Destination – Gulmarg and Pahalgam
Date – 24, 25 & 26 June, 2021
After the beautiful valleys of north Kashmir, the next destination in our Kashmir bucket list was Gulmarg, We reached there late in the evening so there wasn’t much for us to do there at that time, so we just went straight to our hotel and called it a day.
Next morning I woke up pretty early and went out scouting for birds in the dense pine forests around the hotel. Just outside I found a flock of the beautiful European Goldfinches. I had seen these birds previously once in Spiti and multiple times in Kasauli, but I was never able to get decent photographs of it. This time however, with just a bit of patience, I could manage to get some shots that I really liked.
I walked further into the forest and found my first ever Western-Crowned Warbler! It was high up in the canopy and always jumping around, so, I couldn’t get any usable shots of it, but I did take several call recordings!
While analyzing the audio files I noticed a strange call in the background which I was not familiar with. So, I did some research and with the help of some of my birding friends, the call was ided to be that of a Brooks’ Leaf Warbler, which without doubt must be the most special observation of this outing!!
Moving on from the Western-Crowned Warbler, I noticed a small robin calling continuously from high up in the canopy. The lighting there was a bit tricky and I couldn’t make out all the colors of the bird properly. All I could see was a combination of yellow/golden, black and white. based on this I thought the bird was a Golden Bush Robin, and I got too excited on this. I spent a lot of time trying different angles to get a decent shot of this supposed Golden Bush Robin, but nothing worked as the lighting was just too bad. Some time later, the bird jumped down into the bushes and I quickly went there to look for it. I followed the call and with just a little bit of difficulty I could finally see the bird and to my pleasant surprise it was an Indian Blue Robin, which at the time, was an even more exciting sighting for me than what I initially thought it was! I took hundreds of shots of it in hopes that one of them might turn out to be decent enough, but unfortunately none did.
Next up was a male Himalayan Woodpecker, which gave me amazing views for some time, but again, due to the poor lighting I could not get any shots of it.
After spending some time with this handsome male, I went back to the hotel to join my family for breakfast.
In the afternoon we all went to the see the meadows at Kongdoori. We took the cable car to the Phase 1 only and while my family sat down to enjoy the breathtaking views there, I went on too a bushy patch, not too far from there. Going there turned out to be a very wise decision for me as I once again found Indian Blue Robins there, and this time instead of just one, I found a pair of them!! I spent so much time trying to photograph them, but they were so skittish and always inside the bushes, so in the end I just had to give up on them and move on to the other species that were present there.
While trying my luck with the robin, I could hear a Western Crowned Warbler calling from the bushes, so, I started searching for it. It didn’t take long before I could see it again, and this time on an open perch, allowing me to take some shots of it!
My session with the warbler was interrupted when a pair of Variegated Laughingthrushes suddenly started calling loudly from right behind me. To be honest, these birds have one the funniest calls I have ever heard! Before taking any shots of it, I made sure to take a call recording of them (listen here) and only after doing that did I start photographing them. Unlike most other wildlife there, these birds were very co-operative and allowed me to get really close and take some amazing shots of them!
After spending some time with the laughingthrushes, I went back to my family.
We left Gulmarg in the afternoon and went to our next destination – Pahalgam. We reached there late in the evening and by the time we could find a hotel, it was dinner time already. So, after having a nice dinner, we all went to bed.
Next day I woke up early and went to the Lidder Riverbed in search of the elusive Ibisbills. And without much effort, I found 2 of these gorgeous birds in the rocky riverbed.
These birds were however very shy and didn’t let me get too close to them, so, I decided not to disturb them much. I took a couple of shots for the record and left the area and went back to the hotel.
At around lunchtime, we decided to go to Aru Valley, which is less than an hour away from Pahalgam.
We went to a meadow where, and while my family took a break to appreciate the peace and quiet, I went for a walk in hopes of finding some cool species there. Soon, I found a mixed flock of Cinerous Tits, Rufous-Naped Tits and Black-Crested Tits along with a rather bold male Long-Tailed Minivet.
There was a Blue-Whistling Thrush in a rocky stream, so I decided to photograph it instead because it was much less skittish than the tits. The bird turned out to be very friendly and allowed me to get some closeup shots.
After spending some time there we went back to Pahalgam for dinner.
Next morning I went to Lachipora for birding with my father. There I was greeted by a flock of Black Bulbuls.
While photographing the Bulbuls I noticed a mating pair of Rock Buntings in the trees, so, I quickly repositioned myself and started photographing them. Though the light was not good and my angle was also not soo great, I still took some shots just for the record.
Since we were running short on time, we didn’t spend much time there and went back to the hotel because we had to leave for Patnitop.
Patnitop was just a pitstop this time. Though I managed to do spend an hour there looking for butterflies in the morning and photographing a family of Cinerous Tits there. And that marked the end of a fun and adventurous and overall a wonderful trip for us.