The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia

ULTIMATE NORTHEAST INDIA – the amazing array of specialities of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland & Meghalaya

Sunday 11th April – Wednesday 28th April 2021

Leaders: Pete Morris and a local bird guide

18 Days Group Size Limit 7
Eastern Assam & Mishmi Hills Extension

Friday 28th April – Wednesday 5th May 2021

29578 Days Group Size Limit 7
Sunday 10th April – Wednesday 27th April 2022

Leader: Birdquest leader to be announced and a local bird guide

18 Days Group Size Limit 7
Eastern Assam & Mishmi Hills Extension

Thursday 27th April – Wednesday 4th May 2022

29213 Days Group Size Limit 7

ULTIMATE NORTHEAST INDIA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Ultimate Northeast India birding tours explore the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya, including the famous Eaglenest Sanctuary, Kaziranga National Park and the Mishmi Hills. Our unique Northeast India birding tour, which is the most comprehensive itinerary there is in this part of Asia, covers an extraordinary range of habitats, from the elephant grass of the Assam plains to high Himalayan passes, and everything in between! In doing so we will be looking for a stunning array of specialities including Swamp Francolin, Slender-billed Vulture, Snow Partridge, Himalayan Monal, Blyth’s Tragopan, Blood Pheasant, Bengal Florican, Ward’s Trogon, Dark-rumped Swift, Blue-rumped Pitta, Marsh Babbler, Black-breasted Parrotbill, Yellow-throated, Spot-breasted, Chestnut-backed, Striped, Bhutan and Assam Laughingthrushes, the recently-described Bugun Liocichla, Brown-throated and Manipur Fulvettas, Tawny-breasted, Naga and Rusty-throated (or Mishmi) Wren-Babblers, the extraordinary Fire-tailed Myzornis, the strange Sikkim and Cachar Wedge-billed Babblers, and the very special Rufous-bellied and Gould’s Shortwings Additionally, there will be a great opportunity to see some of India’s threatened megafauna, in the form of Asian Elephant, Asian One-horned Rhinoceros, Swamp Deer and wild Water Buffalo.

Most of us have a fantasy birding destination. Somewhere remote and largely off-limits to foreign travellers, where the beautiful surroundings are home to rare endemics and regional specialities. Tucked-away in the northeast corner of the Indian subcontinent, is one such place, encompassing the little-visited and culturally varied states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya. Dominating this remote area, the mighty Brahmaputra River sweeps down from southeast Tibet and through the fertile Assam plains before bending south around the hills of Meghalaya towards the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. Only recently has the Indian government allowed access to certain parts of this remote area.

The northeast Indian subcontinent is one of the most biologically diverse parts of Asia, where a meeting place of Himalayan and Indo-Malayan species forms an extremely rich and varied avifauna. This unique tour is a must for anyone with a keen interest in eastern Himalayan birds and is the only Birdquest tour which takes in the endemics of the ‘Assam Plains Endemic Bird Area’. Very much a journey for those birders who want to reap the rich avian rewards of this remotest corner of India.

Imagine stunning mountain scenery and birding along a drivable jeep track through magical, untouched old-growth montane forest, where waves of beautiful birds sweep by, and almost every turn brings another rarely-seen Eastern Himalayan speciality!

This dream becomes a reality at amazing Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, situated just a stone’s throw to the east of the Bhutan border, in western Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India. It was here that the most sensational ornithological discovery in India for over half a century was recently made, in the form of a new species for science, the beautiful Bugun Liocichla.

Arunachal Pradesh is now recognised as one of the worlds top biodiversity hotspots, the profusion of species being due to its unique location (at the junction of the Palearctic Region with both the Indo-Malayan and Indian sub-regions of the Oriental Region), topographical range (with 7000m peaks on its northern border with Tibet, looking down on the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam which, just 150 kilometres away, has an elevation of only 100m or so), and high rainfall.

We begin our mouth-watering Ultimate Northeast India birding tour at Guwahati, the capital of Assam State.

First we explore the hills of the state of Meghalaya. The uplands of Meghalaya are sometimes referred to as the ‘Scotland of the East’ and the wonderful mixed broadleaved evergreen and pine forests which clothe the ridges harbour a good range of interesting montane species and, along with the magnificent wooded cliffs and waterfalls of the Cherrapunjee escarpment, are home to three particular specialities, Dark-rumped Swift, Tawny-breasted Wren Babbler and the near-endemic Assam Laughingthrush, as well as other good birds such as Grey Sibia, Rusty-capped Fulvetta and Brown Bush Warbler.

