The following is in response to the recent request for Ladakhi trip lists. I have been meaning to type this up for years so thanks for the excuse to do part of it. It is very dated but I am giving it wider circulation in case it is of any interest to others. Apologies for not including Latin names. If you e-mail me with any queries on bird names I can look them up.
Nick Preston, Dave Mills (subsequent founder of Naturetrek) and I visited Ladakh towards the end of a six month trip in summer 1982. We went on to spend 2 weeks in Kashmir before returning home. Dave, Colin Winyard and I had earlier visited peninsular Malaysia (for approx. 5 weeks where we met up with Steve Gantlett on his way round the world in the opposite direction), Thailand (2 weeks, Steve staying on to go to Philippines), Nepal (15 weeks, joined by Nick after first month, and occasionally meeting up with other British birders including Jon Eames, Dave Farrow, Richard Grimmett, Tim and Carol Inskipp, Rod Martins, Craig Robson and James Wolstencroft who were in Nepal at that time) and Himachel Pradesh (1 week with most of those previously mentioned). I personally saw 866 species while I was away, 168 being new for me and the whole trip cost just pounds sterling 1300 - happy days indeed!
Looking back at my notes now I am surprised, and a little disappointed, by the amount of time not spent birding in Ladakh. The only excuse I can offer is that our visit was towards the end of a longer trip and travelling around was very time consuming (also the places one was able to visit was restricted). In total we saw just 81 species although they did include 4 which we believe to be new for Ladakh (River Tern, Nightjar, Spanish Sparrow and Linnet). The other highlights were Himalayan Snowcock, Ibisbill, breeding Lesser Sand Plover, Robin Accentor, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Wallcreeper, Mongolian Desert Finch and Red-mantled and Great Rosefinches. The following diary extracts, species lists and estimates of numbers are my personal ones.
Diary: Got to bus station in Srinagar at 08.25 after late breakfast. Bus due to leave at 09.00 departed at 09.30 only to go as far as depot where tyres pumped up and filled with petrol! Returned to bus station and finally departed at 10.15. Sides of Vale of Kashmir very alpine then steep climb up to Zoji La and over into Ladakh. Very treacherous road with poor surface, only recently opened after winter snows. Ladakh very reminiscent of Altas Mountains in Morocco with mud plastered on sides of houses. Very barren and rugged scenery with only any green where irrigated, usually beside rivers. The road is a major engineering achievement, with hairpin bends down almost sheer mountains. Not for the faint hearted (like me)! Slow progress, especially after dark due to bus ahead breaking down. Arrived Kargil 22.05. Convoy system over pass probable reason for late start; up traffic only allowed in afternoon. Passed large number (100's) of army trucks on way down.
Birds (seen mainly from bus): Kestrel 1, River Tern 1, Nightjar 1 male, Citrine Wagtail 2, Brown Dipper 1, River Chat 1, Blue Rock Thrush 1, Magpie 3, House Sparrow 5.
Diary: Bus allegedly leaving at 05.30 but didn't go until 06.45. A long day but interesting. Long delays due to army again, at one stage a crashed army truck blocked the road for an hour or so. Arrived at Leh at 20.00 just after dark. Encouraged by a very elegant lady in Ladakhi dress to stay at Ti-Sei Lodge which proved to be excellent (one of the best lodges of the whole trip).
Birds (seen from bus and around villages where made food stops): Tufted Duck 1, Kestrel 2, Rock Dove 25, Blue Hill Pigeon 30, Rufous Turtle Dove 3, Hoopoe 2, Crag Martin 3, Citrine Wagtail 2, White Wagtail 4, Black Redstart 8, Desert Wheatear 2, Eastern Pied (Variable) Wheatear 7 males, Blue Rock Thrush 3, Blue Whistling Thrush 2, Mountain Chiffchaff 1, Great Tit 1, Magpie 25, Alpine Chough 15, Chough 5, House Sparrow 50, Tibetan Snow Finch 7, Red-fronted Serin 5, Mongolian Desert Finch 1 probable, Scarlet Rosefinch 30, Great Rosefinch 3 prob., Rock Bunting 1.
Diary: Didn't get up until 09.00, nice to have an easy day wandering around town (tourist office, post office, rather poor restaurant). Walked out of Leh to north with Nick and wandered into the desert and around the back of the royal palace. Superb scenery.
