Himalayan animals

 

 

The ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) is a very common breeding bird on the Tibetan Plateau. This bird was observed in Lake Longapunga Tso, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This male alpine musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) is enjoying his meal of old-man’s-beard lichens (Usnea), which have fallen to the ground in the forest below the Tengboche Monastery, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The red-spotted agama (Paralaudakia himalayana) is very common in Ladakh. This one is sitting on a stone wall in the town of Leh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This strange creature is a nymph of Phromnia marginella, a planthopper of the family Flatidae. Nymphs of this genus secrete a white, fluffy substance, which causes their enemies not to eat them. – Mitlung, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

This page deals with a selection of Himalayan animals, which I have encountered during my travels. They are divided into sections on mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies and moths, other invertebrates, and slime mold. In each section, families, genera, and species are presented in alphabetical order.

As is obvious from the pictures, I prefer to depict animals in their natural surroundings, or studies of their behavior, rather than taking close-ups, which I find rather boring.

 

 

The word Himalaya is from the Sanskrit hima (‘snow’) and alaya (‘abode’), thus ‘The Abode of Snow’. The Himalaya consists of a long arch of gigantic mountains, stretching from northern Pakistan southeast to the northern tip of Myanmar – a distance of more than 2,500 km. In these mountains are the Earth’s largest concentration of very high peaks, fourteen of which reach an altitude of more than 8,000 m, whereas hundreds are more than 7,000 m high. (For comparison, the highest mountain outside Central Asia, Aconcagua in Argentina, is a mere 6,962 m.)

The borders of the Himalaya are not well defined. To the northwest, the Karakoram Mountains (which some authorities consider a part of the Himalaya, others do not) merge into the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains. To the north and northeast, several mountain chains in Ladakh, Tibet, and China are a continuation of the Himalaya proper.

As a result of the great span in altitude and precipitation – besides various other factors such as micro-climate and soil composition – flora and fauna of the Himalaya are indeed diverse. In these mountains, two bio-geographical regions meet. In most areas, flora and fauna from the Indo-Malayan Region, which includes the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, dominate, but in northern Pakistan, Kashmir, Ladakh, and in areas of far northern Nepal and Bhutan at altitudes above c. 3,500 m, there is a large element of species from the Palaearctic Region, which includes Central and West Asia.

When the monsoon has passed over the Himalaya from the south, almost all its humidity has already fallen as rain. Thus, the Tibetan Plateau north of the mountains receives very little rainfall. In many places, the annual mean precipitation is less than 100 mm, most of which falls as snow in the winter. For this reason, the major part of the landscape is dry and rather barren, with lush and green areas mainly found along rivers and around the numerous lakes of the region.

On this page, Tibet (called Xizang by the Chinese), Qinghai, and Sinkiang (called Xinjiang by the Chinese) are treated as separate areas. The term ‘western China’ indicates Chinese territories just east of Tibet and Qinghai. The term ‘south-western China’ encompasses the provinces Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan.

 

 

Mammals

 

Bovidae
This large family, comprising about 47 genera and c. 143 species, are cloven-hoofed, ruminant animals, including cattle, antelopes, sheep, goats, and many others.

 

Capra Goats
This genus contains about 9 species, including the domestic goat and several species of ibex. The domestic goat is presented in depth on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.

 

Capra sibirica Siberian ibex
In former times, this goat was treated as a subspecies of the Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), and whether it is specifically distinct from other ibex is still not entirely clear. Traditionally, 4 subspecies have been recognized, but some authorities regard it as monotypic. In the Himalaya, subspecies sakeen occurs in Pakistan and north-western India, and it is also found in Afghanistan and the Pamir Mountains.

The Siberian ibex is a heavily built animal. Males measure 90-110 cm across the shoulder, weighing 60-130 kg, with horns typically about 115 cm long, although a length up to 148 cm has been recorded. Females are smaller, measuring 70-90 cm across the shoulder, weighing 35-56 kg, with horns measuring an average of 27 cm long. Both sexes also possess a scent gland beneath the tail. Their greyish coat is well suited for camouflage in mountains with low or no vegetation.

 

The picture below is from the Hadimba Temple in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, north-western India. This interesting Hindu temple is adorned with various items, including ringed horns of Siberian ibex, smooth horns of bharal (Pseudois nayaur, see below), and antlers of Kashmir stag (Cervus canadensis ssp. hanglu). The history behind the temple is described on the page Religion: Hinduism.

 

 

(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Near Saspol, Ladakh, many of the boulders, which lie helter-skelter in the desert, are covered in petroglyphs, depicting various items, including ibex, hunters, birds, and stupas – artwork by an unknown people and of unknown age. The black surface on these boulders is called desert varnish. It consists of a thin layer of manganese and clay, formed through thousands of years by bacteria, living on the rock surface. These bacteria absorb small amounts of manganese from the atmosphere and deposit it on the boulders. The petroglyphs have been made by scraping off this ‘varnish’ from parts of the surface.

 

 

(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hemitragus jemlahicus Himalayan tahr
This animal, the sole member of the genus, is widely distributed in the temperate zone of the Himalaya, found from Kashmir eastwards to Sikkim and extreme south-eastern Tibet, in summer encountered up to an elevation of 5,200 m, in winter sometimes descending to about 1,500 m. The population is declining due to hunting and habitat loss.

Elsewhere, this species has been introduced as a hunting object, including New Zealand, Argentina, and South Africa. In these countries numbers of tahrs have exploded, as they have no natural enemies here, and they have become a serious threat to the local environment through overgrazing.

In 1826, English artist, naturalist, antiquary, illustrator, soldier, and spy, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hamilton Smith (1776-1859) named this animal Capra jemlahica, meaning ‘the goat from Himalaya’. However, in 1841, the outstanding British naturalist and ethnologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894) renamed it Hemitragus jemlahicus, derived from Ancient Greek hemi (‘half’) and tragos (‘goat’), thus ‘goat-like’. Apparently, he found that this animal was not really a goat. Today, however, genetic research has revealed that it is in fact a goat.

A stunning encounter with this animal is related on the page Travel episodes – India 2008: Mountain goats and frozen flowers.

 

 

Himalayan tahrs, grazing in the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal, where this species is common. The animals are not harmed by the local Buddhist Sherpas. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Naemorhedus Gorals
A genus with 4 species of small, stocky, goat-like animals, distributed in Central Asia. Goral is the Hindi name of these animals, probably of Sanskrit origin. The generic name is explained below.

 

Naemorhedus goral Himalayan goral
This species is usually 1-1.3 m long, weighing 35-42 kg, with short, curved horns. It is found along the Himalaya, from Pakistan eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh, mostly living on the lower slopes, at elevations between 1,000 and 3,000 m. The population is declining significantly due to habitat loss and hunting.

In 1825, English soldier and naturalist, Major-General Thomas Hardwicke (1755-1835) named this animal Antilope goral. Apparently, he found that it resembled an antelope, presumably due to its small size. Only two years later, Hamilton Smith (see tahr above) renamed it Naemorhedus, derived from the Latin nemus (‘forest’) and haedus (‘a young goat’). Later research has shown that it is neither a true antelope or a true goat, but a member of the so-called goat-antelopes, which have traits from both groups. Other goat-antelopes are the Asian serow (Capricornis), the European chamois (Rupicapra), and the American mountain goat (Oreamnos).

Incidentally, Smith made two spelling mistakes in the name Naemorhedus. It ought to be Nemorhaedus. However, according to the rules of nomenclature, we must stick to the former spelling.

 

 

Himalayan goral in its typical habitat: grassy slopes, interspersed with rocks and taller vegetation. Amjilassa, Lower Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This picture from Delhi Zoo shows the stockiness of the goral. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pseudois nayaur Bharal, Himalayan blue sheep, Chinese blue sheep
The adult ram is a splendid animal, weighing up to 75 kilos, with thick, sweeping horns that may grow to a length of 80 cm. The coat is grey with a bluish sheen (hence its English name), with black markings on chest, flanks, and legs. Ewes and young males are more uniformly grey. The horns of females are small, growing to 20 cm long.

This species is widely distributed in Central Asia, from Ladakh, the northern Himalaya, and the Yunnan Province northwards across Tibet to Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia. The Helan Mountains of Ningxia have the highest concentration of bharal in the world, with a population of about 30,000. It is also quite common in parts of the Himalaya, including Ladakh, Dolpo, and the border area between Nepal and Sikkim.

Bharal is the Hindi name of this animal, whereas the Nepali name naur has given rise to the specific name. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek pseudes (‘false’) and ois (‘sheep’), alluding to the fact that the animal is sheep-like, but also has traits from goats.

The bharal was the main focus of an expedition to the Dolpo area of Nepal in 1973, led by American zoologist George Schaller (born 1933). He was accompanied by the famous American writer and environmentalist Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014). Their personal experiences are well documented in Schaller’s book Stones of Silence (1980), and Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard (1978).

Today, the bharal is considered the only member of the genus. For many years, it was assumed that an animal living in eastern Tibet and the Sichuan Province was a distinct species, called dwarf blue sheep or dwarf bharal (Pseudois schaeferi). However, genetic research has shown that it is a mere dwarf form of the common bharal.

 

 

Bharals, illuminated by morning sun, Trisul Nala, Nanda Devi National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bharals, grazing in a semi-desert near Niki La Pass, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bharals, Lhonak, Upper Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

My guide Karma Tsering, showing the sweeping horns of a bharal, Ulley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Cercopithecidae Old World monkeys
This large family, comprising 24 genera and about 140 species, is widely distributed in Africa and Asia. Members include baboons, macaques, colobus monkeys, langurs, and many others. Langurs are leaf-eating monkeys, comprising 8 genera with about 40 extant species. Two of these genera are dealt with here, Semnopithecus (typical langurs) and Trachypithecus (lutungs).

On the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes, many other members of the family are described.

 

Macaca Macaques
The number of species in this genus has been growing steadily in later years to 23, as two new species have recently been described.

The generic name stems from the word makaku, plural of kaku, a West African Bantu name for a species of mangabey. In Portuguese, makaku became macaco, and in French macaque, the latter adopted by the British. In 1798, French taxonomist Bernard Germain de Lacépède (1756-1825) applied this word of African origin, in the form Macaca, to an almost exclusively Asian group of monkeys, presumably because he was familiar with the Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) – the only species of the group outside Asia, living in north-western Africa and on the Rock of Gibraltar, southern Spain. (Source: itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003458.html)

 

Macaca mulatta Rhesus monkey
The well-known brown monkey of India, in Hindi called bandar, is found almost everywhere in the country north of the rivers Tapti in Gujarat and Godavari in Maharashtra. The total distribution area is from Afghanistan eastwards through Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos to Vietnam, and thence northwards to central China.

The rhesus monkey has become well-known through its usage in medical research, which detected the rhesus factor, an inherited antigen in the blood of humans. Its fur is mainly brown, with an orange tinge on the hind parts, and the tail is rather short, 20-30 cm. This monkey lives in very diverse habitats, from semi-desert via various forest types to temple groves and cities, from the lowland up to about 2,500 m altitude.

Due to the great deeds, performed by the monkey army in the great Hindu epic Ramayana, monkeys are regarded as sacred animals among Hindus, and troops of monkeys often live around temples, where part of their diet consists of rice, sweets, or other edibles, brought as offerings by devout Hindus.

One such temple is Pashupatinath, a Hindu temple on the shores of the Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal. Another temple with many rhesus monkeys is the great Buddhist stupa Swayambhunath, likewise in Kathmandu, which also contains Hindu shrines. At least two troops of rhesus monkeys live in the forest around this stupa.

The role of monkeys in Ramayana is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes.

 

 

Rhesus monkeys, resting on a chorten (a Tibetan Buddhist shrine, similar to a stupa), Swayambhunath, Kathmandu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This rhesus monkey is sitting on a huge vajra, or dorje (‘thunderbolt’), which symbolizes the male aspect of the spirit. Small vajras are held during Buddhist invocations and prayers. – Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This female and her young are feeding on rice grain, presented as offerings at Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female rhesus monkeys are affectionate mothers. These were photographed at Swayambhunath. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This mother and young are sitting in front of a sculpture at Swayambhunath, depicting a meditating Buddha and an elephant. The elephant plays a significant role in Buddhist mythology. Legend has it that on the night of his conception, Siddharta’s mother, Queen Maya, dreamed that an elephant had placed a lotus flower in her womb. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Copulating rhesus monkeys, Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rhesus monkeys spend a considerable time grooming. – Pashupatinath, Kathmandu. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The rhesus monkeys at Swayambhunath and Pashupatinath have become very bold and daring. This one has grabbed a carton, containing orange juice, from a tourist. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This rhesus monkey is enjoying the morning sun, sprawled on a tree branch, where it spent the previous night, Uttarkashi, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The behind of rhesus monkeys is reddish with two bare patches of skin that the animal sits on. – Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Semnopithecus Typical langurs
Today, this genus contains 8 species, all restricted to the Indian Subcontinent. In the past, all grey langurs living here were regarded as belonging to a single species, Semnopithecus entellus, divided into six subspecies. However, recent morphological studies, combined with DNA-analyses, have revealed that the grey langurs should be regarded as 6 full species: northern plains langur (S. entellus), terai langur (S. hector), Nepal langur (S. schistaceus), Kashmir langur (S. ajax), black-footed langur (S. hypoleucos), and tufted langur (S. priam). A seventh species, dussumieri, has been declared void.

The generic name is from the Greek semnos (‘sacred’) and pithekos (‘monkey’), alluding to the sanctity of monkeys to Hindus. The role of the langur in the great Hindu epic Ramayana is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes.

 

Semnopithecus hector Terai langur
This species is found in the Himalayan foothills, up to an altitude of c. 1,600 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western Bhutan. It mainly lives in forests, occasionally feeding in orchards and fields with crops. Its fur is thicker than that of the northern plains langur, but not as rich as that of the Nepal langur (below).

The total number of terai langurs is probably only about 10,000 mature individuals, and the population is slowly declining, mainly due to habitat loss.

 

During an excursion with my Indian friend Ajai Saxena to the area around Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, we had company of a couple of terai langurs, which took their seat on the roof of our car. Presumably, many car drivers feed these monkeys, but as we oppose the habit of feeding wild animals, we didn’t give them anything, and shortly after they disappeared, jumping into the trees.

 

 

(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Semnopithecus schistaceus Nepal langur, pale-armed langur
This species is easily identified by its luxurious, pale grey fur and the large white ruff around its jet-black face. It has a wide distribution at mid-elevations in the Himalaya, mostly between 1,500 and 3,500 m, but occasionally up to 4,000 m, from Pakistan through India and Nepal to Bhutan and extreme south-eastern Tibet.

This monkey mainly lives in lush monsoon forests, occasionally found in scrubland and agricultural areas. It is quite common, and the population is fairly stable. Threats include habitat loss through logging, fire, and human encroachment, and it is hunted in Tibet for usage in traditional medicine.

 

 

Nepal langurs, resting on a stone wall, Kuldi Ghar, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male Nepal langur, resting in a tree, Tadapani, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

These Nepal langurs were photographed near Lake Dodi Tal, Upper Asi Ganga Valley, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. The one in the lower picture is feeding on buds and flowers of Viburnum grandiflorum. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Troop of Nepal langurs, eating soil to obtain minerals, Banthanti, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Trachypithecus Lutungs
This genus, encompassing 15 species, is distributed from Bhutan and north-eastern India eastwards to the southernmost parts of China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to the Indonesian islands Java, Bali, and Lombok.

The generic name is derived from the Greek trach (‘rough’) and pithekos (‘monkey’), referring to the dense fur of some species in the genus.

 

Trachypithecus geei Golden langur
This species occurs only in Bhutan and adjacent parts of Assam, between the rivers Manas in the east and Sankosh in the west. It lives in forests along the foothills of the Himalaya up to about 3,000 m altitude.

The total known range of this langur is less than 30,000 km2, and much of it is not suitable habitat. The estimated population is less than 1,200 individuals in India and around 4,000 in Bhutan. It has declined by more than 30% in the last 30 years and is expected to decline further due to habitat loss. The population in India is highly fragmented, with the southern population completely separated from northern populations due to the effects of human activities.

The population in Manas National Park, Assam, is threatened by hybridization with a close relative, the capped langur (Trachypithecus pileatus). Formerly, these two species were separated by rivers, but a number of constructed bridges has now made it easy for them to cross these rivers.

The golden langur was described as late as 1956, but was known much earlier by naturalists. The story behind its discovery is found on the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes.

 

 

Golden langur, Manas National Park, Assam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Cricetidae Voles and allies
This huge family of small to medium-sized rodents includes voles, lemmings, hamsters, and New World rats and mice, counting about 112 genera and 600 species. They are distributed in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

 

Alticola
A small Asian genus of voles, counting about 12 species.

 

Alticola stoliczkanus Stoliczka’s mountain vole
This vole lives in high altitude desert areas in Tibet and in the northern outskirts of the Himalaya in Pakistan, India, and Nepal.

The specific name was given in honour of Ferdinand Stoliczka (1838-1874), a Czech palaeontologist, geologist, and zoologist, who mainly worked in India. He died of altitude sickness during an expedition to the Karakoram Mountains.

 

 

Stoliczka’s mountain voles live in burrows. – Tso Kar, Ladakh (upper 2), and Shigatse, Tibet. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Stoliczka’s mountain vole, basking in the sun outside its burrow, Shigatse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This one is stretching out on a patch of bare, salt-encrusted soil to suck up the warmth from the morning sun. – Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Equidae Horses and asses
In prehistoric times, no less than about 40 genera of this family existed, but all except one have gone extinct. Today, the surviving genus Equus contains 7 species, distributed across Africa and Asia. The European tarpan (Equus ferus) went extinct as late as 1909. You may read more about this animal and its close relative, Przevalski’s horse (E. ferus ssp. przewalskii), as well as the domestic horse, on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.

 

Equus kiang Tibetan ass, kiang
In the past, this wild ass was found in large herds on the Tibetan Plateau. Thubten Jigme Norbu (1922-2008), elder brother of the Dalai Lama, says: “We would often see kyangs by the thousand spread over the hillsides and looking inquisitively at our caravan; sometimes they would even surround us, though keeping at some distance.” (Source: Tibet is My Country: Autobiography of Thubten Jigme Norbu. Wisdom Publications, London, 1960, new ed. 1986)

The populations have decreased alarmingly in later years due to competition from huge flocks of grazing sheep and goats, and uncontrolled hunting, and today only scattered herds are found on the Tibetan Plateau, from the northern outskirts of the Himalaya and Ladakh northwards to the Kunlun Mountains. Thus, almost the entire population is in Chinese territories, with about 2,500-3,000 individuals in Ladakh and Sikkim, and very few along the northern border of Nepal.

The specific name is the Tibetan name of the animal.

 

 

Tibetan ass, Puga Marshes, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Tibetan asses, Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Felidae Cats
Following genetic studies, this family is today divided in two subfamilies, Pantherinae with 5 large species in the genus Panthera and 2 smaller in the genus Neofelis, and Felinae, encompassing the remaining 34 species, divided into 10 genera. Cats live on all continents with the exception of Australia and Antarctica.

 

Panthera uncia Snow leopard
This large and elusive cat lives in mountains of Central Asia, at elevations between 3,000 and 4,500 m, from southern Siberia, Sinkiang, and Mongolia southwards across the Tibatan Plateau to eastern Afghanistan and the Himalaya. In many places, it has been hunted to extinction because of its rich and beautiful fur, and today the global population is estimated at less than 10,000 individuals. This number is expected to decline about 10% by 2040. It is also threatened by habitat destruction.

In Buddhist areas like Ladakh, Sikkim, and Bhutan, and the Khumbu and Dolpo regions in Nepal, hunting is banned, and this rare cat here has safe havens, where it can prey on species like bharal (Pseudois nayaur), urial (Ovis vignei), Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus), and alpine musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster).

For many years, the snow leopard was regarded as the sole member of the genus Uncia. However, genetic research has revealed that it is closely related to members of the genus Panthera (tiger, leopard, jaguar, and lion).

 

 

These pugmarks in the snow signify that a snow leopard passed here the previous night, Jarsang Khola Valley, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Moschidae Musk deer
Although deer-like, musk deer constitute a separate family, which is not closely related to deer (Cervidae). They are small animals, reaching a maximum weight of c. 17 kg. The family was abundant across Eurasia and North America about 10-20 million years ago, but all genera except one have since died out. Today, only the genus Moschus remains, comprising 7 species, distributed in Central Asia, Siberia, and China.

The male possesses long canines, used during territorial fights with other males. He also has a musk gland, with which he marks his territory. This gland has been utilized in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for more than 5,000 years. It is estimated that musk is currently being used in as many as 400 Chinese and Korean traditional remedies, employed in treatment of disorders of the nervous system, blood circulation, heart, and lungs. The musk is also reported to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-histaminic, stimulating, and sedative properties. In India, it has been used as an aphrodisiac for thousands of years.

In 747, armies of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the First Tibetan Empire, ruled by Songtsan Gampo (c. 604-650), clashed on the banks of the famous Oxus River, now called Amu Darya, in what is today the Wakhan Corridor of north-eastern Afghanistan. The outcome of this battle would decide, which empire was in control of the route, leading through the Kingdom of Bolor, and over the Darkot Pass (4703 m) into the Indus Valley – an important branch on the ancient trading route of Central Asia, the Silk Road. Who controlled this pass, controlled the export of musk glands from the north-western part of the Indian Subcontinent – a commodity, which was worth 30 times its weight in silver. Incidentally, the Chinese army won the battle.

The musk has also been widely used in the perfume industry for thousands of years.

Several musk deer species are severely threatened due to excessive hunting of the males. According to TRAFFIC, which is monitoring international wildlife trade, and WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature), 17,000-20,000 musk deer males are killed annually, in Russia alone, to supply the illegal trade in glands. (Source: National Geographic News, 2004)

 

Moschus chrysogaster Alpine musk deer
Divided into two subspecies, this animal is distributed from the Himalaya and southern Tibet eastwards to western China. In Chinese territories, it has become an endangered species due to illegal hunting and habitat loss.

In many parts of the Himalaya, where Buddhism is the dominating religion, populations are stable, as killing of animals is banned in these areas. One such area is the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal, where this animal is fairly common and rather confiding, as the local Buddhist Sherpas do not harm any wild animals.

 

 

Male alpine musk deer, resting in the forest near the Buddhist Tengboche Monastery, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This male alpine musk deer is enjoying his meal of old-man’s-beard lichens (Usnea), which have fallen to the ground in the forest below the Tengboche Monastery. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male alpine musk deer, searching for food in a potato field, Kyangjuma, Khumbu. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Mustelidae
This family of small to medium-sized carnivores, comprising 25 genera with about 60 species, includes weasels, martens, badgers, otters, and many others.

 

Mustela Weasels and allies
This genus includes 17 species of small carnivores, including weasels, stoats, and ferrets.

 

Mustela sibirica Siberian weasel
This is the largest among the 5 species of weasel found in the Himalaya, males reaching a length up to 40 cm. It is widely distributed, from the Ural Mountains eastwards across the taiga belt to the Pacific coast, and thence southwards through China to the eastern half of the Himalaya. It is rust-coloured, with a black face and a white chin.

 

 

As I was resting near a small stream in the Annapurna Sanctuary, Upper Modi Khola Valley, central Nepal, a Siberian weasel came tearing along the bank, stopped for a few seconds to investigate me, and then disappeared like lightning. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Ochotonidae

 

Ochotona Pikas, mouse-hares
These small, rodent-like animals, comprising the sole genus in the family, are in fact relatives of rabbits and hares. About 30 species exist, almost all occurring in the eastern half of subarctic and temperate Asia, with 2 species in North America.

