Uttarakhand birding hotspots : Exploring the Exquisite Birding Hotspots of the Indian Himalayas

Kusum Tewari
Kusum Tewari 12 Min Read

Uttarakhand birding hotspots, nestled in the lap of the mighty Himalayas in northern India, is a birdwatcher’s paradise. This mountainous state boasts over 650 bird species across a diversity of habitats, providing ample opportunities to spot rare and colorful avifauna. From the alpine meadows of the higher Himalayas to the dense temperate forests and grasslands of the middle hills, down to the wetlands and rivers of the Terai plains, Uttarakhand abounds with birding hotspots teeming with resident and migratory birds.

This comprehensive guide explores the top birding destinations across Uttarakhand. Whether you’re a beginner just starting out or a seasoned birder looking to tick off elusive species, Uttarakhand promises to delight with its wealth of avian fauna. Read on to uncover the best places and experiences for birdwatching in Uttarakhand.

Prime Birding Destinations in Uttarakhand

Corbett National Park: The Birding Capital

The magnificent Corbett National Park in the Kumaon region reigns supreme as Uttarakhand’s top birding destination. Sprawling over 500 square kilometers, Corbett shelters diverse habitats like sal forests, riverine belts, grasslands, and wetlands that sustain over 450 bird species.

Corbett offers excellent prospects of spotting rare and endangered birds like the Great Hornbill, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, and the gloriously crested Himalayan MonalTiger sightings also add to the excitement. Corbett’s famed Dhikala Zone is rated the best for avian diversity.

The park sees seasonal influxes of migratory birds, especially waterfowl and waders during the winter. Guided jeep safaris provide the most fruitful birdwatching experience through Corbett. Key sightings: Peacocks, hill partridges, hornbills, barbets, flycatchers, minivets, raptors like the crested serpent eagle, and woodpeckers like the famed golden-backed three-toed woodpecker.

The Lakes of Nainital

Nainital and nearby lakes like Sattal and Bhimtal comprise one of Uttarakhand’s top birding hotspots, especially for wetland species. Dotted with scenic lakes ringed by oak and pine forests, these high-altitude habitats see a variety of ducks, geese, coots, stilts, gullscormorants, and colorful kingfishers in plenty.

Boat rides on the lakes provide excellent birdwatching opportunities. Guided nature walks through surrounding woodlands also yield great sightings of pheasants, thrushes, tits, flycatchersnuthatches, and mountain hawk-eagles.

Pangot and Kilbury, nearby forested areas, offer superlative birding experiences. October to June is the ideal period. Don’t miss the migratory bar-headed goose and the rare Himalayan griffon.

Valley of Flowers & Chopta: Alpine Birding

For high-altitude birding, the Valley of Flowers National Park near Badrinath is unparalleled. This UNESCO World Heritage site encompasses meadows blanketed in wildflowers with breathtaking views of snowy Himalayan peaks.

Birding here in summer unveils exotic species like the vivid Himalayan monal and snow partridge, the curiously adorned Ibisbill, flocks of lively red-billed choughs, and the elusive snow pigeonLammergeier vulturesgriffons, and the majestic golden eagle also soar over these lofty realms.

Nearby Chopta offers equally rewarding alpine birding amidst rhododendron forests, rivulets, and grasslands dotted with wildflowers. Resident and migratory species descend during summers to breed and nest. Guided nature walks are the best way to experience this high-altitude avian spectacle.

Rishikesh & Haridwar: Riverside Birding

The holy Ganges river sustains a rich variety of avian fauna along its banks at Rishikesh and Haridwar. Wintertime draws flocks of migratory birds from the high Himalayas in search of warmer climes.

Riverside trails and forested areas deliver excellent sightings of pied kingfishers, little grebes, sandpipers, storks, egretscormorantsgulls, and the distinctive Ibisbill along rocky riverbeds. The sky comes alive with raptors like ospreys and sea eagles.

Guided nature walks and boat rides along the Ganges allow close encounters with these riparian species. For forest birds, head to Rajaji National Park nearby. The best time is October to MarchJeep safaris, especially early mornings, make birding very fruitful.

Askot Wildlife Sanctuary: Rare Pheasants & More

Snuggled within the Askot forests of the Kumaon Himalayas, this sanctuary offers a peaceful birding experience. Diverse montane habitats ranging from oak forests to alpine meadows sustain exotic pheasants like the Himalayan monalkalij, and koklass, along with thrusheslaughingthrushesnuthatchestitstreecreeperssunbirdsflycatchers and vivid mountain bulbuls.

