NORTHERN PAKISTAN BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Northern Pakistan: Day 1 Morning arrival at Islamabad, the clean and well-designed political capital of Pakistan, for a two nights stay. Later we shall begin our exploration of the area.
During our time at Islamabad, we shall visit two very good localities, the Margalla Hills that stretch along the northern edge of the city and Rawal Lake which is surrounded by subtropical woodland. The avifauna is mostly typical of the Indo-Gangetic plain although the foothills provide a certain montane influence.
The star attraction of the area is the uncommon and very localized White-cheeked Tit (a species now virtually endemic to northern Pakistan).
Other more widespread birds we could well see in the Islamabad area include Little Cormorant, Cinnamon Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Indian Pond Heron, Black and Black-shouldered Kites, Oriental Honey Buzzard, White-rumped Vulture, Shikra, White-eyed Buzzard, Black and Grey Francolins, White-breasted Waterhen, Spotted Dove, Rose-ringed, Slaty-headed and Plum-headed Parakeets, Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Grey-bellied and Pied (or Jacobin) Cuckoos, Asian Koel, Savanna Nightjar, Little Swift, White-throated and Pied Kingfishers, Green Bee-eater, Blue-throated and Coppersmith Barbets, Speckled Piculet, Scaly-bellied and Brown-fronted Woodpeckers, Black-rumped Flameback, Wire-tailed and Streak-throated Swallows, Grey-throated Sand Martin (split from Brown-throated), Paddyfield Pipit, White-browed Wagtail, Small Minivet, Himalayan and Red-vented Bulbuls, Indian Robin, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Grey-breasted Prinia, Rufous-fronted Prinia (a species restricted to the arid regions of the Indian subcontinent), Common Tailorbird, Grey-hooded Warbler, Blue-throated Flycatcher, White-throated Fantail, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Black-chinned, Common and Jungle Babblers, Purple Sunbird, Oriental White-eye, Long-tailed Shrike, the restricted-range Black-headed Jay, Rufous Treepie, House Crow, Brahminy Starling, Common and Bank Mynas, Chestnut-shouldered (or Yellow-throated) Sparrow and Crested Bunting. If we are fortunate we will find a roosting Rock Eagle-Owl.
Northern Pakistan: Day 2 After some early morning birding in the Islamabad area we will drive northwards into the Kaghan valley for some Western Himalayan forest birding, pausing in drier parts of the valley to look for European Roller and White-capped Bunting.
Eventually, we will reach the Kaghan valley, where we will stay for four nights at an altitude of over 2000 metres.
Northern Pakistan: Days 3-5 The Kaghan valley possesses a wide range of altitudes and habitats ranging from the valley floor at about 1500m to the high alpine slopes at over 3300m. After the heat of the plains, the cool mountains will come as a very pleasant relief.
We shall explore the forested areas for such Western Himalayan specialities as Himalayan Woodpecker, Western Crowned, Tytler’s Leaf and Brooks’s Leaf Warblers, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Variegated Laughingthrush, Rufous-naped and Spot-winged Tits, White-throated Tit, White-cheeked Nuthatch, the rare and localized Kashmir Nuthatch, Spectacled Finch and the boldly-coloured Black-and-yellow Grosbeak.
We also have an excellent chance of finding the uncommon and sometimes elusive Orange Bullfinch, which is restricted to a small area of northern Pakistan and adjacent Kashmir.
Other species we may well see in this habitat include Eurasian Woodcock, Oriental Turtle Dove, Common and Lesser Cuckoos, Collared Owlet, White-throated Needletail, Common and Alpine Swifts, Great Barbet, Eurasian Wryneck, Long-tailed Minivet, Himalayan Black Bulbul, Brown Dipper, Indian Blue Robin, Himalayan Red-flanked Bluetail (split from Northern), Golden Bush Robin, White-bellied Redstart, Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstarts, Grey Bushchat, Blue-capped and Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrushes, Blue Whistling Thrush, the restricted-range Tibetan Blackbird (split from Common), Grey-winged Blackbird, Chestnut Thrush, Spotted Forktail, Brownish-flanked and Grey-sided Bush Warblers, Striated Prinia, Large-billed Leaf, Lemon-rumped, Hume’s Leaf and Tickell’s Leaf Warblers, Dark-sided, Slaty-blue, Ultramarine and Verditer Flycatchers, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Streaked Laughingthrush, Green Shrike-Babbler, Black-throated and Green-backed Tits, Bar-tailed and Eurasian Treecreepers, Ashy Drongo, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Large-billed Crow, Russet Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Pink-browed and Himalayan White-browed Rosefinches, and Rock Bunting.
