Horned Lark (Deosai Plateau)

In July, when the Deosai Plateau is carpeted with wildflowers its known as the “Flower garden in the sky” and if the weather is nice, you can see the Himalayan Nanga Parbat from here.

This is my report about the Horned lark that I encountered on the Deosai Plateau.

The Horned lark is a wild bird that typically breeds in the northern part of Eurasia and North America in the summer and winters to the south. However in the northern part of Pakistan, it can be observed all year around. It can be seen in high-altitude open areas near Chitral, the Deosai Plateau and the Khunjerab Pass between 3,300 to 5,000 meters altitude.

The Deosai Plateau (Also known as Deosai National Park) is a high-altitude plateau with an average of 4,200 meters, near the boarder of India and the northwest of Pakistan. There are countless small streams that spread out across the plateau to form a wildflower haven sometimes called the “Flower garden in the sky.”

This open area is where the Horned larks breed in nests sheltered by the rocks and small indentations in the ground.

Wildflowers are in full bloom in early July.

This is the male Horned lark. As the name indicates, there are two horn-like crests on the top of its head. In some areas, there are Horned larks that have a more yellow coloring on their face throat, but in Pakistan they are white to a creamy color.

The male seen from the front.

The male Horned lark from behind. The created feathers that form the horns are incredibly cute.

This is a juvenile Horned lark. It was about the same size as the adult birds.

The Horned lark pecking at the grass seeds.

Is this a little bread crumb left by some tourists? They are feeding them to their chicks. The area around the campsite is the easiest place to observe them because of the food leftovers, and the Pakistani tourists are also enjoying bird watching as well.

These chicks have to grow up quickly and prepare for the winter. In the coldest part of winter, they will come down to the foot of the Plateau’s fields and valleys.

The Deosai Plateau was described as a “Flower garden in the sky,” but unfortunately, that situation is changing. In the summer, a large number of tourists visit and without much thought will leave their garbage behind and will go off-road driving into the grasslands.

I wish more people would realize that there are wild animals and birds that rely on these important breeding grounds, during the short summers of the Deosai Plateau.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: July 2016, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Birds of Pakistan > - Deosai National Park
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Citrine Wagtail (Deosai Plateau)

This is the Citrine wagtail observed in the summer of the Deosai Plateau. The breeding plumage of the male makes his bright yellow head, beautifully contrast with the black wings. Even amongst a carpet of blooming wildflowers, the birds stand out on the plateau.

Pakistan’s Citrine wagtail spends the summer breeding season along rivers and lakes in the northern highlands and overwinters in the open plains along the southern Indus River.

This photo was taken near the Barapani on the Deosai Plateau (elevation around 4,000 m). I was observing the Citrine wagtail that was in the riverbank near the campsite.

This wagtail appeared on the riverbank with its head all wet.

Breeding males have the bright yellow heads, while females have a light yellow-gray color.

This is young Citrine wagtail.

This one has caught a worm.

A Citrine wagtail on the flowering Deosai Plateau.

The Barapani campsite at night. Clear crisp air at an altitude of 4,000 m.

There was some frost in the morning. Even in July, we need to be prepared with sufficient protection against the cold.

Full moon in the morning.

From the clear skies over Deosai Plateau, appeared the 9th highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat, at 8,125 m. The massive and dynamic Himalayan mountain range is so overwhelming to take in.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: July 2016, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Birds of Pakistan > - Deosai National Park
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Pheasant-Tailed Jacana on a Lotus Pond

I had an invitation to visit where I could see “A Pheasant-tailed Jacana building a nest on the a lotus pond.”

We went to Head Baloki, a village located along the Navi River, 75 km southwest of Lahore. This village had waterways and ponds drawn from the river, where the water birds had gathered.

The Punjab region has five rivers, and the Ravi is one of them. The word Punjab originates from Persian, “Panj -ab” meaning “Five rivers,” and it is a rich land where the Indus River and its four tributaries emanate from. However, since the split between of India and Pakistan in 1947, the rivers have long been a source of conflict over water rights. This Ravi river as well, which originates in Himachal Pradesh, is no exception.

 

This is the striking Pheasant-tailed Jacana. The tail feathers are very long, with the head, throat and wings a white color but the body is a contrasting dark brown. The back of the neck is gold with black along the edge.

 

The long toes and claws on its feet allow it to walk on the lotus leaves, as they distribute the weight of the bird over a large area.

 

This is a Jacana with its chicks. The friend who invited me here, had told me the Jacana was still only nest-building, but it seems the eggs had already hatched. The chick looked so stable already. Pheasant-tailed Jacana chicks must grow up in a harsh watery environment, so they are able to be on the move as soon as they hatch.

 

Jacanas are a “paternal bird” where the fathers raise the chicks, so this is the father.

 

To protect the chicks, the brave father screeches loudly and drives away an approaching Indian pond heron.

 

This is a pair of Jacana spreading their wings out in a display…but I wonder what they are trying to communicate?

 

An early morning scene on a lotus pond in Punjab, with a beautiful Pheasant-tailed Jacana.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Aug 2017, Head Baloki, Punjab, Pakistan

Special Thanks : The late Mr. Zahoor Salmi(Photographer)

Category : ◆ Punjab > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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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) Red-billed Chough

“Red-billed Chough” in the mountains of northern Pakistan.

They can be seen gathering around the fruits of the Hippophae rhamnoides.

 

Red-billed Chough, Pakistan

 

Video & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Dec 2020, Morkhun – Sost, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Birds 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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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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