Camping in the sanctuary provides immersive birdwatching. Watch out for the endangered cheer pheasant and Satyr tragopan amidst the rhododendrons. The best birding months are from March to June. Local guides are indispensable for their birding expertise and knowledge of forest trails.

Pangot & Kilbury: Hotspot for Himalayan Species

These idyllic Himalayan birding hotspots lie just 13 kilometers from Nainital. Thick forests dotted with emerald lakes and meadows ringed by towering peaks create a magical landscape that sustains nearly 600 species, including rare Himalayan birds.

The cheer pheasantlammergeier vultureHimalayan griffons, and vivid golden-throated barbets are prized sightings here. Guided nature walks through the oak woodlands also reveal thrushes, laughingthrushesflycatchers, tits, nuthatchessunbirds and colorful minivets.

Nearby Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is equally rewarding for birdwatching. Watch for the rare mountain hawk eagle hunting amidst the tall trees. Visit from October to June for peak birding. Join experienced local birding guides to maximize sightings.

Asan Barrage Water Reserve: Wetland Wonders

Home to over 300 bird species, the Asan River wetlands offer bountiful birdwatching just a few kilometers from Dehradun city. This reserve’s diverse mosaic of marshlands, streams, and grasslands attracts flocks of ducksgeesestorksegretsheronscormorantsgullsterns and other waterbirds throughout the year.

Guided boat rides along the wetlands provide close encounters with wetland avifauna. Keen eyes can spot the endangered Baer’s pochard amidst the reed beds. Forested trails in surrounding buffer areas are great for spotting woodpeckersdrongosorioleshoopoes, and kingfishers. Visit in the early mornings for ideal sightings.

Mangoli Valley: Pristine Birding in the Kumaon Hills

Encompassing alpine meadows, rhododendron thickets, pine forests, and gushing streams, this pristine valley in the Kumaon region sustains abundant birdlife. Camping and forest treks reveal a bonanza of dazzling Himalayan birds like the monal pheasant, vivid minivets and sunbirds, the electric blue-capped redstart, chirpy nuthatches and tits, the tiny

bar-winged wren-babbler, and the spectacular Asian fairy bluebird.

Rare species like the rusty-bellied shortwing and spotted forktail may also be spotted along wooded streamsides. Local Kumaoni guides enrich the birding experience with their deep knowledge of the terrain and avifauna. Visiting between May and October coincides with breeding season, ensuring lively birding.

Sat Tal: A Lake District for Birds

Just 23 kilometers from Nainital lies the bubbling Sat Tal (“seven lakes”), a unique wetland ecosystem that delivers rewarding birdwatching. Its cluster of pristine lakes bounded by oak forests provides ideal habitats for ducksgeesestilts, and other wetland birds.

Take a guided nature walk or boat ride on the lakes to get up close with resident and migratory waterfowl. Surrounding mixed forests harbor woodpeckersflycatcherslaughingthrushes, and the occasional vivid Himalayan monal.

Visit between October and June during peak influxes of migratory birds from the higher Himalayan reaches. Stay at lakeside lodges with expert naturalist guides to maximize your birdwatching experience.

Thatyur & Gananath: Foothill Forest Birding

Nestled in the eastern Kumaon foothills near the Indo-Nepal border, Thatyur and Gananath offer riveting birding in Sal forests interspersed with grassy glades. This rich mosaic sustains nearly 300 species like the regal great hornbill and Himalayan pied hornbill, the elusive orange-flanked bush-robin, chirpy parakeetswoodpeckers, drongos, flycatchers, and the vividly hued scarlet minivet.

Join guided nature trails with local experts through these forests for the most fruitful birding experience and to safely spot some rare species. Visit during summer and monsoon months when resident birds are nesting and vocal. Basic forest accommodations are available, or camp for an immersive experience.

Dhanachuli & Munsiyari: Heavenly Birding in the Higher Himalayas

At elevations above 7,500 feet, these idyllic Himalayan hamlets offer heavenly birding amidst alpine meadows bejeweled with wildflowers against the breathtaking backdrop of snow-laden peaks.

Spring and summer unlock sightings of exotic high-altitude species like the Himalayan monalsnow pigeonred-billed choughIbisbill, and Himalayan rubythroat, besides raptors like lammergeiers and golden eagles swooping overhead.

