ULTIMATE NORTHEAST INDIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 1 Our tour begi9ns this morning at Guwahati airport in Assam state in Northeast India. From here we cross the mighty Brahmaputra River, on our way to Tezpur for an overnight stay. Along the way, a range of commoner Indian birds will be on show in the fields and along the roadside, such as Great and Eastern Cattle Egrets, Black and Black-shouldered Kites, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Common Myna, Black Drongo, Ashy Woodswallow, and House and Eastern Jungle Crows.
Before we reach Tezpur we will visit Orang National Park. Orang, sometimes referred to as a miniature Kaziranga, is nonetheless an 80 square kilometres (31 square miles) reserve that protects the only viable surviving population of Asian One-horned Rhinoceros on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River. Other mammals include good numbers of wild Water Buffalo and Hog Deer, and there are small numbers of Tigers and Asian Elephants.
In common with much more famous Kaziranga, the park harbours extensive grasslands, although they are generally in better condition here, being less extensively burnt to encourage growth for large herbivores, as is the case at Kaziranga. Consequently there is a good opportunity to find such grassland specialities of the Assam Plains at Orang as Swamp Francolin, Bengal Florican, Slender-billed Babbler (easier to see here than at Kaziranga), Marsh Babbler, Black-breasted Parrotbill, Bristled and Indian Grassbirds, and Finn’s Weaver.
As we tour the park in our own vehicles, concentrating on these special birds, we will be paying particular attention to the varied grassland habitats, which also provide a home for such birds as Black Francolin, Barred Buttonquail, Lesser Coucal, Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Bluethroat, Siberian Stonechat, Chestnut-capped and Striated Babblers, Zitting and Bright-capped Cisticolas, Grey-breasted, Ashy and Plain Prinias, Indian Reed Warbler, Striated Grassbird, Baya Weaver and Chestnut Munia.
There are a small number of wetlands dotted throughout the park and we should also be able to scan the banks of the vast Brahmaputra River, providing that access is not restricted by flood-water or bad road conditions. The wide range of waterbirds found in the park includes Little Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Little Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked and Black-necked Storks, Lesser Adjutant, Bar-headed Goose, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Grey-headed and Red-wattled Lapwings, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green and Common Sandpipers, Pied Kingfisher, Grey-throated Martin, Barn Swallow and Citrine and Grey-headed Wagtails. Raptors are also well represented and we will be on the lookout for Black Baza, Oriental (or Crested) Honey-Buzzard, Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Shikra, Booted Eagle and Changeable Hawk-Eagle.
Apart from the dominant grasslands, there are strips and patches of woodland which provide shelter for Common Emerald Dove, Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon, Alexandrine, Rose-ringed and Blossom-headed Parakeets, Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Asian Barred Owlet, Lineated and Blue-throated Barbets, Grey-capped Pygmy, Fulvous-breasted and Grey-headed (or Grey-faced) Woodpeckers, Lesser Yellownape, Black-rumped and Greater Flamebacks, Large Cuckooshrike, Rosy and Small Minivets, Pied Flycatcher-Shrike, Olive-backed Pipit, Puff-throated and Jungle Babblers, Grey Tit, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Purple Sunbird, the scintillating Crimson Sunbird, Chestnut-tailed (or Grey-headed) Starling, Common Hill-Myna, Black-hooded Oriole, Hair-crested Drongo and Rufous Treepie.
Other species that we should see during our visit include Oriental Turtle-Dove, Spotted Dove, Red Collared-Dove, Greater Coucal, Asian Koel, White-throated Kingfisher, Eurasian Wryneck, Oriental Skylark, Richard’s, Paddyfield and Rosy Pipits, Red-vented Bulbul, Common Iora, Long-tailed and Grey-backed Shrikes, Taiga (or Red-throated) Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, Common Tailorbird, Blyth’s Reed-Warbler, Dusky, Tickell’s Leaf and Yellow-browed Warblers, Asian Pied Starling and Jungle Myna.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 2 Today we will head northwestwards into the Himalayas. Our destination is the remote town of Dirang, where we will stay for three nights. Along the way we will have brief opportunities for birding in the extensive pristine forests of Pakke Tiger Reserve and Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, which both abut the road.
