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A Report from

Arunachal Pradesh & Assam, 16 November – 11 December 2007,


Nicolaas and Robert van Zalinge

Ibisbill – Nameri, December 2007 ©Robert van Zalinge

1. Summary

In total we saw 339 bird species and heard a few more. Of what were for us the top ten birds, only one, the Grandala at Sela pass, eluded us. But nevertheless, we found birding somewhat slow in November, often requiring hard work and patience, e.g. we spent two days searching many potential sites for the Ward’s Trogon before we got a response and saw it. Birds are more vociferous in spring and respond better to their played calls.  In Eaglenest/Arunachal Pradesh lack of a knowledgeable bird-guide did not help with finding the wanted birds quickly, although Ramana Athreya of Kaati tours provided calls on MP3 player and written instructions on where to look for birds.

The nine other top birds that we did see were: White-winged Wood Duck (2 in Nameri), Ibisbill (6 in Nameri), Ward’s Trogon (1 in Eaglenest), Bugun Liocichla (3 in Eaglenest), Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler (2 on the Mandala road), Wedge-billed Wren Babbler (2 in Eaglenest), Rufous-necked Hornbill (7 in Eaglenest), Fire-tailed Myzornis (2 on the Mandala road) and Beautiful Nuthatch (2 at Eaglenest).  For one of us a pair of Black-breasted Parrotbills in Dibru-Saikhowa definitely rated as a topper.

Though we missed quite a few specialties, we regard the trip as a great success. Nearly everything went smoothly thanks to the almost constant presence of Indi Glow during the entire trip, no major problems, clear skies and no rain, invigorating weather in Arunachal Pradesh: warm in the sun, down to zero at night and freezing at higher altitudes. In Assam the weather was just perfect.

2. Introduction

We met at Guwahati, Robert flying in from Phnom Penh and Nicolaas from Amsterdam. Kaati tours arranged the trip to Nameri (in Assam), Eaglenest and other places in Arunachal Pradesh. Afterwards we were dropped off in Kaziranga. When Robert departed (he had only 2 weeks holidays), Nicolaas stayed a few days more in Kaziranga, and continued to Dibru-Saikhowa and Digboi (all in Assam) on his own.

3. Logistics, Guiding, Timing, Accommodation, Food, Health and Safety

Nicolaas flew with Jet Airways from London to Delhi and onwards to Guwahati. The return flight was via Mumbai and Brussels. The service was excellent.

Kaati tours picked us up at Guwahati with a 4-wd vehicle and dropped us off at the Bon Habi lodge in Kohora near the Kaziranga NP after 13 days/ 12 nights. This part of the tour was all inclusive and rather expensive. We chose the medium (comfortable) package (the other options being more basic or luxurious).  The costs were roughly $92 p.p.p.d. for food and lodging, $80 p.d. for the vehicle, incl. driver and fuel, $200 in total for general guiding and $260 for the 10-day Arunachal Pradesh permits. (1$ ≈ 38 Rupees). Ramana Athreya of Kaati Tours explains that he is funding the Bugun community eco-project from the money raised. This also includes expenditure on very necessary maintenance of the Eaglenest road, as nobody else seems to do this.

Throughout the tour we were accompanied by Mr. Indi Glow of the Bugun tribe that lives in the Eaglenest area. Not being a birder, he basically tried to help us find the right spots, graciously helped in carrying equipment and otherwise made sure the trip was almost hassle-free. Although there was a language barrier and we may have felt a bit frustrated at times, when not finding the birds, we otherwise have no complaints about Indi, who obviously tried hard to make the trip as successful as possible.

The weather was fine throughout, but cold in the mountains at night. Days are relatively short with sunrise at 5.30 am and sunset at 4.30 pm.

In the Nameri Eco-Camp one sleeps in an ample tent with bathroom amenities at hand. In Eaglenest, at Lama and Bompu camps, it is a bit more Spartan. It is also considerably colder at night and one needs several blankets. The warm water bottle provided was very welcome! Food was a bit monotonous, but ample. Tea/Coffee and biscuits/snacks were provided several times a day. In Dirang (Arunachal Pradesh) we stayed in hotel Pemaling, which has hot showers and a nice restaurant.

