Eastern Himalayas, including Eagle's Nest Wildlife Sanctuary, March - April 2004

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)


Mike Waite

1. Introduction

Inspired by Anwaruddin Choudhary's paper on the Eagle's Nest & Sessa Orchid Wildlife Sanctuaries in a recent Forktail 1, I wasted no time signing up for Ramana Athreya's inaugural birding tour to this little-known part of Arunachal Pradesh, as advertised on the OB e-group last December. Prior to starting the tour I spent a few days in the Bengal Himalaya trekking up to Sandakphu. This itinerary provided some fantastic birding, as well as an interesting comparison of sites and habitats across the range of many species for which birders might first consider a trip to Bhutan. Shillong in Meghalaya was squeezed in at the end of my trip, but allowed me a second chance of finding some specialities missed on a brief visit back in 2001.

2. Darjeeling & the Sandakphu trek

2.1 Update on travel and practicalities

No special advance permits are necessary, but you must now hire a registered guide on this trek, who will double as a porter for Rs 250/day. This can be reliably organised at Manebhanjang and presumably at other trek start-points such as Rimbik. The Singalila National Park is entered 1km north of Tumling, where you pay an entry fee of Rs 100. There is no regular public transport beyond Manebhanjang, but several half-full jeeps per day (probably private charters) ply the steep, winding track all the way to/from Sandakphu, and it must be possible to negotiate a reasonably priced lift between any of the key stops along the route. Apparently it costs Rs 4000-6000 to hire a private jeep from Darjeeling all the way to Sandakphu. From Rimbik shared jeeps to Darjeeling (Rs 75) may only be relied upon until 1400.

There are state-run trekking huts (actually smart recently-built dormitory buildings) at Tonglu, Garibans and Sandakphu, bookable in advance through various agencies in Darjeeling. Megma, Kalipokari and Sandakphu all have private guest-houses, where I paid between Rs 70-250 (pricing controlled more by local competition than quality). Tumling, Gurdun and Sirikhola also have guest-houses, Gurdun's appearing particularly pleasant. Rimbik has two hotels, the Sherpa Lodge and the Green Hill (the latter, where I stayed, is reputedly the cheaper although I didn't confirm this). Personally, I would presently recommend staying at Tonglu (3070m), Garibans (2620m), Sandakphu (3640m) and perhaps Gurdun (as an alternative to Rimbik), to readily access the better habitat on this trek and thus provide the best chances of seeing most people's target birds.

2.2 Diary

28/3: Arrived Kolkata from London (Indian Airlines via Mumbai), dazed and confused at 0445; unexpectedly met Ray Ziarno, later to be one of my companions at Eagle's Nest. At 0600, well-known Kolkata birder Sujan Chatterjee picked us up for a short tour of birding sites near Dumdum Airport. We visited the Nalban wetlands (seeing feral Painted Stork, Striated Grassbird and wintering Blyth's and Clamorous Reed and even a Blunt-winged Warbler); the "Ruby Hospital" site (good for Bengal [Rufous-winged] Bush-lark); and finally Banabitan Park (Black-hooded Oriole, a handsome ssp. tricolor Long-tailed Shrike, and Spotted Owlet roosting in a band-stand). Mid-day Jet Airways flight to Bagdogra, then up to Darjeeling by Maruti van arriving c.1600.

29/3: Early jeep-taxi to Manebhanjang via Ghoom and Sukiapokari. On foot to Megma, where the best habitat is indeed within the last 2-3 kms or so before the village. Highlights included a Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, a female Tickell's and several Plain-backed Thrushes, Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler, Black-faced Laughingthrush and Hoary-throated Barwing (the latter both common).

30/3: Early birding around Megma, then trekking the undulating route to Kalipokari via Garibans. For me the most scenic part of the trek, the hillsides ablaze with flowering rhododendrons. The day's highlights included several calling Satyr Tragopans (below Megma and elsewhere), a Brown Parrotbill at Megma, a few Eurasian Griffons besides the much commoner Himalayans, Gold-naped Finch, White-browed Bush Robin and several spectacular mixed flocks (one of at least 14 species of assorted babblers, warblers, tits and sunbirds).

31/3: Birding around Kalipokari until noon, then trekking to Sandakphu. Highlights; very little at Kalipokari where finding established localities (eg. the 'old jeep track') is now very frustrating. The mossy oak forest is still good for woodpeckers however, and where I also saw Red-headed Bullfinch and Green Shrike-babbler. Both Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler and Satyr Tragopan were only heard in the impenetrable bamboo here. I arrived at a very atmospheric Sandakphu under threatening storm clouds. After incidents first involving a disgruntled feral yak (which indeed charged as my porter said it would), and next a lightning strike on a tree directly above us, I finally saw the bird of the day - a fleeting glimpse of a Spotted Laughingthrush.

1/4: Intensive birding around Sandakphu, both along the eastward ridge-top trekking route to Rimbik, and later on the narrow ridge trail forking right off the main trekking trail to Phalut (at c.1.5 kms north of the village). Between them, these still access some excellent open fir forest, rhododendron scrub and dense bamboo. Birding was slow, but highlights included a pair of Blood Pheasant, Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler, White-throated Redstart, White-browed and Dark-rumped Rosefinches, Great Parrotbill and my most-wanted, a confiding flock of Fire-tailed Myzornis.

2/4: An easy downhill trek to Rimbik, via Gurdun and Sirikhola. Low cloud at Sandakphu put paid to any first-light birding, but was soon left behind as we descended. This route passes through a range of habitats, including open hemlock forest and dense bamboo stands before entering more disturbed and eventually cultivated land on the approach into Gurdun. This picturesque village overlooks a steep river valley, which is then followed more-or-less all the way into Rimbik. I saw another Gold-naped Finch, a flock of Rufous-fronted Tit, several flycatchers including Slaty-blue and Little Pied, a pair of Brown Dipper, a probable Streaked Laughingthrush and several bush warblers (Russet being heard only just above Gurdun).

3/4: Shared jeep back to Darjeeling, followed by some afternoon birding at the zoo. Here I had White-browed Shrike Babbler, Red-tailed and Blue-winged Minlas, various warblers and a winsome Ferruginous Flycatcher.

4/4: Jeep taxi to Bagdogra airport, in good time for the mid-day Jet Airways flight to Gauhati.

3. Eagle's Nest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh

3.1 Background

Tucked away towards the end of the 'Other Sites' section of their chapter on Northeast India, Kazmierczak & Singh2 describe Eagle's Nest thus; ....the Eagle's Nest WLS offers premium birding along an old road (hardly used) through very good forests ranging from tropical to temperate (600m-2700m). Our tour certainly proved this to be true beyond question. Hopefully many more birders will in time be able to sample the exciting possibilities offered by this site, as access and facilities improve through the experience of providing for their needs and expectations.

Both the Eagle's Nest and adjoining Sessa Orchid Wildlife Sanctuaries were notified as protected areas in 1989. They are located at the western end of the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, approximately 40kms east of Bhutan, and are therefore highly significant to the conservation of the Eastern Himalayas Endemic Bird Area3. The state is beyond the 'Inner Line', so foreigners require a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) to enter. This normally allows for a 10-day visit on specified permissible itineraries (one of which includes the sanctuaries). Groups comprising at least four persons are issued with RAPs quickest; smaller groups and individuals may find the process much slower or even have permits withheld (but see my report4 on visiting Namdapha National Park in 2002). RAPs are technically free at the point of issue, however a 'royalty' must be paid to the state government of $50 per visit. Our group consisted of Ray Ziarno from the USA, Claudio Köller from Switzerland and myself, and the above formalities were all arranged painlessly in advance by our leader, Ramana Athreya.