Ultimate Northeast India: Days 3-4 Some 25km west of Bomdila, at the boundary between West Kameng and Tawang districts, lies Dirang, our birding base for sorties into the Sangti Valley and along the Mandala and Sela Pass roads.
The Sangti Valley, which is only a short drive away, supports India’s only known wintering flock of the threatened Black-necked Crane. Unfortunately, the cranes are usually gone by early March, but there will be plenty of other interesting species to search for, in particular, the tricky Black-tailed Crake, which can still be found in small patches of marshy rank grass and reeds, and Long-billed Plover (which has recently been found to breed here).
At 1500-1600m elevation, this dry-flanked valley has a selection of habitats varying from pine and broadleaved woodland and cultivation to riverine shingle banks. A variety of flycatchers, such as Rufous-gorgeted, Slaty-backed, Little Pied, Ultramarine and Grey-headed Canary, inhabit groves of broadleaved trees, while flowering oaks sometimes attract the nomadic Fire-capped Tit. Small mixed flocks of leaf-warblers often hold Lemon-rumped Warblers, and these are joined by Black-throated (or Red-headed) Bushtits, Green-backed Tits, and Sikkim (or Brown-throated) Treecreepers. The valley-cultivation provides a winter home for Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Blue-fronted Redstart, Little Bunting, and Himalayan (or Yellow-breasted) Greenfinch, while Oriental Skylark, Long-tailed Shrike, Russet Sparrow and Crested Bunting breed in the area. The boulder-strewn rivers and streams provide suitable habitat for Crested Kingfisher, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, White-capped Redstart, Little Forktail and Brown Dipper. Other species that we should find here are Himalayan Buzzard, Black-throated Prinia, Slender-billed Oriole and Large-billed Crow.
A steep winding road leads some 60 km from Dirang up to the Sela Pass which, at 4176 m, is one of the highest motorable passes in the Himalayas. As we thread our way through the steep forested valleys, we will gradually ascend through changing habitat zones, finally emerging above the conifer-dominated treeline at the barren and rocky pass. By the time of our visit, the temperatures should be rising, and the snows melting, and we will hopefully be treated to a stunning view of rugged peaks stretching away as far as the eye can see.
In the open landscape above the treeline, we will be on the lookout for the well-camouflaged Snow Partridge, flocks of Snow Pigeons and the curious Grandala, which looks like a cross between a thrush and a starling. Himalayan (Griffon) Vulture may be seen soaring around the slopes. Closer to the forest limit, we will scan the slopes for that classic montane pheasant, the Himalayan Monal, and listen for its curlew-like cries. Moving back down to the upper forest levels, sprinkled with conifers and birch, we will explore a series of tracks and trails in search of the superb Blood Pheasant. Busy bird-waves contain Coal (crested here), Rufous-vented and Grey-crested Tits. Scrub at the forest edge provides cover for birds like the restricted range Rufous-breasted Bush-Robin and the boldly-marked Bar-winged Wren-Babbler.
Other species that we will be looking for are Solitary Snipe, White-throated Dipper (which here replaces Brown Dipper along fast flowing streams), Eurasian Wren, Alpine Accentor, White-throated Redstart, Tibetan Blackbird, Spotted Laughingthrush, Goldcrest, Plain and Brandt’s Mountain-Finches, Himalayan White-browed and Red-fronted Rosefinches, White-winged Grosbeak and Red-billed Chough.
Our third venue in this remote region, barely known ornithologically, will be the wonderful Mandala Road, which climbs from Dirang Dzong (just south of Dirang) up through temperate broadleaved evergreen forest, then oak-rhododendron forest with bamboo, to conifer-clad ridge-tops at 3500m. Birding from the narrow road, we will sample the birdlife of all the habitat zones between 1700 and 3500m. Early mornings on the cool ridge-tops see a flurry of bird activity. Mixed flocks of tits, small babblers, including the localized Ludlow’s Fulvetta, and Ashy-throated Warblers work through the open forest, and are often joined by Rusty-flanked and Hodgson’s Treecreepers, Stripe-throated and Rufous-vented Yuhinas, and Buff-barred Warblers. Thrushes and chats are often in evidence, notably White-collared Blackbird, Black-throated Thrush, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, White-browed Bush-Robin and Himalayan Red-flanked Bluetail. Spotted Nutcrackers utter their raucous but atmospheric calls from exposed conifer branches.
