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?
Our list of birds is long...here it is!
Scaly Breasted Munia
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
Indian Pond heron
Eurasian Collared Dove
Crested Serpent Eagle
Thick-billed Reed Warbler
Little Ringed Plover
Asian Pied Starling
Plumbeous Water Redstart
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Grey-headed Fish Eagle
Large-billed Leaf Warbler
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.