I intended to visit the region for a couple of years already, but when I met Joseph Brooks and Uthai Treesucon on Sumba in July 2008 my plan became more concrete.
Joseph had arranged a 3 week trip with Peter Lobo in April/May 2009 and he invited me to join him.
Back home I was able to take leave in this period and so I joined them. Because of working commitments Uthai had to step out and I asked several birders I knew to come along. Stijn De Win, a Belgian birder, and Dutch birder Jan Hein van Steenis, currently living in London, stepped in and so we had a fine 4 member team.
This trip report is a reflection of my own experiences on this trip, complemented by notes written by Jan Hein van Steenis. (Hein's trip report on birdforum)
Thetrip started under a bad omen as a good birding friend of mine, Rob Goldbach, was killed by an elephant in Panbari Forest just 10 days before our trip took off. The ironic thing is that I initially asked him to come with me on this trip, but he had already booked a trip to Eaglenest with a regular bird tour company. I talked to several people, present at the incident, and I strongly have the impression that the whole attack could have been prevented if the group had paid more attention to the warnings of the local guides and guards. (Read Ramana Athreya)
In general western birders (me included, until recently) tend to say that local people overreact in confrontations with wildlife, but we all forget while we visit these regions once and a while, they live there all year round.!!
There are many incidents with elephants in Assam because there is a constant strong conflict between the local farmers and elephants entering their agriculture fields. The same day Rob was killed, in another incident an elephant killed 3 children.
Anyway it is sad that Rob can no longer undertake the birding trips he so deeply enjoyed.
I had visited Assam and Meghalaya in March 1998 and as Joseph did Assam and Namdapha in 2006, we focussed on the Dirang area, Eaglenest and last but not least the Mishmi Hills.
Our itinerary worked out fine and in the end we spent an extra day in Kaziranga because we did so well in the Eaglenest area.
I also spent an extra day at the start of the trip at Sultanpur near Delhi to try for Sind Sparrow, which worked out fine and Stijn and I also added an extra day at the end of the tour for a visit to Dibru-Saikhowa and Digboi.
The whole trip was perfectly organised by Peter Lobo and his crew,
During the first 2 weeks he and his guide Abid accompanied us and during the Mishmi Hills leg of the tour we were guided by Abid alone.
We were very well taken care of and all we had to do was birding.
The birding was fantastic. Not only did we see some extraordinary species but all that against a back drop of undisturbed pristine forest, especially at Eaglenest and the Mishmi Hills. We mainly birded from the road or a wide track with NO traffic (Eaglenest) or just a few cars daily (Mishmi Hills).
I was a bit worried about the timing of our visit because most bird tours visit the region in March and April but it all worked out fine. Some species were more vocal than earlier in the year and as a result easier to observe.
Of course we also dipped some species: no sign of the two tragopans.
But you can judge for yourself when looking at our annotated bird list.
Highlights were many but the sighting of a ♂ Blue-naped Pitta in full view for at least 30 seconds, less than 10 meters away in a gully in the tea garden near Kaziranga stands out.
But we also saw Himalayan Monal, Snow Partridge, the endemic Chestnut-breasted Hill Partridge, Black-tailed Crake, Long-billed Plover, Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Snow Pigeon, Blue-naped Pitta (3 birds!!), Purple Cochoa, Blyth’s Kingfisher, Blue-fronted Robin, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Grandala, Bugun Liocichla, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Black-breasted Parrotbill, Manipur Fulvetta, Black-headed Shrike Babbler, Jerdon’s Babbler, Slender-billed Babbler, Marsh Babbler, Himalayan Cutia, Collared Treepie, 15 species of Laughingthrush (including the rare and localised Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush),9 species of Wren-Babblers including the 2 Wedge-billed’s and the recently rediscovered Mishmi Wren-Babbler, an unexpected ♂White-bellied Redstart, Ward’s Trogon, Broad-billed Warbler, Beautiful Nuthatch, Scarlet Finch and Crimson-browed Finch.
In total we recorded 476 species of which 10 were only heard.