The rich broadleaved evergreen forests still have some fantastic large trees, smothered in moss and epiphytes. Birds that we will expect to find include Himalayan Cuckoo and Darjeeling and Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, while Striated Bulbul and the cheeky White-tailed Nuthatch are also around. Thicker vegetation along the forest edge is a good place to look for the restricted-range Bhutan Laughingthrush, as well as the rather more retiring Grey-sided and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes, the latter of the highly distinctive nigrimentum race, and we will also be on the lookout for Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, Bar-throated Minla, the exquisite Golden-breasted Fulvetta (that quintessential Eastern Himalayan gem), Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Beautiful Sibia, Whiskered Yuhina, waves of noisy Black-faced Warblers, Rufous-fronted Bushtits, Green-backed, Yellow-cheeked and Yellow-browed Tits, Green-tailed Sunbird, and Red-headed and Grey-headed Bullfinches. Small gullies and overgrown log-piles shelter Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler (or Cupwing) and Chestnut-headed Tesia.
Scrubby areas, close to the bottom of the road, are a good place to look for the rather skulking Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, as well as Russet, Grey-sided and Brownish-flanked Bush-Warblers, while the streams provide habitat for Spotted Forktail. Bamboo brakes are frequent all along the road and, in these, we have a good chance of seeing Slender-billed (or Sickle-billed) Scimitar Babbler and the tiny but super-energetic Grey-breasted Parrotbill.
During our exploration of the area we will constantly be on the lookout for the amazing Fire-tailed Myzornis, which often seeks out flowering rhododendrons or tree-sap, sometimes in company with the lurid Fire-tailed Sunbird. We should also run into some of the scarcer species of the area, which include Temminck’s Tragopan, Speckled Woodpigeon, the beautiful Ward’s Trogon, Great, Brown and Fulvous Parrotbills, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Dark-breasted and Dark-rumped Rosefinches, Brown Bullfinch, Red Crossbill and Tibetan Siskin. The superb Red Panda has also been seen in the area, though we would count ourselves extremely lucky to see one.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 5 This morning we will drive south via Tenga to Lamacamp, situated at 2350m at the edge of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, for the first of our five nights at Eaglenest. In the afternoon, we will begin our exploration of the sanctuary.
Ultimate Northeast India: Days 6-9 Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary covers some 218 square kilometres and spans an altitudinal range of 500–3200m. The big advantage that Eaglenest has over other wilderness areas in Arunachal Pradesh is its combination of altitudinal range and easy access, with a drivable jeep track cutting through the sanctuary from its base at 500m altitude to the Eaglenest Pass at 2800m. The selection of Eastern Himalayan specialities in this area and the paucity of visitors has combined to give the place a magical, almost mythical quality, with the allure of untried trails in wonderful temperate forests where few foreigners have ventured. In places, the broadleaved evergreen forest exhibits a pristine tight canopy which stretches unbroken as far as the eye can see. We will base ourselves at two well-established campsites: Lamacamp and Bompu. All of our time in the sanctuary will be spent exploring the rich, and largely untouched, montane broadleaved evergreen forest, with areas of bamboo, secondary growth, and scrub. At the higher levels, there will also be conifers, while at the lower levels the broadleaved forests become more sub-tropical, and there are also clearings and areas of upland agriculture.
