Thursday, January 31, 2013

Parting Shots and Words

 Images from Nepal are burned into my mind and are a few of the last days in Nepal and the treasures they were filled with.  I am so full from knowing what I know of the people and places and of course, birds of this amazing land.  What I am filled with is sometimes hard to describe because so much of Nepal is difficult to see and to put into perspective.  There are so many issues that Nepali people are struggling against.  I will not make these my focus, though it must be said, these are a big part of every journey here.  This is why I make the trip.

These following people and places are at the core of why I return to Nepal every chance I get...

 These are the two women who OWN the Tibetan
school called Manosarovar Academy in Bouddanath, Kathmandu.  There really are no words for how deeply I admire and love them.  They returned from their long trip to India just in time to have dinner with me!  From the looks of the spread on that would think that more than the three of us were dining that night!  I sure wish I had some of that food right now!

I also got to meet a former Manosarovar
student that whom we had the pleasure of
teaching a few years ago.  Tenzing met me for
lunch and I got to hear the news that she is moving
to New York in a few months to live with her Mom!
It has been many years since she has seen her
Mother so she is very excited.
This brilliant girl is one of my daughter
Eliza's dearest friends from her class here.

Got to spend a night and day with Menuka's family too.  I was treated like the long lost royal daughter...  We had great laughter and of course amazing home cooked food; mountains of it!  I even have some in my luggage (sadly at the moment it is packed away!)

I will definitely return for a stay with my new family next time I come!  I was called "Jeti chori"  (older daughter).

That dish Munuka is preparing in the last photo is "lopsey", one of the foods you can only get in Nepal.

Birdwatching with Kailash Hostel at Gokharna Forest

 This was the last Saturday birdwatching day I had with the students from Kailash Hostel.  It was one of the regular Saturday birdwalks sponsored by Bird Conservation Nepal, so we were not the only binoculars in the former king's hunting reserve that day.

The other people go on these walks every Saturday that they are offered, to a different place in or around Kathmandu Valley and are mostly very serious and proficient birders.

When the kids arrived and we all introduced ourselves, I was impressed to find that the Kailash
Hostel students have a reputation as being very keen birders!

All were more than willing to give the kids tips for honing their skills and when I asked Rajendra the leader that day, to elaborate on the colorful and alluring mating dance of the Small Niltava, he turned into an actor and taught a little class on bird reproductive rites!  Very accurate too I'm sure.

Here are some photos of the day.  As you can see, we were in the forest and on the golf course...

My friend Inge Junker from Germany was along too.  Always an honor to have people come and show such an interest in what these kids are learning!

Must go catch my plane here in Singapore!  I spent too much time birding in the Botanical Gardens today here and eating delicious snacks.  THAT is the way to spend a layover!

And this bird is??????

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Jatayu or "Vulture Restaurant"

 This day dawned clear and beautiful under the Annapurnas.  I learned that there is a leopard in the peak known as Machupuchare ("Fishtail peak").

Can you see it?  The tip of the peak is the ear of the huge cat who is looking to our right.  Focus on the snowy outline...
this is only a test!

After a fine Nepali breakfast at the homestay, three of us lucky folk got to head down to the Vulture Restaurant.  We felt especially fortunate because a fresh carcass was awaiting our arrival!  No, not for us but for the threatened vultures!

 As we walked down to the site of the restaurant, located on the banks of the Seti River, I thought about the "Vulture Restaurant" concept...developed in Nepal in 2009, and now being implemented in Pakistan and India.

The establishment of Vulture Safe Zones was inspired by the vultures of South Asia being on the brink of extinction.  In just 2 decades, five of the nine species of vultures of the Indian sub-continent have declined by up to 99.9%.  Bird Conservation Nepal, together with a group called Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction (SAVE), is working to reverse these declines by advocating bans on the veterinary use of diclofenac and other untested drugs in cattle, the main food of the vultures.  Among other conservation measures, this group is setting up Vulture Safe Feeding Sites (Vulture Restaurants) in different locations in Nepal.  At this time, there are 21 districts of Nepal that have been declared "diclofenac free" zones.

Vulture Restaurants in Nepal are the first to be community managed.  Many are called "Jatayu Restaurants" after the Hindu vulture god "Jatayu.  Cows are, of course, regarded as sacred animals in Nepal, so having them as the single menu item at the restaurant takes some creativity.  This need has been met with having an adjacent "cow hospice" where old and "retired" cattle come to be fed and cared for until their natural time to die.  The cows are fed diclofenac-free food and thus are safe for the vultures.

Here we are at the restaurant where we were feeling fortunate that there was a recent release of cow spirit which does NOT happen every day.  We had heard stories of people coming and awaiting such an event in vain for days.  We were led down by this local man Krishnaman, who was sporting quite an impressive knife (which I was pretty sure he was going to use it on a cow.)  After about an hour we arrived at a bluff beside the glacial blue-green Seti River where it became obvious we were getting close.  Feathers seemingly from the Jurassic could be found among the bones scattered in the wintery, riparian forest!

We were taken to a small building,
with little viewing windows
where we would watch
if the vultures came.