Walking around in Nameri (also Panbari and Digboi) we collected a few leeches and on the Bompu-Sessni stretch we were bitten a few times by tiny flies called ‘dum-dums’ (never saw them) that left very itchy and long-lasting bumps, esp. on the hands. Long-sleeves are advised. We did not take anti-malaria pills. With the somewhat runny food (dhal), digestion was generally faster and easier than normal, but never a real problem.

A major landslide between Bompu (1940m) and Sessni (1250m) prevented the car to pass.  By walking down (and later up) we managed to reach Sessni and a little beyond, but were unable to reach Khellong, which is another 500m lower than Sessni. Hence, we missed the chance to find some of the lower altitude birds.

There were a few strikes (locally called a “bund”) in Assam, which tend to stop all motorized traffic during the day.  It is important to be aware of their location, as a strike might affect one’s travel (to the airport for instance).

In Kaziranga the hotels try to sell a complete package with lodging, food and excursions into the park included. This is the more expensive option and impractical after a day or two.  The other (cheaper) option is ‘à-la-carte’: choose what you need and pay for it. 

We initially stayed at the Bon Habi lodge (, which was pleasant and quite good, though service at the desk was not really helpful. A room by itself was ca. $26 and includes breakfast. Excursions range roughly from $22-36 per trip, depending on where one wishes to go. There is no internet.

Later Nicolaas stayed at Wild Grass lodge (, which is slightly more expensive and has possibilities for similar arrangements. It is an older and more rustic place, but it has an internet connection in the accountant’s office. Both lodges have guides, of which some are quite good in birds.

Travel in Assam from Kaziranga to Dibru-Saikhowa or Digboi (approx. $80 one way) and Kaziranga to Guwahati airport (approx. $70) was by hiring a car with driver.

In Dibru-S. Nicolaas stayed in the Banashree Tented Cottages ( on the bank of the Dibru river in Guijan village. The tents are on stilts and are run by Mr. Bhenu (tel. 94 35 33 5462 or 99 545 94 940), who will also arrange the trips into the park and will guide them. There are a lot of mosquitoes at night, but a mosquito-net is provided. Rs 1200/day was charged for food and lodging. The accommodation and food are basic, though adequate. An alternative is staying at the Centerpoint Hotel in Tinsukia (11 km away).

Most trips involve travel by boat. Bhenu tries to charge Rs 3000 (almost $ 80) per day for boat use. As the trips are usually in total not more than 2-3 hrs per day and hence too expensive, even though they include park fees, it is advisable to negotiate a bit.

The tall grasslands of the Dibru-Saikhowa NP harbor besides a number of specialized bird species, also larger animals like Buffalo, Tiger and Elephant. One needs to walk through animal created corridors in grasses that can be 3-4 m tall. At one point, while I was using my MD player to attract Marsh Babblers, my entourage suddenly started running away with the armed guard in front. When I looked up, there was an Elephant coming down the grass tunnel. Fortunately the beast was not charging, so I had time to grab the equipment and run back to the boat.

In Digboi I stayed at the simple Digboi Lodge (Rs 800/night). The owner Mr. Pankaj Barua (tel. 94 351 37070) provided a guide for the visit to the oilfield jungle, who unfortunately did not know the way, let alone the birds.

4. Itinerary matrix





16 Nov

Nicolaas arrives in Guwahati in evening.


17 Nov

Pick-up Robert from airport. Drive to Nameri. Overnight in Eco-lodge.


18 Nov

Walk in morning. Rafting in afternoon. Overnight in Eco-lodge.


19 Nov

Walk in Nameri in morning. Drive to Eaglenest. Overnight in Lama Camp.


20 Nov

Walk below and above Lama Camp.


21 Nov

Walk/drive from Lama to Bompu Camp, where we stayed for the night.


22 Nov

Drove to landslide. Walked down to Sessni and back. Overnight Bompu.


23 Nov

Same as day before.


