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SNOW LEOPARD SPECIAL: LADAKH

Friday 1st March - Monday 18th March 2019

MIKE WATSON

A wonderful view of Pallas's Cat on the Tibetan Plateau Extension rather overshadowed the tour title this time (Image by Mike Watson)

A wonderful view of Pallas's Cat on the Tibetan Plateau Extension rather overshadowed the tour title this time (Image by Mike Watson)

Our seventh visit to the mountains of Ladakh in search of Snow Leopards was happily another success and resulted in three sightings of the same mating pair opposite our campsite over the course of four days. Although these sightings were all beyond reasonable DSLR range it was still a privilege to spend time with one of the most elusive of cats. However, the ultimate highlight for most of us came later, on the Tibetan Plateau Extension in the form of a wonderful view of a Pallas’s Cat, an even more elusive creature in Ladakh than Snow Leopard! To put this into perspective, our local guide Jigmet Dadul has now seen Snow Leopard more than 300 times but this was only his second Pallas’s Cat!

Other mammalian highlights included: Grey (or Tibetan) Wolf; Siberian Ibex; Urial, Ladakh’s endemic ‘red sheep’; abundant Blue Sheep (or Bharal), the Snow Leopard’s favourite prey, as well as other hardy alpine inhabitants such as Woolly Hare, a very co-operative Large-eared Pika and (Tibetan) Red Fox. The Tibetan Plateau Extension added Argali (the world’s largest sheep) and Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass). Billed as a joint Birdquest/Wild Images tour, our birders were happy with a good selection of Himalayan specialities among the 68 species recorded, including: Himalayan Snowcock, Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Ibisbill, Solitary Snipe, Hill and Snow Pigeons, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Red-billed and Alpine Choughs, White-browed Tit-Warbler, Wallcreeper, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Brown Dipper, Robin and Brown Accentors, Brandt’s Mountain Finch, Streaked and Great Rosefinches, White-winged Grosbeak and Twite on the main tour. We also added a new species to the Birdquest list for this itinerary, Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch. The Tibetan Plateau Extension added the Tibetan trio of Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Snowcock and bonkers-close views of Tibetan Sandgrouse as well as lots of Blanford’s Snowfinches and the amazing Ground Tit (or Groundpecker). Mongolian Finch was another ‘write in’. As if all this was not enough, Ladakh’s jaw-dropping high altitude mountain desert scenery took our breath away (as well as the lack of oxygen up there!) and once again the truly delightful Ladakhis themselves made our stay another once-in-a-lifetime pleasant experience for our group. They remain my nomination for the title ‘nicest people in the world’!

We also enjoyed some walkaway views of Tibetan Sandgrouse on the Tibetan Plateau (Image by Mike Watson)

We also enjoyed some walkaway views of Tibetan Sandgrouse on the Tibetan Plateau (Image by Mike Watson)