Leaving the plains behind, we will penetrate deep into the main Himalayan range, winding our way through deep valleys, to Dirang, a small town situated along the road to the famed Buddhist monastery at Tawang. Based at Dirang, we will reach our highest altitudes of the trip, notably when we ascend to almost 4200m at the Sela Pass, one of the highest road-passes in the Himalayas. Here, we will seek out Snow Partridge, Blood Pheasant, Himalayan Monal and Grandala, while closer to Dirang, in the Sangti Valley and along the wonderful Mandala road, we will find species ranging from Black-tailed Crake and Long-billed Plover to Bhutan Laughingthrush, Ludlow’s Fulvetta and Fire-tailed Myzornis.

Moving on, we come to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, a prime focus of this speciality-laden tour. We will use two established safari-style camps for bases, have vehicles at our disposal throughout, and the walking effort will generally be easy. There is no need to trek at Eaglenest because of the good road access, and we aim for maximum comfort and flexibility. Along a drivable jeep track through the awe-inspiring forests, we will be searching for a mouth-watering selection of Eastern Himalayan gems, ranging from Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Blyth’s Tragopan and Ward’s Trogon, to Long-billed and Rufous-throated Wren-Babblers, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler and Beautiful Nuthatch. We will, of course, make a particular effort to see the recently described Bugun Liocichla, which is still only known from Eaglenest and its border areas. All in all this wonderful new area offers disciples of Himalayan birding an extraordinary experience.

Next we will visit the magnificent Kaziranga National Park. This famous reserve needs little introduction, what with its world-famous populations of Asian One-horned Rhinoceros, Swamp Deer and wild Water Buffalo, as well as Asian Elephants. The extensive wetlands, grasslands and woodlands of Kaziranga also provide vital habitat for such rarities as Swamp Francolin, Greater Adjutant, Slender-billed Vulture, Bengal Florican, Blue-naped Pitta, Slender-billed Babbler, and Bristled and Indian Grassbirds.

Continuing southeastwards, we will enter the little-visited state of Nagaland, nestled against the Burma (Myanmar) border, where we will focus our search on the little-known Naga Wren-Babbler and near-endemic Yellow-throated Laughingthrush, as well as the near-endemic Brown-capped and Striped Laughingthrushes, and the rare Spot-breasted Laughingthrush.

During the optional extension, we travel first to far eastern Assam, where we will explore Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, some other grassland areas and some interesting forest at Digboi. Wedged between the Brahmaputra and Dibru Rivers, Dibru-Saikhowa holds some of the last remnants of a once extensive grassland and seasonally wet forest mosaic. Here, or in other native grassland areas, we will search for such rare endemics as Marsh Babbler and the feisty Black-breasted Parrotbill, as well as some other rare and threatened species, including Jerdon’s Babbler and Smoky Warbler. The open forests at Digboi are an excellent place for Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush and Collared Treepie.

From the Assam plains, we will travel northeast and, by way of a small ferry across the vast Brahmaputra River, make our way up into Arunachal Pradesh and the remote and little-explored Mishmi Hills, which rise steeply above the small town of Roing to an elevation of about 3000m near the Mayodia Pass. This superb place, which very much rivals the famed Eaglenest region in terms of its huge range of eastern Himalayan specialities, is the new frontier of Himalayan birding. Amazingly, we are may be the only birders along the 90km forest-flanked paved road that stretches from Roing to Hunli.

The biggest prize here will be the endemic Mishmi (or Rusty-throated) Wren-Babbler, which was only rediscovered in December 2004, after having not been definitely recorded since its discovery in 1947, but there will be many more exciting species to look for, including Rusty-bellied and Gould’s Shortwings, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Bar-winged Wren-Babbler, Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler and Spotted Elachura (now a monotypic family). We also have second chances for Blyth’s Tragopan, Ward’s Trogon, Long-billed Wren-Babbler, Fire-tailed Myzornis and Beautiful Nuthatch.

By the time we leave this marvellous part of the world, we will have visited more Indian states than any other birding tour to Northeast India and seen a truly amazing selection of specialities.

Birdquest has operated Northeast India birding tours since 1989.