24 Nov

Walk/drive road above Bompu. Overnight Bompu Camp.


25 Nov

Walk/drive from Bompu to Lama Camp. Overnight in Lama Camp.


26 Nov

Morning to Eaglenest pass. Afternoon drive to Dirang and hotel Pemaling.


27 Nov

Drive to Sela pass (4250m). Overnight Dirang.


28 Nov

Birded Mandala road in morning. Drove to Nameri, where overnight.


29 Nov

Rafted Jia Bhoreli in Nameri. Drove to Kaziranga. Overnight in Bon Habi.


30 Nov

Elephant ride Kaziranga. Panbari forest. Jeep ride Kaziranga. Bon Habi.


1 Dec

Departure Robert for Guwahati airport. Nicolaas moves to Wild Grass lodge


2 Dec

Panbari forest in morning. Tea gardens in afternoon. Overnight Wild Grass.


3 Dec

Strike. Walked in tea gardens and hills behind. Overnight Wild Grass.


4 Dec

Taxi to Dibru-Saikhowa. Overnight Banashree Eco-camp.


5 Dec

Boat trip to Dighaltarang area and walk in tall grasses. Night in Banashree.


6 Dec

Morning boat trip. Afternoon walk to Kolomi guard station. Banashree.


7 Dec

Morning boat trip to Dighaltarang. Drive to Digboi. Overnight in D. Lodge.


8 Dec

All day birding in the Digboi Oilfield jungle. Overnight in Digboi Lodge.


9 Dec

Morning walk in Digboi. Drive to Kaziranga. Overnight in Wild Grass.


10 Dec

Jeep tour to Kaziranga East Range. Afternoon tea-gardens. Wild Grass.


11 Dec

Drive to Guwahati airport. Flight to Mumbai and later Brussels.


12 Dec

Arrival in Amsterdam.

The stay in Kaziranga was a bit too long for this time of the year, when the grass is very tall and therefore many animals and birds are difficult to find. The grasslands are burned in February, which enhances viewing. As we both had seen the Bengal Florican in Cambodia, we did not try very hard to see it here given these circumstances. On the other hand we both felt we could have done with some extra days in Arunachal Pradesh. In particular, we would have liked more time on the Mandala road, Sela pass, further below Sessni (i.e. Khellong) and around Eaglenest pass.

5. References


Choudhury, A. (2000). The Birds of Assam. Gibbon Books/WWF India.
Kazmierczak, K. and Van Perlo, B. (2000). A field guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Pica Press.
Grimmett, R., Inskipp, C. and Inskipp, T. (1999) Pocket guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm (Ltd).
Kazmierczak, K. and Raj Singh (1998). A birdwatchers’ guide to India. Prion Ltd. Sandy.

Bulletin of the Oriental Bird Club.

Athreya, R. (2005). Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, India. BirdingASIA 4: 47-51.

Rheint, F.E. (2006). Splits galore: the revolution in Asian leaf warbler dynamics. BirdingASIA 5: 25-39.

Lethaby, N. (2006). The identification of Long-billed Plover. BirdingASIA 6: 48-54.

Sykes, B. (2006). New Liocichla found in India at Arunachal Pradesh’s Eaglenest Sanctuary. BirdingASIA 6: 72.

Allen, S. & Catsis, M. (2007). On the trail of the Bugun Liocichla Liocichla bugunorum in north-east India. BirdingASIA 7: 75-80.


Allen, D. (2002). A bird survey of the Amarpur area of the Dibru-Saikhowa Biosphere Reserve, Assam, India. Forktail 18: 87-91.

Choudhury, A. (2003). Birds of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary and Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Forktail 19: 1-13.

Barua , M. and Sharma , P. (2005). The birds of Nameri National Park , Assam, India. Forktail 21: 15-26.

