beyond which it will not entertain any approach. I kept the same in mind and remembered a slightly bitter experience the day before when one of our companion’s over-excitement had caused the monal to fly away depriving everyone of a decent shot. The cloud cover was going away & I started getting better shots of the beauty. The weather was chilly & the tempeature was hovering around 10° Celsius and with the wind chill it was feeling like subzero temepratures.
Another valuable experience while clicking this beauty was that the colour on its body was changing every inch & that too was of metallic glossy nature. Hence, it was difficult for the camera to focus on it while it was moving.
After a few clicks we rested ourselves along the road to wait for the prized moment when it would fly off the edge. I had to make it count & could not afford any slippage. My hands were feeling numb due to the cold but I remained still. Your fitness levels are put to test in these conditions. Then suddenly without any intimation or alarm it flew away & so did my index finger press the shutter button in reflex. It passed off the ridge in flying colours. The result follows below :-
It was a dream come true moment for me & I cannot express my excitement when i pressed the view button of my camera to see whether everything was in focus. Keeping the cloudy conditions in mind my gear had done a decent job. This was the last sighting of the Monal from the tour. having said that, I present to you my final snap from the Pangolakha tour of the beautiful monal flight. Notice the Blue & brown with white combination bird – it was as if the monal was signing off for me from the tour. It flew away to scale new heights & filled our hearts with a sight to remember. Surely, I need to go back to enjoy viewing this beauty again.
Hope you enjoyed my experience.
My previous blog ⇓