Brown Parrotbill -Eaglenest photo copyright Henk Hendriks Black-headed Shrike-Babbler -Eaglenest
You do need a visa for India.
I obtained it through my local travel agency and this was valid for 3 months.
GETTING THERE – FLIGHT
I flew with KLM from Amsterdam to New Delhi.
A return ticket cost me €820,- including all taxes.
When I flew out of Delhi I unexpectedly had to pay an additional €19,- departure tax.! (since May 1 2009)
I also flew from New Delhi to Guwahati and from Dibrugarh to New Delhi with Jet Airways. Cost me around €220,-
The currency used in India is the indian rupee
During our stay the exchange rate was: 1000 Indian Rupee = 15 €
We hardly used any money as we paid for the whole trip to Peter Lobo.
Only for drinks we had to pay. I took some cash Euros which I changed in Delhi.
GETTING AROUND – CAR – ACCOMMODATION – FOOD & DRINKS
As all logistics were arranged by Peter we did not have to bother about all this. I booked a room in New Delhi (hotel Lohmod), close to the airport.
A room cost $60,-
Transportation was by 2 Tata jeeps. These were ok but in the highlands they produced a lot of fumes which was not nice for the people in the second car.
Accommodation was in either good hotels, a basic lodge in the Mishmi Hills and twice in a tented Camp where every evening we were provided with hot water for washing/showering.
Generally we had good to excellent meals. The first day in the field I was surprised to round a corner on the road, only to find a nicely dressed table with lunch just next of the road. This turned out to be the routine for the whole trip. We had lunch and most breakfasts out in the field, every day.
Though some areas in Assam are still considered to be unsafe because of tribal unrest we had no problems in this respect.
I used to state in many reports that I was never sick during my stay etc., but not this time.
During the first day I got sick, probably of some food along the road between Guwahati and Tezpur. I had serious stomach problems for the first 4/5 days and it took at least 7/8 days before I was really fit again.
During that period we also birded the area around the Sela Pass (4200m) and I was really struggling in that area. Stijn had also some stomach problems and Joseph had some problems with the altitude.
I did take prophylaxis against malaria while we were in the lowlands, though apparently the risk is rather low.
Wildlife can be dangerous, especially elephants at Panbari Forest, where Rob Goldbach was killed. But elephants also occur at Eaglenest, so you have to be careful.
We were very lucky with the weather.
Only during our first visit to the Sela Pass we encountered a nasty drizzle and fog at the pass.
We also drove most part of the day in the rain when we drove out of Eaglenest to Kaziranga. But that was a travelling day.
At Mishmi Hills we had some rain and fog one day in the area near the Mayodia Pass.
Most days the temperatures were very pleasant and actually perfect for birding. It was cold at Sela Pass and early mornings/evenings at Lama Camp and the lodge area in Mishmi Hills.
In the lowlands near Kaziranga it was hot during the day and it was very hot in Delhi.
We had 3 scopes in the group and Stijn did quite some digiscoping.
I carried a Canon 40d with Canon 300f4 is with 1.4 extender.
We both succeeded in photographing a large number of species we encountered.
Stijn also recorded a nice selection of songs during this trip (Sony MK 300 + Philips voicetracer) This selection can be heard at www.birding2asia.com
Joseph and I had also collected a good selection of vocalisations on an I-Pod. Both Peter and Abid had also good recordings of most target species on an I-pod.
Birds of the Indian Subcontinent.Richard Grimmett, Carol & Tim Inskipp.
Birds of South Asia: the Ripley guideP.Rasmussen & Anderton
The Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary has become a popular birding destination in recent years. After the discovery of a new Liocichla in 2005 many birders made the birding pilgrimage to this north-east corner of India.
If you combine Eaglenest with the Dirang Area, birders are able to score an incredible number of rare and/or range-restricted birds of the Eastern Himalayas.
Another advantage is that it can be done at a very reasonable price, certainly if you compare this to the costs you have to make to bird neighbouring Bhutan. You can see all the Bhutan species and more.
And yet another advantage is that you can combine these sites easily with other areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya.
