Kashmir and Ladakh lie at the northern extreme of Indian Subcontinent and in terms of birding, as well as culture, offer a stark contrast to the rest of the country and each other. Together they form a part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir but are separated by the Great Himalayan Chain. Their position means that, particularly in winter and during migration, birds from the northern Palearctic turn up as vagrants, and there are many sightings of species not recorded elsewhere in India. Spring and summer, however, we see peak avian activity with a number of local breeding specialties.
Our trip begins at Srinagar and takes us though Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Kargil, Leh, and areas of Ladakh. A large number of waterfowls join the residents of Dal lake during migration. Black-crowned Night Heron and Pied Kingfisher are resident. In summer, Clamorous Reed Warblers are common, and a few Little Bittern inhabit the reed beds while Whiskered Terns hunt over the water.
Dachigam National Park is a must visit place in the valley. It used to be a game reserve and was turned into a National Park to protect Hangul, or Kashmir Stag, as well as drinking water catchment for Srinagar. It has an area of some 140km2 and covers a wide altitudinal range from the edge of Kashmir Valey up to about 4200m in Upper Daicham. The park lists numbers more than 150 birds many of which breed. Among the more notable are Besra, Northern Goshawk, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Himalayan Monal, and Tawny owl to name a few. Also, mammals like Hangul, Jackal, Langur, Leopard and Yellow-throated Martens are common.
Another highlight of the tour is birding in Ladakh. Ladakh lies in the rain shadow of Himalayas, more than 300m above sea level. The low precipitation results in barren moon-like landscape traversed by green ribbons of river valley surrounded by spectacular snow-clad mountains. As you wander into Leh, the capital of Ladakh, expect to see some of the endemics like Black-billed Magpie. Along the stream in winter look for Solitary Snipe and White-throated Dipper. Other birds found in this region are Red-billed Chough, Robin and Brown Accentors and Fire-fronted Serin. Other birds seen in the region are Common Swift, Oriental Skylark, Common Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Snow Pigeon, Himalayan Griffon, Common Tern, Common and Alpine Swifts, Lesser Sand Plover, Horned Lark, Eurasian Craig Martin and Ruddy Shelduck.