Plumbeous water redstart (Chitral)

We found a male Plumbeous water redstart on the banks of the river running through Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy near Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

 

Unfortunately, it was raining; it seemed like it would turn into snow soon enough. We came in search of markhor, as we were told they often come to the riverbanks in the afternoon. So, we waited. That was when we observed both the Plumbeous water redstart and the White-capped water redstart.

 

A male Plumbeous water redstart displaying, with its tail wings spread out.

These redstarts breed in South Asia, Southeast Asia and China at altitudes of 2,000 meters to 4,000 m and then in winter, they will descend to slightly lower altitudes to overwinter there. In Pakistan, they are found in the mountainous areas in the north where the altitude is not so high, and it seems to be common near Chitral and Murree.

 

As we looked up at the mountainous slopes above the river, we could see a herd of Kashmir Markhor coming down towards us. And among them was a big male with a pair of enviable horns!

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Reference: Helm Field Guides “Birds of Pakistan”

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Eversmann’s redstart(Chitral Gol National Park)

Found wintering in the Northern mountain ranges of Pakistan, the Rufous-backed Redstart (Eversmann’s Redstart), can be found at altitudes of 1,500 to 2,500 meters. They can sometimes be spotted on the mountain slopes of Gilgit-Baltistan to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

This is the male Eversmann’s Redstart.

 

In the summer, they breed in the high-altitude mountainous regions of Central Asia and South Siberia. Then, migrating south to Iraq, southern Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, northwestern Pakistan and northwestern India, they will spend their winters in the mountains.

 

I saw this bird at Chitral Gol National Park in northern Chitral. We came here to observe the Markhol, but was able to observe this redstart on the mountain slopes while we were waiting for the Markhol to descend.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
Reference: Helm Field Guide “Birds of Pakistan”

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Himalayan griffon vulture (Chitral Gol National Park))

Himalayan vulture in Chitral Gol National Park, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northern Pakistan.

The Chitral Gol National Park has three deep valleys spanning 7,750 hectares and is an ideal place to observe these vultures. Our main goal here was to observe the Markhor, but a ranger asked us “There are some vultures gathering because a Markhor fell off a cliff and died. Let’s go see.” So we walked down the steep slope of the mountain, where there was no path, as we looked out over the valley.
I couldn’t see the dead Markhor below, but I could see Himalayan vultures, Cinereous vultures, Bearded vultures and Golden eagles flying by us, just at eye level. It was an amazing sight.

 

The Himalayan griffon vulture (Himalayan vulture) inhabits the Tibetan Plateau, adjacent to the Great Himalayas and the Pamir Mountains and can be found in the northern mountainous regions of Pakistan.

It is a large vulture, with a wingspan of 3 meters and it is said that it was once widely seen in northern Pakistan. However, like the White-rumped vulture that lives in central and southern Pakistan, the number decreased due to eating livestock carcasses contaminated with the veterinary drug Diclofenac. (*Diclofenac was banned throughout South Asian countries in 2006, and it is expected that the population will recover.)

 

This is an adult Himalayan vulture. The young birds have a dark brown body, including around their necks.

 

Cinereous Vulture flying and a  Himalayan vulture on the cliffs.

 

On this day, at least four Himalayan vultures, one Cinereous Vulture, and multiple crows (probably ravens) were attracted by the dead Markhor. According to the national park ranger, the Markhor was not attacked by snow leopards or wolves but was surrounded by a pack of wild dogs and fell off the cliff.
As if on cue, on the other side of the valley there was a herd of Markhor that were running away from a stray dog. If only it were a snow leopard, it would have been like a dream to see such a sight!

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Cinereous Vulture (Chitral Gol National Park)

The Cinereous Vulture, a black vulture observed in Chitral Gol National Park in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Cinereous means “gray” in Latin but it is also known as the Eurasian Black Vulture.

 

Cinereous Vulture is a large vulture that lives in the mountainous areas of Central Eurasia. On the Eurasian continent, it is a large vulture just like the Himalayan Griffon Vulture, with an open wingspan of nearly 2.5 to 3 meters wide and is quite a heavy vulture.

 

From a distance, the Cinereous Vulture looks black except for small portions of the head and beak. The mature birds have a bit of light brown on parts of the head and the neck feathers. The younger birds are an overall darker color. So it looks like the bird in this photo is still a young bird.

In general, Cinereous Vulture use the plains and deserts during the winter and spend their time roosting on cliffs. But I wonder if it is because it’s a young bird that this guy is in the mountainous areas above 3,000 meters during the winter time?

 

It might be confused because it was mixed in with the Himalayan vultures? Anyway, look like it has found some food as the Cinereous Vulture has their landing gear down!

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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(Video) Markhor In Love, Chitral Gol National Park

During the breeding season, male Markhor, who usually are spending their time in the highlands, will come down from the mountains in search of females in heat.

Typically, we would see the males chasing the females, but I found a couple of cases where the females attacked the males. And then…another male would come over and…

We could watch the fascinating encounter of “Markhor in Love” with the staff.

