Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Mishmi Hills Scenery
Day 1 Sunday 6th January
After an uneventful 9 hour flight we arrived in Kolkata at 1.45am and were soon meeting my friend Neil and heading to the Saturday Club in the middle of the city and after a short sleep and breakfast we returned to the airport and flew to Dibrugarh more or less on time. On arrival we met my good friend and guide Peter Lobo and drove to a hotel in Tinsukhia for an overnight stay. After settling into our rooms and having lunch we walked along the main street to find some beer for the next few nights, as we would be staying in a remote area of the Mishmi Hills. As today was primarily a planning and rest day we found time to scan the surrounding area from the roof garden of our hotel and saw some common birds such as Black Kite, Peregrine Falcon, Blue-throated Barbet, Common and Jungle Mynas, Grey-headed Starling, Eastern Jungle and House Crows, and hundreds of Eastern Cattle Egrets going to roost.
Day 2 Monday 7th January
We left in darkness at 5am for the hour long drive across a misty Assam to Dhola Ghat where we were due to take a makeshift ferry across the river. We came across hardly any traffic with the only bird of note being a male Blue Rock Thrush, and once the road ended we followed a track across a dried up sandy riverbed where a mixed flock of Rosy, Tawny and Paddyfield Pipits made for interesting side-by-side comparisons. Also present were flocks of Yellow Wagtails of the Thunbergi race, whilst some cattle crossed our path were adorned with several White-vented Mynas that gave excellent views. On reaching the river we parked alongside some small huts and our ground crew of 6 lads, our own cook and 2 of Peter’s own guides prepared breakfast. By now the sun was warming us up nicely and from our riverside viewpoint during breakfast watched a couple Pallas’s Gulls flying upriver, along with Ruddy Shelduck, Common Greenshank, and both Little and Great Cormorants.
It took quite a long time to sort out the formalities for the river crossing with the authorities and the numerous small boats that transport vehicles to various destinations, although the main ‘sticking point’ appeared to be the governments tax man had not yet showed up and without his consent we couldn’t depart. So we whiled away the time walking around the scrubby fields watching numerous Common Stonechats of the Siberian races, along with Grey-backed and Long-tailed Shrikes, Richard’s Pipits, numerous Tickell’s Leaf Warblers, Ashy Prinia, and lots of Plain Martins flying past.
Eventually, we set sail on our makeshift ferry around 10am and made our way along the channels between huge sandy islands that apparently shift after every monsoon. Quite a few birds were seen such as Lesser Pied Kingfisher, Temminck’s Stint, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Oriental Darter and Sand Lark which enlivened proceedings. Once ashore a quick stop was made to scan the grassland with the Mishmi Hills dominating the horizon. A good selection of species was recorded including Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Long-legged Buzzard, Pied and Western Marsh Harriers, Black Stork and Citrine Wagtail. The road from here to Roing in Arunachal Pradesh was very rough in places and the journey took a couple of hours, before we crossed the border and the road started to rise quickly. A couple of Rufous-necked Hornbills flying in the distance was the only sighting of note at this stage. At one point the road was diverted as the bridge had been destroyed during the previous monsoon, so we had to drive along the dried river bed until rejoining the main road several kilometres away. The habitat as we drove along looked fantastic, with the first 600m consisting of secondary growth interspersed with huge swathes of bamboo that looked very promising and was an area we would bird in a few days.
Anyway, Peter had arranged lunch at a lodge that was just being built, and which gave superb views over the Dibang Valley. A Himalayan Buzzard and several Grey Bushchats were spotted in the cleared area below the lodge, and on the other side of the buildings a large gulley choked with bamboo and some taller trees held a calling Bay Woodpecker, as well as our first Green-tailed Sunbird and Oriental White-eyes, but more interestingly a flock of Black-chinned Yuhinas passed close by. Overhead, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle and a dark-phase Oriental Honey Buzzard were seen, with a flyby Pale-capped Pigeon disappearing into the densely forested hillside across the road. Making a mental note to revisit this lodge later, we would in fact stay overnight in the central hall but this would be an ideal base to explore from in future visits once the building work is completed.
We drove another couple of hundred metres higher before getting out and walking up the road a short distance. A few Maroon Orioles were obvious, whilst a flock of over 100 Silver-eared Mesias flew across the road and disappeared all too quickly. An open area held Bronzed, Ashy and Spangled Drongos, as well as a confiding Lesser Yellownape. Nearby, a huge flock of Laughingthrushes could be heard working their way across the forested hillside below us, but we only managed a glimpse of a White-crested and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush as the vegetation was so dense. A Snowy-browed Flycatcher then began calling and we found Green-backed Tit, Beautiful Sibia, Golden-throated Barbet and a nice male Black-throated Sunbird. So we finished birding at around 1100m as the light began to fade around 4.30pm and it took another 90 minutes driving around steep, twisting bends to reach our lodge and base for the next few nights, situated a few kilometres below Mayodia Pass. In fact we took over the place completely and in good time we had a roaring fire and our dinner was being cooked – what a relief to know we wouldn’t be camping and would be sleeping in proper beds! We had buckets of hot water to wash with in the bathroom and dined by candlelight – still feeling like intrepid explorers despite the modern conveniences!
