As the trees and patches of forests in Kathmandu dwindle, birds are becoming increasingly rare. Bird songs are drowned out by horns, the flutter of wings is lost. Fortunately for those who like to see and hear birds once in a while, not all is lost. The forests around Kathmandu still have enough birds to entice bird watchers. Here is a description of some of the best places in the Valley for birdwatching
Head to the Phoolchoki forests in the Valley’s southeast corner for a day of walking in the midst of bird songs. Begin your birding trip in the Godavari Botanical Gardens at the base of Phoolchoki hill. Although on the ground level, the Gardens are still prime habitat for the city’s love birds. There are species like the Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Grey-chinned Minivet, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Grey-throated Babbler, Black-throated Sunbird, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Rufous-throated Hill Partridge, Black-throated Parrotbill, Hodgson’s Redstart, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, and Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker flitting about in the trees. The Spiny Babbler, Nepal’s only endemic bird, is also found here.
Next, take the winding trail up to the Phoolchoki summit. As you climb, the tick marks on your checklist will grow: since the forest cover is better higher up, more birds appear the higher you go. An impressive total of 288 species have been recorded at Phoolchoki. The hill is one of the last remaining places in the Valley for two rare species—the Spiny Babbler and the Hoary-throated Barwing. Resident species of Phoolchoki include Besra, Black Eagle, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Kalij Pheasant, Common Hill Partridge, Ashy Woodpigeon, Mountain Scops Owl, Collared Owl, Golden-throated Barbet, Spotted Forktail, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Cutia, Nepal Fulvetta, and Brown-throated Treecreeper. Species like the Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Bay Woodpecker, Blue-naped Pitta, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, and Red-tailed Minla are also seen here, although it is unclear whether or not they are residents. In winter the forests see visitors like Speckled Woodpigeon, Golden Bush-Robin, Greater Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler, Fire-tailed Sunbird and Pink-browed Rosefinch. The summer visitors include Crested Serpent Eagle, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Asian Sooty, Little Pied and Snowy-browed Flycatchers, and Blue-capped Rock-Thrush.
Shivapuri National Park
Birders keen on seeing more birds can visit the Shivapuri National Park to the city’s north. There are 178 bird species in Shivapuri. The forests of Shivapuri, which were turned into a national park only in 2003, have largely remained unscathed by Kathmandu’s frenetic growth. An early, although partial, attempt to preserve the forest was made in 1975, under the aegis of the Shivapuri Watershed Development Board. That far-sightedness helped protect over half of its forest cover. It also helped protect the homes of species like Speckled Piculet, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Blue-winged and Red-tailed Minlas, Yellow-browed Tit and Brown Bullfinch, Jungle Nightjar, White-throated Needletail, Indian Blue Robin, Tickell’s Thrush and Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler. In winter you are likely to find the Northern Goshawk, Maroon-backed Accentor, White-tailed Rubythroat, and Scarlet and Gold-naped Finches.
Nagarjun, Gokarna, and Taudaha
Nagarjun, an extension of Shivapuri National Park, is another “pilgrimage” site for bird enthusiasts. The forest, like Shivapuri and Phoolchoki, both of which were once shooting reserves belonging to Nepalese royalty, has managed to escape the clutches of urban expansion and deforestation. Besides the species found in the aforementioned sites, Nagarjun has birds like the Northern Eagle Owl and Forest Eagle Owl.
The next birdwatching site sits on the Valley floor, surrounded by the city. The Gokarna forest (after which the famous resort is named) is an urban haven for birds as well as birders. With rare owls like the Brown Fish and Brown Wood Owls in residence, it is a must-visit for all owl lovers.
Taudaha, the small pond that lies in the southeast of the Valley, on the way to the old town of Pharping, is the place to see some of the feathered “guests,” or migratory birds. These species arrive at the pond in October and stay until April.
A birding trip in Kathmandu is an opportunity to experience the richness of its birdlife: 534 species, including 18 globally threatened species, have been recorded in the Valley. Trips to these sites are also some of the cheapest excursions from the city. Spotting as many birds as possible is always the goal of birding trips. But in Kathmandu the trip itself is liberating. Whether you see a rare bird or not, a visit to these sites can often feel like a flight from the mundane to the sublime.
Gear and Essentials
Including a flashlight in the essentials for a birdwatching trip may sound dramatic or pessimistic, but people occasionally lose their way in these places. A flashlight can turn out to be the savior during such an event. If you’re not as good as Bear Grylls at finding your way out of a wilderness, carry a map. A guide knows birds by sight; you probably won’t. Carrying a good field guide can help you correctly identify a bird.
For a birding trip in Kathmandu, these books will prove useful:
Birds of Nepal by R.L. Fleming (Sr & Jr); A Guide to the Birds of Nepal by Carol and Tim Inskipp; A Birdwatchers’s Guide to Nepal (1988) by Carol Inskipp; Important Bird Areas In Nepal (2005) by Hem Sagar Baral and Carol Inskipp.
Beside these books, Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) has all the information you need on Nepal’s birds and birdwatching in Kathmandu (www.birdlifenepal.org; 01- 4417805 / 4420213).
Things to Remember
Best time to visit
October through May is the best time for birding in the Valley. Spring (March-April) is especially rewarding because it marks the beginning of the mating season for birds.
More the merrier
The best sites for bird watching in Kathmandu are wildernesses, so it is always better to go in groups. Besides the security that numbers provide, having extra pairs of eyes and ears increase the chances of spotting birds.
Like in all wildernesses, you must remember that you are guests and the animals the hosts. Let them do the chirping and trilling and shrieking. Keeping your voices down and curbing your excitement is also important because shouting “I saw it!” or “There!” can ruin the chances for another birder.
If you are heading on a birdwatching trip during summer, make sure you stay hydrated. Carry plenty of water and try and visit the forests during the early morning hours, when birds are most active.
No stroll in the Park
Phoolchoki, Shivapuri and Nagarjun have dense forests and a profusion of trails. It is easy to lose your way if you leave the main trail or try guessing your way back. Hire a birdwatching guide from any of the travel agencies in the city or seek the services of a local. There should be at least one person in the group who knows the way thoroughly.