Long-eared Owl is found in different parts of northern hemisphere and rarely seen in India, previous sighting records from India were from the state of Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan; well, what is worth mentioning here is that it was last spotted in India in the year 2015 and in February 2017 the bird was spotted again in the state of Sikkim (for the first time) by one of our tour participants, Mr. Anupam Khanna and confirmed by me. Fascination, isn't it?
In February 2017, we had a birding tour to Pangolakha, two participants joined me; one of them came from USA, while the other person came from Kolkata; we didn't expect much on this tour because bird sighting at such a high altitude, that too in winter, practically is like looking for a needle in a hay stack, yes the regular species are fairly seen but if you expect to see something exotic then let me tell you it is pretty difficult during the winters or may be if you are really lucky you might even get to see something more than just exotic, something pretty outlandish.
|While I stopped the car hearing noise of Parrotbills, me and the team dispersed in every direction. After getting Brown parrotbill, returned back and Anupam said "&*^%" and the bomb dropped!|
Commencing on 2nd February, the tour continued till 6th of February 2017. We got nothing special or overwhelming in the first three days, it was going all okay, like any of our regular birding tours. We saw Myzornis, Monals, Minlas, Yuhinas etc, on the fourth day on our way, driving downhill from Zuluk to Padamchen in the morning at around 6:15 AM. we saw collared Owlet, got some good photographs of it. Then we descended further and stopped for parrotbills, we were primarily looking for Brown Parrotbills and Black-throated Parrotbills; I started to move inside the forest following the bird calls and started spotting them one by one, then crept out of the forest very silently without making any noise, lest it should scare away the birds, I told Anupam and Dr Bagchi (tour participants) to follow me into the forest as silently as possible; so that they could also get some really good photographs of Parrotbills. Till this point of time, we did not have the slightest idea of what was awaiting us, well probably Anupam had a gut feeling, so he didn't want to leave the spot. Suddenly I heard Anupam calling out my name, I could sense the urgency in his voice; he said, "Dibyendu, I saw something peculiar - just like a pine cone, it may be a Long-eared Owl, can you check it for once?" And Oh Boy! I was looking at a Long-eared Owl in Sikkim. I couldn't believe my eyes, what was I feeling? I can't probably express, all I can say is, I was extremely overwhelmed, more that just overwhelmed may be. I saw Anupam's face, it just flushed. He had been looking for this bird for the past three years in USA and definitely he did not expect to get it in Sikkim at Pangolakha. All I could think of was, yes it happened and good things come to those who wait.
The fun part was when Anupam's face flushed red.... as if he had met his lady love after ages, of course, to all of us sighting of a Long-eared Owl in Sikkim was no less than meeting the beloved after ages. Right time, right place, great luck and Bingo!
However, we got ample amount of time to get some really good images of the rarest of rare owl from the oriental region and after we were done, we left the spot silently without disturbing the bird.
In a nutshell what was expected to be " a not so exclusive" birding tour, turned out to be an extraordinarily fascinating and unique birding experience.
|Full body profile of Northern Long-eared Owl (Asio otus otus) from Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, East Sikkim, India|