Day 3 Tuesday 8th January
Tea on the terrace at 5.30am was most welcome after a very chilly night, but what a view of the Mishmi Hills confronted us this morning. As the sun slowly rose above the surrounding hills, birds suddenly began to appear and we kicked off the day with a flock of stunning Yellow-billed Blue Magpies and we counted at least 10 birds in a large tree below us, in company with several Eurasian Jays of the race interstinctus. A Shikra then flew along the ridge above us and seemed to prompt a Bay Woodpecker to begin calling and we also heard Streak-breasted and Slender-billed Scimitar-babblers calling from the bamboo directly below us. So we began walking up the road towards the pass, but hadn’t gone far when a flock of lovely Grey-headed Bullfinches were seen feeding on berries beside the road. A flock of Striated Laughingthrushes were next up, followed eventually by several Black-faced Laughingthrushes and a few Stripe-throated Yuhinas. Nearby we heard a mixed-species flock and turned a corner to find several Yellow-cheeked Tits, Ashy-throated Warbler, Yellow-browed Tit, Rufous-vented Yuhina, Green-tailed Sunbird, Streak-breasted and a confiding Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, and best of all 2 Manipur Fulvettas – one of the star birds here.
Walking on we had several close views of female Spot-winged Rosefinches, a Dark-rumped Rosefinch, as well as our only Yellowish-bellied (Hume’s) Bush-warbler of the trip. A flock of 30+ Black-throated Parrotbills passed beside us very quickly and at the same moment a Rufous-capped Babbler appeared, but our eyes were drawn to some movement just ahead which turned out to be a party of 3 female and a cracking male Crimson-browed Finch. So after all this excitement we jumped into our 4-wheel drives and drove up to Mayodia Pass (2560m) where our breakfast was waiting on a table for us! After copious amounts of porridge, omelette, tea and toast we began walking down the other side. Unfortunately it was unusually quiet, possibly due to this whole slope being in the shade and all we got for our efforts were Orange-bellied Leafbird and Blue-fronted Redstart of any note before lunch. We probably spent too much time scanning the scree slope above the road for the reported Sclater’s Monal without success and it does seem that this bird requires a terribly difficult climb along a hunters track from the ridge to reach the treeline – which we attempted later in the week, and even when at the right point the viewing is incredibly restricted and in our opinion, not worth the effort.
So after a hot lunch brought to us by the crew, we continued down the same road and eventually reached some sunnier parts which immediately brought its rewards with good looks at Great Barbet, a couple flocks of Chestnut-tailed Minlas, loads of yuhinas, Grey-hooded Warbler, Spotted Forktail and Blue Whistling Thrush. We found some of our best birds towards the end of the day, firstly when some movement on the bank above the road turned out to be a small party of 3 females and a superb male Gold-naped Finch which were very obliging, and shortly after a brilliant male Rufous-breasted Bush-robin simply wouldn’t leave the road as we walked up to him.
So, all in all, an interesting day and we may well have recorded the first Spot-winged Rosefinch and Grey-headed Bullfinches for the Mishmi Hills.
Day 4 Wednesday 9th January
We met on the terrace at 5.30am for breakfast, listening to the calls of Common Hill-partridges ringing across the hillsides and watched the Yellow-billed Blue Magpies in a nearby tree before driving up to the pass. We spent most of the morning scrambling up the rough and very steep path to the look-out point for Sclater’s Monal and after all the effort only succeeded in hearing it, but the hard walk produced the first flock of Fulvous Parrotbills for the Mishmi Hills. There was also a mixed flock containing Yellow-browed, Rufous-vented and Rufous-fronted Tits, whilst nearby a flock of Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes passed by, a few delightful Brown-throated Fulvettas showed really well, another Rufous-breasted Bush-robin put in an appearance and our only Darjeeling Woodpecker of the trip was seen.
After lunch we drove down below the lodge and began walking along the road for several kilometres, seeing some very nice birds such as both Rusty-fronted and Streak-throated Barwings, White-tailed Nuthatch, Mountain Bulbul, Rufous-vented and Stripe-throated Yuhinas. Unfortunately the sun dipped behind the mountains all too quickly this afternoon and the last hour of the day was practically birdless apart from several superb Himalayan Red-flanked Bush-robins that adorned the denser areas alongside the road.