In late 2006 the first new species to be discovered in the Indian subcontinent for many decades, was described in the form of the beautiful Bugun Liocichla. We will be making a special effort to find this rare Indian endemic which is, so far, almost exclusively known from the Lamacamp area! During early spring, many birds are likely to still be massed together in roving bird-waves, which typically include (depending on elevation) Speckled and White-browed Piculets, Greater Yellownape, Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey-chinned and Short-billed Minivets, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Striated Laughingthrush, Golden and Grey-throated Babblers, Rusty-fronted and Streak-throated Barwings, Blue-winged and Red-tailed Minlas, Nepal Fulvetta, Striated and Black-chinned Yuhinas, White-bellied Erpornis, Blyth’s, Green and Black-eared Shrike-Babblers, Yellow-vented, Chestnut-crowned, Grey-cheeked, Green-crowned and Whistler’s Warblers, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Black-throated (or Black-breasted) Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter, and Bronzed, Lesser Racket-tailed and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, with a sprinkling of gems like Himalayan Cutia, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Rufous-backed and Long-tailed Sibias, White-naped Yuhina, Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, the much sought-after Beautiful Nuthatch, and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird amongst them. The list of galliformes at Eaglenest is impressive, with three species of Arborophila partridge, Hill, Rufous-throated and the restricted-range Chestnut-breasted all possible, while pheasants include the wonderful Temminck’s and Blyth’s Tragopans, along with the more widespread Kalij Pheasant and Grey Peacock-Pheasant. We should find a number of these species, though seeing them will require patience and our success rate will also depend on luck.
New raptors that we will hope to find include Crested Goshawk and Black and Mountain Hawk-Eagles. The Eastern Himalayas is also a great place to see flycatchers, and we should find Dark-sided, Slaty-blue, Ultramarine, Snowy-browed, White-gorgeted, Large Blue, Pale Blue, and Pygmy (Blue) Flycatchers, as well as Large, Small and Rufous-bellied Niltavas. In the middle storey of the forest and in the canopy, will be frugivores like the striking Rufous-necked Hornbill, Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, Golden-throated Barbet, and Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls, as well as the manic Large and Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoos. Careful scanning of the mid-storey may well be rewarded with a sighting of the superbly pink male Ward’s Trogon, which is well distributed here in the moss-draped stands of old growth forest. Dense vegetation bordering the jeep-track harbours such gripping birds as Golden Bush Robin, Crimson-faced Liocichla, Long-billed and Rufous-throated Wren-Babblers, Spotted Elachura (formerly Spotted Wren-Babbler and now a monotypic bird family), Sikkim Wedge-billed (or Blackish-breasted) Babbler, Hume’s Bush Warbler, Broad-billed Warbler, Crimson-browed, Scarlet and Gold-naped Finches, and Slaty-bellied and Grey-bellied Tesias. The understorey just inside the forest is home to Eyebrowed and Pygmy Wren-Babblers, while the many streams hold Slaty-backed Forktail. In areas of bamboo, at varying elevations, we will be looking for Pale-headed Woodpecker, the black-capped nominate race of the Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler (a potential split), Red-billed (or Orange-billed) and White-browed Scimitar-Babblers, Indian White-hooded Babbler, Brown and Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbills, White-breasted Parrotbill, Yellow-bellied and Rufous-faced Warblers, the rather retiring White-spectacled Warbler and Large Blue Flycatcher.
We should also see Red-headed Trogon, Bay Woodpecker, Darjeeling and Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers, Large Cuckooshrike, White-browed and Lesser Shortwings, White-tailed and Blue-fronted Blue Robins, Chestnut-bellied and Blue-capped Rock-Thrushes, White-crested, Scaly, Black-faced and Blue-winged Laughingthrushes, Silver-eared Mesia, Mountain and Dark-necked Tailorbirds, Dark-breasted and Dark-rumped Rosefinches, Brown Bullfinch, Yellow-billed Blue and Common Green Magpies, and Grey Treepie. At dawn and dusk me may be lucky enough to see thrushes venturing onto the jeep-track, with the local selection including Scaly and Plain-backed Thrushes, and Grey-winged Blackbird.
There is a range of excellent nightbirds at Eaglenest, including Mountain Scops-Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Himalayan Owl, Collared Owlet and Grey Nightjar, and although all of these area easily heard, we will have our work cut-out trying to see them.
With perseverance and a lot of luck, we could also get a look at one or two of the tougher inhabitants of the area, which include Purple Cochoa, Rufous-vented Laughingthrush and Maroon-backed Accentor.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 10 Today we return to the plains of Assam as we head for famous Kaziranga National Park for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of the park.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 11 The fantastic Kaziranga National Park needs little introduction. It is one of the most important reserves in the world, let alone the Indian subcontinent, being one of the last refuges for large numbers of Asian (or Indian) One-horned Rhinoceros, Swamp Deer and wild Water Buffalo. Roughly three-quarters of the surviving populations of each of these species live in the park. We will have opportunities to admire these impressive animals along with Asian (or Indian) Elephant, which is still common here. Tigers still occur at Kaziranga, but we would count ourselves extremely lucky if we came across one!