Areas like Nameri, Kaziranga, Dibru-Saikhowa in Assam, Namdapha and the Mishmi Hills in Arunachal Pradesh, Shillong area in Meghalaya and even a visit to Nagaland is possible.
We opted for a 5-day extension to the beautiful, undisturbed forests of Mishmi Hills.
Eaglenest got its name from a general Singh of the Indian Army who was fighting the Chinese in the India-Chinese war in 1960 and who had his base in this area. Actually the track where you bird along is an old army road, built to transport troops through the region.
At Eaglenest you bird along this wide track from Lama Camp (2300 m) up to Eaglenest Pass (2700 m) and then down toBhompu (1900 m), Sessni (1200 m), Khellong and further down to the Doimara River (700 m).
We stayed in tented camps at Lama Camp and Bhompu and from these camps we birded along the different stretches of the road.
The birding along this track with no traffic and through mostly undisturbed, pristine habitat was absolutely fabulous.
Dirang (1500 m) is a small town in western Arunachal Pradesh, which is your base from where you bird the Sela Pass Rd. (Sela Pass at 4200 m), Mandala Rd. (Mandala Pass at 3200 m.) and from where you can visit the Sangti Valley (±1500 m).
We stayed at a nice, small hotel (Hotel Pemaling) in Dirang.
Along the Sela Pass Rd. you also bird at different altitudes but the most interesting part is the roughly 10 km stretch before the actual pass and at the pass and its immediate surroundings itself.
Here you find the species you most likely will not encounter at the other sites.
We found the birding along the Mandala Rd. very productive, but along this road you already encounter some disturbed patches.
The SangtiValley is nice to visit in an early morning or late afternoon, as we did. The specialties of this valley are the occurrence of Black-tailed Crake at a swampy area and along the stony riverbank Long-billed Plover is found to be breeding.
This area can be reached from Dibrugarh with some difficulty. You have to transport your vehicle(s) over the river Brahmaputra with a ferry boat.
It takes some skill to drive the car over some planks on the boat. But to reach the shores of the river is the trickier part. After heavy rain the tracks to the river all almost impassable for a normal car. Trucks and busses make deep ruts in the mud and we saw busses, trucks and cars stuck in the mud.
When you succeed in crossing the Brahmaputra you continue over a very bad, potholed road to the small city of Roing. From there you start climbing into the Mishmi Hills up to the Mayodia pass. (2500 m)
From the start of the road to the pass is a little more than 50 km.
A couple of km before the pass is a basic lodge where you can stay overnight.
Along the road you still find large tracts of undisturbed forests.
Many of the species you find here, you are familiar with from the Eaglenest and Dirang area but the star bird of the area is the enigmatic Mishmi Wren Babbler.
This species was rediscovered by Ben King & Julian Donahue in late November/early December 2004 after being lost for more than 57 years.
We had good views of it and I even succeeded in taking some photographs.
Another specialty of the area is Blyth’s Tragopan. It is said to be a reliable area to encounter this species but we dipped. Sclater’s Monal has also recently been found at higher altitudes but it takes a tough hike of several hours to reach this site.
Kaziranga is of course one of India’s most famous wildlife parks and this alone merits a visit to this park. Besides, it harbours a lot of (some special) birds. We did not plan to visit Kaziranga as Joseph and I had visited the park in the past and we thought we needed the time elsewhere. But because we did so well at Eaglenest we decided to revisit Kaziranga and we were not to be disappointed. We even recorded a life bird, Slender-billed Babbler, in the park and had an unexpected ♀Blue-naped Pitta on the track in full view. We made 3 game drives in the park.
The only reason to visit this site was to find Blue-naped Pitta.
At the end of the trip Stijn and I visited Dibru-Saikhowa for a full birding day. It is easily reached from Dibrugarh (30 minutes)
We had a great day and found 3 out of 4 target species. Good views of Black-breasted Parrotbill, Marsh Babbler and Jerdon’s Babbler but we failed to find Swamp Prinia. Other good birds were a pair of Jerdon’s Bushchat, Black Bittern, a ♂Watercock, Greater Painted Snipe and a few Black-faced Buntings.
