Details about Samthar and Lava


Peter Lobo

Back ground Information

Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal and the state of Sikkim are a part of the Eastern Himalayan Region. This is a a tiny area, with fantastic variations. The terrain rises sharply from the plains of Bengal at near sea level to the snow capped Singelila Range rising up to over 8000 meters in elevation – all in crow fly distance of under 100 kms.Thus telescoping of terrain has created distinct altitudinal zones in respect of humidity, rainfall, climate and vegetation. This factor is responsible for the great variety and abundance of the resident bird life, making this area arguably one of the richest areas of its size anywhere in the world. Dr Salim Ali –one of India’s foremost ornithologists has recorded 527 species of resident birds. In addition there are vagrants, and transients on migration. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the species of the Indian Sub continent can be spotted in this region.

Based on source material from Dr Salim Ali’s book The Birds of Sikkim, and Krys Kazmierczak & Raj Singh’s A Bird Watchers Guide To India, I have been carrying out extensive ground explorations along with a host of local people to locate suitable birding hot spots, with a view to create tours for bird watchers. This report covers the following areas:


Kalimpong Area

Located in the Darjeeling Hills, close to Sikkim, is the "Raj" hill station of Kalimpong. This area nestles in the lush green midranges with a stunning backdrop of towering snow-capped peaks, topped by the crowning glory of the 8534 Meters high Mount Khangchendzonga. It has been blessed by nature. Fast flowing rivers, terraced fields, and vast tracts of protected forests with exotic flora, make it a birders delight.

The altitude varies between 600 meters in the Teesta Valley to 3150 Meters at the remote Rache la pass on the Bhutan border. Temperatures in Summer range between 15-25 C and in Winter they are between 7-15 C.

Bagdogra , the nearest airport, and the rail head at NJP are 80 Kms ( 2.30 hrs drive} from Kalimpong. Its location is central in the region and Darjeeling, Gangtok, West Sikkim, and North Sikkim, can all be reached within 3-4 hrs. Lava birding hot spots are just 2 hrs from Kalimpong, whilst it takes additional 2 hrs to drive to Samthar. Both Lava and Samthar can also be reached directly from the airport and railhead in 3-4 hrs.

Lava & Surroundings

Lava is a large forest village, growing into a small town. It is an eco-tourism destination. The West Bengal Forest Development Corporation operates a tourist complex and a Nature Interpretation Centre. Accomodation is available by prior booking. The village also has some private lodges The surrounding areas are covered with large tracts of reserved forests. The Neora National Park is close by and is a wildlife reserve. Entry is restricted and permits have to be obtained from the Wild life Wing. The Forests have rough roads and walking trails. Birding is feasible from the main roads, however for deeper entry it is advisable to obtain permission and a guide. Lava is located at an altitude of 2200 meters. In the North the main ridge rises to 3500 meters within a distance of 15 Kms. The main rivers forming valleys at altitudes of 1200 –1500 meters are the Neora, and Rishi in the North and the Git in the South. The Rangbhang Khola is the main tributary of the Rishi. Ridges and valleys are covered with mixed open forests with a few villages in the Rishi Valley. Neora is devoid of human habitat. The altitude variation and bio- diversity is favourable for bird life.

Lava has been on the birding map for many years. However birding was restricted to areas close to the main road.I started my exploration by birding at the sites given in the guide books. I found that due to increased tourist in-flow and road traffic, birds are shy.The best spot around Lava is a birding walk in the Rachet Reserve Forest ( 1.30 hrs by jeep from Lava). Rangbang Valley, Upper Rishi Valley, and Neora Valley, all provide good birding treks. A bird survey in Feb 2000 recorded a total 55 species. Of these 37 were recorded in the Rashet Forest, 16 on ridges leading to the Neora Valley and 20 in forests around Lava. Subsequently trips with Ron Bird Saldino in Feb 2001, and independent birding in March and Nov 2001 have validated all the species recorded earliar. More detailed exploration of Neora and Rangbang Valley needs to be done. List of species is given below:-