They mainly live in rocky or grassy ares, where they either dig a burrow or live in crevices among rocks and scree. During the summer months, pikas collect large amounts of grass and other plants to store as winter food, as they do not hibernate.

The generic name is probably derived from the Mongolian word for these animals, ogdoi, whereas the name pika is derived from the Tungus name piika.

 

Ochotona ladacensis Ladakh pika
As its name implies, this species is common in Ladakh, and is otherwise widely distributed across the Tibetan Plateau, from Sinkiang and Qinghai southwards to Pakistan and north-western India, at elevations between 4,300 and 5,500 m. The fur is grey or brown, or a mixture of the two.

 

 

Ladakh pika among lichen-encrusted rocks, Nimaling, Upper Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Ochotona macrotis Large-eared pika
This animal is found in montane areas, from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Sinkiang southwards to Afghanistan, northen Pakistan, north-western India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and eastwards to the Qinghai and Yunnan Provinces. It lives in crevices among rocks and scree.

 

 

Large-eared pika, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. In the bottom picture, it is feeding on leaves and flowers of Spongiocarpella purpurea (Fabaceae). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Ochotona roylii Royle’s pika
This species is the commonest and most widespread Himalayan pika, distributed from Kashmir eastwards to northern Myanmar and the Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces. Like the previous species, it arranges its nest among boulders, but generally lives at lower altitudes in forested areas.

The specific name was given in honour of British surgeon and naturalist John Forbes Royle (1798-1858), who is chiefly known for his works Illustrations of the Botany and other branches of Natural History of the Himalayan Mountains, and Flora of Cashmere.

 

 

Royle’s pika, Bhaniakund, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Royle’s pika, Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. In the lower picture, it is eating leaves of Nepalese pinkweed (Polygonum nepalense). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Royle’s pika, Dodi Tal, Upper Asi Ganga Valley, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Pteropodidae Fruit bats
This large family includes about 46 genera and c. 180 species, occurring in Africa, Asia, and Australia, and on most islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The family contains the largest bat species, some having a wingspan up to 1.7 m and a weight up to 1.6 kg.

 

Pteropus Flying foxes
As the common name indicates, the head of members of this genus resembles that of a fox. They are distributed in tropical and subtropical areas of eastern Africa, Asia, and Australia, and on some islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Counting between 54 and 60 members, the genus is the largest in the family.

 

Pteropus medius Indian flying fox
This species, previously known as P. giganteus, is distributed throughout the Indian Subcontinent, from eastern Pakistan eastwards to western Myanmar, and from the lower Himalaya southwards to Sri Lanka. It is one of the largest bats in the world, weighing up to 1.6 kg, and with a wingspan up to 1.5 m.

In the Himalaya, it is found up to an elevation of at least 1,400 m.

 

 

Indian flying foxes, day-roosting in trees, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Sciuridae Squirrels
A huge family with about 51 genera and c. 300 species, distributed in the major part of the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa. They have also been introduced by humans to Australia.

The family name is derived from Sciurus, the Latin name of these animals, in 1758 applied by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also known as Carl von Linné, to the Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). The word squirrel, which has been in use as early as 1327, is from the Anglo-Norman name esquirel, which is again from the Old French escurel, a corruption of the Latin sciurus, which is derived from Ancient Greek skia (‘shadow’) and oura (‘tail’), thus ‘shadow-tailed’, alluding to the habit of some squirrels to raise their bushy tails over the body, thus creating shade.

Many species of squirrel are presented on the page Animals: Squirrels of North America.

 

Dremomys Red-cheeked squirrels
A small genus of 6 species, restricted to warmer areas of Asia.

 

Dremomys lokriah Orange-bellied squirrel
This smallish squirrel is brownish, with a bright orange underside. It is distributed in northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and southern China, living at elevations between 900 and 3,000 m. It is utilized for medicinal purposes by tribal people in north-eastern India.

The etymology behind the specific name is not clear, but it is probably some local name of the species. It is known that some early authors, when describing new species, used local names as specific names, without explaining the etymology. One such author was British naturalist and ethnologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894), who described this squirrel in 1836. (Source: C. Srinivasulu 2018. South Asian Mammals: An updated Checklist and Their Scientific Names. CRC Press)

 

 

Orange-bellied squirrel, Manigaon, Trisuli Valley, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Marmota Marmots
Marmots are large, ground-living squirrels, comprising 15 species, which occur in Europe, Asia, and North America. Most species live in burrows in family groups, hibernating for several months during winter.

 

Marmota himalayana Himalayan marmot
This species lives in grassy areas above the tree line, at altitudes between 3,000 and 5,500 m. It is found from the northern outskirts of the Himalaya eastwards to the Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, northwards across the Tibetan Plateau to Sinkiang, Qinghai, and Gansu.

 

 

Near Lake Tso Moriri, Ladakh, a colony of Himalayan marmots has found a peaceful haven. The local Buddhist people do not harm them, and they show no fear of people passing by. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

A Himalayan marmot surveys its domain among lichen-covered boulders, blending very well with its surroundings, Nimaling, Upper Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Petaurista Giant flying squirrels
This genus, comprising about 16 to 19 species of large flying squirrels, is found in forested habitats, from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Japan and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia. The taxonomy of these animals is complicated and far from being clarified.

 

Petaurista albiventer White-bellied giant flying squirrel
The white-bellied giant flying squirrel is distributed from north-eastern Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to Nepal, occurring at altitudes between 150 and 3,000 m. Its upperparts are reddish-chestnut with many whitish hairs, whereas the underside, throat, and cheeks are whitish. The tail is brown, often with a black tip,

Previously, this species was regarded as a subspecies of the widespread red giant flying squirrel (P. petaurista). However, recent genetic research has split that species into a number of separate species. The white-bellied was also formerly reported eastwards to the Yunnan Province, but eastern Himalayan animals are now recognized as belonging to a recently described separate species, the Yunnan giant flying squirrel (P. yunanensis).

 

In the upper picture below, Indian forester B.P. Bahuguna shows a leaf of spiny-leaved oak (Quercus semecarpifolia), which has been partly eaten by a giant flying squirrel. The squirrel always eats only part of the leaf, by folding it up and biting the central, less toxic part. During a hike up the Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand, northern India, we found many such leaves along the trail.

This hike is related in detail on the page Travel episodes – India 2008: Mountain goats and frozen flowers.

 

 

(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Birds
In this section, especially as regards to the altitudinal occurrence of birds in the Himalaya, I have relied heavily on R. Grimmett, C. Inskipp & T. Inskipp 2000. Birds of Nepal. Christopher Helm, London. This book is now out of date taxonomically, but is otherwise an excellent field guide.

Regarding the geographical distribution of the birds, I have often relied on the BirdLife website datazone.birdlife.org.

 

Accipitridae Hawks, eagles, and allies
A huge family, comprising about 66 genera and c. 250 species of small to large raptors, distributed worldwide, with the exception of Antarctica.

The family name is derived from the Latin accipiter (‘hawk’), from accipere (‘to grasp’), naturally alluding to the sharp talons.

 

Elanus Small kites
This genus, comprising 4 quite similar species of small white, grey, and black raptors, is distributed throughout almost the entire globe. The generic name is a Latinized form of the Ancient Greek elanos (‘kite’).

 

Elanus caeruleus Black-winged kite
This bird has a very wide distribution, found in all of sub-Saharan Africa, in north-western Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, France, the Nile Valley of Egypt, at several locations throughout the Middle East, from the entire Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and New Guinea.

In the Himalaya, it may be encountered up to an elevation of 1,600 m, but is commonest in the foothills.

 

 

Black-winged kite, Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gypaetus barbatus Lammergeier, bearded vulture
At close quarters, this huge vulture, the only member of the genus, is unmistakable, having a band of black feathers from the eye to the bill, and black feathers hanging down over the side of the bill, together forming what looks like a moustache. It was first described as Vultur barbatus (‘bearded vulture’) in 1758 by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné (1707-1778).

In 1784, German physician, chemist, and naturalist Gottlieb Conrad Christian Storr (1749-1821) changed the generic name to Gypaetus, from Ancient Greek gyps (‘vulture’) and aetos (‘eagle’). Incidentally, this was an excellent observation done by Storr, as recent research has shown that the bearded vulture is no more closely related to typical vultures than to eagles.

The name lammergeier is from the German Lämmergeier (‘lamb-vulture’). It stems from an old superstition that it attacked lambs. (Source: M. Everett 2008. Lammergeiers and lambs. British Birds 101 (4): 215)

This species was once very widely distributed, from large parts of Central Asia westwards across the Middle East to the Balkans, the Alps, the large Mediterranean islands, the Iberian Peninsula, and north-western Africa, and from Egypt southwards through eastern Africa to South Africa. Today, it has gone extinct in large parts of Europe and Africa, and it is only relatively common in Central Asia, including the Himalaya. It has recently been reintroduced to the Alps.

The lammergeier is restricted to montane or rocky areas, often with grassy areas and small patches of forest. In the Himalaya, it is often soaring at elevations between 1,000 and 5,000 m, rarely observed at low altitudes.

The lammergeier is restricted to montane or rocky areas, often with grassy areas and small patches of forest. In the Himalaya, it is often soaring at elevations between 1,000 and 5,000 m, rarely observed at low altitudes.

This bird has very strange feeding habits. When other vultures have cleaned a carcass of meat, it ascends with a bone from the carcass, dropping it on rocky ground, whereupon it descends to eat the marrow of the splintered bone, and also quite large bones. In some areas, it has adapted to searching for bones in refuse dumps on the outskirts of villages and towns. This behaviour has been observed in Ethiopia, and I also once noticed it in the Jhong River Valley, Mustang, central Nepal.

 

 

Lammergeier, Jarsang Valley, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lammergeier, Govindghat, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gyps Griffon vultures
A genus of 8 species of carrion-eating raptors, distributed in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The generic name is Ancient Greek, meaning ‘vulture’.

In recent years, most populations of vultures, living in the Indian Subcontinent, have diminished alarmingly due to poisoning from diclofenac, a veterinary drug widely used to treat diseases in livestock. Research has shown that when these vultures feed on cattle carcasses, diclofenac will destroy their livers. However, the Himalayan griffon vulture (below) is still fairly common, as it lives in the high Himalaya, where cattle cannot thrive.

The African species have also decreased dramatically in numbers in recent years.

 

Gyps himalayensis Himalayan griffon vulture
This huge vulture lives mainly on the Tibetan Plateau, at elevations between 1,200 and 5,500 m. It is distributed from eastern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan eastwards to Qinghai, and thence southwards to the higher regions of the Himalaya. Although decreasing, it is still fairly common in many places.

In former days, in Tibet, a common ‘burial’ method was to cut up deceased people and feed the meat to vultures. I once watched this practice, described on the page Travel episodes – Tibet 1987: Tibetan summer.

 

 

Himalayan griffon vulture, resting on a bluff along the Kali Gandaki River, Mustang, central Nepal. In the lower picture, the red gompa (Buddhist monastery) of Kagbeni is seen in the background. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Soaring Himalayan griffon vulture, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Milvus Kites
A small genus of 3-4 species, erected in 1799 by French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède (1756-1825). The generic name is the Latin name of the red kite (Milvus milvus).

 

Milvus migrans ssp. govinda Indian black kite
This rather pale subspecies of the black kite is distributed from eastern Pakistan eastwards across warmer parts of India and Sri Lanka to Southeast Asia. It is often observed in urban areas. In the higher parts of the Himalaya, it is replaced by subspecies lineatus, which is widespread in Central and East Asia.

The subspecific name alludes to the Hindu god Krishna, an avatar (incarnation) of the mighty god Vishnu. It is told that Krishna persuaded people who lived beneath the mountain Govardhana to worship the mountain instead of the rain god Indra, as he was of the opinion that the mountain, rather than the rain god, provided them with nourishment. Indra got furious, when the people no longer worshipped him and, as a punishment, sent torrential rain in order to drown people and cattle. However, Krishna protected them by raising the mountain, so that they could seek shelter beneath it. Indra acknowledged the superiority of Krishna, giving him the name Govinda, meaning ‘protector of cattle’.

You may read more about Krishna and other Hindu gods on the page Religion: Hinduism.

 

 

Indian black kite, resting on a house roof, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Nisaetus Old World hawk-eagles
This genus of 10 species is found in tropical and subtropical Asia, from Pakistan eastwards to Japan and Taiwan, and thence southwards to the Philippines and Indonesia. They were earlier placed within the genus Spizaetus, which then consisted of Old World as well as New World eagles. However, genetic research has shown that the two groups are not closely related, and, consequently, the Old World species were moved to a separate genus.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek, from the name Nisos, and aetos (‘eagle’). Nisos was a king of Megara, who possessed a purple lock of hair, which would protect him and his kingdom. According to one version of the legend, when King Minos of Crete besieged Megara, he tempted Nisos’s daughter Scylla with a golden necklace to betray and kill her father. In another version, she fell in love with Minos from a distance, and after cutting off her father’s purple lock, she presented it to Minos. However, Minos was disgusted with her act, calling her a disgrace. As Minos’s ships set sail, Scylla attempted to climb up one of them, but Nisos, who had turned into a sea eagle, attacked her, and she fell into the water and drowned. She was changed into a bird, possibly a heron, constantly pursued by Nisos.

 

Nisaetus nipalensis Mountain hawk-eagle
This magnificent bird is distributed from northern Pakistan through the Himalaya eastwards to northern Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and probably Vietnam, southern China, Taiwan, and Japan, northwards to Hokkaido. In the Himalaya, it is locally fairly common, mainly found at elevations between 1,500 and 2,900 m.

Another name of this bird is Hodgson’s hawk-eagle, referring to British naturalist and ethnologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894), who described the species after collecting a specimen himself in the Himalaya.

 

 

Soaring mountain hawk-eagle, Mahakoma, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Spilornis Serpent-eagles
At least 6 species of these birds are found in forests of southern Asia. They often feed on snakes, hence their common name. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek spilos (‘spot’) and ornis (‘bird’), given in allusion to the white spots on breast and wings of the crested serpent-eagle (below).

 

Spilornis cheela Crested serpent-eagle
This eagle, comprising a large number of subspecies, is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern Japan and Taiwan, and thence southwards to the Philippines and Indonesia. It is very variable, and some authorities propose treating several of the subspecies as separate species.

It is common in the lower parts of the Himalaya, up to an elevation of at least 2,100 m, and some may even stray to 3,000 m.

 

 

A dead tree in the Mai Khola Valley, eastern Nepal, serves as a lookout perch for this crested serpent-eagle. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Soaring crested serpent-eagle, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Aegithalidae
According to the latest revision, this family contains 4 genera with about 14 species of tiny passerines. It is a bit of a mystery to me, why the American bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) is placed in this otherwise purely Eurasian family.

 

Aegithalos Bushtits, long-tailed tits
A genus with about 10 small, long-tailed birds, most of which are restricted to Central and East Asia. One species, the long-tailed tit (A. caudatus), is widely distributed, from the British Isles and Portugal eastwards to Japan.

The generic name is an ancient word, used by Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) for tits.

 

Aegithalos concinnus Red-headed bushtit
This tiny bird, also known as black-throated bushtit, ranges from northern Pakistan eastwards across the Himalaya to northern Indochina, southern China, and Taiwan. It is common and widespread in the Himalaya, living in forested areas, mainly at elevations between 1,400 and 2,700 m.

 

 

Red-headed bushtit, searching for insects in a Nepalese alder (Alnus nepalensis), Dhunche, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Aegithalos iouschistos Rufous-fronted bushtit
This bird occurs in montane forests between 2,600 and 3,700 m altitude, from central Nepal eastwards to northern Myanmar and southern Yunnan Province.

It was described in 1845 by English zoologist Edward Blyth (1810-1873), who worked as a curator of zoology at the museum of the Asiatic Society of India in Calcutta (today Kolkata).

 

 

Rufous-fronted bushtit with fledged young, Ghora Tabela, Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Alaudidae Larks
This family contains 21 genera with about 100 species, distributed in Africa and Eurasia, with a single species reaching the Americas, and also one in Australia.

 

Alauda
A small genus of 4 species, distributed in Eurasia and northern Africa. The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘lark’.

 

Alauda gulgula Oriental skylark
This bird, encompassing about 13 subspecies, is widely distributed, from Iran and Turkmenistan eastwards to Qinghai, Gansu, and south-western Inner Mongolia, southwards across the Pamir Mountains, the Tibetan plateau, and China to south India and Sri Lanka, Indochina, and the Philippines. In the Himalaya, it is breeding in grassy areas up to an elevation of at least 3,600 m.

The specific name probably refers to the fine song of this species, from the Latin gula (‘throat’).

 

 

Oriental skylark, Gyantse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Calandrella
This small genus of 6 species was introduced in 1829 by German naturalist Johann Jakob von Kaup (1803-1873), who believed in a strict mathematical order in nature, classifying plants and animals based on the rather strange Quinarian system, with emphasis on the number five: it proposes that all taxa are divisible into five subgroups, and if fewer than five subgroups are known, quinarians believed that a missing subgroup remained to be found.

The generic name is a diminutive of Ancient Greek kalandros, the calandra lark (Melanocorypha calandra). Apparently, Kaup found that the type species, the greater short-toed lark (C. brachydactyla) resembled a small calandra lark.

 

Calandrella acutirostris Hume’s short-toed lark
This bird is distributed from north-eastern Iran and eastern Kazakhstan eastwards to the Gansu province, southwards across the Tibetan Plateau to Pakistan and along the Himalaya to northern Myanmar. It breeds in high-altitude deserts and semi-deserts, wintering in the lowlands, sometimes as far south as Maharashtra in India. It is a common breeding bird in Ladakh.

The specific name is derived from the latin acutus (‘sharp’) and rostrum (‘bill’), referring to the pointed bill. The common name commemorates British naturalist Allan Octavian Hume (1829-1912), who described the species. He was a member of the Indian Civil Service and one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. Hume has been called ‘the Father of Indian Ornithology’. He founded a journal called Stray Feathers, in which he and his subscribers recorded notes on birds from across India.

 

 

Hume’s short-toed lark, Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Eremophila Horned larks, shore larks
A small genus of only 2 species, but distributed across the major part of the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek eremos (‘desert’) and phileo (‘to love’), alluding to one of the preferred habitats of these birds.

 

Eremophila alpestris Horned lark
As opposed to most other larks, this species has a striking appearance, with a black stripe from the base of the bill to the eye and further down the cheek, a black breast-band, and a narrow, black, semicircular ‘crown’. In the breeding plumage, the ‘crown’ of the male is extended into two small tufts, which gave rise to the popular name.

No less than about 42 subspecies of this bird are distributed across most of the Northern Hemisphere, along the Arctic coasts from Scandinavia eastwards to Alaska and north-eastern Canada, southwards to Mexico, with an isolated population in Columbia. It is also found in the major part of Central Asia, southwards to the Himalaya, westwards to Ukraine, the Middle East, and the Balkans, with an isolated population in the Atlas Mountains of north-western Africa. Arctic populations are migratory.

In the Himalaya, subspecies longirostris is a rather common breeding bird in Ladakh and other semi-desert areas in the northern outskirts.

 

 

Male horned lark, ssp. longirostris, Nimaling, Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female horned lark, ssp. longirostris, Tso Moriri, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Anatidae Ducks, geese, and swans
At present, this large family contains 43 genera with about 146 species, distributed almost worldwide. The family name is derived from the Latin Anas (‘duck’).

 

Anser Grey geese
A genus of 11 species, distributed in arctic and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘goose’.

 

Anser indicus Bar-headed goose
This goose is easily identified by its white head, a white vertical band down the side of the otherwise grey neck, and two black bars on the back of the head. It is a common breeding bird at high-altitude lakes at scattered locations across Central Asia, spending the winter in the Indian Subcontinent, as far south as Karnataka. It is a common breeder in Ladakh.

 

 

The bar-headed goose is common in Lake Tso Moriri, Ladakh. This picture shows a pair with a half-grown gosling. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

A pair of bar-headed goose shows aggressive behaviour towards another pair, Tso Moriri. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

On their way to the breeding area on the Tibetan Plateau, these bar-headed geese have made a stop to rest in Longapunga Tso, an alpine lake in Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Mergus Mergansers
Mergansers are 4 species of fish-eating ducks, with 2 species, the common merganser (Mergus merganser) and the red-breasted merganser (M. serrator), widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere, whereas the Brazilian merganser (M. octosetaceus) and the scaly-sided merganser (M. squamatus) of China are highly endangered species.

The generic name is a Latin word, used by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) as the name of an unspecified waterbird. The common name is a concoction of mergus and anser, Latin for ‘goose’.

Previously, two other ducks were included in the genus, the hooded merganser, now called Lophodytes cucullatus, and the smew, today named Mergellus albellus. Research has shown that they are not closely related to mergansers.

 

Mergus merganser Goosander, common merganser
The goosander, in America called common merganser, nests in holes in trees. It is found in rivers and lakes in forested areas of Europe, northern and central Asia, and North America, as far south as the central Rocky Mountains, Pennsylvania, the Alps, the southern part of the Tibetan Plateau, and north-eastern China. Northern populations are migratory. It is a rather common winter visitor to the Himalaya, observed at elevations up to 3,000 m.

 

 

Female common merganser, resting on a stone in the Modi Khola River, near Landruk, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Tadorna Shelducks
A small genus of 6 species of large ducks, distributed in Eurasia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. One species, the crested shelduck (T. cristata) of Korea, may have gone extinct.

The generic name is from tadorne, the French name of the common shelduck (T. tadorna). It may have Celtic roots, meaning ‘pied waterfowl’. The English name, originally sheld duck, dates from around 1700, with a similar meaning.

 

Tadorna ferruginea Ruddy shelduck, Brahminy duck
The specific name of this colourful bird is Latin for ‘rusty’, referring to the plumage, which is mainly orange-brown. The head is paler, and tail and flight feathers are black, contrasting with the white wing-coverts.

This is essentially a Central Asian species, with breeding populations extending across the Middle East as far as south-eastern Europe, with isolated populations in north-western Africa and the highlands of Ethiopia. It is very common on the Tibetan Plateau. In the Himalaya, it breeds in several alpine lakes.

 

 

The ruddy shelduck is a very common breeding bird on the Tibetan Plateau. This pair was observed in a reservoir in the town of Gyantse. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The ruddy shelduck breeds in several alpine lakes in the Himalaya. This bird is feeding on insects in Gokyo Lake, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

In autumn, the birds from the Tibetan Plateau migrate to the lowlands of China and India. These birds were photographed in Lake Cao Hai, Guizhou Province, China. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Ardeidae Herons, egrets, and bitterns
Herons comprise about 64 species of long-legged and long-beaked, fish-eating water birds, distributed almost worldwide. Some species are called egrets, mainly birds with ornate plumes during the breeding season, whereas birds of the genera Botaurus, Ixobrychus, and Zebrilus are called bitterns.

 

Ardeola Pond herons
A genus of 6 species of small herons, most of which are found in tropical areas of Asia and Africa. One species, the squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides), breeds in southern Europe and the Middle East, migrating to Africa in autumn.

Most of the year, the plumage of these birds is buff or brownish, making them extremely well camouflaged among various types of vegetation. When they take to flight, however, they are transformed as if by magic, when their brilliant white wings are displayed.

The generic name is from the Latin ardea (‘heron’) and –ola, a suffix denoting something diminutive, thus ‘small heron’.

 

Ardeola grayii Indian pond heron, paddy bird
This bird breeds from southern Iran eastwards to the Indian Subcontinent and Myanmar. It is a very common resident in the lower parts of the Himalaya, up to an altitude of about 1,500 m, but has strayed to an elevation of 2,700 m.

