Islamabad Bird Report, 2002

I: Rawal Lake

By Anssi Kullberg:

Common Introduction

Here I intend to offer some information for birdwatchers resident or visiting Islamabad, Pakistan's administrative capital. I had the pleasure of working there for six months from April to October, 2002. Although Islamabad is quite boring as a city (it's small, unhistorical, and artificial, like Brazil's capital Brasilia), it is one of the best possible postings in the world for a birdwatcher. If living in a house or villa, one probably gets dozens of interesting bird species to be watched right in one's own garden, besides of wild boars, mungoes, jackals, porcupines, flying foxes, Rhesus monkeys, and other mammals that regularly visit those gardens that are close to the city's edges. In ten minute's walking distance from the centre, or from the villa districts where most Westerners are living, you will be in wild nature, and you can just choose, which of the two bird paradises you would like to visit on your morning jogging today.

1) North of the city, there are the beautiful Margalla Hills, with everything for a birdwatcher. There are bushy hill slopes with some limestone precipices. There are gorges and valleys with jungle, evergreen forest, dry forest. Every ravine of the Margallas is a microcosm, and a birdwatcher staying there for longer periods will eventually always end up facing somewhat sensational observations. This is also partly due to the relative scarcity of keen ornithologists, and due to the many ongoing changes in the avifauna, like the changes in wintering sites of some Indian species, spreading of dense vegetation birds into the gardens of Islamabad, westward expansion of the ranges of many Indian bird species that have relatively recently become urbanized. And so on. Just behind the first range of the Margallas, you will find valleys with cultivation and villages, but also with jungle, rivulets, and new hill ranges. On the top of the hill ranges there are chir pine forests with their own characteristics birds.

2) South of the city there is the Rawal Lake, if you prefer wetland birding, or don't have the physical shape for hill trekking. The reedbeds of the Rawal Lake are full of interesting birds, like are the forests and bushes around the lake.

These two are "musts" for a birdwatcher visiting Islamabad. Both are on walking distance from the centre, but you can also take a taxi. The small yellow and black local Suzuki cabs are cheap. For driving up to the Margalla Hills (if you don't want to climb), you'd better take a larger car, since Suzuki may break down on the steep rise. But even cheaper way is to take the pickup car up, or to the first village on the other side of the first Margalla Ridge. Concerning the lake, you can start your walk for example from the Margalla Dam, which any taxi driver will find.

There are even more opportunities in the city. First, there is the Saidpur village with its surroundings (five minutes walk from the north-eastern villa districts). Secondly, there is the Fatima Jinnah Park (an empty square of wild nature almost on the western side of city centre), with some grassland, forests, a rivulet, and so on. Finally, driving pass the Rawal Lake towards Rawalpindi, there are some hilly open lands, with for example Mr. Mushtaq's staples, close to a little wetland, which also proved very good birding place. Here it could be mentioned that Islamabad has no clear centre, but many; it has been planned into squares with letters and numbers, each one having a small centre, plus the more expensive Blue Area along the straight central streets. This strange city plan is explained by others with the supposed freemason background of Pakistan's founders, but a more logical explanation is that Jinnah copied it directly from the city plan of ancient Taxila.

If you want to add some hundreds of species more to your list, you can make a day trip to the Murree Hills and Ayubia National Park, which are close to Islamabad. There you will find an incredible variety of habitats and bird species any time of the year. There are nice and well marked trekking routes, and you can reach the area by taxi or by cheap local bus. There are also hotels and so on. But here I first concentrate in the birds of Islamabad city area. That is already remarkable. No wonder that there has been such an over-representation of birdwatchers among the Diplomatic Corps of Islamabad, as well as among Kashmir observers, missionaries, aid workers, and business people posted in Islamabad. I must here thank Katja, with whom I shared so many of my treks and trips around the region. I also thank the fellow birdwatcher Patrick Bird (nomen est omen), and the Pakistani colleague, who is ranger at the Ayubia National Park and has been working on charting the seemingly endless list of bird species that can be seen in there.

A former Finnish chargé d'affaires in Islamabad, Mr. Mikko Pyhälä, was also an ornithologist, and he has written a book, "Birds of Islamabad", published by the WWF, Lahore, in 2001. To this book I am very much indebted, and I would recommend it to everyone planning to watch birds in Islamabad area. It gives a detailled list of every species observed in Islamabad, their status, and seasonal occurrence. I failed to find this book in the bookstores of Islamabad, but it can be bought directly from the WWF Pakistan either in Islamabad or in Lahore. Many other useful books on birds of Pakistan (including a huge two-volume publication "Birds of Pakistan") are available in many good bookstores around Islamabad. I used especially the excellent book "Birds of the Indian Subcontinent" by Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp.

Here is one day's account from the Rawal Lake. I hope to add later some reports from the Margalla Hills and Murree Hills, as well as from longer trips to NWFP, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, Lahore's parks, and Karachi.

Rawal Lake, 25th Oct 2002

Let's take just one walk as an example. The following birds were observed by me on the northern side of the Rawal Lake on 25th October, 2002. (That was my farewell trip to the lake, and I was also hoping to see first arrived wintering migrants from Siberia and Central Asia.)

Little Grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis. Common. It is mainly a wintering species, but probably also breeds at Rawal Lake.

Little Cormorant, Phalacrocorax niger. 2 present. According to Pyhälä, this bird is a vagrant, which has been observed at Rawal Lake only once before. Well, now there were two of them, and I don't doubt the identification.

Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo. 1 seen flying from distance. Mentioned as regular and common winter visitor to Rawal Lake.

Black-crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax. Common here at summer, now scarce, but 1 flushed from a tree.

