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Sikkim

Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus ©Laurence Poh Website

The best birding region comprising the state if Sikkim and the adjoining parts of North Bengal - Darjeeling and Kalimpong, lies between Latitude 27 and 28 degrees North, and Longitude 87 to 89 degrees East. It is a rugged strip of vertical mountain country. Wedged between Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and the North Bengal Plains of India. This tiny region is just 90kms wide and 150kms deep. The country rises from near sea level to 8,500 meters, in a very short distance, The great Himalayan Range with its giant spurs – Singelila and Chola, virtually enclose this region in a titanic horseshoe. Starting from the plains of North Bengal tangled interlacing ridges rise range after range to the foot of the great wall of high peaks and passes opening into Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.

The climate varies between the tropical heat of the valleys and the alpine cold of the snowy regions. With rainfall averaging 348cm, it is the most humid region of the Himalayas. Dry season is from November to March. The altitudinal zones of vegetation range from Tropical, through sub-tropical and temperate to Alpine. In some places only 10kms in a direct line separate the palm growing valleys from perpetual snow. This telescoping of terrain has created marked altitudinal zonation in the 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.

The main towns in this region are Gangtok in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong in the mountains of North Bengal, and Silguri in the plains of North Bengal. The nearest airport is at Bagdogra near Siliguri, which is in the plains.

Top Sites

Khechepheri Lake - West Sikkim

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The Khechepheri Lake at an altitude of 1980 m is 28Km from Pamayangtse, is a sacred lake located in a natural crater-like basin. The lake hosts migrant ducks and occasionally some rare species such as Black-necked Grebe, Baer's Pochard or Greater Scaup. Other birds spotted have been Speckled Woodpigeon, Emerald Cuckoo, Blue-winged & Scaly Laughing Thrushes; White-naped Yuhina and many of the birds that can be seen at Pamayangtse. Khichipheri Lake is 28Km from Pamayangtse and Yoksom is another 32Km. It is feasible to drive from Pamayangtse/Pelling to Yoksom with a days birding at Khechepheri Lake.

Pamayangtse - West Sikkim

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The Pamayangtse Monastery stands on a lovely site at 2085m altitude with breathtaking views of Mount Khangchen Dzonga. It is the second oldest in Sikkim, and the main attraction of West Sikkim. Around Pamayangtse and the nearby village of Pelling there are several excellent birding sites and hikes. Pamayangtse is 77km from Darjeeling and it takes 4 hours by jeep. It is also connected to Kalimpong (100km in 4 hrs). If you want to go directly from Bagdogra it is 148km and takes 5½ hrs. Some of the best species from Pamayangtse area are: Himalayan Griffon, White-throated Needletail, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Rufous-capped and Black-chinned Babbler, Rufous-winged & White-browed Fulvetta, Cutia, White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Verditer, Snowy-browed and Sapphire Flycatcher, Fire-tailed and Green-tailed Sunbird, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, White-tailed Robin, Dark-breasted Rosefinch and Red-headed Bullfinch.

Tholung Valley - North Sikkim

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This is an unexplored area in North Sikkim. Peter Lobo did the first birding exploration in Nov 2001, followed by the first tour in April 2002. The entry is through Mangan - located on the North Sikkim High way. It is 70Km (2½ hrs) from Gangtok and 153km (5½ hrs) from Bagdogra. Onwards it is 14km by jeep on a rough trail, from where the birding walk starts. Tholung Valley is located in the shadow of the 6888m high Siniolchu, and the 5,200m Lamo Anden, this is virtually an uninhabited valley with a miniscule population. Due to restricted entry there is no tourist traffic. It is the domain of glaciers, snow-clad peaks, alpine lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, bio-diverse forests, cascading rivers and streams, and twittering birds, The altitudinal variation ranges between 1000m to 4,500m. The lower valley has mixed open forest with amazing biodiversity. The variation in altitude, variety of trees and shrubs, lack of human population and vehicular traffic combine to make it a haven for birds, and a prime birding site. The mossy oak and Rhododendron forests, coniferous forests and bamboo stands support some beautiful East Himalayan specialties. A very good walking trail with offshoots of grazing trails provides access for birding. The entire length of the walking trail of 15km is a birding hot spot. Not yet on the birding map, the area is mainly unexplored. The first birding tour to this area in April 2002 recorded over 100 species.

