Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Arunachal Pradesh, NE India 31st March – 17 April 2006,
Introduction, sites and accommodation - by Mike Catsis
As we drove back in the jeep to Nameri after our last morning near Dirang and the end of a classic trip the inevitable reflections produced the perhaps oft-asked question: top 5 birds of the trip? Sifting through the jewels we had encountered over the 2 weeks it was clear that this was going to be a tough one. Was it the first sighting of the aptly named Beautiful Nuthatch with its impossible markings and ridiculous size (how can this be a Sitta?) probing along dripping mossy branches, a gliding male Himalayan Monal with its glossy purple wings shimmering in the bright alpine sunlight and its huge white rump looking for all the world like some outsized wheatear, the flashing red streak that flew across in front of our jeep while driving through a tiny village and once perched on a garden fence turned out to be a male Ward’sTrogon ; or was it the ultimate catch-up bird - a Fire-tailed Myzornis, which I had missed while taping a Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler , watched in a dense rhododendron with shaking bins, the singing performance of an excited Long-billed Wren-babbler at the side of the road which allowed point blank photo opportunities or ultimately the amazing sight of a pair of what is probably a new and spectacularly coloured species of Liocichla which Ramana had first discovered some 10 years earlier and which only now we were making the first recordings of its voice .
Other highlights included:
Greater and Lesser Adjutant , White-winged Duck, Jerdon’s Baza, Pied Harrier, Pallas’ Fish eagle, Chestnut-breasted and White-cheeked Partridges, Temminck’s and Blyth’s Tragopans (heard only), Black-tailed Crake, Ibisbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, White-throated Redstart, Blue-fronted Robin, Purple Cochoa, Spotted Laughingthrush, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Wedge-billed and Bar-winged Wren Babblers, Black-headed Shrike Babbler, Brown-throated Fulvetta, Fulvous-fronted and Brown Parrotbills, Broad-billed and Yellow-vented Warblers , Hill Blue Flycatcher ( race magnirostris), Grandala, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Fire-tailed Sunbird , Tibetan Siskin, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Collared Treepie
After first reading Mike Waite’s 2004 trip report of what had been the inaugural foreign birders’ trip to the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary with Ramana Athreya I knew this was a place I had to visit .The selection of east Himalayan specialities in this area and the paucity of visits over the last 30 years or so due to barriers to foreign visitors caused by political and military conflicts in Arunachal Pradesh combined to make this a mysterious and magical destination oozing with promise . After one unsuccessful attempt at organising a trip in 2005 due to family illness it wasn’t hard to convince my birding buddies Margaret and Bud Widdowson and Simon Allen to join me in making up the minimum number of 4 for a trip organised by Ramana Athreya, the doyen of this area, and Mr Indi Glow of the Bugun Welfare Society, the community organisation which owns the forest area near Dirang. Ramana has spent much time in this area carrying out bird surveys as well as inventories of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and other groups revealing an astonishingly rich biodiversity. Importantly he has convinced the local Bugun people to take an interest in conserving these forests, previously logged for hardwood, by promoting eco-tourism as an alternative economic activity. While we were there two other birding groups were enjoying the forests while Ramana had just finished guiding a group of Swedish birders before we arrived. Clearly this was just what the Buguns needed to realise the potential of what had perhaps seemed an unlikely premise; the madness of foreigners peering into trees and bushes looking for birds! After the success of our trip and, indeed, all the others I can imagine no outcome other than a flood of interest to this area and it is the intention of this trip report to foster such an interest in order to shore up the eco-touristic future of these forests as an important contributor to the conservation of this globally important biodiversity hotspot .
Due to time constraints and the fact that we wanted to give Eaglenest sufficient time in case of time lost to poor weather we chose not to visit Kaziranga on this trip. If we had spent 3 days at Kaziranga the final triplist might have exceeded 450 spp. In the end we spent 1-2 days at Nameri before Eaglenest and 1-2 days at the end of the trip (different members of the groups had varying amounts of time at Nameri at the beginning and end of the trip).
Nameri National Park
An underestimated birding site, perhaps due to its proximity to the better known Kaziranga, covering some 200 km². The terrain here is undulating and is bisected by the Jia Bhareli river. Varied forest and woodland habitats cover the majority of the park, some 94%, although the various riverbeds produce a number of other habitat types such as sandy riverbank, gravel bars and marshland. More than 374 species of birds have been recorded in this park; for a list and a more detailed description of habitat , vegetation and climate see Barua and Sharma (2005).
Ornithologically the main attraction here is surely the small population of the endangered White-winged Duck, which is sighted fairly regularly up until April while its forested pools still contain enough water. However several other interesting species certainly make a visit very worthwhile; Ibisbill is regular between November and early April although to see this species you need to take a raft trip, which is also an attraction for the non-birding visitor. The raft trip also provides a good chance of Great Thick-knee, Pallas’ Fish- Eagle and possibly Long-billed Plover between December and February. White-cheeked Partridge is not uncommon but difficult to see and the chance of irregular species such as Jerdon’s Baza, Pied Harrier, Forest Wagtail, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Slender-billed Oriole and Spot-winged Starling always makes a visit interesting. In early 2006 a pair of Oriental Hobbies was staked out in their nest tree right at the camp entrance. In winter the forest across the river as well as the more disturbed camp side forest is alive with migrants and winter visitors; many warblers including Thick-billed, Blunt-winged, Dusky, Tickell’s Leaf, Yellow-browed etc and flycatchers including Red-throated (Taiga), Slaty blue, AsianBrown and Snowy-browed as well as such beauties as Blue-naped Pitta (rare) and Long-tailed and Silver-breasted Broadbill. A loop from behind the ranger station on the other side of the river leads through a marshy area and back round to the river through a more wooded patch. When the trees are in fruit, especially round the abandoned observation tower four species of green pigeon are possible. The timing of your birding here is crucial as in the 2 weeks between our two visits at the beginning and end of the trip the difference was enormous; most of the winter visitors had moved on and Ibisbill was no longer present, the forests being noticeably less birdy at the end of the trip.
The Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is some 218km² in area and spans an altitudinal range of 500–3200 m. Roadside birding is possible between 500-2800m and down to 100m in adjacent areas. It is this unique altitudinal transect of unbroken forest that makes Eaglenest such a rich area for all animal and plant groups; for birders it offers an unparalleled opportunity to search for rare and local species. It is possible to bird the tarmac road between Bhalukpong and Tenga as this passes along the eastern border of the Eaglenest and Sessa sanctuaries between 300-1600m. However the traffic along this road is fairly heavy and some of the shier inhabitants of the forest, especially the galliforms, will not be found along this stretch; much better then to travel along the old timber road from Tenga which passes trough outstanding habitat all the way to the pass at 2800m. It is this road which should be thoroughly studied for a least a week to reveal as many of the star species as possible. The vegetation is an interesting mix of lowland evergreen forest near Khellong (although this habitat is better represented at nearby Pakke reserve) rising through broad-leaved forest with stands of bamboo in the subtropical to temperate altitudes changing to conifer forest higher up together with patches of roadside scrub and small areas of farmland.
At 2800m temperate bamboo, conifer and broad-leaved forest and scrub constitute a mixed habitat at Eaglenest pass. It is possible to access higher regions, up to 3200m at Bra-top and 3000m at Piri-La where species such as Temminck’s Tragopan and Fulvous Parrotbill as well as mammals such as Red Panda may be found. However, these are arduous treks and it is much easier to search for these species a little lower around Lamacamp and/or Mandala ridge further on above Dirang. Just before the pass itself, which is often subject to landslides which must be carefully negotiated, there is a tiny settlement called Sunderview where it is possible to camp; here there is roadside scrub and some broad-leaved forest worth searching for Streaked and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes, Maroon-backed Accentor, Fire-tailed Sunbird and even Fire-tailed Myzornis .
There is much overlap between the different altitudinal zones before species drop out and become replaced. Each zone should be carefully searched for the following characteristic species:
Khellong 750m ( to 1000m above and 500m below)
White-browed and Speckled Piculets, Nepal Fulvetta, White-bellied Yuhina, Collared Treepie, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Blue-eared Barbet, Lesser Yellownape, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey Peacock Pheasant and White-throated Bulbul.
Sessni 1250m ( to 1600m above and 1000m below):
Red-faced Liocichla , Wedge-billed, Long-billed and Eye-browed Wren-babblers , White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Beautiful Nuthatch, Rufous-backed Sibia, Scarlet Finch, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Grey Peacock Pheasant, Cutia.
Bompu 1940m ( to 2300m above and 1700m below ):
Broad-billed Warbler , Greater Rufous-headed , Black-throated and Brown (near the pass) Parrotbills , Slender-billed and Coral-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Rufous-throated and Bar-winged Wren- babblers, Ward’s Trogon, Black-headed Shrike- babbler , Blue-fronted Robin, Blyth’s Tragopan, Chestnut-breasted and Hill Partridges, Purple Cochoa, liocichla sp.nov, Grey-sided, Black-faced and Scaly Laughingthrush, White-hooded Babbler , Gold-breasted , Yellow-throated and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Beautiful Sibia (common), Yellow-browed Tit, Crimson-browed and Gold-naped Finches, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Plain-backed, Long-tailed and Dark-sided (rare) Thrushes, Golden, White-browed and Rufous-breasted Bush- Robins.
Some 10 km from Eaglenest pass, 30 minutes by vehicle (longer if birding), lies the small campment called Lama Camp at 2330m altitude. This area lies outside the Eaglenest sanctuary and in places is heavily disturbed as the road passes down towards the large settlement of Tenga. The land in this area is owned by the Bugun community and becomes something of a buffer zone between the town itself and the pristine forests higher up and along the ridge road that leads from Lama Camp back towards the Eaglenest sanctuary. Although disturbed there are many excellent species to be looked for in this area not least the Bugun Liocichla (this is the site where this new species was first seen by Ramana Athreya and will take the name of the local tribe in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of the community forest, and act as a spur for the ecotourism project underway here). The bird travels in both mixed species flicks and in pairs and is not too difficult to find once its fluty calls are recognised. A good spot being around 1km below the camp in a disturbed ravine. Other good species which are regular here include Red-headed and Grey-headed Bullfinches, Long- tailed Thrush , Spott ed Wren-babbler, Temminck’s Tragopan in forest a little higher up on a side trail off the main road, Green Shrike-Babbler and Fire-tailed Sunbird in rhododendrons along the road back towards the ridge . Fire-tailed Myzornis is a great prize which can be found along here.
