Red-billed Chough ( Upper Hunza)

In the mountainous areas of northern Pakistan, there are “red billed crows” and “yellow billed crows.”

Strictly speaking, they are classified into the crow family Corvidae and the genus Pyrrhocorax, appropriately called red-billed chough and the yellow-billed chough (also known as Alpine Cough).

‘Chough’ is pronounced “chuf /tʃʌf ” and they breed in the highlands above 5,000m during the summer season. In the winter, they form large flocks and decend down into the valley.

Distributed through the Eurasian and African continents, the genus is divided into eight subspecies. The one found in northern Pakistan is Pyrrhocprax pyrrhocorax himalayanus, which also inhabits the Himalayan mountain region to western China. A prominent feature are the large, bluish-purple glossy wings. In Europe and in Africa, Choughs can be observed at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 m, but in the Himalayan Karakorum, there is only a chance to see them at higher elevations of 3,000m to 5,000m.

 

I could see red-billed choughs along the riverbanks near Morkhun village. In the winter, the upper Hunza is strikingly beautiful, as a vast landscape of jagged rocks etched by time are layered with snow like a masterful piece of art.

 

While I was watching these red-billed choughs, a herd of goats and sheep passed through to go to their grazing pastures. In the Upper Hunza there are 7 villages that during the summer will keep the yaks, sheep and goats in the Khunjerab national park area. But in the tough winter, only the adult yaks are left in the highlands, while the yearling yaks born in the summer, goats and sheep are brought down to the villages at around 3,000m. Then everyday these herds are taken to the pastures to graze.

 

The paths that the villagers use to move the herds are lined with red & yellow billed chough. Generally since the red-billed will form large flocks, there are usually a smaller number of yellow-billed chough in the groups.

 

These are flocks of red-billed chough that are gathering seeds or fruit from the trees along the side of the Karakoram Highway.

Hippophae rhamnoides are a deciduous shrub found widely in Eurasia. In north Pakistan, it is a very important tree for wild birds, whose fruits are eaten during this harsh winter.

 

The long, curved, red colored beaks. But that isn’t the only thing that red! Their legs are also a red color!

Keep a watchful eye out when you are in the Upper Hunza and Skardu areas in the winter months. At first you may think you are seeing crows…but actually you might be lucky to see black birds adorned with red and yellow beaks! It is no ordinary crow!

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : Dec 2020, On the KKH ( Morkhun – Sost),  Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks : TOMO Akiyama

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Sindh Ibex – Hingol National Park

Sindh Ibex is a mountain goat family that lives in the rugged dry mountainous areas of southern Pakistan. As the name suggests, Kirthar National Park in Sindh is famous for its natural habitat. However, Sindh Ibex also lives in Hingol National Park, Balochistan.

Surprisingly it was easy to meet Sindh Ibex coming to the water in the dry Hingol National Park. It was at the sacred Hinglaj Mata Hindu Temple (also called Nani Mandir) inside the national park. When I approached the shrine, Sindh Ibex was eating grass in quite a close distance.

 

A male Sindh Ibex. There are two types of Ibex in Pakistan. Himalayan Ibex in the Northern Mountains and Sindh Ibex in the mountains of Sindh and Balochistan. The male horn of Sindh Ibex astoundingly grows 1m long.

 

Gorgeous female Sindh Ibex and its baby.

 

Going forward, suddenly I saw a group of Ibex emerging from just above the cliff. Generally, Sindh Ibex seems to move in relatively large groups.

There were a lot of trophy-sized males (ones with large horns permitted to trophy hunting). In Pakistan, Ibex trophy hunting is taking place. However, it is only prohibited inside the national parks and hunting is operated under the rules and regulations by the community forest. For 2019, 50 Himalayan Ibex and 24 Sindh Ibex in Pakistan are allocated for trophy hunting slots.

Hunting?? In this era?? No doubt, I am against hunting, but Pakistan’s hunting situation is likewise identified with conservation and the endurance of the local villagers. Trophy hunting targets only large horned individuals who have no more ability to reproduce. Subsequently, these profits are given to villagers, so villagers crackdown on illegal hunting. Therefore, it is said that the Ibex population has increased in both the northern and southern regions since this system was established.

 

Energetic young males began battling with their horns.

 

It’s like a fighting practice. A male Ibex show dominance by fighting with a horn over females when they reach maturity.

 

Photo & Text  : Mariko SAWADA
Visit : Feb 2019, Hinglaj Mata/Nani Mandir, Hingol National Park,  Balochistan

Category : ◆ Balochistan > - Hingol National Park > - Ibex > - Wildlife of Balochistan
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Himalayan Ibex – Khunjerab National Park

In late December, when whole of the northern region of Pakistan was enveloped with snow, we went to Khunjerab National Park – located in the border between Pakistan and China.
Khunjerab National Park is home to many unique species of wildlife including the snow leopard, blue sheep, Himalayan Ibex and many more. Himalayan Ibex lives in the Khunjerab National Park throughout the year. However, winter is the perfect time to witness them when they solely descend for the purposes of mating and grazing.

Ibex in northern Pakistan is a subspecies called Himalayan Ibex or Siberian Ibex, <Capra sibirica>. It seems that they are further classified by the habitat among them.

According to the National Park staff, Ibex in this area is said to gather in low places from mid-December to late January. The male was deliberately chasing the female!

Cute, young Ibex at an altitude of 4,500m, close to Khunjerab Top.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : end of Dec 2018, Khunjerab National Park

Special Thanks : Mr. Sultan Gohar – Khunjerab National Park

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Ibex > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Himalayan Ibex – Khyber village in Winter

It was early January and everything was covered white with a blanket of snow. Suddenly, I was told by the Khunjerab National Park staff that there is a gathering of Himalayan Ibex  in the Khyber village.

Anxiously, I went to Khyber village immediately and luckily discovered them on the contrary bank of the Khunjerab river, where local people perform farming and cultivation. There, I could see them much closer distance than Khunjerab National Park.

The Ibex in northern Pakistan is a subspecies called Himalayan Ibex or Siberian Ibex in English (Capra sibirica).

In this area, December-January is the breeding period of Ibex. A male Ibex after a female.

Ibex will have a baby, likely in the month of June.

Beautiful winter juniper valley view.

A White-winged redstart pair. In the upper Hunza, I often observe them in winter season.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: January 2019, Khyber Village – Gilgit-Baltistan
Thanks to Mr. Irfan – Khyber village &  Mr. Sultan Gohar – Khunjerab National Park

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Ibex > - Khyber > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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