Ramana, from Maharashtra, is an experienced field ornithologist and surveyor of a number of protected areas in India's northeast, who has been engaged in an ongoing survey of various fauna within Eagle's Nest, Sessa Orchid and Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuaries since 19945. His latest project is to promote eco-tourism here, so that the increased attention on the sites may act to strengthen biodiversity conservation efforts both locally and regionally. This is taking place in partnership with the local Arunachali hill-tribe, the Bugun.

3.2 Travel, accommodation & food - the details

We entered Arunachal Pradesh at the border town of Balukpong on the main road to the district capital of Bomdila, and eventually the famous monastery at Tawang. This passes through Sessa Orchid Sanctuary and the small township of Tenga with its associated large military base. Here, the access road to Eagle's Nest forks off the main road, looping southward through the sanctuary to eventually meet the state border with Assam at Kamengbari. The road initially climbs to the Eagle's Nest pass, then descends the south-facing slope overlooking the Brahmaputra valley. In order, the key localities along the road are; the Ramalingam Forest Resthouse (FRH), Lamacamp, Eagle's Nest pass (2800m), Sunderview camp (2460m), Chaku camp (2400m, abandoned), Bompu (="bamboo") camp (1940m), Sessni camp (1250m), Khellong, Doimara and finally Kamengbari. Between Sunderview and Bompu the original road has been controversially upgraded by the Indian Army and any further work awaits the outcome of a legal challenge by the Forest Office. Even the newer section is unable to withstand the extreme rainfall here however, and rockslides regularly cut the road. We did not complete the loop as described above, but returned instead by backtracking through Tenga to re-enter Assam at Balukpong, as stipulated by our RAPs.

We travelled in several different hired 4WDs, as replacement vehicles became necessary due to mechanical failure. We were based at Sunderview and Bompu camps, in simple brick-built buildings heated by a wood-burning stove. We slept on bunks together in one room. Washing and toilet facilities were functional but spotlessly clean. Our meals were regular, tasty and plentiful, if a little repetitive, and consisted of typical Indian vegetarian fare.

3.3 Diary

4/4: Arrived Gauhati in Assam. Met Ramana and proceeded by public bus to Tezpur. Ray and Claudio had arrived earlier in the day from Kaziranga National Park.

5/4: An early start from Tezpur by jeep, to drive to Sunderview Camp (where we were based for the next four days), via Balukpong, the FRH at Tipi, Sessa village and Tenga. We stopped frequently along the route, initially at strategic points overlooking the Bhorelli River (principally for Ibisbill) and later in good sub-tropical forest within the Sessa Orchid Sanctuary. At Tenga a welcome committee of Bugunese elders put on a lively reception, involving dancers in traditional costume followed by some light refreshments. It turns out they are great fans of pop-corn! Although we saw no Ibisbills, good birds on this first day included Crested Kingfisher, a very responsive Slaty-bellied Tesia, White-naped Yuhina, Long-tailed Sibia, and a Tawny Owl before our after-dark arrival at Sunderview camp.

6/4: Based Sunderview. Early morning below the camp. Later we drove back over the Eagle's Nest pass, where there was much low cloud with some drizzle (the general weather pattern for the earlier part of the tour). Our targets included tragopans and Bar-winged Wren-babbler, but with these we were disappointed. Before dark we headed downhill below the camp again, and were rewarded by a pair of Ward's Trogons. Other highlights included my first of many Beautiful Sibias, Brown-throated Fulvetta and a fleeting Sapphire Flycatcher.

7/4: Based Sunderview. To Chaku and for c.3km beyond, to where Ramana had seen Rufous-throated Wren-babbler on a previous visit. A tape soon had this secretive little bird performing nicely for us. Other highlights included a very nice female Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and two Broad-billed Warblers.

8/4: Based Sunderview. Much of Ramana's day was taken up accompanying our driver to the hospital in Tenga (he had stepped on a rusty nail and the wound was becoming infected). We elected to be dropped at the Bar-winged Wren-babbler site again to slowly make our way back over the pass. Not far along the road we had our prize; one very fine wren-babbler indeed. About a km further on, a small dark bird with rich chestnut upperparts overflew the road up ahead, instantly recalling Choudhury's description of his Gould's Shortwing record from very near here in 1999. Ray Ziarno briefly got onto the bird, perched below the road and his views fitted my suggested diagnosis. Having met the returning jeep (driver duly dosed up with antibiotics), we walked part of the original road near Sunderview, still hoping for tragopans. Here we had good views of a pair of Hill Partridge, hitherto only heard.

9/4: Last day at Sunderview. All day trekking an elephant trail along the ridge above Chaku, to a summit called Piri-la (c.3200m). A beautiful walk, but marred by persistent rain. The summit features an extensive grass clearing with dwarf bamboo and rhododendron shrubberies, where one might expect to see several higher altitude specialities (Fire-tailed Myzornis, Fulvous Parrotbill, rosefinches etc). The weather narrowed our chances of seeing much at all; here was also our best chance of Temminck's Tragopan, but alas this was not to be either. Ramana has seen female tragopans regularly on his previous visits and penultimately a male too. Choudhury's paper would suggest that there may be some confusion over the identity of tragopans at Eagle's Nest; he cites records for both Satyr and Blyth's Tragopans (suspected ssp. molesworthi) from the vicinity, but not Temminck's. Clearly, there is still much to be confirmed here.

10/4: Relocation to Bompu. Prior to this, the morning was spent below and beyond Chaku. From here to Bompu is one of the best stretches for birds, the road cutting through some pristine forest. We had Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, our first Yellow-throated Fulvettas, more Broad-billed Warblers, and a very skulking White-browed Shortwing. Having established our camp, we spent the afternoon slowly descending to Sessni seeing many new mid-altitude species. These included Red-headed Trogon, Slaty-backed Forktail, Golden Babbler and Common Green Magpie. At the close of play, Ramana spotted a tall roadside, epiphyte-laden tree seemingly full of Beautiful Nuthatches (at least six) and Long-tailed Sibias.

11/4: Easter Sunday, based Bompu. After breakfast we retraced our steps down the serpentine road towards Sessni, and soon found ourselves back in the company of Beautiful Nuthatches (the same flock?), now c.300 metres higher and associating with Long-tailed, Beautiful and Rufous-backed Sibias. We continued downhill to a stretch where Wedge-billed Wren-babbler had been seen previously. A tape rapidly brought in 2-3 birds, one of which allowed prolonged close-focus 'scope views of this extraordinary babbler. We were able to note several features intermediate to both ssp. humei and roberti, suggesting the proposed split of the species may not be quite so clear-cut. The day just kept on getting better; we saw an amazing array of species including White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Bay and Pale-headed Woodpeckers, Cutia, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-necked and Great Hornbills, Sultan Tit and Grey-cheeked Warbler to name but a sample. Unfortunately the jeep broke down 7km out of camp, forcing us to conclude our memorable day with a steep uphill hike, Mountain Scops Owls calling overhead.

12/4: Based Bompu. Today the forewarned bad weather finally arrived in strength and we lost much of the morning to heavy rain. Just before it hit however, I headed out before breakfast alone and by a typical birding coincidence saw another Wedge-billed Wren-babbler very near to camp. Eventually we managed to get out twice and in fact saw some good birds in the dense bamboo above & below Bompu. These included Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Black-throated and Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbills, and some long-awaited Black-faced Warblers.