Trip reports

Assam and Meghalaya (north-eastern India), 18 March – 7 April, 2006. Trip report by Pierre van der Wielen. (

Arunachal Pradesh, NE India 31 March-17 April 2006. Trip report by Mike Catsis, Simon Allen, Margaret & Bud Widdowson. (

Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, India 2 - 11 November 2006. Trip report by Low Bing Wen Albert. (

6. Acknowledgements

Our thanks go to Ramana Athreya, who runs Kaati tours ( in his spare time as an astronomer in Pune, for the excellent collection of bird calls in MP3 format, the detailed maps and the extensive notes on the localities particular species have been seen before. Without these tools we would have only seen a fraction of what we saw now. We are thanking also Indi Glow, who besides being a very nice person, was an efficient tour leader.

We met Peter Lobo of Adventure Gurudongma tours ( in Bonhabi Lodge. He was very helpful with useful tips and suggestions for Nicolaas’ visit to Dibru and Digboi and even made bookings and arranged transport. His help is much appreciated. 

7. Sites visited

A complete breakdown of species by site is given in the attached matrix table.

Nameri (150m)

This is a good place to see White-winged Wood Duck and even non-birders are taken on a kind of treasure hunt to the pools in the forest to find the duck. We arrived at the first pool with a group of two families. Indeed there was a duck, which pretty quickly took wing when someone tried to come close for a photo. Fortunately, the forest guard knew of another pool, where we found a second duck and managed to photograph it - without invading its space - through the telescope. In addition, there are many other low-land forest species in Nameri, such as Blue-naped Pitta (which we dipped).

When taking the long (versus the short) rafting trip on the Jia Bhoreli river (starting at mile 16 rather than 13), there are excellent chances of seeing Ibisbill (we had 5, see top photo). We also saw Long-billed Plover and Great Thick-knee on the higher stretch above the 13 mile drop off point. Ruddy Shelduck, Common Merganser, Pallas’ Fishing Eagle, Lesser Adjutant, and a group of Spot-winged Starlings crossing the river were seen further downriver. The long trip however takes 4-5 hours unless it can be arranged to be picked up earlier, at the mile 13 drop off point for instance. There are fewer Ibisbill on the lower stretch, probably because this section is more intensely used by visitors, especially anglers for Mahseer. However, one Ibisbill was seen below the mile 13 starting point on our second rafting attempt. It may also help to make sure you are the first on the river after dawn.

Eaglenest Road

This is a disused logging dirt road, which runs up from Khellong (750m) via Sessni (1250m), Bompu camp (1950m) to the Eaglenest pass at 2800m and then continues down via Lama camp (2350m) to Tenga town (1700m). The road covers an altitudinal range of about 2000m and passes through a variety of habitats. There is very little human habitation along most of the road and very little traffic. Hence it is ideal for roadside birding.

Ramana Athreya discovered here a new Liocichla species that he described in 2006 as Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum), thereby honoring the Bugun on whose tribal lands the bird was found. He started an eco project involving the Bugun to protect the area from further degradation: the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. Part of this project was the placing of numbered signposts (Rxx) along the road, which greatly facilitates site identification. Before we came out, we asked him where to find the species we were most interested in. He responded by giving us the details (often by signpost number) of where the particular species had been seen before.

We entered Eaglenest road from the town of Tenga and spent our first nights in Lama Camp, the site description will start there.

Lama Camp (2350m)

The area around Lama camp is rather disturbed, but is still good for many interesting species. About 1-2 km down from Lama camp (towards Tenga) is the area we saw the Bugun  Liocichla. First a pair and later one in a mixed species group. Here we also found a pair of Rufous-breasted Bush Robins and Crimson-browed Finches, as well as a host of other species that were more wide-spread. Along the road above the camp (towards Eaglenest pass) is an area rich in berries that attracted various rosefinches and bullfinches. Around Lama Camp we also saw Blue-winged, White-throated, Grey-sided, Black-faced, Striated and Streaked Laughing Thrushes, Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Rufous-breasted and Maroon-backed Accentors, Cutia, Redstarts, Rufous-vented Yuhina, Tits (including Rufous-fronted), Warblers, Streak-throated Barwing, Beautiful Sibia, Chestnut-tailed Minla, etc.

Eaglenest Pass (2800m) – Bompu (1950m)

There is a bit of bamboo at the pass, hence a chance to see some Parrotbills, which we did not.