Indian Pond Heron (Paddybird), Ardeola grayii. Abundant.

Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis. Common.

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta. Abundant.

Intermediate Egret, Egretta intermedia. 1 found on a reedbed path. This species is not so common, and like Great Egret, Egretta alba, it's not always found on every visit. (This time there were no Great Egrets.)

Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea. 2 on the open side of the lake near the dam.

Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea. 1 flushed from reedbed. This was my first Purple Heron in Islamabad. Probably the same individual was observed also later same day.

Common Teal, Anas crecca. 1 flushed into flight. This was the only duck present. Perhaps the large flocks arrived only later that year, or perhaps they were in other parts of the lake.

Black Kite, Milvus migrans. Abundant.

Shikra, Accipiter badius. Frequent.

Long-legged Buzzard, Buteo rufinus. 1 very clearly observed present.

Eurasian Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus. Frequent.

Grey Francolin, Francolinus pondicerianus. Frequent. (Black Francolin, Francolinus francolinus, is even more common around Islamabad, but more on the Margalla Ridge.)

Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix. At least one seen. It was my first quail in Islamabad, and assumed to be this species, because this one has been confirmed to occur here (unlike the very similar Rain Quail, Coturnix coromandelica).

Brown Waterhen, Amaurornis akool. Common - and openly seen swimming at many occasions.

White-breasted Waterhen, Amaurornis phoenicurus. Common, and again, openly seen, but not swimming.

Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus. Frequent.

Eurasian Coot, Fulica atra. Common.

Red-wattled Lapwing, Hoplopterus indicus. Common.

Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos. 1 seen.

Black-headed Gull, Larus ridibundus. Common.

Feral Pigeon, Columba livia. Abundant.

Wood Pigeon, Columba palumbus. Had arrived in very large flocks (totally more than 100) to the forests around Rawal Lake. I don't really know where these flocks come from, since I haven't observed this species for example in the mountain areas, from where many wintering species come. Then it might be that these birds are really migrants from very far away from Kazakstan and Russia. Nearest place where I have observed this species breeding is Kyrgyzstan.

Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto. Abundant.

Palm Dove, Streptopelia senegalensis. Common.

Spotted Dove, Streptopelia chinensis. Common, but more scarce than in summer.

Rose-ringed Parakeet, Psittacula krameri. Abundant.

Common Koel, Eudynamys scolopacea. Still present (later migrates).

Greater Coucal, Centropus sinensis. Common.

Spotted Owlet, Athene brama. 1 seen.

House Swift, Apus affinis. Common.

White-throated Kingfisher, Halcyon smyrnensis. Abundant.

Pied Kingfisher, Ceryle rudis. Abundant.

Hoopoe, Upupa epops. Common.

Blue-throated Barbet, Megalaima asiatica. Seen 1 this time.

Lesser Golden-backed Woodpecker, Dinopium benghalense. Common; seen and heard at least 5 individuals. I consider this species the most common breeding woodpecker of Islamabad, but because literature thinks it's only "frequent" and only "probably breeding", I assume that like many other Indian species, also this one has been expanding its range lately.

Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos auriceps. 1 seen.

Crested Lark, Galerida cristata. Common.

Small Skylark, Alauda gulgula. At least 2 seen.

Brown-throated Sand Martin, Riparia paludicola. Common.

Pale Sand Martin, Riparia diluta. Present in small numbers. (Like the previous species, breeds in colonies some way north of the lake.)

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica. Common.

Red-rumped Swallow, Hirundo daurica. Common.

Paddyfield Pipit, Anthus rufulus. Common.

Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea. Present in small numbers.

White Wagtail, Motacilla alba. Present in small numbers.

Large Pied Wagtail, Motacilla maderaspatensis. Frequent, a resident species. (Other wagtails are wintering.)

Himalayan Bulbul, Pycnonotus leucogenys. Abundant.

Red-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus cafer. Abundant.

Magpie Robin, Copsychus saularis. Common. (Abundant species throughout Islamabad; has expanded its range to west and north with remarkable speed.)

Dark-grey Bushchat, Saxicola ferrea. Several individuals present. This is a wintering species which appears about in same times when the abundant breeding species, Pied Bushchat, Saxicola caprata, starts to disappear.

Blue Rock Thrush, Monticola solitarius. 1 present.

Blue Whistling Thrush, Myophonus caeruleus. Common (several seen).

Fan-tailed Warbler, Cisticola juncidis. Frequent.

Tawny Prinia, Prinia inornata. Abundant.

Yellow-bellied Prinia, Prinia flaviventris. 2 in reeds.

Common Tailorbird, Orthotomus sutorius. At least 1 calling.

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Phylloscopus humei. Present in a mixed flock.

White-throated Fantail, Rhipidura albicollis. 1 present.

Black-chinned Babbler, Stachyris pyrrhops. 1 seen (!); this and some other babblers are very skulking and probably much more common than would be expected.

Common Babbler, Turdoides caudatus. Abundant.

Jungle Babbler, Turdoides striatus. Abundant.

Great Tit, Parus major. Abundant.

Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Certhia himalayana. 2 seen.

Oriental White-eye, Zosterops palpebrosa. Common.

Rufous-backed Shrike, Lanius schach. Common.

Black Drongo, Dicrurus macrocercus. Abundant.

Rufous Treepie, Dendrocitta vagabunda. Abundant.

House Crow, Corvus splendens. Abundant.

Brahminy Starling, Sturnus pagodarum. Common.

Common Myna, Acridotheres tristis. Extremely abundant.

Bank Myna, Acridotheres ginginianus. Abundant.

House Sparrow, Passer domesticus. Abundant.