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Pakistan December 2015 Trip

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Old Wednesday 24th June 2020, 12:22   #1
Himalaya
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Pakistan December 2015 Trip

Another family wedding and another visit to Pakistan. My ancestral is in the North West, a few miles East of the Indus and just south of the Himalayan foothills. It is one of the most agriculturally fertile areas in that region and the land was once marsh. It does not take me long to get out of my parents ancestral village to the surrounding farmland. Most of the land is owned by the local villagers who own small plots in general. House Sparrows, House Crows, Common Myna, Collared Dove are regular birds within then residential areas. Brown Rock Chats have colonised over the last 10 years. In the farmland Indian Roller, White Throated Kingfisher, Common Babbler, Long Tailed Shrike, White Wagtail, Water Pipit, Eurasian Skylark, Oriental Skylark, Plain Prinia, Siberian Chiffchaff, Red Wattled Lapwing, House Swift, Laughing Dove, Cinerous Tit, Plain Martins, Barn Swallows, Red Vented Bulbuls, Bank Myna, a sole Jungle Myna and White Breasted Waterhens! A Drongo species flying in the distance was a rare winter record and most likely a Black Drongo.
One thing that has always reminded me of winter in Pakistan was the gentler caw of the Rook which had a misty feel about it as they flew over the village from field to field.
A trip to Taxila which lay 30-40km to the south-east to see Ackram Awan who had immense knowledge of birds and butterflies was always a must. I had known him for 5 years and a keen birder. However, in September 2013 he noticed the diversity of butterflies within his hometown and that no one was really recording them so he decided that he would explore them. I wanted to visit the Buddhist remains at Taxila and a little water body nearby.
The water body we named the Taxila Wetlands were 2 small ponds thickly vegetated on the fringes. We saw White Wagtail, Plain Prinia, Rosy Pipit, Water Pipit, Citrine Wagtail and a female Eurasian Teal in the morning. She was a bit of a surprise on this tiny water body but flew off. I looked at the spot and thought it held potential!
We went to the Buddhist archaeological sites next which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 as some ruins dated back to 1000BCE. i will talk about them more in my next trip report as I lost my photos. We saw Common Kestrel, Brown Rock Chat, a female Black Redstart and then some Eurasian Crag Martins over the ruins. The latter were unusual in winter.

A few km to the North East of Taxila lay Khanpur Dam. Barn Swallows, White Wagtails, Great Cormorants were most commonly seen birds. Mallards were the only duck species seen and 3 Great Crested Grebes were a lifer for Ackram! We toured the lake in boat which was probably not the safest and given a life jacket which would probably drown us! There was an island in the middle which we explored. We came across a butterfly. First Ackram ignored it but then he realised it was always worth a look. On closer inspection he realised it was a Pseudergolis wedah, the Tabby, is a species of Nymphalid butterfly which had never been recorded in Pakistan before! Two hours before sunset and we decided to try the wetlands again and 2 more surprises - a Water Rail and Painted Snipe. First there 1, then 2, 3, 4 then 5. Within 15 minutes 10 Painted Snipe were feeding and this was a shock to see so many in that small place and made us wonder what else was hiding in there? That ended our day!
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Old Sunday 28th June 2020, 20:19   #2
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30km to the south west and on the west of the Indus lay our next destination the following day - Manglot Wildlife Park. This nature reserve was situated on the eastern side of the Cherat Hills and the main vegetation primarily consisting of the olive trees, Acacia modesta, zizyphus nummelaria, olea cuspidate, deodonia viscose and monothica boxifolia. It was 1,756 acres and a captive breeding project for ungulates such as Chinkara Gazelle, Urial, Hog Deer with Wild Boar and Wolf occurring within the fences. Common Leopards had also entered the fenced areas naturally.
The road took us south and our first find was road kill - a fox whose tail has been cut off. Looking down to the Indus River we noticed a large white bird take off from the group of Great Cormorants resting on the sandy shore line of the river. I almost fell it was a Swan as it's size was so noticeable. With binoculars on it the grey upper side with black wing tips and black head markings revealed it to be a very large Pallas Gull. This must have been the largest Gull I had ever seen as it's profile was immense and the flight was powerful. A lifer for Ackram and my 3rd ever! I knew how much this was an enigma to British birders having been recorded once and nearly 200 years ago. I narrated this to Ackram and how not a question of IF but WHEN this should be recorded again and by which lucky person?
We scanned the fields which were very close to the hills and quite rocky. I concluded that this was a spot where we should see Wheatears. A bird with a Red Tail on a wall took us by surprise and trying to figure out which Redstart it was did not help as Ackram exclaimed it was an "Afghan Wheatear!". A lifer for both. It sat on the wall giving up great views and a chance for lots of photos. The Wheatear fest carried on with a male Pied Wheatear and a Variable Wheatear! White Wagtails and Tawny Pipits also fed in the fields. Pale Martins fed above a puddle in a village. Rock Buntings, White capped Buntings and a small group of Small Minivets were seen. Small Minivets were a lifer for me and a pleasure to see.
We parked the car at the entrance of the Wildlife Park and wandered around inside. Laughing Dove, Collared Dove, White Cheeked Bulbul, Red Vented Bulbul, Long Tailed Shrike, Hume's Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart were the usual suspects. A male Rufous Backed Redstart was another highlight of the day - our joint second ever. A Kestrel was our only raptor but we did hope for something a little larger but it was not meant to be.
The Wildlife Park showed how green and vegetated the surrounding hill would have been if human pressure was less. The first 2 photos are from a visit in Summer 2006!
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Old Sunday 28th June 2020, 20:38   #3
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Interesting stuff. There aren't too many trip reports from Pakistan, so it's good to hear about what can be found there.
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Old Sunday 28th June 2020, 21:25   #4
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A solo trip exploring the surrounds of the Terbela Dam, one of the largest dams in the world was m y next trip. I hired a taxi with a driver for the day costing somewhere between £10-£20 at the most. The dam was 15-20km to the North of my ancestral area. We paid a visit to the dam first and Coot, Black-headed Gull, Steppe Gulls, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Shelduck, Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Tufted Duck, Great Cormorant and Little Cormorant graced the water. Little Egrets, Grey Herons fished the sides. Marsh Harrier and Black Kite were the only raptors present around the water. Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Red Wattled Lapwing and Temminck's Stint were found in the marshes below the dam. Siberian Chiffchaff, Yellow Bellied Prinia, Plain Prinia hid within the reeds. A small trip to the hills on the eastern bank of the Indus where Srikot lay gave great views and the species seen included Rock Bunting, White Capped Bunting, Oriental Whiteye, Striated Prinia, Grey Breasted Prinia, Himalayan Bulbul, Cinerous Tit, Pied Wheatear, Pied Bush Chat, Grey Bush Chat, Brown Rock Chat, Black Redstart, Common Woodshrike and a Kestrel were spotted here.