We encountered Grey-crested and Rufous-vented Tits, White-browed and Brown-throated Fulvettas, Nepal House Martin, Mountain Bulbul, Mountain Hawk Eagle, etc.

A bit down from the pass is the Old Loop road (R12) of which the entrance area seemed particularly alive with the movement of large groups of yuhinas and fulvettas. Further down, past the Sunderview camping spot we found Red-billed Leiothrix (also seen at several other locations), Golden-breasted Fulvetta, etc.

Toward Bompu, in fact near R32, there is a mossy forest on the ridge, where we eventually managed to see a male Ward’s Trogon, as well as large mixed groups containing Rufous and Darjeeling Woodpeckers, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper. A Rufous-throated Wren Babbler was found in the shrubs near the road.

Further down in bamboo forest we encountered a pair of Crimson-breasted Woodpeckers.

At R64, which is a bit above Bompu, two male Golden-naped Finches were seen. A little closer to Bompu we photographed a highly inquisitive group of Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers.

Bompu (1950m) - Sessni (1250m)

The camp is slightly more basic than Lama. It is the starting point for excursions (12 km) down hill to Sessni. Due to a major landslide blocking the road for vehicles at 1400m it was necessary to entirely walk the last 4.5 km down to Sessni (1250m) and a further 3 km to Khellong (750m). As one has to walk back, time permitted us only to reach as far as about 1 km beyond Sessni. The descent from Bompu down to Haathi Nullah (1335m) is rather steep, but the few kilometers thereafter to Sessni and beyond much less so.

In the first section we noticed such gems as Beautiful Nuthatch (R69), Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Collared Treepie, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Chestnut-headed Tesia (which we heard at several other places too), Rusty-fronted Barwing, Black-eared Shrike Babbler and Black-throated Tit. We attracted a Long-billed Wren Babbler (R63) and heard a Spotted Wren babbler near the land slide, but it would not show. There were Little Buntings feeding on the road. After dark we came upon a Eurasian Woodcock walking on the road (R66).

The next major gully (R84.5) after Haathi Nullah is a place for Wedge-billed Wren Babbler; we saw a pair. Around Sessni we found Rufous-necked Hornbill, Silver-eared Mesia,  Golden Babbler, Scarlet Finch, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Black-chinned Yuhina, Black-throated Sunbird, etc. In the bushes behind the ruin of Sessni station Red-faced Liocichla was encountered. 

Dirang (1600m)

Dirang town has a relatively luxurious hotel (especially after having camped a while) and is the starting point for trips to Sela Pass, the Mandala road and Sangthi valley. We did not have time to visit the latter, but saw some of its potential goodies (Ibisbill, Long-billed Plover) at Nameri.

Sela Pass (4250m)

It is about 61 km from Dirang to Sela, but it takes about 3 hours driving. Parts of the drive are spectacular. At the pass it was freezing and there was freshly fallen snow. Initially, it was sunny, but it started to cloud over in the early afternoon and on the way back we drove in a sometimes thick fog. On the way up we had noticed among others White-browed Rosefinch, Russet Sparrow, White-throated Redstart and Yellow-billed Magpie. There were not many birds at the pass, although we found Plain Mountain Finch, Alpine Accentor, Red-billed Chough and Snow Pigeon. We could not find Grandala, Snow Partridge, Spotted Laughing Thrush, or Himalayan Monal.

Mandala Road (1540-3250m)

The Mandala road branches off the Tawang-Sela-Dirang-Bomdilla highway about 7 km past Dirang in the direction of Bomdilla. From the junction the road climbs up for 28 km to Mandala village through agricultural lands and forests. We had only the morning left for birding, as this was the last day of our 10-day Arunachal Pradesh permit. We reached the top of the road at sunrise and birded downhill from there. It was very cold on top and birding was slow. But lower down it picked up when we came across a pair of Fire-tailed Myzornis at 2700m. There were also groups of White-throated and Grey-sided laughing Thrushes, etc. At 1850m near a village there is a small side-road and here we found a pair of Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers in a gully, as well as a mixed species flock which included Red-tailed Minla.