Day 5 Thursday 10th January
We left the lodge early this morning and drove downhill, intending to spend the rest of the day exploring the lower section and only paused to look at a few Speckled Woodpigeons perched in a leafless tree beside the road. Once the altimeter read 1850m we began walking down and at this elevation birds were literally everywhere and we recorded a good selection of typical Himalayan species such as Olive-backed Pipits, Great Barbets, Eurasian Woodcock, Striated Laughingthrushes, Orange-bellied Leafbird, lots of Beautiful Sibias, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Large Niltava and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker. Finally, after much trying with the ipod we scored heavily with awesome close views of the endemic Mishmi Wren-babbler as it sang from an open perch at eye-level on the side of a bank. Wow! Only a handful of birders have been privileged to see this species since its rediscovery just a few years ago and once the bird had disappeared we duly celebrated with a few cheers and shaking of hands!
Not long after all this excitement we bumped into some more target birds for these hills when an excellent large feeding flock moved across the hillside below the path. Initially, just the rather large and brash Rusty-fronted Barwings could be seen feeding on some berries, but all of a sudden a fantastic male Black-headed Shrike-babbler appeared in a small leafless tree nearby and we had excellent views. Not wanting to take our eyes of this Eastern Himalayas speciality, a sudden burst of activity within the berry laden tree led us to a fine Red-tailed Minla and a pair of Coral-billed Scimitar-babblers. Peter suddenly shouted out “Parrotbill!” and there in the same tree was a single Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill. Pure Mishmi magic! The flock moved off quickly and although we tracked it for quite some time, never came back towards the road.
The next stage of the walk was in the shade and was much colder than earlier hence there was not much activity but at a sunny hollow we had earmarked for breakfast, we were surprised to have point-blank views of 7 stunning Himalayan Cutias feeding in a flowering bush just 10 feet above the ground. This was quite unusual behaviour for this species and something myself or Peter had ever witnessed before. We were privileged to watch them for a good 20 minutes as they fed amongst the flowers before flying across the road into a moss encrusted tree and feed in a more normal fashion! As they moved away down the hillside below us the van with our hot breakfast turned up and erected our dining table and we sat in the sun, toasting our success with….toast, omelettes and hot coffee.
Our great morning continued immediately after breakfast when a small group of at least 3 Maroon-backed Accentors flew up from the side of the road near where we had been sitting and promptly dropped down onto a bare slope beside the road and continued feeding right out in the open. These birds are always a delight to see and at this low altitude their presence is normally a result of harsh weather higher up in the Himalayas – and another new bird for the Mishmi Hills! As we watched these, a flock of 20+ Long-tailed Sibias flew across the road behind us and at the same time a Mountain Hawk-eagle and a Besra flew across the blue sky right over our heads.
Continuing on, the road passed through mature primary forest and birds kept appearing at a steady pace. Noteworthy species over the next couple of hours included Orange-gorgeted Flycatcher, several Sultan Tits, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Bronzed Drongo, a large flock of Striated Bulbuls, a confiding flock of 12 Coral-billed Scimitar-babblers gave good views and the first of the day’s 9 Himalayan Red-flanked Bush-robins including several fine breeding-plumaged males was seen.
After lunch more bluetails followed, along with an all too brief White-spectacled Warbler, and the first of several flocks of White-naped Yuhinas – another Eastern Himalayas speciality. As soon as the yuhina flock disappeared, a Sultan Tit flew in to a small moss encrusted tree beside the road and began calling, and as I raised my binoculars to look at it, instead of seeing a bright yellow and black bird with a large crest there was a Beautiful Nuthatch in its place! After a few expletives, some more coherent directions were given and we were all looking at one of the most coveted birds in the Eastern Himalayas – and at point-blank range in a leafless tree. Wow! We were fortunate to be able to watch it for several minutes before it flew away, leaving 4 birders just a little elated!
How can you follow that? Well, we tried very hard and came up with a fine male Black-throated Sunbird, another Maroon-backed Accentor and a close perched Bay Woodpecker. Towards the end of the day we observed several large flocks on the hillside above us, with the pick of the bunch being Golden Babbler, Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Black-faced Warbler. A fast-moving flock of Yellow-throated Fulvettas almost passed unnoticed behind us as they kept low down but we raced ahead to cut them off and were eventually rewarded with great views of yet another Eastern Himalayan specialty. But by now the light had faded too much and we reluctantly set off in the vehicles down to a new, partially constructed lodge where we spent a pleasant and warm night in the central hall.