Some 25 km west of Bomdila lies Dirang the birding base for sorties into the Sangthi valley, the Mandala road and the road to Se La pass which provides the boundary in Arunachal Pradesh between West Kameng and Tawang districts . Dirang itself is a reasonably large town with a few small hotels. We camped just outside the town some 6 km to the west on the road to Mandala.
The Sangthi valley lies at 1600m and forms a dry inner valley with pine stands and cultivation cloaking the valley itself. The river produces both gravel banks and sand banks along its length in the valley providing suitable habitat for Ibisbill, Long-billed Plover and Red-wattled Lapwing (surprisingly scarce along the river) as well as wintering Wallcreepers. The tributaries which feed it, are characterised by large and small boulders on which many Plumbeous Water Redstarts , White-capped Redstarts and Brown Dippers patrol and feed. The flat marshlands contiguous with the banks of the river, although cultivated with rice, form the only wintering area in India for Black-necked Crane: 1-10 birds in late November to February only (Athreya pers.comm). In small patches of marshy rank grass Black-tailed Crakes are relatively easy to find. Along the banks of the river also there are patches of alder which support migrant flycatchers such as Brown-breasted and Ultramarine amongst others.
Dirang – Mandala
This road climbs from Dirang up through temperate broad-leaved forest andscrub. Treeline vegetation is dominated by conifers, birch, rhododendron and birch scrub. Climbing up the Mandala road there is good roadside birding in the scrub with Yellowish-bellied and Russet Bush Warbler and Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush to look for. In the temperate broad-leaved forest patches migrant flycatchers and cuckoos can be found such Ferruginous and Little Pied Flycatchers and Eurasian Cuckoo, while in bamboo patches Fulvous Parrotbill, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler and Red-headed Bullfinch occur. These areas should also be searched for Temminck’s Tragopan although there is much habitat disturbance up here and one would have to walk quite far off the main tracks to have a serious chance of encountering one.
Dirang- Se La Pass
This road runs some 61 km from Dirang itself climbing all the time towards the Se la Pass. The habitat on the way up is similar to the Dirang – Mandala road.
As the treeline is reached birds characteristic of higher altitudes become apparent such as Snow Pigeon, Himalayan Griffon, Grandala and Rufous-breasted Bush Robin. Scrubby slopes hide Himalayan Monal, SpottedLaughingthrush and Snow Partridge (although this species was not encountered for sure on this trip). Near and beyond the pass itself PlainMountain Finches search for seeds in small groups and rosefinches too, although only White-browed was found on our one day in the area. EurasianDippers replace Brown Dipper in the fast flowing streams and mixed tit flocks hunt in the conifer stands with Coal, Grey-crested and Rufous-vented Tits in the same flock . This area can be extremely cold and the weather somewhat treacherous unless you are lucky enough to arrive on a clear, sunny day.
This can impact on birding as visibility can be poor and windy conditions will make sightings difficult. Care should be taken at the highest altitudes.
The Nameri Ecocamp is well set up for tourists, accommodation being large 2 bed structures containing bedroom with fans, a bathroom and toilet with hot water and an ante – room for storing clothes etc . There is electricity which periodically is prone to cutting out ; in which case a generator takes over. The dining area is a comfortable place to write up your daily list while waiting for what is an excellent buffet style lunch or evening meal; breakfast is plentiful. You may or may not be lucky with beer in the evenings if such is your want! The price here was included in our trip costs so I can’t quote a cost although it is not expensive. For independent travellers make sure you book up beforehand as at certain times of the year it can get very busy. Details for this are in all the usual travel guides.
One must book up the day before if you want to bird across the river (essential as most of the good birding is across the river) since you must take an armed guard, for rogue elephants if nothing else, and to alert the boatman who needs to come and fetch you to carry you across the Jia Bhareli; the earliest time you can do this is at 5.30 am. On the return trip a tip is appreciated.
Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary
Bompu The camp at Bompu is based around an old military outpost and consists of several buildings. The main one contains rooms used as a kitchen and another as a dining room the latter with a wonderfully warm fire which is certainly welcome first thing in the morning or after a day of mist and rain. Sleeping quarters are temporary large two man walk-in tents with comfortable beds, bedside table with hurricane lamps and chairs. The team makes every effort to make your stay as comfortable as conditions allow; extra blankets and hot water bottles are available on request although it never really got that cold on our visit. The toilets are long drops with temporary and transportable commodes for sitting on with buckets of water for flushing while hot water is available on request for use in the adequate washing structures screened with plastic sheeting. These accommodations were well beyond what we had been expecting for camping and at all times we felt incredibly well looked after, even cosseted. However some birders may have expectations which are beyond what can be supplied in such conditions; it is important then that one is prepared to ‘rough it’ to some extent although most world birders will find the conditions perfectly acceptable…the rewards speak for themselves.
Meals were plentiful and always nutritious and tasty. A vegetarian diet was maintained throughout our stay, an excellent decision as it is difficult to get hold of reliable fresh meat; I for one had not a hint of trouble with my digestive system. Coffee, tea and biscuits were always available at 5am for early morning walks; breakfast usually at 6-6:30 consists of porridge, toast, butter and jam, eggs, tea and coffee; lunch either served back at the camp or transported to one in the field was usually a hot dish plus roti (chapati) with juice, coffee etc while morning snacks of coffee, tea, chocolate, popcorn etc meant that energy levels were always maintained. Afternoon snacks were as the morning and the evening meal always included soup and two or three hot dishes plus a dessert. We ate well!
Lama Camp : the accommodation at Lama Camp was very similar to Bompu with the main exception being that the buildings used as kitchens and dining room were replaced with an ‘Amazon lodge’ style thatched structure . This was very comfortable with a very warm fire to huddle round in the evenings.
Dirang : we camped in a small field outside the town of Dirang, some 6 km along the road to Mandala. This was rather more traditional camping although always comfortable, and remarkably the toilet and bathroom facilities had been literally transported from Lamacamp. An outdoor table with plastic sheeting for a roof was available for evening meals and breakfasts. This was entirely satisfactory although in future accommodation for this part of the trip, the base for Mandala, Sangti valley and Se La pass will be the comfortable local hotel in Dirang itself (which for birders not travelling as part of an organised tour needs to be booked well in advance as it can get booked up months in advance).
Friday 31st March
Following a smooth but rather sleepless BA flight we, Simon Allen and Bud and Margaret Widdowson, arrived bleary-eyed in Kolkata shortly after 5 in the morning, to find that the temperature was already in marked contrast to the wet March afternoon we had left behind. Having hauled our luggage across to the domestic terminal from international arrivals, seeing our first Common Mynas and House Crows of the trip as we went, we parked ourselves within striking distance of the Jet Airways counter, our carrier for the only slightly delayed flight to Guwahati in Assam, an hour or so to the northeast. We arrived at our destination at midday or so, and were greeted by our guide for the next two weeks, Ramana Athreya. He bundled us quickly into a Tata jeep with our driver, Tsering, and the five of us set off northwards, skirting round the edge of the sprawling city, whilst Ramana filled us in on the plan for the day, via a brief stop for a soaring probable Slender-billed Vulture. He was remaining behind for the night in Guwahati to meet up with Mike Catsis, the final member of the party, so he hopped out before we got too far, leaving us in Tsering’s hands for the five hour drive to the Eco-camp at Nameri NP. It was at least two and a half hours to our one and only birding stop of the afternoon, a large field in the village of Nagaon which holds a colony of the critically endangered Greater Adjutant. The area receives a degree of protection through a conservation effort run by the locals, although despite some revenue gained from modest charges to visiting birders, the numbers are still in decline. On the way to Nagaon we first crossed a wide river, before climbing over some low hills covered in parched stands of planted teak. We were soon passing through flat plains dominated by paddy fields lined with insignificant clumps of large bamboo and some larger trees, occasionally flanked with watercourses. Despite the considerable human alteration to the habitat, birdlife was quite visible, and amongst a number of common and widespread Indian species, a colony of Asian Openbills in some trees next to a river was the most notable. Once in Nagaon we found our local guide waiting for us, and he quickly led us down a short trail which emerged into a large field, in which at least 20 Greater Adjutants were standing. A number of these hulking birds had the heavy pendulous throat sack on full display and they all seemed to tower over the handful of cows which shared their incongruous home. One or two other birds were scattered around away from the main group, and as the sun began to set these stragglers were the first to haul their huge frames into the air before coming to rest in the tops of trees. Some Himalayan Swiftlets darted past overhead and a distant Citrine Wagtail was seen in flight, but soon it was time to move on, via a brief pause on the outskirts of Nagaon to admire two almost fully grown Lesser Adjutants next to their nest in a tree over the road. The drive to Nameri took another two hours, and the lights and pleasant surroundings of the Ecocamp were a welcome sight by the time we arrived at 7pm. After settling in to the spacious huts, enjoying a fine Indian buffet and a lukewarm Sandpiper (!) beer and then planning our birding strategy for the morning, we retired to the comfort of a welcome bed.