It is easily overlooked in its drab winter plumage when standing at the edge of lakes, ponds, or paddy fields. It relies on its camouflage to a degree that it can be approached closely before taking to flight. This behaviour gave rise to the Hindi name andha bagla (‘blind heron’), as well as the Sri Lankan name kana koka (‘half-blind heron’).

Formerly, this bird was shot for meat. In his book A New Account of the East Indies, from 1744, Alexander Hamilton writes the following: “They have also Store of wild Fowl; but who have a Mind to eat them must shoot them. Flamingoes are large and good Meat. The Paddy-bird is also good in their season.”

 

 

Stone fence with a resting Indian pond heron, Jamuna, Ilam, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Indian pond heron, resting on a floating waterlily stem (Nymphaea), Dal Lake, Kashmir. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Preening Indian pond heron, Dal Lake, Kashmir. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Bubulcus ibis Cattle egret
This species, the sole member of the genus, is very widely distributed, found in most warmer areas of the world, only avoiding rain forests and desert areas. As its name implies, it often follows cattle to snap grasshoppers and other small animals, flushed by the grazers. It is also often observed in newly ploughed fields.

Originally, this bird was native to southern Spain and Portugal, the northern half of Africa, and across the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Japan, and thence southwards to northern and eastern Australia. In the late 1800s, it began expanding its range into southern Africa, and in 1877 it was observed in northern South America, having apparently flown across the Atlantic Ocean. By the 1930s, it had become established as a breeding bird in this area, rapidly spreading to North America, where it is now found as far north as southern Canada. In later years, it has also spread northwards in Europe.

Today, some authorities split the cattle egret into two species, the western (B. ibis) and the eastern (B. coromandus). The latter is a common resident in the lower parts of the Himalaya, up to an altitude of about 1,500 m.

 

 

A large breeding colony of cattle egrets is found in Kathmandu, Nepal. These pictures show birds bringing sticks to their nest. The climber in the upper picture is purple morning-glory (Ipomoea purpurea). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Young cattle egret, begging for food, Kathmandu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Cattle egrets, Kathmandu. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Columbidae Pigeons and doves
A large family with about 50 genera and c. 345 species. The word pigeon generally denotes larger species, dove smaller species. These birds are found on all continents except Antarctica.

 

Columba
A rather large genus with about 35 species, widely distributed in the Old World. Previously, a number of American pigeons were placed in this genus, but they have been moved to a separate genus, Patagioenas.

The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘dove’, the feminine form of columbus (‘male dove’), a Latinized version of the Greek kolumbos (‘diver’). This name was applied by Greek comic-writer Aristophanes (c. 446-386 B.C.) to the common rock pigeons, due to the ‘swimming’ motion made by their wings in flight.

 

Columba leuconota Snow pigeon
As its name implies, this bird lives in cold regions. It is very common in higher mountains, from Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to the Yunnan Province, northwards across the Tibetan Plateau to Qinghai. In the Himalaya, it has been noticed up to an elevation of 5,700 m. In harsh winter weather, it may descend to 1,500 m.

 

 

Snow pigeons, Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Outside the breeding season, snow pigeons move about in large flocks, here at Ghumtarao, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh (3 upper pictures), and near the village of Bharku, Langtang Nationalpark, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Columba livia Rock pigeon
City pigeons are a domesticated form of this bird, which have become feral, often forming huge populations in many cities around the world. Despite the fact that they are often a nuisance, dropping their guano everywhere, and maybe also spreading contagious diseases, feeding them is a very popular occupation.

 

 

Feeding feral pigeons on Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Warmly dressed on a chilly spring morning, a little boy has fun chasing feral pigeons on Durbar Square. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Feral pigeons, feeding on offerings of rice on ‘The Sleeping Vishnu’, a 6-metre-long sculpture, depicting the Hindu god Vishnu, reclining in the Cosmic Ocean, resting on a somewhat unusual bed, consisting of the 11-headed serpent Anantha Naga. – Budhanilkantha, Kathmandu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Streptopelia Turtle doves
A genus of c. 13 species of small to medium-sized doves, most of which are found in Africa, with several species in tropical and subtropical Asia, one of which, the oriental turtle dove (below), is also found in temperate areas of Asia, whereas another, the collared dove (S. decaocto), has expanded its distribution area to the Middle East and the entire Europe. This expansion is described on the page Silhouettes.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek streptos (literally meaning ‘twisted’, but in this connection ‘wearing a torc’, a twisted metal collar, alluding to the semi-collar of many members of the genus), and peleia (‘dove’).

Other species, which were formerly placed in this genus, have been moved to the genera Spilopelia and Nesoenas.

 

Streptopelia orientalis Oriental turtle dove
This species is widely distributed, from the southern Ural Mountains, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to the Pacific Ocean, including Japan and Taiwan. It breeds in forests, parks, and larger gardens. In the Himalaya, it may ascend to about 4,500 m in summer, usually wintering below 2,000 m.

 

 

Oriental turtle dove, feeding in a gutter in the town of Kielang, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Corvidae Crows and allies
This almost cosmopolitan family, which constitute the largest passerines, contains 24 genera with more than 120 species of ravens, crows, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, nutcrackers, and others.

 

Corvus Ravens, crows, rooks
About 45 members of this genus occur in virtually all temperate areas of the globe, with the exception of South America. The name raven applies to the largest species, crow and rook to slightly smaller species. The generic name is Latin for ‘raven’. Members of this genus are among the most intelligent birds.

Previously, jackdaws were also placed in this genus. Following genetic research, they have been moved to a separate genus, Coloeus.

 

Corvus corax Common raven
The most widespread member of the family, the common raven occurs in almost all arctic and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Himalaya, it is a common resident, mainly at altitudes between 3,500 and 5,000 m.

Due to its intelligent behaviour, this bird appears in several mythologies across Eurasia. In Norse mythology, two ravens, Hugin (‘thought’) and Munin (‘memory’), were the servants of the supreme god Odin, bringing news to him from all over the world.

 

 

Common raven, Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Corvus macrorhynchos Large-billed crow
In former days, this species was called jungle crow, a name that also included two other crows, which are today treated as separate species, the Indian jungle crow (C. culminatus) and the eastern jungle crow (C. levaillantii).

Despite these splits, the large-billed crow still has a very wide distribution, found from Afghanistan across the Himalaya and Tibet to south-eastern Siberia, northern China, and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines.

This bird lives in a wide variety of habitats, including forests, rocky areas, cultivated land, and along rivers. In the Himalaya, it is found up to an elevation of at least 3,000 m. It is quite similar to the common raven, but, besides its smaller size, it may be identified by the slimmer bill and the steeper ‘forehead’.

 

 

The large-billed crow is often encountered near human habitation, in this case on a house roof in the village of Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. The bird is sucking up the heat of the morning sun, while humidity is evaporating from its feathers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Large-billed crow, calling from the top of a Himalayan silver fir (Abies spectabilis), Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Calling large-billed crow, Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Nucifraga Nutcrackers
A small genus of 2-3 species. The spotted nutcracker (below) is widespread in Europe and Asia, with one subspecies, the Kashmir nutcracker, recognized by some authorities as a distinct species, N. multipunctata, found in the western part of the Himalaya. The third species, Clark’s nutcracker (N. columbiana), lives in western North America.

The most important food item for these birds are seeds of various pines (Pinus), which they break open with their powerful bill. This fact is reflected by the generic name, which is derived from the Latin nuci (‘nut’) and frango (‘to break’).

When pine nuts are abundant, they make caches of surplus seeds, storing as many as 30,000 in a single season. They are able to remember the location of as many as about 70% of their stash, even when buried in snow. They often store the nuts far away from where they were collected, and are thus important in re-establishing forests in logged or burned areas. (Source: D.F. Tomback 2016, in Why birds matter: avian ecological function and ecosystem services, edited by Sekercioglu, Wenny & Whelan, University of Chicago Press)

In regions without pine trees, seeds of spruce (Picea) and hazelnuts (Corylus) form an important part of the diet.

 

Nucifraga caryocatactes Spotted nutcracker
This bird has a very wide distribution, from southern Norway eastwards in a broad belt across the Siberian taiga to Kamchatka, Korea, and Japan, and also in several montane areas of central Europe, in the Himalaya, in western and northern China, and in Taiwan.

The plumage of this bird is quite variable, and as many as 9 subspecies have been described. In the Himalaya, 3 subspecies occur: multipunctata, by some recognized as a separate species, found in northern Kashmir, northern Pakistan, and eastern Afghanistan; hemispila, distributed from southern Kashmir eastwards to western Nepal; and macella, which lives from western Nepal eastwards to northern Myanmar and the Yunnan Province.

The specific name has the same meaning as the generic name, but is derived from Ancient Greek karyon (‘nut’) and kataseio (‘to shatter’).

 

 

Spotted nutcracker, subspecies macella, resting in a blue pine (Pinus wallichiana), Ringmo, Solu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pica Magpies
In the past, only 2 species were recognized in this genus, the black-billed magpie (Pica pica) of Eurasia and western North America, and the yellow-billed magpie (Pica nuttalli), which is restricted to California. However, recent genetic research has split the former black-billed magpie into a number of separate species, the Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) (see below), the Maghreb magpie (P. mauritanica) of North Africa, the Asir magpie (P. asirensis) of south-western Saudi Arabia, the Oriental magpie (P. serica) of eastern and southern China, Taiwan, and northern Indochina, the black-rumped magpie (P. bottanensis) of west-central China and the north-eastern Himalaya, and the black-billed magpie (P. hudsonia) of western North America.

The generic name is the classical Latin name of the magpie, whereas the word pie is of Indo-European origin, meaning ‘pointed’, in this case no doubt referring to the long, pointed tail of these birds. The prefix mag– dates from the 16th Century, a short form of the name Margaret, which was a term used for women in general. The call of the bird was likened to the chattering of women, and so it was called mag-pie. (Source: etymonline.com/word/magpie)

The role of the magpie in European folklore is related on the page Animals: Urban animal life.

 

Pica pica Eurasian magpie
This bird is widely distributed across Eurasia, with 6 subspecies recognized. As described above, others have been upgraded to separate species. The distribution of the Russian magpie, subspecies bactriana, just reaches northern Pakistan and Ladakh, whereas the black-rumped magpie (P. bottanensis) is found in Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh.

The subspecific name refers to Bactriana, in Persian Bakhtar, an ancient region north of the Hindu Kush Mountains and south of the Amu Darya River, covering a flat region in present-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

 

 

Russian magpie, subspecies bactriana, Shey Palace, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Russian magpie, sitting on a chorten (a Tibetan Buddhist shrine, similar to a stupa), Thikse Gompa, Ladakh. Chortens and gompas are described on the page Religion: Buddhism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pyrrhocorax Choughs
This genus consists of only 2 species of smaller, jet-black corvids, which are easily identified by their brightly coloured bill and feet, and by their calls, one of which has given them their English name. They are master navigators in the air, and you often observe them in large flocks, swooping and diving, while calling incessantly – obviously showing sheer pleasure of flying.

The generic name is derived from the Greek pyrrhos (‘flame-coloured’), from pyr (‘fire’), and korax (‘raven’), presumably alluding to the bright red bill of the red-billed chough.

 

Pyrrhocorax graculus Alpine chough, yellow-billed chough
This is the smallest of the two choughs, having a bright yellow bill and reddish feet. It is widely distributed, found in Morocco, the Pyrenees, the Alps, and other Central European mountains, in Italy and the Balkans, on Crete, and in Turkey, the Caucasus, the Alborz Mountains of Iran, and in the Himalaya and other nearby Central Asian mountains.

It is very common in the Himalaya, generally found at higher altitudes than the red-billed chough.

 

 

Alpine choughs, Annapurna Base Camp, Upper Modi Khola Valley, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine choughs are often confiding. This bird was photographed outside a restaurant in the hamlet of Tughla, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alpine choughs, soaring over the Upper Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax Red-billed chough
This bird is a bit larger than the Alpine chough, with a longer, bright red bill. It is quite common in the Himalaya and large parts of Central Asia, and is also widespread across the Middle East and in Europe, where it is found in Ireland, Wales, France, the south-western Alps, Italy, the Balkans, and large parts of the Iberian Peninsula. In Africa, it occurs in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, in Tunisia, in the highlands of Ethiopia, and on the Canarian island La Palma.

 

 

Feeding red-billed chough, Deboche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Red-billed chough, Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Urocissa Blue magpies
This genus contains 5 species of gorgeously coloured birds, distributed in the Indian Subcontinent, Indochina, southern China, and Taiwan. One species is described below, whereas the Taiwan blue magpie (U. caerulea) is presented on the page Animals – Birds: Birds in Taiwan, and the Sri Lanka blue magpie (U. ornata) on the page In praise of the colour blue.

These birds feed mainly on large insects and other invertebrates, and on various fruits, but are also notorious plunderers of eggs and young from smaller birds’ nests.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek oura (‘tail’) and kissa, which, originally, meant jay (Garrulus glandarius), but in this connection merely means ‘magpie’, referring to their long tail.

 

Urocissa flavirostris Yellow-billed blue magpie
This species is distributed along the Himalaya, from Afghanistan to northern and western Myanmar, with a disjunct population in northern Vietnam, in the breeding season usually encountered at altitudes between 1,500 and 3,000 m, moving to slightly lower elevations in the winter.

 

 

Yellow-billed blue magpie, Tharke Ghyang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Yellow-billed blue magpie in rainy weather, Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Yellow-billed blue magpie, Benkar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. In the upper picture, a gust of wind is ruffling its feathers. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Cuculidae Cuckoos
This family contains about 30 genera of mainly brood-parasitic birds, distributed almost worldwide.

 

Cuculus Typical cuckoos
A genus of about 11 species, all brood-parasites. The generic name is the old Latin name for cuckoos.

 

Cuculus poliocephalus Lesser cuckoo
As a breeding bird, this species is distributed from the entire Himalaya eastwards across northern Indochina and the major part of China to Korea, south-eastern Siberia (Ussuriland), and Japan. It is resident on Taiwan and Hainan, whereas other populations migrate to spend the winter in southern India, Sri Lanka, and eastern Africa. In the Himalaya, it is mainly found at elevations between 1,500 and 3,600 m.

This bird is very noisy during the breeding season, with a distinctive chattering call of 5 to 6 notes, rendered as ‘That’s your choky pepper … choky pepper’ (accent on the first choky), or pretty-peel-lay-ka-beet. It lays its eggs in the nests of babblers, warblers, and other small birds. (Source: indiabiodiversity.org)

 

 

Lesser cuckoo, Shyabru, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Emberizidae Old World Buntings
This family was formerly much larger, including many species now placed in the families Passerellidae (New World sparrows) and Calcariidae (longspurs and snow buntings). Today, only a single genus, Emberiza, remains in the family, containing about 44 species, distributed in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The generic name is derived from the Old German word for these birds, Embritz.

 

Emberiza zia Rock bunting
This bird breeds in open, dry and rocky areas, from southern Europe and North Africa eastwards across the Middle East to central Asia and the Himalaya, northwards to Kazakhstan, southern Siberia, and Mongolia. The northernmost Asian populations are migratory, wintering further south, often mixing with the resident populations.

In the Himalaya, it is distributed from central Nepal westwards, in the summer occurring at elevations between 2,400 and 4,600 m, in the winter descending to about 1,800 m.

The specific name is derived from a local Italian name for this bird, from zirlare (‘to chirp’).

 

 

Male rock bunting, Khinga, Jhong River Valley, Mustang, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Falconidae Falcons and caracaras
This family, counting about 60 species, is divided into 3 subfamilies, Herpetotherinae (laughing falcon and forest falcons), Polyborinae (caracaras and Spiziapteryx), and Falconinae (typical falcons and falconets).

 

Falco Typical falcons
The largest genus of the family, comprising about 40 species. It is widely distributed on all continents, except Antarctica.

The generic name is derived from the Latin falx, or falcis (‘sickle’), referring to the claws.

 

Falco tinnunculus Common kestrel
This species is very widely distributed, from Iceland, Portugal, the Canary Islands, and North Africa eastwards across temperate and subtropical areas of Asia to the Pacific coast. It is also widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. In the Himalaya, it is a rather common resident, passage migrant, and winter visitor, sometimes encountered up to an altitude of about 5,200 m.

The term kestrel is usually applied to falcons, which often hunt by hovering.

 

 

Female common kestrel, Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Fringillidae Finches
A large family with about 228 species, divided into 50 genera. They are distributed worldwide, except for Australia and the polar regions. Most species have stout conical bills, adapted for eating seeds and nuts.

The family name is from the Latin fringilla (‘finch’), derived from frigutio (‘I chirp’).

 

Carpodacus Rosefinches
As their name implies, these birds have various shades of red in their plumage, although this only accounts for the males, whereas the females are brown. The genus contains about 27 species, occurring throughout Eurasia, with the greatest diversity in China and Central Asia, suggesting that the genus originated in this region. 14 species have been encountered in the Himalaya, quite a few of them very common.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek karpos (‘fruit’) and dakno (‘to bite’).

 

Carpodacus erythrinus Common rosefinch
This bird is very widespread, breeding from northern and central Europe eastwards across Russia and Siberia to the Pacific coast, and also in northern parts of the Middle East and in Central Asia. Some populations are migratory, wintering in the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

In the Himalaya, it is a fairly common breeding bird, in summer found at elevations between 3,300 and 4,000 m, in winter descending to the lowlands and up to about 2,000 m. Two subspecies are encountered, roseatus, in which the male is bright red all over, except for the reddish-brown wings and the whitish vent, and erythrinus, where the red is restricted to the upper breast and head, and the rump. The former race is resident, the latter a passage migrant.

The specific name is derived from the Greek erythros (‘red’), alluding to the bright red plumage of the male.

 

 

Male common rosefinch, Dusum, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Carpodacus pulcherrimus Beautiful rosefinch
This bird is a common resident, found from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh, in large parts of western China, and in scattered locations in Mongolia. It lives in temperate and subtropical shrubland. In the Himalaya, in summer found at altitudes between 3,600 and 4,600 m, in winter descending to slightly lower elevations, between 2,100 and 3,300 m.

Some authorities now regard subspecies davidianus as a separate species, named Chinese beautiful rosefinch (C. davidianus).

 

 

Male beautiful rosefinch, Deboche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. In the upper picture, it is sitting in a drooping juniper (Juniperus recurva). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female beautiful rosefinch, resting in a species of honeysuckle, Lonicera rupicola, Dingboche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Chloris Greenfinches
Members of this genus, comprising 5 species, are distributed in eastern Asia, except for the European greenfinch (Chloris chloris), which is found in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. These birds were formerly placed in the genus Carduelis.

 

Chloris spinoides Yellow-breasted greenfinch
The specific name of this beautiful bird means ‘resembling Spinus‘, alluding to its similarity to the Eurasian siskin (Spinus spinus). The male has yellow underparts, face, and supercilium, black cap and back, and black wings with yellow and white bands. The female is somewhat paler. These birds are often observed in flocks, foraging in trees or on the ground. The song is a series of constant twittering.

This species occurs from Afghanistan along the Himalaya to northern Vietnam, living in temperate forest and shrubland. In the Himalaya, it may be encountered in summer at altitudes between 2,400 and 4,000 m, in winter between 900 and 1,800 m.

 

 

Immature male yellow-breasted greenfinch, Sherpagaon, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Leucosticte Mountain finches, rosy finches
This genus, comprising 6 species, is distributed in northern and central Asia, and North America. The plumage of the two Himalayan species is rather drab, causing them to blend very well with the grey and brown rocks, among which they live.

 

Leucosticte brandti Brandt’s mountain finch
This bird lives in high-altitude grasslands, from southern Siberia and Mongolia towards the south-west to Kyrgyzstan, Sinkiang, and Afghanistan, and thence eastwards across Central Asia and the Himalaya to western China. Northern populations are migratory.

In the Himalaya, it occurs at elevations above 4,200 m in summer, occasionally encountered up to about 6,000 m. In winter, it descends to slightly lower altitudes, usually above 3,000 m.

This species is also known as black-headed mountain finch, alluding to the black head of the male in the breeding season.

 

 

Feeding flock of Brandt’s mountain finch, Lhonak, Upper Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Leucosticte nemoricola Plain mountain finch
A common and widespread resident, distributed in about the same areas as the above species. Northern populations are migratory. In the Himalaya, it occurs in summer at altitudes between 4,200 and 5,200 m, in winter between 2,000 m and 3,700 m. The plumage is quite similar to that of the female Brandt’s mountain finch, but the back is very boldly streaked black and pale brown, occasionally white.

Another name of this species is Hodgson’s mountain finch, so named in honour of British naturalist and ethnologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894), who described numerous new species of birds and mammals in the Himalaya, including this bird, in 1836.

 

 

Plain mountain finch, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Mycerobas Asiatic grosbeaks
A small genus of 4 species, distributed from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to northern Indochina. These birds are the largest members of the finch family, sometimes reaching a length of 24 cm. They are characterized by the very powerful bill, which is able to crack open the hard seeds of junipers.

 

Mycerobas affinis Collared grosbeak
This bird lives in lush, deciduous or mixed montane forests, from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to northern Myanmar and western China. The male is a gorgeous bird, glossy black on head and throat, wings, and tail, contrasting sharply with the yellow underside and collar, and orange mantle. The female has yellowish underparts, olive-green back and wings, and greyish head and throat.

In the Himalaya, it breeds at elevations between 2,700 and 4,200 m, in winter moving to lower altitudes, occasionally as low as 1,100 m.

 

 

This gorgeous male collared grosbeak is feeding on the forest floor, Banthanti, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female collared grosbeak, Banthanti. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Mycerobas carnipes White-winged grosbeak
This bird is widely distributed, from the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran eastwards to southern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, southwards to Afghanistan and western Pakistan, also along the Himalaya to northern Myanmar and western China, and in a belt along the Kunlun Mountains of Sinkiang. It is partial to growths of junipers (Juniperus).

In the Himalaya, it breeds at elevations between 3,000 and 4,600 m, in winter moving to lower altitudes around 2,800 m.

The popular name alludes to a white patch on the primaries.

 

 

Female (left) and male white-winged grosbeak, resting in a Himalayan fir (Abies spectabilis), Tengboche Monastery, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female white-winged grosbeak, feeding on the ground near the Tengboche Monastery. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male white-winged grosbeak, cracking open seeds of a snow-clad Indian juniper (Juniperus indicus), Ghyaru, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Mycerobas melanozanthos Spot-winged grosbeak
This bird is found from eastern Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to western China and northern Indochina, eastwards to Vietnam. It mainly lives in subtropical forests.

In the Himalaya, it is rather uncommon, in summer encountered up to an altitude of about 3,400 m, in winter found as low as 1,400 m.

The male is similar to the male collared grosbeak (above), but mantle and back are black, and it has many white spots in the wing. The female is yellowish, heavily streaked with black above and below. Immature males are a mixture of the two.

 

 

Immature male spot-winged grosbeak, eating fruits of a tree, between Ransi and Jugasu, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Procarduelis nipalensis Dark-breasted rosefinch
This bird was previously included in the genus Carpodacus (above), but has now been moved to the monotypic genus Procarduelis. It is distributed from northern Pakistan eastwards along the Himalaya to south-western China and northern Indochina. It lives in temperate and subtropical forests, in the Himalaya encountered in summer at elevations between 1,800 and 2,800 m, in winter slightly lower.

