Encounter: White-capped Water Redstart

I woke up at half past five to a clear dawn sky. There was a cold edge to the happy laughter of the brook. Ambling down on creaky knees to wash, I heard an excited chirruping and saw two lovely White-capped Water Redstarts (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus) chasing each other up and down the length of the brook.

In the spring of 2007, I was part of a group of six trekkers of varying experience, two intrepid mule-drivers and one inebriated guide on an expedition to Bedni Bugyal, a picture-postcard alpine meadow on the trail to Roopkund. The meadow was the highest point of our trek, although getting there proved exhausting as we battled inclement weather, mountain sickness and febrile aches and pains. We wandered into Bedni Bugyal worn and exhausted in pouring rain and freezing temperatures following a hailstorm. The meadow was glazed with a carpet made up of tiny beads of ice and cold rain trickled into the cracks in my armour. Overcome by altitude sickness, I shivered my way through the evening’s fireside huddle and only many bowls of hot soup could thaw my spirit. Night offered no rest — it was packed with back-to-back nightmares.

But I will always remember that glorious morning after. I woke up at half past five to a clear dawn sky. There was a cold edge to the happy laughter of the brook. Ambling down on creaky knees to wash, I heard an excited chirruping and saw two lovely white-capped water redstarts (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus) chasing each other up and down the length of the brook. At one point, one came close enough for me to see its breath form a fog as it called out a challenge to its rival. 

Clumps of marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) bloomed near the water's edge.

The mist parted occasionally to reveal splendid views of the snow-clad peaks of Nanda Ghonti, Trishul and Chaukhamba. Standing there enjoying the spare sunshine on that Himalayan morning, I forgot the cold and the pain of the evening before as I watched the messengers of the dawn.

The White-capped Water Redstart in your picture was shot at Ghangharia near the Valley of Flowers. They were fearless birds, coming up really close to us. Often, they chased away the slightly smaller Plumbeous Water Redstarts and were often engaged in elegant martial sorties as they marked out the invisible borders of their territories.

Photographs: Bijoy Venugopal

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