Kalij Pheasants can be found on the wooded hillsides around Kathmandu. Photo: Sunbird
Cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, Nepal remains one of Asia’s most fascinating destinations. It’s a tiny, landlocked country dominated by the still-growing Himalayan mountain chain that separates the icy deserts of Tibet from the dusty, sun-baked plains of India but within its borders one finds a feast of spectacular scenery, cultural contrasts, and rich biological resources. Over 850 bird species have been recorded here, more than in any other region of comparable size in Asia, and this tour samples a variety of the country’s richest natural habitats. These range from the moist, moss-covered oak-rhododendron forests surrounding the Kathmandu Valley to areas of riverine grassland, marsh, and scrub at Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in the southeast, and on to the subtropical forests, grasslands, and wetlands in and around the world-renowned Chitwan National Park.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Kathmandu. Night in Kathmandu.
Day 2-3: The Kathmandu Valley is a circular basin in the heart of Nepal at the foot of the main mountain range. Kathmandu itself has been the kingdom’s cultural centre for centuries, and though it has changed substantially since the first tourists arrived here 50 years ago, it retains much of its traditional heritage. Few of the world’s capital cities can summon up by their name alone images of the mysterious, the fabulous, and the exotic in the way that Kathmandu does.
The valley bottom, once a lake bed, is fairly densely populated, intensively cultivated, and seriously deforested, so we’ll begin at Phulchowki, at over 9,000 feet the highest summit on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley. We’ll spend two days here exploring the luxuriant moss-encrusted remnant oak-rhododendron forest near the summit and the subtropical broad-leaved forest at lower levels, occasionally venturing off the road onto narrow tracks as we make our way back down the mountain. We’ll search for a host of mountain specialities ranging from tiny tesias and skulking wren babblers to flocks of vociferous laughingthrushes that wander through the undergrowth like gangs of schoolchildren.
Phulchowki offers what is often frantic, sometimes frustrating, but always exciting birding, as we encounter feeding flocks of arboreal birds and attempt to pick out the more sought-after species from parties that are often moving just too quickly. It’s great fun, and we’re sure to encounter a host of Himalayan specialities such as yuhinas, fulvettas, and barwings. We’ll expect to see over one hundred species, and hopefully these will include Kalij Pheasant, Hill Partridge, Asian Barred Owlet, Golden-throated Barbet, Rufous Sibia, Chestnut-crowned and Black-faced Warblers, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, and Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush. With luck we might even discover a stunning Himalayan Cutia among one of the mixed-species feeding flocks. If we can pull ourselves away from Phulchowki’s magic, we’ll also visit the bird-rich botanical gardens at Godavari. Nights in Kathmandu.
Day 4: We’ll fly from Kathmandu to Biratnagar in the southeast before driving the short distance to Koshi Tappu where we’ll spend the next three nights in a comfortable safari-style camp. Species within the grounds include Spotted Owlet, Black-rumped Flameback, Rufous Woodpecker, Bronze-winged Jacana, and Yellow, Cinnamon, and Black Bitterns. We should arrive in plenty of time for a full afternoon to explore this fascinating area. Night at Koshi Tappu Wildlife Camp.
Days 5-6: Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve encompasses a large area of riverine grassland, marshes, swamps, and small tracts of woodland and scrub along the floodplain of the Koshi River. On one day we’ll visit a neighbouring tract of forest in search of species such as Oriental Pied Hornbill, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, and Collared Falconet. We’ll also head south from our camp to explore areas around Koshi Barrage, Nepal’s largest wetland, and an important staging post for migrant waterfowl and waders. During our stay we’ll expect to encounter Swamp Francolin, Lesser Adjutant, Gray-headed Lapwing, Striated Grassbird, and Paddyfield, Smoky, and Thick-billed Warblers. A wide variety of raptors hunt the area, ranging from Pallas’s Fish and White-tailed Eagles to Indian and Greater Spotted Eagles. With luck, we might also find Pied Harrier, Spotted Bush Warbler, Bristled Grassbird, or even a Gangetic Dolphin, an endangered and declining species. Nights at Koshi Tappu Wildlife Camp.
Day 7: Leaving Koshi we’ll begin the long drive west through the fertile Terai, stopping en route to search for Ibisbill before reaching Chitwan National Park. This large park preserves a wide variety of habitats within the Terai, though tropical forest and riverine grassland are the two most extensive. During our five nights in and around Chitwan we’ll spend time at two different bases, one at the western end of Chitwan, and one farther west in Lumbini - the legendary birthplace of the Buddha. Lumbini is also home to large numbers of waterfowl, grassland birds, and the world’s tallest flying bird - the stately Sarus Crane. We’ll start with three nights at Kasara Resort before transferring to the Lumbini Budhha Garden Resort further west.
Days 8-11: Over half of Nepal’s rich avifauna has been recorded inside Chitwan NP, and we’ll see a representative sample including Red Junglefowl, Black Francolin, Crested Serpent Eagle, Brown Crake, Bar-headed Goose, White-rumped Needletail, Great Hornbill, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Chestnut-capped Babbler, Rosy Minivet, Pale-footed Bush Warbler, and Green-billed Malkoha. We should also be able to find some of the park’s rarer inhabitants such as Bengal Florican, Gray-crowned Prinia, Rufous-rumped Grassbird, Brown Fish Owl, and Slender-billed Babbler. With luck we might even stumble across a Black Baza, Rosy Minivet, or Collared Falconet. Mammals abound in Chitwan, and we are virtually certain to see Indian One-horned Rhinoceros. Tiger and Sloth Bear are both much rarer and considerably more elusive. We might also find a long-snouted Gharial basking on a sand bank or floating in one of the numerous river channels that bisect the park.
Day 12: There’s no doubt that we’ll be reluctant to leave Lumbini when the time comes to head up into the foothills and back to Kathmandu. En route, we’ll stop to look for the charming and unique Wallcreeper, and Nepal’s only endemic species - Spiny Babbler. We’ll spend two nights in the capital, and should arrive in time to do some sightseeing before dinner. Night in Kathmandu.
Day 13: We’ll have a full day in the Kathmandu Valley, exploring the city’s enchanting streets and World Heritage areas, as well as searching for any species still missing from our list. We’ll almost certainly return to Phulchowki once again. Night in Kathmandu.
Day 14: The tour concludes this morning in Kathmandu.
Updated: 23 November 2020