Sunday, November 20, 2011

Boudhanath Stupa...always makes me sigh with emotion as I watch all the people gathering to walk the kora together...

Stupa Pigeons are some of the best fed critters on the planet!

Dinner with Tsultrim & Vijaya

Hmmm, what here's some insight into how birds and fish
are viewed in Nepal and in much of the world.

Excited to be birding every day!

Learning to cook Tibetan delicacies at KK of our favorites in Boudha

Parting Shots...

Birding at Chobar Gorge with my friend Som.

We saw over 70 birds and fell in love with them....and then walked along the really festering part of the river where all of the water drains from Kathmandu Valley...and all of the trash. The scent was unbearable. The birds were amazing! Our hearts were full and broken at the same time. What can we DO!??

Som pointing out all the trash at the temple on the Sacred River.

Can you see the bird in this shot on the right? Can you tell who it is? How much more can the birds take?

Indian Pond Heron!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Visuals...of a blessed Life!

Art by student Sonam Choekyi

Fire and Ice Pizza Night!

Class 2 at Manasarovar Academy!

Sarah and Marcella at Chobar

Here's one of a really cute Mom and her kids on the local Sundarijal bus on their way home from school. We shared hearty laughs and even a few words of our respective languages. Sweetness...

Pasang Lamo "A" and I in the photo on the right...beautiful bird! Sad "Good-bye"

More to come as I re-enter ....but here are a few early morning thoughts...

As thoughts and memories and a rising tide of emotion floods my being, I think of a simple truth I can't help but embrace in this blessed life...One World. Inevitably I embrace this truth in Yosemite National Park where I am so fortunate to have lived for so long. Can't help but to notice that the boundaries we have drawn around The Park are just our own. I have never seen a bird, frog, bear or even a deer in the line at the entrance station! Surely the air and rain and snow clouds pass right on in and through.

We humans make imaginary lines and borders around ourselves from our personal home real estate to our town, state, country, hemisphere... Our response to/in our world could certainly be limited with these walls we construct.

When I travel and teach kids in another country, it is so apparent that they are kin. We share more than we differ. We laugh and cry at the same things. We want the same things for ourselves and for our families: enough clean, healthy food and water. A future filled with promise. A long and happy life full of friends and family. A healthy planet.

We live in the same place. We breathe the same air. The wind swirls the clouds around and around again with whatever they may carry, from hemisphere to hemisphere. The water we drink today has passed through a thousand bodies of beings all over this Earth.

The birds migrate along with all walks of life forms...north south and every direction, getting their life stories completed.

With that, I have a train to my little village in these mountains that are connected to the ones I just left...More later.

Some Images...and Sweet Memories

What a gift this month in Nepal has been. I am so grateful to the many people who helped make this dream a reality! It has been less than a year since our family
departed from our long stay in Nepal together. during that time we made deep bonds with fellow
students and teachers and birders and of course the animals we share the beautiful land with!

When we left late last December, it seemed inevitable that I would, should return to give this fledgling bird club a boost. The students were so deserving and they had gotten "under my skin" in a deep way!

Here I am months later, departing after another rich and fruitful course in bird-watching, leadership, wildlife conservation, connection across the miles and so much more! This time I feel that the students have a very sustainable program and a base of knowledge that will carry them into their future of bird-watching and possibly even careers in Conservation biology.

Gratitude for this chance is owed to the fine people at Kailash Hostel - the staff and the board. Special thanks to Steve Webster for his commitment to these kids and to following through on
everything. Thanks to Menuka at Bird Conservation Nepal for her participation in our walks and her promise to follow up with monthly walks with the students when it is possible. To Nancy Bruce and Eagle Optics (Vortex) for the enabling gift of
binoculars!! To Alice Anda and her foundation for the support that helped get Sarah Stock to come and teach so much! To Sarah for teaching so much! and sharing this adventure so intimately! To my family for their love, faith and patience! Big thanks to the Himalayan Children's Foundation, especially David Bidwell, for the belief in the program and in the students of Kailash Hostel - enough for supporting my journey and life in Nepal for the month!