Day 6 Friday 11th January
The first cloudy morning of the trip so far greeted us at dawn, but there was no threat of rain as we set off along the road seeing a large flock of Lesser Necklaced and a few Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes feeding at the edge of the cleared area above the lodge. We walked below the 700m zone, passing huge areas of bamboo intersected with secondary growth and some cleared areas. Birds were literally everywhere and both Streaked and Little Spiderhunters were numerous, and there were also several large flocks of Nepal Fulvettas which proved very distracting. With so many birds to look at, we didn’t actually walk very far but it was so enjoyable watching species such as Pin-tailed Green-pigeon, Bay Woodpecker, Striated and Black-chinned Yuhinas, White-throated Bulbul, Short-billed Minivet, lots of Yellow-bellied Warblers and a single Rufous-faced Warbler. Both Chestnut-headed and Slaty-bellied Tesias called and remained hidden in the dense vegetation at the side of the road and a Pygmy Wren-babbler gave brief views before we came across our best find of the day in the form of a pair of Collared Treepies that flew in and landed on the nearby bamboo stalks.
Moving ever lower there was Crested Goshawk, Asian Barred Owlet, Mountain Imperial-pigeon, Lesser Yellownape, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Red-headed Trogon, Grey-backed Shrike, Grey-breasted Prinia, Blue-winged Minla, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Grey-throated Babbler, Striped Tit-babbler, Long-tailed Sibia and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker. The pick of the bunch being a close Stripe-breasted Woodpecker and Pale Blue Flycatcher, although a calling White-browed Piculet remained just a voice deep within the bamboo.
But time was pressing so we drove back down to the ferry, where Common and Ruddy Shelducks, Indian Spot-billed Duck and the same bunch of waders as before were present. Once safely across the other side we said our goodbyes to the ground crew who had looked after us so well and drove back to Tinsukhia. Along the way, a quick stop for petrol resulted in decent views of Common Hill-myna, Great Tit and a Yellow-browed Warbler, and a short while later we passed a carcass in a roadside field which was proving rather enticing to several White-rumped and Slender-billed Vultures.
Day 7 Saturday 12th January
Today we visited Dibru-Saikhowa and our birding was hampered all day by a steady drizzle which definitely affected bird activity. A nice breakfast at the reserve entrance was much appreciated before boarding a large motorised dugout canoe and sailing along the river for nearly an hour, during which time we saw Striated Heron and several good views of Gangetic River Dolphin before entering the tall grassland. We spent most of the day searching for the specialties this site is renowned for and only managed to see a few Jerdon’s and Chestnut-capped Babblers, Yellow-bellied Prinia and Blyth’s Reed Warbler. We also had some half-decent views of what was probably a Chinese Bush-warbler that moved around us in typically skulking fashion in the undergrowth, and Peter was pretty adamant it was very similar to a bird he had identified here the year before.
In the afternoon we visited the grassland on the other side of the river, where a couple of Paddyfield Warblers and Plain Prinias were really the only birds of interest. The birding was tough in the gloomy and cold conditions so we decided to call a halt mid-afternoon and head back to the hotel for some much needed rest and relaxation.
Day 8 Sunday 13th January
As access to the Digboi Oilfields Wildlife Sanctuary was not allowed we returned to Dibru-Saikhowa, which turned out to be a very good move as the weather was much better than yesterday and we experienced no rain at all. After breakfast we sailed upriver like yesterday, passing a fine drake Falcated Duck amongst a flock of Gadwall, as well as Gangetic River Dolphins again. On entering the grassland we immediately saw a group of Striated Babblers, followed shortly after by 3 superb Black-breasted Parrotbills which came straight towards us in response to the tape and proceeded to feed on the grass stems close by. What a difference a bit of sun makes! Elated at this we went across the river, passing an Osprey and Green and Wood Sandpipers, before landing on the opposite bank where we had an extremely close encounter with the endemic Swamp Prinia. As we sat down amidst a tall and dense stand of grasses it flew straight in and began singing right next to us – amazing!
So we went back across the river once more and walked towards Kolomi Camp, seeing a group of Dunlin on a small riverside pool. Along the way we had to take our shoes and socks off and wade across a couple of waterways and also made a few stick bridges to traverse some other muddy stretches. Amongst the commoner birds we had Lesser Adjutant, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-hooded Oriole, Black-billed Roller, Lineated Barbet, White-vented Myna, Grey-headed Starling, Taiga Flycatcher, Rufous Treepie, and near the end of the walk we found Eurasian Griffon and White-rumped Vultures perched in a large dead tree. Just after crossing a particularly muddy section, we came across a feeding flock containing Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Great Tit, Common Iora, Yellow-browed Warbler and Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, with a Dusky Warbler skulking lower down amongst a tangle of vines. Our route then took us beside a lake where Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Little Grebe, Wood Sandpiper, Common Teal, Pintail Snipe, Great Egret and Common Kingfisher were seen. As we approached Kolomi Camp a Chestnut-crowned Bush-warbler began calling and after a little enticing and perseverance eventually gave very good views in a close bush. And finally with the smell of lunch teasing us from the camp we had to wade across one more river before we could sit down and eat. Once fully recovered and refreshed we checked out the surrounding area in vain for Jerdon’s Bushchat, and with only a group of Spot-billed Pelicans and a Black Stork flying over soon decided to head back to the river.