All of our excursions into the park will be by open-topped jeep, with regular stops at watch-towers and other vantage points, where we will be treated to some superb panoramic views of the grassland, marshes and lakes dotted with herds of large mammals and an impressive array of waterbirds.
Although annually burnt to provide grazing for mammals, the extensive grassland in the park hold many rare and restricted-range birds. We will have a very good chance of seeing four threatened species, Swamp Partridge, the critically endangered and decidedly ugly Greater Adjutant (now largely restricted to Assam and Cambodia), Slender-billed Vulture and Bengal Florican. We also have a second chance to encounter more skulking and rarely seen threatened birds such as Slender-billed Babbler, Bristled and Indian Grassbirds, and possibly even the rare and localised Finn’s Weaver.
Scattered throughout the grassland tracts are a series of shallow wetlands which support good numbers of waterfowl, shorebirds and other waterbirds, including Lesser Whistling Duck, Greylag and Bar-headed Geese, Ruddy Shelduck, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, the near-threatened Spot-billed Pelican, Intermediate Egret, Grey and Purple Herons, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked and Black-necked Storks, Lesser Adjutant, Black-headed Ibis, White-breasted Waterhen, Brown Crake, Grey-headed Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Pacific Golden and Little Ringed Plovers, Northern, Grey-headed and Red-wattled Lapwings, Common Snipe, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Common Greenshank, Marsh, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Temminck’s Stint, River and Whiskered Terns, and Common, Stork-billed, White-throated and Pied Kingfishers. There is a good chance that we will come across one of the park’s rarer visitors, such as Falcated Duck or Red-necked Falcon.
As temperatures rise, we should see numbers of raptors, and we will be on the lookout for Osprey, Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, Black Baza, Black, Black-eared and Brahminy Kites, Pallas’s and Grey-headed Fish Eagles (both still fairly common here), Himalayan and Red-headed Vultures, Crested Serpent Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Eastern Marsh, Hen and Pied Harriers, Shikra, Greater Spotted, Steppe and Booted Eagles, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Common Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon.
Small areas of open woodland and belts of trees shelter plenty of interesting landbirds and we have a good chance of seeing Red Junglefowl, Kalij Pheasant, Oriental Turtle Dove, Common Emerald Dove, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Green-billed Malkoha, Banded Bay, Square-tailed Drongo and Indian Cuckoos, Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills, Lineated, Blue-throated and Coppersmith Barbets, Grey-capped Pygmy, Fulvous-breasted, Streak-throated and Black-naped Woodpeckers, Greater and Black-rumped Flamebacks, Alexandrine, Rose-ringed, Red-breasted and Blossom-headed Parakeets, Large and Black-winged Cuckooshrikes, Scarlet Minivet, Black-hooded Oriole, Ashy, Bronzed and Hair-crested and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Black-naped Monarch, Rufous Treepie, Greenish Warbler, Abbott’s and Puff-throated Babblers, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Scaly Thrush, White-rumped Shama, Golden-fronted Leafbird, and Ruby-cheeked and Crimson Sunbirds. At this season, the large number of red-flowered Bombax trees attract flocks of Jungle Mynas and Chestnut-tailed Starlings and the rarer, restricted-range Spot-winged Starling.