Birds: Kestrel 1, Hobby 1, Chukar 1, Rock Dove 20, Swift 4, Hoopoe 4, Black Redstart 4, Mountain Chiffchaff 1, Great Tit 1, Magpie 5, Chough 2, Carrion Crow 1, House Sparrow 50, Tibetan Snow Finch 4, Red-fronted Serin 3, Mongolian Desert Finch 15.
Diary: Breakfast at 07.00 and out to catch 08.00 bus to Tikse to find it had left at 07.45! Got on 08.15 bus to Shey which actually went half way between Shey and Tikse. Wandered over the desert and around the back of Tikse Monastery. Very impressive from outside. Nick and I left Dave to go in, preferring to keep wandering round the desert before walking down to the River Indus and following it back to Shey. Then walked along the road towards Leh as far as the Stok turn off at Choglamsar seeing Ibisbill on the river there. Got a bus back to Leh, arriving at Ti-Sei at 18.30.
Birds: Black Kite 1, Lammergeyer 1, Hobby 2, Chukar heard, Ibisbill 2, Gull-billed Tern 1, Common Tern 3, Rock Dove 20, Blue Hill Pigeon 1, Swift 10, Hoopoe 10, Swallow 4, Red- rumped Swallow 1, House Martin 10, Hume's Short-toed Lark 15, Small Sky Lark 6, Citrine Wagtail 10, White Wagtail 6, Black Redstart 20, Desert Wheatear 7, Blue Rock Thrush 2, Hume's Lesser Whitethroat 2, Mountain Chiffchaff 20, Great Tit 1, Magpie 15, Chough 6, Carrion Crow 4, Raven 3, House Sparrow 100, Tibetan Snow Finch 2, Mongolian Desert Finch 12.
Diary: Breakfast at 07.00 and out to catch 08.00 bus to Stok but despite arriving 5 minutes early it had gone. While dithering over what to do all other remaining buses also departed! Walked into hills along Beacon Highway to north of Leh but did not see much (Himalayan Snowcocks being the highlight). Returned to Ti-Sei early afternoon and sat around lethargically for rest of day (not feeling too healthy - head cold and stomach). Put to shame by Nick who went back out, although did not see anything different.
Birds: Himalayan Snowcock 5 (3 and 2), Chukar 8, Rock Dove 10, Blue Hill Pigeon 1, Hoopoe 4, Black Redstart 8, Mountain Chiffchaff heard, Great Tit 1, Magpie 5, Chough 2, Carrion Crow 1, House Sparrow 75, Tibetan Snow Finch 12, Red-fronted Serin 4, Mongolian Desert Finch 20.
Diary: Got 07.45 bus to Tikse and found the 'resident' group of ringers from Southampton University. They quickly dispelled any illusions I might have had of seeing Tibetan Sandgrouse as only seen once by one member of their group in 18 months, and that in mid winter. Sorted out identification of Hume's Short-toed Lark. Walked back along the river to Stok where got bus back to Leh. Another excellent meal at Ti-Sei Lodge.
Birds: Booted Eagle 1, Hobby 1, Ibisbill 2, Green Sandpiper 1, Common Tern 3, Rock Dove 40, Blue Hill Pigeon 10, Swift 40, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater 1, Hoopoe 5, Crag Martin 1, Swallow 4, Red-rumped Swallow 6, House Martin 5, Hume's Short-toed Lark 10, Citrine Wagtail 10, White Wagtail 15, Bluethroat 5, Black Redstart 8, Stonechat 1, Desert Wheatear 1 female, Hume's Lesser Whitethroat 6, Mountain Chiffchaff 25, Rufous-backed Shrike 1, Magpie 20, Chough 3, Carrion Crow 4, Raven 2, House Sparrow 50, Scarlet Rosefinch 10.
Diary: Breakfast at 06.45 and got bus to Stok (it actually left 5 minutes late). Walked through fields above the village and into the gorge where Nick and I walked up for 2- 3 hours before returning. Saw Wallcreepers at nest site - brilliant. Walked back to Choglamsar and hitched a ride with an army truck halfway back to Leh. Walked rest. Poor day weather-wise with rain mid morning and again mid afternoon and cold east wind late afternoon. Typically I had forgotten to take my waterproof.