13/4: Based Bompu. Again, rained in for the entire morning. A dryish break allowed us a 3km hike above Bompu, where we had an exquisite male Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Ashy and Speckled Woodpigeons, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Grey-bellied Tesia and an exceedingly confiding Pygmy Wren-babbler before the rains set-in once more.

14/4: Our final day; exit to Assam via Tenga. A substitute vehicle arrived mid-morning to convey us, and the return journey through the sanctuary revealed just how ferocious the previous days' storms had been. Formerly modest waterfalls were now cascades that threatened to wash the road away in places. Few birds were seen owing to the brooding weather, and we arrived at Tezpur fairly late in the day. Time enough though, to sink a few beers in celebration of our extraordinary tally of fascinating birds accumulated over the preceding 10 days.

4. Shillong, Meghalaya

4.1 Practicalities

Whilst Ramana, Ray and Claudio re-entered Arunachal Pradesh to spend four more days in the Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuary, I took a bus west to Gauhati and then another up to Shillong, the hill-station capital of Meghalaya. Relatively few tourists appear to visit the state and for a second time, I found myself something of a bemusing novelty to the friendly and widely English-spoken inhabitants. Buses and private/share taxis are abundant and ready to take you anywhere, although journey times can be unpredictable - Shillong seems to be experiencing rush-hour problems as bad as anywhere these days, (one reason I decided not to go for Dark-rumped Swift at Cherapunjee). There is also plentiful accommodation across a range to suit most budgets. A mid-priced recommendation might be the Central Point Hotel at Police Bazaar, which has a good restaurant and takes credit cards. I stayed at a spanking new place at the top of a mall (the name of which escapes me), that was still under construction - OK but nothing special. Transport-wise, everything starts from this crossroads so it is convenient to base yourself near here.

4.2 Diary

15/4: Arrived Shillong c.1500. After settling in, I took a taxi halfway down the Old Gauhati Road and birded slowly back to the main road, picking up a share taxi home. New birds for me included some unexpected Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Striated Yuhina (ssp. castaniceps), and a pair of skulking Spot-throated Babblers in roadside scrub. Grey Sibias were very conspicuous here.

16/4: Based Shillong. All day on Shillong Peak above the town. Do not let your taxi driver attempt to approach the peak from the east (off the Jowai road) very early in the morning; the intervening Indian Air Force base may only be passed through after 0830. I had high hopes for the peak having picked up Dark-sided Thrush here previously, although I was beginning to tire and too slow to get on to several birds. The aftermath of a heavy hailstorm provided a fresh burst of birding activity around noon, and what had started out being a fairly slow day suddenly picked up momentum. In the "ravine opposite the football field" I had my target Lesser Shortwing, White-tailed Robin (one of which appeared to have no white in the tail?!), Mountain Tailorbird, several Spotted Forktails, Pygmy Wren-babbler and a possible Tawny-breasted Wren-babbler (my brief front-end views seemed OK; no looks at all at its rear). Of note along the peak road, I had Crested Finchbills aplenty, more Grey Sibias, Russet Sparrow, a Buff-throated Warbler and Red-faced Liocichla.

17/4: Return to Gauhati/Kolkata/London. The early morning saw me back on the Old Gauhati Road, where I taped in another immature male Lesser Shortwing, and saw further Red-faced Liocichlas and a Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler. I took the later of two daily Jet Airways flights back to Kolkata, allowing a modest period for present buying at New Market before my small-hours international departure to London via Mumbai.

Species Lists

[ST = Sandakphu trek; ENS = Eagle's Nest Sanctuary; Sh = Shillong]

VU = Vulnerable; NT = Near Threatened; Rr = Restricted range

Hill partridge Arborophila torqueola

Heard on most days at all sites. Good views of a pair on the old road below Sunderview, 8/4.

Blood pheasant Ithaginis cruentus

ST; a pair was seen around noon on the ridge trail north of Sandakphu, 1/4.

Satyr Tragopan Tragopan satyra

ST; heard only, but in several localities including the forest below Megma and c.2km beyond Tonglu 30/3; also in dense bamboo searching for the old jeep track below Kalipokari, 31/3.

Kalij Pheasant Lophura leucomelanos

1 on the main road through the Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, 14/4.

Pale-headed Woodpecker Gecinulus grantia

ENS; 2-3 in bamboo below Sessni camp at 1100m, 11/4. Also heard around Bompu, 12-13/4.

Bay Woodpecker Blythipicus pyrrhotis

ENS; heard regularly below Bompu. Several seen 11/4, one possibly associating with the above species.

Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus

Sh; A pair on the Old Gauhati Road, 15/4.

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker Dendrocopos hyperythus

ENS; A female seen well below Chaku 7/4, and another on the trek to Piri-la 9/4.

Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopus cathpharius

ST; 1 at Megma, 29/3. ENS; singles above Bompu, 12/4 and 13/4 (all males).

Darjeeling Woodpecker Dendrocopos darjellensis

ST/ENS; 1 at Tonglu 30/3, several at Kalipokari 31/3, and 1 below Sandakphu 2/4. 2-3 around Sunderview 7/4.

Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus

ENS; 1 below Sessni at c.1000m on 11/4.

Greater Yellownape Picus flavinucha

ENS/Sh; 1 below Sessni with Beautiful Nuthatches on 10/4. Also 1 on the Old Gauhati Road 15/4.

Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense

1 at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Great Barbet Megalaima virens

ST/ENS/Sh; heard and/or seen most days below c.2000m.

Golden-throated Barbet Megalaima franklinii

ENS; several seen below Bompu 11/4, and one above 13/4.

Blue-throated Barbet Megalaima asiatica

Sh; common on the Old Gauhati Road and at Shillong Peak, 15-17/4.

Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala

Several at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris

A single bird over the Bhorelli River at Tipi FRH, 5/4.

Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis NT

ENS; 1 below Bompu 11/4.

Rufous-necked Hornbill Aceros nipalensis VU

ENS; 1 seen during lunch at Sessni, 11/4. Further singles seen around Bompu 13-14/4. All males.

Common Hoopoe Upupa epops

1 at the Ruby Hospital, Kolkata 28/3.

Red-headed Trogon Harpactes erythrocephalus

ENS; several below Bompu, 10-11/4, and 1 above on 13/4.

Ward's Trogon Harpactes wardi NT/Rr

ENS; a female then the male of a pair were seen in a roadside gully below Sunderview, late on 6/4. The female was seen again 7/4. Heard only on 9/4.

Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis

Several seen from the bus between Tezpur and Gauhati, 15/4.

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

1 at the Nalban wetlands in Kolkata 28/3. Another at Tipi FRH 5/4.

White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis

1 at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Crested Kingfisher Megaceryle lugubris

1 on the Bhorelli River at Tipi FRH, 28/3.

Large Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides

ST/ENS; heard most days with 1 seen well between Gurdun/Sirikhola, 2/4.

Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus

Heard only, above Manebhanjang 29/3 and on the Old Gauhati Road 15/4.

Eurasian Cuckoo Cuculus canorus

Sh; heard only around Shillong, with one seen 17/4 on the Old Gauhati Road.

Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus

ENS; heard often around Bompu. Singles seen well 12/4 and 13/4.

Drongo Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris

ENS; heard only (below Bompu), 11/4.

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

1 at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

1 at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Alexandrine Parakeet Psittacula eupatria

Several at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3. Apparently feral birds.

Himalayan Swiftlet Collocalia brevirostris

ST/ENS/Sh; Seen below 2000m on most days.

Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis

At Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

House Swift Apus affinis

At Kolkata 28/3 and around Shillong town, 17/4.

