Kashmir & Ladakh Birds

Robin Accentor

Kashmir and Ladakh at the northern extreme of the Indian Subcontinent, across the Himalayas, offer a stark contrast to the rest of the country, in landscape and culture as well as birds and wildlife. The location attracts migrants from northern parts of the Palearctic, and there are several vagrant species seldom seen anywhere else in India. However, we will be mainly concentrating on localised breeding species, such as Black-necked Crane, Ibisbill, Kashmir Nuthatch, Kashmir Flycatcher.

A few days based in Srinagar (staying on a houseboat on the edge of Nigeen or Dal Lakes!) will be spent exploring surrounding forests and valleys, at sites that are likely to include Dachigam National Park, Gulmarg and Yousmarg. Both Kashmir and White-cheeked Nuthatches occur here, along with Kashmir Nutcracker, Kashmir and Rusty-tailed Flycatchers, Rufous-naped Tit, Black-and-yellow Grosbeak and Tytler’s Leaf Warbler. There is also a chance, admittedly slim, of two amazing finches, Spectacled Finch and the very local Orange Bullfinch.

We travel overland from Kashmir to Ladakh which allows us to acclimatise to the high altitude of Leh at over 3,500 m. From Leh we take an initial two-night excursion into the Nubra Valley where two key species are White-browed Tit Warbler and, recently discovered in India, Pale Rosefinch.

Returning via Leh we then head east to our base at the Tso Kar lake and plains, at an altitude of over 4,500 m. Black-necked Crane breeds here and our two full days here should also enable us to catch up with species such as Tibetan Snowcock, Tibetan Partridge, Upland Buzzard, Ground-Tit, Horned Lark, Brown Accentor, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Fire-fronted Serin and Mongolian Finch. Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang) is common here, and we might also find ‘Shanku’, the Tibetan Wolf.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Delhi

You will be met and transferred to the hotel.

Depending on your arrival time, we can arrange some birding in the Delhi area, most likely at Okhla Bird Sanctuary. Despite the pressures of an urban population approaching 20 million people, this small sanctuary on the banks of the polluted Yamuna River offers some excellent birding, with a good chance of the resident Striated Grassbird, Striated Babbler and possibly White-tailed Stonechat.

Day 2: Delhi to Srinagar

Depending on the time of the flight to Srinagar, we will either spend the morning birding at some site in the Delhi area, most likely either Okhla Bird Sanctuary or Sultanpur National Park, or arrive in time for our first birding in Srinagar itself, maybe from a boat on Nigeen Lake looking at Whiskered Terns, Citrine Wagtails and, at its only regular site in India, Little Bittern.

Days 3 – 5: Srinagar

We have three full days at our houseboat base in Srinagar, and will be exploring various sites in the area. This includes a mix of coniferous forests and deciduous valleys, with a cable car ride up to the top of the mountain at Gulmarg. Both Kashmir and White-cheeked Nuthatches occur here, and we will also expect to see several restricted range breeders, including Kashmir Nutcracker, Tytler’s Leaf Warbler, and Kashmir and Rusty-tailed Flycatchers. Other regular birds here include Scaly-bellied and Himalayan Woodpeckers, Rufous-naped Tit, Black-and-yellow Grosbeak, Variegated Laughingthrush and Pink-browed Rosefinch, whilst with luck we could find White-throated Bushtit and the elusive Spectacled Finch. Unfortunately, Orange Bullfinch has become rare here and mainly restricted to remote and high elevation areas during the summer, but is still an outside possibility.

Day 6: Srinagar to Kargil (215 km, 6 hr)

To reach Ladakh from Srinagar we drive overland, which helps us adjust to the steep increase in altitude. We will break the journey for some birding at Dras (3,100m) before reaching Kargil, our overnight halt on this journey: at 2,700 m this will be lowest we will experience for the rest of our trip!

Day 7: Kargil to Leh (220 km, 5 hr)

Until very recently part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh is now a separate union territory and a stark contrast to the landscape, culture and wildlife of Kashmir and, indeed, the rest of India. Sandwiched between the Himalayas to the south, and the Karakoram mountain chain to the north, it is a high-altitude desert, the westernmost extension of the vast Tibetan plateau. The birdlife is unique in India, representing a meeting-point of species from the Palearctic and Oriental biogeographic regions. Our visit is timed to connect with many of the local breeding species during the late summer, whilst also being the peak of autumn passage migration.

We will spend the early morning south of Kargil, in the Suru Valley. Between Sankoo and Parkachik in particular, the meadows and riverside scrub can be productive for White-tailed Rubythroat, Fire-capped Tit, and the incredibly rare Long-billed Bush-Warbler – a species only once reported since 1933!

We then continue our drive east into Ladakh, arriving at Leh in the late afternoon.