I was lucky to observe a Ganges Dolphin, because I was looking in the right direction at the right time.
On our last morning we spent 2 hours at Digboi Oilfields and our only target was the rare and localised Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush.
We first heard one but failed to tape it in, but another bird was found nearby which turned out to be more cooperative and gave great views.
Digboi is also readily accessible from Dibrugarh (45 minutes)
Day 1: Friday April 17Geldrop – Amsterdam – New Delhi
I took the 7.10 am train from Amsterdam to Schiphol Airport.
Left Amsterdam on a KLM flight at 11.10 am and arrived at New Delhi at 22.50 pm where, after I had collected my luggage, I met my old friend Raj. In the past I have made several trips in India with him.
We drove to nearby hotel Lohmod which I had prebooked through internet and had some drinks.
He promised to pick me up in the early morning for my visit to Sultanpur.
Day 2: Saturday April 18New Delhi – Sultanpur.
At 6.00 am I drove with Raj to Sultanpur where we arrived at 7.00 am.
We had a quick breakfast and I phoned one of the local guides (Sanjay) to help us find Sind Sparrow. The guard at the entrance told us where the general area was where the sparrows are mostly observed.
We walked to this site and were soon joined by Sanjay. A soon as we reached the core area I heard the familiar call of a sparrow and within seconds I located a pair of Sind Sparrows, which gave good views for the next 10 minutes.
After this early succes we birded the area until when it became pretty hot.
After some drinks at the restaurant we drove back to Delhi where I had a late lunch with Raj.
Some reading in my hotel room and in the evening Joseph Brooks and Jan Hein van Steenis arrived from Los Angeles and Londen.
Day 3: Sunday April 19New Delhi – Guwahati – Tezpur.
After an early breakfast we left New Delhi at 10.10 am for the flight to Guwahati where we arrived at 13.00 pm. Here we met Peter Lobo and his guide Abid and we briefly saw the remaining part of the tour group of which Rob Goldbach formed part of. But time was too short to have a real conversation, as they had missed their plane and were trying to get on the next one.
We left Guwahati and paid the “famous” rubbish dump a short visit, where we enjoyed the sight of many Greater Adjutants and smaller numbers of Lesser Adjutants. Bengal Bushlark was another nice addition.
We initially had planned to stay overnight in the tented camp of Nameri but because of a social conflict this had to be changed. Instead we drove to a hotel in the town of Tezpur. During this drive we made a short road stop were we ate and drank something and unfortunately this was in my opinion the cause of my health problems for the next week or so.
Day 4: Monday April 20Tezpur – Tenga – Bomdila - Dirang
After an early breakfast we left the Assam Plains to Bhalukpong, where we passed the border with Arunachal Pradesh.
The first part of the road went to wet forest, along the edge of the Sessa Orchid Sanctuary. A stop in a bamboo patch yielded great views of Pale-headed Woodpecker, with a Crimson-winged Liocichla at the next location.
The valleys got drier and in scrubby vegetation beyond Bomdila the recently-split and unimpressive Bhutan Laughingthrush was a lifer for all of us. We also had a good view of Indian Blue Robin.
After we dropped our gear at hotel Pemaling in Dirang we immediately left for the nearby SangtiValley.
Here we quickly scored Black-tailed Crake which gave good views in the scope. We then descended to the shores of the stony river to look for Long-billed Plover. This species can be difficult to find but we were lucky as within minutes after our arrival we found one.
After this success we tried in vain to locate Wood Snipe in a corner of the swamp. I did not feel very well in the evening and I spent quite some time in the bathroom that night.
Day 5: Tuesday April 21Mandala Road
At dawn we started to bird the lower stretches of Mandala Road.
We spent all day along this road, birding up to 3000 m.
The first of many Beautiful Sibias was recorded and Jan Hein was the only one who saw a ♂Fire-capped Tit in a flock.