Other species likely at Kaziranga include Spotted and Red Turtle Doves, Asian Koel, Plaintive Cuckoo, Asian Palm Swift, Blue-bearded, Blue-tailed and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Iora, Small Minivet, Brown, Long-tailed and Grey-backed Shrikes, Black Drongo, House and Eastern Jungle Crows, Cinereous Tit, Bengal Bushlark, Oriental Skylark, Red-whiskered, Red-vented and Black Bulbuls, Grey-throated Martin, Yellow-bellied, Dusky, Tickell’s Leaf, Yellow-browed and Blyth’s Reed Warblers, Common Tailorbird, Pin-striped Babbler, Oriental White-eye, Asian Pied Starling, Common, Bank and Great (or White-vented) Mynas, Taiga Flycatcher, Blue Rock Thrush, White-tailed (or Himalayan) Rubythroat, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Black Redstart, Yellow-vented and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, House and Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Black-breasted Weaver, White, Citrine Wagtail and Western Yellow Wagtails, and Paddyfield, Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits. Nightbirds include Dusky Eagle-Owl, Brown Fish-Owl and Asian Barred and Spotted Owlets, and we will endeavour to find some of these at their daytime roosts.
Venturing further afield to some tea gardens, scrub and secondary forest adjacent to the park, we will pay particular attention to tracking down the tricky Blue-naped Pitta, as well as Black-crested and White-throated Bulbuls, Pale-chinned Flycatcher, Siberian Rubythroat, Black-backed Forktail, Dark-necked Tailorbird, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Lesser Necklaced and Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes, and Rufous-fronted Babbler.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 12 After some birding outside the park, we travel northeastwards, passing through the tea estates and ricefields of Assam, to the busy city of Tinsukia for a two nights stay.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 13 Situated in the Brahmaputra flood plain and wedged between two major rivers, the Dibru and the mighty Brahmaputra, is the impressive Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, which protects an extensive mosaic of swamp forest, grassland and shallow wetlands. With a motorised boat at our disposal, most of our time in and around the park will be spent in search of the grassland specialities along the ever-changing banks of the Dibru River, particularly two northeast Indian endemics, the highly skulking Marsh Babbler and the impressive Black-breasted Parrotbill, as well as the somewhat more widespread Jerdon’s Babbler. (A third regional endemic, Swamp Prinia, used to be seen here, but seems to have become very rarely encountered.)
With such an excellent variety of open and wet habitats, we will also expect to add most of the following species to our growing tally: Great Cormorant, Striated (or Little) Heron, Black Stork, Black-shouldered Kite, White-rumped Vulture, Kentish Plover, Pin-tailed Snipe, Small Pratincole, Brown-headed Gull, Eurasian Wryneck, Red-necked Falcon, Indian Sand Lark, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Graceful Prinia, the restricted range Smoky Warbler, Chestnut-crowned and Grey-sided Bush Warblers, Paddyfield Warbler, Richard’s Pipit and Black-faced Bunting. The reserve has attracted a number of rarities in the past, with Taiga Bean and Lesser White-fronted Geese and Buff-bellied Pipit to name but a few.
Large mammals still abound in this hard-to-access, ever-shifting landscape and we will constantly be on the lookout for the surprisingly impressive wild Water Buffalo. The Dibru River, which forms the southern boundary of the park, is an excellent site for the endangered, virtually blind, and amazingly long-snouted Ganges Indus Dolphin; which is currently only known from less than 20% of its original range.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 14 Early this morning we will visit an area of logged but nowadays undisturbed forest at Digboi, which is one of the best places to see the little-known Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush, as well as Collared Treepie. In addition, the regionally-endemic White-cheeked Partridge is very rarely encountered in this area. Other new birds for us here may well also include Brown-backed Needletail, House Swift, and Grey-throated and White-hooded Babblers.
Afterwards we will head north-east and make our way to the Mishmi Hills for a four nights stay. The huge Brahmaputra River is an amazing sight and soon we are crossing the Arunachal Pradesh border before reaching the town of Roing at the foot of the hills. If we missed it at Dibru-Saikhowa, we will visit another grassland area that holds Black-breasted Parrotbill, either today or on the day we leave Mishmi.
Ultimate Northeast India: Days 15-17 The rugged Mishmi Hills have barely been explored ornithologically. During a post-war expedition led by Salim Ali and S. Dillon Ripley, to a different part of the hills, the discovery was made of a bird endemic to the region, the Mishmi (or Rusty-throated) Wren-Babbler. Although quite common in these remote hills, it remained unrecorded again until its re-discovery by Ben King in December 2004!