The first photo is a historical tomb from the Mughal period dedicated to a Whore. It is on the G T Road and a few km east of the Indus. It was on the journey to Manglot Wildlife Park. The mountain peak in the 2nd and 3 rd photos is known as Gandghar and over 1300 metres above sea level. It rises 800-1000 metres above the plains.
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Old Sunday 28th June 2020, 21:31   #5
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Some of scenes on the journey up to Srikot.
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Old Sunday 28th June 2020, 22:10   #6
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I hired a driver and a car again and headed to a place where I have long wanted to visit. Mardan Ditrict lay some 40-50km North West of my parents ancestral area and it was the home of Takht-I-Bahi, of the best preserved ancient Buddhist monasteries from the Gandhara period. In 1980 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I have always been interested in historical sites as well as wildlife and I wondered what surprises could be found here. I planned to meet a friend from Peshawar there.
The M1 Motorway which connected the western city of Peshawar with Islamabad was our destination and on it we headed westwards where we would depart at Rashakai interchange. A few miles before the interchange the fields were undulating and the soils looked stonier. As I scanned the fields I picked up 2 Hen Harriers and a Long Legged Buzzard. It looked just like the sort of terrain I would expect Little Bustard or Great Bustard even! Once off the motorway we saw many copses and within one 2 Bramblings flew up from feeding on the floor. Bramblings were regular winter visitors to the North and West of the country but in varying numbers. Takht-i-Bahi was impressive and the word Takht meant throne in Persian.
Blue Rock Thrush, Capped Redstart, Brown Rock Chat, Cinerous Tit, Bar Tailed Creeper, Grey Bush Chat, Common Myna, Himalayan Bulbul, Red Vented Bulbul showed in the scrub near the monastery.
A bird landed on a wall and flew across to the bottom of another wall. I paced over and crawling up the wall I saw 2 crimson flashes and it then flew to the top. I had not expected to see Wallcreeper here and for it to show so well. In fact there were 3! I was speechless. I crouched on the floor and took some photos of a male on the wall showing superbly. I was gob smacked! A local was intrigued of what I was doing but I was so busy taking photos of the bird I could not reply. After the bird flew off I explained. He told me that I thought you could not speak! A Long Legged Buzzard was the only raptor of the day. A flock of Ring necked Parakeets on the way back made me wonder why it had been almost a week before I had seen this species on this trip?
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Old Sunday 28th June 2020, 22:11   #7
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Some more photos of Takht-i-Bahi
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Old Wednesday 8th July 2020, 21:30   #8
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A trip to Islamabad which lay to the East to see my cousin was the next stop. Just before we entered the city, I looked at the terrain which was a western extension of the Potohar Plateau. Sandy broken hills and cliffs dissected by rivers and gorges tabled across the land scape. Agriculture was scant here, but the locals managed to eke out a living. From the windows of the “bus” I stared and then my eyes caught out a grey shape shifting across the terrain towards us. The bird ebbed closer and the broad black wing tips and black trailing edge along the wing cold be seen. It turned in the opposite way we were going and flapped speedily gaining height. A nice start to the day – a male Hen Harrier!
The F-9 Park also known as the Fatima Jinnah Park is spread over 750 acres. It is a hot spot for bird photographers with interesting species such as Orange Flanked Bush Robin, Red Billed Leiothrix and Bonelli’s Eagle recorded. Hoopoe, Indian roller, White Throated Kingfisher, Laughing Dove, Collared Dove, Long Tailed Shrike, Indian Tree Pie, Bluethroat, Oriental Magpie Robin, Indian Robin, Siberian Stonechat, Grey Bushchat, Common Starling, Bank Myna, Common Myna, Bar Tailed Creeper, Cinerous Tit, Himalayan Bulbul, Red Vented Bulbul, Plain Prinia, Yellow Breasted Prinia, Graceful Prinia, Oriental Whiteye, Tailorbird, Siberian Chiffchaff, Hume’s Warbler, Grey Hooded Warbler, Common Babbler, Jungle Babbler, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Indian Silverbill. A phone call interrupted my day as and was pressured into returning to my family home further west and someone was going to give me a lift. On the slip road to the motorway a male Hen Harrier, or the male Hen Harrier from yesterday was flying over roadside trees and westwards.
