What I Learnt From Birdwatching On Himalayan Treks

What I Learnt From Birdwatching On Himalayan Treks

Category Trek Leaders Speak Trekking Tips

By Soumitra B


I consider myself an amateur birdwatcher. As of now, I’ve spotted about 250 bird species across my travels in India. 70 of those were spotted in the last eight months, when I became a Trek Leader with Indiahikes.

On rest days, I often head out in the mornings, with my trusty pair of binoculars, and go for a walk to spot the local species. When I did this in Sankri, I spotted more than a dozen different species. In Sandakphu, over the past month, I’ve spotted over twenty five.

But it’s not just quantity that I’m after. There’s a unique enjoyment of tracking down a bird. For example, at Sankri, near the primary school, I heard the call of a woodpecker. Not the ‘toc-toc’ sound it makes with the trees, mind you – this was its call. It came from some hundred metres away, from within a clump of trees. The game was afoot!

Heading out on my rest day – Birdwatching on Himalayan Treks

I moved as silently as I could, always trying to hide my vertical profile behind trees and shrubs. A couple of times, the calls changed direction – it was hopping between tree-trunks. I changed direction accordingly, looking up when I was close enough (fifty to hundred feet away), trying to spot it. Now I heard the ‘toc-toc’ of its beak hitting wood. Good – the bird had settled down.

Finally I saw it, and I used my binoculars to zoom in. A Brown-fronted Woodpecker (and not a Himalayan woodpecker – the pattern and the colours confirmed it). I stayed, watching it make holes in the bark, then feed on the insects living under. After it was done with one place it would move up-and-down the tree.

Spotting a golden backed woodpecker while Birdwatching on Himalayan Treks

A couple of days later, I took a walk to the same place, and in those same group of trees, I saw an Upland Buzzard (A kind of Hawk) sitting on a branch, glaring at me. Also on the branch, under its talons, was a fresh kill. It was ripping shreds of meat and swallowing them.

I focussed my binoculars on its talons, and on the kill that was between them. I saw red, white and yellow feathers. It had killed a woodpecker. A Brown-fronted Woodpecker. Was it the same one I saw? Who knows.

There are several such stories. Perhaps they don’t matter.

People ask me “Is se kya milta hai?” – what do you gain by this?

I will try to answer, but the main reason is that in these stories, I find great joy.

First – it’s a way of engaging with nature. I find satisfaction in being able to identify the bird species around me on treks (and otherwise), and in knowing more about them – their calls, their songs, their behaviour. Any nature-lover would understand this.

Second, it’s a way of building patience and dealing with the fact that nature owes you nothing. Sometimes, after a long walk, after cautious stalking, after following bird calls for up to an hour, I still fail to find my quarry. That’s part of the game. That’s what makes successful sightings special.

Third, birdwatching is an activity that is very personal and ephemeral. There is only you and nature. Most often I do not take photos – this makes my sightings exist purely in the moment. When that moment passes, when the bird flies away – the sighting ends. Whatever I’m doing, all my effort, all my successes and failures, it is just me and nature who’s watching – there is no instagram. It reminds me that in the age of ‘sharing’ I’m still doing things purely for myself, and I find satisfaction in this! There is possibly some metaphor or life-lesson in this, but I’m not one for saying cheesy things (wink).

I am always happy to share my birdwatching stories, and talk about the equipment I use, and such – feel free to drop a comment.

What you should do next?

1. If you’re keen on bird watching, watch this video where a bird watching expert, Ajit Hota, gives you tips on bird watching in the Himalayas.

2. Deorital Chandrashila Trek is one of our best treks for bird watching. Read more about it here.

3. If you ended up here by chance and were actually looking for treks to do, find all our upcoming treks here.

4. To see the 13 best treks of India, click here.

Soumitra B

About the author

Soumitra is a chemical engineer who has suspended his profession for some time to be a Trek Leader. Before joining Indiahikes, he was part of a cancer research lab at Johns Hopkins University. When he treks, he often documents the birds he encounters - he's spotted more than two hundred across the country so far.