So we returned to the boat seeing Stork-billed Kingfisher, Green Imperial-pigeon and Common Hill-myna along the way.
Day 9 Monday 14th January
Today was primarily a travelling day as we drove down to Kaziranga, stopping in the large town of Jorhat to visit an ATM machine and buy some much needed chocolate. We also stopped along the way for lunch at a roadside cafe and some interesting birds were seen such as Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Indian Pond-heron, Lesser Adjutant, Asian Openbill and a flock of Common Swifts.
It was 3.45pm when we arrived at the Bon Habi Resort at Kaziranga and after checking into our rooms had a little time for a walk around the gardens, where Oriental Turtle Dove and a male Daurian Redstart were the highlights. And it was with much anticipation that we went to sleep, wondering what secrets the bird-filled Kaziranga National Park would bring in the morning.
Day 10 Tuesday 15th January
Well we didn’t have to wait too long and a great day started with an Elephant ride through the grassland of the Central Range of Kaziranga National Park. It was a bit chilly to say the least but well worth the early start as somehow Peter had arranged for our 2 Elephants to move away from the main group of 10 or so others and were rewarded with flight views of 3 Bengal Floricans as they took off from the tall vegetation and disappeared into the mist. Wow! We also had our first incredibly close encounters with at least 5 Indian One-horned Rhinoceros, a group of wild Water Buffalo, both Swamp and Hog Deer, as well as a Paddyfield Warbler and some Woolly-necked Storks.
On our return to the lodge for breakfast we had an Asian Barred Owlet in the garden, as well as a couple of Red-breasted Parakeets perched outside the dining room. So after a nice breakfast we were soon heading to the Park HQ for our permits and whilst waiting a Little Pied Flycatcher and some Eurasian Tree Sparrows enlivened proceedings.
We spent the rest of the morning in the very ‘birdy’ Central Range, starting off with a Striated Grassbird near the Mahout station, quickly followed by Crested Serpent-eagle, Spangled Drongo, another Asian Barred Owlet, and a group of 7+ Red Junglefowl picking their way across the leaf litter right out in the open. We then entered a mosaic of habitats from this point on which ranged from open pools with scattered tall trees along the edges, tall grassland and weed choked channels. At the first large pool we saw a Black Stork, lots of Lesser Adjutants, and both Grey-headed and Pallas’s Fish-eagles were very common, whilst on the water were Common Teal, Bar-headed Geese and several Indian Spot-billed Ducks.
Driving on further, we stopped in the tall grassland and picked out some rare Finn’s Weavers feeding with some Eastern Baya Weavers, and were able pick out all the main identification features. Birds then came quickly, with Oriental Darter, Mallard, Black-shouldered Kite, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Alexandrine Parakeets, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Streak-throated Woodpecker and some Red-rumped Swallows. Next, we stopped at a small bridge to view a marshy channel where a Common Snipe was feeding and suddenly 4 Swamp Francolins walked out from the dense vegetation and began feeding out in the open, and they were followed by 4 female Red Junglefowl. A Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher did its best to get our attention as it sallied forth from the base of a large tree nearby to catch insects, but we were totally besotted with the francolins and continued to watch them until they were out of sight.
Our next stop was at a large lake where we could get out and set up our scopes and found River, Whiskered and rarest of all a couple of White-winged Terns, as well as Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck and several Wild Boar. We’d also been counting Rhinos and up to this point had seen 13 so far today.
But time passed quickly here and all too soon we had to leave the park and head back to the lodge for lunch at 12.30, having a good meal and a short siesta before returning to the Central Range at 2pm. Whilst waiting for the gates to open a flock of Nepal House Martins flew over and we also had some close Little Green Bee-eaters as well. Back at the first pool, there was now 8 Grey-headed and 3 Northern Lapwings and a rare sighting here of a solitary Dalmatian Pelican. Driving along the main track produced Black-rumped Flameback, Oriental Turtle Dove, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Red-breasted Parakeet and best of all a fine male Pied Harrier. The temperature this afternoon was just perfect and also the light made everything seem crystal clear which only added to the enjoyment.