Saturday 1st April
We were woken early by the loud tooting of an Asian Barred Owlet and it didn’t take long before a highly agitated individual was flying from perch to perch in response to the tape, giving reasonable views. We were also surprised to note that it was already light by 5am, which was to set the tone for a series of early mornings to come. The plan for the morning was to head straight over the river by boat to look for White-winged Duck before returning to do a raft trip to look for Ibisbill. While Bud and Margaret readied themselves I wandered around the camp clearing, reacquainting myself, after a trip to Nepal in 2001, with some of the common species such as Red-breasted Parakeet, Lineated and Blue-throated Barbets and Chestnut-tailed Starling, whilst particularly appreciated was an Oriental Hobby, a pair of which had taken up residence in a large tree at the camp entrance. At the agreed hour of 5.15 we met our (compulsory) ranger guide and were dropped down at the river’s edge. A Peregrine hunted over the river as we were paddled across towards the ranger station, and around the clearing here we added a few species including a Taiga Flycatcher whilst Black Bulbuls were all over the place. Ramana had given us clear directions to the forest pond where White-winged Ducks had been seen regularly since December, although we knew that there was a strong possibility that this would by now have dried up. Clearly fearing this to be the case, our guide took us through some much more open grassland with scattered wet pools but it seemed to me that any ducks that there may have been present would have flushed long before we laid eyes on them, and so it was to prove. We headed to the traditional pond site where despite a stealthy approach and a false alarm in the form of a White-breasted Waterhen, we came away empty-handed. Time was getting on and the temperature and the sun both rose quickly despite the early hour, but we did allow ourselves a few stops along the way for birds. The river edge adjacent to the trail to the duck pond was a productive spot, as River Lapwings w ere common on the shingle and sand bars, a Pallas’ Fish-Eagle flew over and I picked out two Great Thick-knees roosting next to a long log, while restless groups of Small Pratincoles and numerous River Terns patrolled the river. The forests were pretty birdy and foremost amongst the morning’s sightings was a Jerdon’s Baza that we chanced upon near the duck pond. By the time we were back at the boat dock we had also added Lesser Yellownape, Fulvous-breasted and Grey-capped Woodpeckers, a surprise Slender-billed Oriole, several Great Hornbills, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and a Grey-backed Shrike. We crossed back over the river and a short walk in the more degraded habitat on the camp side gave us Golden-fronted Leafbird and a Greater Flameback.
The Eco Camp at Nameri
After a tasty and extensive buffet breakfast we boarded a pick-up truck for the 40 minute drive up river to the site where the rafting begins. Despite having further chances for Ibisbill later in the trip, this was a bird that we didn’t want to miss and given the unpredictable nature of its movements at this time of year, we decided to try and get it in the bag at the earliest opportunity. Our tactic paid off when within ten minutes of boarding our inflatable craft we were soon enjoying close-up views of a pair of this spectacular bird as they stood motionless in the shallows of a small rapid, before flushing downstream and eventually allowing us to float quietly past them for great views. The remainder of the raft trip was fairly uneventful bird-wise, although we did see another Great Thick-Knee, a fly-by Ruddy Shelduck, Crested Kingfisher, a young Steppe Eagle on a gravel bar, and another adult Pallas’ Fish-Eagle, this time perched next to a nest.
We returned to the Ecocamp for a spot of lunch and a very brief siesta, but with the sun due to set at 5pm we were ready to head out again by 2pm. Word at the camp was that one of the other rangers had taken a non-birding couple on a walk that morning and seen two White-winged Ducks, as it turned out flushed from the open ponds where we had started the day. We crossed the river again with this new ranger and did a long loop through grasslands and forest patches, eventually emerging duck-less at the back of the ranger station clearing. Despite drawing another blank with the duck we picked up a number of interesting species, including Ruddy-breasted Crake, at least two Pintail Snipes, a single Spot-winged Starling, the striking Sultan Tit, Silver-backed Needletail and some flighty Vernal Hanging Parrots, all around an open area of marsh and scrub behind the ranger station. There were clearly fruiting trees around too as in quick succession we picked up Orange-breasted, Pin-tailed and Pompadour Green-Pigeons, whilst the ranger station clearing itself held a small flock of migrant Dark-throated Thrushes. Two Richard’s Pipits were seen at close range on the sand bank as we made our way back towards the boat with the sun already set, and a male Wreathed Hornbill flapped his way slowly across the river towards us and into the forest to cap a good first day.
Sunday 2nd April
Mike and Ramana had arrived as scheduled the previous evening at 7pm or so, and the plan for the morning was to do a quick dash over the river for the duck before heading out of Nameri by about 9am as we had a long drive to Arunachal Pradesh ahead of us. Once we had managed to rouse the boatman we crossed the river and headed straight for the forested pond, but it became clear on closer inspection that the water level was far too low to support any large waterfowl. Nevertheless, the adjacent shrubbery gave us Abbott’s Babbler and the only White-spectacled Warbler of the trip, although despite some trawling we could elicit no response from the Blue-naped Pitta which a group of Swedish birders had seen with Ramana in that area ten days or so previously. A few new birds for the trip appeared, including Rufous Woodpecker, Puff-throated Babbler, a skulking Dusky Warbler and a rath er more cooperative Blunt-winged Warbler, but the characteristic duetting of some White-cheeked Partridges led us into an area of dense understorey where three or four birds toyed with us over the next forty minutes or so. I had brief views on the ground but for the most part they proved elusive, although as soon as we had decided to give up on them, one flushed from almost at our feet for reasonable flight views for some of the group. Almost at that moment two large dark birds flew through the forest towards us and passed directly over our heads. At a distance they looked rather like cormorants, but as they came closer their true identity as a pair of White-winged Ducks was confirmed! This was a major surprise, having mentally written this one off, and a fine way to end our birding, for now, at this underrated site.
After breakfast and packing we embarked on a long drive in the two jeeps through more dry flat plains towards the Himalayan foothills. Joining us on the drive was Mr Indi Glow, head of the Bugun Welfare Society and Ramana’s right-hand man on the trip. They had been working together on the ecotourism venture in the Lama Camp area of Eaglenest where we would spend two nights, and he will soon be in charge of all the camp logistics for Ramana’s trips. Shortly after 1pm we arrived at a large military area where Ramana and the team sorted out the permits that had been prearranged for us. We then began to climb slowly into the hills where the degraded habitat of the Assam lowlands was replaced first by secondary dry woodland and eventually rather lush foothill forest. Stops in the drier forests at the base of the hills gave us Asian Drongo-Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Grey-headed Woodpecker and Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, whilst a late lunch stop in the foothills revealed Great Barbet, White-rumped Shama, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black-crested, White-throated and Ashy Bulbuls and a pair of Red Junglefowl on the road. A little further on, between the plains and the village of Doimara which marks the start of the climb up into the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary we passed through some excellent and essentially un-birded foothill forest. Great Hornbills were common and conspicuous, and amongst the other interesting species that we found were a sweetly-singing Yellow-vented Warbler, a cooperative male of the little-known magnirostris race of Hill Blue Flycatcher (split by Rasmussen as ‘Large-billed Blue Flycatcher’) and a Blue-eared Barbet, all of which were to be our only sightings of these species of the trip. Further exploration here would likely turn up some interesting species including Pied Falconet and Collared Treepie, although similar and more extensive forest is more accessible at Pakke Tiger Reserve.
As the sun sank lower we needed to press on to reach our camp at 1900 metres, so we hot-footed it up the good track, which was initially asphalted, to our surprise, pausing only for a male Blue-capped Rock-Thrush. The extent of pristine forest that covered the surrounding slopes was soon apparent although first clouds, including a short but very sharp hailstorm, and then darkness restricted visibility. By 6pm we had arrived at Bompu and were shown around our very comfortable camp by torchlight, complete with walk-in tents, and a concrete building housing kitchen, spacious dining room plus stove and also acting as sleeping quarters for the remarkable number of crew who were looking after us. With a six night stay ahead of us we made ourselves very much at home before a fine dinner and a first night of trying to adjust to camp beds.
Monday 3rd April
It was with considerable excitement at the prospect of a total of 8 days in this forested wilderness that we hauled ourselves out of bed at 4.45am to find it already fairly light, with the weather looking reasonable but with some cloud cover that looked potentially threatening. We were able to appreciate the view that we had back towards the plains of Assam, with forested hills disappearing below us and a bamboo-choked slope immediately above the camp. The plan for the day was to try to pick up as many of the more common species of this elevation as possible, and if the weather held, to head a little further up in search of one or two specialities with more restricted altitudinal ranges. We ventured along the road leading up out of camp, which eventually leads up towards Sunderview and the Eaglenest Pass, although the climb is very gradual for the first few kilometres from Bompu.
In the dense bamboo we played hide and seek with a pair of White-hooded Babblers, which only showed to one of us, but it wasn’t long before we came across our first mixed flock, which contained a selection of the regular constituents of such feeding parties, including Grey-cheeked and Black-faced Warblers, Yellow-bellied Fantail and Rufous-winged and Yellow-throated Fulvetta. At a road culvert a few hundred metres from camp where another group had seen a suspected Blyth’s Tragopan a couple of weeks beforehand we found some Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes whilst a high-pitched call in the shrubbery across the road eventually led to good views of the attractive Broad-billed Warbler, and the clearing just beyond held the first of many Green-tailed Sunbirds and Whiskered Yuhinas. A group of four Gold-naped Finches perched in roadside shrubbery on the way back to camp were probably bird of the morning, although a chattering group of Black-throated Parrotbills ran them close, and a fine male Rufous-bellied Niltava added a splash of colour and was the first in a series of small to mid-sized passerines which seemed to share its plumage combination of rufous belly and blue upperparts. Unfortunately only I got onto the pair of Rufous-necked Hornbills that appeared in an emergent below the road, but we all latched on to a Crimson-breasted Woodpecker and the less exciting Rufous-capped Babbler and Striated and Mountain Bulbuls. The distinctive “yowl” of a tragopan, probably Blyth’s, rang out from above the camp in an inaccessible stand of bamboo and gave us hope of a chance encounter with one of these wonderful pheasants over the next few days.