What makes the Birdquest Ultimate Northeast India birding tour special? In the first place, we have the most comprehensive birding itinerary to the region that there is, featuring no fewer than four different Indian states: Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya. Secondly, a longer tour duration, so that we do not end up with too little birding time (roads are slow in much of the region and there are so many good birds to see). Thirdly, a smaller group size than most Northeast India birding tours. An unbeatable combination!

Namdapha National Park Extension Option:  The splendid Nampdapha National Park, on the border between Arunachal Pradesh and northeast Myanmar (Burma) holds some major specialities; the rare and endangered White-bellied Heron, the restricted-range Snowy-throated Babbler and Rufous-vented Laughingthrush (easier to see here than elsewhere). If there are two or more participants who would like to visit Namdapha for these specialities, we will arrange a special extension. After driving to the park from Tinsukia, it is necessary to walk to more outlying and basic accommodations, but the walking is fairly easy. The extension will add about five days to the tour. Please contact us at the time of booking to let us know you are interested in this special extension.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good standard. At Eaglenest we will stay in permanent tented camps. Sleeping tents are of the large, 2-person, walk-in size with two beds (but are available for single occupancy). We will also have toilets, washrooms and large dining areas. Hot water is available in buckets/bowls for washing on demand. So the whole experience is quite comfortable and the settings delightful. In Nagaland, our accommodations consist of a simple but delightfully traditional ‘homestays’ with shared bathroom facilities. The small lodge at the Mishmi Hills is pleasantly situated but very simple, although the rooms have private bathrooms. Road transport is by large, jeep-like cars and roads are very variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Ultimate Northeast India birding tour is mostly easy, occasionally moderate.

Climate: In the Himalayas, it is cold to warm, and sunny periods alternate with occasional wet and overcast spells. It will be distinctly cold at night at higher elevations and there may even be some snow. Conditions at this season in the plains and low foothills are typically hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes overcast and cooler.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Ultimate Northeast India birding tour are quite good.


PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 10% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)



2021: £4070, $5190, €4720, AUD7940. Guwahati/Dimapur.
Eastern Assam & Mishmi Hills Extension: £1680, $2150, €1950, AUD3280. Dimapur/Dibrugarh.
2022: provisional £4150, $5290, €4810, AUD8090. Guwahati/Dimapur.
Eastern Assam & Mishmi Hills Extension: £1710, $2190, €1990, AUD3350. Dimapur/Dibrugarh.

Single Supplement: 2021: £520, $670, €600, AUD1020.
Eastern Assam & Mishmi Hills Extension: £180, $240, €210, AUD360.
Single Supplement: 2022: £530, $680, €610, AUD1040.
Eastern Assam & Mishmi Hills Extension: £190, $250, €220, AUD380.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

ULTIMATE NORTHEAST INDIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Ultimate Northeast India: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Guwahati in Assam state in Northeast India. From there we head southwards to the town of Shillong, the capital of the state of Meghalaya. 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.

Here we will explore pockets of montane broadleaved evergreen forest, focussing on the endemic Tawny-breasted Wren-Babbler, which is fairly common. An additional species which we are only likely to encounter in Meghalaya is Flavescent Bulbul.

After our birding at Shillong we will return to Guwahati for an overnight stay.

Ultimate Northeast India: Day 2  This morning we cross the mighty Brahmaputra River on our way to Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh.

Along the way to the base of the Himalaya, 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, Asian Palm and House Swifts, Indian Roller, Black Drongo, Ashy Woodswallow, House and Eastern Jungle Crows, Common and Great (or White-vented) Mynas, Oriental Magpie-Robin and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

Once we cross the border into the state of Arunachal Pradesh , we continue northwards into the Himalayas, skirting the border with Bhutan. Our destination is the remote town of Dirang, where we will stay for four nights. Along the way, we will only have brief opportunities for birding in the extensive pristine forests of Pakke Tiger Reserve and Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, which both abut the road, as we will want to press on so that we can start birding the superb Dirang area late this afternoon.

