Eurasian eagle-owl at Morkhun village

I visited Mr. Hussain’s house in Morkhun Village. There, I could meet this Eagle Owl. This is where Mr. Hussain and Mr. Abul, who cherish nature and wildlife live. They rescue owls like this, that are injured or caught sometimes.

This large owl, called an Eagle owl, or Eurasian eagle-owl, is widely distributed in the Eurasian continent, resting in the forests and among the rocks during the day, and the nocturnal owls actively hunting at night.

Living in the highlands at nearly 3,000m (about 9840 ft) altitude, these owls are a subspecies of the Eurasian Eagle Owl, Bubo bubo hemachalanus which inhabit the Himalayas from Bhutan to northern India and northern Pakistan.

In the private house of the Wakhi family. You can see how close the child can get to the owl.

The owl was being fed chicken.

The Eagle-owl seemed to be very comfortable with his rescuer, Mr. Abul. But today it was scheduled to be released back into the wild.

He released the bird from his yard. It flew straight, and then landed in a bush nearby.

These colorful poplar trees line the slope of the Morkhun village, are the habitat of the Eagle owls.

The liberated Eagle Owl. I hope it can return to its original territory.

After that, we had lunch around the buhari (stove). We were there just in time for the potato harvest. A traditional Wakhi dish made from lots of dairy products, fried potatoes and chow men (fried noodles) and salad. I can’t stop myself from eating the fried potatoes made from fresh potatoes.

Then, following the meal, we have some chai, milk tea. In northern Pakistan, they add Himlayan rock salt, instead of sugar into their chai. The chunk of salt is stirred in the chai, and the salty milk tea “Namkeen chai” is enjoyed.

These rock salt are brought from the far reaches of the Punjab region to all over the world. They are sold in the market under the name “Pink salt” or “Himalayan rock salt.”

This wraps up my time in the Morkhun Village, were I could help send off an Eagle Owl back to the wild, and relaxed with Namkeen Chai.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Oct 2021, Morkhun Village, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks to Hussain ALI and Abul KHAN

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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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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(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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(video) A Snow Leopard Observed from the Karakoram Highway

In late December, we headed to northernmost part of Pakistan in search of snow leopards. Making our way from the border town of Sost near China, and traveling the Karakoram Highway through Belly Checkpost, to Kooksil with the goal to observe the ibex, bearded vultures, and finally – the coveted appearance of a snow leopard!

 

Snow Leopard observed from the Karakoram Highway Pakistan

 

I would have never thought we could see a snow leopard from the Karakoram Highway! What a super lucky encounter with this one!

Video & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Wadkhun – Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit -Baltistan
Special Thanks: Tomo AKIYAMA, Hussain ALI and Abul KHAN

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Khunjerab National Park
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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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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 : - Hingol National Park > - Ibex > - Wildlife of Balochistan > ◆ 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 > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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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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