Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Great Himalayan National Park

GHNP or Great Himalayan National Park is best known for being only one of the two places on earth with a viable population of the western tragopan Tragopan melanocephalus. Locally known as Jujurana, this species serves as the flagship for wildlife conservation in the greater Himalaya.

Because of its restricted distribution the Jujurana is considered Vunerable to extinction by the IUCN. Its only five population are known from Kohistan, Kaghan valley in Pakistan and Kishtwar, Chamba, Kulu and an area east of the Sutlej river from India.

Sunset at Dela

Two weeks ago I went briding with some friends to GHNP. The Jujurana was not our agenda because it is so rare to see one that you could spend months before seeing one. We had only seven days, so we decided on trying to see as much of the park as possible rather than just chasing one species.

The GHNP boasts of a little over 200 bird species. The park ranges form around 1000 meters to over 6000 meters above sea level. It has a diversity of habitats from broadleaf forest, through mixed conifer, oak-rododendron to alpine meadows. The diversity of habitats available means a lot of species turnover and thus a lot of species.

Ashwin and me on a birding trip

Over the six days, four of which were spent inside the core area, we saw over 100 species of birds. Our list boasts of some "difficult to see" species such as the orange bullfinch (Pyrrhula aurantiaca). Although none of us is a full-time birder we still managed to id over 13 species of warblers; five of which belong to the groups called leaf warblers (genus Phylloscopus) which are especially difficult to Id. The experience was much more exciting as we were on our own to id birds in an areas where none of us had been before. It was a huge learning experience for all of us.

Dela Camp at ~3400m

Other than bird also saw a big herd of blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) on our second day in the park. It was a special experience for me as I had never before seen the blue sheep in the greater Himalaya. All my previous work has been in the trans Himalaya. The same day on our way back to camp at night we also chanced upon a brown bear (Ursus Arctos) mother with two cub. It was late twilight and we narrowly missed getting between the mother and the cub. The alpine medow at Dela also offered some very exotic birds such as the Golden bush robin (Tarsiger chrysaeus), Smoky warbler (Phylloscopus fuligiventer), Grey-sided bush warbler (Cettia brunnifrons). All these birds are high altitude meadow and shrubbery specialist and cannot be seen anywhere else.

On our way back from Dela, We also chance on other mammal species such as the Yellow-throated marten, Himalayan palm civet and Goral. Great Himalayan National Park offered us the greatest Himalayan trekking and wildlife experience. I can't wait to get back!