North-East Feast

Monday, April 13, 2009

More than 300 species, 125 lifers! A feast of lifetime! Only one place can give you this, North-East India. We chalked up a plan to see most of the birds from North-East. Dear friend Shashank helped us in planning. We decided to visit Kaziranga - Panberi - Nameri - Eaglenest - Sangti Valley - Sella Pass - Mandala. Covering altitude from below Brahmaputra to 4000 mtrs.
From 01 to 18 March'09, total 18 days tour!

Kaziranga National Park

(Day 1, 2 & 3
Located in Assam (Gateway to North-East India) Kaziranga NP is home to endangered Indian One-horned Rhino. Along-with other mammals like Elephant, Tiger, Swamp Deer, Hog Deer etc. Kaziranga is home for many birds as well. There are 3 different routes namely, Central Range, Western Range, Eastern Range. Central and Eastern ranges are good for bird watching, hence we decided to take 2 rides in Central and 1 ride in Eastern zone. Important birds seen in Central and Eastern zone are Green-billed Malkoha, Jerdon's Babbler, Swamp Frankolin, Spot-winged Starling, Spot-billed Pelican, Mallard, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Lesser Fish Eagle, Pied Harrier, Kalij Pheasant, Grey-headed Lapwing, Blue-naped Pitta, Green Imperial Pigeon, Drongo Cuckoo, Eurasian Tree Sparrow etc..

(Day 4)
Panberi, where recently an untoward incident has happened. Its a dense forest well known for bird watching. But we were not so lucky with this place. The forest was full of bird songs, but somehow we were not able to see them. We were really frustrated and thought, if this is the condition in panberi, what will happen in eaglenest?
But after spending some time we did manage to see Lesser Shortwing, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Great-pied Hornbill, Crested Goshaw
k, Black-headed Long-tailed Shrike (Tricolor), Crimson Sunbird etc. Another speciality of Panberi is Hoolok Gibbons. We had to venture deep inside the forest to see a pair of these gibbons.

(Day 5 & 6)
Situated on the border of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, Nameri is wonderful place to watch forest as well as water birds. We were scheduled to stay in Nameri Eco-camp for a day & half now and then another day after we return from Arunachal Preadesh. Only way to go inside park in on foot (which is excellent for Bird watching), a forest guard accompanies you. Campus of Nameri Eco-camp itself is wonderful place for birds. We saw Oriental Hobby, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Hill Myna in the campus itself. Main attraction in Nameri is White-winged Wood Duck, which is very rare to get and most probably Nameri is the only known place in India for these Ducks. So our target for day 1 was White-winged Wood Duck. This Duck is very very habitat specific. It is only seen in small water bodies inside the dense forest. There are 3 ponds en route on periphery, where you can see these ducks. Our attempts in first 2 ponds were unsuccessful, so we had to walk till third pond, we literally ignored other birds, so that we can reach the third pond in time i.e. before it gets hot. And our efforts paid off, when we saw a pair of White-winged Wood Duck. Wow!!! Was the only feeling. Not able to express that moment in words. Other birds we saw in Nameri are; Common Mergenser, Crow-billed Drongo, Striped Tit Babbler, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Great-pied Hornbills (100 of them on tree), Orange-bellied Leafbird, Blue-bearded Bee Eater, Blue-throated Barbet, Little Pied Flycatcher, Maroon Oriole, Asian Fairy Blue Bird etc.

Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary
(Day 7 to 13)
We started for Eaglenest from Nameri. To enter Arunachla Pradesh one has to get the permit for the same. It is beyond my imagination, why an Indians needs to get a permit to enter a state within India? Bhalookpong is the place where you enter Arunachal. Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary has 3 places where camping facility is available, Lama, Bompu and Sessni. We stayed in Lama camp for 3 days, 1 day in Bhompu and 3 days in Sessni.

Lama Camp (Alt. 2400 mtrs)
(Day 7 & 8)
Known for recently discovered Bugun Liochichla, Lama camp and surrounding area is mostly a degraded forest part. But there are some specific birds which are seen in this area only like Bugun Liochichla. We met fellow birders Bikram Grewal and Ramkee at Lama camp. It was there last day and our first in Eaglenest. and they have not seen Bugun yet in this trip. So it was last chance for them. We all birded together for a day and what a day it was!! We were fortunate to see Bugun Liochichla on our very first day. Other birds seen were Olive-backed Pipit, Blue-fronted Redstart, Green-tailed Sunbird, Bhutan Laughingthrush, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Beautiful Sibia, Barred cuckoo Dove, Golden-throated barbet, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Himalayan Red-flanked Bush Robin, Rufous-breasted bush Robin, Rufous-capped Babbler, White-naped Yuhina, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Black-throated Prinia, Yellow-browed Tit, Black-spotted Yellow Tit, Black-faced Warbler, Uffff.. all lifers. and this continued throughout Eaglenest. Almost every second bird we saw was a lifer for us.

Bompu camp (Alt.1950 mtrs.)

(Day 9)

After saying goodbye to Bikram and ramki, we started for Bompu. The forest got more and more thick. I have never seen a dense forest like this. Shashank was trying to find out Ward's Trogon for us by playing his call. After 3, 4 failed attempts at various places the bird finally responded near Bompu camp. For few mins. we could only hear the bird, responding to the call. Later on it came out. It was a female. I was so overjoyed, that I started dancing on the road. Thanks to Shashank for showing us such a beauty.
On the way we met Ramna who was with some foreign tourists. While Shashank was talking with Ramana, we just walked around a bit and suddenly a flock of bright golden breasted birds came for a while and disappeared! Wow...those were Golden-breasted Fulvettas.
Other birds seen; Darjeeling Woodpecker, White-collared Blackbird, White-browed Bush Robin, Bar-winged Wren Babbler, Black-faced Laughing Thrush, Streak-throated Barwing, Red-tailed Minla, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Brown-throated Fulvetta, Stripe-throated Yuhina etc..