Mountain Scops Owl Otus spilocephalus

ENS; heard regularly at and below Bompu, 10-12/4.

Tawny Owl Strix aluco

ENS; 1 between Ramalingam FRH and Eagle's Nest pass, 5/4.

Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei

ST/ENS/Sh; heard regularly most days at all sites.

Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides

ST; heard only, at Kalipokari 31/3.

Spotted Owlet Athene brama

1 roosting in a bandstand at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus indicus

ENS; heard around Sunderview 5-6/4. A bird flushed from the road below Bompu on 10/4 was probably this species.

Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus

2 flushed from the road between Balukpong and Tezpur, 14/4.

Rock Pigeon

Several in Darjeeling 3/4.

Speckled Wood Pigeon

ENS; a flock of 6 above Bompu on 13/4.

Ashy Wood Pigeon Columba pulchricollis

ENS; 1 below Eagle's Nest pass 8/4, and another above Bompu 13/4.

Mountain Imperial Pigeon Ducula badia

ENS; small flocks regularly around Bompu 11-13/4.

Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis

ST/ENS/Sh; common lower down at all sites.

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis

At Kolkata 28/3, and Sessa Village, 5/4.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

At Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago

Several at the Nalban wetlands, Kolkata 28/3. Apparently Swinhoe's is also here in the winter.

River Lapwing Vanellus duvaucelii

1 on the Bhorelli, on the way to ENS 5/4.

Black Kite Milvus migrans

Many at Kolkata, Gauhati and near the land-fill site at Shillong.

Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis

ST; the commonest griffon observed, seen as individuals and in loose groups of up to 8 birds on most days of the trek.

Eurasian Griffon Gyps fulvus

ST; 3 approaching Kalipokari 30/3.

Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayensis

ENS; seen regularly around Sunderview, with a pair together on 7/4.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

ENS; An untypical female caused us some ID problems at Chaku on 10/4.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis

ST; singles at Megma 29/3 and on the way to Garibans 30/3.

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo

ST; 1 at the Bikebhanjang tea-shop below Sandakphu, 31/3.

Mountain Hawk-eagle Spizaetus nipalensis

ST/Sh; singles on the way to Kalipokari 30/3, above Rimbik 3/4, and on the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

ST; 1 above Manebhanjang on 29/3.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

1 on the Bhorelli at Tipi FRH, 5/4.

Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii

Several at the Nalban wetlands, Kolkata 28/3.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

At the Nalban wetlands, Kolkata 28/3.

Little Heron Butorides striatus

1 on the Bhorelli at Tipi FRH, 5/4.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

1 at the Nalban wetlands, Kolkata 28/3.

Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala

Feral birds at the Nalban wetlands, Kolkata 28/3.

Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans

Several overhead at Nalban wetlands and Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3 and in the Brahmaputra floodplain from the bus, 15/4.

Orange-bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii

ENS/Sh; the only leafbird of this trip, seen at Sessa and the lower sections of ENS. Also on the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus

Singles at Ruby Hospital, Kolkata 28/3, and Sessa village 5/4.

Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach

Singles at Banabitan Park (ssp. tricolor) 28/3, and on the way to ENS 5/4.

Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus

1 at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Yellow-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa flavirostris

ST/ENS; seen regularly in small parties at Megma, and once below Sandakphu 31/3. Also at Chaku 10/4.

Common Green Magpie Cissa chinensis

ENS; 2 overflew us below Sessni camp on 10/4.

Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae

ENS; 1 high in a tree below Sessni on 11/4.

Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes

ST/ENS; Singles at Tonglu 30/3 (basking spread-eagled on a rock), and below Sandakphu 2/4. Also around Eagle's Nest pass 6/4 and 8/4.

House Crow Corvus splendens

At Kolkata and in most lowland towns and villages.

Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos

Common in the uplands, where confusable with Raven. ST/Sh all days; 5 & 6/4 at ENS.

Common Raven Corvus corax

ST; at least 1 around Sandakphu, 3 & 4/4.

Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus

Several at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Maroon Oriole Oriolus trailii

ENS/Sh; heard frequently and seen once below Sessni 11/4. Also on the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos

ST/ENS; 1 at Megma 30/3, and at Bompu 12/4.

Grey-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris

ENS; seen fairly regularly below c.2000m, in Sessa 5/4, and below Bompu 11,13 & 14/4.

Long-tailed Minivet Pericrocotus ethologus

ST/ENS; appears to range higher than the former species. On the way to Megma 29/3, and at Sandakphu 31/3 & 1/4. Also around Eagle's Nest pass 8/4, and above Bompu 13 & 14/4.

Short-billed Minivet Pericrocotus brevirostris

ST/ENS/Sh; the most frequently seen minivet, on most days on the Sandakphu trek and at ENS, except at the highest altitudes. Also common around Shillong.

Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus

Seen at Sessa village 5/4.

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus

ENS/Sh; 1 down below Sessni 11/4, and on all days around Shillong.

Yellow-bellied Fantail Rhipidura hypoxantha

ST/ENS/Sh; several between Kalipokari and Sandakphu 31/3, frequent on most days at ENS, and in the ravine at Shillong Peak.

White-throated Fantail Rhipidura albicollis

At Darjeeling zoo; all days at ENS at lower elevations, and several at Shillong Peak/Old Gauhati Road 16 & 17/4.

Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus

Frequent at the Nalban wetlands 28/3, and occasional at other sites in the lowlands.

Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus

ST/ENS/Sh; common in the uplands, seen at Garibans 30/3, at Gurdun 2/4, regularly below Bombu 10-12/4, and on all days around Shillong.

Bronzed Drongo Dicrurus aeneus

ENS; in Sessa OS 5/4, and below Bompu 10 & 11/4.

Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus remifer

ENS; 1 below Sessni 11/4.

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

ST/ENS; pairs on the river below Sirikhola 2/4, and on the Bhorelli on 14/4.

Blue-capped Rock Thrush Monticola cinclorhynchus

1 male on the journey down to Siliguri 4/4, several females around Sunderview 10/4, and another male at Tenga 14/4.

Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush Monticola rufiventris

ST/ENS; 1 at Megma 30/3, and on all days except Easter at ENS.

Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius

1 on the way to Sessa 5/4.

Blue Whistling Thrush Myophonus caeruleus

ST/ENS; common both sites below 2000m.

Orange-headed Thrush Zoothera citrina

Sh; 2 on the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Plain-backed Thrush Zoothera mollisima

ST; several below Megma 29/3, and between Garibans and Kalipokari 30/3.

Scaly Thrush Zoothera dauma

ST; 2 probables flushed from the Rimbik trail, 1/4.

Tickell's Thrush Turdus unicolor

ST; a female at Manebhanjang 29/3.

White-collared Blackbird Turdus albocinctus

ST; common below Megma 29-30/3, and 1 at Sandakphu 1/4.

Grey-winged Blackbird Turdus boulboul

ENS; 1 on the morning of our last day at Bompu, 14/4.

Dark-throated Thrush Turdus ruficollis

ST; 1 approaching Rimbik (ssp. atrogularis) 2/4.

Gould's Shortwing Brachypteryx stellata

ENS; a probable (see Diary) between Lamacamp and Eagle's Nest pass, 8/4.

Lesser Shortwing Brachypteryx leucophrys

Sh; An immature male in the ravine at Shillong Peak 16/4. Another the next day on the Old Gauhati Road, 17/4.

