Himachal Pradesh with its varied geography comprising the foothills of the Shivaliks and high altitude mountains of the Greater Himalayas is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The dense forests that range from mixed tropical to coniferous are home to a wide variety of birds. Apart from that, the high altitude lakes and the numerous remote river valleys draw a plethora of migratory species. Himachal Pradesh is also home to the rarest of all pheasants, the Western Tragopan, whose brighly coloured plumes dazzle against the heavy greenery. It was accorded the status of state bird in 2007 and is locally called jujurana, the king of birds.
Recognized as one of the top birding sites in the whole country, the Pong Wetlands are located in the Kangra district. The dam, the world's largest earth fill dam, was constructed in 1975 on the Beas the area was declared a bird sanctuary in 1983. It is also one of India's 25 Ramsar sites. The surrounding villages of Jawali, Dhameta, Dada-Siba, Nagrota-Surian, Haripur, Guglara, Harsar, and Nandpur provide ample opportunities to a birdwatcher. The bio-geography of the area includes five main types of avian habitats- the mudflats and mud spits along the receding shoreline that are home to lapwings, egrets, grey and purple herons; the open deep water that is suitable for mainly grebes and cormorants; the swamps for species like warblers, munias, babblers, kingfishers, moorhens and herons; the dry sand banks devoid of vegetation that is preferred by stone curlews and pratincoles; and the shallow water where ducks such as pintails, shovellers, gadwalls and widgeons. Exotic species like Black-headed, Pallas's and Caspian Gulls, Bar-headed geese and Red necked grebe can also be spotted here.
Bar-headed Geese on the lakeshore
Despite being located just 45 km from Shimla, Chail has none of the overwhelming crowds of the state capital. The Chail Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a number of animals like European red deer, ghoral, flying squirrel and the Himalayan black bear. Birds like the Chir pheasant and the Khalij pheasant are common. You can also spot species like russet sparrow, wire-tailed swallow, green-backed and great tit and blue whistling thrush among others. The golden eagle makes a majestic appearance against the blue skies. A number of trekking trails pass through Chail. The wooded hills surrounding the town are a great option for long hikes and bird watching.
Narkanda is the starting point of the Hatu Peak trek. All along the trail, you can spot a number of species like Indian blue robin, brownish-flanked bush warbler, Himalayan griffon, large hawk cuckoo, black and yellow grosbeak, spotted nutcracker, greenish and lemon-rumped warbler, ultramarine and Asian brown flycatcher, Eurasian blackbird.
A juvenile Himalayan Griffon (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
The Tirthan Valley is the easiest gateways to the Great Himalayan National Park that was demarcated in order to conserve the flora and fauna of the region. Huge tracts of undisturbed forests hugging sky-kissing peaks characterise the region. The wilderness has numerous medicinal herbs and a rich wildlife, including the famed Snow Leopard. The Tirthan Valley has a rich birdlife. You can spot species like the Grey tree pie, Red and Yellow-billed blue magpie, Black-throated tit, White capped redstart, Plumbeous redstart and Brown dipper. Species like the Lammergeier, Yuhina, Himalayan Black bulbul, Striated laughing thrush, Scaly-bellied woodpecker, Grey-headed woodpecker, Great barbet, Asian barred owlet, Common rose-finch, Pink-browed rose-finch, Snow Pigeon, and Scaly breasted wren babbler can also be spotted.
The Pin Valley National Park is home to numerous species of the cold desert. For most of the year, temperatures are sub-zero. In summer, the rivers remain semi-frozen. In this inhospitable terrain, live the snow leopard and the ibex alongside numerous other species. The region's rich birdlife includes a number of rare Himalayan species who thrive in the biting, windy cold. You can spot Himalayan snowcocks, chukor, snow partridge, yellow-billed and red-billed choughs, kestrels, Tibetan snow finch, snow pigeons and blue rock pigeons. Lammergeiers, golden eagles and vultures are the main birds of prey. Astonishingly, the common house sparrow is also a regular in these chilly climes. Note that the park can only be reached by the Pin Parvati Pass trek.
If you wish to give the icy forests of the Pin Valley National Park a miss, the area around the Dhankar Lake is your best bet for birding in Lahaul and Spiti. Situated at an elevation of 4136 m, the blue-green lake offers breath-taking vistas of the surrounding landscape and is reachable by a 2 hr hike from Dhankar Monastery. Species like Lammergeier, Desert Wheatear, Twite, Himalayan snowcock, Sulphur-bellied and Tickell's leaf warbler can be spotted here. Migratory birds like Temmick's Stint, Black-winged stilt and the Garganey also make an appearance.
A Himalayan Snowcock (Image Courtesy: Flickr Commons)
Dharamshala is located in the Kangra Valley and is the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile. While lower Dharamshala is a bustling commercial area, the upper reaches are quieter and is the site of the Dalai Lama Temple. Colorful stalls selling woollens, Tibetan jewellery and momos line the narrow streets. The dense forests around Dharamshala has a rich birdlife. Dharamsala boasts a rich mix of local and migratory birds such as Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Common Woodshrike, Bay-backed and Long-tailed Shrike, White-eared Bulbul, Red-breasted and Taiga Flycatcher, Indian Grey Hornbill, Yellow-crowned and Indian Pygmy Woodpeckers and more. The most popular birding spots are the upper reaches of town, in the area around McLeodganj, Naddi-Guna and Bhated river. A number of birds can also be spotted in the shady woods of thhe Church of St.John in the Wildnerness and the cemetery beside.
With its rich birdlife, Himachal Pradesh is a must on every birder's bucket list. Share your favorite birding spot in Himachal Pradesh with us.