Thursday, 2 May 2013

3rd April – Gonap to Satri

Overnight there was some rain, and when we awoke at the now usual time of 5.30, the sky was cloudy and overcast, but dry.  The sun did manage to put in some brief appearances as we packed up before breakfast, but on the whole it was a dull start. 

We had our breakfast on our own, our fellow guests not putting in an appearance, and after breakfast we said our goodbyes to committee, and bid farewell to the lovely village of Gonap.
We left the village and made our way to the ridge we had walked over last night, fortunately Helen realised then that she had left her binoculars behind, and it didn’t take long to go back and retrieve them. 

With the cloudy conditions, and the route going through high pine forest, it was at first quiet, with very little about, other than for the views the camera was not very busy.  The first bird we came across was though a new bird, one that we had been hearing all the time, but had not yet managed to see.  It was Great Barbet, and was a lovely collection greens, blues and brown, as it sat perched in the tree in front of us.  Gradually it moved to a more open position and I was able to get a good opportunity for the picture.

Once the trail returned to mixed oak and rhododendron, we began to hear and see more birds.  We found a Scarlet Minivet, high in the tree tops, and a group of Plum-headed Parakeets flew around the canopy, pausing every so often at the top. 

The path went around the valley and came upon a small stream valley.  As we crossed the stream, Helen pointed out a large black and white bird on the rocks up stream.  I managed to get a look, but was not able to get the photo, it was a Spotted Forktail, which can only be described as a very large Pied Wagtail looking bird, that is typically found alongside streams. We waited to see if it would return into view, but of course it didn’t.
The path we were on was the only link between the villages of Gonap and Satri, and we passed porters coming in the other direction, it was amazing how much these porters could carry, and most of the time they were women, we were a little embarrassed as we struggled across some of ht paths, and they just seemed to zip by.  One of the ladies (in pink) was also carrying presents for the baby’s naming ceremony in Gonap today.

The trail returned to the pine forests, and silence returned, suddenly I noticed movement away in the distance coming between the trees, as the animals came closer I began to wonder what they were until I realised that they were Mountain Goats, and they were approaching at speed.  It was like a scene from a fantasy movie, the sound of them thundering over the ground, the goats looked unreal until they were almost on top of us when you could make out what they were.  They ran up to us, and came very close, then suddenly realised we were there and then they pulled up and turned down hill.

It appears that they were male and female, the male pursuing the female with one intention, the female obviously not happy about it.  It was very surreal, and I could just see something like that happening in the Lord of the Rings or similar films.
As usual the common butterflies were the whites, Tortoiseshell and the Clouded yellows, but I did manage to find a Saw Banded Sailor that settled on the dead leaves on the ground.


We came to another mixed wood valley with a small stream, and here we stopped for a rest. Once again as we stood still and watched and listened the birds began to appear.  A Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, and the now common Verditor Flycatcher were just under the canopy.  But there were also new birds, Helen found a White browed Shrike Babbler which was elusive in the trees, but we were able to identify it, and in the same tree a lovely Lesser Yellownape, another woodpecker to add to our list.


  Leaving the stream valley we returned into the grassy path, and alongside the path were plenty of flowers.  The dominant ones were the pink Geraniums, the small flowers similar to those we see on some of the geranium species sold in the UK.

But these yellow flowers were also quite abundant, unfortunately I was told, but I have forgotten what they are called.

In some places these antirrhinums could be seen.

and this Purple vetch was also found on the sides of the trails.

The shade of the pine forest meant that the butterflies were not as mobile, and I managed to be able to photograph this Small Grass Yellow Butterfly

And this Common Grass Dart Skipper.

We passed another larger stream, but the only bird we managed to find here was a Tickell’s Thrush, not what we were expecting, but a new bird nonetheless.  It is about Blackbird size but is grey with a yellow bill.  Actually seeing one properly, I realised this was the strange bird I had seen in Gonap with the Magpies and Drongos.  We had hoped for the water side species, but it was very quiet.

The path now came out of the pine trees and wound round into a collection of houses.  This was a very small village; a lot of the houses were empty.  It appeared that here were only three families living here, with a total of nine people.  We were greeted on the terrace and we sat down to drink the now very welcome tea in the sunshine.  Away to the north there was a lot of cloud, and ahead of the house the cloud was beginning to draw in.

Away down the valley up to seven vultures soared, I suspect that they were Himalayan Griffon Vultures, but they were too distant to be sure.  On the bushes around the guest house were Oriental Turtle Doves and Plum-headed Parakeets.

Later a Spotted Dove appeared on a dead branch very close to us.

After lunch it got darker, and eventually at 13.45 it started raining, and with the rain it became very cold.  We retreated into our room to read, but quickly sleep came over us and an afternoon nap took over.  When we awoke the rain had eased, but it was still very overcast.  Small pockets in the cloud though did allow the sun through, and this produced a rainbow down in the valley.

Walking around the rough ground outside the guest house there were lots of Russet Sparrows amongst the grass, and in the bushes.  One though seemed larger at the top of a bush, and a closer look revealed a shrike, a Grey-backed Shrike to be more accurate.

The rain easing seemed to bring more birds out, and at last I managed to get a photograph of a Long-tailed Minivet.  It was still distant, but better than any opportunity I had so far.  Now you can see what all the fuss is about!

A Plum-headed Parakeet came even closer on the tree next to the house

I went for a walk around the village, or to be fairer the houses, several of which are deserted.

As we walked between the houses Raju pointed out a Grey-breasted Prinia in the wheat, a small warbler like bird it was gone before I had the chance to raise the camera.  This village probably represents what the Villageways approach is all about, family members have left to take up work in Almora and Kathogdam, leaving the elderly here.  We passed one house where an old lady of probably 70 years old sat in the window watching.  She is now dependent on others to help her, and hopefully visits like ours can help by providing a different way of life, plus also highlighting the plight these people face in this sanctuary.
The rain returned and I was invited in to one of the houses to shelter from the rain.  I sat in a small room that served as a main room and bedroom, and a cat and two puppies entertained me.  The rain finally stopped, but by now it was too late for the sun, and the mist rolled into the valleys. 

The sparrow flock had now grown to about 50 birds, and in the bushes were Dark-breasted Rosefinches.  This is an awful picture, but the best I could get. 

I returned to the guest house where Helen had already used the shower, she suggested that maybe I should ask for some hot water as the shower was now cold.  When I did so there was absolute horror, surely the water is hot and there then followed some debate.  I was then informed that the water was hot, you just had to let it run.  I went back into the shower and let it run, for a long time, and still had to shower and attempt to shave in cold water.
When I came back to the terrace a fire had been lit, and we sat talking with guides around the fire.  As it got dark, a Grey Nightjar called and flew past us.  To confirm it was a nightjar, it called quite loudly close to us.  The fire didn’t last long, and it became much too cold to sit outside, and we moved into the dining room to read by torchlight once again, and then dinner, and bed by 20.30.  After the rain this afternoon we were hoping for a better day tomorrow

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