Views of and from Bompu
After a fine breakfast of porridge, toasted bread, cheese and omelettes, painstakingly prepared by our excellent crew, and good views of a Golden-throated Barbet calling enthusiastically in a bare tree top below the camp, we walked back the same way with the jeep following at a five to ten minute distance. This was a tactic we were to employ throughout the trip with considerable success. New birds appeared in the form of a rather furtive Grey-sided Laughingthrush, the ubiquitous Beautiful Sibia, and a little further on, a pair of Rusty-fronted Barwing, although prize for the most bizarre sighting of the day went to some Great Cormorants clearly migrating up over the Himalayas. Some tape playback soon had a Rufous-throated Wren-Babbler emerging from the shrubbery to scold us, but with the weather closing in a little still just about holding, Ramana thought it would be a good idea to head straight for an area of slightly higher elevation, mossy forest. Despite some mist which threatened to ruin visibility, we picked up a few interesting mixed flocks which contained, amongst others, Streak-throated Barwing, Striated Laughingthrush, Blue-winged, Red-tailed and Chestnut-winged Minlas, White-browed and Black-eared Shrike-Babblers, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Ashy-throated Warbler and Grey-chinned Minivet, whilst a vocal Chestnut-headed Tesia showed to some in the undergrowth. The mist did succeed in scuppering our attempts at getting views of the sought-after Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, which despite being both vocal and responsive, only ever seemed to emerge onto branches where it would have been visible at the very moment that the fog rendered satisfactory identification of virtually any bird impossible. At a wide bend in the road where the mist was less thick we followed a narrow, muddy trail up a steep slope into dense mossy forest where Ramana’s imitation succeeded in calling in one of the target species of the area, the beautiful Ward’s Trogon. We all got good perched views of a male whilst struggling to avoid losing our footing and knocking each other over whilst trying to manoeuvre into a position where we had a window on the bird amongst the dense mossy branches. Shortly afterwards another flock passed through which contained a couple of Green Shrike-Babblers, but almost as soon as a couple of us had clapped eyes on this vireo-like bird, the rain that had threatened started coming down, and we returned to Bompu for lunch to wait for it to abate.
When it did so a little later we ventured down from camp back towards Khellong and Doimara, where we found a few more interesting species including some more typical of slightly lower elevations. Foremost amongst these were a group of White-naped Yuhina, Long-tailed Sibia, White-crested Laughingthrush, brief views of a Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler, and particularly the long-awaited (for me, having dipped it in Nepal) Cutia, although Spotted Wren-Babbler was heard only. Satisfied with the day’s work, we beat a hasty retreat in the face of more rain at lower elevations, and returned to a dull, grey Bompu via our first of many Short-billed Minivets, to warm up by the stove before some of us braved the shower tent, complete with a bucket of hot water that the crew boiled up for us on request.
Tuesday 4th April
The morning dawned grey and cloudy again, and more rain put paid to our planned early morning walk towards the tragopan culvert. During a bit of birding in the bamboo around camp between showers we added the lovely little Golden-breasted Fulvetta, some impossibly bull-headed Rufous-headed Parrotbills, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbl er and a drab female Slaty-blue Flycatcher. We also decided to pull out our resident Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler, which sang regularly from the middle of its favourite bush on the edge of the camp clearing throughout the day, and which did not need much encouragement to come and investigate our playback. A Pygmy Wren-Babbler was less cooperative and we only had brief views of a small brown shape flitting across the narrow trail, whilst Chestnut-breasted Partridges were vocal but showed no interest in the tape.
After some patient waiting for the weather to clear we decided to chance our arm and worked the road down from camp again towards Sessni and Khellong. Mist again made birding challenging but flock activity was impressive all day. A few bends down from Bompu, having stopped for a Scaly Thrush which was feeding on the road, we encountered a huge bird party of some 18-20 species, amongst which Whistler’s, Lemon-rumped and Buff-barred Warblers, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked Tit and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo were new for the trip list. Lower still, towards the end of the hairpins before the road levels out and contours round to Sessni, we made an opportune stop at a nice overlook during a gap in the mist. Sure enough another bird party soon passed through, below eye level, and one of the first birds picked out was a Beautiful Nuthatch, an utterly stunning species for which no illustration can prepare you. The electric blue and white striping on the back and crown is unique amongst birds and contrasts strongly with the white throat and rich rufous underparts. Associating with the flock were more shrike-b abblers, another pair of Cutia and a few vocal but retiring Rufous-backed Sibias, whilst a party of Black-chinned Yuhinas could not be properly appreciated in the poor light. Walking along the road allowed us to add Hill Prinia and a female Orange-flanked Bush-Robin, whilst a hairpin bend through some more open shrubby vegetation proved a haven for flycatchers, with Large and Small Niltavas, and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher added alongside the common Blue-fronted Redstart. However, arguably the birding highlight of the day was yet to come. We stopped in an area of shrubbery at about 1300m at one of Ramana’s many invaluable stake-outs, and within a few minutes were watching at least three Wedge-billed Wren-Babblers singing in an agitated fashion in response to the tape. This bizarre and imposing babbler was virtually unknown until a few years ago and whilst it has now been seen with some regularity in Bhutan, the Eaglenest area must be one of the best sites to find this coveted species.
We stopped for a latish lunch here and Greater Yellownape and another pair of Rufous-necked Hornbill were also in the area, whilst Margaret had a chance encounter with the extremely skulking Blue-winged Laughingthrush, a bird we subsequently failed to see again. Further on towards Sessni we enjoyed reasonable views of a Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, before chancing upon another huge flock which was rendered virtually unbirdable by more thick mist. We did add a Long-tailed Broadbill, but were left lamenting what else might have slipped away unnoticed in the fog. At Sessni itself, which means ‘nettles’ in the local language, there is a clearing at 1200m with a house and dense, nettle-dominated shrubbery bordering good forest. Here we found a group of Silver-eared Mesias and a Grey-sided Bush-Warbler showed well, but soon afterwards with the rain coming down again we beat a retreat back up towards Bompu to dry off again by the fire with birding curtailed for the day.
Wednesday 5th April
Another day of mist and intermittent drizzle found us again working the productive stretch from Bompu to Sessni and beyond. Before doing so, a brief foray on the road above camp allowed us a first Black-throated Tit plus good views of a singing Slaty-bellied Tesia, a feisty little bird whose calls we had heard regularly around the elevation of the campsite but not yet seen well. We tracked one down fairly easily on this occasion and admired its bright cap, dark slaty belly and distinctive orange gape which it shows off when delivering its strident song.
On our way down we again encountered some fairly thick fog although this seemed to encourage more birds down onto the road. Another Scaly Thrush was followed by a group of three Plain-backed Thrushes, which allowed excellent views as they hopped ahead of us, whilst Blue Whistling Thrush, Dark-throated Thrush and a Grey-winged Blackbird completed a remarkable run on this family. A couple of other stops to try to work a flock in the mist gave us another two separate Beautiful Nuthatches but the views were not as good as the previous day. At Sessni we made our first failed attempt to tape out a White-gorgeted Flycatcher, a species which is quite common by voice but extremely sneaky and difficult to see well as it flits about in dense undergrowth and shrubbery. Margaret and I eventually succeeded at our second site, and I got a good look at the distinctive black bordering to the white throat, but the others would have to wait a day or two to catch up with this bird.
Beyond Sessni the road continues to contour through good forest, and here we soon locat ed a female Scarlet Finch perched on top of a tree, followed a few minutes later by a small group that included two intensely red males. Grey Treepie was also new for the trip list, but things were disappointingly quiet on the whole. A little further on we tried another of Ramana’s stake-outs, following a slippery trail down under the canopy into an area with a fairly open understorey skirted by a couple of tree falls. A White-tailed Robin was calling but granted us only a glimpse of its dark blue plumage and white flashes in the tail as it disappeared into the forest. We had more luck however with our main quarry, and soon we were enjoying excellent views of an excited Eye-browed Wren-Babbler as it hopped about close to the ground in its favourite tree fall and circled round us whilst a Grey Peacock-Pheasant called loudly from quite nearby but could not be enticed any closer.
Lower still we encountered a few more loose flocks, adding in particular Striated and White-bellied Yuhinas (the latter of which is now often considered not to be a yuhina at all), Grey-hooded Warbler (also tentatively reassigned generically, probably as a Phylloscopus) and Maroon Oriole. Ramana and Bud got a brief look at a calling Collared Treepie and Ramana also had a glimpse of a probable Kalij Pheasant in the undergrowth but this went unconfirmed, and the general feeling that our pheasant luck was well and truly out continued to grow. No response again from Pale-headed Woodpecker in the bamboo section and more rain had us beating a hasty retreat up the mountain.
Thursday 6th April
A final day on the stretch down to Sessni and beyond dawned and depressingly the weather looked dodgy yet again in the early morning. We continued anyway and headed first for another stakeout. With rain threatening as we began trawling we were not hopeful of success but over the next twenty minutes or more we were treated to an extraordinary show by one of the most enigmatic species in the area, the delightful little Long-billed Wren-Babbler. Ramana had obtained only poor views in the dense undergrowth on the previous tour but after calling back our bird not only emerged to the edge of a clump to allow us extended studies of its long droopy bill, but proceeded to perch totally in the open, oblivious to our presence and singing its heart out about three metres away from us. Ramana took what should be some exceptional photos. The final disappearance of our bird coincided with the arrival of a long-awaited break in the weather and we continu ed down towards Sessni with spirits lifted. A Mountain Hawk-Eagle took advantage of the clearing skies to take to the air in search of thermals, and furth er good fortune appeared in the form of good views of the normally retiring Lesser Shortwing. We also added White-browed Piculet in a small flock in this area, whilst down at Sessni we admired a wonderful Collared Owlet, whose ‘eyes’ pattern on the nape looked remarkably like an adult Brown Wood-Owl! Also at Sessni a Bay Woodpecker came close but eventually gave us the slip, and those that still needed it eventually caught up with White-gorgeted Flycatcher. We then spent some time birding above the hut in the clearing where two Red-faced Liocichlas eventually came in to tape but were very skulking and only showed well to Mike. It was a bird we were to chase around all day without gaining more than the occasional glimpse of a crimson wing patch and tail as the bird disappeared once more into the dense shrubbery.
Ramana, Margaret, Bud and Mike Birding near Sessni
We spent much of the rest of the day at lower altitudes than we had reached on the previous two afternoons, which yielded a few more primarily lowland species. Two particular highlights were Grey-headed Parrotbill and a singing Rufous-faced Warbler, an exquisitely marked species of which this was only the second record. Pacific Swift, Pale-blue Flycatcher and Black Redstart were all new for the trip, and a productive flock yielded Speckled Piculet, another Sultan Tit, several Nepal Fulvettas and more Black-chinned and Striated Yuhinas. Unfortunately the Red-faced Liocichla which we were stalking adjacent to the flock did not deign to join it and remained unseen, whilst another disappointment came when we were unable to get a visual on a calling Collared Treepie. We returned to Bompu in the unfamiliar glow of the late afternoon sunshine and although clouds were still lurking here and there we greatly enjoyed our first sunset since our arrival five nights previously.
