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Birds Photographing – Sikkim Himalaya

Sikkim is the second smallest state in India, lying on the lap of the mighty Himalayas, towards the north-eastern part of the country. Since the proximity of Sikkim is relatively close to my workplace, I have had a couple of chances to visit a few enchanting and secluded hamlets of Sikkim in the last year. I have covered roughly two wildlife sanctuaries.

Asian-barred Owlet
Asian-barred Owlet waiting to snatch earthworm from the farmland NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/5.6

I visited Pangolakha, which is in the eastern part of the state of Sikkim, in the months of May and June 2019. I also visited the lower part of the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary, which is in the southern part of the state, in the months of January and February 2020.

Himalayan Bluetail
Himalayan Bluetail NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 800, 1/250, f/5.6

These little picturesque villages are far away from the hustle and bustle of the city and are surrounded by refreshing green forests, snow-peaked mountains of the mighty Kangchenjunga range, waterfalls here and there, and plenty of flora and fauna.

Buff-barred Warbler
Buff-barred Warbler landed into the Ghurpees floral bed NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1000, 1/1600, f/5.6

In this article, I will share my experience of capturing a few of my favorite pictures in these tranquil, mystical, and romantic hamlets.

Golden Bush Robin
Golden Bush Robin NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 2000, 1/800, f/5.6
Small Niltava
Small Niltava NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 500, 1/80, f/5.6

East Sikkim

I went on a family trip with kids to the eastern part of Sikkim, covering places like Phadamchen, Dzuluk, and Lungthu, at an altitude that ranges from 8,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level, covering the Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary.

Stripe-throated Yuhina
Stripe-throated Yuhina NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/5.6
White-capped Redstart
White-capped Redstart NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1100, 1/1000, f/5.6

The trip was a mixed bag due to rain and landslides. Even after all the commotion, I have managed to capture some images of several varieties of Himalayan Birds in this region. These areas are the land of Rhododendrons, and the nectar attracts several bird species like Sunbirds, Yunhinas, Fulvettas, etc.

Fire-tailed Sunbird, male
Fire-tailed Sunbird, male NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/7.1

The Fire-tailed Sunbird was the showstopper. These avian beauties were in their full breeding plumage and had the longest tail and were treats for the eyes. Fire-tail Myzornis are cute little birds that are always busy collecting insects. Black-face Laughingthrushes, Dark-breasted Rosefinches, Golden Bush Robins, White-capped Redstarts, and Grey-sided Bush Warblers were all found in plenty.

Himalayan Monal
Himalayan Monal NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/200, f/7.1

But the trip was incomplete until we saw a glimpse of a majestic Himalayan Monal. In relatively lower altitude, we found Rufous-breasted Bush Robins, Parrotbills, Minlas, White-throated Laughingthrushes, Woodpeckers, and Turtle Doves.

Oriental Turtle Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 400, 1/500, f/5.6

South Sikkim

The trip into southern Sikkim was a photography tour with my friends. This time we visited a place known as Borong. Borong is a mystical, silent, and dreamy little hamlet in south Sikkim. We stayed in a resort that was situated within the lower part of Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary.

Rufous sibia
Rufous sibia on Red Rhododendron flower NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 2500, 1/3200, f/5.6

Unlike Lungthu, here we don’t have to trek or hike a lot. Within the premises of the resort, there are plenty of naturally growing flower plants like Cestrum elegans, Bergenia, Dombeya wallichii, etc. Apart from naturally growing plants, there are many other ornamental plants, planted within the premises, including many types of Orchids.

Fire-tailed Myzornis
Fire-tailed Myzornis NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1000, 1/1000, f/6.3

The flower Leucosceptrum canum, locally known as Ghurpees, produces intoxicating dark purple wine-like nectar, which attracts many nectar-feeding birds Himalayan birds like Green-tailed Sunbirds, Red-tailed Minlas, Oriental White-eyes, Stripe-throated Yuhinas, Rufous Sibias, Green-backed Tits, Buff-barred Warblers, Bar-winged Minlas, Blue-winged Minlas, etc. in the winter months.

