Kumaon Birding Diaries – Saattal and Around

This was our first trip to Kumaon. Almost all species that we sighted were first timers for us. We stayed for a week at Club Mahindra Dancing Waters resort in Naukuchiatal. We had arranged for birding for two days at Saattal and Pangot with Sunil Kumar whom we found on birdingpal.


The resort and surroundings itself had many birds whom we watched daily. As soon as we got our room, a pair of Himalayan Bulbuls came outside our window. It was a treat watching the couple who seemed to be having a gala time. The other birds that we saw here were Black Kite, Blue Whistling Thrush, Scarlet Minivet, Grey Treepie, Grey Bushchat, Oriental White-eye, Grey-hooded Warbler, Verditer Flycatcher, Streaked Laughingthrush and Dark-sided Flycatcher. On the day that we left a group of Red-billed Blue Magpies came to bid us farewell.

A little tete-a-tete. In conversation with a flower

Black Kite

Scarlet Minivet

Grey Treepie

Female Grey Bushchat

Grey-hooded Warbler

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Red-billed Blue Magpie

Coincidentally the Ruskin Bond book on Legends and Folk tales of India that I had taken with me during the trip had an interesting folk tale about the Blue Whistling Thrush. Having seen this bird I could relate to the story which goes like this. It was a hot summer day and Lord Krishna was wandering in a dense forest. He found a nice place near a stream and slept off under the shade of the trees. He was woken by a tuneless sound being played by someone on his flute. He was annoyed to find an urchin boy dressed in rags trying to play his flute. Since it was a sacred object that belonged to him he cursed the boy to suffer for 10,000 years. The boy pleaded and told Krishna that he was a fan of him and intended to learn music from him. Krishna felt bad for the boy but there was no way in which he could revoke the curse. He consulted Lord Brahma and reduced the effect of the curse. The boy would always try to play a tune but he would never be able to complete it. The boy begged that he be allowed to stay forever in the forest as it was dear to him. Krishna agreed and the boy was transformed into a Blue Whistling Thrush. The Blue colour being attributed to Krishna! This explains why the Thrush starts off a tune beautifully but stops in between as though it forgot the tune.

Blue Whistling Thrush

Gagar and Ramgarh

Gagar is a tiny hamlet on the road from Bhowali to Mukteshwar and an hour’s drive from Naukuchiatal. We went there early in the morning around 5.30 AM to try our luck and catch a glimpse of the Himalayan peaks. We were duly rewarded with beautiful views of the peaks getting lit by sunlight during sunrise. A lone Verditer Flycatcher seemed to be giving us company in watching the peaks as it was perched atop a bare tree facing the peaks. A Black Eagle was soaring high up in the sky and we managed to get a brief glimpse before it glided down the hill. We stopped for breakfast at a village close to Ramgarh. There were plenty of birds around. The sightings included Rufous Sibia, White-tailed Nuthatch, Great Barbet, Whiskered Yuhina, Oriental White-eye, Common Sparrow, Russet Sparrow and Grey Bushchat. A group of Rhesus Macaques were also seen on the road.

Rufous Sibia

White-tailed Nuthatch

Great Barbet

Whiskered Yuhina

Rhesus Macaque


Our guide Sunil arrived promptly at our resort at 5.30 AM to pick us up for birding around Saattal. He had arranged for an Alto car for us. Off we went on a day which proved to be memorable though at the end of the day Sunil was a bit dejected as we had not managed to see too many species. We were nevertheless happy to have gotten to see so many new species in a single day. A few words about Sunil. He is very knowledgable on birds and having been born and brought up in Nainital, knows the area like the back of his hand including the right spots to go for birds! He was super friendly and wonderful to get along with! It was a delight to go birding with such a wonderful person.

Our first stop was on the road that leads to Saattal. We watched the sun rise and light started getting better. Till then we had heard the chirping of birds but not been able to take pictures due to low light. We sighted Crimson Sunbird, Grey Bushchat, White-throated Fantail, Himalayan Bulbul, Grey Treepie, Great Barbet, Black Bulbul, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Black Drongo, Verditer Flycatcher, Scarlet Minivet, Grey-hooded Warbler, Black-lored Tit and Slaty-headed Parakeet.

Black Bulbul

Brown-fronted Woodpecker

Black-lored tit

As we approached Saattal we saw 2-3 Kalij Pheasants duck for cover. These birds are extremely shy and seldom venture out for long in the open. We just managed to get a glimpse and some shaky pictures. Sunil spotted a Bar-tailed Treecreeper which was brilliantly camouflaged against the tree bark. A solitary Slaty-headed Parakeet was perched high atop a tree. Throughout our birding we saw plenty of these Parakeets but did not manage to get pictures as they were too fast.

Bar-tailed Treecreeper

We stopped near the Hanuman tal just before Saattal lake. After a brief walk we crossed a stream and sat on rocks near the water waiting for the birds to arrive. According to Sunil around 50 species of birds could be seen here. But we were not so lucky. We spent a good 2 hours here. The birds that came here were the Green-backed Tit, Ultramarine Flycatacher, Verditer Flycatcher and the Oriental Turtle Dove.

Ultramarine Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

Oriental Turtle Dove

We walked a bit into the woods around Hanuman Tal. Sightings here were of a Common Kingfisher, Dark-sided Flycatcher and an Ashy Drongo. We sighted a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher too but it was a fleeting glance only.