With love and thanks for all that I have from the many amazing people
that have made this all possible...Especially the inspiring students of Kailash Hostel Bird-Watching Club!
Let's keep up the good works!

Welcome Dance Show for New Manager Tenzin Wangdue

Last Friday night, 11/11/11, the students organized and performed a dance/talent show to welcome their new Hostel Manager Tenzin Wangdue. They were really excited to let him know how happy they are to have such a wonderful addition to their support team at Kailash and their joy was obvious in their efforts.

There were several board members in attendence and Sarah and I were invited and welcomed too. The students performed Nepali dance as well as English dance and we were so impressed by their own choreography, music selection, costumes design and setting up the sound incredible feat! The sound system by the way, "went to 11" when it worked; the students were very
adaptable when it didn't!

Pictured here is Pasang "A" and her group of Nepali dancers.
With their spirited and lovely dance they "wowed" the crowd so much that Pasang was voted "best dancer" of the show!

Everyone in the audience was thrilled to see the performers showing their stuff. There was so much cheering that the music was muted sometimes!

One of the biggest audience outbursts
happened when the boys were dancing,
turning tricks and busting some perfectly timed moves when the young herd of boys ran out and filled the dance floor with their antics...really good dance moves!! What fun it was to hear the peals of laughter and surprise from the crowd while the boys savored the auditory compliments.

Tenzin Wangdue and the Bird Watching Club kids honored
me for contributing with the traditional Kata/scarf, which was so moving. I love this Tibetan/Himalayan expression of gratitude and connection.

This was the start of an emotional week of saying "Goodbye" to Nepal and all of the people I love there. They have become like family, though I never know when I will see them again.

After the students served us a sumptuous Nepali supper in the clean and bright dining room, we departed feeling full and satisfied with what this evening held, and with where these students are headed with their love for birds.

I feel that they have learned so much from all of the people they have come into contact with during this past month. They have taken the chance to heart by asking questions and bonding with each visitor to the Bird Watching program. What a pleasure to have watched them soaking up not just the companionship but also the unique skills and expertise that these wonderful visitors and volunteers have offered them. It has been impressive as always, to see gratitude flow from them without any prompting from me or from anyone else; it really comes sincerely from their hearts.

We came one more time to say our "Goodbyes", Sarah and I, exchanging gifts of hugs and little treasures and love...and the promises to keep watching and learning about birds. There are quite a few students who have shown interest in joining now that we are finished with this course and the current students will be their mentors. It will be such a pleasure to hear about how things are going after we leave. I know that there will be many feathery, flighty winged adventures in the bird walks to come. I wish it for them all...and may we meet again!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kailash Bird Watching Club Leads Walk for Mono Lake Couple!

The Kailash Hostel Bird Watching Club had a chance to try out their "stuff" with some keen bird watchers from afar! Wangdawa Sherpa and Deanna Dulen and their "auntie-cousin-mother-sister" (relative) Kanchi, were treated to a bird walk led by the Kailash students after school on Monday. They were only partially prepared as this event came a day earlier than they had expected. They did a great job in welcoming the visitors who currently reside in Mono City, California.

The story of Mono Lake is one that these young people have learned about and cherish as an environmental story with a happy ending. It was fun for them to meet Wangdawa, a Nepali who has moved to Mono Lake and Deanna, who is superintendent of Devil's Postpile National Monument on the east side of the Sierra.
Wangdawa and Deanna are visiting Nepal for over a month and just finished a trip led by Wangdawa to his village and around the Solu area for two weeks. The couple were joined by 15 travellers

also from the eastside of the Sierra Nevada mountains in
California. They finished their group trip with four days in Chitwan National Park where we enjoyed some great time with them!
The students took Deanna and Wangdawa and Kanchi on a short walk before it got dark and enjoyed each other's warm company immensely!

Somehow, the hostel gate was decorated with a Mono Lake sticker later that night! Hmmmm....