If we are lucky we will encounter Koklass Pheasant, Upland Pipit or Chestnut-eared Bunting.
We shall also ascend on jeep tracks to the high pastures, where we will have access to open areas, scrub and high altitude forest set amidst a fantastic panorama of spectacular, snow-capped peaks.
Here we may well encounter Himalayan Griffon, Oriental Cuckoo, Rosy Pipit, Rufous-breasted Accentor, the stunning White-tailed Rubythroat, Blue-capped Redstart (another Western Himalayan/Central Asian speciality), Blue-fronted Redstart, Greenish Warbler, Plain Mountain Finch and White-winged Grosbeak.
Himalayan Monal is not uncommon in the area, but very shy due to hunting, and so we will need to be lucky to enjoy views of this impressive pheasant.
Northern Pakistan: Day 6 After some final birding, we leave the Kaghan valley, crossing a high pass to the Indus valley where we join the famous Karakoram Highway. Only completed in the 1970s, this engineering feat cuts through some of the world’s most spectacular mountains and extends for 1200 kilometres, right up to Kashgar in western China. We make our overnight stop at a pleasantly situated motel on the banks of the Indus at Besham, close to the place where Alexander the Great crossed the river in 327 BC.
Northern Pakistan: Day 7 We continue driving northwards on the Karakoram Highway today, enjoying the incredible scenery and stopping in the vicinity of Chilas in a hot dry zone where we will look for Hume’s Wheatear. Other species we may find on the way include Booted Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, Alpine Swift, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Eurasian Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Variable (or Eastern Pied) Wheatear, Jungle Myna and the interesting migratory race bactrianus of the House Sparrow.
There are often spectacular views of Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world at 8126m. Eventually we will reach the town of Gilgit. Gilgit is the main market town in the ‘Northern Areas’, at the crossroads of several mountain trade routes, both ancient and modern.
Finally, we travel the short but steep and spectacular road up to the Naltar valley at 2800m for a three nights stay.
Northern Pakistan: Days 8-9 The Naltar valley is a surprisingly verdant high valley, in striking contrast to the arid Indus gorge at Gilgit. Here we will be looking in particular for the localized Long-billed Bush-Warbler, a species which is restricted to the interior zone of the Western Himalayas and which here frequents the scrub adjacent to the areas of cultivation.
Other specialities restricted to the Western Himalayas (and the mountains of Central Asia to the north) include Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Mountain Chiffchaff, Larger-spotted Nutcracker and Blyth’s Rosefinch, and amongst the attractive alpine scrub-forest we should also find Grey, Masked and Himalayan Wagtails, Black Redstart, Pied Wheatear, Mistle Thrush, Lesser Whitethroat, Severtzov’s (or White-browed) Tit-Warbler, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, Red-fronted Serin, Grey-capped Goldfinch (sometimes split from European) and Common Rosefinch.
Overhead we may see Lammergeier, while the cliffs provide a habitat for Wallcreeper and on the scree slopes we might be lucky enough to encounter some shy Himalayan Snowcocks.
Around a cool mountain lake, we can find breeding Citrine Wagtails (of the black-backed form calcarata), and we may also come across Little Forktails bobbing about on the rocks in a rushing mountain river.
Northern Pakistan: Day 10 After spending much of the day in the Naltar valley, we will return to Gilgit for an overnight stay. Around Gilgit we can expect to find Tickell’s Thrush, Eurasian Magpie and Indian Golden Oriole, with a chance of Mongolian Finch.
Northern Pakistan: Day 11 Today we set off early and head back to the Islamabad region for an overnight stay.
Northern Pakistan: Day 12 We will spend much of the day birding in the Himalayan foothills before dropping down to Islamabad for an overnight stay.
Northern Pakistan: Day 14 Our tour ends this morning at Islamabad airport.