Sessni Camp (Alt.1200mtrs)
(Day 10, 11 & 12)
As altitude changes another set of birds comes in front. Sessni camp and around areas are the best birding places in Eaglenest. The road from Sessni to Kilong gave us what could be most valuable bird of the trip. As we were coming back from Kilong, suddenly a bird walked across the road in from of us and we all (including Shashank) were in some sort of shock it was a Grey Peacock Pheasant. We were simply lucky!! Nothing else. Other birds seen; Rufous-throated Hill Partridge, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, White-throated Needletail, Rufous-backed Needletail, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Blue-eared Barbet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Lomg-tailed Minivet, Short-billed Minivet, Scarlet Finch, Mountain Bulbul, White-throated Bulbul, Small-billed Scaly Thrush, Slaty Blue Flycatcher, Red-faced Liochichla, Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Slaty-backed Forktail, Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler, Rufoud-throated Wren Babbler, Black-eared Shrike Babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, Rufous-backed Sibia, Beautiful Nuthatch, Black-chinned Yuhina, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Grey-faced Leaf Warbler, Lemon-rumped Warbler, Yellow-vented Warbler, Whistler' s Warbler, Grey-cheeked Warbler, Black-breasted Sunbird etc. We tried a lot for Sultan Tit but unfortunately didn't find it.

Lama Camp
(Day 13)

We started early morning from Sessni for Lama, where we will be staying for a night before proceeding to Dirang. Our last day in Eaglnest was truly memorable because of the birds we saw on that day. Just read the names; Black-headed Shrike Babbler, Tibetan Siskin, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Mrs. Gould's Sunbird, Dark-breasted Rose Finch, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler another sighting of a pair of Bugun Liochichla.
Eaglenest is an amazing place and every bird watcher should visit Eaglenest at least once. That was end of our Eaglenest tour. We had wonderful time there. We missed few birds like Cutia, Fire-tailed Mizornis etc. But we did see a lot... Another bird that we missed was sultan Tit. It's very common in Eaglenest, especially around Bompu & Sessni, but we missed it. We even told Shashank that Sultan Tit is rarer than Grey Peocock Pheasant and Tibetan Siskin :)-
Now it was time to say good bye to Shashank. Shashank knows A to Z about Eaglenest. And his knowledge about bird calls is simply amazing. We are very t
hankful to Shashank for his time and for helping us to see so many dream birds. Without him around, we might have not seen so many birds.

Sangti Valley
(Day 14)

We left Eaglenest and headed for Dirang, where we will be staying for next 2 days and will visit Sangti valley, Sella Pass and Mandala. After reaching Dirang we went to Sangti Valley. On the way we saw Wallcreepers. Sangati Valley is famous for the lone Black-necked Crane which comes here for last 4 winters. We were a bit skeptical as its already mid-march, so it might have left, but still.. We started to scan the hudge grassland in the valley for crane but no sign. We also tried to search for Black-tailed Crake, and this time also no luck.
But we did able to see Hodgson's Redstart, Upland Buzzard, Himalayan Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Rus
set Sparrow (cinnamon Sparrow).

Sella Pass (Alt. 4200mtrs)
(Day 15)
Lot was heard about this place. About sightings of Grandala, Snow Piegons, Accentors, Blood Pheasant etc. The weather was very good on our day, in fact it was too good! Bright sunshine through out the day. But birding was not so good. No Grandalas, no Snow Piegons, no Pheasants. We saw only Red Choughs, Upland Buzzard and Alpine Accentor at Sella Top. While coming down from Sella top we did manage to see Himalayan White-browed Rose Finch, Himalayan Beautiful Rose Finch, Dark-breasted Rose Finch. Worst part was to see massive wood cutting all through the way from Dirang to Sella. If this rate of wood cutting continues, then say in next 5 years, one may not see any trees there! Its that massive!!

Mandala (Alt. 3800mtrs.)
(Day 16)
After a bit disappointing yesterday, we went to Mandala next day. On the way, below Mandala top there was a nice birding patch. We saw Red-billed Leothrix, Bar-throated Minla (Chestnut-tailed Minla), Small Niltava, Grey Treepie, Himalayan Red-flanked Bush Robin. Again Mandala top was also as disappointing as Sella. All the way massive wood cutting! They burn the jungle in night and then come next day to cut large pine, fur trees. You can see hoards of tress lying on ground, like dead bodies after a war!! It was very sad!!

Dirang to Nameri

(Day 17)
Normal road from Dirang to Nameri was closed because of landslide. Hence we had to come via a long route, through another side of Mandala. So we started early morning by 4.30. And this was blessing in disguise!! On other side of Mandala top we saw Rufous-fronted Tit, White-naped & Striated Yuhina, Spotted Laughingthrushes, Spotted Nutcracker, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, White-browed Shrike Babbler, Gold-naped Finch and above all Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. We were so delighted to see these birds in span of just 2 hours!

(Day 18)

Well..all good things come to an end, so was out tour. This was our last day. Our flight from Guwahati was at 3.15pm, so we had time for a morning session. And our last session of birding gave me 6 more lifers!! Sand Lark, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Black-throated Thrush, Dollar Bird, Dark-necked Prinia and finally, finally we did manage to see Sultan Tit. But as bird-watchers are never satisfied, we were still looking forward for one more lifer, Greater Adjutant, which we found in 100s at famous dumping ground in Guwahati.
That sumps up my long report, but believe me I still feel that it's too short. :-) Those were unforgettable 18 days of my life!!

--- Mandar & Pallavi