Birds: Himalayan Griffon Vulture 1, Golden Eagle 2, Kestrel 1, Chukar 4, Green Sandpiper 1, Common Tern 2, Rock Dove 50, Blue Hill Pigeon 40, Swift 10, Hoopoe 4, Crag Martin 10, Small Sky Lark 4, Citrine Wagtail 1, Grey Wagtail 1, White Wagtail 10, Dipper 3, Black Redstart 30, River Chat 3, Blue Rock Thrush 2, Sulphur-bellied Warbler 2, Mountain Chiffchaff 3, Wallcreeper 3, Magpie 15, Alpine Chough 10, Chough 8, Carrion Crow 2, Raven 1 probable, House Sparrow 50, Tibetan Snow Finch 15, Red-fronted Serin 15, Linnet 1, Hodgson's Mountain Finch 2, Rock Bunting 2.
Diary: Up for latish breakfast (07.00) as not going anywhere by bus. Nick and I walked through fields above Leh to Sangkar where sat in sun for an hour watching bushes at edge of fields (and were rewarded with a female Red-mantled Rosefinch). Returned after only 4 hours birding. Relaxed afternoon; wrote a few cards and booked a bus to Kargil for 2nd July. Cut my hair rather drastically as beginning to look too much like some of the hippies hanging out in Leh. Dave, still on monastery kick, visited Spituk.
Birds: Kestrel 1, Chukar heard, Rock Dove 60, Blue Hill Pigeon 10, Rufous Turtle Dove 2, Swift 4, Hoopoe 6, Crag Martin 8, Small Sky Lark 4, Citrine Wagtail 2, Black Redstart 10, Mountain Chiffchaff 4, Great Tit 1, Rufous Backed-Shrike 1, Magpie 10, Chough 1, Carrion Crow 2, House Sparrow 50, Tibetan Snow Finch 8, Red-fronted Serin 2, Mongolian Desert Finch 4, Red-mantled Rosefinch 1 female, Scarlet Rosefinch 3.
Diary: Nick and I returned to Tikse to revisit ringing group just catching bus to Shey after a latish breakfast. Good mornings birding with usual wade across creek. Spent 4 hours very pleasantly chatting and getting gen on various places then walked back to Shey arriving at 17.30, getting 18.00 bus back to Leh.
Birds: Night Heron 1, Pintail 1 female, Black Kite 1, Hobby 5, Ibisbill 3, Little Ringed Plover 1, Green Sandpiper 1, Common Tern 3, Rock Dove 10, Blue Hill Pigeon 2, Swift 6, Hoopoe 1, Swallow 6, Red-rumped Swallow 11, Hume's Short- toed Lark 10, Small Sky Lark 1, Citrine Wagtail 10, White Wagtail 10, Bluethroat 9, Black Redstart 5, Stonechat 2, Hume's Lesser Whitethroat 6, Mountain Chiffchaff 20, Great Tit 1, Magpie 10, Chough 2, Carrion Crow 2, Raven 1, House Sparrow 50, Scarlet Rosefinch 4.
Diary: visit to Hemis festival. Breakfast soon after 06.30 and got to bus station in time for 07.30 bus to Hemis (seem to be no buses anywhere else today). Arrived 09.30 after ludicrous stop at army checkpost on way. Lots of people in crowd, especially Ladakhi women in full dress, but managed to get a reasonable vantage point for first programme of dances. Masks very colourful but dances do not appear to be very lively and tend to go on a bit - didn't understand anything but worth seeing. Very hot. Second half after 2 hour lunch break. Much better view from floor of courtyard where dancing but uncomfortable and very dusty do glad when finally over. Hurried down to get bus back to Leh but none in sight. Ended up in back of a truck to Choglamsar - very dusty. Once there walked 1.5 km's towards Leh before hitching on a breakdown lorry, arriving back at 19.50 just in time for dinner!
Birds (mainly from bus): Himalayan Griffon Vulture 1 probable, Sparrowhawk 1, Hobby 1, Rock Dove 15, Blue Hill Pigeon 4, Bee-eater 2, Hoopoe 2, Crag Martin 3, Grey Wagtail 1, White Wagtail 2, Black Redstart 4, Mountain Chiffchaff heard, Magpie 4, House Sparrow 30.