Most pools we passed from here on in had a Lesser Pied Kingfisher adorning them, whilst Green Imperial-pigeons were perched prominently on the larger tree tops. Leaving the main track behind, a narrower side track took us beside a long watercourse where a group of Asian Elephants were feeding. We cut the engines and ghosted up alongside them getting incredibly close views feeding amongst the floating vegetation. Another Elephant joined them from the far bank and he came face to face with a Rhino and they made a ‘stand off’ before the Rhino backed down and disappeared into the grassland. Behind us in a dense section of woodland we came across a Small Niltava, whilst a Forest Wagtail was a rare sighting here and certainly had Peter excited. As we watched this little beauty a flock of White Pelicans flew over, but the best was yet to come. Just as we reached the head of the next lake we put our binoculars up to scan the far side and we were amazed to see yet another male Falcated Duck swimming along in the shallow water. The jeeps drove on a little further and managed to stop opposite this fine bird and we had first class views for several minutes. But time was pressing and we continued on, seeing a fine Grey-headed Fish-eagle perched at the water’s edge. A few minutes after this we paused to look at yet another Rhino when all of a sudden it charged at Peter’s vehicle and the guard had to fire a shot from his rifle into the ground to scare it off! Everything happened very quickly and we couldn’t believe how close one of the vehicles came to having a very nasty accident. It turned out that this Rhino had been fighting with another one close by and was obviously still topped up with testosterone! So on that note we called it a day and headed back to the lodge for tea and we were probably the last vehicle out of the park tonight!
At the end of the day we had seen 33 different Rhinos and recorded 108 species seen.
Day 11 Wednesday 16th January
Spent the morning in the Eastern Range and it was again a very misty start which cleared almost immediately upon arrival. On the way in there was a Brown Shrike to greet our arrival, followed by Spotted Owlet, Large Cuckooshrike and a Dusky Warbler. The large lake called Sohola Bheel was full of all the usual wildfowl, as well as Black-necked Stork, Grey-headed and Northern Lapwings, Spotted Redshank, Grey-headed Fish-eagle and loads of Spot-billed Pelicans. The main track went through a mature section of forest where we saw Changeable Hawk-eagle, Common Hill-myna, Long-tailed Minivet, Golden-fronted Leafbird, several Pallas’s Fish-eagles and another Pale Blue Flycatcher. Further on another male Pied Harrier flew by, and there was also Steppe Eagle, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Small Niltava, a skulking Thick-billed Warbler, a calling Abbott’s Babbler, and a Bombax tree full of Spot-winged Starlings and mynas. A puzzling raptor perched high up in a tree over the road had us fooled for a while, until we could better views and it turned out to be a rare dark morph of Changeable Hawk-eagle.
As we continued along the trail, we took our time as access to Debeswari Island was not allowed due to a census and we enjoyed good views of many previously mentioned species. At one point a large bird flew across the track up ahead of us, so we zoomed off in its direction expecting it to be a Fish-owl, but to our amazement it turned out to be a Spot-bellied Eagle-owl – one of very few records from the park! Continuing on alongside a waterway we saw Stork-billed Kingfisher, Red-headed Vulture, 2 Oriental Pied Hornbills, White-rumped Shama, a heard only Snowy-browed Flycatcher, and a family of rather inquisitive Smooth-coated Otters. Leaving here we took a very dusty track back to the entrance of the park, pausing to take a look at the mighty Brahmaputra River along the way.
After lunch we visited the Tea Gardens, spending a nice couple of hours in this large open habitat and at the edge of the plantation amongst a large stand of bamboo caught up with a couple of Rufous-necked Laughingthruhes that were associating with a huge flock of Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes. In fact the flock was moving rapidly away and we had to put in some leg work to get ahead of them before eventually getting good views. Also in the gardens were Blue-eared Barbet, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Taiga Flycatcher, Oriental White-eye, Yellow-browed Warbler, and a surprising find in the form of a Collared Owlet, with an unresponsive Blue-naped Pitta calling from the far side of the tea bushes.
Day 12 Thursday 17th January
A cracking Small-billed Scaly Thrush feeding in the leaf litter below our veranda was a pretty good way to start the day! We followed that goodie with a Little Spiderhunter in the garden before spending the morning in the Western Range which was a little quiet but the weather was good. At the entrance gate a Eurasian Hoopoe greeter our arrival, and was quickly followed by Great Tit, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Oriental White-eye and Common Iora all in the large tree by the barrier.
The track took us towards a watchtower overlooking a large lake and grassland and along the way we disturbed 2 male Kalij Pheasants from beside the track. From the viewing area birds were a little distant but through the scopes we saw a flock of Pacific Golden Plovers, Whiskered and River Terns, Bar-headed geese, 5+ Pied Avocets, lots of Water Buffalo, as well as all the usual common wildfowl and waders. We then drove through the grassland seeing Lesser Adjutant, a family of 4 Black-necked Storks, 2 Purple Herons, 3 Slender-billed and 3 Eurasian Griffon Vultures perched above an Elephant carcass, Great Spotted Eagle, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Green Sandpiper, Asian Barred Owlet, Asian Palm Swift, a couple of Himalayan (White-tailed) Rubythroats, Striated Babbler, 2 Little Pied Flycatchers, Citrine Wagtail, Scaly-breasted Munia, 31 Rhino’s, lots of Hog Deer and a few groups of Wild Boar.
