Conservation and Environment in Nepal: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Nepal Monthly Update October - November 2013
October and November have been two eventful months up here in the Ghandruk Conservation Project. It is the start of winter with cold temperatures at night, but a warm sun during the day. The high altitude and clear weather has allowed us some amazing views of Annapurna South and Machapuchare almost every day. In October and November a few fields’ trips had been organised. We went to Dobato to place sensor cameras for our rare species survey, and we went on a field trip to the “Australian Camp” to census migratory raptors. In addition, we started the second phase of our butterfly survey and, naturally, our regular activities continued with a lot to do and we were fortunate enough to experience some incredible Nepalese festivals mixed in with our hard work.
Australian Camp and the migratory raptors census
A five day field trip was organised to go to the “Australian Camp” which is a six hour hike from Ghandruk. This area is important for many species of raptors (vultures, eagles, falcons etc), as they stop on their migratory route from east to west as they fly along the Himalaya range before crossing it and heading into India. Every year thousands of raptors migrate between September and December and pass this important migratory area. In recent years 30 different species were seen and 9,754 individual birds was counted.
During our field trip and thanks to our raptor expert, Tulsi Subedi and his assistant, Sandesh Gurung, we have learnt to identify raptors and understand the importance of studying these majestic birds. Research is conducted every year from 15 September to 15 of December and during our visit volunteers were separated into three groups to collect data on the raptors from 7am to 4pm.
We recorded 13 species of raptors:
- Himalayan griffon (Gyps fulvus)
- Cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus)
- Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus)
- White-rumped vulture (Gyps tenuirostris)
- Black eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis)
- Steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis)
- Booted eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus)
- Mountain hawk eagle (Spizaetus nipalensis)
- Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
- Oriental honney-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus)
- Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
- Commmon kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
- Black kite (Milvus migrans)
When volunteers were not busy looking at the sky, they relax, often playing games with the locals before gathering around a warm fire in the evenings. Everybody had great time and we learnt a lot on the importance of these birds and their ancestral migratory routes
Dobato Field trip
Elsewhere we were lucky enough to take a couple of three-day field trips to the small settlement of Dobato about seven hours walk from Ghandruk. Dobato is about 1500m than our project base but the trek was worth it as we had heard reports of sightings of the elusive red panda (Ailurus fulgens) and we headed up with our sensor cameras in the hope of catching one on film. While the dense bamboo and pine forest is ideal for this small, elusive animal, it was somewhat less so for our volunteers, who spent several hours struggling through the closely-packed bamboo shoots. Ideal as the habitat is, the chances of seeing one of these exceptionally rare animals were low; the last confirmed sighting of a red panda in the area was in 2006! Unfortunately we did not catch the red panda on camera but the adventure was still worthwhile as we did get shots of a Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and several barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak). It was very interesting to walk in an ecosystem that could still support the red panda as these dense bamboo habitats are becoming scarcer.
With the approach of winter coming, we are starting to discover some new and interesting species on our bird censuses. It seems that every time we head into the field we spot a new species for our list. The reason is the cold weather at higher altitude forcing some of the bird species lower down the mountains in an attempt to escape the extreme temperatures and harsh conditions. Food is more plentiful lower down the slopes and this coupled with more clement conditions has made our research very exciting this month as more and more birds take refuge away from the heights. During our last census we recorded the Himalayan swiftlet (Collocalia brevirostris), the blue-fronted redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis); and the rufous-winged fluvetta (Alcippe castaneceps) all of which were new to our study.
Many of the species of butterfly found in Nepal have split life-cycles whereby they will reproduce twice a year. The first breeding season occurs from March to June which is a dry period before the annual monsoons and the second season occurs from September to December to coincide with the times of plenty after the heavy rains. Some species will even remain dormant during the heavy rains waiting for more favourable conditions. Our survey utilizes a fixed point method where we spend one hour taking pictures and catching all the butterflies we can see. It is important to photograph both sides of the butterflies’ wings as this can be essential for successful identification in some cases.
We caught many species including the common brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), the green sapphire (Heliophorus androcles), the punchinello (Zemeros flegyas), the Indian fritillary (Argyreus hyperbius), and the common woodbrown (Zophoessa sidonis). The preliminary results already look very interesting as we have recorded many different species for each breeding season along with the common species found in both. Also there appear to be many more individuals in the later season, after the rains, which is logical as more food would be available after the monsoons.
October and November are two really colourful months in Nepal, during which local communities celebrate 2 festivals:
- The Dashain festival from the 11st to the 16th October. It is the most important festival of the country. They commemorate the victories of the Hindu gods and goddesses over the demons. It symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Children go back home to receive Tika (mix of rice, yogurt and vermilion) from their elders. During this time you can see many bamboo swings which are constructed as a means of celebration.
- Tihar, Deewali Festifal from 3 to 5 November. It is known as the Festival of Lights, where many candles and decorative lights are lit both inside and outside the houses to brighten the night. It is considered to be of great importance as it shows reverence to not just the humans and the Gods, but also to animals like the goat, the cow and the dog, who maintain a close relationship with humans. Sisters put tika on the foreheads of their brothers, to ensure long life and thank them for the protection they give. The sisters receive in return gifts or money.
The volunteers had the chance to participate at the latter festival in Pokhara, where they participated in all the rites and rituals, including the sisters wearing newly made traditional dresses. We went to the house of a Nepalese friend and celebrated this amazing festival with them all night. It was colourful, with many candles lit, and much music being played around the city. We all had a really nice time and enjoyed some wonderful experiences of Nepalese culture as a means of relaxing after all the hard work.
I look forward to bringing you more news next time…
Conservation Manager, Nepal