Birdwatching in Sattal

Visited : November 2020. Day trip.

Sattal is a beautiful town situated at the lower Himalayan range in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand. The name ‘Sat tal’ means seven lakes. These seven inter-connected freshwater lakes are a paradise for nature lovers and bird watchers because of the versatile  topography of the landscape and the variety of migratory birds found here.

As it was only a day trip, we had left Ranikhet at the break of dawn so we could start the birding session on time at Sattal. Drive time to Sattal from Ranikhet is around 2 hours.

First view of Sattal lake

Sattal was a new place for us and going to the right spots in search of birds could be really challenging and time taking. Just a couple of days earlier we had a great time with Mahesh (Asian adventures) while birding in Pangot, we decided to book him again so we could utilize the day more efficiently and enjoy the new place and its avian bounty!

Oh, what a great time we had! We were amazed by the variety of birds we saw that day… details?.. read on..

We started our birding trip from Graphic Era University at 7am by looking for small birds along the roadside in the nearby bushes. While photographing a flock of Common Rose Finches and Yellow Breasted Green Finches, we spotted a pair of Rufous chinned Laughing Thrush. I had never seen these colorful birds before. Three lifers in one go! the first 15mins of this trip filled us with so much of anticipation that we could not wait to see what this beautiful hill station held in it’s lush green forests.

Common Rose Finch
Yellow Breasted Green Finches
Rufous chinned Laughingthrush

Birdwatching can be a perfect synonym for ‘patience’. Mahesh had spotted a female Rubythroat. Our eyes were eagerly now searching for the most spectacular looking bird – The Whitetailed Rubythroat. After trailing the female Ruby-throat for a while, we spotted a dancing vermillion spot in the depths of grey dry twigs of a shrub. There it was! the gorgeous male hopping from one tiny branch to another, calling out to his female, trying to woo her. It was really beautiful to witness.

The White tailed rubythroat (female)
The White tailed rubythroat (male)

Even though we could not get enough of this beautiful bird, the sun was coming up and we had to move forward.

As we walked along the streets of Sattal, I realized how beautiful this town was. It was comparatively less crowded due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation.

Along the way we also spotted birds like the Rufous Bellied Niltava, Slaty Blue Flycatcher, Small Niltava, White Throated Laughing Thrush, Green Tailed Sunbird, Blue Fronted Redstart and many more.

Rufous Bellied Niltava
Slaty Blue Flycatcher
Small Niltava with a strand of web on its forehead.
White Throated Laughing Thrush
Blue Fronted Redstart (female)
Blue Fronted Redstart (male)

We saw two kinds of Sunbirds in this region, the Crimson Sunbird and the Green Tailed Sunbird.

Crimson Sunbird
Green Tailed Sunbird

Beautiful small birds like the Oriental white eye and the Blue Winged Siva, just add to the charm of these hills. Busy in their daily food collection, gossips and playtime – these are the life of the forest.

Oriental White eye
Blue Winged Siva

Bar Tailed Tree creepers are common to this part of the country. But one of the toughest to photograph as it does not stay still for ever a split second!

Bar Tailed Tree creepers

The hairpin roads to the lake are best to birdwatch while strolling. But ours was a day trip, we drove and halted at mountain road bends to enjoy the view and spot some birds on top of the trees at eye level. From one such bend we opened up our home made breakfast with a first view of Satal lake and its valley (check first image). The view was breathtaking. The peaceful moments suddenly became rushed as I quickly picked up my camera to click colorful Blue Throated Barbet perched on a branch close to us.

Blue Throated Barbet

Next we headed to another beautiful lake called Purna Tal, located opposite to Satal lake. We parked our car at the side of the road and descended a couple of stairs all the way through the small streams leading to this lake. This was one of the most beautiful places I had been to because of the well made walkway surrounded by dense forest and the sound of flowing water from the streams. Simple, yet serene.

As we walked along the streams, we were welcomed by the sweet sounds of small birds like Nuthatches and Oriental white eyes and Grey Hooded Warblers all around us. Focusing on one single bird got so difficult as there were so many of them.

Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch
Grey Hooded Warblers

A bit ahead a set of stairs with covered with weeds led us to a viewing point. This place to me felt like a tomb raider game with all the ancient structures and the overgrown forest around us. It was just perfect!

Stairs to the viewing point

We got really good photos of the tiny birds up there. But one of my favorites were the series of shots I took of a Velvet Fronted Nuthatch feeding on a big moth.

A Velvet Fronted Nuthatch feeding on a big moth
Bon Appetit!
Time for some dessert

As brutal as it may seem, notice how this bird tears apart the moth’s wings and you can see the flakes spread into the air. I really felt sorry for the little fellow but that’s ‘circle of life’ and ‘the way of the forest’!

