Monday, 28 March 2016

Quest for the Snow Leopard - part 2

We had made it to Hemis National Park the home of the Snow Leopard an animal so rare that less than 500 people have ever seen it. And there would be no guarantee's when you look at the endless snow covered mountains that stretch out before us. We passed a group of people on our way up and of course had to ask if they had seen "the Grey Ghost". They had actually seen 1 Snow Leopard at a distance of 3 km and they were not convinced it wasn't a rock!
We had been in camp for just 45 minutes and were just blowing up our mattresses in the tents when a shout went out that there was a Snow Leopard spotted from the nearby lookout. Even though we were told not to run because of the thin air and high altitude, how could you not run! So we were at the lookout in seconds and frantically trying to get directions so we could train our scopes on the mythical beast. Heavy breathing and scopes set up we were soon watching a fabulous Snow Leopard sat on a rock face about one third of a mile away. In the scopes it was fantastic and close enough you could see all its face and superb markings. Oh I thought, we should try and get some sort of photo in between watching so I attached my iPhone to the scope but found it was too shaky. I pressed record and let go of the phone to get a few seconds of shake less video and a great memory for all of us. I will try and add this video later! Meanwhile here is a still from it.
Snow Leopard sat for about 10 minutes
then it got up and made its way down the rocky mountain
Remember this was using my phone through a scope at a third of a mile!
Elated with this sighting which lasted 20 minutes or more we returned triumphant and out of breath back to camp. Little was we to know that our first night under canvas was to be the coldest day of the year and at least minus 25 degrees. In hindsight we could have climbed the mountain, got to camp seen the Snow Leopard and then gone back down the mountain to a nice warm hotel all in one day!!
The next day and we searched all the mountain tops where we found plenty of the Leopards food the Blue Sheep.
More Blue Sheep
On day three we got to see a fabulous Eurasian Lynx which was too distant for photos but we watched it sat for nearly an hour before it slowly set off in hunting mode!
The Lynx valley as we nicknamed it was simply a fantastically scenic area
And here we saw plenty of Lammergeiers, Red-fronted Serins, Tibetan Snowfinch, Brandt's Mountain Finch and a very nice group of Tibetan Partridges.
Within a few days the snow had melted and trying to spot any animals on the rocky mountains was proving near impossible.
The camp looked so different without the snow and it was slightly warmer too.
Lammergeiers we still being seen every day and we found footprints and scat from Tibetan Wolf, Red Fox, Pikas and even Snow Leopard. Himalyan Snowcocks were also seen just about every day, we also had an Indian Eagle Owl perched on the rocks near our camp one evening and amongst the rocks we watched Royale's Pikas scurrying around.
immature Lammergeier
Himalayan Snowcock flying over camp
Royale's Pika
Finally the day had come to leave this beautiful scenery behind and head back to the comfort of Leh.
The weather at night was uncomfortably cold, but during the day it was actually pleasant and even warm especially with all the jackets and mountain clothing we had on. What made the trip so special was the local guides and crew we had. Nothing was too much trouble, they would bring hot soup and drinks, plus a cooked lunch to us even though we had walked 4 hours from camp. Slowly though so we were probably only 1 - 3 km from camp. The food was unbelievably good and they catered for our western tastes with Pizza, Roast Chicken, Chips, vegetables, pies, soups, deserts and can you believe that all this is cooked on one large gas burner. Just look at this Apple Pie.
Here our crew and spotters. We had the very best Snow Leopard spotters. Kenrab and his team are also used by the BBC as they are so good!
Finally back at Leh we had a little more birding before heading to our next destination. Searching the river edges we eventually found this Solitary Snipe.
As well as this we also had great views of Mountain Weasel
After a day in the lovely warm Lotus Hotel Leh we set off on the next part of our Journey to the Ulley Valley.
See post - Quest for Snow Leopards part 3

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