After lunch we tried to have a siesta, but a Purple Cochoa began calling behind the lodge from an area of woodland with several fruiting trees. Unfortunately there was a fence stopping us get closer and despite a careful scrutiny of the area we couldn’t locate it. Later on, a short drive took us up into the hills and we followed a path into the forest seeing Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and a Blue Rock Thrush. A mixed flock of Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes were present but moved quickly through the undergrowth, with a Common Green Magpie and a White-browed Scimitar-babbler trailing along in their wake. Once we had traversed a steep hill the trail descended into a bamboo choked gulley, where we could hear the distinctive song of a Rusty-bellied Shortwing. Despite our best efforts it refused to play ball although did give an extremely brief view, but whilst we were waiting for it to show a fine male Blossom-headed Parakeet flew in and began calling from the top of a nearby tree, both Black-crested and Ashy Bulbuls appeared and a pair of Great Hornbills were seen flying above us. The walk down towards the road was enlivened by a pair of confiding Greater Flamebacks, as well as White-capped River-chat, Plumbeous Water Redstart and several Capped Langurs.
Day 13 Friday 18th January
As Panbari Forest was closed due to the Hoolock Gibbons mating (what!) we were restricted to the surrounding forest edge and tea plantation, but still managed to turn up some interesting birds. Several Yellow-vented Warblers were present, along with Eurasian Hobby, 2 Oriental Pied Hornbills, Little Spiderhunters, Crimson Sunbird, Black-backed Forktail, Verditer and Snowy-browed Flycatchers, Black-naped Monarch, Yellow-browed Warbler and a flock of White-throated Bulbuls, with a Large Scimitar-babbler calling distantly from within the forest. Our best find was a beautiful Pygmy Blue Flycatcher discovered at the edge of the forest and which stayed in one small area for a good 20 minutes allowing superb views.
So by late morning we had reached our jeep and returned to the Bon Habi Resort, loaded the luggage aboard our vehicle and headed towards Nameri, crossing the mighty Brahmaputra River along the way. On arrival at the wonderful Nameri Eco-Camp we had time for a quick look around the grounds, seeing the resident pair of Oriental Hobbies in the large tree by the car park, as well as Greater Flameback, Small Niltava, Taiga Flycatcher and listened to several raucous flocks of Red-breasted Parakeets as they flew overhead.
Day 14 Saturday 19th January
It was a very misty beginning to the day as we took a dugout canoe across the Jai-Bhorelli River to Nameri National Park. A singing Striated Grassbird greeted our arrival on the far bank and it was very atmospheric to watch Small Pratincoles and a River Tern appearing out of the mist. It took a few minutes to walk across the sandy bank before reaching the forest and once we hit the trail saw Yellow-bellied Fantail, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, lots of Black-winged Cuckooshrikes and a Blue Whistling Thrush.
The trail followed the river through quite open forest, allowing relatively easy viewing of species such as the numerous Streaked Spiderhunter and Crimson Sunbird. Probably the main highlight was the excellent views of 2 Spot-throated Babblers, one of which remained in the same small bush for ages allowing us to scrutinise all the relevant identification features. Moving on we saw Greater Yellownape, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, lots of Maroon Orioles, Little Pied Flycatcher, both Orange-bellied and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Daurian Redstart, Striped Tit-babbler, Yellow-vented and Yellow-browed Warblers, a close Abbott’s Babbler, Black-crested and Himalayan Black Bulbuls and Spangled Drongo.
We checked out several pools within the forest in vain for White-winged Wood-duck but only managed to find several beautiful Black-breasted Thrushes, as well as Cinnamon Bittern, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Sultan Tit, Black-backed and White-crowned Forktails and a small flock of Blyth’s Leaf Warblers. On the river were several River Lapwings, along with Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Common Merganser, Ruddy Shelduck, Plumbeous Water-redstart, and a family of Smooth-coated Otters.
Our hot lunch was brought to us just as we reached the Rangers huts and after all the leg work we had put in searching the pools it was a relief to sit down for a while. So afterwards we headed out into the grassland to check yet more pools but all we had for our efforts was a male Greater Painted Snipe, Great Hornbill, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Green Imperial-pigeon, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and a single Oriental Pied Hornbill. As we headed back towards the river a herd of Asian Elephants crossed the track ahead of us and we had to retreat pretty quickly as there were some small calves present and we didn’t want an over-anxious parent to get aggressive with us!
Back at Nameri Eco-Camp our only Wreathed Hornbill of the trip flew over the camp.