Walking along the trail.

Somewhere in the bushes, I saw a bird I had never seen before. I tried to capture it through the dense bushes. It was really difficult to identify the bird, but i guess it was some kind of warbler. After getting the photos on my laptop, I could see the features of the bird. I am still not too sure but I guess it was a Green Crowned Warbler.

I leave it to you to decide. Here is the photo of the bird-

Green Crowned Warbler ???

Enjoying the trails in buffer zone, we finally approached Purna Tal. Many photographers in past years have been coming here to photograph some shy birds. For their convenience they have designed a set to photograph these birds in perfect poses – very much like any photo studio. This set is famously known as ‘Sattal studio bird watching point’. Its basically a planned stack and bridge of twigs over a natural thin stream. Here we sat and waited patiently for Himalayan Blue tail to arrive as apparently it’s a common visitor to this place in this season. Soon a female came along dancing and feeding but unfortunately we could not spot the male, even though we could hear its call for a brief moment from far away.

Trail to studio point
Himalayan Blue tail (female)

As we waited, many birds came out to visit, like the white capped red-start, yellow wagtails and also small warblers.

White Capped Red-start
Yellow Wagtail

While we still waited for our pricy Mr himalayan bluetail, a huge flock of Red Breasted Parakeets flew over our heads, circling the skies a couple of times. I could not miss this opportunity, so as they approached, I pointed my lens at them and fired away.

 This next photo says it all!

Red Breasted Parakeets in flight
Grooming session
At Purna Tal

It was almost lunch time now and with grumbling tummies, we decided to head back towards Satal lake. These trails always have surprises and this time it was one of the smallest birds ever, the Chestnut Headed Tesia.

This bird did not stay still even for a second, making it really difficult to capture. I did get a photograph but not as sharp as I hoped it to be. This bird is now surely in my list to capture for my next visit here… Hopefully soon!

Chestnut Headed Tesia

All that walking, made us really hungry. Mahesh took us to a nearby eatery near the lake run by a bird guide ‘Madhubala restaurant’.

Top tip : Across the Satal Lake’s commercial complex there is a building with paid public washrooms. They are very clean and hygienic.

Lunch time – Kadhi Chaval / Rajma Chaval / Masala Maggie / Kheer

For second half of the day we headed towards another beautiful location at Chaffi along a small stream.

A small stream along the road.

Walking along the road down the mountain, we reached a river stream where we saw two kinds of Forktails, the Slaty backed and the spotted Forktail. As the name suggests, they have a long fork shaped tail which gives a nice display when they hop from one rock to another. They are often found in the Himalayas and North east India. I noticed that these birds here were not too shy, as the stream was flowing along the roadside, it was a bit easier for us to get closer (but not too close) to disturb the birds.

We spent quite a lot of time trying to photograph these birds. It was a bit difficult to actually get down to the eye level of the birds as they were down in the river hopping on the rocks and feeding in the puddles of the stream. The view from the road was obscured by the bushes and small trees. The photographs we got were worth the struggle.

Slaty Backed Forktail
Spotted Forktail

We also got a glimpse of a Pair of Red billed Blue Magpies on a tree across the road.

Red billed Blue Magpie

The day was not over yet and Mahesh still had some prime birding areas up his sleeves.

It was getting dark quickly and we had yet another place to visit. Mahesh took us to a tiny village on the banks of Gaula river, opposite Camp Kalsi. Here we saw two beautiful bird species, the Golden Bush Robin and the Brown Dipper. This was the first time we saw these birds. We did see the female bush robin on our trip to Pangot but here along with a female we saw a ferocious young male hopping, dancing and singing – to attract the female. The bright golden like yellow color of the bird makes it a stunning spotting. we spotted the bright attractive male.

Golden Bush Robin (male)
Golden Bush Robin (female)

We headed straight to the stream and waited hoping that the brown dipper would arrive. Our guide showed us the nesting of the dipper, so there were chances that this bird would arrive at this location anytime. So we waited with eyes looking in all directions sitting on the riverside rocks.

And within a few minutes, there it was.. The Brown Dipper.

The behavior of the dipper is so unique because as the name says, it dips down to the river bed to catch fishes moving downstream. We got decent photos of this unique bird.

Brown Dipper

With this beauty captured by our cameras, we welcomed the sunset. Our soul was satisfied and we headed back home with a hope to come back some day for longer duration.

Sattal indeed is a birding paradise full of surprises and this is undoubtedly one of the places we will surely visit again.

Last look at the perfect Purna Tal.

Subscribe to get regular updates on this blog & checkout our Instagram page for more of our clicks during the trip

Also please check our the list of birds we spotted on this trip on my eBird page

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