Birding in The Nepal Himalaya

The Nepal Himalayas offer the best chance in the world to truly experience high mountains, without restricting logistical difficulties. Birding in this region is incredibly rewarding, with a whole host of interesting resident and migratory birds, including some really special high altitude species. I have visited 3 times since 2008 to enjoy my twin loves of mountains and birding.

I am available for hire as a bird guide to accompany treks and expeditions in Nepal, for private parties and organised groups. Contact me at joe@avalonwildlife.co.uk for further details

Here are galleries and reports from my treks, some written while in Nepal:
Makalu 2012
Everest 2012
Annapurna 2012
Langtang 2013
Langtang Trek/Chitwan 2010
Chitwan 2008
Jomsom Trek 2008 1 2 3

Birding in the Nepal Himalayas, a summary:

 Most treks start in the lowlands, where agriculture has clearly had a major impact on the environment, with the forest being cleared to make way for terraced fields. These are still good for birding though, with Siberian Stonechat, Long-tailed and Grey-backed Shrikes, Pipits and Hodgson's Redstart common.
Terraced Fields below Ghandruk, Annapurna Conservation Area

Rosy Pipit
Siberian Stonechat

Olive-backed Pipit

Long-tailed Shrike

 The views from these lower hills are superb, with sweeping panoramas over distant peaks
Annapurna on the left, Macchupachare on the right, from Ghandruk

Having a rest near Ghoprepani, with Macchupachare towering above

From the very start of the trek keep an eye on any rivers the path may follow, as these are home to White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstarts, Spotted, Little and Slaty-backed Forktail, Brown and White-throated Dipper, and Crested Kingfisher

White-capped Water Redstart

Little Forktail

Soon the land gets too steep even to terrace and dense forest is left to cloaks the hills. The paths are well worn and easy to follow on most routes. However tempting it may seem to go 'off-road', birding is best done from the paths themselves,  for safety's sake, the slopes are often extremely steep and slippery, and birds are easier seen where the trees are slightly more open.
Mule trains are a frequent sight as they carry supplies up the trail. On these narrow paths it is wise to stand on the inside as the animals pass, and let them pass on the cliff side, as there is always a risk of them barging into you and knocking you off!

These forests are very productive bird-wise. You can go a long time without seeing birds, but noisy feeding flocks are frequent and contain a wide diversity of species, usually containing Black-throated Tits,  Nepal and White-browed Fulvettas, Ashy-headed and Black-faced Warblers, Yellow-bellied Fantail and Rufous Sibia

Rufous Sibia


Black-throated Tit

Ashy-throated Warbler

In more open areas, Bush-robins are commonly seen, mainly Rufous-sided (Himalayan Bluetail), but also Golden and White-browed. These openings, usually near to villages are also good for Finches and Laughingthrushes.

Rufous-sided Bush Robin

Spotted Laughingthrush

Red-headed Bullfinch


Where openings in the tree allow a view over the canopy, it is worth waiting to see what flies up into the treetops, this can be particularly productive in the evenings as birds gather prior to roosting. Choosing a lodge with good views is worth the time.

Collared Grosbeaks

White-collared Blackbird

Himalayan Langur move around the forest in noisy troupes


Above 3000m the forest thins out into shrub and scattered conifers. This habitat holds a rich variety of accentors, roesfinches and redstarts.
Dhaulagiri Icefall, seen from Lete, Annapurna Conservation Area

Altai Accentor

Robin Accentor

Beautiful Rosefinch

Rare pheasants are one of the major attraction of birding in the Himalaya but are notoriously difficult to see. Satyr Tragopans and Blood Pheasant skulk in the dense forest, Cheer Pheasant creep through long grasses, and Himalayan Monal feed quietly on steep, inaccessible slopes. With patience and effort, all are possible in the right areas.

Himalayan Monal

In some valleys such as the upper Kali Gandaki, which is in a rain shadow, the land becomes very arid, with little vegetation. Areas cultivated and irrigated for cereals and orchards become magnets for birds. The fields are used by wintering Pine Bunting and Red-fronted Serin, while orchards are used by thrushes and redstarts.
Marpha, Annapurna Conservation Area


Blue-capped Redstart

White-throated Redstart

Red-throated Thrush

Over 3500m there is very little vegetation at all, but the few high altitude specialist species that are present are worth the effort of the hike up, as are the views

Langtang Lirung behind Kyanjin Gompa, Lamgtang National Park


The Kali Gandaki Gorge, looking North in Mustang National Park from Kagbeni, Annapurna Conservation Area. Every October, thousands of Demoiselle Cranes migrate through this valley. The gravel of the river bed is a breeding site for Ibisbill

Ibisbill


Golden Eagle and Lammergeir

Arid peaks in the Annapurna rain shadow, Kagbeni, Annapurna Conservation Area

Snow Pigeons

Oases of trees and water again draw in birds from this hostile landscape, at this altitude, these are real goodies and include Solitary Snipe, Stolickska's Tit-warbler, Rosefinches and White-winged Grosbeak
Temple Grove, Muktinath, Annapurna Conservation Area

Solitary Snipe

Road between Kagbeni and Muktinath, Annapurna Conservation Area

Stolickska's Tit-warbler

Variegated Laughingthrush

Great Rosefinch

For the really adventurous, there is the possibility of climbing to high peaks and passes, though a permit and guide are usually mandatory above 5500m. Birds up here are very thin on the ground, but are of serious quality.

Himalayan Snowcock


Red-fronted Rosefinch

The Thorung La, 5416m, looking towards the Manaslu range

It's not all about the birding, the opportunity to push yourself to your physical and mental limitations, and get up among the highest mountains in the world is hard to resist!

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