Monday, January 25
Our little house wrens left their nest this morning.
We were on our deck with our second cup of coffee this morning on the first cool, sunny and dry morning that we have had here for a long time. We could hear the high school marching band practicing and reminisced about the years we enjoyed working with music and athletic booster clubs when our children were in school. Those were wonderful years, but now we’re enjoying these “empty nest” years as well. At about 9:00 a.m. a little wren poked its head out of the hole in its swinging home which dangles from a tree near our house, looked around for a few seconds, and took off for the nearest perch, which happened to be our deck. Camera time.
We watched as numbers 2, 3 and 4 quickly followed the little leader. By 9:15 all 4 had appeared at their door and flown from the safety of their nest to the nearby cover of our woods. It was a delightful 15 minutes. We have had wrens nesting here for many years but never before have we witnessed the “fledging”.
May I have just one more meal before I leave home?
The first flights of the little wrens reminded us that our lives are full of “fledgings” this year: a granddaughter heading off to college for her first year; three granddaughters and a grandson starting high school; a grandson and a granddaughter starting kindergarten; and a brand new grandchild scheduled to see the light of day for the first time in two weeks. So many wings being tried for the first time this year.
A few days ago I told about planning our trip to India and traveling there. In Part 2 I will summarize our experiences during the first few days of our tour of northern India.
Wednesday, January 20
We arrived in New Delhi at 1:00 a.m. (12:30 p.m. on the 19th in Iowa), 51 hours after leaving our house. The AK representative, Amid, was there to meet us and take us to the Radisson. He was such a welcome sight and so helpful. This was supposed to be our day to tour Delhi, but because of the delays of our flights, we have postponed our Delhi sightseeing to the end of our trip. After a very nice buffet breakfast at the Radisson, Amid and a driver took us to the airport to get our flight to Khajaraho. Our flight (on Jet Airways) was delayed, then cancelled due to fog. This fog is following us everywhere. We were rushed to the Kingfisher Airlines counter to get the last 2 seats on a flight leaving in 2 minutes. We sped through security, through the gates and onto a transporter to our plane. Then we sat while the airport closed for one hour due to the fog. We were served lunch, and then waited some more. Finally, the plane took off for Khajaraho, with an intermediate stop in Varanasi. After arriving in Khajaraho 2 hours late, we were met by Ashok (the local AK representative) and Laksman (the driver) and taken to the Lalit Temple View Hotel. We were then met by our Khajaraho guide who took us on a tour of the Western and Eastern Temples. What a spectacular sight!
Eighty five temples (twenty two remain) were built during the reign of the Chandella kings between 950-1050 AD. The Indo-Aryan architecture is adorned with erotic carvings capturing life in all forms.
Breakfast at the Hotel, then off with the car to drive to Bandhavgarh National Tiger Preserve. This was a real eye-opening (6 hour) road trip. The roads are awful, and the driving was crazy, but our driver seemed very good. Town after town and village after village lining the “road”, nothing but people who just barely subsist. We saw many people carrying wood on their heads to use for cooking or heating. No running water; no electricity, village pumps for water. Children going to school, mostly in bright, neat uniforms. Most men seemingly doing nothing. Women working very hard and all dressed in colorful wraps (saris) and scarves. Cattle everywhere, some being herded, most wandering freely, including in the middle of the road and along all the streets. Everyone is thin and all the boys and men have nice haircuts. We have never seen so many bicycles and motorcycles, many with up to 4 persons on board.
We arrived at the Tiger’s Den at Bandhavgarh in time for lunch and to drop our stuff in our room. On to our first game drive. We did not see a tiger, but we did see lots of spotted deer, several sambhar, wild boars, barking deer, common langurs, rhesus macaques and one jungle cat. We also saw several birds including this Stork-billed Kingfisher. Back for dinner and off to bed.