Ultimate Northeast India: Days 3-5  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 close to Dirang, 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 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 (4921-5249ft) elevation, this dry-flanked valley has a selection of habitats varying from pine and broadleaved woodland and cultivation to riverine shingle banks. Small mixed flocks of leaf-warblers often hold Lemon-rumped Warblers, and these are joined by Black-throated Bushtits, and Green-backed and Yellow-cheeked Tits. Other birds in the wooded habitat include Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls. Flowering oaks in the area very occasionally attract the nomadic, attractive Fire-capped Tit. The valley-cultivation provides a home for Long-tailed Shrike, Oriental Skylark, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Blue-fronted Redstart, Russet Sparrow, Yellow-breasted (or Himalayan) Greenfinch and Little Bunting. The boulder-strewn rivers and streams provide suitable habitat for Crested Kingfisher, Plumbeous Water Redstart, White-capped Redstart and Grey Wagtail. Other species that we should find here are Himalayan Buzzard and Large-billed Crow, while we might also encounter Slender-billed Oriole.

The second venue in this remote region, still not well-known ornithologically, is the wonderful Mandala Road, which climbs from Dirang Dzong (a fortified Buddhist monastery situated just south of Dirang) up through temperate broadleaved evergreen forest, then oak-rhododendron forest with bamboo, to conifer-clad ridge-tops at 3500m (11483ft). Birding from the narrow road, we will sample the birdlife of all the habitat zones between 1700m (5577ft) and 3500m.

Early mornings on the cool ridge-tops see a flurry of bird activity. Mixed flocks of tits, small babblers, including the restricted-range Brown-throated (or Ludlow’s) Fulvetta, and Ashy-throated Warblers work through the open forest, and are often joined by Stripe-throated and Rufous-vented Yuhinas, and Buff-barred Warblers. Thrushes and chats are often in evidence, notably White-collared Blackbird, Alpine Thrush, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Himalayan Bluetail and often White-browed and Golden Bush Robins. Spotted Nutcrackers utter their raucous but atmospheric calls from exposed conifer branches, while Hume’s Bush Warbler, the boldly-marked Bar-winged Wren-Babbler, Black-faced Laughingthrush and the beautiful Spotted Laughingthrush call out from denser areas.

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, Crimson-breasted and Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie and the cheeky White-tailed Nuthatch. Thicker vegetation along the forest edge is a good place to look for the restricted-range Bhutan Laughingthrush, as well as Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush of the highly distinctive nigrimentum race, and we will also be on the lookout for the restricted-range Rufous-fronted Bushtit,  Yellow-browed Tit, 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, the noisy Black-faced Warbler, Grey-hooded Warbler, Oriental White-eye, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Verditer, Little Pied and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers, and Green-tailed Sunbird. Small gullies and overgrown log-piles shelter Scaly-breasted 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 and Grey-sided Bush Warblers, while the streams sometimes provide habitat for Spotted Forktail. Bamboo brakes are frequent all along the road and, in these, we have a very good chance of seeing the superb Slender-billed (or Sickle-billed) Scimitar Babbler.

During our exploration of the Dirang area (and also at Eaglenest) 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 and more common Fire-tailed Sunbird.

We should also run into some of the rarer species of the area, which include Temminck’s Tragopan, Great and Fulvous Parrotbills, Rusty-flanked and Hodgson’s Treecreepers, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Dark-breasted and Dark-rumped Rosefinches, and Tibetan Serin. The superb Red Panda has also been seen here, though we would count ourselves extremely lucky to see one.

Finally, the highest venue and, in many ways the best! A steep winding road leads some 60 km from Dirang up to the Sela Pass which, at 4176m (13701ft), 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 strange Grandala, which looks like a cross between a thrush and a starling, and which regularly soars above the slopes. Himalayan (Griffon) Vultures may be seen soaring around the slopes. Closer to the forest limit, we will scan the slopes for that classic high-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 Rufous-vented, Coal and Grey Crested Tits, while with a bit of luck the scrub at the forest edge will provide cover for the restricted range Rufous-breasted Bush Robin.

Mountain streams hold White-throated Dipper (which here replaces the Brown Dipper ) and if we are in luck Little Forktail as well. The sought-after Solitary Snipe winters in the area, and if we are lucky we will come across a lingering individual.

Other species that we will be looking for include the restricted-range Tibetan Blackbird as well as Red-billed Chough, Eurasian Wren, the lovely White-throated Redstart, Alpine and Rufous-breasted Accentors, Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits, Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch and White-winged Grosbeak. Plain and Brandt’s Mountain Finches, and also the large Red-fronted Rosefinch, are sometimes present.