 

 

The head of this female dark-breasted rosefinch is smeared in pollen from feeding in flowers of Rhododendron arboreum, Banthanti, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pyrrhula Bullfinches
A small genus of thick-billed finches, comprising 7 species, 5 of which are purely Asian. The Eurasian bullfinch (P. pyrrhula) is widespread from Europe and the Middle East eastwards across temperate areas of Asia to Japan, whereas the Azores bullfinch (P. murina) is restricted to a single island in the Azores.

The generic name is derived from the Greek pyr (‘fire’), and the Latin -ulus, a suffix indicating something small, naturally alluding to the red or reddish colour of the males of several species of the genus.

 

Pyrrhula erythrocephala Red-headed bullfinch
This is the most colourful among the 4 species of the genus, found in the Himalaya. It is restricted to the Himalaya, from Kashmir eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh. It is quite common, living mainly in broad-leaved forests, in summer at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,000 m, in winter sometimes as low as 1,800 m.

 

 

Red-headed bullfinches, Banthanti, Annapurna, central Nepal. Bullfinches are not often seen feeding on the ground. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Gruidae Cranes
A family of 15 species of large, long-legged, and long-necked birds, belonging to 4 genera. They are distributed on all continents, except Antarctica and South America.

 

Grus Typical cranes
Today, this genus contains 8 species, distributed in Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America.

 

Grus nigricollis Black-necked crane
This species is restricted to wetlands at high altitudes in Central Asia, breeding in Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu, and Sinkiang, and also a few in Mongolia and Ladakh. Traditionally, Tibetans and Indians have protected these cranes for religious reasons. However, from the 1950s, the population was greatly decimated, mainly due to draining of breeding areas, and poaching. In later years, due to better protection measures, it has increased, and the population is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 birds.

In winter, the birds migrate to less harsh areas of southern Tibet and the provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan, and also a few hundred to Assam and Bhutan.

You may read an account of my encounter with this bird on the page Travel episodes – China 2009: Among black-necked cranes.

 

 

Black-necked cranes, feeding in a meadow among grazing horses, near Kaka, southern Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Black-necked cranes, taking off after feeding in a field near Lake Cao Hai, Guizhou Province, China. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ibidorhyncha struthersii Ibisbill
This large wading bird was once placed with avocets and stilts in the family Recurvirostridae. However, recent genetic research has revealed that it differs sufficiently from those birds to form a separate family, Ibidorhynchidae, where it is the only member.

It places its nest among pebbles in broad, shallow rivers of Central Asia, distributed from southern Kazakhstan southwards to northern Afghanistan and thence eastwards across the entire Tibet to western and north-central China. In the Himalaya, it is a fairly frequent breeding bird, found at elevations between 3,800 and 4,200 m. The winter months are spent in the foothills.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek ibis (‘ibis’) and rhynkhos (‘bill’), alluding to the ibis-like bill. The specific name was given in honour of Dr. Struthers of Glasgow, who collected specimens of the bird from the Himalaya in the 19th Century.

 

 

Ibisbill in its nesting area, the stony bed of the Kali Gandaki River near Kalopani, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

When a dog entered the nesting area in the pictures above, the two ibisbill fluttered in front of it for several minutes, luring it away. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Laniidae Shrikes
Shrikes are a group of striking passerines, which perch on trees, bushes, poles, or wires, scanning the surroundings for small prey, such as beetles, dragonflies, bees, lizards, and mice. They constitute a small family with 33 species in 4 genera, mainly distributed in Eurasia and Africa, with one species reaching New Guinea, and 2 in North America.

Previously, the family was much larger, encompassing bushshrikes, puffbacks, tchagras, boubous, and helmetshrikes. However, genetic research has shown that these groups are not closely related to shrikes. As a consequence, bushshrikes, puffbacks, tchagras, and boubous have been moved to the family Malaconotidae, helmetshrikes to the family Vangidae.

 

Lanius Typical shrikes
The major part of the 29 species of this genus occurs in Eurasia and Africa. The great grey shrike (L. excubitor) has a circumpolar distribution, and the loggerhead shrike (L. ludovicianus) is confined to North America. About 6 species have been observed in the Himalaya.

The generic name is derived from the Latin lanio (‘butcher’), referring to the habit of some species of impaling their prey on thorns to be consumed later. The English name stems from Old English scric, alluding to their call. African species are known as fiscals, derived from Afrikaans fiskaal (a public official, especially a hangman), likewise alluding to the food-storing habit.

 

Lanius schach Long-tailed shrike
This species is distributed from Uzbekistan southwards to the Indian Subcontinent, including the Himalaya, and from the southern half of China and Taiwan southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines, with an isolated population in Papua New Guinea.

The distribution area of two subspecies overlap in the central Himalaya, erythronotus, sometimes called rufous-backed shrike, in the western part, and tricolor, often called black-headed shrike, in the eastern part. Occasionally, mixed breeding pairs of the two races occur. This bird may be encountered up to an elevation of 3,000 m, but chiefly breeds between 1,500 and 2,700 m, descending in winter, sometimes to the lowlands.

Other pictures, depicting this bird, may be seen on the page Animals – Birds: Birds in Taiwan.

 

 

Long-tailed shrike, ssp. tricolor, Kimrong Khola, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. The bird is sitting in a species of barberry, Berberis asiatica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Immature long-tailed shrikes are barred, with a rufous tinge on back, underside, and tail. – Peokar, near Kielang, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lanius tephronotus Grey-backed shrike
This species is quite similar to the long-tailed shrike, but the tail is shorter, and the back is uniformly grey. It is distributed in the entire Himalaya, from Pakistan to Myanmar, in Bangladesh and the major part of Southeast Asia, and thence northwards through western China and eastern Tibet to Qinghai. In the breeding season, it may be found at elevations between 2,200 and 4,600 m, in winter descending to lower altitudes around 2,000 m, sometimes as low as 300 m.

 

 

Sitting in a willow tree at the outskirts of the town of Shigatse, Tibet, this grey-backed shrike emits its alarm call, when I approach too close. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Grey-backed shrike, Gyapla, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Laridae Gulls and terns
This large cosmopolitan family constitutes 22 genera with about 100 species.

 

Sterna Typical terns
This genus, comprising 11-13 species, occurs almost worldwide, mainly in coastal regions. Previously, 4 other terns were included in the genus, but have now been transferred to the genus Onychoprion.

The generic name is derived from Old English stearn, which appears in the poem The Seafarer, from the 10th Century. A similar word was used for these birds by the Frisians, whereas the Scandinavians used, and still use, the word terne (Danish and Norwegian) or tärna (Swedish).

 

Sterna hirundo Common tern
As a breeding bird, this tern is distributed in most temperate and subtropical areas of the Northern Hemisphere, and also in arctic areas of northern Norway and extreme north-western Russia. Since 1980, a small breeding colony has existed on a tiny coral island off the east coast of Sri Lanka.

Subspecies tibetana is an uncommon breeding bird in Ladakh. In the remaining part of the Himalaya, the species may be observed on passage. It spends the winter along coasts from about 20 degrees northern latitude southwards to southern South America, Africa, and Australia.

 

 

Common tern, Puga Marshes, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Leiothrichidae Laughing-thrushes and allies
Laughing-thrushes, comprising altogether 45 species of colourful, noisy passerines in the genera Garrulax, Trochalopteron, Pterorhinus, and Grammatoptila, are now placed in the recently established family Leiothrichidae, together with sibias (below), minlas (Minla), barwings (Actinodura), liocichlas (Liocichla), leiothrixes (Leiothrix), and others. In the past, these genera all belonged to the family Timaliidae, which constituted a true ‘waste-bin of systematics’, in which hundreds of bird species were placed. Today, most of these species have been moved to other families.

All these genera are restricted to Asia, where they live in a wide range of habitats, from humid tropical rainforests to rather cold areas in China, Taiwan, and the Himalaya.

 

Grammatoptila striata Striated laughing-thrush
This bird, once in the genus Garrulax, is now the sole member of the genus Grammatoptila. It is locally fairly common, distributed from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Myanmar and the Yunnan Province, living in lush forests at elevations between 1,200 and 2,900 m.

 

 

This striated laughing-thrush is feeding in flowers of Rhododendron arboreum, which produce a profusion of pollen. – Sinuwa, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Heterophasia Sibias
A genus of 7 colourful birds, which are restricted to forests in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Far East. Some authorities only include the long-tailed sibia (H. picaoides) in this genus, placing the others in the genus Malacias.

 

Heterophasia capistrata Black-capped sibia, rufous sibia
This beautiful bird is very common in the Himalaya, from Pakistan eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh, living in evergreen broad-leaved forests, at elevations between 1,500 and 3,000 m. It is an excellent singer.

 

 

Black-capped sibia, marking its territory through song, Ghasa, Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pterorhinus Laughing-thrushes
For many years, members of this genus were placed in the large genus Garrulax, which, however, was split into several genera in 2018. Thus, the genus Pterorhinus was restored. It had originally been erected by British naturalist Robert Swinhoe (1836-1877) who, in 1860, became the first European consular representative to Taiwan. He discovered many new species, and 4 mammals and 15 birds are named after him.

As of today, the genus contains 23 species, distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards to Indonesia.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek pteron (‘feather’) and rhinos (‘nose’), alluding to the feathered nostrils of these birds.

 

Pterorhinus albogularis White-throated laughing-thrush
This bird is distributed from Pakistan eastwards along the Himalaya to western China and northern Indochina. Its natural habitat is moist montane forests, in summer breeding mainly at altitudes between 1,800 and 3,000 m, in winter often descending to about 1,200 m.

Previously, it was thought that this species was also found in montane forests of Taiwan. However, birds here have been upgraded to a separate species, P. ruficeps.

 

 

White-throated laughing-thrush, Tharke Ghyang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Trochalopteron Laughing-thrushes
This genus, comprising 19 species, is for the major part distributed in the Himalaya, Indochina, China, and Taiwan, with a single species, the streaked laughing-thush (below) also found in Central Asia, and another, the Malayan laughing-thush (T. peninsulae), living in southern Thailand and the Malacca Peninsula.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek trokhos (‘wheel’) and pteron (‘wing’), alluding to the short rounded wings of these birds.

 

Trochalopteron affine Black-faced laughing-thrush
This species is a common resident, from western Nepal eastwards to western China and northern Indochina, breeding in forests and shrubberies at high elevations, between 2,800 and 4,000 m, in winter often descending to about 1,800 m.

 

 

Black-faced laughing-thrush, observed near the Dudh Kosi River (top), and at Tengboche Monastery, both in Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Trochalopteron lineatum Streaked laughing-thrush
This bird is widely distributed, from eastern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan eastwards along the Karakoram and Himalaya to Sikkim, and also in mountain ranges in south-eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. It is a common resident, breeding in shrubberies and agricultural areas at altitudes chiefly between 2,400 and 3,900 m. In winter, it may be encountered at elevations between 1,000 and 2,700 m.

The plumage of this species is quite variable, reddish-brown with varying amounts of grey. The lores, however are always bright reddish-brown.

 

 

Streaked laughing-thrushes, Kielang, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. The bird in the upper picture has found a bit of bread. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Singing streaked laughing-thrush, Sherpagaon, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Megalaimidae Asian barbets
A family with altogether 35 species, distributed in forests and shrubland, from Pakistan eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, southwards to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Previously, they were all named Megalaima, with the exception of two species of Caloramphus. Today, Megalaima has been replaced by Psilopogon, but the family name Megalaimidae has been retained.

These colourful, small to medium-sized birds were formerly placed in the family Capitonidae, which also included New World barbets and African barbets, but the Asian species have been found to be distinctive and now constitute a separate family, with African barbets (Lybiidae) and toucans (Ramphastidae) as sister groups.

The name barbet is derived from French barbe (‘beard’ or ‘long hair of certain animals’), alluding to the bristles around the bill of these birds.

 

Psilopogon asiaticus Blue-throated barbet
This bird is distributed from northern Pakistan along the Himalaya to north-eastern India, Bangladesh, much of northern Indochina, and southern China. It lives in open forests, groves, and larger gardens, mainly in the lowlands, but is fairly common up to an elevation of about 1,500 m in the Himalaya, occasionally encountered up to 2,100 m.

 

 

Blue-throated barbet, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Motacillidae Wagtails, pipits, and longclaws
This family contains 6 or 7 genera with altogether c. 65 species. Wagtails and pipits are found in most parts of the planet, whereas the colourful longclaws are restricted to Tropical Africa.

 

Anthus Pipits
Most pipits have a rather drab plumage, mainly brown with darker stripes, an adaptation to their feeding among grass or on bare soil. They constitute a rather large genus, comprising between 34 and 46 species, distributed in most parts of the globe, except Antarctica.

 

Anthus roseatus Rosy pipit
In breeding plumage, this species is a little more colourful than most other pipits, having a pinkish wash on the unstreaked breast. Adult birds are always boldly streaked on the upperparts, in winter also on the underparts.

It is very widely distributed, from Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan eastwards across the Tibetan Plateau and western China to north-eastern China, southwards to the Himalaya and northern Indochina. In summer, it breeds in high-altitude meadows, at elevations between 4,000 and 5,100 m, and the winter is spent in marshy areas and grasslands at the foothills in the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent and Indochina, and in southern China, usually between 700 and 1,500 m.

 

 

This rosy pipit is feeding among grass and shrubs of Cotoneaster, near Chhukung, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. It is in transition plumage, note bright supercilium, olive-green edges on wing coverts and primary flight feathers, and rosy wash on the breast. The bird in the background is a rufous-breasted accentor (Prunella strophiata). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Motacilla Wagtails
These birds, comprising about 13 species, were named for their long, wagging tail. They are widely distributed in Europe, Africa, and Asia, with 2 species also encountered in Alaska.

The generic name is the classical Latin name for the white wagtail (below). It is actually a diminutive of motare (‘to move about’), but some time during the Middle Ages, based on a misunderstanding, the belief arose, that cilla meant ‘tail’. (Source: J.A. Jobling 2010. The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. Christopher Helm, London)

 

Motacilla alba White wagtail
There are altogether 11 subspecies of this bird, breeding from eastern Greenland eastwards across Europe and the northern part of Asia to western Alaska, southwards to Morocco, the Caucasus, the Himalaya, central China, and Taiwan.

Subspecies alboides is a common breeding bird in the Himalaya, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. In summer, it may be encountered up to an altitude of 4,800 m. In autumn, it descends to the lowlands.

Subspecies leucopsis breeds from Ussuriland in south-eastern Siberia southwards through central and eastern China to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, spending the winter in southern China, Taiwan, Indochina, and the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent. A number of pictures, showing this bird, are presented on the page Animals – Birds: Birds in Taiwan.

Subspecies personata breeds in southern Siberia, Sinkiang, and western Mongolia, southwards to northern Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and north-western India, wintering from Oman eastwards to northern India.

Several subspecies are presented on the page Animals: Urban animal life.

 

 

Male of subspecies alboides in transition plumage, Lake Cao Hai, Guizhou province, China. In the breeding plumage, the throat is solid black. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male alboides, resting on a boat, Phewa Lake, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male of subspecies leucopsis, walking along the railing of a boat, Phewa Lake, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Standing on a boat, this male of subspecies personata is preening, Phewa Lake, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Motacilla cinerea Grey wagtail
This species is distributed over a huge area, breeding in most of Europe, Morocco, the Middle East, the Himalaya, Siberia, Central Asia, China, Japan, and Taiwan. Northern populations spend the winter further south, in Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia.

It is a common breeding bird in the Himalaya, found along fast-flowing streams, mainly at elevations between 1,100 and 4,000 m. In winter, it descends to the lowlands, but may occasionally be encountered up to 1,500 m.

A number of pictures, depicting this species, are shown on the page Animals – Birds: Birds in Taiwan.

 

 

Female grey wagtail, feeding in mud, Betrawati, Trisuli Valley, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Motacilla citreola Citrine wagtail
This bird is very widely distributed, breeding from Finland and eastern Europe eastwards to central Siberia, and from the Arctic coast southwards throgh Central Asia to the northern outskirts of the Himalaya. Scattered breeding is also taking place in Turkey and central Europe. Wintering areas include Iran, the Indian Subcontinent, northern Indochina, and southern China.

In the Himalaya, it breeds in Ladakh. Elsewhere in the mountain range, it may be observed on pasage, and in winter it is fairly common in marshy areas at the foothills.

 

 

Male citrine wagtail in breeding plumage, Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Motacilla maderaspatensis White-browed wagtail
This species resembles the white wagtail (above), but is larger, to 21 cm long. Besides its large size, it is easily identified by the broad, white supercilium.

It is endemic to the Indian Subcontinent, from Pakistan eastwards to Bangladesh, and from the foothills of the Himalaya southwards to Cape Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin). It breeds in wetlands, but has adapted well to urban areas. It is largely resident, but is occasionally observed in Sri Lanka in winter.

In the Himalaya, it may be encountered up to an elevation of 1,700 m, occasionally higher.

 

 

Immature white-browed wagtails, resting on boats, Phewa Lake, Pokhara, central Nepal. The back of adult birds is black. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Muscicapidae Old World flycatchers
Genetic research has revealed that many smaller birds, which were formerly regarded as belonging to the thrush family (Turdidae), are in fact flycatchers. Today, the family includes about 51 genera with c. 324 species, widely distributed in Africa and Eurasia. The family name is derived from the Latin musca (‘a fly’) and capere (‘to catch’).

 

Calliope Rubythroats and allies
This genus was instigated by British ornithologist and bird artist John Gould (1804-1881) in 1837, when he described the white-tailed rubythroat (C. pectoralis). Later, this bird and other rubythroats were moved to the nightingale genus (Luscinia). However, a genetic study from 2010 found that this genus was not monophyletic, and Calliope was re-installed, today encompassing 5 species.

Calliope was the most prominent of the nine Muses in Greek mythology, who presided over poetry, song, and the arts and sciences. The name is derived from kallos (‘beauty’) and ops (‘voice’), in this context alluding to the fine song of these birds.

 

Calliope pectoralis Himalayan rubythroat
This species, previously known as white-tailed rubythroat, is widely distributed, from the Tien Shan Mountains in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan southwards to north-eastern Afghanistan and the Himalaya, and thence eastwards to Bhutan. In the Himalaya, is common in shrubby vegetation at high altitudes, between 3,300 and 4,800 m, in winter moving down to below 1,300 m, and commonly observed in the foothills.

In former days, birds in western China, Tibet, and northern Myanmar were included in this species, but have now been split to form a separate species, Chinese rubythroat (C. tschebaiewi).

 

 

Singing Himalayan rubythroat, Dusum, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Copsychus Magpie-robins, shama
Members of this genus, comprising 12 medium-sized, insectivorous and fructivorous passerines, are mainly distributed in warmer areas of Asia, with one species in Madagascar and one in the Seychelles.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek kopsykhos, meaning ‘black bird’.

 

Copsychus saularis Oriental magpie-robin
This striking black-and-white bird is distributed in the major part of the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, eastwards to south-eastern China, living in open forests, secondary growth, and gardens. In the Himalaya, it is commonly encountered up to an altitude of 2,000 m, occasionally to 3,000 m.

Incidentally, this is the national bird of Bangladesh.

A number of pictures, depicting this species, are shown on the page Animals – Birds: Birds in Taiwan.

 

 

The female oriental magpie robin has greyish head and breast, whereas the male is jetblack. This female is panting in the summer heat, sitting on a house roof in the village of Betrawati, Trisuli Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Enicurus Forktails
These striking black-and-white birds all have whitish legs and a forked tail, which has given the group its name. Most of the 7 species live along mountain streams in Southeast Asia and Indonesia, 5 of them also occurring in the Himalaya.

 

Enicurus immaculatus Black-backed forktail
This bird, sometimes called black-throated forktail, lives along fast-flowing mountain streams, from Uttarakhand eastwards to north-eastern India, northern Myanmar, and northern Thailand. It is fairly common in the Himalaya, mainly found below 1,400 m elevation.

 

 

Black-backed forktail in courtship display, near Landruk, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Enicurus scouleri Little forktail
This small species differs from the other members of the genus by not having a long tail. It is widely distributed, from the Tian Shan Mountains in Sinkiang southwards to the Himalaya, and thence eastwards to southern China and Taiwan. It is quite common in the Himalaya, breeding at altitudes between 1,500 and 4,000 m, in winter descending to about 1,000 m, occasionally even to the foothills.

The specific name was given in honour of Scottish physician and naturalist John Scouler (1804-1871), who made several travels, one 1824-26 on board a Hudson Bay Company ship, bound for the Columbia River, which anchored at Madeira, Rio de Janeiro, and the Galapagos Islands on the way. His companion was the celebrated botanist David Douglas (1799-1834), who taught Scouler a great deal of botany. A second journey was on board a merchant vessel, bound for Calcutta, making stops at Cape Horn and Madras in southern India.

The interesting, albeit short life of David Douglas is related on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.

 

 

Little forktail, perched on a rock in the Lower Marsyangdi River, between Tal and Karte, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Little forktail, Deorali, Ghorepani, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Eumyias
A small Asian genus of 6 mainly bluish or slaty-blue flycatchers.

 

Eumyias thalassina Verditer flycatcher
This striking bird is distributed from northern Pakistan eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Sumatra and Borneo. In the Himalaya, it is a common breeding bird at elevations between 1,200 and 2,600 m, occasionally up to 3,200 m. The vast majority migrates in autumn to Peninsular India, with a few birds remaining in the foothills.

Verditer is a word that indicates a light blue or turquoise colour.

 

 

Male verditer flycatcher, Khewang, Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. The male has a slightly brighter plumage than the female. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Monticola Rock-thrushes
A genus of 13 species, distributed in large parts of Africa and on Madagascar, and from southern Europe eastwards across northern parts of the Middle East and Central Asia to the Pacific coast and Japan, and thence southwards to Sumatra. Most species live in montane or rocky areas, reflected in the generic name, which is derived from the Latin mons (‘mountain’) and colere (‘to dwell’).

Despite the thrush-like appearance of these birds, genetic research has shown that they are in fact ground-living flycatchers.

 

Monticola cinclorhynchus Blue-capped rock-thrush
The striking male has a blue crown and throat, bright reddish-chestnut underparts and rump, a broad black band from the bill through the eye to the cheek, and a white and a blue patch on the otherwise black wings. The female is brown with a pale underside, marked with thin, dark chevrons.

This bird breeds in forests and shrubberies at elevations between 1,200 and 2,200 m, from Afghanistan along the Himalaya eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh. In winter, it may be encountered in the entire Indian Peninsula and parts of Myanmar.

The specific name means ‘with a bill like a dipper (Cinclus)‘, derived from Ancient Greek kinklos (a small unidentified water bird) and rhynkhos (‘bill’), alluding to the long, thin bill of this species.

 

 

Male blue-capped rock-thrush, Hellok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Monticola rufiventris Chestnut-bellied rock-thrush
The male is quite similar to the blue-capped rock-thrush, but it lacks the bright blue colours and the white wing patch. The female is similar to the female blue-capped, but the chevrons on the underside are larger and darker, and parts of the face and neck are orange-buff.

This species is distributed from Afghanistan along the Himalaya eastwards to northern Indochina and southern China. In the Himalaya, it breeds at elevations between 1,800 and 3,400 m, in winter descending to lower altitudes, between 900 and 2,400 m.

 

 

Female chestnut-bellied rock-thrush, Banthanti, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Phoenicurus Redstarts
In this genus, most of the species are strongly sexually dimorphic, females being much less colourful than males.

The genus contains 14 species, distributed from western Europe and North Africa eastwards across Temperate Eurasia, and thence southwards to India and Indochina. No less than 11 species have been encountered in the Himalaya.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek phoinix (‘crimson’) and oura (‘tail’), like the English name referring to the red tail of these birds. Start is an old word for tail.

