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Photograph of a male Cheer pheasant crossing a road in Munsiyari, India

Cheer Pheasants

While planning a birding photography trip, many of us will have a specific bird in mind that we desire to photograph. During my first-ever central Himalayan birding trip in 2013, it was the Cheer Pheasant. I just missed the bird at Pangot in the Kumaon hills on the second day of the trip. My tour guide kept assuring me that we would see the bird in Munsiyari, the final stop on my 13-day itinerary. When we sat down every evening to go through the checklist, he would reassure me with a smile. Munsiyari is a picturesque village located around 7200 feet ASL in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district. We arrived in Munsiyari late at night, exhausted. But we got up at 3.30 a.m the next day morning to prepare for the hike up to a spot on the mountaintop where my guide had seen the bird a few months before. The sky was clear and starry, and the temperature outside was just over zero degrees celsius. The enticing aroma of the Himalayan pine forest filled the air. We began the hike slowly, carrying our camera equipment, hot water flasks, a few packets of biscuits, and ready-to-eat noodles. We had to find the bird and photograph it on that day at any cost. We were all geared up for a long day!


The main trail to the mountain’s summit was flanked by narrow valleys on both sides. The trail led us to a tarred mountain road that is occasionally used by the military. By the time we arrived at the spot, it was nearly 6:30 a.m. We could see the Himalayan ranges all around us, though fog obscured our view beyond a few metres. We hadn’t been waiting on the roadside for more than ten minutes when a flock of female Himalayan monals appeared from the ridges and ran off into the bushes upon seeing us. At the time, I was having trouble adjusting the camera’s settings. The light was still dim, and the air was foggy. It was too much for my camera to handle. By the time I had settled on an ISO of 8000, the ladies had already left. But while I was still looking through the lenses, a handsome Cheer Pheasant male appeared from the other side and marched across the road, oblivious to the two human souls staring at him. I squeezed the trigger.