White-browed Shortwing Brachypteryx montana

ST/ENS; an immature male in brief flight below Sandakphu 31/3 caused confusion as it was my first (I was unfamiliar with the habit of puffing-out the supercilia to all but cover the forehead). Below Chaku on 10/4, a mature male could only be seen by each of us crawling in turn beneath vegetation on all fours! Once we learned the song, the bird appeared to be fairly common between Bompu and Chaku.

Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica

1 at Sessa village 5/4.

Ferruginous Flycatcher Muscicapa ferruginea

1 at Darjeeling zoo, 3/4.

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher Ficedula strophiata

ST/ENS; frequent on all days during the trek, and every day 8-13/4 inclusive at ENS.

White-gorgeted Flycatcher Ficedula monileger

ENS; a confiding pair below Bompu, 11/4.

Snowy-browed Flycatcher Ficedula hyperythra

ENS; singles at Sessa 5/4, at Sunderview 9/4 (male), and on the Piri-la trek 10/4.

Little Pied Flycatcher Ficedula westermanni

ST/Sh; singles at Gurdun 2/4, Rimbik 3/4, and the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Slaty-blue Flycatcher Ficedula tricolor

ST/ENS; single males above Gurdun 2/4 and above Bompu 12/4, and a probable at Bompu 14/4.

Sapphire Flycatcher Ficedula sapphira

ENS; brief views of a male at Sunderview, 6/4.

Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassina

ST/ENS/Sh; around Megma 29-30/3, at Sessa and most days at ENS, and the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Large Niltava Niltava grandis

A pair at Darjeeling zoo 3/4; around and below Bompu 11-13/4, and on the Old Gauhati Road 15/4.

Small Niltava Niltava macgrigoriae

ENS; singles at Sessa 5/4 and below Bompu 11/4.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis

At Darjeeling zoo 3/4; several on all days at ENS and around Shillong.

Orange-flanked Bush Robin Tarsiger cyanurus

ST/ENS; singles on the earlier days of the trek to Sandakphu 29-31/3, around Sunderview and Eagle's Nest pass 6-9/4, and around Bompu 12-14/4.

Golden Bush Robin Tarsiger chrysaeus

ENS; several around Sunderview 7/4 and between Chaku/Bompu 10/4 (all females/imm. males).

White-browed Bush Robin Tarsiger indicus

ST; close views of a female approaching Garibans 30/3, and another at Sandakphu 31/3.

Rufous-breasted Bush Robin Tarsiger hyperythrus

ENS; the elusive male of a pair was finally seen well by all above Bompu, 13/4. Well worth the wait!

Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis

Singles at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3 and at Sessa village 5/4.

Hodgson's Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni

ENS; a pair at Bompu camp 12/4, with a probable female there again on 14/4.

White-throated Redstart Phoenicurus schisticeps

ST; a couple of imm. males/females at Sandakphu, 1-2/4.

Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis

ST/ENS; frequent approaching and around Megma 30/3, at Sandakphu (with the above species) 1/4. Several on all days except Easter at ENS.

White-capped Water Redstart Chaimarrornis leucocephalus

ST/ENS; singles at Sirikhola 2/4, Tipi FRH 5/4 and around Sunderview 6-9/4. Also below Bompu 11/4 and returning to Assam 14/4.

Plumbeous Water Redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosus

A pair at Sirikhola 2/4 and approaching ENS 5/4.

White-tailed Robin Myiomela leucura

Sh; this species is readily seen in ravines at Shillong peak 16/4. My final sighting was of a bird appearing to lack white in the (longish) tail. Briefly in sunlight the bird had a distinct inky-blue cast. I have never seen Blue-fronted Robin Cinclidium frontale and would be extremely hesitant to claim that ultra-rare species. However, future birders to this site take note!

Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri

ENS; 1 below Eagle's Nest pass 8/4.

Slaty-backed Forktail Enicurus schistaceus

ENS; 1 below Bompu 10/4.

Spotted Forktail Enicurus maculatus

ENS/Sh; singles on streams at Sunderview camp 8-9/4, and a pair in the ravine at Shillong Peak 16/4. Also heard on the Old Gauhati road 17/4.

Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata

1 on the approach to ENS, 5/4.

Grey Bushchat Saxicola ferrea

ST/Sh; several at Rimbik 3/4, and at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnus malabaricus

Several at Balukpong waiting for a replacement vehicle, 5/4. Also around Shillong 16-17/4.

Asian Pied Starling Sturnus contra

At Nalban wetlands, Kolkata 28/3 and in the lowlands 5/4 and 15/4.

Common Myna Acridotheres tristis

Noted at Manebhanjang 29/3, Tezpur 15/4 and around Shillong 15-17/4.

Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta castanea

At Darjeeling zoo 3/4, and on both days at the Old Gauhati Road 15/4 & 17/4.

White-tailed Nuthatch Sitta himalayensis

ST/ENS; singles, often within mixed flocks, between Tonglu/Garibans 30/3, at Kalipokari 31/3 and at Sandakphu 1/4. Also Sunderview 8/4, between Chaku/Bompu 10/4, and above Bompu 13/4.

Beautiful Nuthatch Sitta formosa VU

ENS; our first encounter with this species occurred late on 10/4, below Sessni at c.1200m. We saw at least 6 birds associating with as many Long-tailed Sibias and a Greater Yellownape. On 11/4, possibly the same birds were observed again between Bompu and Sessni at c.1500m, here with Long-tailed, Beautiful and Rufous-backed Sibias, and a White-browed Shrike Babbler. Again, there were at least 6 birds present. The closest nuthatch must have been no more than 8m from us!

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis

Sh; 1 at Shillong Peak 16/4 and a pair on the Old Gauhati Road, 17/4.

Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris

ST; around Sandakphu, singles on 31/3-2/4.

Rusty-flanked Treecreeper Certhia nipalensis

ST; singles at Sandakphu 1/4, and between there and Gurdun, 2/4.

Brown-throated Treecreeper Certhia discolor

ENS; singles between Chaku/Bompu 10/4, and above Bompu 13/4.

Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes

ST; singles between Tonglu/Garibans 30/3, and below Sandakphu 31/3.

Rufous-vented Tit Parus rubidiventris

ST; up to 3 birds daily, 29/3-2/4.

Coal Tit Parus ater

ST; at Sandakphu only, 1-5 birds daily 31/3-2/4.

Grey-crested Tit Parus dichrous

ST; below and at Sandakphu, 2-3 on 31/3 & 1/4.

Green-backed Tit Parus monticolus

ST/ENS/Sh; common at and below Megma 29-30/3, and from above Gurdun to Rimbik 2-3/4. Singles near Sunderview 6/4 & at Chaku 8/4. Several at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Yellow-cheeked Tit Parus spilonotus

ENS/Sh; 1-2 below Chaku 7/4, between Chaku/Bompu 10/4, and above Bompu 12-13/4. Also common around Shillong; up to 3 daily 15-17/4.

Yellow-browed Tit Sylviparus modestus

ST/ENS; singles in mixed flocks below Kalipokari 30/3, and on most days at ENS.

Sultan Tit Melanochlora sultanea

ENS; a flock of 5-6 birds below Sessni at c.1000m, 11/4.

Black-throated Tit Aegithalos concinnus

ST; several at Garibans 30/3, above Rimbik 2/4 and at Darjeeling zoo 3/4.

Rufous-fronted Tit Aegithalos iouschistos

ST; a flock of 6 about 2 hours below Sandakphu, 2/4.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

ST; at Manebhanjang 29/3 and Rimbik 3/4.

Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica

ST; 2 with the above species at Rimbik 3/4.

Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus

ENS; a large flock above Bompu 13/4.