 

Phoenicurus erythrogastrus White-winged redstart
This bird, also known as Güldenstädt’s redstart, is widely distributed in high mountains of Asia, from southern Siberia and Mongolia southwards to Afghanistan, the Himalaya, and south-western China, with a disjunst population in the Caucasus.

It is a large species, to 18 cm long. The male is easily identified by its white crown, black throat and upper breast, orange-red belly, and a white patch on the wing. The female is orange-buff, with a reddish tail.

It breeds in high-altitude meadows and stony areas at elevations between 3,600 and 5,600 m, in winter descending to slightly lower altitudes, between 1,500 and 4,800 m. Some of the Central Asian birds are migratory, spending the winter in north-eastern China and northern Indochina.

The alternative popular name commemorates Baltic naturalist and explorer Johann Anton Güldenstädt (1745-1781), who participated in a Russian expedition, sent by Catherine II to explore the Caucasus and other Russian frontier areas. This expedition was the first systematic study of the Caucasus. Güldenstädt died from an outbreak of fever in St. Petersburg.

 

 

Male white-winged redstart, Chhukung, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phoenicurus frontalis Blue-fronted redstart
As its name implies, the male of this bird has bluish head and throat, and the wings and upper back are also bluish. The remaining parts are a rich orange-red, except the tips of wings and tail, which are blackish.

Occupying a wide range of habitats, including forest clearings, shrubberies, and villages, this species is the commonest redstart in the Himalaya, where it breeds at elevations between 3,300 and 4,900 m, descending to altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 m in winter.

It is very widely distributed, from eastern Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to large parts of eastern Tibet and western China.

 

 

Male blue-fronted redstart, perched on a rhododendron bush, Tengboche Monastery, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male blue-fronted redstart, Hille, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phoenicurus fuliginosus Plumbeous redstart
Previously, this bird was placed in the genus Rhyacornis, but recent genetic research has revealed that it is in fact a ‘true’ redstart of the genus Phoenicurus, despite differing somewhat from the other members of that genus, being smaller, and with a shorter tail. The male is slate-black with a red tail, whereas the female has dark-grey back, whitish, mottled breast, and two large white spots at the base of the tail.

This bird lives exclusively along fast-flowing streams, often seen perched on a rock, from where it flies up to snap some bypassing insect. It is common in the Himalaya, breeding at elevations between 1,500 and 4,000 m, descending in winter to the foothills and lower mountains, occasionally encountered up to 2,500 m.

The specific name is from the Latin fuligo (‘soot’) and –ous (‘prone to’), alluding to the slaty-black colour of the male.

 

 

Singing plumbeous redstart, Valley of Flowers National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female plumbeous redstart, Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phoenicurus leucocephalus White-capped river-chat
Along fast-flowing streams in the Himalaya, you often hear the sharp, piercing call of the white-capped river-chat – the preferred habitat of this bird.

This species, by some authorities called white-capped water-redstart, is distributed in a vast area, from Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to the major part of eastern Tibet and China, southwards to northern Indochina. It breeds at altitudes between 1,800 and 5,000 m, descending to slightly lower elevations in winter.

Previously, this bird was placed in the monotypic genus Chaimarrornis, derived from Ancient Greek kheimarrhos (‘torrent’) and ornis (‘bird’), alluding to its habitat.

 

 

White-capped river-chat, carrying food, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal (top), and Deorali, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Saxicola Bushchats, stonechats
A genus of 15 species of insectivorous birds, living in open shrubberies and grasslands.

The generic name is derived from the Latin saxum (‘rock’) and incola (‘dwelling among’), alluding to the preferred habitat of the type species, the common stonechat (Saxicola torquatus), which has since been divided into 5 species (see below).

 

Saxicola ferreus Grey bushchat
This bird is distributed in subtropical and tropical forests and shrubberies, from eastern Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to large parts of Indochina and China. Some populations are migratory, spending the winter slightly further south.

In the Himalaya, it breeds at elevations between 1,500 and 3,400 m, spending the winter from the lowlands up to about 2,000 m.

The male has a black mask and white supercilium, the back is dark grey with blackish streaks, and the underparts are pale grey. The female has a faded version of the male’s head pattern, dark brown upperparts, and reddish-buff underparts, with a reddish tail.

 

 

Male grey bushchat, Amjilassa, Lower Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male grey bushchat, Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Saxicola maurus Asian stonechat
This bird, also known as Siberian stonechat, was once regarded as a subspecies of the widespread common stonechat (S. torquatus), which has since been divided into 5 species. It is distributed from Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey eastwards to southern Siberia, Central Asia, the Himalaya, and western China.

Subspecies indicus breeds in the Himalaya, from Kashmir eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh, in summer found at elevations between 400 and 4,900 m, in winter descending to below 1,500 m.

It resembles the European stonechat (S. rubicola), but is darker above, with a white rump and whiter underparts with less orange on the breast.

 

 

Male Asian stonechat, Lower Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Tarsiger Bush-robins, bluestarts
A small genus with 6 species, distributed from the Himalaya eastwards to Indochina, China and Taiwan, with the exception of the widespread common bluestart (T. cyanurus), which is found in the taiga belt of Eurasia, from Finland eastwards to Japan.

 

Tarsiger chrysaeus Golden bush-robin
This gorgeous bird is found from northern Pakistan eastwards along the Himalaya to northern Myanmar and western China. Northern populations are migratory, spending the winter slightly further south.

In the Himalaya, this species breeds at altitudes between 3,500 and 4,200 m, moving down in winter to elevations between 1,700 and 2,800 m.

 

 

Male golden bush-robin, Tutu La, Makalu-Barun Nationalpark, eastern Nepal. The female has a slightly duller plumage, but is otherwise identical to the male. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Tarsiger rufilatus Himalayan bush-robin, Himalayan bluestart
The distribution of this bird is almost identical to the one of golden bush-robin (above). In the Himalaya, it is found in summer at elevations between 3,000 and 4,000 m, in winter descending to altitudes between 1,400 and 2,800 m.

Previously, this bird was regarded as a subspecies of the common bluestart (T. cyanurus), but today most authorities consider it a separate species.

 

 

Male Himalayan bluestart, Deboche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Nectariniidae Sunbirds
Together with spiderhunters (Arachnothera), sunbirds constitute the family Nectariniidae, containing about 145 species. Formerly, most sunbirds were lumped in the genus Nectarinia, which has since been divided into 15 genera.

With their downward-curved bills, these colourful birds are adapted to feed on nectar (hence the name of the family), but they also eat fruit, insects, and spiders. Although they resemble the hummingbirds of the Americas, these two groups are entirely unrelated, the resemblance being an example of convergent evolution.

Africa holds a bewildering array of sunbirds, and a large number of species are also found from the Middle East across the Indian Subcontinent to Southeast Asia, southern China, Indonesia, New Guinea, and northern Australia. In the Himalaya, about 8 species have been observed.

 

Aethopyga
A genus of about 23 species, distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Southeast Asia and southern China.

 

Aethopyga ignicauda Fire-tailed sunbird
This bird is found along the Himalaya, in north-eastern India, south-eastern Tibet, northern Indochina, and south-western China. It lives in montane forests, in summer at elevations between 3,000 and 4,000 m, in winter descending to between 1,000 and 2,100 m.

 

 

Male fire-tailed sunbird, Machhapuchhare Base Camp, Upper Modi Khola Valley Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Oriolidae Old World orioles and allies
A small family of 4 genera, comprising altogether about 38 species. They are not related to the New World orioles of the family Icteridae, which are quite similar, the similarity being an example of convergent evolution.

 

Oriolus
By far the largest genus in the family, comprising about 29 species. They are distributed in large parts of warmer areas of Africa and Asia, with a single species, the Eurasian oriole (O. oriolus) being a summer visitor to large parts of Europe.

 

Oriolus xanthornus Black-hooded oriole
A widespread bird, found in the Indian Subcontinent and from Indochina southwards to Borneo. In the Himalaya, it is a common resident up to an altitude of 400 m, but is often encountered up to about 1,000 m.

 

 

Black-hooded oriole, Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Paradoxornithidae Parrotbills and allies
Parrotbills proper are a group of peculiar passerines with thick bills, an adaptation to feeding on hard-shelled seeds. At an early stage, mainly due to their acrobatic habits and their superficial likeness to long-tailed tits (Aegithalos), these birds were placed in the tit family (Paridae), to which the long-tailed tits then belonged.

Later studies found that parrotbills were not at all related to tits, and, together with the bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus), they were moved to a separate family, Paradoxornithidae (‘paradoxical birds’), which was placed near the timalids (Timaliidae). The bearded reedling has since been moved to a family of its own, Panuridae.

Recent genetic research has had the effect that a number of birds, which were previously placed in Timaliidae, have been moved to Paradoxornithidae, including Chrysomma and some fulvettas, formerly of the genus Alcippe, now Fulvetta (below). Other fulvettas, which were retained in Alcippe, have been moved to a separate family, Alcippeidae.

Today, Paradoxornithidae contains about 16 genera with c. 37 species of small to medium-sized birds.

 

Chrysomma
Today, this genus contains only two species, both restricted to warmer areas of Asia. A third species, the rufous-tailed babbler, has been moved to the monotypic genus Moupinia.

Previously, these birds were placed in the family Timaliidae (Old World babblers). However, genetic research has revealed that they are related to parrotbills.

 

Chrysomma sinense Yellow-eyed babbler
This species is distributed from Pakistan through most of India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh to Southeast Asia and southern China, living in grasslands, shrubberies, and cultivated areas. It occurs mainly on the plains, but is also found in lower hills up to an elevation of 1,200 m.

 

 

Yellow-eyed babbler, Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Fulvetta Fulvettas
A small genus with 8 species, distributed from the Himalaya eastwards to Indochina, China, and Taiwan. These birds were previously included in the large family Tiimalidae, which has since been divided into numerous families.

 

Fulvetta vinipectus White-browed fulvetta
This small bird is distributed from the Himalaya eastwards to northern Indochina and southern China, living in temperate forests. In the Himalaya, it breeds at altitudes between 1,800 and 3,000 m, in winter moving to slightly lower elevations.

 

 

White-browed fulvetta, searching for food beneath a Nepalese dock (Rumex nepalensis), Gopte, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Paridae Tits, titmice, chickadees
This family contains about 64 species, which, following genetic studies, have been divided into 14 genera. However, the mutual relationship of these birds is far from being clarified, and future studies may again revise the nomenclature.

The name titmouse can be traced back to the 14th Century, composed of the words tit, which denotes something small, and the Old English name for these birds, mase, from Proto-Germanic maison, which is also the source of the German name Meise, the Danish and Norwegian mejse, and the Swedish mes.

 

Lophophanes
This genus contains only 2 species, the one below and the European crested tit (L. cristatus), which is widespread in Europe, eastwards to the Ural Mountains. The generic name is derived from the Ancient Greek lophos (‘crest’) and phaino (‘to show’), alluding to the prominent crest of both species.

 

Lophophanes dichrous Grey-crested tit
This species has a wide distribution, found along the entire Himalaya, eastwards to large parts of western China and the northern part of Indochina. In the Himalaya, it lives in forests, breeding at elevations between 2,400 and 4,000 m, descending to slightly lower altitudes in winter.

 

 

Grey-crested tit, Banthanti, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Parus
Previously, this genus contained most species of tits, around 50, but the vast majority has been moved to other genera, leaving only 4 species in Parus. The generic name is the classical Latin name for tits.

 

Parus monticolus Green-backed tit
This bird is quite similar to the Eurasian great tit (P. major), but has two white wingbars and often a broader black stripe on the breast, and its song is also different.

It is widely distributed in Asia, from northern Pakistan along the Himalaya to northern Myanmar and western China, with an isolated population in the lower mountains of Taiwan. In the Himalaya, it breeds at altitudes between 1,400 and 3,700 m, wintering below 2,800 m.

 

 

Green-backed tit, carrying food, Kutumsang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Green-backed tit, near Sekathum, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pseudopodoces humilis Tibetan ground tit
This bird, the only member of the genus, is living on the Tibetan Plateau, and also in dry areas of extreme north-western Pakistan and India, north-western Nepal, and northern Bhutan.

Previously, its peculiar appearance confused taxonomist, who called it Hume’s groundpecker or Hume’s ground jay, assuming that it was a member of the crow family (Corvidae). However, genetic research has since revealed that this bird is a tit, with its closest relatives in the genus Parus.

The nest is very unusual for that of a passerine, being built inside a burrow which the birds excavate themselves into a bank, sometimes reaching a depth of 1.8 m.

 

 

Tibetan ground tit, Shigatse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Passeridae Old World sparrows, snowfinches
As the family name implies, these birds, comprising about 43 species in 8 genera, are restricted to the Old World. They are not closely related to the New World sparrows, which belong to the family Passerellidae. When the European settlers arrived in America, these birds reminded them of the sparrows back home, so they named them ‘sparrows’.

 

Montifringilla Snowfinches
A small genus of 8 high-altitude passerines, distributed mainly in Central Asia. A single species, the white-winged snowfinch (M. nivalis), has a patchy distribution in montane areas further west, reaching northern Spain.

The generic name is derived from the Latin mons (‘mountain’) and fringilla (‘finch’). Initially, these birds were regarded as finches, of the family Fringillidae (above). However, genetic research has shown that they are in fact sparrows.

 

Montifringilla adamsi Tibetan snowfinch, black-winged snowfinch
This is a common resident on the Tibetan Plateau and in western China, and is also found in the extreme northern regions of Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan, living in open stony areas, shrubland, and near villages. In north-western Nepal, it breeds at elevations between 4,200 and 5,100 m, descending to between 2,500 and 3,500 m in winter.

 

 

Tibetan snowfinch, drinking from a spring, Puga Marshes, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This Tibetan snowfinch is eating a seed, Nagarze, southern Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Passer Typical sparrows
A genus of about 28 species, widely distributed in Africa and Eurasia. The generic name is the Latin word for sparrows.

 

Passer domesticus House sparrow
This well-known bird was originally native to Europe, northern and north-eastern Africa, and most temperate and subtropical areas of Asia, but has been introduced to almost the entire planet. In the Himalaya, where was previously a common resident below 2,000 m, and uncommon up to 3,000 m, it has declined dramatically in later years, mainly due to the increased usage of chemical fertilizers and insecticides.

Other pictures, depicting this species, may be seen on the page Animals: Urban animal life, and Nature: Invasive species.

 

 

House sparrows, observed at Kielang, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, at an altitude of 3,000 m. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Passer montanus Tree sparrow
The distribution area of this bird is huge, from western Europe across Central Asia to Japan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. In the Himalaya, it is a common and widespread resident up to an elevation of 4,300 m.

Other pictures, depicting this species, are shown on the pages Animals – Birds: Birds in Taiwan, and Animals: Urban animal life.

 

 

Tree sparrow on a house roof, Dhunche, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Phasianidae Pheasants and allies
This family, which includes pheasants, partridges, junglefowl, quail, peafowl, and many others, contains 150-180 species. Today, most authorities include grouse (Tetraoninae), guineafowl (Numidinae), and turkeys (Meleagridinae) as subfamilies of Phasianidae, whereas others treat them as separate families.

In the broadest sense, these birds are found worldwide, except in Antarctica.

 

Alectoris Rock partridges
A genus of 7 species of small game birds, distributed in southern Europe, northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and from the Middle East eastwards to north-eastern China. A single species is found in the Himalaya.

The generic name is derived from the Ancient Greek alektoris (‘chicken’).

 

Alectoris chukar Chukar
This bird is distributed from Greece, Bulgaria, and Egypt eastwards across the Middle East to Central Asia and north-eastern China. It has also been introduced as a hunting object to many other areas and has formed feral populations in several countries, including the United States and New Zealand.

In the Himalaya, it is distributed as far east as western Nepal, found at elevations between 2,100 and 4,000 m. It is very common in Ladakh.

 

 

A pair of chukar with almost full-grown chicks, near Hemis Gompa, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chukar, Gya River Valley, near Rumtse, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chukar, drinking from a stream, Gya River Valley. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ithaginis cruentus Blood pheasant
This relatively small species, the only member of the genus, is named for the plumage of the male, whose breast has several blood-coloured streaks. It is widespread and fairly common, found from western Nepal eastwards to northern Myanmar and large parts of western China. In the Himalaya, it is resident at elevations between 3,200 and 4,400 m, mostly in rhododendron shrubs.

This bird is rather tame around the Sherpa monastery of Tengboche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal, where hunting is banned for religious reasons. It is the state bird of Sikkim.

 

 

Male blood pheasant, Deboche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lophophorus Monal pheasants
A genus of 3 gorgeous gamebirds, distributed from Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to central China. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek lophos (‘crest’) and phoros (‘bearing’), alluding to the small crest of the Himalayan monal (below).

 

Lophophorus impejanus Himalayan monal
This species, which is sometimes called Impeyan pheasant, is distributed from Afghanistan eastwards along the Himalaya to Bhutan, in summer at elevations between 3,300 and 4,600 m, in winter at slightly lower altitudes.

It is the national bird of Nepal, locally called danphe, and often referred to as ’the bird of nine colours’. In sunshine, the brilliant plumage of the male is glittering in almost all imaginable colours. The female is brownish and heavily streaked, with naked blue skin around the eyes and a pale patch on the throat.

It is also the state bird of Uttarakhand.

The specific name commemorates Lady Mary Impey, wife of Sir Elijah Impey (1732-1809), who was chief justice of the Supreme Court at Fort William, the first settlement of the British East India Company in Bengal.

As with most other gamebirds, the meat of monal is delicious, and for this reason it is hunted in many places. However, it is still common locally, and in the Khumbu area of eastern Nepal it is very common, as the local Buddhist Sherpas are against killing. So even though the monal does some damage by digging up potatoes and eating them, they are not persecuted here.

 

 

Male Himalayan monal, surveying his territory from a rock, Kyangjuma, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female monal, between Pangboche and Phortse, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

During a hike in the Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, we encountered this monal chick. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Tetraogallus Snowcocks
A genus of 5 large species of game birds, distributed in montane areas from eastern Turkey and the Caucasus eastwards to Central Asia and western China.

 

Tetraogallus tibetanus Tibetan snowcock
This species is widely distributed in Central Asian mountains, from Tajikistan southeast along the Himalaya to Arunachal Pradesh, thence northwards through western China to Qinghai, and from there westwards to the Kunlun Mountains. It avoids desert areas of the Tibetan Plateau.

It is rather common in drier areas of the higher parts of the Himalaya, breeding mainly between 4,500 and 5,500 m, descending to slightly lower elevations in winter.

At dawn, the call of this bird can be heard from a considerable distance, a penetrating gukka-gukka-guk-guk-guk-grrr.

 

 

Tibetan snowcock, Merak, Makalu National Park, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Tibetan snowcocks, feeding near Tughla, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Phylloscopidae Leaf-warblers
In former days, members of this family were placed in the large warbler family (Sylviidae). However, genetic studies have had the effect that this family has been split into a number of families.

Leaf-warblers are about 80 species of small insectivorous birds, all belonging to the genus Phylloscopus. Previously, the family included the genus Seicercus, but recent genetic studies concluded that members of this genus should be moved to Phylloscopus.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek phyllon (‘leaf’) and skopos, from skopeo (‘to watch’), in this connection presumably meaning ‘to search’ (for insects).

 

Phylloscopus burkii Golden-spectacled warbler
This bird, also known as green-crowned warbler, was formerly placed in the genus Seicercus. It is breeding in moist forests of the Himalaya, at elevations between 2,000 and 3,800 m, from Kashmir eastwards to Bhutan, spending the winter in Bangladesh and eastern India.

 

 

This golden-spectacled warbler is taking off from a branch, Phele, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Phylloscopus reguloides Blyth’s leaf-warbler
This species is widely distributed in moist montane forests, from northern Pakistan along the Himalaya eastwards to Indochina and southern China. In the Himalaya, it is found at elevations between 2,000 and 3,800 m in summer, the major part of the population wintering below 1,500 m.

The specific name is derived from the Latin regulus (‘kinglet’ or ‘petty king’) and oides (‘like’), alluding to the likeness of the bird to goldcrests and kinglets, genus Regulus.

The popular name refers to English zoologist Edward Blyth (1810-1873), who described a number of birds from the Himalaya. He worked as a curator of zoology at the museum of the Asiatic Society of India in Calcutta (today Kolkata).

 

 

Blyth’s leaf-warbler, sitting on a branch of a Himalayan birch (Betula utilis), Kyangjuma, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Picidae Woodpeckers
Members of this family, comprising about 240 species in 35 genera, are found worldwide, except for Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Madagascar, and polar regions. Most species are known for their characteristic way of foraging, pecking on tree trunks and branches. In the breeding season, many species communicate by drumming with their beak on a tree trunk.

 

Dendrocopos
A widespread genus, found in Eurasia and North Africa. Formerly, it contained about 25 species, but many have been moved to other genera, leaving 12 species in Dendrocopos.

The generic name is derived from the Greek dendron (‘tree’) and kopos (‘hard work’), of course alluding to their way of life.

 

Dendrocopos macei Fulvous-breasted woodpecker
This widespread species lives in drier forests, from northern Pakistan eastwards along the Himalaya to south-western China, and also in northern Myanmar, Bangladesh, and along the north-eastern coast of India. In the Himalaya, it is restricted to lower altitudes, mainly below 1,800 m.

 

 

Male fulvous-breasted woodpecker, feeding on the trunk of a dead coral tree (Erythrina stricta), Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Pnoepygidae Wren-babblers, cupwings
This family contains a single genus, Pnoepyga, comprising 5 species of tiny birds, which were previously regarded as babblers of the family Timaliidae. However, following genetic research, they have been moved to a separate family.

The name cupwing alludes to the short, rounded wings of these birds.

 

Pnoepyga albiventer Scaly-breasted wren-babbler
This tiny bird, also known as scaly-breasted cupwing, is found in the Himalaya, from Kashmir eastwards to Myanmar, in the mountains of north-eastern India, and in northern Vietnam. In the Himalaya, it breeds between 2,400 and 4,000 m altitude, descending to the lower valleys in winter.

Previously, birds in Taiwan were treated as a subspecies of the scaly-breasted wren-babbler, but have now been elevated to a separate species, Pnoepyga formosana.

 

 

Scaly-breasted wren-babbler, Deorali, Upper Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Prunellidae Accentors
A small group of passerines, comprising 13 species in Prunella, the sole genus of the family. Most species are restricted to Asia, with 2 species, the dunnock (P. modularis) and the alpine accentor (P. collaris), also found in Europe. They live in montane areas, except the dunnock, which is mainly a lowland bird.

 

Prunella collaris Alpine accentor
This species has a very wide distribution, from Morocco and Spain across central Europe and the Middle East to Central Asia, the Himalaya, China, Japan, and Taiwan. In the Himalaya, it is found at high elevations, between 4,200 and 5,500 m, descending to between 2,500 and 3,800 m in winter.

 

 

Its breast feathers ruffled by a fierce gust of wind, this Alpine accentor is singing from a lichen-encrusted rock in Gokyo Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Prunella fulvescens Brown accentor
This bird has a very wide distribution in Central Asia, found from southern Kazakhstan, southern Siberia, and Mongolia southwards to Afghanistan, the northern outskirts of the Himalaya, eastwards to western and north-eastern China. It lives in shrubby vegetation and avoids the harshest areas of the deserts.

It is a rather common resident in Ladakh and the driest parts of northern Nepal, found in summer at altitudes up to about 4,900 m, in winter descending to between 2,300 and 4,000 m.