This was a great experience for the kids to meet some more great people and to have some practice at leadership of their own group. They loved sharing what they know with gracious and interested folks. This experience was so valuable and we all hope to meet again at the short end of a pair of binoculars!

Mystery Bird #4!

Another in flight...I can't resist these.

Black Drongo! Note the rictal spot!

Last Saturday Bird Walk...

How quickly this precious time has passed! With that has come some amazing learning and growing on all of our parts - the students of Kailash Hostel Bird Watching Club and all of us who
have been fortunate to be on this wild and wondrous birding adventure with them!

Our last walk was planned from the start to be the culmination of e everything we had learned so far. This trek was going to take us to the place we fondly remembered finishing our time together last year...Sundarijal! We set out just after our goal of 7:00 a.m. and headed through the fields of now finished crops and along ravines where we began to see so many birds we stopped in one place for no less than two hours!

It was really a thrill for all of us to be identifying some new birds for the
group and it seemed like they were coming in a steady stream of different ones! Yellow-bellies Fantails, Verditer Flycatcher, White-rumped Munia, Common was so exciting to see and identify them all!

For Sarah Stock and I, it was very impressive to see how many birds these students can name and if they didn't know them, they showed incredible skill and patience in the process of identifying them! A favorite moment came during this long occupation above the ravine - only a 10 minute walk from the hostel, when a student shrieked, "Look at THAT!" We all looked and saw a huge bird moving inside the leaf cover of a nearby tree and ID'd it as a Greater Coucal! A first for most of the group.

The joy of just watching that big bird move and fan its huge tail...together...blissful! Ultimate definition of a dream "teachable moment".

Since we were having such a great time in that place and
nobody wanted to leave, we decided to stay and do some learning of new skills! Sarah taught the students to use a GPS and a range finder that she brought in executing a proper standardized point count with data sheets. We all practiced and learned to use these tools before doing a 5 minute count of every species we could detect using the habitat within our range. The students got good at estimating distances, filling in the data sheets perfectly and
understanding the importance of using standardized methods in collecting data. We also talked about how important this kind of data collecting is for
conservation of birds and other animals and their habitats. It was wonderful to see these bright minds embracing this new and complicated information and putting it to use correctly. They are on their way to careers in conservation biology with this kind of experience!

Our leader for the day was Choegyal Lama who did a great job at tuning in when it was time to move on. Along with our "tail" Sonam Choekyi, Choegyal had the group talk about and come to the conclusion that we were short on time and decided to change our plans and do a shorter loop and not try to get to Sundarijal. It was a great show of group leadership!

On our way back we did another
point count in a
cultivation/human habitation habitat
and discussed what the results revealed and why they were
different from our riverine/forest results. We found more common birds such as Crows, Sparrows,
Pigeons and Stonechats here.

So many mini-adventures on the way
there and back again...pigs,
hoopoes, yellow roses in a greenhouse, tiny sour fruits to taste and teach us about, old bamboo bridge to cross and as always...goats - "sano bakara"!

Every minute with these young friends
has been such a gift. As always, it breaks my heart to leave, but I feel like they have such a great foundation with the information we all have offered and they have devoured!
They are well on their way!

We found a receptacle of some kind of aster-flower as we
headed home, with one tiny seed clinging to its "birth place". As we all wondered in awe at this expression of nature's beauty and perfection, the seed let go and flew we must do this week. I will keep this memory in my heart and mind as I go through the spectrum of emotions, and Let Go...

