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Notes on a Birding Trip to India with Directions for Finding Rusty-bellied Shortwing
by Dave Sargeant
Just got back from three weeks in India (Darjeeling and Lava in the extreme north on the Nepal and Bhutan borders). A good trip marred only by Indian Airlines cancelling our return flight which meant we had to take a taxi 15 hours overnight to make our international connection in Calcutta. Not a good experience. For the rest, the trip went well, and we didn't get ill. The weather was a bit mixed as the monsoon has arrived early this year. Usually the beginning of May should be dry, but it rained every day - generally only an hour or two, but some days for several hours. Consequently we lost some time in the field and the forest was especially full of leeches which are always a pain the neck.
We spent the first two days at Darjeeling, visiting Tiger Hill, then onto the Sandakphu trek for eight days. We were lucky with the clear skies on that part and we did get excellent views of the Himalayas. The best birds we got were Satyr Tragopan (twice!), Blood Pheasant, Broad-billed Warbler, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Yellow-throated Fulvetta and a particular favourite of mine, Red-faced Liocichla.
Rusty-bellied Shortwing was seen at Lava (about 80 km east of Darjeeling). Birding around the village of Lava is well-covered in the recently published Birding Guide to India by Kazmierczak and Singh. However, specifics of finding this shortwing are not included although, as mentioned in the book, the species will probably prove to be not uncommon in the area once its vocalizations are better known.
One bird was heard and seen well about 5 km along the track to the Neora Valley on 19 May 2000. No others were heard anywhere along the track, but this was probably due more to attention being focused on finding other species plus the cloudy and wet weather. Although I didn't know the song of this bird, and had no access to any recording of it, my attention was initially drawn to a "distinctly shortwing-like" song, different from both Lesser and White-browed Shortwing which both occur in the same area.
The bird was singing from the understorey of cutover forest edge, about 1 metre from the ground. It was not particularly shy, and relatively easy to see, down to a distance of 2-3 metres. The immediate surroundings were a steep overgrown gully with a small mountain stream.
Directions as follows: The environs of Lava village is well-described in Kazmierczak's and Singh's book. From Lava village follow the main, and only, road downhill and past the monastery at the bottom of the village. Take the track to the Neora Valley National Park, which starts on the left about 300-400 metres after the monastery. After 200 metres the track forks. Keep left. After 4-5 km the track splits again with the left hand of the fork going sharply downhill. Ignore that track and go right/straight. Almost immediately you will come to a house and cow-pen built directly on the track which marks the end of the drivable section. Continue through the cowpen and along the track which has now become a footpath. After less than a 100 metres the footpath passes over the remains of an old landslide after which it crosses a small gully on a bridge. I observed the shortwing singing in the forest edge by the bridge right by the track.