Validated by Peter Lobo in Feb, March and Nov 2001

  1. Hill Partridge
  2. Kalij Pheasant
  3. Darjeeling Woodpecker
  4. Great Barbet
  5. Golden Throated Barbet
  6. Drongo Cuckoo
  7. Tawny Owl
  8. Eurasian Sparrowhawk
  9. Black Eagle
  10. Common Kestrel
  11. Common Green Magpie
  12. Grey Treepie
  13. Large Billed Crow
  14. Blue Whistling Thrush
  15. Plain Backed thrush
  16. White Collared Black Bird
  17. Large Nilvata
  18. Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher
  19. Orange Flanked Bush Robin
  20. Golden Bush robin
  21. White Browed Bush Robin
  22. Blue fronted Redstart
  23. Rusty Flanked Treecreeper
  24. Black Lored Tit
  25. Black Throated Tit
  26. Striated Bulbul
  27. Ashy Troated Wabbler
  28. White Spectacled Wabller
  29. Chestnut Crowned Wabbler
  30. Blacked Face Wabbler
  31. Striated Laughing Thrush
  32. Rufous Capped Babbler
  33. Golden Babbler
  34. Red Billed Leiothrix
  35. Black Headed Shrike Babbler
  36. Hoary throated Barwing
  37. Chestnut Tailed Minla
  38. Rufous Winged Fulvetta
  39. White Browed Fulvetta
  40. Nepal Fulvetta
  41. Rufous Sibia
  42. Whiskered Yuhina
  43. Striped Throated Yuhina
  44. Rufous Vented Yuhina
  45. Brown Parrot Bill
  46. Oranged Bellied Flowerpecker
  47. Ruby Cheeked Sunbird
  48. Green Tailed Sunbird
  49. Fire Tailed Sunbird
  50. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
  51. Marroned Backed Accentor
  52. Yellow Breasted Greenfinch
  53. Darked Rumped Rose Finch
  54. Red Headed Bullfinch
  55. Gold Naped Finch
Samthar and around

The Samthar area is connected to Lava by a 52 kms forest road which is black topped upto Loleygaon Thereafter it is a rough wilderness trail, fit for 4WD vehicles. It has bio-diverse forest till you reach the Samthar Village at an altitude of 1400 meters. The road ends at Samthar Farm House, which is the starting point for birding.

The luxurious Samthar Farm House provides comfortable lodging, and good meals, in an atmospheric setting, with great views.

Samthar can also be reached directly from Bagdogra Airport and NJP station in 04.30 hrs ( 110 Kms). The route is partially a forest road with un-mettaled surface.

The terrain around Samthar comprises interlocking ridges with forest cover on the top and terraces lower down. Water courses ( local name "Jhora" for smaller ones and "Khola" for larger ones) form deep valleys, with bio-diverse flora. They feed the Samthar Khola on the North, The Lish River in the East, the Suruk Khola in the West and the Ponbu Khola in the South. All lead to the Teesta River. Large tracts of reserve forest also exist. The area is criss-crossed by many easy walking trails. One of these trails descends to the Teesta Valley and provides access to the Sikkim Highway via a hand pulled ropeway over the Teesta River. Scattered homesteads is the usual form of habitation.

I have identified 6 birding spots. Exploration of three sites has been done along with Charles Lepcha, my assistant and local birding guide. Productive birding areas identified by us are:-

New areas for exploration are in the Dong Khola Valley, Solag and Nazeok forests. Birders are welcome to explore these virgin areas

List of species is given below:-.

Birds recorded at Ponbu & Upper Lish Valley


Peter Lobo, Rachna Gupta & Charles Lepcha

  1. White browed shrike babbler
  2. Blue throated barbet
  3. Longtail Broadbill
  4. Ashy bulbul
  5. Blackcrested bulbul
  6. Redvented bulbul
  7. Himalyan bulbul
  8. Grey bushchat
  9. Pied bushchat
  10. Greater racket tailed drongo
  11. Lesser racket tailed drongo
  12. Black drongo
  13. Ashy drongo
  14. Spangled drongo
  15. White browed fantail
  16. Brandt’s mountain finch
  17. Pygmy blue flycatcher (female)
  18. Verditer flycatcher
  19. Greater yellownaped
  20. Common Kestrel
  21. Orange bellied leafbird
  22. Red billed leitohrix
  23. Common green magpie
  24. Green billed malkoha
  25. Blue winged Minla
  26. Chestnut tailed Minla
  27. Red tailed Minla
  28. Hill Myna
  29. Velvet fronted nuthatch
  30. Spotted owlet
  31. Paddy field pipit
  32. Fire tailed sunbird
  33. Mrs Gould’s sunbird
  34. Streaked spiderhunter
  35. Little spiderhunter
  36. Yellow bellied flowerpecker
  37. Orange bellied flowerpecker
  38. Blacklored tit
  39. Yellow cheeked tit
  40. Blue whistling thrush
  41. Grey treepie
  42. Rufous treepie
  43. Grey capped pygmy woodpecker
  44. Lesser yellownaped woodpecker
  45. Grey cheeked wabbler
  46. Tickell’s leaf wabbler
  47. Lemon rumped wabbler
  48. Ashy throat wabbler
  49. Greenish wabbler
  50. Large cuckooshrike
  51. Small Minvet
  52. Short-billed minvet
  53. Long-tailed minivet
  54. Scarlet minivet
  55. White bellied yuhnia
  56. Bar-winged flycatcher shrike
  57. Bay - backed shrike
  58. White capped water redstart
  59. Common Stonechat
  60. Rufous sibia