Our group list for the day...the biggest one yet! Again...this is the list of all birds seen on our walk. So many new ones! 51 species in all:

House Sparrow
Large-billed Crow
House Crow
Spotted Dove
Red-vented Bulbul
Yellow-bellied Fantail
Verditer Flycatcher
Grey-headed Warbler
Black Kite
Oriental White-eye
Great Tit
Black Drongo
Black Bulbul
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker
White-throated Kingfisher
Red-rumped Swallow
Greater Coucal
Hume's Warbler
Oriental Magpie Robin
Intermediate Egret
Blue Whistling Thrush
Jungle Myna
Slaty Blue Flycatcher
Blue Rock Thrush
Common Buzzard
European Tree Sparrow
Barn Swallow
Eurasian Collared Dove
Rock Pigeon
Hodgson's Redstart
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Common Kestrel
Common Greenshanks
Oriental Turtle Dove
Small Niltava
Scaly-Breasted Munia
White-rumped Munia
Olive-backed Pipit
Long-tailed Shrike
Cattle Egret
Grey Treepie
Large Cuckooshrike
Greenish Warbler
Common Tailorbird
Common Myna
Pied Bushchat
Red-whiskered Bulbul

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chitwan National Park!

After a week of drizzly, foggy weather that closed all the small airports in the Nepal Himalaya and kept people from getting in and out of treks, we
finally had blue skies and sun! Time to head south to the Indian border to Chitwan National Park! Some maywonder why mountain loving women would use their precious time to head to the low lands rather than to take a short trek into the higher, clearer Himalayan air. Well, really,
it's the birds and the people we know and love down there in the Terai. The Terai is the low land area at the foot of the Himalaya, where the big rivers converge creating a wetland area. Well, it was once wetter before large scale draining for cultivation and anti-malarial campaigns changed this wet grass land. But now it is the home of Chitwan National Park.

Chitwan is well known for its jungle safaris and giving visitors the exciting chance to see a tiger or leopard, one-horned rhino or wild elephant! There are many other animals including the Globally Threatened Garial crocodile who find a home place in Chitwan but Sarah and I had our sights on the winged ones of course. Nepal is a birder's paradise, really with 867 species of birds recorded in this tiny but diverse country. Chitwan at only 360 square miles (932 km square), has 540 bird species on record! Of course we had to go there and try to meet some of them!

Actually, our first big critter sighting was a big male rhinoceros!

He was huge and so gorgeous
that I think maybe Sarah thought he was fake. Maybe her indifference was caused by the "zoo effect" when 40 people gathered around this volatile, famously short tempered animal so
closely I wanted to arrest them! Maybe her lack of enthusiasm was because there were black ibis and lesser adjutants and ruddy shelducks hanging out on a nearby sandbar! Probably the latter.

After our long bus ride from Kathmandu, we couldn't wait to go for a
bird walk with Bishnu
from Gaida Lodge. Bishnu is a great birder and showed us so many
species we had a tough time recording them all! His specialty is grassland birds so we really were treated to his incredible eye for these invisible species! We surely looked like two kids in a candy store as we glowed in the sunset light gazing at little owls on the first day of our birding retreat!

The rest of the week was full of bird walks with friends that
Paul and I
and kids met last winter here - Anil and Krishna from the company United Jungle Guide Service. We enjoyed their
company and learned so much from them last year that we have kept in touch and I couldn't wait to come back and go birding with them again! They were so excited to go on bird safaris with Sarah and I and wanted us to see as many birds as possible. So on each trip we were treated to new places in the mornings and afternoons with our binoculars pointed at amazing scenery that always offered sightings of clandestine birds when we looked long and hard enough...which of course we always did!

We walked to some near places to Sauraha where we were based and sometimes ventured further afield
perfecting the art of
"motor-birding" all around the landscape! What a blast with these fun-loving Nepali birders! We saw so much this way! Only Sarah entered the actual National Park one morning while Karen did some interviews! How silly would it be to come all this way and only spend time in the buffer zone? Ask Karen!

These guys are such great teachers that do not stop at naming the birds. We learned a lot from them and shared excitement over the sight of many birds. I will always remember when we spotted a flock of Himalayan Griffons circling high above the Terai with Krishna exclaiming "Thank God!" A resonant sentiment!

Some of the best time was spent with Wangdawa Sherpa and
his group of intrepid travellers from the east side of the Sierra! They finally made it out of the mountains after the clouds lifted to let the planes fly them out! We went on a canoe ride and bird walks and even a Nepali dance around the fire with them! FUN!

