Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Raptor watching at Thoolakharka Nepal

A total of 19 people flew to Nepal with one common goal, to bird watch and to take as many bird photographs, of the raptor migration in Nepal. We had an early start from Kathmandu to Kande with a bus journey, covering a distance of 233 km, which took us nearly 11 hours including breaks for currency exchange, toilet and meals. The journey was considered smooth considering Nepal’s single lane traffic, unevenly tarred road and lots of heavy vehicles on the highway. There were certain stretches where the majestic Annapurna range appeared, providing a glimpse of our view over the next 6 days at Thoolakharka which is 2,050 metres above sea level.
We started our hike from Kande (1,710 metres) at 5.30 p.m. where day light is fast disappearing in front of us. Thankfully, we had the porters leading the way and carrying our big bags. The hike was truly memorable (and challenging) experience for all of us, with age group ranging from mid 40s to late 70s. A member mentioned she was groping in the dark unaware of the stony uphill descent in front of her! Initially I was able to walk alongside the porters who were committed to delivering our bags to Angel’s Guest House, our accommodation at Thoolakharka. Mid-way, I could not keep up with the porters and decided to wait for the next group of people as I did not have any torch light with me. Total darkness provided a sense of calmness and the stars above reassured we were not alone in completing the Millennium trail!
We finally reached Angel’s Guest House around 7.00 p.m. and Mr Maila Dai, the host welcomed us. We were relieved to have arrived and indulge into our hot meals quickly and hot shower. All of us had an early night.
We woke up at 6 a.m. the next day to welcome the sun rise and over the next 6 days, the emerging rays and the soft rays during sun set against the Annapurna mountain range were spectacular. We were truly blessed we had this view at Angel’s Guest House which costs USD10/night for twin sharing. It is 5 star ambience with 1 star pricing…. 
After a hearty breakfast, everyone headed to the ridge where the real action begins. We were greeted by Robert De Candido, Tulsi Subedi (PhD student) and Sandesh (Masters student). Both Tulsi and Sandesh are doing a project relating to GPS telemetry on Bearded Vultures to further understand the bird’s movement.
Pictures above of the Bearded Vulture (Lammaergeier)
Credit: Tan Gim Cheong and John Choong
Lim Aun Tiah aka ‘Raptor Man’ has been instrumental in organising trips to Nepal multi-tasks between doing bird count and taking bird photographs.
Group patiently waits for the raptors at the Raptor count site (left pic). Members having Dhal Bhat for lunch (right pic).

As the first Himalayan Vulture soared above us, members were calling the name after identifying the plumage, gender and age. At this moment, I knew experienced bird watchers were excited to put their knowledge and skills to use. Concurrently, cameras were clicking continuously as the vulture was flying low allowing bird photographers maximum opportunity to take the bird in flight!
Over the next 5 days during which some spent 8 hours daily on the ridge, numerous raptor species were sighted. Detailed listing of birds provided below. On Day 2, Robert placed carcass at the foot hill and immediately, the flocks of Large-billed Crows and Common Ravens descended to the ground. The vultures were circulating above and did not land. We could see the Large-billed Crows and Common Ravens were territorial in their behaviour and would give the vultures a chase if the vultures came too low. One brave Red-headed vulture braced all odds and descended down. It only managed to perch on the tree branch as it was out-numbered by the flocks of Large-billed Crows and Common Ravens.

Read on in Part 2 Raptor watching at Thoolakharka Nepal.

Text by Maye Yap
Pictures by Tan Gim Cheong, John Choong and Collin Cheong  


  1. Parts 2 and 3 of Thoolakharka, Nepal will be posted by tomorrow Thursday & Friday.