恋するマーコール Markhor in love, Chitral Gol National Park|西遊旅行

 

Video & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Special Thanks : Wildlife Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > = Video Clip KPK > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Golden Eagles of Chitral Gol National Park

We saw a golden eagle flying against the backdrop of the Hindu Kush mountain range from the Chitral Gol National Park in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

We visited the national park for the goal to see the Markhor, but the ranger walked down the slope of a mountain, where there was no path, when he invited “There are some vultures gathering because a Markhor fell off a cliff and died. Let’s go see.”

 

The birds of prey dance in the air! And not only the vultures, but the golden eagles are already there. A crow can be seen bombing the golden eagle.

 

The Golden Eagle is a bird of prey that is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere. Although classified into several subspecies, the golden eagle found in Pakistan is the Aquila chrysaetos daphanea, called the Asian or Himalayan Golden Eagle, or in Central Asia and Russia it is called the Berkut (Беркут). The body of the golden eagle is large, and the body feathers are dark colored.

 

The golden eagle wouldn’t get too close to us, so it was difficult get a good photo, but seeing it through the binoculars, it is quite a beautiful bird. The golden feathers on the back of the head, which is where it got its name, were shining in the light.

 

As we were being fascinated by the Golden Eagle show, then a male Markhor just appeared among the rocks, in a wonderful position! This was the Chitral Gol National Park, a place busy with wildlife encounters.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Lowari Pass: A Trip Down Memory Lane in Wintery Lowari Tunnel

Lowari Pass is a trail that connects Peshawar / Dir and Chitral. Locate in the  Hindu Raj, a tributary coming from the Hindukush Mountain ranges is at an altitude of about 3100 meters. As far as passes go, it is not that high, but this is the lowest and easiest route to pass the mountainous areas.

The Pass is closed to vehicle traffic from November to May due to the snowfall, so people have no choice but to walk it in the snow. It is said that countless people have lost their lives along the way in avalanches.

 

The truck that makes its way down the Lowari Pass. The road is muddy with snowmelt and rocks were constantly falling from above.

 

On the Chitral side of the Pass, it’s hairpin turn one after another.

 

A truck at one of the rest stops at Chaikhana, which lies at the foot of the Lowari Pass. This small valley surrounded by coniferous trees, was a popular place to take a break after crossing the dangerous pass.

But this scene is now a thing of the past. The Lowari Tunnel opened in 2017, and from 2018 it was open to general traffic so vehicles can pass easier.

 

Building the tunnel on the Lowari Pass began with planning in 2005, and a Korean company was involved in the construction, but it was interrupted halfway in 2009. Construction then resumed in 2013 and it was finally opened in July 2017.

 

There are two tunnels a longer 8.5 km tunnel and a 1.9 km tunnel, totaling 10.4 km, making it the longest tunnel in Pakistan.
For safety reasons, the passage of vehicles from both directions is controlled and you may have to wait in a long line. But compared to the past, when it was a feeling of endless time and effort used to climb and descend the Lowari Pass; or instances where a truck would be stuck on the way and unable to move or go around it, is no longer as big a problem. The anxiety caused by not knowing when, if ever, you would get out of the pass was eliminated by the tunnel.

However, it is still Pakistan. There are still cases where locals walked dangerously through the tunnel with their livestock, and when once you get out of the tunnel, the road is too muddy and the truck might get stuck again.

 

The snowy landscape of the village at the foot of Lowari Pass.
The only way to reach Chitral by land was from Gilgit-Baltistan, over the Shandul Pass, or from Peshawar, over the Lowari Pass. And all these passes were closed during the winter, due to the heavy snow.
The creation of the Lowari Tunnel will revolutionize the village of Chitral, which was once an “island of land” during the winter season.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Visited Lowari Tunnel in December 2020, but the photos of Lowari Pass are from a previous visit before 2014.

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral
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The Markhor of the Gahirat (Gehret) Goleen Conservancy

We visited the Gahirat (Gehret) Goleen Conservancy, just southeast of Chitral, to observe some Markhor.
Compared to the protected areas of national park where you can observe Markhor near Chitral, the valley here is narrower and the steep, rocky mountains are very impressive, making it a beautifully scenic valley. Like the Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, it is under the control of the community of surrounding villages and only one Markhor per year can be taken for trophy hunting.

 

Moving away from the main road along the Chitral River and entering the conservancy, the condition of the road is horrible. Along the way, we passed through mountain of marbled rocks and crossed a small stream.

 

Last night’s snow remains on the rock surface.

 

The Gehret Goleen Conservancy is a 95,000-hectare community reserve founded in 1998. Surrounded by steep, rocky mountains the sparse vegetation on the slopes include the holly oak (Quercus ilex), the Himalayan  cedar (Cidrus deodara), and the Chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana).

 

A female Markhor appeared against the backdrop of the rocky mountain. I caught myself thinking “Oh, if only this could be a male with big horns, that would have been nice!” … it is such a picturesque landscape.

