A Field Trip with Harmeet Singh
Meet Birds & Butterflies
As usual I started around 6 a.m. in the morning in my trusty Jeep. It was slightly cool and a lazy sun was slowly making its presence felt. I drove through Siswan (Panjab, India), Marranwala (Haryana, India) and started the climb to Himachal (hill state in India). Driving past Haripur, I reached my first stop, the government nursery located on the banks of a Khud (Gorge) on Shalaghat Arki Road. I parked next to the bridge and took in the scene as I sipped a cup of hot tea. That was when I made my first bird sightings of the day (Grey treepie, Grey Wagtail, Thick billed crow, Himalayan Bulbul, Blue Whistling thrush). I was thrilled.
After finishing my tea I drove till Baandh, from where I took the steep uphill road to the right towards Shaktighat-Kasauli, a small town perched atop a hill. I had driven barely 100 metres when I caught sight of the blooming Lantana bushes. The sight warmed my heart and I spent half an hour clicking the butterflies fluttering around the colourful blooms. I then drove another few hundred metres and then parked in the shade of two tall trees. I glanced at my watch. It was around 7.40 am. I was hoping to see some birds here. My patience was rewarded as I made my second sighting of the day- Grey headed pygmy woodpecker, Plum headed parakeet, a courting pair of Great Tits, Crimson Sun bird and a few warblers (although the warblers did not photograph well). Then I drove another hundred metres. It was quiet and lonely but very green. No butterflies as yet but lot of bird chorus. Finally I reached my first second planned stop, a small khud (gorge) which leads to Bhagori primary school. I parked on the side and started the small steep trek along the side of the gorge. As I trekked, I saw an Alexandrine parakeet (nesting in a huge mango tree), Crimson sunbird, Indian white eye (a dozen), Red billed Leiothrix and Red billed blue Magpies. I climbed further and met the only school teacher of the primary school. We chatted about the school and the dire possibility of a landslide near the school because of the road construction. I then walked along and into the shallow section of the gorge where I found several Common Sailor and Common Jester butterflies salting in sand. I also saw my first Indian Owlet-moth. I then caught sight of the western Himalayan Pied Flat, Common Flat, Yellow grass and Malayan. I moved around excitedly, clicking Himalayan bulbuls and a Grey bush chat juvenile as I went along. As I was moving back I caught a glimpse of a rusty red bird. I clicked rapidly as I knew it was a lifer. I later identified it as Rusty cheeked Scimitar Babbler, not normally seen in this area. On the way back, even as I reluctantly bid goodbye to this treasure trove of birds and butterflies, I was rivetted by the sight of a Paris peacock.
I then walked to the small water tank, just below the school I had visited. This tank stores the water from the khud. I saw lots of lovely butterflies- Rustic, Yellow pansy and Sailors. I had a great time clicking the Rustic from all possible angles. After that, I started to trek downhill towards my jeep and that was when I saw a red butterfly. I knew it was a Flash. I waited for it to settle and then clicked it- it was a Red Flash. However, despite waiting patiently, I could not get an open winged shot. I also clicked Blue marsh Hawk and Great Tit. The sun was getting hotter so a little reluctantly, I started to drive back. I got struck in a narrow stretch against a huge truck laden with logs. A lot of reversing and angling ensued but I finally manged to pass. As I drove further. I saw another small khud with a water outlet on the edge of the rutted track. I knew there would be more butterflies here. It was already around 10.30 and the sun was pouring bright sunshine on unsuspecting denizens. But I decided to brave the sun for a bit more. I was not disappointed. Lot of butterflies were salting- Rustic, Common Jester, Common Sailor, Southern sullied sailor, Line blue. More clicking. Then I saw her landing. It looked like a Vagrant but it was very bright and deep orange. Later I found that it was actually a vagrans Sinha. I thought I saw some narrow winged jesters but they turned out to be common Lascars. I saw another orange butterfly salting I thought it was Angled Castor, but it turned out to be a Tabby. Also clicked several Megisba mylan. I then drove further and stopped on road side. Here I saw Common hedge blue and Himalayan Common beak, Common Leopard and Mormons and Treebrowns. I drove another kilometre or so. This place was very moist, shady and green. Here I saw a Deep spotted Snow flat, a Himalayan Yellow Jester, and a Himalayan Admiral. My next stop was a bowli (covered water source) where I spotted a Bamboo Treebrown, Southern sullied Sailor and Common sailor. I also clicked a mating pair of Blue marsh Hawk and it was the most interesting combination. It was around 1.30 pm. Sun was very hot. The butterflies were getting very flitty. I had also run out of drinking water. So I decided to call it a day. Drove another 7-8 km to Kasauli-Dharampur through Shaktighat, Garkhal road and had my Lunch at Dippy's. A refreshing cup of tea and I was back home after another two hours of driving via Himalayan Expressway. I was very tired but full of endorphins and a camera full of new discoveries. Phew!! What a Trip that was!!
Grey Bushchat (Male)
Harmeet Singh is a medical doctor by qualification, a civil-servant by profession and an avid birder. He is also a butterfly watcher and has identified 231 new species of butterflies. He is an artist who dabbles in watercolours and acrylics. His website is Birds of Mullanpur https://www.birds-of-mullanpur.com & Butterflies of Mullanpur https://www.butterflies-of-mullanpur