Ultimate Northeast India: Day 6  This morning we will drive south via the Phudung road and 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 7-10  Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary covers some 218 square kilometres (84 square miles) and spans an altitudinal range of 500–3200m (1640-10499ft). 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 (9187ft). 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 can expect 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 can include (depending on elevation) Speckled and perhaps White-browed Piculets, Grey-chinned and Short-billed Minivets, Yellow-bellied Fantail, White-bellied Erpornis, Blyth’s, Green and Black-eared Shrike-babblers, Bronzed and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, Yellow-vented, Blyth’s Leaf, Chestnut-crowned, Grey-cheeked and Whistler’s Warblers, Striated Laughingthrush, Golden and perhaps Grey-throated Babblers, Rusty-fronted and Streak-throated Barwings (the latter of the distinctive form daflaensis), Blue-winged and Red-tailed Minlas, Nepal Fulvetta, Striated and Black-chinned Yuhinas, Black-throated (or Black-breasted) Sunbird and Streaked Spiderhunter. There will also be a sprinkling of real gems among them, like Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Himalayan Cutia (but it is uncommon here, unlike at Mishmi), Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Long-tailed Sibia, White-naped Yuhina, the much sought-after Beautiful Nuthatch and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird.

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. Pheasants include the wonderful Temminck’s and Blyth’s Tragopans (but both are difficult here), along with the more widespread Kalij Pheasant and Grey Peacock-Pheasant. We should hear all or almost all of these species, though seeing them will require patience and our success rate will also depend on luck.

The Eastern Himalayas is also a great place to see flycatchers, and here we should add Slaty-blue, Snowy-browed, White-gorgeted and Pale Blue Flycatchers, as well as Large, Small and Rufous-bellied Niltavas. We could also find Large Blue Flycatcher, which has recently become easier here.

In the canopy will be frugivores like Mountain Imperial Pigeon and the striking Rufous-necked Hornbill, Careful scanning of the mid-storey may well be rewarded with a sighting of the superbly pink male of the restricted-range Ward’s Trogon, which is well distributed here in the moss-draped stands of old-growth forest.

Dense vegetation bordering the jeep-track and the forest understorey harbour such gripping birds as Pygmy Cupwing, Broad-billed Warbler, Slaty-bellied and Grey-bellied Tesias, Rufous-throated Wren-Babbler, the almost mini-kiwi-like Long-billed Wren-Babbler, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, Red-faced (or Crimson-faced) Liocichla, Spotted Elachura (formerly Spotted Wren-Babbler and now a monotypic bird family), and Scarlet and Gold-naped Finches.

In areas of bamboo, at varying elevations, we will be looking for the black-capped nominate race of the Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Brown and White-breasted Parrotbills, the tiny but super-energetic Black-throated (or Grey-breasted) Parrotbill, Yellow-bellied Warbler, the delightful little Rufous-faced Warbler and the rather retiring White-spectacled Warbler. More uncommon are Pale-headed Woodpecker and White-browed Scimitar Babbler.

Other birds regular at Eaglenest include Crested Goshawk, Black Eagle, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Speckled Woodpigeon (uncommon), Common Emerald Dove, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Red-headed Trogon, Great, Golden-throated and Blue-throated Barbets, Bay and Darjeeling Woodpeckers, Greater Yellownape, Long-tailed Broadbill, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Maroon Oriole, Ashy Drongo, White-throated Fantail, Striated, White-throated and Black Bulbuls, Common Green Magpie, Grey Treepie, Mountain and Dark-necked Tailorbirds, Black-throated Prinia, White-crested, Grey-sided and Blue-winged Laughingthrushes, Silver-eared Mesia, the superb Green Cochoa, White-tailed Robin, Black-backed Forktail (uncommon), Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Blue Whistling Thrush, Sikkim (or Brown-throated) Treecreeper, Brown Dipper, Orange-bellied Leafbird , Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Brown, Red-headed and Grey-headed Bullfinches.. At dawn and dusk me should see thrushes venturing onto the jeep-track, with the local selection including Scaly Thrush and Grey-winged Blackbird.

There is a range of nightbirds at Eaglenest, including Mountain Scops Owl, Himalayan Owl, Collared Owlet, Hodgson’s Frogmouth and Grey Nightjar, so we will try and locate as many as possible.

With a lot of luck, we could also find one or two of the toughest inhabitants of the area, which include Purple Cochoa, Green-crowned Warbler, Scaly and Rufous-vented Laughingthrushes, Maroon-backed Accentor and Crimson-browed Finch.

Ultimate Northeast India: Day 11  After some early morning birding at Eaglenest, we return to the plains of Assam as we head for famous Kaziranga National Park for a two nights stay.