Common Kingfisher

Ashy Drongo

A walk in the Saattal estate proved to be in vain as we did not see any birds. We decided to have breakfast and go to Chanfi. Breakfast was lip-smacking Parathas at Humble restaurant near the fork in the road leading to Saattal while coming from Bhimtal.


On the way to Chanfi we stopped near a stream. The area was wooded on both sides of the road and teeming with birds. We saw the Red-billed Blue Magpie, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Striated Laughing-thrush, White-crested Laughing-thrush and a Blue Whistling Thrush. A Slaty-backed Forktail and Grey Wagtail were foraging for food in the stream. As we were about to head back to the car we saw an Asian Barred Owlet. It was very cute and made Nagesh run around from one side of the road to the other like a tennis ball before he managed to get its picture :)

Grey-headed Woodpecker

Greater Yellownape

Striated Laughingthrush

White-crested Laughingthrush

Slaty-backed Forktail

Grey Wagtail

Asian Barred Owlet

The next halt was at Chanfi. The village was scenic and we walked by the banks of the river. As there was a noisy group near the river, all birds seemed to have gone away. We managed to spot only a Scaly-breasted Munia and a Red-vented Bulbul.


The last place for the day was Kainchi. We walked into the wooded area around the Kainchi Dham temple. We saw the Plumbeous Redstart, Spotted Forktail and a Brown Dipper in the stream. A Besra landed on one of the trees as we were walking. Further up the path were cabbage fields that had been abandoned by the people due to the prevailing Langur menace. The Langurs were present and running around. We spent some time here and saw a Grey Bushchat at close quarters. A good day of birding had come to an end. We were back at the resort by 4.30 in the evening ready for tea and food!

Plumbeous Water Redstart

Spotted Forktail

Brown Dipper


Gray Langur

Grey Bushchat
Bird Log

Common Name Species Family
Bulbul, Himalayan Pycnonotus leucogenys Pycnonotidae
Thrush, Blue Whistling Myophonus caeruleus Turdidae
Minivet, Scarlet Pericrocotus flammeus Campephagidae
Treepie, Grey Dendrocitta formosae Corvidae
Bushchat, Grey Saxicola ferreus Muscicapidae
White-eye, Oriental Zosterops palpebrosus Zosteropidae
Warbler, Grey-hooded Phylloscopus xanthoschistos Phylloscopidae
Flycatcher, Verditer Eumyias thalassinus Muscicapidae
Flycatcher, Dark-sided Muscicapa sibirica Muscicapidae
Laughingthrush, Streaked Garrulax lineatus Timaliidae
Magpie, Red-billed Blue Urocissa erythrorhyncha Corvidae
Sunbird, Crimson Aethopyga siparaja Nectariniidae
Fantail, White-throated Rhipidura albicollis Rhipiduridae
Barbet, Great Megalaima virens Megalaimidae
Bulbul, Black Hypsipetes leucocephalus Pycnonotidae
Woodpecker, Grey-headed Picus canus Picidae
Woodpecker, Brown-fronted Dendrocopos auriceps Picidae
Drongo, Black Dicrurus macrocercus Dicruridae
Parakeet, Slaty-headed Psittacula himalayana Psittaculidae
Tit, Black-lored Parus xanthogenys Paridae
Pheasant, Kalij Lophura leucomelanos Phasianidae
Treecreeper, Bar-tailed Certhia himalayana Certhiidae
Tit, Green-backed Parus monticolus Paridae
Flycatcher, Ultramarine Ficedula superciliaris Muscicapidae
Dove, Oriental Turtle Streptopelia orientalis Columbidae
Kingfisher, Common Alcedo atthis Alcedinidae
Drongo, Ashy Dicrurus leucophaeus Dicruridae
Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary Culicicapa ceylonensis Stenostiridae
Yellownape, Greater Picus flavinucha Picidae
Laughingthrush, Striated Garrulax striatus Timaliidae
Laughingthrush, White-crested Garrulax leucolophus Timaliidae
Forktail, Slaty-backed Enicurus schistaceus Muscicapidae
Wagtail, Grey Motacilla cinerea Motacillidae
Owlet, Asian Barred Glaucidium cuculoides Strigidae
Munia, Scaly-breasted Lonchura punctulata Estrildidae
Bulbul, Red-vented Pycnonotus cafer Pycnonotidae
Redstart, Plumbeous Rhyacornis fuliginosa Muscicapidae
Forktail, Spotted Enicurus maculatus Muscicapidae
Dipper, Brown Cinclus pallasii Cinclidae
Besra Accipiter virgatus Accipitridae
Eagle, Black Ictinaetus malayensis Accipitridae
Sibia, Rufous Heterophasia capistrata Timaliidae
Nuthatch, White-tailed Sitta himalayensis Sittidae
Sparrow, House Passer domesticus Passeridae
Sparrow, Russet Passer rutilans Passeridae
Yuhina, Whiskered Yuhina flavicollis Zosteropidae
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8 Responses to Kumaon Birding Diaries – Saattal and Around

  1. Super travelogue Nagesh, hope to see and read more of your work.

  2. Pingback: Kumaon Birding Diaries – Pangot and Around « Travels without plans

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  4. Pingback: Bhutan Birding Diaries – Part I | Travels without plans

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