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beady white eyes

2015-11-30 - 11:06 a.m.

Before I continue with my day-to-day report of my trip to Nepal, I should backtrack and mention something I saw when I was hiking down the mountain trail from the watch site at Thula Kharka. (Have I ever spelled the name of the count site the same way twice? I had better look it up and correct all these misspellings at some point.)

In any case, I had to hike down very slowly, because it's going down that seems to have the greatest impact on my knee if I forget to keep my weight far back on my body. Anyway, at one point I was walking past some monastery or some other place of religious significance and I swear I looked directly over and realized I was looking down at one of the old-time platforms for sky burial. And there were long bones in it. Who knows how old it was, since I suppose there are not enough vultures left to allow for sky burial any more. But it gave me a spooky feeling.

Speaking of hungry vultures, S. and I stopped to look back a couple of times during our hike down, and we could see the vultures gathering to check out the picnic we left for them. So we know these guys would be getting at least one uncontaminated meal.

All of these birds, once common, have been brought to the brink of extinction because of a veterinary drug called diclofenac, which I just googled to learn was banned in Nepal in 2006 but apparently is still floating around somehow. OK, I get it that the cows are holy and thus allowed to wander around crapping wherever they like and blocking the roads and not contributing even so much as a hamburger. But I don't know why anybody would spend money to give drugs to an animal that basically just wanders around crapping? It's yet another tragedy caused by human actions that make no logical sense. I really don't understand and don't want to comment on the political or religious situation taking place in Nepal, but there's definitely a situation where there are two cultures/religions and it appears to this untrained eye that one of the cultures is perhaps uncaring of how its actions impact the members of the other culture. Sky burial may not be pretty, and not everyone likes a vulture. I get it, I do. But not everyone thinks cows are all that pretty either. Why can't we all get along?

Anyway, enough of that. Back to the trip report...

Nov. 14, 2015...Lumbini, Nepal

I woke up early to check out the garden birds before breakfast. A pair of Sunbirds working a flowering tree had me stumped for a few minutes. My scribble of notes says, "Male looks like a female mango." I meant it had a long dark vertical stripe going down its chest to its belly. The bird didn't seem to be in the book. Then I realized it was the Purple Sunbird male in eclipse plumage. Whew. After that, I ID'd them both easily. Later, when I met the young Nepalese guide, he told me he'd heard the Purple Sunbirds and that I could look for them, so I was pleased to say I'd already found them.

I also got a pair of Brown-capped Pygmy-Woodpeckers and then a pair of Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers. They were just the first hint that the lowlands of Nepal were going to be very good for me in terms of Woodpeckers. I wondered then -- and wondered now -- if it's the same pygmy woodpecker I met in Japan. I'll have to double-check when I update my life list.

The guide emerged to help me find my first male Hooded Oriole and Hume's Warbler. Actually, he tried to help me find several other unremarkable little birds, but the light was poor and the leafy trees concealing, so I wasn't notably successful at that hour.

We went out in search of lowland specialties, including an area where the locals sometimes put out a vulture restaurant. I gather that they don't kill things to feed vultures. Rather, they have to wait until they find something already dead. So there was no food in that particular spot and not any great number of vultures, although we had our first good views of Greater Racket-tailed Drongo on that spot. However, a local lady came forward to lead us to another nearby place where they were gathering. We soon found a good-sized group of White-rumps, Himalayans, and even a Griffon or two. I should mention that even before we got to the original vulture picnic site, we got Egyptian Vulture (being harassed by Common Mynahs) and a great look at a Steppe Eagle (who eventually did get chased off by a huffy Black Drongo).

Overall, it was a good day to get acquainted with many lowland birds -- some familiar (Purple & Grey Heron, Pygmy Cormorant, White Wagtail, Black & Woolly-necked Stork) and some new (Lesser Adjutant, Bluethroat, White-eyed Buzzard).

At some point in the day, we headed over to the birthplace of Buddha. I don't want to say "tourist trap" but, yeah, kind of. The best thing about it was the wetlands surrounding it, which provided a beautiful habitat for local birds. Some of the more impressive species included White- breasted Waterhen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Open-billed Stork, Cotton Pygmy Goose, and a Wryneck which was actually working a tree something like its woodpecker relatives. When I first saw Wryneck in Kenya, it was working the seeding grasses... so it was an interesting sight, all the more so since we were standing right there and looking up into the tree. A bird that impressed our guide was Graylag Goose. A low-flying V came right over us when we first stepped onto the property. I might have thought nothing of it, but the guide said he'd never seen Greylag Goose there before in years of birding the site.

There were some ruins and a bit of depression in brick said to be Buddha's footprint from being born, even though it seemed as if the ruins dated from several hundred years after he was born, so I don't know how that works. On the other hand, they say Jesus was born in a manger, so His birthplace is probably a real disappointment too. Who knows? I checked it out, shrugged, and have now accumulated much merit toward a better life in my next incarnation. Or maybe not. I mean, someone has to be born as the unobtrusive Hume's and Smokey's Warblers, after all. We can't all be Crested Serpent Eagles with flashy crowns on our heads.

We got a couple of White-eyed Buzzards during the day. But one of them was particularly fine. It perched a long time and allowed us good looks at its lovely eyes.

Nov. 15, 2015...Lumbini Area

Today was the day we drove out to the reservoir. It was a bit foggy when I woke up in the morning, but I heard a clatter of woodpecker voices that encouraged me to check out the pair of Black-rumped Flamebacks that practically flew up to the door of my room and demanded to be observed. Beautiful birds.

There were to be many Shikras observed on this trip. One of the most notable was a yellow-eyed female Shikra who chased and evidently caught a bird from a mixed flock of Common Mynas & Black Drongos but they were in a little dip so we couldn't see what she mantled. We could just see the other birds fly up.

There was a place where the road was washed out and it looked like we couldn't get to the reservoir. But, hmmm, there was also a load of bricks and the driver talked some locals into putting down the bricks long enough to let us pass. They said it would take about half an hour. I walked away to water a bush and had a view of a low-flying group of Sarus Crane. I want to say five or six birds. A really special moment. However, it didn't really take 30 minutes to fix the road. I'll say more like ten minutes because, by the time I strolled back, I could see the van had already crossed over the broken spot in the road. I hate to keep everyone waiting. But I don't think I slowed down things too much, since we still had to return the bricks...

The finest bird at the reservoir may have been a close-up look at a male (red-eyed) Shikra. I also enjoyed the Pheasant-tailed Jacana and a quick round-up of various waterbirds like the Ferruginous & Common Pochards. On the way back, we found Pied Harrier (gorgeous!), another Crested Serpent Eagle (ditto), and a pair of highly cooperative Indian Spotted Eagles which allowed the photographers among us to grab plenty of photographs.

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