Nepal House Martin Delichon nipalensis

ST; at Manebhanjang 29/3 and above Sirikhola 2/4.

Crested Finchbill Spizixos canifrons

Sh; several with Red-vented Bulbuls at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Striated Bulbul Pycnonotus striatus

ENS; singles above and below Bompu, 11-13/4.

Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer

At Banabitan Park 28/3, at Sessa 5/4, and all days at Shillong 15-17/4.

Mountain Bulbul Hypsipetes mcclellandii

ENS/Sh; Singles below Bompu 10/4, and in the ravine at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus

Sh; common on the Old Gauhati Road, 15 & 17/4.

Hill Prinia Prinia atrogularis

ENS/Sh; heard more often than seen. Sightings in tall grassland at Chaku 7 & 8/4, and below Sessni 11/4. Also on the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Rufescent Prinia Prinia rufescens

Sh; this perky little prinia is common in roadside grass on the Old Gauhati Road, 15 & 17/4.

Plain Prinia Prinia inornata

Several seen in reeds at the Ruby Hospital, Kolkata 28/3.

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis

2 displaying at the Ruby Hospital, Kolkata 28/3.

Slaty-bellied Tesia Tesia olivea

ENS; heard often but also seen well, below Sessa 5/4, at Bompu 11/4 and below Bompu 12/4.

Grey-bellied Tesia Tesia cyaniventer

ENS; we began picking up this species above Bompu at c.2000m; 1 finally seen well 13/4.

Chestnut-headed Tesia Tesia castaneocoronata

ENS; common around Sunderview and down to Chaku. We saw 1-2 birds daily, 6-8/4.

Grey-sided Bush Warbler Cettia brunnifrons

ST/ENS; common in scrub approaching Gurdun 2/4, 1 also seen well above Bompu 13/4.

Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler Cettia acanthizoides

ST/ENS; a upper altitude bamboo specialist, common below Sandakphu 1-2/4. Also at Eagle's Nest pass 6/4 and Piri-la 9/4.

Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler Cettia fortipes

ST/ENS; heard often (esp. around Bompu camp), and 1 seen well at Manebhanjang 29/3.

Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler Cettia major

ST; 1 just below Megma 29/3.

Russet Bush Warbler Bradypterus seebohmi

ST; heard only, just above Gurdun village 2/4.

Blunt-winged Warbler Acrocephalus concinens

A brief view of the well-publicised wintering bird at the Nalban wetlands, 28/3.

Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum

Several at the Nalban wetlands and Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3.

Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus

Several at the Nalban wetlands and 1 at Banabitan Park, Kolkata 28/3

Striated Grassbird Megalurus palustris

Common at the Nalban wetlands, Kolkata 28/3.

Mountain Tailorbird Orthotomus cuculatus

ENS/Sh; singles below Sessni 11/4, above Bompu 13/4, and at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius

Singles at Banabitan Park 28/3, and at Balukpong 5/4.

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita

ST; heard only, above Sirikhola 2/4

Tickell's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus affinis

ST; 2 at Rimbik, 3/4.

Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis

Sh; 1 at Shillong Peak, 16/4. Reputedly becoming regular here.

Buff-barred Warbler Phylloscopus pulcher

ST/ENS/Sh; frequent on most days of the trek, and apparently common at ENS. Several also at Shillong Peak, 16/4.

Ashy-throated Warbler Phylloscopus maculipennis

ST/ENS; 2-3 birds on most days of the trek, and above c.2000m at ENS.

Lemon-rumped Warbler Phylloscopus chloronotus

ENS; singles at Sunderview 7/4, and below Sessni 11/4.

Hume's [Yellow-browed] Warbler Phylloscopus humei

ST/ENS/Sh; several noted between Manebhanjang/Megma 29/3. There was some confusion between this and P. inornatus at ENS. Singles believed to be this species were seen on 8, 9 and 13/4. Also on the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus

ENS; 1 at least below Sessni on 11/4.

Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides

ST/ENS/Sh; several on 29/3, 1 & 2/4 on the trek, and on 7 & 11/4 at ENS. 1 on Old Gauhati Road 15/4.

Blyth's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus reguloides

ST/ENS/Sh; several below Megma 19/3, and before Garibans 30/3. Singles 8 & 10/4 at ENS. Also at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Whistler's [Golden-spectacled] Warbler Seicercus whistleri

ST/ENS; common at lower altitudes on the trek. Seen also at Darjeeling zoo. 4-6 birds daily at ENS.

Grey-hooded Warbler Seicercus xanthoschistus

ENS/Sh; Singles at Sessa 5/4, below Bompu 11/4, at Shillong Peak 16/4, and the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis

ENS; where there was some confusion between this and S. poliogenys. At least 1 noted below Bompu on 10/4.

Grey-cheeked Warbler Seicercus poliogenys

ENS; more frequent than the above species, and noted daily 11-14/4 above and below Bompu.

Chestnut-crowned Warbler Seicercus castaniceps

Singles at Darjeeling zoo 3/4, every day except Piri-la at ENS, and at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Broad-billed Warbler Tickellia hodgsoni Rr

ENS; 2 below Chaku 7/4, 1 below Eagle's Nest pass 8/4, and 2 more between Chaku/Bompu 10/4.

Black-faced Warbler Abroscopus schisticeps

ENS; up to 6 daily in fast-moving mixed flocks above Bompu 12-14/4.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus

ST; 1-2 daily at Sandakphu, 31/3 and 1/4.

White-throated Laughingthrush Garrulax albogularis

ENS; 6+ birds between Lamacamp and Eagle's Nest pass, 8/4.

White-crested Laughingthrush Garrulax leucolophus

ENS; flocks heard most days below Bompu, 2 seen well 11/4.

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush Garrulax pectoralis

ENS; a lone individual below Sessni 11/4.

Striated Laughingthrush Garrulax striatus

ST/ENS; singles at Megma and Tonglu, 30/3, between Bompu/Sessni 11/4, and above Bompu 13/4.

Spotted Laughingthrush Garrulax ocellatus

ST; more elusive than I expected; several heard approaching Sandakphu. 1 finally seen on the trek path east of Sandakphu, 31/3.

Streaked Laughingthrush Garrulax lineatus

ST; 1 probable in the burned-over scrub before Gurdun, 2/4.

Blue-winged Laughingthrush Garrulax squamatus

ENS; heard above and below Sessni, with 1 seen briefly 11/4.

Black-faced Laughingthrush Garrulax affinis

ST/ENS; the most conspicuous laughingthrush at both sites. Parties of up to 8 birds seen most days on the trek, and above c. 2000m at ENS.

Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush Garrulax erythrocephalus

ST/ENS; seen just as regularly as the above species, but usually fewer to a group. Birds here are ssp. nigrimentus.

Red-faced Liocichla Liocichla phoenicea

Sh; 1 at Shillong Peak 16/4, and another seen well in a flock where the landfill site overspills the top end of the Old Gauhati Road, 17/4.

Spot-throated Babbler Pellorneum albiventre

Sh; persistence earned me good views of a pair of these subtly marked little babblers in scrub towards the top end of the Old Gauhati Road, 15/4.

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus hypoleucos

ENS; 1 with several of the following species at Bompu on our last morning, 14/4.

Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ferruginosus

ENS/Sh; a speciality of dense bamboo around Bompu, although Claudio had a probable well below there on 11/4. At least 2 showed very well just above Bompu 12/4, and again close to the camp 14/4. Also 1 about halfway down the Old Gauhati Road, 17/4.

Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler Xiphirhynchus superciliaris

ST/ENS; several heard in dense bamboo below Kalipokari. Heard regularly around Eagle's Nest pass, with 1 being seen there by Ramana on 7/4. Our tape failed to attract the species here, which was surprising as it worked well for me at Tiger Hill (Darjeeling) on a previous trip.

Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler Pnoepyga albiventer

ENS; 1 was brought in by tape playback and gave excellent views on the Piri-la trek, 9/4.

Pygmy Wren-babbler Pnoepyga pusilla

ST/ENS/Sh; heard approaching Rimbik 2/4, in Darjeeling town 3/4, and on most days at ENS. 1 brought in by playback above Bompu on 13/4 provided an excellent opportunity for comparison with the above species.

Rufous-throated Wren-babbler Spelaeornis caudatus NT/Rr

ENS; 2 attracted by tape at a previously noted site below Chaku, on 7/4.

Bar-winged Wren-babbler Spelaeornis troglodytoides

ENS; 1 attracted by tape c.1km above a previously noted site between Lamacamp and Eagle's Nest pass, 8/4.

[Tawny-breasted Wren-babbler Spelaeornis longicaudatus VU/Rr

Sh; 1 possible in the ravine below the football field at Shillong Peak, 16/4 (see Diary). The bird did not respond to a tape of this species' call, however.]

Wedge-billed Wren-babbler Sphenocichla humei NT/Rr

ENS; at least 2 birds attracted by tape at a previously noted site between Bompu and Sessni on 11/4, and another at Bompu 12/4. The Easter day birds were quite confiding, and Claudio 'scoped one for a good minute from a range of about 8m. Undoubtedly of ssp. humei, but Claudio reported a suggestion of rufous on the forehead, while I felt the bird appeared rather scaled (ie. as roberti) on the throat and breast.

Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyris ruficeps

ENS; 2-3 birds on all days, often in mixed flocks.

Golden Babbler Stachyris chrysaea

ENS; several birds daily following our shift to Bompu (11-14/4), always in fast-moving mixed flocks with the above species and Yellow-throated Fulvettas.

Grey-throated Babbler Stachyris nigriceps

2 at Sessa, approaching ENS on 5/4.

Silver-eared Mesia Leiothrix argentauris

ENS/Sh; several in Darjeeling town 3/4, at Sessa OS 5/4, below Sessni 11/4, and on the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea

ST/ENS/Sh; 1 at Manebanjang 29/3, several in Darjeeling town 3/4, and below Sessni 11/4 and at Shillong Peak 16/4.

Cutia Cutia nipalensis

ENS; below Sessni on 11/4. Our first encounter was with a pair in a mixed flock, while the second came later in the day, involving at least 4 birds (3 males, 1 female) again within a mixed flock.

White-browed Shrike Babbler Pteruthius flaviscapis

ST/ENS; 1 male above Sirikhola 2/4, a female at Darjeeling zoo 3/4. A male between Chaku/Bompu 10/4 and a female with the Beautiful Nuthatches 11/4.

Green Shrike Babbler Pteruthius xanthochlorus

ST/ENS; singles below Kalipokari 31/3, and in a mixed babbler flock below Eagle's nest pass, 8/4.

Black-eared Shrike Babbler Pteruthius melanotis

ENS; singles in mixed flocks below Chaku 7/4, and below Bompu 11/4.

Rusty-fronted Barwing Actinodura egertoni

ENS; at and below Bompu, 2-3 daily 11, 12 & 14/4. Often with Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbills.

Hoary-throated Barwing Actinodura nipalensis Rr

ST; common below Megma 29-30/3, 1 also below Sandakphu 2/4.

Streak-throated Barwing Actinodura waldeni Rr

ENS; the upper altitude barwing (ssp. daflaensis - very similar to the above species) at ENS, 1-2 daily 6-10/4.

Blue-winged Minla Minla cyanouroptera

ENS/Sh; several below Sessni 11/4, and above Bompu 13/4. Also at Shillong Peak and on the Old Gauhati Road, 16 & 17/4, and in Darjeeling town, 3/4.

Chestnut-tailed Minla Minla strigula

ST/ENS; 3-4 birds all days on the trek, often in mixed flocks. Similarly on most days at ENS, 6-11/4.

Red-tailed Minla Minla ignotincta

ST/ENS; 2-3 birds within mixed flocks between Manebhanjang/Megma 29/3, Garibans/Kalipokari 30/3, and at Darjeeling zoo 3/4. Similarly around Sunderview 6-8/4, and between Chaku/Bompu 10/4, and Bompu/Sessni 11/4.

Golden-breasted Fulvetta Alcippe chrysotis

ENS; several on the Piri-la trek 9/4, and around Bompu 12 & 14/4, always in bamboo and often with Black-throated Parrotbills.

Yellow-throated Fulvetta Alcippe cinerea

ENS; in parties of 4-5 birds, often with other babblers and apparently within a distinct altitudinal belt between c.2200-1500m. Seen on all days 10-14/4.

Rufous-winged Fulvetta Alcippe castaneceps

ST/ENS; 2-3 birds daily at lower altitude on the trek (29-31/3), and on all days at ENS, usually in mixed flocks.

White-browed Fulvetta Alcippe vinipectus

ST; 2-3 seen daily 29/3-2/4, not so often in mixed flocks as the above species.

Brown-throated Fulvetta Alcippe ludlowi Rr

ENS; singles below Eagle's Nest pass 6/4 and 8/4.

Brown-cheeked Fulvetta Alcippe poioicephala

Sh; 2 on the Old Gauhati Road 15/4.

Nepal Fulvetta Alcippe nipalensis

1 below Sessa, approaching ENS 5/4.

Rufous-backed Sibia Heterophasia annectans

ENS; at least 2 with Beautiful Nuthatches, 11/4. Several more later below Sessni (1 with the Cutias at c.1000m).

Rufous Sibia Heterophasia capistrata

ST; common in parties of +6 birds at lower altitudes on the trek, seen 29/3, 30/3 and 2/4. Also in Darjeeling town 29/3 and 3/4.

Beautiful Sibia Heterophasia pulchella Rr

ENS; equivalent to the above species in terms of status, seen in groups usually as mixed flocks on all days 6-14/4 (ssp. nigroaurita).

Grey Sibia Heterophasia gracilis Rr

Sh; a speciality of the area, as with the previous two species this is an easy bird to see. 4-5 seen daily 15-17/4, at Shillong Peak and on the Old Gauhati Road.

Long-tailed Sibia Heterophasia picaoides

ENS; at Sessa 5/4 and regularly below Bompu, 10 & 11/4.

Striated Yuhina Yuhina castaniceps

ST/Sh; 1 amongst a large mixed flock above Garibans, 30/3 (ssp. rufigenis), and several on both days at the Old Gauhati Road 15 & 17/4 (ssp. castaniceps).

White-naped Yuhina Yuhina bakeri Rr

ST/ENS; several in the same mixed flock above Garibans, 30/3. Seen at Sessa OS 5/4, and fairly regularly at mid-lower altitude in ENS, 10-13/4, usually with Y. flavicollis.

Whiskered Yuhina Yuhina flavicollis

ST/ENS; also in the mixed flock above Garibans, 30/3, and in Darjeeling zoo 3/4. Regular below 2000m in ENS, 10-12/4 & 14/4, always in mixed flocks.

Stripe-throated Yuhina Yuhina gularis

ST/ENS; the commonest yuhina on the trek, seen all days. At ENS more of an upper species, and very common above 2000m. The most numerous species in mixed flocks on all days 6-10/4.