Since that time a relatively small number of adventurous birders have visited the area, and during our stay we will enjoy exploring the still extensive forests along the 90km Roing-Hunli road, reaching a maximum elevation of about 3000m. At the upper levels there are extensive areas of bamboo, which provide habitat for the superb Blyth’s Tragopan, and we will make a special effort to try and find this rare pheasant. This high elevation bamboo and roadside vegetation is also home to the restricted-range Manipur and Brown-throated (or Ludlow’s) Fulvettas and Bar-winged Wren-Babbler, and the numerous flowering rhododendrons sometimes attract the amazing Fire-tailed Myzornis, which may join stunning groups of Fire-tailed Sunbirds to seek out the colourful blooms.
There is still little or no traffic along the narrow paved road here, and a number of interesting species like Maroon and Rufous-breasted Accentors, Blue Whistling Thrush, Himalayan Bluetail, Golden and Rufous-breasted Bush Robins, Blue-fronted Redstart, and Dark-rumped Rosefinch can be rather confiding. A wide range of species occur in the regularly encountered mixed species feeding flocks, including Rufous-capped Babbler, Blyth’s, Black-eared and Green Shrike-Babblers, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-chinned Minivet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Maroon Oriole, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Yellow-bellied Fairy and White-throated Fantails, Coral-billed Scimitar, Golden and Grey-throated Babblers, Silver-eared Mesia, Rusty-fronted and Streak-throated Barwings, Blue-winged, Bar-throated and Red-tailed Minla, Nepal, Yellow-throated and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, the stunning Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Striated, White-naped, Whiskered, Stripe-throated, Rufous-vented and Black-chinned Yuhinas, Brownish-flanked Bush, Black-faced, Rufous-faced, Buff-barred, Ashy-throated, Yellow-vented, Grey-hooded, Grey-cheeked and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Mountain Tailorbird, Black-throated, Green-backed, Yellow-cheeked and Yellow-browed Tits, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Green-tailed and Black-throated Sunbirds.
Mid-elevation gullies hold both the almost kiwi-like Long-billed Wren-Babbler and the equally strange Cachar Wedge-billed (or Chevron-breasted) Babbler, as well three former wren-babblers in the form of Scaly-breasted and Pygmy Cupwings, and the unique Spotted Elachura (the sole member of the family Elachuridae).
The local Crested Serpent, Black and Mountain Hawk-Eagles are often be joined in the early spring by an impressive number and variety of migrating raptors that are searching for the ideal point at which to traverse the Himalayas.
Other typical birds at Mishmi include Hill and Rufous-throated Partridges, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Speckled Wood Pigeon, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Himalayan Swiftlet, Blyth’s Swift, the gorgeous Ward’s and more widespread Red-headed Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Great and Golden-throated Barbets, Speckled and White-browed Piculets, Crimson-breasted, Darjeeling and Bay Woodpeckers, Greater Yellownape, Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, Eurasian Jay, Gold-billed Magpie, Grey Treepie, Striated, Mountain and Ashy Bulbuls, Nepal House Martin, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Streak-breasted, Coral-billed and Slender-billed (or Sickle-billed) Scimitar Babblers, Brown-throated (or Ludlow’s) Fulvetta, White-crested, Striated, Blue-winged, Black-faced and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes (the latter represented here by the distinctive nigrimentum race), Himalayan Cutia, White-collared Blackbird, Chestnut Thrush, Grey-headed Canary, Rufous-gorgeted, White-gorgeted, Little Pied, Slaty-blue and Pygmy Flycatchers, Lesser Shortwing, Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, Daurian Redstart, Spotted Forktail, Orange-bellied Leafbird, the restless Streaked Spiderhunter, Grey Wagtail, Little Bunting, and Gold-naped Finch.
We also have a good chance of finding a good number of the scarcer species that occur here, which include Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Himalayan Owl, Green and Purple Cochoas, Rusty-bellied and Gould’s Shortwings, Brown, Fulvous and Grey-breasted Parrotbills, Beautiful Nuthatch, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker Crimson-browed Finch, Grey-headed Bullfinch and Collared Grosbeak. We even have a slim chance of seeing Sclater’s Monal.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 18 Birding en route, we will make our way down from the Mishmi Hills, and return to Tinsukia in Assam for an overnight stay.
