Although this is not a threatened species that does not mean it is either common to see, despite its amazing iridescent plumage, or easy to find.

This particular location, Choeje Dra Monastery, is known to be a rare spot where they can be seen regularly as the monks hand out rice leftovers that attracts many species of birds, and in particular the monal. Many birders come here only because of the statistically favourable chances of seeing the monal, and have no real interest in the other high altitude species that also reside here, like the snow pigeon.

What we didn’t know was that this very day was a festival, and everybody were gathered further down and thus the monastery was empty and without any rice handouts. The dusk was fast approaching and we only encountered one monal briefly posing on a bluff, which time and time again eluded us as we followed it.

I decided to wait closer to the wall of the monastery as there I found some rice on the ground. Lo and behold, a monal gallantly walked down the stairs and straight towards me and started to pick up a grain of rice at a time. Unfortunately this position had the bright white wall of the monastery as the background of this incredibly diverse plumage, so none of these exposures were any good – despite them being close and sharp.

After a short feeding it decided to take to the wings. The light had now faded even more. Then another monal appeared further down, at the living quarters. Someone had stayed behind and handed out some rice there. And as humans and birds alike are creatures of habit, the monals had done their rounds, and finally found rice at this location, where I and two Indian birders were enjoying a close encounter in a photographically very undesirable setting – the legs hidden behind concrete, and the background bright and disturbed ground in between the buildings.

After some time it decided to walk away out in the open, and I quickly followed to hopefully get a more natural shot. It was there only a few seconds before it flew off.

My 800mm lens and tripod had previously fallen to the ground, which separated the tripod collar foot from the collar (all the 4 screws had been cut off clean, so the foot itself was still firmly attached to the gimbal head!), so I had to move two pieces of equipment as fast as I could and then set up the tripod and lean the lens on the gimbal head and find focus. With a tripod and lens in one piece I would have had at least two seconds more, which would have given at least one tack sharp image. Unfortunately I only got this one, not tack sharp, but an acceptable shot of the amazing monal in a natural setting.

It later appeared that I would encounter monals in many locations, yet no male in a beautiful pose and background like this.

It sounds like this:

Elevation: 3608 meters

  • Aperture: ƒ/5.6
  • Camera: NIKON D4S
  • Focal length: 800mm
  • ISO: 3200
  • Shutter speed: 1/200 s

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