Friday 7th April
We awoke to some good weather at long, long last and decided to head up towards Sunderview covering ground on foot with occasional short lifts in the jeep between good areas. First port of call was an area of bamboo a kilometre or two above Bompu where Ramana had seen Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler regularly in the past few trips. Sure enough it soon responded to playback, showed a little furtively before crossing the road revealing its Scythebill-like bill, showing again and eventually disappearing. Ramana had to return to camp to get some batteries and other bits of equipment, so we birded a couple of flocks near the road, mainly enjoying some of our best views in good light of a number of the species we had seen in the last few days, but also adding White-tailed Nuthatch, a pair of Darjeeling Woodpeckers, a male Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush and some drab Yellow-browed Tits.
Once Ramana returned, it didn’t take long to prize out a Grey-bellied Tesia to complete the hat-trick of these charming warblers, and we worked another Bay Woodpecker with tape which eventually cooperated by hopping up through the mossy branches of a sunlit tree. The road then followed along the base of some small rocky bluffs with fantastic views of the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary for once stretching out in front of us in the distance to the west towards Bhutan. Along this stretch some bushes either side of the road gave us a flock of Grey-headed Bullfinch, some Scaly Laughingthrushes and best of all a totally unexpected female Purple Cochoa which we saw at first in a bush and then managed to entice into the open in a taller tree in perfect light, although her mate called out of sight and never showed himself. Some White-throated Needletails appeared briefly amongst a group of swifts and a Crested Goshawk soared upwards on the thermals, showing off its distinctive puffy white undertail.
Views out over the untouched forests of the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary
As the road snaked around to the top of the rocks, we heard the distinctive song of the rare Blue-fronted Robin, a very little-known East Himalayan speciality. We took a narrow trail up into an area of bamboo and very dense undergrowth to where we managed to call the bird in, but only a couple of us got any sort of look at this very elusive species as it darted from perch to perch close to the ground under an impenetrable tangle of vegetation. Fortunately all of us eventually got a reasonable look a little later in the day as we chased another individual around the more open understorey of the characteristically mossy forest a little further up. It even showed its pale blue forehead to some as it turned its head towards us before slipping out of view again.
When we emerged from our first attempt at the robin, we spent a little time trying to call in a Large Hawk Cuckoo. This species is very common by voice all over the area, even calling at night, but notoriously difficult to see. Brief flight-views were all I managed (although I had had a fortuitous encounter with a perched individual of this species in Nepal a few years back) but some of the others had better looks. The fog had once again begun to roll in by mid-morning so we hot-footed it towards a site where we had been foiled by low cloud a few days previously. This time we got lucky, and were soon enjoying good views of a responsive pair of the sought-after Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, another of the region’s specialities, in the very tree where it had slipped away into the fog a few days before. Higher still we encountered a first male Orange-flanked Bush-Robin and the first of many Black-faced and White-throated Laughingthrushes and Gould’s Sunbirds, which would all become very familiar at higher elevations. We returned to Bompu for our last night delighted with a good day’s work and thankful for some luck with the weather at last.
Saturday 8th April
Perhaps fittingly, our final morning at Bompu reverted to type and was cloudy once more; with some drizzle falling as well our prospects for a good morning’s birding seemed thin. The same area where we had seen the cochoa the previous day was relatively quiet but when we reached the end of the stretch we encountered a very large feeding flock which passed through an area of bamboo adjacent to some mossy forest. Initially there was nothing new in the flock, although having two Coral-billed and one Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler out in the open in the binocular field at the same time as they inspected bamboo shoots was pretty unforgettable. Now, Ramana had told us all on our arrival in Guwahati of the presence in Eaglenest of a probable new species to science. He didn’t tell us what it looked like so that we wouldn’t have any preconceptions of its distinguishing features if we saw it, but gave us one or two clues as to its identity, and said that we would set some time aside to look for the bird in the area that he had seen it in the past and where Frederik Ellin had seen it in March. When the flock passed by an area of mossy trees next to the bamboo clumps, a bird suddenly appeared in my binoculars which I knew instantly was Ramana’s bird. A bird the size of a small laughingthrush hopped up onto a horizontal branch and when I saw highly distinctive patches of yellow either side of the eye, I knew that this must be it. I got a fairly fleeting view but enough to see that the overall colouration of the bird was dingy olive green with a flash of red on the wing. Ramana had never seen it near Bompu before and was understandably delighted to confirm that this was indeed the bird, a liocichla quite similar in plumage to Omei Shan Liocichla, the nearest record of which was over 1200km away from Arunachal Pradesh in the mountains of Sichuan, at least until it was found in Yunnan further to the south. Panic ensued for a few minutes as the others tried to set eyes on this remarkable find but brief glimpses were all we managed as we tried to pick them out from the many other birds passing in the flock. Still, we had confirmed its presence in a new area on the other side of Eaglenest Pass from where all the other records had come and this in itself was very exciting.
Buoyed by our discovery we almost didn’t mind that dense fog again limited our ability to sort through the good-sized flocks that seemed to appear as soon as the clouds rolled in, particularly when one of them contained a Brown-throated Treecreeper, a bird that we had strangely missed up until that point, and which very obligingly came in to inspect virtually the only trunk on which it would have allowed tickable views! We then bumped into a group of four young Swiss birders and exchanged some gen with them before continuing up towards Sunderview, where they were camping. Here we looked without success for Maroon-backed Accentor, which was to become one of the main dips of this part of the trip, whilst our crew tried desperately and ultimately successfully, to coax the vehicles over a sizeable landslide that had slid a little further thanks to the recent rain and was threatening to become impassable. We had some coffee and birded around Sunderview on the Bompu side of the slide, adding Streaked Laughingthrush in the scrubby vegetation below the camp.
Once over the landslide the weather began to close in again as we approached the pass, although a flowering rhododendron, which were becoming increasingly commonplace at this higher altitude, gave me a fine male Fire-tailed Sunbird but gave the others the slip as the rain came in. Up near the pass the blackened remnants of tall fir trees dominated the landscape, replaced at the highest point by large areas of bamboo, quite a lot of which appeared to be in the process of dying off. We made a token stop to play tapes of a couple of species that frequent this area but the wind was too strong for trawling to work and within another half hour rain was teeming down again. On our way down to Lama Camp, our home for our final two nights in Eaglenest, we bumped into yet more birders. This time it was a group of fellow Brits, whom we knew were in the area with another Indian birding guide, Peter Lobo. As they had a somewhat less inviting camp to return to, we invited Andy Mears and Jan Wilczur into the attractive bamboo communal dining area to shelter from the rain. This room was complete with yet another most welcome stove around which we arranged ourselves to sip tea, eat biscuits and talk birds until the rain stopped.
Lama Camp and its resident Hoopoe
When it eventually did, the weather cleared up remarkably quickly, and by mid-afternoon the sun was out. This allowed us to appreciate fully the fantastic view that we had down into the valley and across to the north towards the higher peaks of the Himalayas as they meet the distant Tibetan plateau north of Tawang. We took a brief walk down the road towards Tenga, and just below camp Mike and I lucked out with a Long-tailed Thrush that had hopped up the slope and out of sight by the time the others joined us. We soon realised that the activity was suppressed by the sun having gone behind the hill on the opposite slope so we made our way back up towards Eaglenest pass to make the most of the remaining half hour or so of sunlight on the forest which had been draped in low cloud and rain for much of the previous week. New birds did not come quite as quickly as we might have hoped but we did add Green-backed Tit, Rufous-vented Yuhina and Oriental Cuckoo to the list, and on the way back from the pass in the dark, disturbed a couple of Grey Nightjars on the track and called them back for close flight views as they hovered just above our heads. When we returned to Lama Camp the sky was almost totally clear, and in the light of the moon you could clearly see the ghostly outline of the distant high peaks rising out of the darker hills below them – a truly evocative sight as we turned in under a starry sky for the first time since Nameri.
Sunday 9th April
We awoke to the rare treat of a totally clear morning and headed straight down towards Ramana’s site for the Liocichla sp nov. The Lama Camp side of the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary lies within the territory of the Bugun tribe, and cooperation with them has been and will continue to be crucial to ensuring the conservation of the area. The discovery of a potentially new species to science in their forests and the possible revenue that that could bring to the Bugun community is likely to do more than anything to ensure that logging and encroachment of farmers into the forest at the reserve’s boundaries is kept at a minimum. In order to promote pride and interest amongst the Buguns, Ramana has plans to have a large portrait of the bird painted on the outside of the main building at Lama Camp. Even more significantly, if the bird does indeed prove to be a new species and he has the opportunity to publish its description then he intends to name it Bugun Liocichla.
Our main objective this morning was to find, and if possible, get tape of the bird. A couple of weeks previously Frederik Ellin had pinned down the bird’s song, a series of four somewhat slurred whistles, but had left his recording equipment in camp. Therefore we had our ears very much open for any sort of song resembling Frederik’s description. There were other birds to locate however, and we kicked things off with a brief look at a male Grey Bushchat, more Grey-headed Bullfinches and a Dark-sided Flycatcher around camp, before getting great views of a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker at eye level along the road. One species in particular we were after we had only heard up to this point – Spotted Wren-Babbler. Despite some playback in a couple of areas any birds that did respond were always calling faintly and sporadically from way down the slope and never came within a likely distance from which we were able to gain a visual. We had more luck with a furtive Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler which eventually showed nicely amongst some tree roots on the bank above our heads.
Shortly afterwards we stopped in our tracks as Margaret drew our attention to a distinctive four-note whistle. Those with the appropriate equipment grappled with tapes, mini-discs and microphones and soon we had some tape in the can, the first ever of this ‘species’. After our titanic battle with Red-faced Liocichla at Sessni it was a considerable surprise when a pair of our bird came straight in to playback of their song. There was brief panic when one or two of the party couldn’t get good views, but before long we were all enjoying exceptional looks at this remarkably attractive and striking species, as they called to each other in the shrubbery, at times perching right in the open and allowing me the rare opportunity for this admittedly rudimentary photo.