Highlights: Crested Serpent Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Upland Buzzard, Satyr Tragopan, Whimbrel, Ashy Woodpigeon, Greater Coucal, Brown Wood Owl, Golden-throated Barbet, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Bay Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Nepal Martin, Citrine Wagtail, Rosy Pipit, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Winter Wren, Plain-backed Thrush, Long-tailed Thrush, Scaly Thrush, White-browed Shortwing, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, Tickell's Leaf Warbler, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Pygmy Wren Babbler, Spotted Wren Babbler, Cutia, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Wallcreeper, Gould's Sunbird and Scarlet Finch. A special entry permit is required to proceed beyond Mangan.

Vershay and Dentam

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Vershay is located at 3300m, on a massive ridge covered with protected forests of Silver Fir, Hemlock, Magnolia, and Rhododendrons. It is one of the best birding areas in Sikkim. Starting from the road head at the small village of Hilley at 2700m, it is an easy walk up to the ridge top. Hilley is 79Km from Darjeeling (4 hrs). It can also be reached from Kalimpong in 4½ hours. If moving directly from Bagdogra Airport it will take 6 hours. From Vershay a days birding trek through mixed forests of Rhododendrons, Magnolia and diverse flora to Dentam (1500m) is rewarding. Birds you are likely to see include: Red-breasted Tragopan, Satyr Tragopan, Kalij Pheasant, Red-eared Bay Woodpecker, Brown Wood Owl, Rufus-bellied woodpecker, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Brown Parrotbills, Slaty-backed Flycatchers, Golden Robin, Long-tailed Thrushes, Grey-crested Tits, Streak-breasted, Rusty-cheeked, and Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers, various Laughing Thrushes, and Red-tailed Minla. There is also the attraction of breathtaking views of Mount Khangchen Dzonga, apart from the delightful Rhododendrons in bloom in Feb-March.

Yoksom Village - West Sikkim

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Satellite View

Yoksom Village at 1,780m is as far as you can go by jeep. Around Yoksom some of the birds recorded are Mountain Hawk Eagle, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Maroon Oriole, Short-billed and Grey-chinned Minevets, Himalayan Bulbul, Red-tailed Minla, White-naped Yuhina, various Thrushes, Grey-winged Blackbird, various Tits, White-tailed Nuthatch, various sunbirds, and various bushchats.

Contributor

Peter Lobo

Gurudongma Tours & Treks

Kalimpong

gurutt@sancharnet.in

Number of Species

State Bird: Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus

Useful Reading

* Field Guides & Bird Song

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State Bird

Blood Pheasant

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Jungle Travel India

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Small and beautiful, SIKKIM is situated in the Eastern Himalayas, Spread below the Mount Kanchenzonga (8534 mts.); the third highest mountain in the world, it is revered by the Sikkimese as their protective deity. Amidst the gradeur of the mountain peaks, the lush valleys, fast-flowing rivers, terraced hills, Sikkim offers her visitors a rare and singular experience. Within hours one can move from the tropical heat of the lower valleys to the cold of the mountain slopes that reach up to the areas of perpetual show…

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CloudBirders

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CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2015 [02 February] - David Stanton - North Bengal, Sikkim & Manas National Park

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...I had high expectations from this trip, especially with regards as to seeing Flycatchers, Thrushes and Laughing Thrushes. This was not to be. Numbers of birds however were very impressive, with feeding parties of over a hundred.

2015 [05 May] - Aseem Kothiala - Sikkim & North Bengal

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Latpanchar is home to the famous Rufous-necked Hornbill. Its nesting time we were told and there was a great opportunity to probably sight them. There were around 10 pairs in all in the region and one of them had been seen often. The nearby fruiting trees did not bear any fruit in this period so the hornbills have to fly to distant locations.

2016 [02 February] - Dibyendu Ash - ​Khangchendzonga National Park

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2016 [02 February] - Dibyendu Ash - ​Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary

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2016 [04April] - Dibyendu Ash - Pangolakha WLS, East Sikkim

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We saw a flock of 15 plus Myzornis in the early morning. Later they moved uphill as the day progressed. Such daily migration takes places in higher altitudes. In the afternoon, the same flock would move downhill and rest there for the night. Fire­tailed Myzornis​(Myzornis pyrrhoura)|06.04.2016| Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, East Sikkim

Reserves

Orchid Sanctuary

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Adjoining the institute is the Orchid Sanctuary where most of the 454 species of orchid found in Sikkim could be seen depending on the season. About a km beyond the institute stands a huge chorten whose gold apex is visible from many points in Gangtok.