IN June and July 1975, Rob Collister and I trekked from Matiltan, in Northern Swat, via the Katchkani An to Laspur, thence via the Shandur Pass to Gilgit, and subsequently to Chalt and the Bola Das valley. For various reasons we achieved no climbing whatever, but we did record around seventy bird species, and an account of these may be of interest to others following the fairly popular Swat-to-Gilgit trekking route.
Around Kalam and Matiltan, the Swat river and its tributaries gave us the usual range of riverside birds, including pied and grey wagtails (with young at this time of year), plumbeous and white-capped redstarts, and the violet whistling thrush. Rather more notable was a small forktail, seen in a torrent at Bahrain.
From Matiltan onwards, the wooded hillsides provided continu¬ous interest. Russet sparrows, meadow buntings, crowned willow warblers, rufous turtle doves and the occasional common rosefinch appeared on our first day out. There were woodpeckers around, but we never stopped long enough to allow a search for them.
Higher up the valley, as the trees began to thin out, a new range of birds appeared. Yellow-headed wagtails became pro¬gressively more common, on the riverside grassland and in the low scrub, until at around 12,000 feet they became the most abundant species in the valley. The Kashmir race of the black redstart became common in the more stony areas, and red-fronted serins frequently appeared in small groups. Indian black tits were seen in one of the last pine woods. In the river we saw both the brown and European (white-breasted) dippers, the latter being more common near the snow line ; we saw a pair swimming in a pool in the ice below Katchkani. A number of common sandpipers were chasing one another up and down the river; they may well have been breeding, but we saw no definite evidence of this. Both the common and the alpine chough appeared in some numbers. We saw one European cuckoo and heard several more. A flock of five snow pigeons was an attractive sighting.
Before crossing the Katchkani pass, we spent a night in a group of shepherds' huts at around 13,000 ft. Here, the river meandered through beds of dwarf willows, on the tops of which sat male yellow-headed wagtails, evenly spaced, around twenty yards apart and presumably laying claim to breeding territories.
On the stony hillsides around the snow line, we saw brown accentors, a horned lark and a dead coot, while I pleased myself by spotting the vinaceous-breastecL pipit (Anthus roseatus). One of our best sightings was of a wall-creeper on one of the heighest patches of exposed hillside.
In the Katchkani Gol on the north side of the pass, we saw a number of great rosefinches and, in the river bed, one out of place green sandpiper. Lower down, European swifts, crag martins, and house martins appeared in succession. A wren appeared briefly out of a hole in a rocky hillside.
Near Laspur, where small willows grow in the river bed, we saw and heard chiffchaffs, lesser whitethroats and a number of common rosefinches. Wheatears (black and pied) appeared in the drier areas, and we saw flocks of the plain mountain finch. Six Turkestan rock pigeons flew up from the first cultivated an areas outside Laspur.
On the grassland on the top of the Shandur pass (13,000 ft.) were many horned larks, all of the Pamir race with the black facial ring, and generally very tame. Skylarks (probably the Eastern skylark) were also abundant. A flock of small finches must have been either linnets or twites, but we saw no adult males, and were left in doubt.
The path from Shandur top descends into the Ghizar valley at a point where this is probably a mile wide, and filled with small willows. A detailed search of this area would probably be very rewarding. We merely followed the trail, but were rewarded with a bluethroat (white-spotted), Himalayan gold¬finches, and many more chiff chaffs.
From Teru, we travelled by jeep to Gilgit, and subsequently on to Chalt, on what must be one of the more exciting public trans¬port routes of the world, Bird watching was limited to frequent sightings of golden orioles and hoopoes in the cultivated areas.
Above Chalt, I recorded a white-capped bunting in the open Holds, and a scaly-bellied green woodpecker on a rocky hillside. Higher up the valley, the "enormous vultures" recorded over the Baltar glacier by one previous climbing expedition were definitely not in evidence; however, we added Tickell's leaf warbler to our lit, seeing a number of them among the chiff chaffs in the willows, I saw a number of other Phylloscopus warblers which fitted neither of these species but never in enough detail to permit identification.
One of the disappointing features of our trip was the scarcity of birds of prey ; occasional kestrels were the only common laptops seen. In Gilgit, just before my departure we saw a European hobby on the air-field and also a light-phase booted eagle. Three vultures, seen high over Chalt, could have been white backed or Himalayan griffons.
My final, and perhaps one of our more unusual sightings, was of a gull-billed tern hawking insects over Gilgit airport.
In terms of the variety of species seen, the upper Swat valley seemed markedly richer in bird life than the Laspur area, Ghizar II vnlloy or the lower Hunza valley. However the drier, less vegetated Ghizar and Hunza valleys yielded several birds which we did not see at all in Swat, notably the wheatears and willow-warblers.
43. Climbers on the ridge between Kotzag An and shakhaur. Article page 115
44. Kohe Nadir Shah from the ridge between it and Shakhaur. Article page 114
Photos: Marian Bala
Photo: Marian Bala
45. Bivauac 4 on the ridge joining Shakhaur and Nadir Shah. Article page 115.
46. Kohe Keshnikhan 6745 m. from the summit of Shakhaur. Article page 115.
Photo: Marian Bala
47. Annapurna South Peak 7220 m. South west ridge (left) and South wall. Note page 149.
48. Annapurna South Peak. South west ridge from the Snow Peak 5650 m. Note page 149
49. West ridge of Churen Himal from Camp 2. Note page 152.
50. The West Summit __ Churen Himal. Note page 152
51. lhotse from the south. Note page 147.
Photo: David Hambly
52. Changabang, Kalanka, Hardeol and Rishi Pahar from 18,700 on Trisul. Note page 154.
Photo: David Hambly
53. Mountains on the northern part of Nanda Devi Outer Sanctuary and beyond, including Dhunagiri, Chungabang, Kalanka, Trisuli, Hardeol, Rishi Pahar; from about 22,000 ft. on Trisul. Note page 154.
54. On the summit of Trisuli 23, 360 ft Nanda Devi on left background, with Devistan I and II in the foreground. Note page 154.
55. Dunagiri. Note page 155.
Photo: Joe Tasker
Photo: Dorothy Brown.
56. On Milang glacier. M6 in the background. Note page 156.
57. On Milang glacier at about 17, 500 ft . on way to Camp 2. Note page 156.
Photo: Dorothy Brown.
58. Noshaq 7492 m. the highest mountain in Afghanistan from Kharposhthe Yakhi. Route followed western spur on right edge of the glacier flank that falls 2700 m. from the summit ridge to the screen cover Qazi Deh glacier. The ridges gently to the highest point on the left. Darban Zom 7219 m. in background. Note page 161
59. Camp 2 6300 m. on Nosjaq, with Kharposhte Yakhi 5698 m. and its Poland glacier. Note page 161