About the same size as Illinois, the country of Nepal ranges in altitude from a mere 300 feet above sea level, to the highest point on the planet, Mount Everest at 29,000 feet! All this staggering change in altitude happens within a distance of only 94 miles “as the crow flies”! Needless to say considering this almost unbelievable change in altitude within such a small distance, Nepal has a wide array of different habitats – from snow-capped peaks, down a little to mountain meadows, down to temperate forests, to subtropical forests and eventually to the Terai, an extremely fertile lowland farming area also still covered in grasslands and sal forests in some areas.
Nepal’s bird-list reaches 897 species, but with only one endemic, Nepal Wren-babbler. Despite the paucity of actual country endemics, Nepal is nevertheless also the home of a host of desirable wider Himalayan specials such as the bizarre Ibisbill, spectacular pheasants like Himalayan Monal and Satyr Tragopan, a true abundance of brilliant Oriental groups such as barwings, scimitar-babblers, laughingthrushes, fulvettas, parrotbills and yuhinas (don’t you love the names?). Talking of excellent Asian bird groups, four forktail species grace the fast-flowing, beautiful mountain streams. Amazingly, over 60 birds of prey (including vultures and falcons) have been recorded in Nepal, along with an amazing 22 owl species! This little country also has 25 woodpeckers, 12 tits and 6 nuthatches! And, Wallcreeper should also be mentioned – while this is a widespread Eurasian bird, it happens to be one of the world’s most sought-after species, and Nepal is definitely a good place to look for it. But, now if you prefer tough-to-identify “birders’ birds” rather than these charismatic groups, then Nepal will throw 22 Phylloscopus leaf-warblers at you!
Nepal is also brilliant for mammals, the most famous of course being Snow Leopard (which requires trekking, but you can also then encounter one of the most beautiful of the high Himalayan bird species, Grandala). But the country is also home to Leopard, Bengal Tiger, Sloth Bear, One-horned Rhinoceros and many smaller animals. Indian Rock Python, King Cobra and Gharial are also among the tantalizing wildlife of Nepal.
Bhutan and parts of mainland China now compete with Nepal, vying for ecotourism attention, now that they are opening more to foreign visitors.