The following day we planned a family to the city of Abbottabad. It was named after Major James Abbott and was known as the city of pines. At just over 1250metres above sea level it was quite a cool city in the hot South Asian summers.
We headed to Shimla Paree (Hill) where a small park was located for the children to enjoy themselves and some nice viewpoints over the city. A walk around and suddenly 2 Himalayan Griffons appeared! They soared over the hills majestically and then moving Northwards. I pointed them out to my family and relatives who were surprised by their size! They had never seen birds that large before. I did not expect the vultures so felt elated with their appearance. A flock of birds appeared which included Cinerous Tit, Rufous Naped Tit, Green Backed Tit, Cinerous Tit, Bar Tailed Treecreeper and Grey Hooded Warbler. Other birds present included Himalayan Woodpecker, Large Billed Crow and a Nuthatch species which got away – it would have been a lifer!
With the wedding over I decided to head to Lahore which was a 6-hour bus journey away. I had brought 2 memory cards for the trip. Something told me to change memory cards before I set off, I called at the Daewoo station in Rawalpindi and booked a seat to a small city called Sargoda first to see a friend.
The bus joined the M2 motorway eastwards and travelled through the sand hills and lunar sandstone formations of the Potohar Plateau. As we travelled eastwards the altitude of the motorway increased as it crossed the Salt Range Hills. The Hills started from the west by the Indus then cut across north east to the Jhelum River. One could see steep acacia covered slopes, jagged peaks, and rugged defiles as we rose eastwards. The Salt Range were a home to Urial Sheep, Chinkara Gazelle, Caracals, Leopards, Striped Hyaena and Wolves. There were Salt Lakes in the hills which were a home to the endangered White-Headed Duck. Flamingos were a regular visitor here. It almost felt like travelling through time. Many invading armies cut across here to plunder the Indus Plains. The Mughal Emperor Babur hunted Rhino in the Salt Range but how times had changed? The Salt Range hills had lost much of their vegetation because of overgrazing and people collecting for fuel. Eventually the bus began to descend and below we saw the start of the Punjab Plains, the land of the 5 Rivers. The Rivers of the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej flowed through these plains. However, the land of the 5 Rivers was divided now between Pakistan and India.
I could imagine what the invaders throughout history must have felt as below them sprawled the vast plains
Once onto the plains we were at a much lower elevation slightly higher temperature. I noticed Black Drongos as a common winter resident here. West of the Salt Range I had not noted them. There were several Steppe Eagles sat on lampposts along the motorway. A paler raptor of a similar size caught my eye sat on a telegraph pole. It had a slightly larger looking head. A pale Tawny Eagle. It was just waiting for something to emerge and just pounce on it.
I met my friend at Sargodha and within a few hours made sure I was at a spot where there were some birds. The chosen place was a canal and White Wagtails, Yellow Wagtails and Citrine Wagtails provided most of the entertainment. They were joined by a White Browed Wagtail which did not stay long. Plain Prinia, Common Babbler, Indian Roller, White Throated Kingfisher, Paddyfield Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Rosy Pipit, Crested Lark, Pale Martins, Plain Martins, Barn Swallows, Bank Myna were also in the vicinity along with Black Shouldered Kite and a great view of a Shikra.
The following day it was time to move onto Lahore and meet a few friends to go onto Head Marala. The Head works were placed on the Chenab River in district Sialkot. Marala was one of the best birding spots in the country and a few national firsts had been recorded there and other rarities.
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Old Wednesday 8th July 2020, 22:22   #9
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Some marvelous images from your trip to Pakistan Himalaya!
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Old Wednesday 8th July 2020, 22:27   #10
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Thanks. There is a reason why I do not have any bird images sadly though which will come about.

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Some marvelous images from your trip to Pakistan Himalaya!
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