 

 

Brown accentor, Tajung, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Brown accentor, Gyantse, southern Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Prunella himalayana Altai accentor
This species is found from the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia and western Mongolia southwest via the Tien Shan Mountains to the Pamir Mountains of eastern Afghanistan, spending the winter from Afghanistan along the Himalaya eastwards to Bhutan. In the Himalaya, it is a fairly common winter visitor in shrubby vegetation and grassy areas at elevations between 2,000 and 4,300 m.

 

 

Altai accentor, Jarsang Valley, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Prunella rubeculoides Robin accentor
This bird is found from eastern Afghanistan along the Himalaya eastwards to the major part of eastern Tibet and western China. It is common in the Himalaya, living among shrubby vegetation at altitudes between 4,200 and 5,000 m, descending in winter to between 2,600 and 4,000 m.

The specific and popular names both allude to the breast of this species, which is of the same warm reddish colour as the breast of the Eurasian robin (Erithacus rubecula).

 

 

Robin accentor, Lhonak, Upper Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Robin accentor, feeding on insects at a mountain stream, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Prunella strophiata Rufous-breasted accentor
This species has about the same distribution as the robin accentor, but is also found in northern Indochina. Its altitudinal distribution overlaps with that of the robin accentor, but it is generally found at slightly lower elevations, between 3,500 and 4,900 m in summer, descending to between 1,600 and 3,700 m in winter. The two species seem to co-exist in the same shrubby habitat.

The specific name is derived from Ancient Greek strophion (‘breaststrap’), originally a band worn around the breasts, like a bra. Naturally, it refers to the reddish-brown breast band of this bird.

 

 

Rufous-breasted accentor, Merak, Barun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rufous-breasted accentor, sitting in a juniper, Pheriche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Psittacidae Parrots
Parrots are found in most warmer areas of the globe. The family contains about 400 species in 92 genera.

 

Psittacula Ring-necked parakeets
A genus of 13 medium-sized, mainly green parrots, most of which live in Asia, with a few representatives on islands in the Indian Ocean, off the African coast.

 

Psittacula himalayana Slaty-headed parakeet
This is mainly a bird of the Himalaya, found from northern Pakistan eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh, but it also occurs in montane areas of western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. It is one of the few parrots with annual altitudinal movements, found up to an elevation of about 2,500 m in summer, but moving to the lower valleys in winter, usually below 1,000 m.

 

 

Slaty-headed parakeet, Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Pycnonotidae Bulbuls and allies
These birds are medium-sized passerines, encompassing 27 genera with c. 150 species. They are distributed in much of Africa, and across the Middle East to Tropical Asia and Indonesia, and thence northwards to Japan.

Sub-Saharan members of the family, called greenbuls, brownbuls, leafloves, and bristlebills, are mainly forest birds, whereas the majority of North African and Asian species live in open areas.

 

Hypsipetes Black bulbuls
A genus of about 19 species, found from Madagascar and various islands in the Indian Ocean eastwards to the Indian Subcontinent, southern China, and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia.

 

Hypsipetes leucocephalus Asian black bulbul
Formerly, the black bulbuls of Asia were regarded as subspecies of the Malagasy bulbul (H. madagascariensis), but most authorities now recognize two separate Asian species, the Asian black bulbul, which is widely distributed, found from north-eastern Afghanistan along the Himalaya to Indochina, China, and Taiwan, and the square-tailed bulbul (H. ganeesa), which is restricted to montane areas of South India and Sri Lanka.

Asian black bulbul is predominantly black, or slate-black, bill and gape are bright read, and the feet are orange. Sometimes white-headed morphs are seen. The specific name leucocephalus is from the Greek leukos (‘white’), and kephalos (‘head’), so the species must have been described from a white-headed specimen.

In the Himalaya, subspecies psaroides is distributed from eastern Afghanistan eastwards to northern Myanmar, living in forests from the lower valleys up to an elevation of about 3,000 m. It is much greyer than the other subspecies, with a conspicuous grey patch behind the eye.

 

 

Singing black bulbul, subspecies psaroides, Yamphudin, Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pycnonotus Typical bulbuls
Members of this genus, comprising about 32 species, are widely distributed in Africa, and from the Middle East across the Indian Subcontinent to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards to Indonesia.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek pyknos (‘thick’ or ‘compact’) and noton (‘back’), applied in 1826 by German zoologist and lawyer Friedrich Boie (1789-1870), who described many new species and several new genera of birds. Presumably, Boie found that these birds were quite compact.

He and his brother Heinrich also described about 50 new species of reptiles.

 

Pycnonotus leucogenys Himalayan bulbul
This bird, also called white-cheeked bulbul, is common and widespread in the Himalaya, found from eastern Afghanistan eastwards to south-western China. In the Himalaya, it lives in scrubland and secondary growth, from the lower valleys up to about 2,500 m elevation.

 

 

Himalayan bulbul, Tatopani, Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Recurvirostridae Avocets and stilts
Avocets and stilts are wading birds, characterized by their very long and thin legs. They are widely distributed around the world.

 

Himantopus Stilts
Handbook of the Birds of the World (Lynx Edicions) only recognizes 3 species of stilt, the black-winged stilt (below) and H. novaezelandiae, and the banded stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus), a strange nomadic bird, which is restricted to Australia, where it only breeds after ample rain, when large salt lakes are created at various places in the desert. Other authorities recognize up to 6 members of the genus Himantopus.

The first part of the generic name is from the Latin amentum, a leather strap, which was attached to a javelin, used in ancient Greek athletics, hunting, and warfare. This strap helped to increase the range and stability of the javelin in flight. (Source: E. Gardiner 1907. Throwing the Javelin. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 27: 249-273)

The second part of the name is from the Greek pous (‘foot’). Thus, Himantopus may be translated as ‘strap-leg’, which of course refers to the very long, thin legs of these birds.

 

Himantopus himantopus Black-winged stilt
This species is distributed in most temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions of the world, but is restricted to areas with shallow water. Northern populations are migratory. In the Himalaya, it is a rather uncommon passage migrant.

 

 

Black-winged stilts, Sissu, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. The bird to the right is an immature. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Black-winged stilt, feeding in a stream, near Niki La, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Sittidae Nuthatches
Nuthatches are a family of c. 29 species of small passerines, with only a single genus, Sitta. These birds are characterized by their feeding behavior, creeping up and down tree trunks in search of larvae, which they extract from the wood, using their powerful bill.

 

Sitta himalayensis White-tailed nuthatch
Common resident in forests at elevations between 1,800 and 3,200 m, from Himachal Pradesh eastwards along the Himalaya to northern Myanmar, northern Vietnam, and the Yunnan Province of China, and also in mountains along the India-Myanmar border. Some birds descend to the lower valleys in winter.

Despite the name of this bird, the white at the base of the upper tail is difficult to see in the field.

 

 

White-tailed nuthatch, Dhunche, Langtang Nationalpark, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Strigidae Typical owls
A large cosmopolitan family, comprising 25 genera with about 220 species. These birds are found on all continents, except Antarctica.

 

Glaucidium Owlets, pygmy owls
This genus of small to very small owls, comprising about 30 species, is found worldwide, with the exception of Australia and Antarctica. The largest diversity is in South America.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek glaukidion (‘small owl’), diminutive of glaux (‘owl’).

 

Glaucidium cuculoides Asian barred owlet
This species lives in forests, from northern Pakistan along the Himalaya to Bangladesh and north-eastern India, the entire Indochina, and the southern half of China. In the Himalaya, it is found from the lowlands up to an elevation of about 2,500 m.

The specific name is derived from cuculus, the old Latin name for cuckoos, and oides (‘like’), presumably alluding to the cuckoo-like plumage of this owl.

 

 

This Asian barred owlet is illuminated by a patch of late afternoon sunshine, penetrating the thicket, in which it is sitting, between Ilam and Jamuna, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Glaucidium radiatum Jungle owlet
This owlet is distributed in drier forests in almost the entire Indian Subcontinent, including the eastern part of Sri Lanka. In the Himalaya, it is restricted to the lower valleys below an altitude of 1,000 m.

Birds in the western wet zone of Sri Lanka were once considered a subspecies of jungle owlet, but is now regarded as a separate species, called chestnut-backed owlet (G. castanotum).

 

 

Jungle owlet, Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ketupa Fish-owls
This genus of large owls contains 3 or 4 species, depending on authority. They are mainly distributed in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and southern China, the brown fish-owl (K. zeylonensis) also occurring a few places in southern Turkey and Iran. Some authorities include these birds in the genus Bubo (eagle-owls). Blakiston’s fish-owl, which lives in Japan and Ussuriland, south-eastern Siberia, is variously included in Ketupa or Bubo.

The generic name is derived from the Malay word for fish-owl, ketupok.

 

Ketupa flavipes Tawny fish-owl
This owl, by some authorities named Bubo flavipes, is very widely distributed, found from Uttarakhand along the Himalaya eastwards to north-eastern India, the eastern part of Indochina, and the southern half of China. In the Himalaya, it is quite rare, restricted to valleys below 500 m elevation.

This bird has yellow feet, reflected in the specific name, from the Latin flavus (‘yellow’) and pes (‘foot’).

 

 

Juvenile tawny fish owl, Corbett National Park, Kumaon, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Strix Wood owls
A genus of 19 or 23 species, depending on authority. These owls are distributed almost worldwide, on all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

 

Strix nivicolum Himalayan wood owl
This bird lives in montane forests, from the western Himalaya eastwards to northern Indochina, most of China, Taiwan, and Korea. In the Himalaya, it is fairly common at elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 m.

In the past, it was regarded as a subspecies of the widespread tawny owl (S. aluco), but its call is different, and the shorter tail is barred.

 

 

Himalayan wood owl, Sanasa, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Sturnidae Starlings and mynas
Starlings and mynas constitute a family of about 118 species of medium-sized passerines, divided into c. 30 genera. Their natural area of distribution includes Europe, Africa, Asia, northern Australia, and some Pacific islands. Many species have been introduced elsewhere, including North America, Hawaii, and New Zealand. They often compete with native birds, and many are regarded as invasive species, in North America especially the common starling (Sturnus vulgaris), which is dealt with on the page Nature: Invasive species.

 

Acridotheres Mynas
A genus with 10 species, found from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran eastwards to China and Taiwan, southwards to Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek akridos (‘locust’) and theras (‘hunter’). When locusts or grasshoppers are abundant, starlings and mynas gorge themselves on these insects. An example is described on the page People: Pehr Forsskål – brilliant Swedish scientist.

Several species in this genus are described on the page Animals – Birds: Birds in Taiwan.

 

Acridotheres fuscus Jungle myna
The jungle myna lives mainly in hilly areas, found in the major part of the Indian Subcontinent, including the entire Himalaya, and also in western Myanmar and Thailand, and in the Malaccan Peninsula. In the Himalaya, it may be found up to an elevation of about 2,000 m.

This bird has been introduced elsewhere, often escaping to form feral populations, for example in Japan, Western Samoa, and Fiji. In the latter country, it was introduced around 1890 to control insect pests in sugarcane, and from there it has spread to other Pacific Islands, including Niuafo’ou, where it has become a threat to native bird species, competing for nesting holes.

The population of subspecies torquatus, which lives in Malaysia, is declining, probably being outcompeted by Javan mynas (A. javanicus), with which it forms hybrids. (Source: David Wells 2010. The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Vol. 2. Bloomsbury Publishing)

The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘brown’, alluding to the brownish tinge on the otherwise slate-coloured plumage of the bird.

 

 

Jungle myna, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Saroglossa spilopterus Spot-winged starling
This species is the sole member of the genus Saroglossa, breeding in the Himalaya eastwards to Bhutan, and spending the winter in north-eastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and northern Thailand. The Madagascar starling (Hartlaubius auratus) is placed in this genus by some authorities. It is endemic to Madagascar.

The spot-winged starling is declining rather drastically due to loss of suitable habitat, which is moist lower-montane forests, which are cleared to create farmland. In the Himalaya, it is mainly found below an elevation of 1,000 m, but may occasionally stray up to about 1,800 m.

 

 

Male spot-winged starling, Manigaon, Trisuli Valley, central Nepal. The female is a uniform brownish. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Tichodroma muraria Wallcreeper
This is the sole member of the family Tichodromidae. Formerly, it was placed with the nuthatches in the family Sittidae. It is very widely distributed in montane areas, from Spain eastwards across southern Europe, the Middle East, and the Caucasus to the southern parts of Central Asia. Some movements take place in the winter. In the Himalaya, it is a rather scarce breeding bird at altitudes above 3,000 m. It is more common in the winter, and may sometimes be observed in the lower valleys.

The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek teikhos (‘wall’) and dromos (‘to run’), alluding to the habit of this bird, feeding on steep rocks and cliffs. The specific name is derived from the Latin murus (‘wall’).

 

 

Wallcreeper, feeding on a bare slope along a road, Gangtsemu Mountains, Yunnan Province, China. The lower picture shows its crimson wings. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Turdidae Thrushes
Thrushes constitute a large, almost global family of small to medium-sized birds, which spend much time feeding on the ground for worms and other invertebrates, and many species also eat fruit. Previously, this family was much larger, including many genera which are today included in the Old World flycatcher family (Muscicapidae).

The word thrush is derived from Old English throstle, from Proto-Germanic þrustlō, an ancient name for the song thrush (Turdus philomelos). In Old Saxon, þrustlō became throsla, in German Drossel. The latter name was adopted by the Danes, whereas the Swedes use the name trast for these birds, and the Norwegians trost.

A number of thrush species are dealt with on the page Animals: Thrushes.

 

Grandala coelicolor Grandala
This species, the only member of the genus, is distributed from Kashmir along the entire Himalayan chain, and thence northwards through eastern Tibet to western China, from northern Yunnan northwards to eastern Qinghai. It breeds at very high altitudes, between 4,000 and 5,500 m, moving to slightly lower elevations in winter.

The male is a gorgeous bird, with a plumage an almost iridescent hue of blue, whereas the female is greyish with faint white stripes on head, nape, and breast, and a brownish tinge to the wings.

Classification-wise, this species has been knocked about a great deal. Initially, it was regarded as belonging to the thrush family, but following genetic studies it was then transferred to the flycatcher family (Muscicapidae). However, recently it has been moved back to the thrush family!

 

 

From a stone in a mountain stream in the Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal, this male grandala would take off and flutter about butterfly-like to snap an insect, before returning to its vantage point. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Zoothera Asian thrushes
Formerly, c. 46 species were placed in this genus. However, at an early stage, two American species were transferred to other genera, the Aztec thrush to the genus Ridgwayia, and the varied thrush to Ixoreus. In 2008, following a number of genetic studies, c. 22 other species were transferred to the genus Geokichla.

The generic name is derived from the Greek zoon (‘animal’) and theras (‘hunter’), referring to the habit of these thrushes to be searching for invertebrates on the forest floor.

 

Zoothera mollissima Alpine thrush
This bird is found from northern Pakistan along the Himalaya eastwards to south-eastern Tibet and south-western China. Previously, birds of central China were included in this species, then known as plain-backed thrush. However, genetic studies have had the effect that it has been split into 3 separate species, the alpine thrush, the Himalayan thrush (Z. salimalii), which breeds from Sikkim eastwards to the Yunnan Province in China, and the Sichuan thrush (Z. griseiceps), found in central China.

 

 

Alpine thrush, Dhunche, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Upupidae Hoopoes
Previously, only one species of hoopoe was thought to exist. Today, however, many authorities recognize 3 species, the common hoopoe (below), African hoopoe (Upupa africana), which is found in Africa south of the Sahel zone, and the Madagascar hoopoe (U. marginata), which is endemic to Madagascar.

 

Upupa epops Common hoopoe, Eurasian hoopoe
This striking bird has a very wide distribution, found in southern Europe, northern Africa southwards to the Sahel zone, excluding desert areas, and most of temperate and subtropical areas of Asia, southwards to Sri Lanka and the Malaccan Peninsula. In the Himalaya, it is a fairly common breeding bird, in summer found up to an altitude of about 4,400 m, descending to below 1,500 m in winter.

Upupa and epops are the old Latin and Greek names for the hoopoe. Like the English name, they are onomatopoeic, imitating the call of the bird, a most characteristic hoop-up-up.

 

 

Hoopoe, Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This hoopoe is feeding by poking its long bill into the grass turf in search of worms, insect larvae, and other invertebrates, Puga Marshes, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Vangidae Vangas and allies
This family comprises a group of shrike-like birds, distributed in Madagascar, Africa, and Asia. In addition to the Malagasy vangas, to which the family owes its name, a number of other genera have now been placed here, including helmet-shrikes (Prionops), woodshrikes (Tephrodornis), and flycatcher-shrikes (Hemipus).

The family name is derived from the Malagasy word vanga, the name of the hook-billed vanga (Vanga curvirostris).

 

Hemipus Flycatcher-shrikes
This genus contains only 2 species, living in forests from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to south-western China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia, Sumatra, and Borneo to Java and Bali.

Classification-wise, this genus has been knocked around a great deal. First it was thought to belong to the shrikes (Laniidae), then it was moved to the cuckooshrikes (Campephagidae), then to the woodshrikes (Tephrodornithidae), and finally to Vangidae.

 

Hemipus picatus Bar-winged flycatcher-shrike
This bird is distributed in hilly areas of southern and eastern India and in Sri Lanka, from the western Himalaya eastwards to south-western China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Sumatra and Borneo. It is common in the Himalaya, found at elevations up to about 1,800 m.

 

 

Bar-winged flycatcher-shrike, Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Reptiles

 

 

Agamidae Agamas
Agamas are a large group of lizards, comprising 6 subfamilies with about 64 genera and more than 300 species, distributed in Asia, Australia, Africa, and southern Europe.

 

Calotes Forest lizards, garden lizards
This genus of the subfamily Draconinae contains 28 species, native to the Indian Subcontinent and from southern China southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia, with most species in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.

 

Calotes versicolor Oriental garden lizard
This agama is also known as changeable lizard, or bloodsucker, the latter name alluding to the bright red head and throat of the male in the breeding season. It is distributed from eastern Iran and Afghanistan eastwards to southern China and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Sumatra. It has also been introduced a number of other places, including Oman, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Singapore, and the United States. In Singapore, it is a threat to the native green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella).

Oriental garden lizard is common, living in a wide range of habitats, including urban areas. In China, it is declining due to persecution, presumably for food or traditional medicine.

 

 

Male oriental garden lizard, Sauraha, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

When exited, the male oriental garden lizard turns bright red on head and throat. – Sinuwa, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Japalura
A genus of 8 slender species of lizards, belonging to the subfamily Draconinae. They are distributed in the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent, from Pakistan eastwards to Myanmar and the Yunnan Province of China. A number of species, which were formerly placed in this genus, have been moved to genus Diploderma.

Members of the genus Japalura are notoriously difficult to identify, and the two species mentioned below have only been tentatively identified.

 

Japalura tricarinata Three-keeled mountain lizard
This lizard is extremely variable, ranging from bright green to brown, often with black bands or other markings. It is distributed from central Nepal eastwards to Sikkim and south-eastern Tibet.

 

 

This male Japalura tricarinata (?) is clinging to a house wall in the village of Bagarchap, Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Japalura variegata Variegated mountain lizard
As its name implies, this species is highly variable. It is often greenish or greyish with black bands across back and legs. It is found in eastern Nepal, north-eastern India, and Bhutan.

 

 

Japalura variegata (?), photographed near Mure, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Laudakia
A small genus of 10 species, restricted to Asia. 11 species, which were formerly included in this genus, have been moved to the genera Paralaudakia (below), Acanthocercus, and Stellagama.

 

Laudakia tuberculata Kashmir rock agama
This large lizard is bluish with a yellow belly and yellow spots on the back and flanks. It is quite common on rocks at medium altitudes in the Himalaya, found from eastern Afghanistan eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.

 

 

Male Kashmir rock agama, Kopche Pani, Lower Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female Kashmir rock agama, Sekathum, Lower Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This female Kashmir rock agama is busy digging a hole to lay her eggs in, Kopche Pani, Lower Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Paralaudakia
A small genus of 8 species, found from eastern Europe eastwards to Mongolia and western China. They were formerly included in the genus Laudakia (above).

 

Paralaudakia himalayana Red-spotted agama
This species is easily recognized by a red patch on both sides of the neck. It is very common in Ladakh and is otherwise widely distributed in Asia, from Turkmenistan and eastern Uzbekistan eastwards to Sinkiang, and thence southwards to eastern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, Kashmir, and Nepal.

 

 

Red-spotted agama, sitting on a stone wall, Leh, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This red-spotted agama is sitting on a mani stone (a stone slab with Buddhist mantras engraved), Martselang, near Hemis, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Phrynocephalus Toad-headed agamas
About 44 species are distributed from the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula eastwards to Central Asia and western India. These small agamas are adapted to a life in dry areas. When hunting, they often sit still for long periods of time, scanning the surroundings.

 

Phrynocephalus theobaldi Theobald’s toad-headed agama
This small lizard is found from Kazakhstan and Sinkiang southwards across the Tibetan Plateau to Ladakh and northern Nepal, living in desert, grassland, and among shrubs.

The specific name was applied in honour of British naturalist William Theobald (1829-1908), a staff member of the Geological Survey of India in Myanmar, which was then a part of British India. He described about a dozen new species of reptiles, and was the first person to publish a catalogue of the reptiles, which had been collected in British India. His work on Indian freshwater snails was one of the first of its kind, and he made his shell collections available to American missionary and naturalist Francis Mason (1799-1874) for his epic work Burmah, its People and Natural Productions, of which the third edition was completely rewritten by Theobald.

 

 

Theobald’s toad-headed agama, Tso Kar, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Theobald’s toad-headed agama, Puga Marshes, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

An unidentified species of toad-headed agama, Gyantse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Colubridae Grass snakes, keelbacks, and allies
This is the largest family of snakes, comprising about 249 genera. They are found on all continents, except Antarctica.

Most members of this family are non-toxic, with a few exceptions, including the genus Rhabdophis (below).

 

Ptyas Rat snakes
A genus of 13 species, found in warmer areas of Asia. The generic name is a misnomer. It is derived from Ancient Greek ptyas (‘the one who spits’), referring to a kind of snake believed to spit venom in the eyes of humans. However, no member of this genus is known to spit venom.

 

Ptyas mucosa Oriental rat snake
This is a large snake, often exceeding 2 m in length, with some recorded specimens measuring up to 3.7 m. It is distributed from Turkmenistan and eastern Iran eastwards across the entire Indian Subcontinent to southern China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to the Indonesian islands Sumatra and Java.

In the Himalaya, it may be found up to an elevation of about 2,000 m.

 

 

Oriental rat snake, observed along the Vishnumati River, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rhabdophis Keelbacks
A genus of the subfamily Natricinae, comprising about 27 species, which are primarily distributed in Southeast Asia.

 

Rhabdophis himalayanus Himalayan keelback, orange-collared keelback
This keelback is highly variable and may be almost black, reddish or pale olive-brown, often with numerous black, brown, and yellow spots. A whitish, yellow, or orange stripe stretches from the mouth beneath the eye to the hindneck, forming a collar. The underside is yellowish or reddish, speckled with brown or black.

This species is distributed from central Nepal and Bangladesh eastwards across northern Indochina to southern China. In the Himalaya, it is mostly encountered at lower elevations.

 

 

Himalayan keelback, Gul Bhanjyang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Xenochrophis Keelbacks
This small genus, also called keelbacks, contains 5 species, found from Pakistan and northern India eastwards to Indochina, and thence southwards to Indonesia.

 

Xenochrophis cerasogaster Painted keelback
This species, also known as dark-bellied marsh snake, is found from Pakistan across northern India, Nepal, and Bangladesh to north-eastern India.

It is quite variable, brown or blackish above, with or without darker spots, and with a yellow, more or less distinct band on each side, from the mouth to the end of the tail.