Diary: Dave up early and back to Hemis, Nick and I though one visit was sufficient and had a more relaxed breakfast at 08.00. Got notes and diary up to date, wrote a few cards and walked down to bus station where got tickets for Kargil. Visited post office and library to catch up on news and check a few things in Indian Handbook (states 'sight records [of Hume's Short-toed Lark] ... are worthless'). Back to lodge then walked around the back of the Royal Palace for 2 hours, our only birding of the day, returning at 17.00.
Birds: Kestrel 1, Chukar 1, Rock Dove 20, Blue Hill Pigeon 1, Rufous Turtle Dove 2, Hoopoe 3, Grey Wagtail 1, Black Redstart 1, Mountain Chiffchaff heard, Great Tit 1, Magpie 6, Chough 2, Carrion Crow 2, House Sparrow 40, Tibetan Snow Finch 6, Red-fronted Serin 5, Mongolian Desert Finch 11.
Diary: Up at 05.30 for bus departure at 06.00. Left at 06.30 (clearly not a run Ladakhi bus) and held up at roadwork's for an hour and a half at 10.00. Then usual delays due to convoys and finally the army attempted to recover a truck that had crashed a week earlier, delaying us for a further hour before they gave up. Finally got to Kargil at 20.00. Got hotel room and found out where to get truck to Rangdom. Went to bed at 21.30 but disturbed at 22.30, 23.30 and 03.30 by other noisy arrivals and departures.
Birds (seen from bus and around villages where made food stops): Rock Dove 50, Blue Hill Pigeon 10, Hoopoe 10, Crag Martin 2, Hume's Short-toed Lark 6, Citrine Wagtail 2, White Wagtail 2, Black Redstart 10, Desert Wheatear 1 male, River Chat 1, Blue Rock Thrush 2, Blue Whistling Thrush 1, Mountain Chiffchaff 2, Magpie 10, Alpine Chough 15, Chough 4, Carrion Crow 2, Raven 4, House Sparrow 50, Tibetan Snow Finch 8, Scarlet Rosefinch 15, Great Rosefinch 2 probable, Rock Bunting 1.
Diary: Up at 04.15 and on truck at 04.30. Truck very full to start with before any people got on. Perched precariously on cargo with lots of others (many French). Departed at 05.05, very long and uncomfortable ride, at times quite frightening as followed poor track along river valley and through some steep gorges. Long, 2.5 hour, lunch stop in middle of nowhere. Finally arrived at Zuildo at 18.15, the river valley having opened out onto a rather flat, but in places boggy, plain. Zuildo is a small collection of mud huts, a small marquee type tent and a recently built one roomed wooden house on which we were invited to sleep (concrete floor)! Area looks to have great potential as river valley. Cold, though despite early fears some food is available. Likely to be 3 days before truck returns.
Birds (mainly from truck): Rock Dove 30, Blue Hill Pigeon 10, Rufous Turtle Dove 4, Swift 10, Hoopoe 5, Crag Martin 1, House Martin 1, Hume's Short-toed Lark 2, Small Sky Lark 1, Shore Lark 6, Citrine Wagtail 4, White Wagtail 3, Robin Accentor 1, Black Redstart 15, River Chat 1, Blue Rock Thrush 1, Sulphur-bellied Warbler 1, Mountain Chiffchaff heard, Magpie 10, Alpine Chough 15, House Sparrow 60, Scarlet Rosefinch 15, Rock Bunting 10.
Diary: After leisurely breakfast (eggs!) slowly walked to Rangdom Gompa across the 'swamp' making numerous detours firstly to avoid marshy areas and later, where more stony, wide rivers. Ended up wading across a couple of times but soon dried in sun. Impressive scenery, especially the stony plain which looks more like I would imagine Tibet to be than the more fertile and much steeper Indus. Excellent views of breeding Lesser Sand Plovers and 3 Twite the highlights. Back to Zuildo at 17.45 and reasonable meal of rice and chapatis.
Birds: Goosander 1 female, Himalayan Griffon Vulture 1, Golden Eagle 2, Himalayan Snowcock heard, Lesser Sand Plover 6 and 1 chick, Redshank 4, Green Sandpiper 1, Blue Hill Pigeon 15, Swift 2, Hume's Short-toed Lark 6, Small Sky Lark 3, Shore Lark 25, Citrine Wagtail 30, Robin Accentor 15, Black Redstart 10, Sulphur-bellied Warbler 1, Mountain Chiffchaff 10, Alpine Chough 20, Chough 21, Raven 5, House Sparrow 40, Tibetan Snow Finch 4, Red-fronted Serin 8, Twite 3 (Tibetan), Hodgson's Mountain Finch 40, Brandt's Mountain Finch 6, Scarlet Rosefinch 20, Great Rosefinch 4, Rock Bunting 1.