 

A male then appeared in search of females. Markhor males seen during this season continue to search for females in estrous.
The size of the Markhor herd in the Conservancy was as small as 10-21 head, compared to 25-57 individuals in the Tooshi Shasha Conservancy, which may be a sign of just how tough the rugged environment is here.

 

The young males also practice battling with their horns. This is an interesting season to see the sight of males chasing herds of females in heat.

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Gahirat (Gehrait) Goleen Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Special Thanks: KPK Wildlife department, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Lammergeir /Bearded Vulture (Chitral Gol National Park)

I remember the first time I saw this bird, I was in Ladakh, India and I was shocked exclaiming, “What in the heck is that!?!” And the answer was “Lammergeir”. Despite knowing how it is spelled, it was still a mystery as to how to pronounce it, but since everyone says ‘Lamagaye,’ I also pronounce it that way.

This name seems to be an old German name; it is more commonly known in English as the Bearded Vulture. But the bird looks so cool, that you’ll want to call it “Lammergeir” instead.

 

A bearded vulture flying against the backdrop of the Hindu Kush Mountain Range, observed at the Chitral Gol National Park.

Bearded vultures are birds found in the mountainous regions of central Eurasia, in East Africa and Southern Europe, and seen using steep drop off cliffs. It is a large bird with a total length of 115 cm, but the wingspan is closer to 3meters across. As the English name suggests, the bearded vulture, is a member of the vulture family, but their distinguishing feature is a feathered head & is completely different image as other vultures.

 

Bearded vultures feed on carrion, specializing on old meat and particularly bone marrow. It has been observed that they fly high holding the large bones, only to drop them to break them, on the rocks below to expose the bone marrow.

 

When I see a vulture is flying in the sky, I always think, “Where are the dead animals?” But it seems that this vulture will only visit once the other vultures (such as Himalayan & Black vultures) are done. They are the only vertebrate animal that gets the majority of its food from consuming bone marrow (70-90%!).

There are various cultural theories surrounding this bird, that it maybe appears in Arabian Nights called the “Roc, mythological bird in middle east,” as possibly the model for it or in the ancient Persian myths as “Homa, the mythological bird in Iran.” In ancient times, these vultures seem to have carried a special reverence in the imagination of the people.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Special Thanks: KPK Wildlife Department, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Kashmir Markhor (Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy)

The Markhor belongs to the genus Capra, (pronounced mārkhor) and is the world’s tallest goat family in the genus.
The male markhor is known as the “King of the Horned Animals” as well as “King of Goats” which seems to be an irresistible draw to the niche of ‘Fans of Horned Animals.’

Inhabiting western India and central Asia, most markhor are found in the core zone of the mountainous region of Pakistan. At one point, poaching greatly reduced the population, but as of 2020, the population seems to be making a recovery thanks to efforts to control trophy hunting and reduce illegal hunting.

 

Visiting the Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, we were lucky to get a good view of markhor just on the other side of the river.
The Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, established in 1979 with 1,045 hectares, was expanded in 1998 to 20,000 hectares, as a community-managed reserve by the surrounding 7 villages. Unlike national parks where hunting is prohibited, it is a managed area where limited hunting is permitted.
In Pakistan, normally wild animals will flee at the sight of humans, due to having been hunted, but it was possible to view them quite closely in the Conservancy.

 

This is a male markhor. The ones seen in this area are a subspecies called “Kashmir Markhor.” In the northern part of Pakistan, there is another subspecies called the “Astor Markhor.”
The male here has a nice set of horns. In this season, they will come to lower elevations in search of mating opportunities with females.

 

A herd of Kashmir markhor. Normally herds only have females and juvenile males but during this season, adult males can be seen with them.

 

Coming down the mountain.

 

He was getting very close. The male’s horns can reach up to 160 cm (63 inches). Females can also have horns, but they only grow to 25 cm (10 inches) in length. The females are also remarkably smaller in body size as well.

 

The male will raise his upper lip, sticking out his tongue…It seems this flehmen response is a reaction to the females in estrus.

The markhor’s breeding season is also sadly the same as hunting season for the rich trophy hunters. The hunting permits are auctioned to the highest bidders to wealthy hunters who aim to get these big-horned trophies for their collections.

In 2020, the year of an unprecedented pandemic, we had heard that the auctions went ahead and permits were already sold. But there was a big question if the hunters would show up or not! The day after we left, we heard that they did arrive from overseas to claim their permits. In the 20,000 hectare Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy there are an estimated 1,400 markhors (2015 population survey data) so every year 2 are allowed to be taken by the trophy hunters.

The Kashmir markhor are auctioned starting from 9,000 to 10,000 US$ and from there the permit is awarded to the highest bidder. Most of these proceeds (about 80%) are returned to the community, such as for schools and health care for the villagers. .

These 2 hunted markhor are therefore quite important sources of income for the locals and directly connects back to the conservation and management of these endangered wildlife. This is a model that modern Pakistan has which promotes the “Coexistence of Humans and Wildlife.”

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : Dec 2020, Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Paktunkhwa
Special Thanks : KPK Wildlife Department, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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