Day 15 Sunday 20th January
After an interesting night when we heard Oriental Scops-owl, Brown Hawk-owl and Asian Barred Owlet calling more or less continuously, I hesitate to say the sound was evocative! After a 7am breakfast we birded the grounds of the camp for a short while, seeing Taiga Flycatcher, a pair of Small Niltavas, Ashy-fronted Green-pigeon with a flock of Pin-tailed Green-pigeons, Greater Yellownape, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker and Coppersmith Barbet, whilst a flock of Spot-winged Starlings was an unusual sighting here. Then we drove about 13kms upriver and met up with the guys from the camp who had arrived earlier to prepare our rubber rafts for the morning’s excursion. Even before reaching the rafts we had seen our first Ibisbill about 100m downriver and once aboard scored with a further 4 birds. A very interesting couple of hours followed as we drifted downriver seeing Long-billed Plover, 2 Great Thick-knees, 100+ Small Pratincoles, Common, White-breasted, Lesser Pied and Crested Kingfishers, Osprey and a flock of Vernal Hanging-parrots amongst a good number of commoner species.
In the afternoon we birded the road down to the river from the camp and found it a little quiet to be honest and spent far too much time trying to get views of Siberian Rubythroat, which is extremely common here. Eventually, we managed to pull out a couple of fine males, one of which appeared on top of a tall bush and just stared down at us for ages! For some reason there were a lot of people at the river and they all seemed to have loud music blaring out which hampered our chances of finding anything skulking, but we still saw Peregrine Falcon, Wedge-tailed Green-pigeon, Oriental Turtle-dove, Ashy Woodswallow and a White-rumped Shama before returning to the camp for a nice hot shower.
Day 16 Monday 21st January
We had a very early start this morning and arrived at the river still in darkness, which was just as well as our only Large-tailed Nightjars of the trip were flying around the riverbank and we managed to find one perched on top of a close bush. Meanwhile our guard was trying to attract the attention of the boatman who was apparently still asleep over in the forest, but after a while he must have heard all the commotion and he came and took us across the river once more. Once again we checked the forest pools without success, but several new species for the trip made the walk quite interesting and we had Blue-eared Kingfisher, Large Woodshrike, Pale-chinned Flycatcher and a Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo. There was also a confiding Sultan Tit, and both White-crowned and Black-backed Forktails gave good views at one of the pools. Back at the camp the resident pair of Oriental Hobbies were still present.
The rest of the day was taken up with the long drive to Shillong in the Indian state of Meghalaya.
Day 17 Tuesday 22nd January
Spent the day birding along the old Shillong-Guwahati Road which turned up a few interesting species, although the presence of the locals with catapults was an all too frequent sight and made the birds very shy and nervous. We scored early on with the local speciality, Grey Sibia, and came across several feeding flocks of these birds. It did seem a little quiet compared to normal and we went long periods without seeing anything at all, but made up for this with a few nice feeding flocks. The main highlights were several White-browed Shrike-babblers, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Kaleej Pheasant, White-tailed Robin, White-bellied Erpornis and a Small-billed Scaly Thrush. Other species included Red-rumped Swallow, Black Kite, a flock of Pied Flycatcher-shrikes, Buff-barred Warbler, Grey Wagtail, Himalayan Red-flanked Bush-robin, White-rumped Shama, and a heard only Pygmy Wren-babbler.
We returned to our rather quaint ‘old colonial’ style hotel earlier than usual for a rest, or rather would have if it wasn’t for a traffic jam that delayed us by a couple of hours.
Day 18 Wednesday 23rd January
Another early start saw us driving to an escarpment overlooking Bangladesh at Cherrapunjee. On the way a stop at Mawphlang Bridge produced the endemic Assam Laughingthrush and this was followed later by superb views of another much-wanted endemic, Tawny-breasted Wren-babbler which popped up on top of a bush just a few yards away from us. As the sun started to warm the freezing early morning air, we were treated a flock of Crested Finchbills, along with Crimson-browed and Scarlet Finches, Golden Babbler and Whiskered Yuhina.
Later on, we found Tawny and Rosy Pipits, Lemon-rumped and Grey-hooded Warblers before reaching the escarpment where we caught up with Eurasian Crag-martin and 3 endemic Dark-rumped Swifts which was a fitting end to an excellent day and a wonderful holiday.
Day 19 Thursday 24th January
On the way to the airport we called in to the local rubbish dump to take a look at the highly endangered Greater Adjutants that seemed quite at home amongst the muck, before arriving at the airport only to find our flight had been cancelled. After some fixing we managed to book flights with a different airline and eventually arrived at Kolkata where we had a nice evening meal and short rest before taking the overnight British Airways flight back to London.
Nick Bray, Birdseekers
All photos © Nick Bray apart from Mishmi Wren-babbler © Peter Lobo.