Below Lama Camp 10/4/06
From our views we deduced that there appears to be sexual dimorphism in the species, as reported by Ramana in his email that evening from Tenga to the OBC discussion board. The presumed male appears to have a stronger face pattern with an all red vent and undertail with more red on the wing, whilst the female has the yellowish feathers of the undertail fringed with a more salmon pink colour, although clearly this requires further investigation. For now we just enjoyed the moment, perhaps one of the ultimate experiences available to the amateur birder, seeing a bird almost certainly un-described to science. And this was no drab tapaculo with a slightly different song lurking in the shadows – this was a colourful, charismatic species performing perfectly in some long-overdue sunshine. Quite how it had gone undetected until so recently is remarkable.
Eventually the birds lost interest and slipped away into the dense shrubbery in the valley. Almost immediately Mike announced he had seen a partridge fly across the road, and sure enough a Chestnut-breasted Partridge appeared briefly before panicking and disappearing rapidly as partridges tend to do. Soon after we headed back for breakfast in Lama Camp’s dining room, now sporting an open-plan set-up with the shutters drawn back and thus a fantastic view of the peaks we had seen the previous night. However, there was already some cloud creeping up over the hills on the opposite side of the valley and no sooner had we headed back up towards the pass than it became clear that mist would hamper us again a little later in the day.
Morning view from Lama Camp (with zoom on the right..)
Nevertheless, we did latch on to some good birds despite the downturn in the weather. First up was a very responsive and distinctive Bar-winged Wren-Babbler, an East Himalayan speciality which popped out to inspect us at the roadside, followed by a pair of sluggish Brown Parrotbills just beyond the pass, a bird that can be hard to find in the area. On the Sunderview side of the pass this was followed by scope views of a female Crimson-browed Finch feeding quietly in the middle storey, whilst nearby we added Alpine and Rufous-breasted Accentors in fairly quick succession, although there was still no sign of Maroon-backed. The restrict ed-range Ludlow’s Fulvetta (also known as Brown-throated) was reasonably frequent at this elevation, and much appreciated was a slightly distant party of the long-awaited Rufous-fronted Tit, a striking member of an endearing genus.
In amongst the taller fir trees we found Spotted Nutcracker and a frustratingly sneaky party of Yellow-billed Blue Magpies which never really showed themselves in the open. By this time the fog was quite thick again and we tried to drive to areas where it was a bit clearer. Between the pass and Lama Camp we stopped in a reasonably bright patch and walked the road for a bit. Things were a little quiet and Bud and I went ahead when Ramana heard some more magpies to try to get a better look, whilst Mike and Margaret taped a calling Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler. Whilst looking unsuccessfully for the magpies, a small flock came through which seemed initially to consist of Rufous-fronted Tits, much closer than before. As the tits moved on another small bird left behind in the bush caught my eye and when I raised my binoculars I was very surprised to see it was a Fire-tailed Myzornis. This jewel of Himalayan forests is commonly encountered in December in Eaglenest according to Ramana but very scarce in March and April, presumably as it migrates altitudinally up to higher elevations where it breeds. I immediately ushered Bud over and called out to the others as the birds flew across the road, joined by another, brighter full male – a real little gem. However, my excitement at seeing the bird, which had been in everyone’s top five most-wanted at the start of the trip, was immediately tempered by the realisation that this was a very fast-moving bird party and the others would be unlikely to get there in time before the birds had moved off. Despite some vigorous sprinting by the others and then some trawling by Ramana, I was sadly proved right and the drive back to Lama Camp was distinctly solemn.
Monday 10th April
Our final morning in Eaglenest was again characterised by mist and fog and on this occasion, birding was disappointingly slow all morning. We returned briefly to the liocichla spot to look for Blue-winged Laughingthrush and Spotted Wren-Babbler, without success, before heading above Lama Camp to a trail through the forest past a pond up to a ridge. The main reason we tried this trail was to look for Temminck’s Tragopan and Red Panda, and although Ramana had a brief look at what he described as a ‘large red hen’ perched on a branch, the bird had of course disappeared into the gloom by the time the four of us had noisily manoeuvred ourselves up the slippery slope where our guide was standing. The odd flock passed through but visibility was as poor as it had been in the past 8 days, and the only new trip bird was Snowy-browed Flycatcher, whilst better looks for some at Darjeeling Woodpecker, and especially Green Shrike-Babbler provid ed little consolation.
We returned to camp to pack up before attending the inauguration ceremony of Lama Camp as a tourist destination – as the guests of honour we were
treated to a dance by Bugun women in traditional costume, and then served with lunch and some of the local ‘wine’. But to the dismay of the locals we had to get going with a long drive towards Dirang ahead of us. As we descended towards Tenga the habitat became more and more disturbed, providing evidence of the Bugun’s at least partial incomprehension of the concept of conserving forest, and underlining just how important the Lama Camp initiative driven by Ramana and Mr Indi Glow is, especially if it is confirmed that there is an undescribed liocichla present in the area!
Traditional Bugun dance The four of us with our hosts
The sign commemorating the ceremony
Some stops in area of increasingly dry low trees and scrub with adjacent introduced pines gave us quite a few new species for the trip, as it turned out, including a female Hodgson’s Redstart, a couple of pairs of migrant Ultramarine Flycatchers, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, several more Rufous-breasted Accentors and Little Bunting, but only Ramana got onto the male Golden Bush-Robin. We passed through Tenga, where White-capp ed and Plumbeous Redstarts were numerous along the river, then climbed up to the town of Bomdila, before climbing over a pass and eventually, after a long arduous journey in fog so thick we could hardly continue driving at times, we arrived shortly after nightfall in the outskirts of the town of Dirang. We stopped to inquire at the nicest hotel in town whether they had rooms available as our camp site would not be fully equipped and ready until the following day. Forced to look elsewh ere due to a large-scale conference, they wouldn’t even give us dinner, so we ended up at some admittedly grotty but acceptable government inspector bungalows. Our team were brought in to make the best of a filthy kitchen, preparing a tremendous feast in the circumstances and we all went to bed hoping we wouldn’t be struck down overnight by a case of Delhi belly, something our outstanding camp crew had helped us largely to avoid up to now.
Tuesday 11th April
A glorious morning found us on the way to the dry Sangthi Valley at 1500 metres, some forty-five minutes away from Dirang through a couple of other dry valleys whose slopes were cloaked in largely introduced deciduous woodland. A first stop along one of the rivers gave us Brown Dipper, which is common in the area, whilst Russet Sparrow and a smart male Crested Bunting were added in the scrub. Once in the Sangthi Valley we kept our eyes very much peeled for any lingering Wallcreepers, as the British group who had been in the area before coming up to Lama Camp had seen at least three in the area. We were not to be in luck, however, with this species and were clearly a bit late in the season. Along the wide stony banks of the river we invested some considerable time walking and scanning for Ibisbill for Mike, although these too appeared to have moved further up towards their summer quarters, leaving Bud, Margaret and I relieved that we had chosen to do the raft trip and Mike frustratingly denied one of Asia’s flagship species. We did find quite a few Long-billed Plovers, however, a sought-after and localised species that also winters in the area in reasonable numbers.
Towards the end of the valley beyond the town of Sanghti is a large area of open wet fields where a few Black-necked Cranes are present between December and February. When the locals begin farming again in February the birds are chased away and return to Bhutan on their way to their breeding grounds on the Tibetan plateau. So, no cranes for us today, but on a tip-off from Peter Lobo et al we trawled for and soon had good views of a Black-tailed Crake at the edge of some reeds. Shortly aft erwards a minor earth tremor added to the excitement, with the marsh itself shaking below us as we climbed back up to the car! Some distant needletails were too far away to identify but a juvenile Northern Goshawk showed well both in flight and perched.
Black-necked Crane and Black-tailed Crake habitat, Sangthi Valley
With the sun getting hot and the wind a little strong we returned to a little area of woodland on the other side of the suspension bridge on the Dirang side of Sanghti village. Here we had extended scope studies of a Brown-breasted Flycatcher which both the Brits and the Swiss had seen in the past couple of weeks, before returning to our newly completed campsite some six kilometres out of Dirang on the road towards Mandala, which would be another birding site for us in due course. I tracked down an internet café in Dirang courtesy of a police training headquarters where a Dr Bhattacharya kindly allowed me access to his office to send a couple of emails home, before returning to the camp for lunch. At 2.30pm or so we continued up the Mandala road to look for a few more open country and scrub species, although higher up this becomes deciduous forest similar to the Sanghti Valley, and above about 2100m, there are patches of pretty good quality forest which eventually give way to fir with patches of bamboo and rhododendron. We concentrated our efforts on the lower and middle sections of the road during the afternoon. Russet and Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warblers were seen in fairly quick succession although Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush wasn’t cooperating.
In the deciduous forest we added Ferruginous and Little Pied Flycatchers, and Eurasian and Oriental Cuckoos, whilst scrambling up a stream bed gave us a splendid Spotted Forktail. By far the most remarkable sighting of the afternoon came on the way back down from the decent forest zone, which we had been birding for forty minutes or so without seeing anything worthy of note. As the jeep descended towards a tiny settlement, those in the front cried out for the car to be stopped as a pinkish bird flashed in front of the car. None of us could really believe our eyes when a scan of the fence of a family’s back yard revealed a male Ward’s Trogon. It had emerged from a fairly modest patch of forest and looked highly incongruous perched on a stick, pumping its tail, before disappearing in another flash of its unique raspberry-coloured belly and pale pink undertail coverts.
Wednesday 12th April
After the mist of Eaglenest, the weather gods were certainly smiling on us in Dirang and we made the most of this to head up towards the highest point of our journey, the Se La Pass at 4200 metres. We climbed quickly through a range of degraded habitats to an altitude of about 3300m where we started our birding with a bang. Shortly after Bud had caught up with his long-awaited Red-billed Chough, we were admiring a flock of the delightful Snow Pigeon as they wheeled over an open meadow, before perching near the road and allowing for one or two photographic opportunities.