Our guide then, immediately became a butcher of sorts, skinning the dead cow to make it easier for the big birds to consume.  They really do aim to please at this establishment.

He made quick work of the carcass and dragged it to "the place" which was right in view from our tiny windows.  Now we wait.

We heard a story of a National Geographic camera crew, there to film a documentary on the big, threatened birds, who waited all day after the carcass was in place.  The vultures never came close to the cow that day.  So we were ready for any outcome.  I had already seen enough to feel fortunate!

We waited patiently....

for about 4 minutes when the first birds showed up!  It was really exciting to watch the two cattle egrets eating the flies who were already on the scene!

Which one is this?
Then after another wait, maybe half a minute, the first vulture landed nearby.  The White-rumped Vulture was a bit tentative at first, then flew over and got closer and closer...and took a rip at the tasty meal.

Another minute and a Cinereous Vulture flew in (one of the heaviest flying birds reaching up to 31 pounds or 14kg!) and then a Himalayan Griffon and another and another...and in about another minute, it was what I would call a true "Feeding Frenzy".

Can you ID them all?
We counted 62 vultures in all!  Four species enjoyed the meal at the restaurant this day.  There were 52 Himalayan Griffon, 10 White-Rumped Vultures, 3 Cinereous Vultures and 1 Red-headed Vulture.  See if you can pick them out in the frenzy!  I was in a kind of heaven watching these legendary beasts devour everything from the bones, not that we could see what was happening under all the feathered, flapping wildness.

The one Red-headed Vulture!

New birds would come flying in and dive in with all the gusto of a hungry carrion eater at a feast!  The squawking and screaming of the birds was indescribable.  I thought of Peter Jackson getting his inspiration for Nazgul at such an event!

Who are these?
Then as suddenly as they had appeared, one, then two then groups of species flew off.

It felt so desolate when in a minute or two,
we were alone on that bluff with
naught but a pile of clean,white bones.

But I know that I felt different.  Full and satisfied.  After this day, I am changed.  I have shared in a meal at...The Vulture Restaurant!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ghachok Village

 Just back from the trip to Pokhara and Ghachok Village.  This trip was such a highlight of all my time in Nepal for the scenery (which I think I was starved for) and for the experience of working with and just enjoying people and the lovely place they call Home.

After an easy, uncrowded, 7 hour bus ride from Kathmandu I was met by my dear friend Menuka Basnyat near Lakeside in Pokhara.  Also along for the trip was an environmental lawyer from Boise, Idaho - Kristin Ruether who I got to know over a masala dosa (a good one I will add!).  We spent a night in a musty, moist guest house on Pokhara's New Road and left for the village the next morning.  This entailed a typically dusty dirt road in a 4wd vehicle, packed with folk and luggage, but only for an hour and a half.  The drive led us up a canyon and then plateaued out into the cultivated portion of the village of Ghachok!  The view moved me to tears...really.  Machupuchare to the left and Annapurna 4 to the right, Seti River below...I felt so privileged to be in this place.

    We had been on the cultivated ground for all of 11 minutes or so, when I asked when I would be doing my teaching.  My teaching... is why this whole entourage of myself and several Bird Conservation Nepal coordinators and the former CEO Hum Gurung and a TV documentary camera crew and a few guests were all there!  This day was the start of a bird education training that would focus on local teachers and youth.  Ghachok is targeted because of the presence of the "Vulture Restaurant".  I will have a whole entry about that next...but basically it is BCN's answer to the problem of vultures disappearing due to the existence of a veterinary drug given to cattle called "diclofenac".  Cattle (when dead) are the main food of the six resident vulture species in Nepal and the threatened vultures ingest the cattle who have been given the drug, it causes deadly renal failure in the vultures.

BCN has been working with the villagers around the "Vulture Restaurant" sites to educate them about birds and conservation of birds.  They are also teaching these residents to be homestay hosts.  More about this later...

"Immediately" was the answer to when I would teach my prepared lessons, so we were escorted into a classroom full of waiting teachers from Ghachok area - after a delicious Nepali lunch at one of the homestay houses - and I started teaching!  My subject matter was all about how to connect students with birds and get them excited to learn as much as they can about the 871 species of birds in Nepal!  I taught them some of my own techniques as well as some classic outdoor environmental education games adapted for their unique ecosystem.  We had a really good time!

Most of the participants were teachers who are very involved in the Vulture restoration and are members of BCN.  It was fun to have some student leaders from the local schools participating too!

After most of the day at school...
we got to walk through the village
and to the upper plateau where my homestay was.
I found the view most pleasing.

 Here is the man and the child of the home...with Menuka.  Didi was making our amazing dal baht while I talked with Baherendra about his time spent working for the US army in Iraq.  He showed me his photos...surreal experience.

The family was so sweet and took such good care of Menuka and I, we felt like part of the family!

Next morning was bird walk training day led by Hare who works for Tiger Mountain Lodge Pokhara.  He was a barrel of laughs and a darned good teacher!  The local youth who chose to get up early were treated to a great show of birds and a really educational time with a great role model!

...and again, the scenery!

Guess this one!