Grey-sided Bush Warbler
Grey-sided Bush Warbler NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 800, 1/1000, f/5.6

The time we visited was just too early for Rhododendrons, locally known as Guras. But after the winter the Guras take the land over from the Ghurpees.

Red-tailed Minla
Red-tailed Minla NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/5.6

The meadows nearby have farms of vegetables, grown by the locals. Some other species collect here to collect the insects, like Small Niltavas, Asian-barred Owlets, Himalayan Bluetails, Blue-capped Rock thrushes, Whistling thrushes, and two-three varieties of Laughingthrushes, etc.

Green-backed Tit
Green-backed Tit in Leucosceptrum canum flower NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/1250, f/5.6

The daily food waste of the resort attracts some groups of birds like Red-billed Leiothrixes, Dark-breasted Rosefinches, Russet Sparrows, Black-faced Laughing thrush to the area.

Russet Sparrow
Russet Sparrow, male, on right with Dark-breasted Rosefinch, female, on the left NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/1250, f/5.6

Planning and Execution

The eastern part of the Himalayas in India is always known for its challenging weather. The clouds, sun, and rain play hide-and-seek throughout the day. Other than just a few hours of sunlight there were bone-chilling temperatures of 4-10 degrees Celsius. Fog and mist were everywhere in the surrounding areas. The area was cloudy most of the time with frequent rain in between for a few hours.

Green-tailed Sunbird
Green-tailed Sunbird, a female, hovering to collect nectar from Cestrum elegans flower NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 2500, 1/1250, f/5.6

The light was mostly diffused. Though I like the diffused light for bird photography, here I like to have a little more intense light to achieve higher shutter speed without creating harsh shadows.

Green-tailed Sunbird
Green-tailed Sunbird, male, hanging under the dome of Dombeya wallichii flower NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/800, f/5.6

My first trip to the east was with my brand new Nikkor AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens. It was more a lens testing and family trip. The purpose of the trip was to test different aspects of the lens in the field. I have already shared my initial impression of the lens on Photography Life before.

Green-tailed Sunbird
Green-tailed Sunbird, male, hovering to collect nectar from Cestrum elegans flower NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/5.6

On my second trip to Borong, I had a definitive plan to execute. I already had done some homework for the place. The wildflower garden within the resort premises is a boon for the floral compo, as the nectar-sucking birds give you enough opportunity to take pictures.

Oriental White Eye
Oriental White Eye NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/5.6

The portraits of floral compo with birds, and birds in their environment and capturing different bird behavior, was my main agenda of the trip. I have planned to use color in nature to make a frame look more attractive.

Green-tailed Sunbird
Green-tailed Sunbird, male, in Begenia garden NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 800, 1/1000, f/5.6

Waiting for birds is better than chasing them around, in my opinion. I already had chosen my frame, the perch, a bunch of flowers, and the background, so I waited for some birds to come within the frame. Sometimes I lose opportunities and sometimes I gain them.

Red-billed Leiothrix
Red-billed Leiothrix NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1000, 1/640, f/5.6

At the time we visited there were only a few types of flowers, mostly pink to magenta shades, so I wanted to explore the color wheel in an image with flowers, background, birds, and perches.

Dark-breasted Rosefinch
Dark-breasted Rosefinch, male NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/500, f/5.6

The experiences of these two trips resulted in photographs I have always wanted to take and the memories of this trip will remain etched in my mind forever. Hopefully, the world will soon recover from COVID-19 and I can fulfill my dream of covering the more picturesque Northern and Western part of Sikkim.

Rufous-breasted Bush
Rufous-breasted Bush Robin with catch NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1100, 1/1250, f/5.6
Oriental White Eye
Oriental White Eye NIKON D810 + 500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1000, 1/2500, f/5.6

About Chandan Hazra

I am a doctor by profession and photo-enthusiast by passion. I am from the small town of Midnapore in India, West Bengal State. I lived my childhood mostly in nature and woods. I am post graduate in Homoeopathy and right now am based in Patna, and have been doing nature photography for a few years now. Birds and landscape photography are my genre of interest. I love sharing my work and my field experience with others.

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