A blue whistling thrush (Myophonus caeruleus) welcomed me with a long piercing note near Manebhanjan, the gateway to West Bengal’s Singalila National Park. Little did I know that an assortment of thrushes and other birds would give me company over my five-day stay at this high-altitude park in the Darjeeling district.
Alpine thrushes (Zoothera mollissima) hopped ahead of me on the cobbled road to Sandakphu, the highest peak in West Bengal, flying away only when I was too close for comfort. Himalayan vultures (Gyps himalayensis) whizzed overhead like fighter planes in formation. Spotted, black-faced and chestnut-crowned laughingthrushes often revealed themselves in the dense forest undergrowth. Satyr tragopans (Tragopan satyra) announced their presence in the steep valleys by their nasal wailing “wah waah oo-ah oo-aaaaa” calls.
Yellow-billed blue magpies (Urocissa flavirostris) made their ubiquitous presence felt throughout my stay at the park. Often, one would join its comrade to fly away together, their long blue tails hanging like streamers behind them. Their corvid cousins, large-billed crows (Corvus macrorhynchos) and common ravens (Corvus corax) were more adventurous in flight. They’d soar on the mountain winds, then suddenly dive-bomb towards the ground, and pull out of the risky manoeuvre at the very last moment with an air of nonchalance.
Singalila holds many delightful surprises of the feathered kind. More than 350 species of birds have been recorded at this 78-sq-km national park. The flowering of rhododendrons during March-April attract many birds such as the fire-tailed myzornis (Myzornis pyrrhoura, above). During the winter, many birds migrate to lower altitudes to escape the cold and search for food.
Wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee, who has made more than 20 trips to Singalila, says, “I visited the park for the first time in 1994. In fact, my tryst with the great outdoors began in Singalila”. He shares a collection of his photographs from the park he’s made over the years.