Ultimate Northeast India: Day 12  The famous 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 (or Barasingha) 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 all three of these impressive animals, along with Asian (or Indian) Elephant and Hog Deer. Tigers occur at Kaziranga, but we would count ourselves lucky if we came across one during a short visit.

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 a number of rare and restricted-range birds. We will have a very good chance of seeing a number of threatened or endangered species, including Swamp Partridge, the critically endangered Greater Adjutant (now largely restricted to Assam and Cambodia), Slender-billed Vulture, Slender-billed Babbler, and both Bristled and Indian Grassbirds. Bengal Florican has become more difficult to find at Kaziranga and it takes a lot of luck to encounter the rare and localized Finn’s Weaver.

Other grassland birds include Lesser Coucal, Green Bee-eater, Ashy and Plain Prinias, Striated Grassbird, Chestnut-capped and Striated Babblers, Siberian Stonechat and Black-breasted Weaver (uncommon).

Scattered throughout the grassland tracts are a series of shallow wetlands which support good numbers of waterfowl, shorebirds and other waterbirds, including the near-threatened Spot-billed Pelican, as well as Lesser Whistling Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Eurasian Teal, Little and Great Cormorants, Oriental Darter, Little and Intermediate Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Indian Pond Heron, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked and Black-necked Storks, Lesser Adjutant, Black-headed Ibis, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen, Grey-headed Swamphen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Red-wattled Lapwing, Pin-tailed and Common Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Temminck’s Stint, River and Whiskered Terns, and Common, Stork-billed, White-throated and Pied Kingfishers.

We should also see good numbers of raptors, and we will be on the lookout for the threatened Pallas’s Fish Eagle in particular, as well as Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, Black Baza, Brahminy Kite, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Red-headed Vulture, Crested Serpent Eagle, Pied Harrier (uncommon at this season), Shikra, Changeable Hawk-Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.

Small areas of open woodland and belts of trees shelter plenty of additional species and we have a good chance of seeing Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker as well as such widespread species as Red Junglefowl, Oriental Turtle, Red Turtle and Spotted Doves, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Asian Koel, Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Plaintive, Banded Bay and Indian Cuckoos, Greater Coucal, Green-billed Malkoha, Asian Barred and Spotted Owlets, Blue-bearded and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoe, Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills, Lineated and Coppersmith Barbets, Grey-capped Pygmy, Streak-throated (uncommon) and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Lesser Yellownape, Greater and Black-rumped Flamebacks, Alexandrine, Rose-ringed, Red-breasted and Blossom-headed Parakeets, Common Iora, Small and Scarlet Minivets, Large Cuckooshrike, Grey-backed Shrike, Black-hooded Oriole, Hair-crested Drongo, Black-naped Monarch, Rufous Treepie, Cinereous Tit, Bengal Bushlark, Red-vented and Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Grey-throated Martin, Barn and Striated Swallows, Dusky, Tickell’s Leaf, Greenish, Thick-billed and Blyth’s Reed Warblers, Common Tailorbird, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Abbott’s and Puff-throated Babblers, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Pied and Common Hill Mynas, Taiga Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Ruby-cheeked and Crimson Sunbirds, Black-breasted Weaver (uncommon), Citrine and Western Yellow Wagtails, and Paddyfield Pipit. This is a good area for the shy Blue-naped Pitta, but often they can be unresponsive.

At this season, the large number of red-flowered Bombax trees attract flocks of Jungle Mynas and Chestnut-tailed Starlings and occasionally the rarer, restricted-range Spot-winged Starling.

Ultimate Northeast India: Day 13  After some early morning birding at Kaziranga we will head southeastwards into the state of Nagaland, where we will spend a total of five nights, divided between Khonoma (situated not far from the state capital, Kohima) and the remote settlement of Chezame.

Ultimate Northeast India: Days 14-17  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 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 (8202ft). Here, two of our primary targets are the diminutive endemic Naga Wren-Babbler and the little-known, near-endemic Yellow-throated Laughingthrush, which prefers cut-over forest, scrub and grass. We should also see four other major specialities; the restricted-range Assam Laughingthrush and the near-endemic Striped and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes and Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler, as well as the distinctive austeni race of the White-browed Fulvetta. If we are fortunate we will encounter the skulking, restricted-range and outstandingly vocal Spot-breasted Laughingthrush. We will also have a good opportunity to see the lovely, restricted-range Blyth’s Tragopan and the rare Dark-rumped Swift.

