Hiking for Herps in the Mountains of Mussoorie

25 Mar

Nearly all my herping in Asia has focused on the lowlands in and around megacities (with an occasional Doi Suthep or Khao Yai to get a little higher up). But Asia also has some real elevation in the Himalayan range, and a whole new set of wildlife occupies those heights. I’ve had a couple chances to get up over 2,000 meters high in the mountains near Mussoorie, India. Here are a few pictures from those trips.

The first time I went to Uttarkhand, the first thunderstorm of the monsoon hit on my first day there. That boded well for snake activity, and sure enough, the next morning my friend and I found this beautiful rat snake crawling up a rat-infested wall on our walk to the school:

Hodgson’s Ratsnake (Orthriophis hodgsoni)

Habitat shot, with the crowd that gathered afterwards

The most abundant herp in these mountains are a type of ground skink, which were usually sunning near rock piles. I probably saw over 100 of them.

Himalayan Rock Skink (Asymblepharus himalayanus)

In more forested areas, often camouflaged into the undergrowth, were these rarely photographed agamids.

juvenile Large Mountain Lizard (Japalura major)

I tried to flip (and carefully replace) everything I could find. Usually this only landed me scorpions:

But one morning I flipped this little Brook’s Gecko (Hemidactylus brookii).

On the second day after the rain, I found this beautiful cat snake under a rock right next to school. This is a slight elevation extension, being found about a hundred meters or so higher than any previous record.

Many-banded Cat Snake (Boiga multifasciata)

The other time I went to that location, it was a colder time of year and the clouds/fog rarely lifted. However, on one brief sunny moment I went searching and found this Collared Black-headed Snake (Sibynophis collaris) taking advantage of the warmth:

I like to do a 25km hike from the language school. After paralleling a ridge I dropped into a lush forested mountain valley. The villagers who farm this valley have to walk anywhere from 3 to 10 kilometers to get to the nearest road.

The birds on this route are gorgeous and numerous. Herps, however, were surprisingly rare. Other than a skink, in three trips into the valley the only reptiles I’ve seen were agamas:

Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor) – at nearly 2000 meters, very high elevation for this species:

While descending down the jungle path in a rainstorm, I found this Large Mountain Lizard (Japalura major) nearly drowning in the runoff coming down the trail:

These beautiful Kashmiri Rock Agamas (Laudakia tuberculata) would sun out on rocky outcroppings:

I saw a small lizard disappearing in-between two rocks at a distance. I peeked in and saw four cute little juveniles looking up at me! Unfortunately, they dispersed before I could get a picture of them together.

Habitat shot

I worked really hard in this same area to try to find any species of stream frog, especially a torrent frog. In some man-made puddles coming off of a mountain stream, I found these tadpoles eating a dead fish.

I looked up in the water catchbasin up above it, and found this frog – the mountain stream frog Nanorana minica:

habitat shot

Here are a few of the birds from that area. I’m not great on bird identifications, so any corrections would be appreciated.

Himalayan Griffons, White-rumped or Himalayan Vultures, and other soaring birds of prey

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)

Pale Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis unicolor) – one was perched together with several yellow minivets, but I didn’t get a picture of the lovely color combination in time

Female Long-tailed Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus)

The male of the species

This Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush (Monticola rufiventris) was one of at least 6-7 beautiful bird species in one spot.

Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus)

Himalayan Black-lored Tit (Parus xanthogenys)

Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus)

Grey-hooded Warbler (Seicercus xanthoschistos)

Yet another little grey-and-yellow one – not sure on the ID:

Perhaps Piculet, maybe Speckled Piculet (Picumnus innominatus)

Rufous Sibia (Heterophasia capistrata)

I think this is a Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum) but could be confused:

Striated Laughingthrush (Garrulax striatus)

White-throated Laughingthrush (Garrulax albogularis)

Black-headed Jay (Garrulus lanceolatus)

Himalayan Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys)

Possibly Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus)?

Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)

Red-billed Blue Magpies (Urocissa erythrorhyncha)

Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)

Perhaps Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus)? It was a foggy early morning on the ridge so I didn’t get the best idea of color:

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)

Himalayan Woodpecker (Dendrocopos himalayensis)

Brown-fronted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos auriceps)

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus)

Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus)

Lesser Yellownape (Picus chlorolophus)

Slaty-headed Parakeet (Psittacula himalayana)

Great Barbet (Megalaima virens)

The most interesting birds I saw but failed to photograph were Blue Whistling Thrush, Spot-winged Tit, Ultramarine Flycatcher, and especially Kalij Pheasants. And an incredible long-tailed black bird came flying out of a cave that a stream was emanating from – I narrowed that ID down to two species and then lost my note.

And some invertebrates

Amazing Stag Beetle (2-2.5” long) that was trying to traverse a 500’ long power line

He’s got a long ways to go….


Posted by on March 25, 2015 in Herping adventures


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4 responses to “Hiking for Herps in the Mountains of Mussoorie

  1. Eric Wayne

    March 25, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Love the rock agamas. Never saw that kind before.

  2. rcannon992

    March 26, 2015 at 5:00 am

    Looks like an amazing place. I saw some of these birds in Arunachul Pradesh but I would love to visit this region too.

  3. Asian Herp Blogs

    March 26, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Thanks for the positive responses!

  4. Aman John

    May 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Dear Sir,

    I am a Mussoorie resident and it’s of pure joy to see someone share this passion of wanting to document the herps of Mussoorie. I hope you will visit again and this time it would be great if we could meet up.


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