Snow Pigeon, below Se La Pass
Birds were not very plentiful but in the scrubby habitat with occasional bamboo and low trees we found a nice pair of White-browed Rosefinch, and several Rosy Pipits, whilst a lone Himalayan Griffon drifted over against the blue sky. A bizarre looking dark bird with pointed wings and white in the wings which was soaring quite distantly before disappearing behind a ridge caused confusion initially until someone called it as a female Grandala and it was duly confirmed as such that evening. A classic Himalayan speciality, infrequently encountered here, was a welcome and surprising addition to the list, although try as we might we could not relocate the bird or indeed find a male or one of the swirling flocks that can be found further north.
A very pleasant walk through some fir forest below the pass was not particularly productive aside from a pair of the uncommon Rufous-breasted Bush-Robin which showed very nicely in the shrubbery, and we headed on to the pass to look for some more high-elevation specialities with skies still clear. We were on the look out primarily for pheasants, Snow Partridge and more rosefinches, although these all remained elusive for now. It was freezing at the pass with a biting wind whipping over the mountain ridges, so we took refuge in a tiny café where we enjoyed some noodles and waited for conditions to improve. The area around the pass was totally snow bound and virtually birdless aside from an Alpine Accentor and a restless flock of Plain Mountain-Finches, which given that even the males resemble female House Sparrows meant that they hardly got the pulses racing.
Se La Pass
A little lower down, towards far-off Tawang, we got below the snowline and birded the stunted conifers growing adjacent to a mountain stream. Even here birds were thin on the ground, but we chased a fine male White-throated Redstart for a few minutes before it perched nicely for us in a treetop, whilst a small flock contained Grey-crested, Rufous-vented and Coal Tits, the latter’s crest making it look nothing whatsoever like the European subspecies. A Winter Wren lurking amongst some boulders and a White-throated Dipper, quite rare in this region, in one area of the stream continued the European flavour of the proceedings, before we decided to head slowly back.
It was on the way back towards Dirang that our efforts at altitude were truly rewarded. At a brief stop in a sunny patch just beyond the pass saw us stop for a quick scan. Suddenly we flushed a magnificent male Himalayan Monal from a grassy slope towards a stand of conifers, its white rump, purplish back and rufous tail all shimmering in the late afternoon sunshine. His more sombre mate was seen very well on the ground, before the male flushed again and disappeared behind a ridge, calling loudly. Moments later a call that Ramana had played a couple of times in the past few days suddenly started up spontaneously in the dense shrubbery next to the road, and a little strategic manoeuvring and playback soon had us watching at least two fabulous Spotted Laughingthrushes in the open, scolding us and communicating with each other and with some more individuals that remained hidden nearby. This huge and extravagantly-patterned laughinghthrush is another highly sought-after Himalayan speciality and brought to an end a day of wonderful scenery, great weather and good quality birding.
Thursday 13th April
A final full day in the Dirang area saw us make a return, initially, to the upper reaches of the Mandala road, with the first mission a final search for a tragopan. The Swedish group and an Indian group in March had both seen at least one bird each in the Eaglenest area, but they clearly get more difficult in April (or so Ramana concluded). We took a side-road off through the fir trees near the top of the ridge, adding a small family party of White-collared Blackbirds and a surprise Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler en route, before parking up and hiking down into a valley totally dominated by rather ageing bamboo, in the company of a young local chap who knew where a male tragopan had recently been seen and heard calling regularly. It was a long walk down to the little house where we enquired as to the bird’s whereabouts, only to be told that they hadn’t heard it for a couple of days and that three days ago it had called but further away over another ridge. Realising that our chances were virtually nil, we had no option but to cut our losses (which given how warm it was getting may well have been considerable) and head back to the main road to bird the fir forest with bamboo and rhododendron understorey that might yield a few of our remaining realistic targets. One of these, the smart Red-headed Bullfinch, appeared cooperatively beside the path as we climbed back out of the valley, feeding quietly next to a bamboo stand, but as we had breakfast with a stunning view away towards Sela Pass and its snowy peaks, we realised that we had lost quite a bit of time for little return.
Red-headed Bullfinch The Sela area viewed from fir forest at the top of the Mandala ridge
Birding was a little slow as we worked the sun-baked open forest, looking in vain for Blood Pheasant and, again, Red Panda, which Ramana had seen some three weeks before in the area. Ludlow’s Fulvetta was again in evidence, alongside a flock which gave us better views of Grey-crested Tit and our only Greenish Warbler of the trip, whilst loosely associating with these birds in some adjacent bamboo, we had some brief but good looks at at least two cute Fulvous Parrotbills, our fifth parrotbill of the trip and a long-awaited addition to the list. In a fairly open area we finally all caught up with Golden Bush-Robin, although it was only a female, and in an area of denser fir forest a little further on we had the opportunity to compare Rusty-flanked and Eurasian Treecreepers in relatively quick succession.
We had already spent some time towards the end of the morning stopping at areas of flowering rhododendron to see what these plants might attract, and were chasing another bird into one when a small restless flock appeared in a fairly extensive patch with flowers still intact. Suddenly, with Mike and Margaret this time thankfully within spitting distance, I got onto another pair of Fire-tailed Myzornis. Definite panic ensued and Mike was visibly shaking as he tried to get a visual on this ultimate ‘catch-up bird’ that he had been so unfortunate to miss a few days before. Finally he got onto one of the pair, and not before time, as they soon disappeared again with the flock, as the ones had done above Lama Camp, not to be relocated. Cue hugs and high fives all round as that particular ghost was laid to rest, and we returned to the car for a late lunch very happy with this last-minute save.
In the afternoon we decided to split up, with Mike keen on a return to Sanghti for another crack at Ibisbill, while Bud, Margaret and I very slowly worked our way back down the Mandala road through the mid-elevation forest patches and the deciduous woodland. Mike had no joy at Sanghti, although did add Red-wattled Lapwing to the trip list, whilst our only addition to the trip list was Common Rosefinch, although a male Slaty-blue Flycatcher certainly pipped it for bird of the afternoon. We rendezvoused back at camp for a final dinner under the stars and a full moon before returning to the tents for the last time.
Our camp at the base of the Mandala road, and our fantastic camp crew
Friday 14th April
Time was short this morning as we had to get all the way back to Nameri by nightfall. We therefore opted for a brief foray back up the Mandala road, planning to hit some areas that I had scouted with Bud and Margaret the previous day whilst Mike and Ramana were back at Sanghti. The rosefinches, which Mike needed, had unfortunately gone, although we did add a few species such as Eurasian Jay, a flock of Tibetan Siskins feeding on buds and best of all, an adult Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker which posed at length at the top of a tree, allowing Ramana to get pretty good digiscoped photos. Russet Bush-Warbler and Dark-sided Flycatcher were catch-up birds for some but there was still no response from Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush and the hoped-for Sapphire Flycatcher also never materialised. Still, we returned to strike camp very happy with our haul in the Dirang area over the past few days of decent weather.
By 10am or so we were on our way, first retracing our steps to from Dirang to Bomdila and then on to Tenga once more, where we ignored the road back into the Eaglenest Sanctuary and instead followed the main highway back towards the border town of Balukphong, one of the main entry points to Arunachal Pradesh from Assam. This was the road which the very few visitors to the area would probably have birded before Eaglenest became an option. It actually contains some pretty nice looking forest, particularly at about 500m, but only there is it as good or better than the Eaglenest road and the entire stretch is plagued by heavy traffic making birding from the roadside (the only option for the most part) generally unpleasant. We got there just before noon and covered the area at the worst time of day, over the next few hours. We were looking primarily for Collared Treepie and Pied Falconet, which we failed to see, and although we found nothing new, we did find a few nice species that we had seen previously on the trip. Foremost amongst these were Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbl er, Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Long-tailed Broadbill and a fruiting tree full of Pin-tailed Green Pigeons, which were not joined by a Green Cochoa despite waiting as long as we felt we could with so much ground to cover. After a brief pause at Balukphong we had another stop at a decrepit old forestry guesthouse idyllically situated next to a wide stony river, where a last stop for Mike’s Ibisbill was sadly fruitless, although he did catch up with Crested Kingfisher. But then time and daylight ran out on us and we drove the final hour or so to Nameri in the dark. When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to find the Brits from Lama Camp had already got there but not so enamoured with the fact that they had polished off all the Sandpiper beers that we had been dreaming about for much of the day’s drive! Further disappointment came for Mike with the news that Pakke, where he had planned to spend the next two nights, was closed due to a local dispute, meaning he and Ramana would have to find another lowland forest spot to work the following morning.
Saturday 15th April
Everyone was up at 5, and after goodbyes to Mike and Ramana, an early morning walk was in order for Bud, Margaret and I to see if we could push up the trip list a little. We had to leave by 9 or so to get back to Guwahati for an afternoon flight and thus had no time to cross the river but we birded the secondary growth on the camp side of the park for a couple of hours, and did remarkably well. Bird of the morning was probably a lingering Siberian Rubythroat, seen only by Bud, although at least one Thick-billed Warbler was a lifer for everyone. In addition to seeing a few nice species we had seen on our first visit to Nameri, we managed a further four new birds for the trip list: Asian Koel (hitherto heard only), Green-billed Malkoha, Plain Flowerpecker and Red-breasted Flycatcher, the latter allowing comparison with the one or two Taiga Flycatchers that were still around. We left Nameri shortly after nine, and made it back to Guwahati in good time for our flight to Kolkata at 4pm, thus concluding an exceptional two weeks’ birding in one of the finest birding areas I have visited. Not only was the birding excellent despite some average weather, but possibly what made the trip was the exceptional mastery of the logistics made possible by Ramana’s tremendous attention to detail and immensely supportive, efficient and invaluable crew. His project and ecotourism venture in the Eaglenest area, with the liocichla now as its focal point, deserve every possible success and we are indebted to him for such an unforgettable experience.
Individual Species Accounts by Mike Catsis
Nt Near threatened
Rr Range restricted
Arborophila atrogularis White-cheeked Partridge ( Nt )
3 birds were heard calling in the forest block near the ranger station over the river Jia Bhareli on 2nd April in Nameri . One was seen briefly on the ground and possibly a second individual was flushed, giving brief views as it flew off . Another bird was heard in the same general area on 14th April. This bird is listed as an uncommon resident by Barua and Sharma ( 2005 ) .