 

 

Painted keelback, observed at Tungnath, Uttarakhand. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Scincidae Skinks
A huge, almost worldwide family, counting about 1,500 species of small to medium-sized lizards, many with smooth and shiny scales.

I have not been able to identify any of the scincs that I encountered in the Himalaya.

 

 

Skinks, basking on a rock, Kilanmarg, Kashmir. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Skink, basking in the sun, sitting on a stone wall, Kuldi Ghar, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This skink, sitting on a stone wall, is shedding its skin, Ulleri, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Lepidoptera Butterflies and moths
About 126 families and 180,000 species of this order have been described. The name means ‘scaly wing’, derived from Ancient Greek lepis (‘scale’) and pteron (‘wing’).

Contrary to the popular belief that butterflies and moths are two separate groups, genetic research has shown that butterflies are simply relatively recently derived, colourful, day-flying moths, comprising the superfamilies Hesperioidea (skippers) and Papilionoidea, the latter consisting of the families Lycaenidae (gossamer-winged butterflies, blues, coppers), Nymphalidae (brush-footed butterflies), Papilionidae (swallowtails and birdwings), Pieridae (whites, sulphurs, and orange-tips), and Riodinidae (metalmark butterflies).

Today, some scientists include skippers (as the family Hesperiidae) in Papilionoidea, and also the neotropical family Hedylidae.

Moths are an immensely diverse group, making up the vast majority of the order, including all members that are not true butterflies. It is thought that there may be about 160,000 species in the group, most of which are nocturnal, but there are also crepuscular and diurnal species.

Below, the pictures are divided into 3 categories: true butterflies (the day-flying, colourful species), moths, and caterpillars.

A number of pictures, depicting unidentified species, are also shown here. If you are able to identify any of these animals, I would be grateful to receive an email. You may use the address at the bottom of this page.

 

True butterflies
It is generally believed that the word butterfly is Old English, derived from ‘butter-coloured fly’, referring to the yellowish male of the Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni).

In this section, I have gathered much information from the websites learnaboutbutterflies.com, and ftp.funet.fi/index/Tree_of_life/insecta/lepidoptera.

 

Lycaenidae Gossamer-winged butterflies, blues, coppers
Many members of this family are popularly called blues, as the upper wings of numerous species are various shades of blue. In the Himalaya, there is a bewildering array of species, especially in the lower parts.

 

Castalius Pierrots
Today, this genus contains only 4 members. A number of African species, which were formerly placed here, have been transferred to the genera Tuxentius and Zintha.

Presumably, the name pierrot refers to the predominantly white colour of these butterflies. Pierrot is a sad clown figure, originally from Asia Minor, who got a renaissance around 1500 in the Italian Commedia dell’arte. He is always dressed in white, and his face is also painted white.

 

Castalius rosimon Common pierrot
This species is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Indochina, and thence southwards to Indonesia.

 

 

Male common pierrot, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Catochrysops Forget-me-not blues
A genus of 7 species, found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Indochina, and thence southwards to Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, and nearby islands.

 

Catochrysops strabo Common forget-me-not blue
Distributed from Sri Lanka and India eastwards to Indochina and thence southwards to Indonesia and the Philippines.

This species was described as early as 1793 by Johan Christian Fabricius (1745-1808), a Danish zoologist, who had specialized in Insecta, which, in those days, included all arthropods. He was a student of the famous Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, and is regarded as one of the most important entomologists of the 18th Century. He named nearly 10,000 species, and established the basis for the modern insect classification. (Source: S. L. Tuxen 1967. The entomologist J.C. Fabricius. Annual Review of Entomology 12: 1-15)

 

 

Male common forget-me-not blue, upperside and underside, Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Heliophorus
This genus contains about 23 species, widely distributed in Asia.

 

Heliophorus epicles Purple sapphire
Divided into 6 subspecies, this gorgeous butterfly is widely distributed, from India eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Sumatra. In the Himalaya, it may be found up to an elevation of about 2,100 m. It mainly lives in dense forest.

 

 

Underside of purple sapphire, ssp. latilimbata, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Worn female purple sapphire, ssp. latilimbata, Pokhara, Nepal. The ‘tails’ on its hindwings have vanished. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Nacaduba Line-blues
This genus contains about 50 species, widely distributed in warmer parts of Asia. The popular name stems from the numerous stripes on the underwings.

 

Nacaduba pactolus Large four-line blue
This species is found in the major part of Tropical Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards to Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, and nearby islands.

 

 

Large four-line blue, ssp. continentalis, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Zeltus amasa Fluffy tit
Each of the hindwings of this butterfly, the only member of the genus, has two white, fluffy appendices, one long and the other shorter. They probably serve as a means to confuse predators. Birds tend to snap at these appendices instead of the body of the butterfly, which in this way has a greater chance of escaping.

It is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

 

 

Male fluffy tit, drinking from soil, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

An unidentified species of blue, feeding in a flower of Minuartia kashmirica, Honupatta, Ladakh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Nymphalidae Brush-footed butterflies
Comprising more than 6,000 species, this is the largest butterfly family, distributed on all continents, except Antarctica. Today, this family includes a number of subfamilies, which were previously treated as separate families, including Heliconiinae, Danainae, and Satyrinae.

The name brush-footed butterflies refers to a brush-like set of hairs on the forelegs of a number of species. Another common name is four-footed butterflies, as many members are known to stand on only four legs. The forelegs are reduced and often curled up.

 

Acraea
A huge genus of the subfamily Heliconiinae, comprising about 150 species, most of which occur in warmer regions of Africa, with a few in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Australia.

In Ancient Greek mythology, Acraea was the daughter of the river-god Asterion. Together with her sisters Euboea and Prosymna, she acted as nurse to goddess Hera.

 

Acraea issoria Yellow coster
A common species, found from India eastwards to the southern half of China and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia.

 

 

Male yellow coster, Yamphudin, Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male yellow coster, near Sinuwa, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Aglais Tortoiseshells
A small genus, comprising 7 species, found in temperate and subarctic areas of the Northern Hemisphere. Some authorities maintain that they should be included in the genus Nymphalis.

The name tortoiseshell usually applies to a pet, for example a cat, rabbit, or guinea-pig, whose fur is pied, with black, brown and yellow markings. Some members of the genera Aglais and Nymphalis have these colours on their wings.

 

Aglais caschmirensis Indian tortoiseshell
Widely distributed in Central Asia, from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan eastwards to western China, southwards to Afghanistan and the Himalaya, where it occurs from Pakistan eastwards to Sikkim. It has a very wide altitudinal distribution, found at elevations between 600 and 5,500 m.

 

 

Indian tortoiseshell, Sinuwa, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Indian tortoiseshell, Kuldi Ghar, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. A bit of the left forewing is missing, presumably snapped off by a bird. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Argynnis Fritillary, silverstripe
10 species of large and beautiful butterflies, 9 of which are distributed in temperate and subtropical Eurasia, and a single species, A. hyperbius, found in Tropical Asia, Australia, and East Africa.

The generic name refers to the Ancient Greek mythology. Argynnus was a beautiful boy, who was loved by the hero Agamemnon. The boy drowned in the Cephisus River, and Agamemnon erected a temple in his honour. Later, this temple was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.

 

Argynnis childreni Himalayan fritillary, large silverstripe
This species is found in montane areas, from Nepal eastwards to China. It may readily be identified by its orange-brown hindwings, which are slaty-blue, with black dots, along the margin.

 

 

Large silverstripe, sucking water from rocks and sand, near Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cethosia
A genus of the subfamily Heliconiinae, comprising about 10-15 species, found in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Australia.

 

Cethosia biblis Red lacewing
This striking species is found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards to Indonesia and the Philippines. The male is bright red on the upperside, a warning signal to enemies that it has a bad taste, acquired in the larval stage from poisonous food plants.

 

 

Male red lacewing, ssp. tisamena, sucking moisture from a stream, near Tolka, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This very worn male red lacewing, ssp. tisamena, has survived several attacks from birds, which have bitten bits off its wings. – Tal, Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cethosia cyane Leopard lacewing
Distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to the Yunnan Province in south-western China and Indochina, southwards to Singapore.

 

 

Leopard lacewing, feeding in flowers of Guizotia abyssinica, Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cyrestis Map butterflies
Comprising about 20 species, these butterflies are found in warmer areas of Africa, and from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards Indochina, and thence southwards to Indonesia and New Guinea. The common name stems from the wing pattern of some species, which resemble the lines of latitude and longitude on a map, including the species below.

 

Cyrestis thyodamas Common map
This striking species is found in the Indian Subcontinent and Indochina.

 

 

Common map, sucking moisture from sand, Dana, Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Danaus Monarchs, tigers
These butterflies, comprising 11 species, are members of the subfamily Danainae, which was previously regarded as a separate family, Danaidae. They are found on all continents, except Europe and Antarctica.

The generic name has a peculiar background. Originally, the American monarch (D. plexippus) was described in 1758 by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also known as Carl von Linné, in his Systema Naturae, where he placed it in the genus Papilio – the only genus of butterflies in those days.

The generic name has a peculiar background. Originally, the American monarch (D. plexippus) was described in 1758 by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also known as Carl von Linné, in his Systema Naturae, where he placed it in the genus Papilio – the only genus of butterflies in those days.

In Ancient Greek mythology, Danaus was a king in northern Africa, who founded the city of Argos in Peloponnes. Linnaeus made a note, saying that the names of members of the Danai festivi, the division of the genus to which Papilio plexippus belonged, were derived from the names of males in the Classical Greek mythology. Danai festivi formed one division, containing colourful species, as opposed to the other division, Danai candidi, which contained species with bright white wings, whose members were named after names of females in the Greek mythology.

 

Danaus chrysippus Plain tiger, African monarch
A very widespread butterfly, found in Asia, Australia, and Africa. It is quite common in the lower parts of the Himalaya.

The specific name was applied by Linnaeus. It refers to Chrysippus, one of the sons of Aegyptus, twin brother of Danaus (see above).

 

 

Plain tiger, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Euploea Crows
A genus of about 60 species, distributed in warmer parts of Asia, New Guinea, and Australia, with a few species on islands in the Indian Ocean.

The common name was applied due to many of the species being rather dark, often blackish, on the upperside. Like other members of the subfamily Danainae, they are poisonous due to feeding on toxic plants in the larval stage. The caterpillars are often strongly coloured as a warning sign to predators.

 

Euploea midamus Blue-spotted crow
This species is found from Uttarakhand eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia and the Philippines to Indonesia. As with other members of the genus, the caterpillars are poisonous due to feeding on toxic members of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae). Initially, they are green and inconspicuous, but later they become orange-yellow with several long, curved, black appendices, thus announcing to enemies that they are ill-tasting.

 

 

Blue-spotted crow, Yamphudin, Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Euthalia Barons, counts, dukes
This genus contains about 63 species, native to East and Tropical Asia, with the highest concentration in China. Many species are splendid, a fact reflected in their common names.

 

Euthalia patala Grand duchess
This gorgeous species occurs from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to central China, and thence southwards to Indochina. Feeding plants of the caterpillars in the Himalaya include banj oak (Quercus leucotrichophora). (Source: R.N. Mathur & B. Singh 1959. A list of insect pests of forest plants in India and adjacent countries. Indian Forest Bulletin 171 (7): 1-130)

 

 

Grand duchess, Neuli, Sainj Valley, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Fabriciana Fritillary
This widespread genus, comprising 11 species, is found from western Europe and North Africa eastwards through the entire Siberia to the Pacific coast, and thence southwards to the Himalaya and southern China.

Initially, these butterflies were placed in the genus Argynnis (above), but were moved to a separate genus in 1922 by German entomologist and herpetologist Albert Franz Theodor Reuss (1879-1958), in honour of Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius (see Catochrysops strabo above).

 

Fabriciana kamala
This species is restricted to temperate areas of the north-western Himalaya, from northern Pakistan eastwards to Uttarakhand, and adjacent areas of Tibet.

 

 

Fabriciana kamala, feeding in flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Rolla, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Issoria Queen fritillaries
This genus contains about 12 species, with 6 species in the Neotropics, 4 in south-eastern Africa, and 2 in Europe, North Africa, and temperate areas of Asia.

 

Issoria isaea Spangled queen fritillary, Himalayan queen fritillary
This species is found in montane areas, from the western Himalaya eastwards to the Yunnan Province of China. Previously, it was considered a subspecies of the widespread Queen of Spain fritillary (I. lathonia), and some authorities still regard it as such. However, the latter, which is found across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, is strongly migratory, whereas the Himalayan queen fritillary is sedentary.

 

 

Himalayan queen fritillary, sitting in a species of honeysuckle, Lonicera rupicola, Dusum, Khumbu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Himalayan queen fritillary, sucking moist from the ground, Khanjim, Langtang National Park, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Himalayan queen fritillary is a hardy species. This one is sitting on newly fallen snow, Nanda Devi National Park, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Junonia Pansy, buckeye, commodore
This genus, comprising about 33 species, is found on all continents except Antarctica. It was established in 1819 by German entomologist Jacob Hübner (1761-1826), who was one of the first to study butterflies in depth. He described many new genera and species and was the author of Sammlung Europäischer Schmetterlinge (‘Collection of European Butterflies’), published 1796-1805.

In Roman mythology, the goddess Juno was the protector and special counsellor of the state. She was the daughter of Saturn, the wife of Jupiter, and the mother of Mars, Vulcan, Bellona, and Juventas. Her Ancient Greek counterpart is Hera.

Previously, many of the species were placed in the genus Precis.

 

Junonia almana Peacock pansy
A very common species, living in a wide variety of habitats. It is distributed from India and Sri Lanka eastwards to southern China, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In the Himalaya, it is mostly found below an elevation of 500 m, but may occasionally be encountered up to 1,000 m.

 

 

Peacock pansy, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Junonia iphita Chocolate pansy
The upperside of the wings of this species vary from pale to dark brown. It is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards to Java. These butterflies are rather territorial, often basking in the sun in forest glades.

 

 

Chocolate pansy, pale form, near Sekathum, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chocolate pansy, dark form, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Junonia lemonias Lemon pansy
This common species is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to central China, and thence southwards to Indochina.

 

 

Lemon pansy, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lethe Treebrowns
This genus, comprising about 112 species, was formerly placed in the family Satyridae. These butterflies are mainly distributed in temperate forests of Asia, although some species are found in Tropical Asia. Several species are very local, being confined to one mountain or mountain chain. Most species have earth-brown upperwings. The underwing is usually more strongly marked than the upperwing, the hindwing having 7 prominent ocelli (‘eyes’).

 

Lethe confusa Banded treebrown
This species may readily be identified by a clear white diagonal band on the forewing and the large ocelli. It occurs from Nepal eastwards to northern Indochina, and thence southwards to Sulawesi and Java. In the Himalaya, it may be encountered up to an elevation of about 1,000 m. Foodplants of the caterpillar includes various bamboo species.

 

 

Banded treebrown, Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Banded treebrown, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lethe kansa Bamboo forester
Found from Uttarakhand eastwards to northern Indochina and southern parts of the Yunnan Province of China. The underside of the wings are pale brown with two dark brown streaks on forewing as well as hindwing, whereas the ocelli are rather faint.

 

 

Bamboo forester, Mure, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Mycalesis Bushbrowns
This genus, which is confined to the Oriental and Australian regions, was formerly included in the family Satyridae. It is one of the largest genera in Satyrinae, comprising about 88 species.

These butterflies are all various shades of brown on both wing surfaces, marked with a series of conspicuous ocelli (‘eyes’), and a straight whitish line across the underside of both wings. Many of the species are very similar.

 

Mycalesis francisca Lilacine bushbrown
This highly variable species, divided into 6 or 7 subspecies, is distributed from Uttarakhand eastwards to Indochina, China, Taiwan, and Japan. The common name stems from the line across the wings having a lilac sheen in some subspecies. The line and ocelli are very faint in the dry-season form.

 

 

Lilacine bushbrown, between Sekathum and Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Mycalesis malsara White-line bushbrown
This species occurs from the north-western Himalaya eastwards to Indochina and the Yunnan Province of China.

 

 

White-line bushbrown, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Neptis Sailers
A huge genus with about 160 species, the majority found in warmer areas of Africa, Asia, and Australia. A single species, N. sappho, is distributed in temperate areas, from western Europe eastwards to Japan. These butterflies occur in various habitats, preferably forests. The common name stems from their characteristic way of gliding without wing beats (‘sailing’) along forest edges and clearings.

The genus was established in 1807 by Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius (see Catochrysops strabo above).

 

Neptis clinia Clear sailer, sullied sailer
This species is found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia. It is common in forests, from the lowland up to about 700 m elevation, often observed at forest edges and in clearings.

 

 

Clear sailer, ssp. susrata, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Neptis hylas Common sailer
Distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to the major part of China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia. It is quite common in the lower parts of the Himalaya.

The specific name refers to Hylas who, in Ancient Greek mythology, was the son of Theiodamas, king of an aboriginal tribe, the Dryopians, and the nymph Menodice, daughter of Orion. As a youth, Hylas served as companion and servant of the great hero Heracles.

 

 

Common sailer, ssp. kamarupa, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Neptis mahendra Himalayan sailer
This butterfly is found in montane areas, from northern Pakistan eastwards to south-western China.

The specific name is derived from the Sanskrit maha (‘great’) and Indra, the rain god in Hindu mythology.

 

 

Himalayan sailer, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Orsotrioena medus Jungle brown
This is the sole member of the genus, formerly included in the family Satyridae. Superficially, it resembles Mycalesis species, but the underwing has only 2 ocelli on the forewing, 3 on the hindwing. The upperside is dark brown and unmarked.

A very common and widespread species, living in grassy areas, forest glades, and along roads and riverbanks, at altitudes up to about 900 m. It is distributed from India and Sri Lanka, eastwards to Indochina, and thence southwards to New Guinea and north-eastern Australia.

There are two morphs, the wet-season form having much larger ocelli than the dry-season form. The white stripe on the underside is often rather faint.

 

 

Jungle brown, dry-season morph, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pantoporia Lascars
Counting about 17 species of predominantly orange and brownish-black butterflies, this genus is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards to Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, and Australia.

 

Pantoporia hordonia Common lascar
A common species, found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards to Indonesia. The caterpillars feed on acacia species and Albizia.

 

 

Common lascar, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Symbrenthia Jesters
A genus of about 16 species, occurring in East and tropical Asia, southwards to Indonesia and New Guinea. The main concentration of species is in China.

Superficially, these butterflies resemble members of the genus Pantoporia (above), but the underside of the wing is very strikingly patterned, as opposed to the rather plain underside of Pantoporia species.

Presumably, the common name alludes to the pattern on the underwing. According to Wiktionary, a jester is “a person in colourful garb and fool’s cap who amused a medieval and early modern royal or noble court.”

 

Symbrenthia hypselis Himalayan jester, spotted jester
This species is distributed from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China, and thence southwards to Java. The bands on the upper wings vary in colour from red via orange to yellow.

 

 

Himalayan jester, feeding on scat, Sinuwa, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Tanaecia Counts, earls
A genus with about 32 species, found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards to Indonesia. The largest concentration of species is in Indonesia.

Naturally, the common names allude to the splendor of many of the species.

 

Tanaecia lepidea Grey count
This common species is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Indochina, and thence southwards to the Malacca Peninsula, with one subspecies found on the Mentawai Islands west of Sumatra.

 

 

Male grey count, Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Vanessa Admirals, ladies etc.
This genus of splendid butterflies, comprising about 22 species, is found on all continents, except Antarctica.

 

Vanessa cardui Painted lady
One of the most widespread of all butterflies, found in temperate areas on all continents, except South America and Antarctica. Close relatives, which were previously regarded as subspecies of V. cardui, are Australian painted lady (V. kershawi), American painted lady (V. virginiensis), and West Coast lady (V. annabella).

The painted lady is famous for its spring migration, especially from the Red Sea area to Turkey in March-April, and from North Africa and the Mediterranean to northern Europe in May and June. Research suggests that some populations of painted lady also undertake an autumn migration, making a 14,500 km round trip from Tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle in a series of steps, including up to six successive generations. (Source: birdguides.com/news/secrets-of-painted-lady-migration-unveiled)

 

 

Painted lady, feeding in flowers of Guizotia abyssinica, Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Vanessa indica Indian red admiral
This species is found in montane areas of India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and China, sometimes straying to Japan, Korea, and south-eastern Siberia (Ussuriland).

A very similar butterfly, found on the Canary Islands and Madeira, was formerly treated as a subspecies of V. indica, although there is a gap of about 7,000 km between these islands and the Indian Subcontinent. Populations on the Canary Islands and Madeira are now treated as a separate species, V. vulcanica.

 

 

Indian red admiral, feeding in flowers of Lantana camara, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Despite its incredibly worn wings, this Indian red admiral, encountered at Pokhara, Nepal, was still able to fly, albeit feebly. Many bits of its wings are missing, showing that it survived several attacks by birds, which intended to make a meal out of it. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Papilionidae Swallowtails and birdwings
A large worldwide family, containing more than 550 species, with members on all continents except Antarctica.

The family name is derived from papilio, the classical Latin word for butterfly. The common name alludes to some members of the family with long extensions on the hindwings, giving the appearance of the tail of the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica).

 

Byasa Windmills
A genus of about 15 species, distributed from India eastwards to China and Taiwan. Some authorities include these butterflies in the genus Atrophaneura.

 

Byasa plutonius Chinese windmill
This species is found from central Nepal eastwards along the Himalaya to south-western China. It is mainly black or greyish, with rather small, pink, red, white, or black spots along the margin of the hindwing, on both sides of the ‘tail’.

 

 

A rather worn specimen of Chinese windmill, feeding in flowers of Lantana camara, between Sekathum and Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Graphium Swordtails, bluebottles, kite swallowtails, ladies
A genus with around 100 species, widespread in the Old World, with most species in Tropical Africa, others in Tropical Asia and Australia, and a few in China and the Himalaya.

Some species have a pattern of translucent turquoise or yellowish ‘windows’ in their wings.

 

Graphium cloanthus Glassy bluebottle
The combination of translucent greenish ‘windows’ in the wings and a long, sword-like ‘tail’ on the hindwing is unique to this species. It is distributed from northern India eastwards to China and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Sumatra. It lives in forested areas, at elevations between 500 and 1,800 m. Foodplants of the caterpillars are members of the genus Machilus, trees in the laurel family (Lauraceae).

 

 

Glassy bluebottle is often seen sucking minerals from mud, here at Tipling, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Papilio True swallowtails
Today, following the inclusion of several other genera into this genus, it contains about 210 species, found on all continents except Antarctica. About 60 species occur in the Oriental region, many of which have black wings with red and/or white patches, and spatulate ‘tails’.

 

Papilio bianor Common peacock, Chinese peacock
This swallowtail, previously known as P. polyctor, is one of several species with a greenish or bluish, scaly appearance on the upperwings (see also P. paris below). Comprising about 10 subspecies, it is distributed from eastern Afghanistan eastwards to Indochina, and thence northwards to China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Ussuriland, south-eastern Siberia. Foodplants of the caterpillars are mainly members of the citrus family (Rutaceae).

Subspecies ganesa is fairly common in the Himalaya, found from the foothills up to about 2,100 m. It is the state butterfly of Uttarakhand.

 

 

Common peacock, ssp. ganesa, feeding in flowers of Lantana camara, between Sekathum and Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Common peacock, ssp. ganesa, sucking minerals from mud, Tatopani, Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Papilio bootes Tailed redbreast
This species may be distinguished from other similar species by a red streak along the inner margin on the underside of the hindwing. It lives in montane areas at elevations between 1,000 and 2,000 m, from India eastwards to northern Myanmar and south-western China.