Back for breakfast and an early lunch before driving back to Khajaraho through all the town and villages. Near Satna we saw a parade of Jain priests and followers walking on (clogging) the road. Each priest was totally naked, in keeping with Jain tradition, and accompanied by a group of 20 or so followers, many wearing white robes. We learned from our AK representative on the trip that the Jain priests never ride in or on anything, but walk wherever they go. He thought they might be heading for some seminar or similar gathering. Finally back in Khajaraho, we checked in at the Lalit Temple View Hotel again and then walked down town for supper at a local restaurant, the “Raj”. In India, we drank only bottled water, with no ice, so it was a very pleasant surprise to discover the local “Kingfisher” beer which is quite good and was usually cold. Even though Khajaraho is a relatively small village, the streets, as always, were crowded with walkers, bikers, cows and water buffalo, but we never felt uncomfortable except in trying to avoid stepping in chuck-holes and cow pies in the quite dark street. On our walk back to the hotel we were impressed by how dark India towns are at night. Most of the lighting that was on consisted of kerosene lamps or gas lanterns. Our flashlight is a necessity.
I went to Elko, Nevada, on July 29th, 2010, determined to see a Himalayan Snowcock, which hopefully would be # 684 on my list of North American birds. Upon our arrival late afternoon on the 29th my wife and I hiked the well-marked trail from the parking lot at the end of Lamoille Canyon to the near side of Island Lake. This was not a good idea.
Because it was late in the day, from the lakeside, there was neither sight nor sound of a Himalayan Snowcock. The scenery, however, was breathtaking. This is one of the nicest, most scenic mountain hiking trails I have ever trod. The mountains, waterfalls, streams, mountain flowers, birds and little four-footed creatures were all lovely in their own special ways. The sunset view descending the canyon was stunning.
The next morning, July 30th, my wife and I hiked the trail again, but more slowly than the evening before. It took us about an hour and a half from the parking lot to Island Lake. Initially we experienced the same results as the evening before: no Snowcocks. We began to wonder if we had arrived too late in the day, again. It was then about 8:00 a.m.
We decided to go up higher by hiking around the right side of the lake. As we were doing this we met a returning birder who told us that he had seen and heard the Snowcocks that morning, high on the cirque above the lake. We continued onward and upward, scrambling breathlessly over a couple of ridges without trails, until we arrived at the edge of what we later learned from a couple of young local hikers is called the “Hanging Garden”. We stopped at the edge of that “bog”, because it was too wet to cross. We could at this point clearly hear Snowcocks calling high up on the cirque, in what seemed to be several different locations.
We began the painstaking process of scanning my telescope across the upper reaches of the cirque from whence we believed the calls were concentrated. Soon, to my great excitement, a Snowcock came into view in my scope, and both I and my wife were able to observe it very well for several minutes as it slowly pecked its way along the thin and sparse line of vegetation on the steep slope above the blackish part of the vertical wall of the cirque. My wife, the photographer, was able to see the Snowcock in the scope but she was not able to find it through her camera lens, so we did not get a picture. We did spot a Mountain Goat, and she was barely able to photograph it.
I was informed that Black Rosy-finches (which would be a life bird) were nesting in the heights above Island Lake, but I was not fortunate enough to find any. Nor did I spot a Calliope Hummingbird, the other potential life bird that has been seen occasionally in the Canyon.
We enjoyed our banana, cheese and bagel repaste back in the shade at the edge of the lake, birded the area a bit, and then hiked (slowly) back down to the parking area. We were very happy to have seen our primary target, which can be found nowhere in North America but in the Ruby Mountains. The Black Rosy-finches and Calliope Hummingbirds will wait for another day in another place.
A word about the hike: it is not terribly steep, but if you aren’t in good shape, take it slow. We are (well, ok, I am) not very physically fit for a trek like this, but we managed to do it twice in two days with no permanent adverse consequences. The hike to the lake is about 2 miles, and the extension that we took the second day is probably another half mile or so. At about 10,000 feet, the air is noticeably thin and we needed to pause for breath every now and then on the way up.