Arborophila mandellii Chestnut-breasted Partridge (Vu, Rr)
Fairly common by voice below Bompu camp at around 1800-1900+m above and below the road ; heard between 4-8th April daily . One individual was seen to fly up off the road and into roadside camp below Lamacamp at c.2300m .This bird was then seen briefly before disappearing into dense scrub.
Tragopan temminckii Temminck’s Tragopan
This species was heard on two days , 9th and 10th April from the road near Lamacamp coming from Bompu and on a trail near Lamacamp at around 2300m where one was seen briefly by R. Athreya .
Tragopan blythii Blyth’s Tragopan ( Vu )
What was assumed to be this species heard calling right above Bompu camp and slightly further down the road on 2nd and 3rd April . This species has been seen at around this altitude and below by Ramana Athreya ; another group of birders saw a female tragopan in this area 2 weeks before our trip but the identity of this bird has yet to be confirmed as Satyr Tragopan cannot be ruled out . The details of overlap between these three species of tragopan in the whole area is worthy of study.
Lophophorus impejanus Himalayan Monal
A male and female were seen flying down slope near the Se La pass at around 4000m on 12th April .
Cairina scutulata White-winged Duck ( En )
This endangered species was searched for in swamp forest in Nameri NP where a small population survives . Water levels were receding fast while we were there and a forest pool known for this species was visited without success on 2nd April. However later that morning 2 birds flew over our heads heading out of the forest and over the Jia Bhareli .
Buceros bicornis Great Hornbill ( NT)
This species was fairly common at Nameri NP with 8 seen road on 1st April , 2 at on 2nd and a further 4 on 14th April . A maximum of 12 were seen on the drive up to Bompu along the Eaglenest road on 2nd April .
Aceros nipalensis Rufous-necked Hornbill (Vu )
This spectacular and vulnerable hornbill was seen on several dates on the Eaglenest road between 900-1800m with a maximum of 6 recorded on 5th and 6th April.
Harpactes wardi Ward's Trogon (Vu, Rr )
A male was seen in mossy forest in a well wooded gully up from the main track above Bompu at around 2150m on 4th April. Another individual was heard calling on 9th from the road below Sunderview. The most remarkable record was of a male flying in front of the jeep as we were returning to our camp near Dirang coming down the Mandala road at the edge of quite degraded forest and which perched on a fence in a small settlement on 11th April.
Clamator coromandus Chestnut-winged Cuckoo
A single bird was seen in the compound area of Nameri ecocamp on 16th April . This is a rare bird in the area and this record constitutes perhaps the first record for Nameri National Park as it is not mentioned by Barua and Sharma 2005
Porzana bicolour Black-tailed Crake
This species was recorded in a small patch of dank rough grass in the middle of a rice paddy in the floodplain of the Sangti valley on 11th April . This species had also been seen by another group of birders in the previous week . This area seems to be a reliable site for this species and since the patches of habitat supporting it are few and far between within the rice paddies it is easily located .
Ibidorhyncha struthersii Ibisbill
Ibisbill is well known between November and May ( Barua and Sharma 2005 ) in this area both in Nameri NP and along the Sangthi valley riverbed where shingle banks and small pools along the river provide suitable habitat . Two birds were easily seen during a raft trip along the Jia Bhareli on 1st April . However later during the trip extensive searching along the Sangti valley did not yield success suggesting that by this time the species had already moved further north towards its breeding grounds higher up towards the Himalayas.
Charadrius placidus Long-billed Plover ( Nt )
This species was easily located along the sandbars in the Sangthi valley riverbed where up to 10 birds were recorded on the 13th April .
Aviceda jerdoni Jerdon's Baza ( Nt )
One individual was found in the swamp forest across the Jia Bhareli in Nameri National Park on 1st April. This species is recorded as rare in Nameri NP by Barua and Sharma ( 2005) who cite few records .
Haliaeetus leucoryphus Pallas's Fish Eagle (Vu)
This species is recorded as a rare breeding resident with 2 pairs in Nameri National Park by Barua and Sharma ( 2005 ) . Two presumably separate birds were seen on 1st April along the Jia Bhareli, one near the ranger station and the other from the raft. Another individual was recorded along the Jia Bhareli on 17th April.
Circus melanoleucos Pied Harrier
This species is very rarely recorded at Nameri National Park ( Barua and Sharma 2005) . An adult male was recorded flying on the camp side of the Jia Bhareli on 16th April ; the bird was flying towards the river .
Leptoptilos javanicus Lesser Adjutant (Vu)
Two juveniles were recorded on 31st March in a roadside nest between Nagaon and Nameri, and a further bird was seen in roadside swampy grassland on the road to Guwahati on 16th April .
Leptoptilos dubius Greater Adjutant (En )
This endangered species was observed at the well known roosting site near the village of Nagaon where there is currently a small scale local conservation effort.
A flock of 26 birds was recorded on 31st March while a smaller number of 12-13 was recorded there on 1st April .
Muscicapa muttui Brown-breasted Flycatcher ( Nt )
One individual was recorded in alder forest by the riverside in the Sangti valley on 11th April .This species winters much further south in the subcontinent in SW India and Sri Lanka ( Grimmet et al 1999 ) and is rarely recorded near its breeding grounds in NE India . Prolonged scope views confirmed its identification . What was probably the same individual had been recorded several days previously by another birding group .
Cyornis banyumas magnirostris Hill Blue Flycatcher
This race of the C.banyumas , which has been split by Rasmussen ( 2006) as a full species to C. magnirostris is very rarely recorded . A singing male was found at around 600m in the foothills of the lower Eaglenest road on the afternoon of 2nd
April . Several recordings were made of its voice .
Tarsiger hyperythrus Rufous-breasted Bush Robin (Nt )
A lone male was found in roadside scrub on a rocky hillside on the way up to Se La pass in the Dirang Valley on 12th April .
Cinclidium frontale Blue-fronted Robin (Nt )
This very difficult to find species was found in two locations along the Eaglenest road above Bompu on 7th April . At around 2200m a bird was heard singing and after playback brief views were had in dense undergrowth in mossy forest . On the same morning higher up at around 2300m another individual was heard in the undergrowth of similar open mossy forest . After prolonged playback the bird was seen fairly well skirting round the observers in response to tape .
Cochoa purpurea Purple Cochoa (Nt )
A female was seen and later heard in roadside scrubby vegetation above Bompu at around 2200m on 7th April .
Saroglossa spiloptera Spot-winged Starling ( Nt )
This species occurs sporadically and often in large numbers as a passage migrant at Nameri National Park ( Barua and Sharma 2005 ) . A lone individual was seen in swampy grassland across the Jia Bhareli on the northern side on 1st April .
Sitta formosa Beautiful Nuthatch (Vu , Rr )
This species was first seen climbing along mossy branches in a roadside tree at around 1600m between Bompu and Sessni on 4th April . Subsequently it was found along the same stretch of road slightly higher up on 5th April .
Tickellia hodgsoni Broad-billed Warbler (Nt )
This warbler was found to be uncommon along the roadside mainly above Bompu and was recorded on the 3rd , 7th and 8th April .
Abroscopus albogularis Rufous-faced Warbler
This species was recorded very low down in scrub at the roadside at around 800m on the Eaglenest road below Sessni on 6th April . This is only the second record for this species in the Eaglenest area .
Xiphirhynchus superciliaris Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler (Nt )
Found to be uncommon but regular in suitable bamboo with records on 7th , 8th and 9th April above Bompu and again on 13th in bamboo on the road between Lamacamp and the Eaglenest pass. One also seen in bamboo at a higher elevation near the top of the ridge on the Mandala road.
Rimator malacoptilus Long-billed Wren Babbler (Nt )
An individual was located at a previously known spot above Sessni at some 1350m in thick roadside vegetation on 6th April . This individual responded strongly to playback and proceeded to give extremely confiding views while delivering an extended loudsong .
Spelaeornis caudatus Rufous-throated Wren Babbler
This species was recorded above Bompu in roadside vegetation on 3rd and 5th April and fairly regularly above 1900m by voice .
Spelaeornis formosus Spotted Wren Babbler (Nt )
Recorded by voice only on 4th April on the Sessni to Bompu road and 10th April near Lamacamp
Sphenocichla humei Wedge-billed Wren Babbler ( Nt )
3 individuals of this near threatened species recorded in thick roadside vegetation near a stream at around 1350m between Sessni and Bompu .
Pteruthius rufiventer Black-headed Shrike Babbler ( Nt )
This species appeared to be regular and fairly common by voice above Bompu in mossy forest with 4 heard on 4th April at around 2200m and 4 seen on 7th April between 2200m and 2300m; all birds very responsive to playback.
Alcippe cinerea Yellow-throated Fulvetta ( Nt )
This species was common in roadside vegetation in mixed warbler / fantail flocks along the Eaglenest road mainly between 1900-2100m.
Alcippe ludlowi Brown-throated Fulvetta (Rr)
Mainly found in small numbers above 2400m near Sunderview and around the Eaglenest pass area on 9th April and on the upper parts of the Mandala road on 13th .
Myzornis pyrrhoura Fire-tailed Myzornis
Found twice ; first two were found in a mixed flock with Rufous-fronted Tits on 9th April between Eaglenest pass and Lamacamp and then on 13th with 2 found in a rhododendron tree on the Mandala road above Dirang .
Paradoxornis ruficeps Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill (Nt)
Found to be rather common in large mixed species bamboo flocks particularly around Bompu .
Carduelis thibetana Tibetan Siskin
Found once in a single species flock of some 16 birds on the Mandala road at around 2300m. This species is rather rare in NE India and this appears to be only the second record for this area.
Barua , M and Sharma , P . ( 2005 ) The birds of Nameri National park , Assam , India . Forktail 21 : 15 -26
Choudhury, A. (2003 ) Birds of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary and Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Forktail 19: 1-13
Grimmett, R., Inskipp,C. and Inskipp, T. (1999) Birds of the Indian Subcontinent . Princeton University Press
Rasmussen , P . and Anderton , J.C. ( 2005) Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide . Lynx Edicions