Diary: Heard Himalayan Snowcock before breakfast again. Must be on hill above but no end of scanning fails to pick one up. Breakfast then walked up river valley/gorge to north of Zuildo with two icy river crossings on way up which fortunately managed to avoid on return. 2 Wallcreepers and Sulphur-bellied Warblers common! Cold wind blowing up valley. Back to Zuildo soon after 16.00 finding two pairs of Spanish Sparrows around the huts. Time spent birding is getting shorter!
Birds: Lammergeyer 2, Himalayan Snowcock heard, Blue Hill Pigeon 10, Swift 4, Crag Martin 4, Small Sky Lark 2, Shore Lark 20, Citrine Wagtail 10, White Wagtail 1, Rosy Pipit 1, Dipper 1, Robin Accentor 5, Black Redstart 10, Blue Rock Thrush 3, Sulphur-bellied Warbler 14, Mountain Chiffchaff 2, Wallcreeper 2, Alpine Chough 10, Chough 25, Raven 4, House Sparrow 30, Spanish Sparrow 4 (2 males and 2 females), Tibetan Snow Finch 2, Hodgson's Mountain Finch 50, Scarlet Rosefinch 2.
Diary: Walked down river a short way before returning to Zuildo at 12.00 just in case the truck is early. It arrived at 15.00 and left at 16.00. No cargo and many fewer passengers and seemed to go faster than on the way up but many delays due to oncoming vehicles and regular filling up of leaky radiator. The driver nearly driving the truck off the track and down a very steep slope into the river 1000 feet below caused a further delay while the track was mended/built up under the left front wheel which had been left in space. The first Nick and I knew of this incident was when all the locals dived out the back of the truck, Dave who was on the cab roof, doing likewise via Nick's head! Arrived at Parkachik somewhat relieved at 20.00 and slept on porch of the rest house there.
Birds: Ruddy Shelduck 3, Goosander 2, Lammergeyer 1, Himalayan Griffon Vulture 1, Hobby 1, Lesser Sand Plover 9, Redshank 1, Common Tern 1, Blue Hill Pigeon 10, Snow Pigeon 1, Swift 4, House Martin 1, Small Sky Lark 4, Shore Lark 15, Citrine Wagtail 10, White Wagtail 3, Rosy Pipit 1, Robin Accentor 3, Black Redstart 20, Mountain Chiffchaff 4, Alpine Chough 15, Chough 2, Raven heard, House Sparrow 50, Tibetan Snow Finch 3, Red-fronted Serin 4, Goldfinch 1, Hodgson's Mountain Finch 20, Scarlet Rosefinch 1.
Diary: Up at 06.00, truck left at 07.00 and arrived at Kargil at 15.00. A very rough ride, at times getting thrown around everywhere, but less scary than previous truck rides. Spend couple of hours birding treacherous scree slopes above Zuildo seeing a few wheatears but little else of note. Another poor lodge in Kargil, certainly one of the least impressive towns I've had the misfortune to stay in.
Birds: Kestrel 1, Hobby 1, Rock Dove 10, Snow Pigeon 1, Rufous Turtle Dove 4, Swift 30, Hoopoe 8, Crag Martin 1, House Martin 4, Small Sky Lark 1 Citrine Wagtail 4, White Wagtail 6, Black Redstart 40, Pied Wheatear 5, Eastern Pied Wheatear 1 female, Blue Rock Thrush 10, Mountain Chiffchaff 8, Magpie 15, Alpine Chough 25,Raven 1, House Sparrow 100, Red-fronted Serin 2, Goldfinch 1, Scarlet Rosefinch 8.
Diary: Up at 03.45 and found bus at end of road, it amazingly left only 10 minutes late (at 04.30). Crossed over Zoji La and arrived at Sonamarg on edge of Vale of Kashmir at 10.35. Not as worrying coming down the pass as I had feared but I was sitting on the inside of the bus and so couldn't see how steep some of the slopes were. Very rough ride due to road surface but surprisingly no long delays.
Birds (from bus): Lammergeyer 1, Black Redstart 1, Eastern Pied Wheatear 1 male, Large-billed Crow 1.
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