Day 8: Leh

A break from the long drives today as we explore the various habitats close to Leh, such as Tikse marshes, Trisul Tso and Shey fishponds. Breeding bird activity will be high, and we can expect to see Red-crested Pochard, Bluethroat, Blue Rock Thrush, the distinctive Hume’s Lesser Whitethroat (split from Lesser Whitethroat, but currently lumped again!), Mountain Chiffchaff, Brown Accentor, Citrine Wagtail and Rock Bunting. A key target will undoubtedly be Ibisbill, a unique wader that is the only member of its family, which breeds on the shingle riverbanks in this area. We will also look for Solitary Snipe here.

In the evening we will be joined by a representative from a local conservation organisation who will give us an understanding of the issues, and successes, faced in this amazing part of the world.

Day 9: Leh to Nubra Valley via Wari La (170 km, 4 hr)

There are two routes to the fertile Nubra Valley, and we will take the slightly longer but less busy and more birdy one over the Wari La pass, which gives us a chance of Himalayan Snowcock as well as White-winged Redstart and Brown Accentor. The beautiful White-browed Tit-Warbler is our key target in the buckthorn stands amongst the sand dunes in the Nubra Valley. This area is quite different to the habitat we will encounter further east in Ladakh, and seldom visited by birdwatchers. We hope to find Pale Rosefinch, recently discovered in India in this area, and other exciting discoveries are not impossible!

Day 10: Nubra Valley

Today is a full day to explore areas of the Nubra Valley. As well as birds we will be looking out for mammals, including semi-feral Bactrian Camels and Cape Hare, in the only place in India where it is found. Lynx occurs here also, but we would need a large dose of luck to see one.

Day 11: Nubra Valley to Leh via Khardung La (130 km, 3.5 hr)

Today is a journey of up and down, as we ascend almost 2,500 m from the Nubra Valley to drive over the Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable pass at about 5,600 m, before descending again into Leh. Should we have time on arrival we can revisit some birding areas around Leh.

Day 12: Leh to Tso Kar via Mahe Bridge and Puga (210 km, 5 hr)

Tso Kar, a salt lake, and the nearby freshwater Startsapuk Tso, are important breeding grounds for Great Crested GrebeBar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Lesser Sand Plover and Brown-headed Gull, amongst other species. The boggy marshes here have several other species, and are where we should come across pairs of the spectacular endangered Black-necked Cranes.

Days 13 – 14: Tso Kar

Two full days from our base at Tso Kar gives us ample opportunities to discover the wildlife in what is probably the most productive area of Ladakh for its specialities. At this migration time we should find flocks of waterfowl and waders, whilst the nearby grasslands and barren hillsides support many accentors, larks, and finches, including the rare Blanford’s (or Plain-backed) Snowfinch. Both Himalayan and Tibetan Snowcocks occur here, with Tibetan Partridge also, and flocks of Tibetan Sandgrouse are likely. Raptors hunting over the plains should include Golden Eagle, Upland Buzzard and maybe the milvipes form ‘Eastern’ Saker Falcon, and we will also try to find Eurasian Eagle Owl, and the distinctive desert Little Owl: adjusted to very different habitat here than any European birders amongst us will be used to. The easily overlooked Hume’s Groundpecker, or Ground Tit, is another key bird for us here.

Mammals here include Kiang, the Tibetan Wild Ass, as well as Tibetan Wolf, Indian Fox, Tibetan Argali, and Himalayan Weasel.

Day 15: Tso Kar to Leh via Taglang La (160 km, 4 hr)

With a final morning in Tso Kar, it is time to start the long journey home, initially with our drive back to Leh. We will take the route via Taglang La and spend some time birding here (particularly if we didn’t visit it in the previous two days from Tso Kar) as it is particularly good for Tibetan Snowcock, as well as Bharal (Blue Sheep).

Day 16: Leh to Delhi

Morning departure from Leh for Delhi, and a transfer to the airport for late evening or early morning flights home. If your flight is later the following day, we can provide suitable accommodation.

Target Species

  • Tibetan Snowcock
  • Tibetan Partridge
  • Upland Buzzard
  • Black-necked Crane
  • Ibisbill
  • Large-spotted Nutcracker
  • Rufous-naped Tit
  • Ground Tit
  • Horned Lark
  • Tibetan Lark
  • White-browed Tit-warbler
  • Tytler's Leaf Warbler 
  • Kashmir Nuthatch 
  • White-cheeked Nuthatch 
  • Rusty-tailed Flycatcher 
  • Kashmir Flycatcher 
  • Güldenstädt's Redstart
  • Brown Accentor
  • Black-and-yellow Grosbeak 
  • Orange Bullfinch 
  • Mongolian Finch
  • Spectacled Finch 
  • Pale Rosefinch
  • Red-fronted Serin
  •   Near Endemic

Species Checklist

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Important information

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As with all Bubo Birding tours, your booking is handled by Asian Adventures.
This tour is guided by Mike Prince, plus local birding guides.

Prices quoted are per person, assuming an exclusive 2 person tour. Larger group sizes attract a discounted per person price, which we will confirm to you on enquiry.
International flights are excluded.
The final price and itinerary will be confirmed before booking and depending on your expected arrival and departure plans.

See Asian Adventures for full tour details, including accommodation, what's included, other exclusions, prices for larger groups, single room supplements, and booking details.

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