Rufous-vented Yuhina Yuhina occipitalis

ST/ENS; also common on the trek, 2-3 seen on all days. At ENS, a similar pattern of observation to Y. gularis and nearly always accompanying it.

Black-chinned Yuhina Yuhina nigrimenta

A small party with White-naped Yuhinas at Sessa OS, 5/4.

Fire-tailed Myzornis Myzornis pyrrhoura

ST; believe it or not my top-most target for this trip, with my best chance felt to be at ENS. However, on 1/4 I saw 4 birds of a larger group in low bamboo/rhododendron shrubbery, about 1 hour below Sandakphu (c.3400m) beside the Rimbik trekking path. Extremely confiding, I was able to squat within a metre of them hovering to nectar-feed at rhododendron blooms. Absolutely priceless!

Great Parrotbill Conostoma oemodium

ST; 2 attracted by tape below Sandakphu on the trekking path to Rimbik, 1/4 (just after the Myzornis). A further 2 in the basin between the two ridge trails at Sandakphu later in the day.

Brown Parrotbill Paradoxornis unicolor

ST/ENS; 1 at Megma 30/3, and 2 below Eagle's Nest pass 6/4.

Grey-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis gularis

ENS; several birds within mixed flocks below Sessni, 11/4.

Black-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis nipalensis

ENS; parties of 6-10 birds below Eagle's Nest pass 6/4, on the Piri-la trek 9/4, and around Bompu 12 & 14/4.

Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis ruficeps

ENS; another Bompu bamboo speciality, at least 10 birds in a flock just above the camp on 12/4.

Bengal [Rufous-winged] Bushlark Mirafra assamica

Several sitting on low walls at Ruby Hospital, Kolkata 28/3.

Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula

Also at Ruby Hospital, 28/3.

Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker Dicaeum melanoxanthum

ENS; a pair briefly between Chaku/Bompu, 10/4.

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker Dicaeum ignipectus

ENS/Sh; 1-2 birds daily below Bompu, 11-13/4, at Shillong Peak 16/4, and the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Mrs Gould's Sunbird Aethopyga gouldiae

ST/ENS; singles between Garibans/Kalipokari 30/3, Sandakphu/Gurdun 2/4, and below Eagle's Nest pass 6-8/4.

Green-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga nipalensis

ST/ENS; common approaching and at Megma 29 & 30/3, and 3-4 every day at ENS 6-10/4 & 13/4.

Black-throated Sunbird Aethopyga saturata

ENS; singles at Sessa 5/4 and below Sessni 11/4.

Fire-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga ignicauda

ST; singles and occasional pairs on every day of the trek 29/3-2/4, often within mixed flocks.

Streaked Spiderhunter Arachnothera magna

ENS/Sh; singles at Sessa 5/4 and below Sessni 11/4. Also at Shillong Peak 16/4.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Noted at Kolkata and Darjeeling.

Russet Sparrow Passer rutilans

Sh; a pair at Shillong Peak, 16/4.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

ST/Sh; noted at Gurdun and Rimbik 2/4, Darjeeling 3/4, and on the Old Gauhati Road 15 & 17/4.

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava

Common at the Nalban wetlands, Kolkata 28/3.

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea

ST/ENS; singles on the Sirikhola 2/4, and a small tributary of the Bhorelli, 5/4.

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis

ENS; singles at Sessa village 5/4 and below Sessni 11/4.

Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni

ST/ENS/Sh; small flocks noted every day of the trek, and on most days at ENS. Also on the Old Gauhati Road 17/4.

Rufous-breasted Accentor Prunella strophiata

ST/ENS; several at Sandakphu 1/4, and below Eagle's Nest pass 6-8/4. 2 at Bompu 13/4.

Maroon-backed Accentor Prunella immaculata

ENS; several below Eagle's Nest pass 6/4, around Sunderview 8 & 9/4, and at Bompu 14/4.

Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus

A large flock at Ruby Hospital, Kolkata 28/3.

Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata

Also at Ruby Hospital, Kolkata 28/3.

Yellow-breasted Greenfinch Carduelis spinoides

ST; 1 between Sandakphu/Gurdun, 2/4.

Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola

ST; several Kalipokari 30/3, and a flock of c. 20 birds around Sandakphu, 1/4

Dark-breasted Rosefinch Carpodacus nipalensis

ENS; single females below Chaku 7 & 10/4.

Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus

ST/ENS; 1 at Megma 30/3, and another around Bompu camp 12 & 14/4.

Dark-rumped Rosefinch Carpodacus edwardsii

ST; a female at Megma 29/3, then several more at Sandakphu 1 & 2/4.

White-browed Rosefinch Carpodacus thura

ST; a female below Sandakphu on the trekking path to Rimbik, 1/4.

Brown Bullfinch Pyrrula nipalensis

ENS; 3-4 birds at Sunderview and later below Eagle's Nest pass 6/4, and below Chaku 7/4.

Red-headed Bullfinch Pyrrula erythrocephala

ST/ENS; 3 below Kalipokari 31/3, and several associating with the above species at Sunderview 6/4.

Grey-headed Bullfinch Pyrrula erythaca

ENS; 4-5 below Eagle's Nest pass 6/4, and below Chaku 7/4.

Collared Grosbeak Mycerobas affinis

ENS; an elusive pair below Eagle's Nest pass 8/4, then regular around Bompu with up to 3 birds on all days 10-14/4.

Gold-naped Finch Pyrrhoplectes epauletta

ST/ENS; single males at Tonglu 30/3, and between Sandakphu/Gurdun 2/4. Singles and a pair below Eagle's Nest pass 6 & 8/4, a female Chaku/Bompu 10/4 and another at Bompu 14/4.

Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla

ENS/Sh; 1 around Bompu camp 12 & 13/4, and 4 at Shillong Peak 16/4.


Assamese Macaque Macaca assamensis

Several on the way to Darjeeling 28/3.

Yellow-throated Marten Martes flavigula

1 just below Megma, 29/3.

Red-cheeked squirrel Dremomys rufigenis

1 on the Old Gauhati Road, 15/4.

Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel Dremomys lokriah

Several on the Sandakphu trek.

Himalayan Striped Squirrel Tamiops macclellandi

Several on the Sandakphu trek and at ENS.

Indian muntjac Muntiacus muntjak

Heard below Kalipokari on the Sandakphu trek, and at ENS.

6. References & further reading

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

2. Kazmierczak K & Singh R (1998). A Birdwatcher's Guide to India. Prion

3. Birdlife International website (www.birdlife.net/datazone).

4. Waite M (2003); Namdapha & Manas National Parks, Northeast India Nov-Dec 2002 (on Surfbirds)

5. Athreya, R M & Karthikeyan S (1995); The Wildlife Sanctuaries in the Dafla Hills of Arunachal Pradesh

6. Birdlife International (2000). Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Ediciones

Grimmett R, Inskipp C & Inskipp T (1998). Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Oxford

For the Sandakphu trek:

Benstead P & C (2003); Darjeeling, India 2003 (on Birdtours)
Prasad A (1999); Lava, Darjeeling, North Bengal, India Birding Trip Report (on WorldTwitch)
Buckton S & Morris P North India and Nepal, December 1989-June 1990. (OBC sales)

Useful email addresses;

Mike Waite: mike.waite@london.gov.uk

Sujan Chatterjee (Northeast Indian birding guide/photographer): sujan75@vsnl.net

Ramana Athreya (for future trips to Eagle's Nest/Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuaries: rathreya@ncra.tifr.res.in

All India birding tours (Peter & Catherine Lobo): gurutt@sancharnet.in