Kaziranga NP

The park is very popular with tourists from India and other countries, who are coming mainly for the large mammals such as the Indian Rhinoceros (which can even be seen from the main road outside the park!). In addition there is the Panbari forest (part of the park, but outside the Kaziranga floodplain) and the teagardens at the foot of the Mikir hills. There are many birds to be seen and it was here that we saw the largest number of species of all sites visited.

The floodplain

This is closed from the end of May till the end of October due to the monsoon. Otherwise it is open daily for jeep rides from 7.30am-12 noon and 2-4.30pm. One has to leave the park during the midday break, which is inconvenient and makes the visit more expensive. Elephant rides start earlier at 5.15 am. Walking in the park is hardly allowed and most viewing is done from the back of the jeep. Most people visit the central range. But trips to the west and east ranges are also possible. The Sohola Beel in the east range is rich in water birds.

One of the specialties is the Bengal Florican, which is difficult to see in November-January, as the grass is very tall (3+m). In February the grasslands are burned, however. As we had seen this species in Cambodia, we did not try very hard to come to grips with it.  

Some of the other species seen included Swamp Francolin, Black-necked Stork, Bar-headed Goose, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Grey-headed Lapwing, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Great Hornbill, etc.

Panbari forest

Also here one has to take a guard when walking in the forest, which usually is a bit of a pain. However, during our first visit an old guard came with us, who could wonderfully imitate the call of the Hoolock Gibbon and did a duet with a nearby male. We tried –in vain- to see a Blue-naped Pitta, but found them very elusive. They would respond only once, when their call was played, but remained absolutely silent thereafter. Maybe this is due to the time of the year. Otherwise we saw Kalij Pheasant (also at Nameri), White-browed Piculet, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Greater Necklaced Laughing Thrush, Abbott’s Babbler, Nepal Fulvetta, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Little Spiderhunter, etc.

Teagardens and Mikir Hills

Behind and around the lodges stretching to the Mikir hills are the teagardens of Assam. It is very pleasant to walk there and quite rich in birds. Again we heard, but did not see the Pitta, had a pair of Brown Fish Owls in the evening, also Grey-headed Woodpecker, Rufous-necked Laughing Thrush, Pale-chinned Flycatcher (hills), Orange-headed Thrush, Daurian Redstart, etc.

Dibru-Saikhowa WS

This wildlife sanctuary is situated on islands between the braided arms of the Brahmaputra and the Dibru rivers some 225 km to the east of Kaziranga, yet still in Assam. There are seasonally flooded riverine forests and grasslands. The latter habitat harbors a number of specialized bird species, of which the Black-breasted Parrotbill is –arbitrarily- the best one to see. We managed the third time trying in the Dighaltarang area. This area is about 1hr30m sailing upstream from the Banashree Camp. It is advisable to bring their calls with you, as it was locally not available (in a reasonable quality) and these grasslands are difficult (3m+tall) and dangerous (wild Elephants and the like) to search. Other species found here were Marsh Babbler, Slender-billed Babbler, Chestnut-capped Babbler, Swamp Prinia, Jerdon’s Babbler, Smoky Warbler, Asian Stubtail, Black-faced Bunting, etc.

A male Jerdon’s Bushchat was briefly seen in tall grasses near the Kolomi guard station, which is situated in swampy forest. One has to walk there (3hrs one way) and cross (wade through) some shallow river arms. There is a chance to see Pale-capped Pigeon, but I dipped.


Digboi is a small town with an oil refinery situated about 30 km south-east of Tinsukia. Near the town is a forested hilly area with the oldest Indian oilfield inside.  It is a bit of a weird area for birding between the old installations and the pervading smell of oil. But there are good birds to be seen, such as White-browed and Speckled Piculets, Chestnut-backed Laughing Thrush, Broad-billed Warbler, Collared Treepie, Mountain Tailorbird, Grey-throated Babbler, Ruby-cheeked and Crimson Sunbirds, etc.

8. Full species list matrix (birds and other animals)(PDF File)


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