Ultimate Northeast India: Day 19 We should have time for some early morning birding at Dibru-Saikhowa before our tour ends at Dibrugarh airport in the late morning.
NAGALAND & MEGHALAYA EXTENSION
Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Day 1 Our tour begins around midday at Dimapur airport in the state of Nagaland, where we will spend four nights divided between two locations. We will spend this afternoon travelling the winding hill roads to our first guesthouse.
Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Days 2-4 Nagaland is a wild and rugged border state of India, where classic slash-and-burn or ‘Jhum’ agricultural practices predominate, and it has a turbulent tribal history. Things became more settled after British colonial intervention in the mid 19th century, and the prevalent religion today is Christianity. Nagaland is perhaps most famous for its Second World War history, when British and Indian troops successfully repelled Japanese forces, which were attempting to invade India, during a prolonged and fierce battle in the spring of 1944; The Battle of Kohima.
Khonoma, the second location where we will stay, gained significance in the birding world when local residents took an active part in preserving the local forests and their wildlife. In 1998, they set up the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary and, in 2000, an area of 7000 ha was declared as a Community Conserved Reserve (CCR), and hunting was banned. This safe haven is privately owned and managed by the village community. The local Angami village are primarily subsistence rice farmers but are apparently famed for their warriors, who contributed to the Indian struggle for independence.
During our stay in Nagaland, we will explore the middle-altitude forests up to about 2500m. Here our primary target is the diminutive Indian endemic Naga Wren-Babbler, and we will also have a good chance of seeing two near-endemics that are shared with the Chin Hills of western Burma (Myanmar), Brown-capped and Striped Laughingthrushes; as well as the distinctive austeni race of White-browed Fulvetta. If we are fortunate we will encounter the lovely Blyth’s Tragopan, Black-tailed Crake, the secretive Blue-naped Pitta, or the skulking but outstandingly vocal Spot-breasted Laughingthrush.
Other major targets during our explorations in Nagaland are the little-known, near-endemic Yellow-throated Laughingthrush, which prefers cut-over forest, scrub and grass, Moustached Laughingthrush, the near-endemic Assam Laughingthrush and Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler.
The bulk of the avifauna here is typically Himalayan, with many species occurring elsewhere in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. With luck, however, we will also find some species with a more South-east Asian flavour, including Mountain Bamboo Partridge, Grey-headed Parakeet, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch and Black-breasted and Grey-sided Thrushes. Additional targets include Burmese Shrike, Slender-billed Oriole, White-browed Laughingthrush and Spot-breasted Parrotbill.
Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Day 5 After some early morning birding we bid farewell to the Naga Hills and head westwards to the town of Cherrapunjee in the state of Meghalaya for an overnight stay.
Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Day 6 The mountainous state of Meghalaya is home to the largely Christian Khasi people. The fresh mountain air, variable weather and mosaic of pine and broadleaved forests have given rise to the rather grand title ‘Scotland of the east’ for the Meghalaya uplands. Much of our time here will be spent exploring pockets of montane broadleaved evergreen forest, focussing on a search for the endemic Tawny-breasted Wren-Babbler and the near-endemic Assam Laughingthrush.
The small town of Cherrapunjee is bounded by dramatic steep wooded slopes and cliffs, cut-through by numerous spectacular waterfalls, overlooking the plains of Bangladesh. The spectacular cliffs in this area are the best-known breeding area of one of the world’s rarest Apus species, the Dark-rumped Swift, and nearby habitat often holds Eurasian Crag Martin, Brown Bush Warbler, Rusty-capped Fulvetta, Grey Sibia and Orange-headed Thrush. There is an outside chance of the remarkable Long-billed Thrush.
We will encounter a good many other, mainly Himalayan, species and in addition Crested Finchbill, Flavescent Bulbul, Striated Swallow, Striated Prinia, and Blyth’s Leaf and Hume’s Leaf Warblers. We should also see one or two of the more difficult inhabitants of the area, which include Russet Bush Warbler and Crimson-faced Liocichla.
Later today we will descend to the edge of the Assam plain and the city of Guwahati, Assam’s capital, where we will spend the night.
Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Day 7 This morning we will join up with those arriving for the main section of the tour.