Ladakh Area Trip Report
by Otto Pfister
26 May - 26 June 2004
For my 10th visit into Ladakh I was accompanied by my wife. Main objectives of this trip included updating of Ladakh wildlife records especially mammal and breeding bird observation and photographing, and promotion of my forthcoming (launched by end of June) book on 'Birds and Mammals in Ladakh'. Because of book advertising activities we spent excessive time in Leh town. Our field work, however, concentrated on areas north of Leh, the Shey-Tikse marshes, the Rumbak area in Hemis N.P., Hemis Shukpachan, Wanla region and the Rupchu focusing mainly on Chumatang, Yoye-Tso, Sumdo, Tsomoriri with Thadsang Karu, Puga, Tso-Kar and Taglang-La. The planned breeding bird survey in Nubra valley had to be cancelled following two attempts to cross Kardung-La when first we were blocked for the full day (10.6.) at Pulu South because of snow-fall and again the following day failed because of avalanches.
For the days in Leh we stayed at 'Hotel Snow View' at Upper Changspa / Leh (tel. 0091/1982 - 252504 / 250153, e-mail: email@example.com ), a nicely located, quiet hotel a bit above Leh bazaar, offering cozy rooms, tasty food and nice view into Stock Kangri. Its owner, David Sonam, is probably one of the most knowledgeable persons in town about birds and his diverting chats are full of good stories and useful hints. During our field work we were accompanied (as usual) by my old friend Tsering Tashi - who cared for our well being and kept his binoculars always at reach - and Dorje, who drove us safely into all these narrow valleys and plains. In Rumbak we stayed with local people offering a guest room, whereas in the remaining places we pitched up camp.
The weather first was often cloudy, cold and windy, but improved during the 2nd part and turned warm towards the end of our stay. The rivers therefore originally carried very little water (especially in the eastern and center parts of Ladakh), causing big concern to the farmers who needed to irrigate their sprouting barley fields; this drought was due to a very dry winter and present unusual low temperatures preventing the little existing snow in upper reaches from melting. The situation improved fortunately towards end of June in the valleys, whereas water level at Startsapuk-Tso remained extremely low with the main feeder streams dry and spill-over connection into Tso-Kar barren. The low water table offered apparently favorable breeding conditions to Great Crested Grebes in Startsapuk-Tso where a remarkable high number of about 100 nests was counted (in addition some 30 Black-necked Grebes were observed in the same lake about 3 weeks later (M.Ritschard, pers.comm.). Further, perhaps also due to the passed almost snow-less winter, encounter with lagomorphs (Hares and Pikas) was abnormally low. Ongoing construction of a 'highway' between Mahe bridge and Tsomoriri and hence large presence of road workers and their camps resulted in considerable littering of the sites and affirmed the probable cause of absence of some typical species like Tibetan Partridge, White-tailed Rubythroat or reduced density of Himalayan Marmot. Sprouting grass and barley in agriculture fields up in the Rumbak region attracted considerable concentration of Blue Sheep offering favorable observation.
Particular highlights during this trip certainly included observation of a breeding Black Kite 'lineatus' pair in Leh, a Blue-fronted Redstart at Zinchan, my 3rd encounter with a White-throated Dipper 'sordidus' morph at Sumdo, the fantastic Blue Sheep 'show' near Rumbak or the very close encounter with two Tibetan Argali in the slopes of the Tso-Kar basin. The lush poplar and willow grove around Zinchan definitely needs more scrutinizing by passing observers since this spot frequently hosts exciting bird rarities.
26.5. early morning arrival in Leh (3500m) by Jet Airways, resting all day; weather: sunny morning, overcast afternoon, windy and cold
27.-28.5. Leh, resting, organizing trips and permits, book promotion, birding in the surrounding; weather: partly sunny morning but cold, overcast afternoon with sand-storm
29.5. Shey marshes (3260m); weather: sunny and warm
30.5. walk from Leh up to Horzey (3840m) along the river; weather: sunny and warm
31.5. Leh; weather: sunny and warm
1.6. we were dropped at Zinchan (3250m) and walked to Rumbak village (4000m); weather: cloudy and windy, Rumbak cold and snowing
2.-6.6. Rumbak and surrounding including Stock-La base (4600m), Hussing nullah (4000-4500m) and Yurutse (4200m) towards Ganda-La (4500m); weather: generally overcast and windy, cold including snow showers but also some few sunshine hours
7.6. returned from Rumbak to Zinchan, drive to Leh via Trisul-Tso (3270m); weather: overcast and rain, later dryer and windy
8.-9.6. Leh, book promotion; weather: cloudy, cold
10.6. towards Kardung-La, blocked at South Pulu (4630m) for the entire day because of snow-fall
11.6. again towards South Pulu but were sent back because of avalanches, changed plans and continued to Hemis Shukpachan (3760m), weather: morning overcast and cold with light snowfall, afternoon while moving lower and westwards - weather improved to sunny and warmer
12.6. around Hemis Shukpachan, mainly around Juniper ( Juniperus macropoda) stands - one of the only places in Ladakh where remaining groves of (very old) juniper trees can be seen; weather: sunny and warm
13.6. moved on via Likir, Khaltse to Wanla (3200m) ; weather: sunny and warm
14.6. Wanla area; weather: sunny and warm
15.6. returned via Khaltse, Alchi bridge (with its pre-historic animal (and stupa) rock carvings), Phyong (3600m) and Trisul-Tso to Leh; weather: sunny, later partly overcast
16.6. Leh; weather: mostly sunny and warmer
17.6. Tikse-Shey marshes; weather: sunny and warm
18.6. to Chumatang (4000m) ; weather: slightly overcast, cool and windy
19.6. via Yoye-Tso (4730m) to Mahe bridge (4050m) and on to Upper Sumdo (4320m); weather: overcast and windy, later heavy rain
20.6. around Sumdo; weather: improving during morning later turning sunny and warm
21.6. to Tsomoriri (4600m) via Thadsang Karu (4710m) and back to Upper Sumdo; weather: cloudy-sunny and windy
22.6. to Tso-Kar (4600m) via Puga (4450m); weather: cloudy-sunny and very windy
23.-24.6. explored the Tso-Kar basin; weather: generally sunny and warm, but partly windy and cold
25.6. by mid-day drove via Taglang-La (5320m) and Miru (3700m) back to Leh; weather: sunny and warm, turning very windy in the Indus valley
26.6. Leh; weather: rather sunny and considerably warmer than a week earlier
27.6. departure to Delhi by Jet Airways - with freshly snow covered mountain tops bidding fare-well!