No trip to Nepal would be complete without a trip to the high mountains of the Himalayas, where many sought-after bird species live. Getting to the best habitat entails quite a bit of effort, with several days walking needed. I opted for the Annapura Base Camp trek, a 6-8 day hike which starts near Nayapul and reaches a maximum altitude of 4,130 meters above sea level, passing through some excellent rhododendron and bamboo forest habitat along the way.
I had originally intended to go alone, but in the end teamed up with three non-birding trekkers, which made the long afternoons and evenings in the lodges much more enjoyable and social. We didn’t hire guides or porters – we took a map, the trails are well-marked, and we traveled light so were easily able to carry our own bags.
Himalayan trekking presents many challenges for the birder. Seemingly endless flights of stone steps leave you breathless, especially at high altitudes. The steps and paths are uneven, so you have to spend lots of time looking at the ground and not at the birds. The main trekking routes can be busy with other hikers, porters carrying goods, and mule trains, meaning birding is quite disturbed. It was noticeable that bird activity declined very sharply after the first three hours of daylight, when many of the shyer species seemed to melt back into the forest away from the disturbance of the trails – during the afternoons, even in prime forest habitat, I usually saw and heard very little.
A breakdown of each day of the trek:
Day one: Lumle to Landruk, around 1,600 meters altitude. Habitat mainly secondary forest, villages and agricultural land. New birds added included Grey-sided Bush-Warbler, the first of many Grey-hooded Warblers, and my first Russet Sparrows of the trip.
Day two: Landruk to Chhomrong, from 1,600 to 2,100 meters above sea level. The early morning produced several colorful Blue-fronted Redstarts around Landruk village. Also today, the first Rufous Sibias and Himalayan Griffons of the trip.
Day three: Chhomrong (altitude 2,100 meters). An enforced stay in Chhomrong due to an acute attack of food poisoning. The immediate vicinity of our guesthouse was excellent, with the following new species seen in the scrub and rhododendron shrubberies: Pink-browed, Spot-winged and Dark-breasted Rosefinches, Striated and Streaked Laughingthrushes, Red-headed Bullfinch, Fire-tailed Sunbird, and Whiskered Yuhina.
Day four: Chhomrong to Himalaya, from 2,100 to 2,900 meters altitude. Excellent habitat after Sinuwa, with rhododendron and oak forest and large areas of bamboo. However, birding was very slow, with just a handful of notable species added including Black-faced Laughingthrush, White-tailed Nuthatch and a surprise pair of Slaty-headed Parakeet.
Day five: Himalaya to Macchapuchre Base Camp (2,900 to 3,700 meters above sea level). Increasingly alpine environment, with deep snow on the ground past Deurali. Several big flocks of Snow Pigeon, and single Rufous-vented Tit and Grey-crested Tit, along with lots of Green-tailed and Fire-tailed Sunbirds.
Day six: Macchapuchre Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp (3,700 to 4,130 meters). A pre-dawn hike up to Annapurna Base Camp, and a mid-morning return to MBC where we spent the rest of the day (the high risk of avalanches made it unwise to descend from MBC after mid-morning). Alpine Accentor, Robin Accentor and Grandala around lodges and snow-melt patches, a pair of Himalayan Monals on a crag, Lammergeier, Steppe Eagle, and abundant Alpine Choughs.
Day seven: MBC to Sinuwa (3,700 to 2,300 meters). The bamboo and rhododendron forests produced a few more birds on the way down, notably Green Shrike-Babbler, Black-eared Shrike Babbler, Yellow-browed Tit, White-throated Laughingthrush, and best of all, superb views of a Hill Partridge.
Day eight: Sinuwa to Landruk (2,300 to 1,600 meters). Many of the same birds as on the way up, with the addition of Speckled Woodpigeon.
Day nine: Landruk to Nayapul (1,600 to 1,070 meters). We took a bus for the last few kilometers. Birding was unremarkable except for a male Crested Bunting, several Black-lored Tits and a pair of Grey-headed Woodpeckers.
Lifers: Grey-sided Bush-Warbler, Grey-hooded Warbler, Blue-fronted Redstart, Himalayan Griffon, Rufous Sibia, Dark-breasted Rosefinch, Spot-winged Rosefinch, Red-headed Bullfinch, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Striated Laughingthrush, Streaked Laughingthrush, Whiskered Yuhina, White-tailed Nuthatch, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Snow Pigeon, Rufous-vented Tit, Grey-crested Tit, Robin Accentor, Grandala, Himalayan Monal, Green Shrike-Babbler, Whistler’s Warbler, Yellow-browed Tit, White-throated Laughingthrush, Hill Partridge, Speckled Woodpigeon (total 1,865).
2015 Year List total: 550.