 

 

Tailed redbreast, Sinuwa, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Papilio machaon Common swallowtail, common yellow swallowtail
This very widespread species, comprising about 41 subspecies, occurs in almost all of Europe and North Africa, across temperate and subarctic areas of Asia to the Pacific coast, and also in northern North America. In the Himalaya, it inhabits alpine meadows at elevations between about 600 and 4,900 m. Foodplants of the caterpillars are mainly various members of the carrot family (Apiaceae).

The specific name refers to Machaon, son of Asclepius, the god of medicine in Ancient Greek mythology.

 

 

Common swallowtail, feeding in a dandelion flowerhead (Taraxacum), Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Papilio memnon Great mormon
An extremely variable species with at least 13 subspecies. The female is polymorphic, often with ‘tail’, and also occurs in mimetic forms. It is widely distributed, found from Nepal and north-eastern India eastwards to southern China, Taiwan, and southern Japan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia. In the Himalaya, it is quite common in the lower parts, but may occasionally be encountered up to about 2,100 m elevation.

The larval foodplants are members of the genus Citrus (Rutaceae).

The specific name refers to Memnon, king of the Ethiopians in Greek mythology. He was a hero in the Trojan war who assisted his uncle Priam, the last king of Troy, against the Greeks.

 

 

Female great mormon, ssp. agenor, form alcanor, Khandbari, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Papilio paris Paris peacock
This is another species with a greenish, scaly appearance on the upperwings. It is fairly common in montane areas, from India eastwards to China and Taiwan, and thence southwards to Java and Sulawesi. It is mainly found in humid forests, from sea level up to about 1,000 m. The larvae mostly feed on members of the citrus family (Rutaceae).

This species is very similar to P. bianor (above), but in paris, the blue spot on the upper hindwing is much smaller or missing, and the pale line on the upper forewing is usually much narrower.

The specific name alludes to Prince Paris in Greek mythology, son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba in Troy. It is related that King Peleus was about to marry the beautiful sea nymph Thetis, but, unfortunately, they had forgotten to invite the goddess of strife, Eris, to the wedding. As a revenge, Eris let a golden apple roll in among the guests, and in the fruit skin she had carved: “For the most beautiful one.”

Three of the goddesses, Hera, Athene, and Aphrodite, began arguing, to whom of the three the title should be bestowed. Zeus advised them to go to Troy to consult Prince Paris. Off they went, and upon arrival in Troy, each of them promised Prince Paris a reward, if he chose her: Hera promised him power, Athene fame and wisdom, and Aphrodite the most beautiful woman. He chose the latter – hereby indirectly causing the long siege of Troy, related in Homer’s poem Iliad.

 

 

Its gorgeous wing colours reflected by sunlight, this male Paris peacock is sucking up moisture from the ground, Bhulbhule, Lower Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Papilio protenor Spangle
This butterfly is mainly black, but with conspicuous red ‘eyes’ on the underside of the hindwing. It is widely distributed, found from northern Pakistan eastwards along the Himalaya to northern Indochina, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan.

 

 

Spangle, sucking moist from mud, Ngadi, Lower Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. Several bits of its wings have been bitten off by birds. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pieridae Whites, sulphurs, orange-tips
This large family, comprising about 76 genera and 1,100 species, is distributed almost worldwide, with the highest concentration in tropical areas of Africa and Asia. The pigments that give the characteristic colour of these butterflies are derived from waste products in their body.

 

Aporia Blackveins
A genus of about 35 species, distributed in temperate and subtropical areas of Europe and Asia, with a core area in China.

 

Aporia agathon Great blackvein
Divided into 9 subspecies, this striking species is found from Kashmir eastwards across southern Tibet and northern India to northern Indochina, southern China, and Taiwan. It is easily identified by the bright yellow spot near the base of the hindwing underside. In the Himalaya, it lives in forests and along forest edges at elevations between 700 and 3,000 m.

 

 

Great blackvein, feeding in a species of thistle, Cirsium verutum, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Catopsilia Migrants, emigrants
A small genus of the subfamily Coliadinae, comprising about 6 species, found in Africa, Madagascar, Tropical Asia, and Australasia. The popular names refer to several species being strongly migratory.

 

Catopsilia pyranthe Mottled emigrant
This animal is widespread, distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Indochina and the Philippines, and thence southwards to New Guinea and northern Australia. It may be encountered in a variety of habitats, including scrub, open woodlands, gardens, and wasteland.

The underside of the wings is highly variable, being yellowish, greenish, or bluish, and with or without darker spots.

 

 

Mottled emigrant, feeding in a flower of Urena lobata (Malvaceae), Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mottled emigrant, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Colias Clouded yellows, sulphurs
These colourful butterflies, comprising about 85 species of the subfamily Coliadinae, are distributed on all continents, except Australia and Antarctica, with the main concentration in subarctic and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. At least 6 species are found in the Himalaya. The caterpillars feed on members of the pea family (Fabaceae).

 

Colias erate Pale clouded yellow
A widely distributed species, found from south-eastern Europe across temperate areas of Asia to Japan and Taiwan, and also in north-eastern Africa, southwards to Somalia. It is very variable, the male having bright sulphur-yellow underwings, whereas those of the female are pale yellow, with a large whitish patch on the forewing. The male may be told from similar species by the darker outer third of the underside of the forewing.

This species was described as early as 1805 by German zoologist Eugenius Johann Christoph Esper (1742-1810).

 

 

Male pale clouded yellow, ssp. lativitta, sucking nectar from a creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense), Shey Palace, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female pale clouded yellow, ssp. lativitta, sucking moisture from soil, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Colias fieldii Dark clouded yellow
This species is found from southern Iran eastwards across northern India and the Tibetan Plateau to northern Indochina and the major part of China. The nominate race is quite common in the Himalaya, found at elevations between 1,000 and 2,500 m.

 

 

Dark clouded yellow on a fern leaf, Kimrong Khola, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mating pair of dark clouded yellow, Ghora Tabela, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Eurema Grass yellows
A large genus with more than 70 species, found on all continents, except Europe and Antarctica. Previously, many of the species were placed in the genus Terias. They often gather in large congregations on damp soil or fresh dung of various animals.

 

Eurema brigitta Small grass yellow, broad-bordered grass yellow
This small species, comprising 11 subspecies, is very widely distributed, found in Tropical Africa, on Madagascar and surrounding islands, and from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Taiwan, and thence southwards to New Guinea and Australia. It is quite variable, often with a dark edge to the underside forewing and two brownish streaks across the underside hindwing. It is found in almost all habitats, but avoids dense forests and desert areas.

 

 

Small grass yellow, ssp. rubella, Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Eurema hecabe Common grass yellow
This species, formerly known as Terias hecabe, is widely distributed in Asia, Africa, and Australia, living in shrubland and open grassy areas. It is very variable, but usually has a large number of small brownish spots or rings on the underside of both wings. In the Himalaya, it may be encountered up to an elevation of about 1,500 m.

 

 

Common grass yellow, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This newly hatched common grass yellow is still sitting on its cocoon, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pieris Cabbage whites
This widespread, almost cosmopolitan genus contains about 40 species, with the highest diversity in the Palearctic. The caterpillars feed on members of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), and some species are serious pests, as they often spoil cabbages by gnawing numerous holes in the leaves.

 

Pieris brassicae Large cabbage white
A common species, found from western Europe and North Africa eastwards across the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Himalaya to China and Japan. It has also established a population in South Africa. It may be found in all types of open habitats.

 

 

Female large cabbage white, ssp. nepalensis, feeding in a dandelion flowerhead (Taraxacum), Lake Deepak Tal, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Caterpillars of large cabbage white have eaten the major part of a dittander (Lepidium latifolium), Markha Valley, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pontia
A genus with about 9 species, found in Eurasia, Africa, and North America. Six species of China, Tibet, and Nepal, which were formerly included in this genus, have been moved to the genus Sinopieris.

 

Pontia daplidice Bath white
Divided into 9 subspecies, this animal has a very wide distribution, from North Africa and western Europe eastwards to Central Asia, India, China, and Japan. An isolated population is found in the Ethiopian Highlands.

 

 

Bath white, ssp. moorei, feeding in a flower of Anemone rivularis, Shakti, Sainj Valley, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Riodinidae Metalmark butterflies
This family, containing about 2,000 species, is found in most parts of the world. Today, it includes a number of subfamilies, such as Nemeobiinae and Erycininae, which were formerly recognized as separate families.

 

Abisara Judies
This genus contains about 28 species, found in tropical and subtropical areas of Asia and Africa. Most species have prominent ocelli (‘eyes’) along the edge of the hindwing.

 

Abisara fylla Dark Judy
This striking species is found from the north-western Himalaya eastwards to south-western China. It lives in forested areas, in the Himalaya at altitudes between about 800 and 2,000 m.

 

 

Male dark Judy, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Dodona Punches
This genus, comprising about 18 species, is found in warmer parts of Asia, from the Himalaya eastwards to China, and thence southwards to Indonesia.

 

Dodona adonira Striped punch
A most striking species, heavily striped with black on both wingsides. It has two separate populations, one from Nepal eastwards to northern Myanmar and the Yunnan Province of China, and one in Java. It is a protected species in India.

 

 

Worn specimen of striped punch, near Sekathum, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. A large part of the left wings have been bitten of, presumably by a bird. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Zemeros
This genus contains only 2 species, found in the Indian Subcontinent, southern China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

 

Zemeros flegyas Punchinello
This small, pretty butterfly, comprising at least 18 subspecies, is widely distributed, found from Nepal eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and Palawan Island in the Philippines. It lives in open forests and forest edges, in the Himalaya at elevations up to about 1,800 m.

This species has two seasonal forms, the dry-season form being darker on the upperside than the wet-season form.

Punchinello is a word of Italian origin, referring to a popular puppet – a short, fat clown. How it refers to this butterfly is not clear.

 

 

Punchinello on a fern leaf, Khewang, Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Punchinello, Jhinu Danda, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Moths

 

Erebidae
A huge, almost worldwide family, comprising 18 subfamilies.

 

Macrobrochis
This genus belongs to the subfamily Arctiinae, which was formerly regarded as a separate family, Arctiidae. It is a huge and diverse subfamily with around 11,000 species, found almost worldwide.

Genus Macrobrochis, containing 11 species, is distributed from the Himalaya eastwards to southern China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Borneo and Sumatra. 4 species are found in the Himalaya. Some authorities place some of the species in the genus Agylla.

 

Macrobrochis prasena
This species is distributed from northern Pakistan along the Himalaya to northern Indochina and the Yunnan Province of China.

 

 

Macrobrochis prasena, Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Geometridae
A very large family with about 23,000 species, found almost worldwide. The family name was derived from Ancient Greek geo (‘the Earth’) and metron (‘to measure’), alluding to the caterpillars, which seem to measure the earth, when they move, by placing the hindlegs just behind the head, before they move the foreparts.

 

Abraxas Magpie moths
Many members of this genus, comprising about 60 species, are very similar and difficult to identify. The genus was erected in 1815 by English zoologist William Elford Leach (1791-1836), who was employed as what in those days was called an ‘Assistant Librarian’ (corresponding to the present-day Assistant Keeper) in the Natural History Department of the British Museum, where he was in charge of the zoological collections.

In 1815, he published the first bibliography of entomology in Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopedia (1808-1830), and he was the first naturalist to separate centipedes and millipedes from the insects, placing them in the Myriapoda. (Source: K. Harrison & E. Smith 2008. Rifle-Green by Nature: A Regency Naturalist and his Family, William Elford Leach. The Ray Society, London)

 

 

Unidentified species of Abraxas, Jhinu Danda, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Ourapteryx
This genus, comprising about 40 species, was erected in 1814 by English zoologist William Elford Leach (see Abraxas above).

 

Ourapteryx clara
This beautiful moth is distributed from Afghanistan along the entire Himalaya to Southeast Asia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In the Himalaya, it has been encountered at elevations between 450 and 1,500 m.

 

 

Ourapteryx clara, Shyabru, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. The antenna are almost hidden behind the wings. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Saturniidae
An almost worldwide family with about 2,300 species, including some of the largest moths in the world, for instance emperor moths (Saturnia), royal moths (Citheronia), and giant silk moths (Antheraea). The majority of the species occur in tropical or subtropical forests and woodlands, with the greatest diversity in Mexico and tropical areas of Latin America.

 

Antheraea Giant silk moths, tussar silk moths
A genus with about 22 species, several of which have caterpillars that produce the so-called ‘tussar silk’.

 

Antheraea frithi
This animal may have a wing span up to 15 cm. It is found in montane areas of the Himalaya, China, Indochina, and parts of Indonesia. The forewings are curved, and each wing has a large ocellus (‘eye’), the aim of which is to scare away predators. The male may be distinguished by his feathery antennae and brick-red colour.

 

 

Male Antheraea frithi, Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Tortricidae Tortrix moths, leafroller moths
This large family has over 11,000 members, divided into about 1,050 genera. They are found almost all over the world.

 

Cerace
A genus of about 10 species of the subfamily Tortricinae, found from India eastwards to China, Taiwan, and Japan, and thence southwards to Indonesia.

 

Cerace stipatana
This species is distributed from India eastwards across northern Indochina to southern China and Taiwan.

 

 

Cerace stipatana, Mane Bhanjyang, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. The yellow tip of the hindwings have been bitten off, presumably by a bird. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Unidentified moths

 

 

Possibly a Gynautocera species, sucking from a carnivore scat, near Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Siduwa, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Superb camouflage. – This moth, encountered near Tharepati, Helambu, central Nepal, is almost invisible, sitting on a fallen leaf of a tail-leaved maple (Acer caudatum). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

In this picture, one of the hooks on a seed of downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa) has become attached to a wing of this moth, causing the death of the animal. – Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mitlung, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

An example of mimicry: This moth at Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal, looks remarkably like a wasp. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

On this newly hatched moth, the wings have not yet unfolded completely, Guputar, Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Same species as above, Sekathum, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Caterpillars

 

 

Colourful caterpillar, Junbesi, Solu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Caterpillars of many moth species are extremely hairy, which will deter most birds from eating them. However, cuckoos of the genus Cuculus often eat such caterpillars, after rubbing off the hairs on a branch. Some examples of unidentified hairy caterpillars are shown below.

 

 

Guputar, Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Same species as above, Bharku, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Dana, Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Near Tapethok, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The caterpillars of some members of the family Thaumetopoeidae are known as processionary caterpillars, so named because, when leaving their common silk nest in their host tree in search of food, they move in columns, the mouthpart of each animal attached to the animal in front of it.

 

 

Processionary caterpillars, Hille, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Processionary caterpillars, Sikhe, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Caterpillars of the genera Malacosoma and Eriogaster, of the family Lasiocampidae, are easily identified by the conspicuous silk webs, resembling tents, which they build in branches of host trees. For this reason, they are called tent caterpillars. The larvae establish their web soon after hatching.

 

 

Tent caterpillars, probably of the species Malacosoma indicum, gathered in their communal web in a barberry bush (Berberis), Singdam, Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Coleoptera Beetles
With about 400,000 species, this is the largest of all orders, constituting almost 40% of described insects, and about 25% of all known animals. Beetles are found all over the world, except in the polar regions. New species are discovered frequently.

 

 

Ladybird, family Coccinellidae, Kimrong Khola, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mating ladybirds, Kimrong Khola. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Surkhe, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Gyapla, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Beetles, possibly carrion beetles of the family Silphidae, eating petals of Hibiscus syriacus, Sundarijal, Kathmandu, Nepal. The nearest one is smeared in pollen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hemiptera True bugs
Bugs of this order are called ‘true bugs’ to distinguish them from other groups of insects – and some arthropods, for that matter – which people often refer to as ‘bugs’.

True bugs are a very large group of insects, with more than 80,000 species, comprising many superfamilies, including shield bugs (Pentatomoidea), red bugs or cotton stainers (Pyrrhocoroidea), cicadas (Cicadoidea), planthoppers (Fulgoroidea), and aphids (Aphidoidea).

True bugs are very diverse, but have one thing in common, namely piercing mouthparts with which they suck juice from plants or, in some cases, from other animals. Their mouthparts are contained in a beak, a so-called rostrum, which is usually held underneath the body when not in use. True bugs are often found in large congregations, densely clustered on stones, walls, or elsewhere.

 

Pentatomoidea Shield bugs
This superfamily contains about 7,000 species, divided into 16 families, including:

Scutelleridae, metallic shield bugs, or jewel shield bugs, comprising about 81 genera and 450 species.

Tessaratomidae, giant shield bugs, which contains about 56 genera and 240 species.

Cydnidae, burrowing bugs, with about 750 species.

Pentatomidae, stink bugs, a very large family with about 900 genera and 4,700 species.

 

 

An unidentified species of metallic shield bug, Shermatang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nymph of a giant shield bug, Pycanum rubens, near Sinuwa, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pyrrhocoroidea

 

 

Red bugs, probably of the family Pyrrhocoridae, congregated on a leaf, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cicadoidea Cicadas
This superfamily is divided into two families, Tettigarctidae, with two species in Australia, and Cicadidae, which is found almost worldwide, comprising more than 3,000 species. Cicadas are characterized by prominent eyes set wide apart, short antennae, and membranous front wings. Many species produce exceptionally powerful sounds with the help of so-called tymbals, membranes in the abdomen, which vibrate, whereas the cicada’s body functions as a resonance chamber, which greatly amplifies the sound.

 

 

Many of the larger cicadas in the Himalaya produce extremely loud sounds, sometimes resembling the noise of a chainsaw. This one was observed near Dana, Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Colourful cicada on a leaf, Landrung, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Fulgoroidea Planthoppers
One of the families in this superfamily is Flatidae, which is almost cosmopolitan. Like all planthoppers, these animals suck plant sap. One species in the Himalaya is Phromnia marginella, whose nymphs excrete a white, fluffy substance from their rear part, which causes birds not to eat them. When they hatch into the adult stage, they become whitish insects with pinkish wings.

 

 

Nymphs of Phromnia marginella, observed near Mitlung, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal (top), and near Galeshwor, Lower Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Orthoptera Grasshoppers and allies
The order Orthoptera is divided into to suborders, Caelifera (grasshoppers) and Ensifera (crickets, katydids, and others). Both groups are characterized by mouthparts adapted for biting and chewing, hind legs modified for jumping, and organs to produce their characteristic sounds. Ensiferans have much longer, threadlike antennae than the grasshoppers, often longer than their bodies.

These animals are plant-eaters, and some species at times become serious pests, forming huge swarms that consume crops over wide areas. Most species protect themselves from predators by camouflage. If detected, they suddenly jump into the air, many species displaying brilliantly coloured wings to startle the predator. Other species have strong colours as a warning to predators that they are ill-tasting.

 

 

Grasshopper, Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Many grasshoppers have subtle colours as a means of camouflage. This one, however, is very conspicuous, sitting on a mani stone (a stone slab with chiselled Buddhist mantras), near Hemis Gompa, Ladakh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

When they sense danger, many grasshoppers display brilliantly coloured wings to startle predators. – Gyantse, southern Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mating katydids, Ngadi, Lower Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Mantodea Praying mantises
This order contains about 30 families with c. 430 genera and more than 2,400 species. These animals are distributed worldwide in warmer temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions, living in a variety of habitats.

They are carnivorous insects that will wait in ambush in the vegetation for an insect or another small invertebrate to pass by. With lightening speed, the mantis throws its forelegs forward and snatches the unfortunate victim, which is then devoured by the mantis. Sometimes a female will even eat the male, after he has inserted his semen in her.

These insects got their name from their posture, with the forelegs ‘folded’, as if they were in prayer – quite contradictory to the real purpose of this posture!

 

 

Praying mantis, Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This praying mantis, encountered at Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, looks remarkably like a dry stick. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This one is well camouflaged among grass, Dubichour, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Anisoptera Dragonflies
These spectacular insects are ubiquitous near any body of freshwater in the lower parts of the Himalaya. The name of the infraorder is derived from the Greek anisos (‘unequal’) and pteron (‘wing’), alluding to the hindwing being broader than the forewing. When resting, most dragonflies held their wings flat and at an angle of 45-90 degrees to the body, whereas the related damselflies (Zygoptera) hold their wings folded, along or above the abdomen.

 

 

Dragonfly, near Sinuwa, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Dragonfly, Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Dragonfly, silhoutted against reflections in the Rapti River, Sauraha, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Diptera Flies and allies
This order contains numerous suborders and families, including groups like house flies, blow flies, hoverflies, mosquitoes, gnats, midges, and fruit flies. More than 150,000 species have been described, but the actual number is much larger, perhaps close to a million.

The name of the order is derived from the Greek di (‘two’) and pteron (‘wing’). Seemingly, these animals have only two wings, the hindwings having evolved into sensory organs, called halteres, which allow them to perform advanced aerobatics.

 

 

Bee-fly of the family Bombyliidae, sucking nectar in a flower of Pseudomertensia racemosa, Beabra, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This interesting fly with a long as well as a short proboscis landed on my leg, where I had amply opportunity to study it. However, I should not have done this, as it immediately drilled its short proboscis into my thigh. It hurt! – Mane Danda, between Chipling and Gul Bhanjyang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hymenoptera Bees, wasps, ants and allies
A large order with more than 150,000 species, comprising wasps, bees, sawflies, and ants.

 

 

This digger wasp, possibly of the family Crabronidae, has sedated a grasshopper by injecting poison into its body. Now the wasp is bringing its victim to its nesting hole, where it will lay eggs on its body. When the wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the grasshopper, which by then will still be alive. – Tumlingtar, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Vespidae Social wasps
This family includes the best-known wasps, such as yellowjackets and hornets, which live in communal nests, centered around an egg-laying queen, and with many sterile workers. The majority of other wasps are solitary, with each female breeding independently.

 

Vespa mandarinia Asian giant hornet
This is the world’s largest hornet, having a body length of about 45 mm, a wingspan around 75 mm, and a stinger 6 mm long. It is native to the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Far East, including Ussuriland in south-eastern Siberia. In 2019, it was accidentally introduced to the Pacific coast in north-western America.

This animal prefers the live at medium altitudes, avoiding hot lowlands and high altitudes. It feeds primarily on larger insects, plundering colonies of other social insects, honey from honeybee colonies, and also tree sap.

 

 

Asian giant hornet, Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hirudinea Leeches
Leeches are parasitic or predatory worms, comprising about 680 species, of which the majority, c. 480 species, live in freshwater, about 100 live in saltwater, and about 100 are terrestrial. Most species are found in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide, with a few species in temperate regions.

The name of the subclass Hirudinea is derived from the Latin hirudo, the classical word for leeches.

These are among the most hated animals in the Himalaya, where several species live in grass and other vegetation up to an altitude of about 3,500 m. When a leech senses the carbon dioxide, expired by a warm-blooded animal, including humans, it will stretch out and try to attach its sucking pad to the skin of the animal. If undisturbed, it then sucks blood for several hours and grows to several times its original size. Then it releases its grip, fall to the ground, and wander off to lay eggs in the forest.

The wound from a leech bite bleeds copiously for some time, but, apart from itching irritatingly, the bite is harmless to people.

 

 

Leeches sense their ‘prey’ from the emitted carbon dioxide from the body. In these pictures, leeches are stretching out towards my companions’ fingers, near Tashigaon, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal (top), and near Chipling, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Mycetozoa Slime mold
For a long time, it was assumed that slime mold were a type of fungi. Today, however, most authorities regard them as animals, as they are able to creep about in their young stage.

 

 

A bright orange species of slime mold, growing on a tree stump, Phele, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

(Uploaded October 2020)

 

(Latest update May 2021)