One of the highlight birds for most of the people was....Anyone???
On our way back,
we stumbled upon an 84th birthday celebration and were fed a bowl of some delicious food!  We couldn't stay long, but it made me want to take in more people off the street and just feed them!  The hospitality and graciousness of people always warms me and makes me want to be a better person.  Makes me want to be a scholar of Nepali cooking too!  My spirit is so nourished.

Friday, January 25, 2013

This is the view from the rooftop of Tharlam Guest House - the place I call "Home" here in Kathmandu.

When I look at the prayer flags dancing on the frozen, winter wind, robed monks fingering strands of beads as they hurry their circles around the stupa as the sun sets on Kathmandu Valley...
I wonder at the possibility that this could be the same Earth!  My visual reality rocked to its core; my heart and spirit search for what is constant.  Sunset becomes more profound.  Birds and their seasonal avian quests, the cold wind cutting through my inadequate layers, eyes that smile through skin color, trees blooming in response to the sun, thunder, rain, puddles, smoke and the warmth of a welcome January sun, the freedom that a national holiday brings, a hot drink in chilled hands.  Universal, deep, constant meaning.

We really are all in this together!

As I pack and race the internet curfew...I am excited to get out of the city for a few days and live in a village.  I am up for the adventure and have only a vague idea of what I am in for!  I will be on a long bus ride before sunrise heading along the Trisuli and Kali Gandakhi Rivers on the way to Pokhara.

The village I will be in for the week is a "Vulture Restaurant," set up to safely feed, restore and rehabilitate the dwindling South Asian vulture population. Over 90% of the vulture population in Nepal, India & Pakistan has been exterminated by the veterinary use of Diclofenac (an anti-inflammatory drug) in cattle....    Much more later when I return to electricity and web access!

Does this bird look familiar?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bird List from Sankhu

Who can ID that yellow bird?

Plumbeous Water Redstart!

Fun Day!  I will include another "Guess this Bird" right here because he is so lovely! Check out the list for have 56 to choose from in the list below.

Here is the bird checklist from Vimal the leader of the walk.  In case any of you are this kind of interested!

Sankhu birds
Saturday' 19 Jan 2013
Vimal Thapa for BCN
S.noCommon nameScientific name
1Fulvous-breasted WoodpeckerDendrocopus macei
2Blue-throated WoodpeckerMegalaima asiatica
3White-throated KingfisherHalcyon symrnensis
4Rose-ringed ParakeetPsittacula krameri
5House SwiftApus affinis
6Rock PigeonColumba livia
7Oriental Turtle DoveStreptopelia orientalis
8Spotted DoveStreptopelia chinensis
9Green SandpiperTringa ochropus
10Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos
11River LapwingVanellus dyvaucelii
12Black KiteMilvus migrans
13Common BuzzardButeo buteo
14Littel EgretEgretta garzetta
15Cattle EgretBubulcus ibis
16I. Pond HeronArdeola grayii
17Long-tailed ShrikeLanius schach tricolor
18Grey TreepieDendrocitta formosae
19House CrowCorvus splendens
20Scarlet MinivetPericrocotus flammeus
21Black DrongoDicrurus macrocercus
22Spangled DrongoDicrurus hottentotsu
23Blue Whistling ThrushMyophonus caeruleus
24Red-throated FlycatcherFicedula parva
25Rufous-gorgetted FlycatcherFicedula strophiata
26Slaty Blue FlycatcherFicedula tricolor
27Small NiltavaNiltava magrigorie
28Oriental Magpie RobinCopsychus saularis
29Hogdson's RedstartPhoenicurus hodgsonii
30White-capped Water RedstartChaimarrornis leucocephalus 
31Plumbious Water RedstartRhyacornis fuliginosus
32Slaty-backed ForktailEnicurus schistaceus
33Common StonechatSaxicola torquata
34Common MynaAcridotheres tristis
35Jungle MynaAcridotheres fuscus
36Barn SwallowHirundo rustica
37Red-rumped SwallowHirundo daurica
38Red-vented BulbulPycnonotus cafer
39Black BulbulHypsipetus leucocephalus
40Common-tailor BirdOrthotomus sutorious
41Common ChiffchaffPhylloscopus colybita
42Buff-barred WarblerPhyloscopus pulcher
43Hume's WarblerPhylloscopus humei
44Grey-hooded WarblerSeicercus xanthoschistos
45Rusty-cheeked Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus erythtogenys
46Crimson SunbirdAethopyga sipraja
47Eurasian Tree SparroePasser montanus
48House SparrowPasser domesticus
49White WagtailMotacilla alba
50White-browed WagtailMotacilla maderapatensis
51Grey WagtailMotacilla cinereas
52Olive-backed PipitAnthus hogdsoni
55Red AvadavatAmandawa amandawa
56Crested BuntingMelophus lathami
3Krishab Shrestha
4Rojal Baidya x 3 person
5Git Shrestha
6Puspa KC x 3 person
7Bijay Karki
8Karmath Subedi
9Dibas Panta
11Rammani Sapkota
12Jaya Bhandari
13Rajendra Gurung
14Vimal Thapa
15Kailas School x 13 studends