Local homestays, guided treks and jeep safaris provide an immersive experience. Key tips: Travel light, acclimatize properly, and have a flexible schedule since weather impacts accessibility. June-July is ideal for blooming meadows and breeding birds. Don’t miss this exclusive high-Himalayan spectacle!

Planning Your Uttarakhand Birding Adventure

When to Go

Uttarakhand offers rewarding birdwatching through the year courtesy its elevational range and diverse habitats. However, the optimal time is between October to June, coinciding with:

  • Peak influx of migratory birds from higher altitudinal reaches and central Asia to escape the harsh winters and breed in warmer climes. Most arrive October onward, leaving by early summer.
  • Breeding season of resident birds like pheasants, barbets, and raptors that makes them highly vocal and active.
  • Pleasant weather before the monsoon onset. Rains can hamper forest access during July-September.
  • Snowmelt in May-June improves accessibility to high Himalayan meadows above 3500m hosting exotic summer visitors.

Specific locations like Corbett and Nainital are accessible year-round. Higher areas only open up May-June. Schedule accordingly.

Guided Tours

While independent birding is possible in some areas, hiring local experts dramatically improves your experience. Besides helping spot and identify birds, they offer:

  • Safety while navigating remote or difficult terrain
  • Ability to communicate with locals
  • Knowledge of bird behaviors and best sightings spots
  • Responsible practices like avoiding nests
  • Insights into habitats, conservation, and more

Reputed tour companies like IndiaHikesGypsy Shack, and Snow Leopard Adventures offer guided Uttarakhand birding tours catering to all levels and interests. Tour styles range from jeep safaris, hiking, and camping to photography tours and luxury experiences.

Essential Gear & Resources

  • Quality binoculars are indispensable – 8x or 10x magnification suits most birding
  • Field guides and checklists for Uttarakhand birds
  • Neutral-colored clothing, hiking shoes, hat, and sun protection
  • DSLR camera with telephoto lens for avid bird photography
  • Smartphone apps like eBird to log sightings
  • Books like ​The Birds of Sattal​ by Jehangir Ghadiali
  • Stay at forest rest houses or naturalist lodges for credible information
  • Check protected area rules and regulations on their websites

Best Practices for Responsible Birding

While enjoying Uttarakhand’s spectacular birds, ensure your actions don’t harm their wellbeing by following these best practices:

  • Watch birds silently and patiently from a distance using binoculars or telephoto lenses. Don’t approach nests.
  • Avoid using calls/audio lures which causes birds stress. Listen for natural vocalizations.
  • Use forest roads and trails to prevent habitat damage. Don’t litter or leave non-biodegradable materials.
  • Avoid nesting and breeding areas during those seasons. Eg: Monsoon breeding of pheasants.
  • Never feed birds or engage in baiting. It harms their natural foraging behaviors.
  • Follow park rules. Acquire permits where needed. Avoid restricted areas.
  • Support eco-friendly operators committed to sustainable practices. Promote conservation.

Make the Most of your Uttarakhand Birding Trip

Beyond memorable birdwatching, Uttarakhand offers a treasure trove of experiences to enhance your travels. Here are some top highlights:

  • Take a jeep safari through Corbett National Park to spot majestic wild tigers along with over 400 avian species.
  • Experience a peaceful Ganges aarti ceremony at twilight by the Rishikesh riverfront.
  • Savor delicious Kumaoni cuisine like dubkad, achaar, and kaafuli in a traditional village homestay.
  • Visit the towering hilltop Jageshwar temple set amidst Deodar forests with over 100 ancient shrines.
  • Shop for unique handicrafts like hand-woven woolens, brassware, folk paintings and jewelry in Almora.
  • Unwind with a relaxing ayurvedic massage surrounded by mountain vistas in Munsiyari.
  • Take an easy nature walk through fragrant cedar forests to the breathtaking Deoriatal Lake.
  • Sign up for raftingtrekking or mountaineering adventures across Uttarakhand’s varied landscapes.

Whether you’re a passionate birder or nature lover, Uttarakhand promises abundant delights. As you immerse amidst the wild mountain beauty and vivid avian diversity of this Indian Himalayan state, be sure to travel responsibly and practice sustainable birdwatching. Ready your binoculars for that elusive Himalayan Monal or flaming Crimson Sunbird to make your trip truly memorable!

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