The bulk of the avifauna in Nagaland is typically Himalayan, but we should also find some species with a more Southeast Asian flavour, including Mountain Bamboo Partridge, Burmese Shrike, Crested Finchbill, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Black-breasted Thrush and Rusty-capped Fulvetta. Additional targets include Brown Bush Warbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Grey Sibia, Lesser Shortwing and, with luck, Spot-breasted Parrotbill. We should also encounter Black-tailed Crake again.

Ultimate Northeast India: Day 18 This morning we will drive to Dimapur airport, where our tour ends.

(There are flights from Dimapur to Kolkata, from where there are regular connections to Delhi or Mumbai.)

 

EASTERN ASSAM & MISHMI HILLS EXTENSION

Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Day 1:  Today is a long travel day as we say farewell to Nagaland and pass through the tea estates and ricefields of Assam en route to the busy town of Tinsukia for a two nights stay.

Ultimate Northeast India (extension): Day 2  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, restricted-range Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush and Collared Treepie. In addition, the regionally-endemic White-cheeked Partridge is sometimes encountered.

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. 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 restricted-range Jerdon’s Babbler. A third regional endemic, Swamp Prinia, used to be seen here regularly, but is now only very rarely encountered.

Amidst this variety of open and wetland habitats, we will also expect to add most of the following to our growing tally: Little Grebe, Striated Heron, Sand Lark, Yellow-eyed Babbler and Baya Weaver. Less regular are Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, Graceful Prinia and Chestnut Munia.

Lingering winter visitors could include the restricted range Smoky Warbler, as well as Black Stork, Spotted and Chestnut-crowned Bush Warblers, Paddyfield Warbler, Richard’s Pipit and Black-faced Bunting.

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. There are also wild Water Buffaloes in the area.

Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Day 3  Today 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.

En route we will visit another grassland area that holds both Marsh Babbler and Black-breasted Parrotbill, and also Zitting and Golden-headed Cisticolas, Grey-breasted Prinia, Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, White-hooded Babbler, Pale-billed Parrotbill and Siberian Rubythroat.

We will reach the Mishmi Hills in time for some initial exploration.

Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Days 4-6  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 Rusty-throated (or Mishmi) 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 (9843ft). Most of the birds here overlap with the avifauna found at Eaglenest, but there are some very significant differences.

The high elevation bamboo and roadside vegetation is home to the restricted-range Manipur Fulvetta, the beautiful, restricted-range Rusty-bellied Shortwing and, at the time we visit, the even more sought-after Gould’s Shortwing. We will also have another opportunity to find the gorgeous Fire-tailed Myzornis here in the Mishmis. Mid-elevation gullies hold the strange, restricted-range Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, as well as the endemic Rusty-throated Wren-Babbler.

There is still little or no traffic along the narrow paved road here, and a number of species, like Maroon Accentor, the uncommon Rufous-breasted Bush Robin and Dark-rumped Rosefinch can be more confiding than usual.

Other new birds at Mishmi are likely to include Blyth’s Swift, Rufous-backed Sibia and the lovely Blue-fronted Robin, as well as more widespread species such as  Eurasian Sparrowhawk, the manic Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Himalayan Swiftlet, White-browed Piculet, Eurasian Jay (here of the form bispecularis), Nepal House Martin, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, White-browed Shortwing, Pygmy (Blue) Flycatcher and Dark-breasted Rosefinch.

We also have further opportunities to encounter the superb Blyth’s Tragopan, Hill and Rufous-throated Partridges, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Himalayan Cutia (easier here than at Eaglenest) and Beautiful Nuthatch.

During our time in the Mishmi Hills we have a good chance of finding some of the scarcer species that occur here, which include Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Himalayan Owl, Red-billed (or Orange-billed) Scimitar Babbler, Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler, Fulvous Parrotbill, the superb Green and Purple Cochoas, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Crimson-browed Finch and Collared Grosbeak. We even have a slim but real chance of seeing Sclater’s Monal!

Ultimate Northeast India (Extension): Day 7  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 (Extension): Day 8  We should have time for some early morning birding today before our tour ends at Dibrugarh airport around midday.

ULTIMATE NORTHEAST INDIA TOUR REPORT 2019

by Craig Robson

View Report

ULTIMATE NORTHEAST INDIA TOUR REPORT 2018

by Craig Robson

View Report

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