We also got to spend time with Doma Paudel and Sunaina Raut,
who our family met last year.
Doma is the first certified woman to be a jungle guide in Nepal and she and Sunaina are the only working guides in Chitwan at the moment. They are working hard to make this kind of work more possible for women in the future, against big odds in this male dominated field. We are so proud of them and of the men who have supported them. Anil is employing them both and Krishna works with them. Such positive change!

We had dinner at Doma's family home in Sauraha on the border of the park where she has had some close encounters with big animals. Her home was trampled by a wild elephant when she was younger and her mother lost her life to an angered rhinoceros! Her response is to learn as much as she can about these animals and teach her fellow Terai residents how to live with them. Inspiring.

The photo shows Doma holding up a pair of binoculars that were a gift from Nancy Bruce and Eagle Optics. She and Sunaina both have a pair of these and we think it will help them in their careers. It's hard to believe that they have been working as guides without binoculars of their own. Now they can practice their art more fully! They are so deeply grateful.

On Friday, we left for home in Kathmandu at 5 a.m. by crazy local bus because we needed to get back by 4 p.m. We are so happy to be alive to tell the story!! Always makes us appreciate the respect of the center line/divider on our roads at home!

We are thankful for a great trip! And to have made it back alive!!

For now, Mystery Bird #3: Who is this?

Green Bee-eater!

Our list of birds is it is!

Scaly Breasted Munia
Lesser Adjutant
Red-throated Flycatcher
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
Greenish Warbler
Humes Warbler
Spotted Dove
Great Tit
Black-hooded Oriole
Black Drongo
Common Tailorbird
House Sparrow
Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker
Common Myna
Rufous Treepie
Long-tailed Shrike
Large Bee-eater
Indian Peafowl
Woolly-necked Stork
Plum-headed Parakeet
Large-billed Crow
Black Ibis
White-throated Kingfisher
Paddyfield Pipit
Red Junglefowl
Rufous-winged Bushlark
Pied Bushchat
Indian Pond heron
Eurasian Collared Dove
White-tailed Stonechat
Rosy Pipit
Richard's Pipit
Plain Prinia
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Crested Serpent Eagle
White Wagtail
White-browed Wagtail
Black Francolin
Brown Crake
Alexandrine Parakeet
Spotted Owlet
Grey-backed Shrike
Zitting Cisticola
Common Tailorbird
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch
Large Cuckooshrike
Jungle Babbler
Red-vented Bulbul
Thick-billed Reed Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Crimson Sunbird
Greater Coucal
Oriental White-eye
White-breasted Waterhen
Eurasian Wryneck
Citrine Wagtail
Little Ringed Plover
Plain Martin
Common Sandpiper
Common Iora
Common Greenshanks
Little Egret
Jungle Myna
White-tailed Kite
Asian Pied Starling
Plumbeous Water Redstart
Asian Openbill
Pied Kingfisher
Black Stork
Booted Warbler
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Common Chiffchaff
Himalayam Flameback
Jungle Owlet
Grey-breasted Prinia
Lesser Coucal
Steppe Eagle
Intermediate Egret
Coppersmith Barbet
House Crow
Ruddy Shelduck
Cattle Egret
Olive-backed Pipit
Indian Roller
Greater Flameback
Lesser Yellownape
Black-rumped Flameback
White-bellied Drongo
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Barn Swallow
Greater Yellownape
Grey-headed Woodpecker
Sand Martin
Lineated Barbet
White-eyed Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Little Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Red-rumped Swallow
Grey Heron
Great Cormorant
Peregrine Falcon
Baya Weaver
Common Kingfisher
Stork-billed Kingfisher
Grey-headed Fish Eagle
Large-billed Leaf Warbler
Bronze-winged Jacana
Common Coot
Himalayan Griffon
Common Moorhen
Cotton Pygmy Goose

*Note all of the birds who have the misfortune of being identified as "Common". Most of them may once have been common or might be in another place...but in my humble opinion, nobody should have to be called "Common" anyway! I do love the more descriptive names though.