Kate on Conservation

Sikkim in India is one of the world’s best places for birding. This is why.

birding in Sikkim India Tree Photo by Amit Singh

As the world prepares to re-open (or perhaps we’re all dreaming of a time where it can) and we begin to look ahead at the future of travel post Covid-vaccine, it’s evident that ecotourism will play a big role in the desires of future holidaymakers. Against the duel backdrop of a global pandemic and increased publicity surrounding the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity, many are now looking to engage ethically with the natural world while on their travels. This guest blog post from the author of Top 10 destinations for birders, focuses on Sikkim in India, and explores what makes this such an incredible hotspot for birders...

Birding in Sikkim, India

Thanks to its religious ideologies and an environment conscious government, the avifauna in Sikkim has still got a habitat to thrive in.

The state has three distinct climate zones ranging from the tropical to alpine and finally to snow which has resulted in an abundance of ornithological diversity which extends to nearly 700 species as documented by the renowned ornithologist, the late Dr Salim Ali.

This change in altitude and vegetation, all within a small area, has made Sikkim one of the richest birding areas of its size anywhere in the world.

Sikkim Mountain Valleys. Photo by Amit Singh

So, if you are an avid birder, book your Sikkim tour package and ensure to include a guide while booking to sight these feathery friends with ease.

The avifauna of Sikkim is predominantly east Himalayan with most of the Palearctic species to be found in the inaccessible regions of the far north.

Even though travel is restricted to south Sikkim, there are a number of interesting sites that can be covered for potential species in an area which receives limited attention from birders. ( In order to visit some of the inner areas of Sikkim you must have a permit).

Photo by Nashad Abdu

A visit to Gangtok

The logical first halt on any Sikkimese itinerary is the capital, Gangtok, which can only be accessed by road from Siliguri in West Bengal. Though not particularly good for birding, you have to stop in Gangtok to arrange for permits to visit Tsomgo Lake, Fambong Lo or the Yumthang region.

Between bureaucratic delays you can go birdwatching around the Tibetology Institute which has some good species like, Golden throated Barbet, Pygmy Woodpecker, Red-billed Leothrix, Common Green Magpie, White bellied Tuhina, Green backed Tit, Red-tailed Minla among others.

Common Green Magpie. Photo by Quyen LeKhac

If you are traveling to Gangtok in your own vehicle, you can stop at the state entry point at Rangpo to do some enroute birding under the Teesta bridge. Check the river for Small Pratincole, Crested Kingfisher and Ibisbill. Other notable species here are Kalij Pheasant, River Lapwing, Pin- tailed Green Pigeon, Hill Myna and Wallcreeper.

The Rumtek Monastery (1550m) is 24km from Gangtok and can be visited by hiring a taxi from the bazaar. There is some good birding to be had on the dirt roads towards Song.

Species found here include Sapphire Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Blue-winged Laughing Thrush, Maroon Oriole and Hodgson’s Redstart.

Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary

The 52 square kilometres Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary lies 25 km southwest of Gangok and covers a coniferous forest at an altitude from 1520 to 2750m.There is a rest house within the sanctuary but you need a sleeping bag and provisions to stay overnight. The alternative is to stay in Gangtok and visit Fambong Lho on day trips.

This high potential birding site has recorded Eurasian Woodcock, Collared Owlet, Bay Woodpecker, Large Niltava, Streak-breasted and Scimitar Babblers, Chestnut-Tailed Minla, Himalayan Bluetail, Brown wood owl, Silver-breasted broadbill, Hill Partridge, Green tailed sunbird and Satyr Tragopan etc.

Scimitar Babblers Photo by Quyen LeKhac

It is seriously worth visiting Tsomgo Lake (3800m) nearly 36 km from Gangtok. The Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary is situated on the route and is a great place for the state bird of Sikkim the Blood Pheasant, Himalayan Monal, Satyr Tragopan, Solitary Snipe and different species of finches and laughing thrushes.

Birding in the Yumthang region

The Yumthang region has recently been thrown open to tourists. This region of North Sikkim (3500m) throws up varieties  like Snow Partridge, Blood Pheasant, Himalayan Monal and Satyr Tragopan.

Snow partridge photo by Marc Ameels

Three kilometres north of Pelling lies the Pemayangtse Gompa, the second oldest in Sikkim. Apart from awe-inspiring views of Kanchenjunga there is a good birding path below the monastery.

Almost all the species found in Fambong Lho and Gangtok can be spotted here other than Mountain Hawk Eagle, Himalayan Griffon, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Black-faced Laughing Thrush, Brown – throated Treecreeper, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Gold-naped finch and Little Bunting etc.

Rare birds at Khecheopalri Lake

The small Khecheopalri Lake in southwest Sikkim is 28km from Pemayangtse and hosts several migrants including rarities like Black-necked Grebe, Greater Scaup and Baer’s Pochard.

The forest on the slopes of the lake have excellent birds like Speckled Wood Pigeon, Emerald Cuckoo, Blue-winged & Scaly Laughing Thrush, White-naped Yuhina and many other species seen in Pemayangtse.

Evening Grosbeak. Photo by Veronika Andrews

Yuksom is the base point for trekking in the Dzongri region and good for high altitude birds found around 4500m. Among the birds seen on the trek are Blood Pheasant, Brown Parrotbill, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Cutia, White-browed Bush Robin, Grandala, Robin and Rufous-breasted Accentors, Grosbeaks, Scarlet Finch etc.

The best time to visit Yuksom is from late October to early December and then April to June.

A treasure trove for nature and birding

Sharing its boundaries with China, Nepal, Bhutan and the Indian state of West Bengal, Sikkim is a virtual treasure trove for nature and adventure lovers. The state alone holds 30% of the bird population of the entire country. So pack your bags and head to this friendly state if you want to open the doors of the picturesque avifauna world of Sikkim.

About the Author

Jyotsna Ramani is an avid naturalist , writer and globetrotter. She loves putting pen to paper and jots down her adventures on WanderWithJo.com 

* This post may contain affiliate and commercial links.

Like this post? Check out my Top 10 destinations for birders post. You may also like my award-winning post: Saint Lucia: The birds and the baby

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