After some effort most of us had good, but brief views of a ♂Blue-fronted Robin. We had an excellent lunch along the road before we continued up the road. At an open patch of disturbed forest we found the distinctive local race of Spotted Nutcracker and a lone Blue-capped Rock-Thrush.
The real star of the afternoon was a ♀Ward’s Trogon. First heard at a distance but after some playback the bird flew straight to the road side and gave excellent and prolonged views.
Higher, near the pass, a bushy slope with a very dramatic backdrop of huge cedars held both Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler and Spotted Laughingthrush. Other nice finds were a ♀Crimson-browed Finch, a singing Large-billed Leaf-Warbler, our first Ludlow’s Fulvetta and a single Rusty-flanked Treecreeper.
Day 6: Wednesday April 22 Sela Pass Rd – Sela Pass
Early morning we drove up to the SelaPass, which is about a 4 hours drive from Dirang. We made several bird stops along this road but unfortunately the weather was bad, with much fog. At the pass, it was even worse with strong winds and drizzle. We had some compensation in the form of some very tame Alpine Accentors but best were a few Grandalas, including some gorgeous males.
Because of the bad weather and also because some of us did not feel that well, we drove down to bird the lower areas along the road.
On the way down we got stuck (almost 3 hours) because of the recovery of a military truck which had driven off the road (amazingly no fatalities).
Day 7: Thursday April 23Mandala Road
In the early morning we drove straight up to the MandalaPass. On the way up we observed a single Eurasian Jay.
After having breakfast at the pass we started to bird the forest just before and just after the pass. A large flock of Plain Mountain-Finches was seen but highlight was the superb observation of a very responsive pair of Bar-winged Wren Babblers.
We also observed 2 ♂♂Collared Grosbeaks and had great looks at a pair of Spotted Laughingthrushes.
Most of the bamboo had died after flowering, much reducing our chances of some bamboo loving species.
In the afternoon we birded down the road but did not add any new birds to our list.
Day 8: Friday April 24Sela Pass Rd.
This morning we made another trip to the SelaPass. We were a bit nervous because we did not know what the weather would do at the pass and we had also planned a short hike into Monal territory and that is no sinecure at this altitude. But the weather was fine.
During a birding stop on the way up we had our only, rather distant views of a couple of Snow Pigeons.
During our hike, slowly ascending along a slope, we had excellent views of Plain-backed Thrush and a small covey of Snow Partridges. While watching the partridges through the scope, a large bird came sailing down the slope, calling loudly: a ♀Himalayan Monal which landed on a nearby cliff and could be studied for a few minutes before it walked out of sight.
We decided it would not be a good idea to continue, as the altitude was taking its toll. The mammal highlight was the observation of some Blue Sheep.
We decided to drive a few km down from the pass and to start walking from there. Amazingly when Peter played some squeeky sounds of Fire-tailed Myzornis in habitat which seemed perfect for this species, we got an immediate response when Jan Hein shouted Myzornis and soon we all enjoyed great and close views of a ♂Fire-tailed Myzornis flitting about in the bushes before us.
Day 9: Saturday April 25Dirang – Lama Camp
Today we drove from Dirang to Lama Camp in Eaglenest, which took less than 5 hours, despite stopping for Himalayan Greenfinches and succesfully visiting a good site for Crested Kingfisher.
A few Indian birders were just departing, leaving all of Eaglenest for us alone! Apparently quite different from earlier in the season, when there were four groups at the same time…
We spent the afternoon walking back along the road we came in by, looking for the one bird which gave Eaglenest its fame: Bugun Liocichla.
In a nice secluded spot we found a gorgeous ♂Sapphire Flycatcher, that did not get the attention it deserved because a Gould’s Shortwing had been seen at the same spot recently. Of course, this probable migrant did not show, although Peter had a brief view of one nearby. Unfortunately we did not succeed in persuading the bird to show it self again but we did have excellent views of a pair of very cooperative Himalayan Cutias.
We stopped at a broad gully where the Liocichla is regularly observed, and after some waiting, a four-note whistle announced the arrival of a Bugun Liochichla. I was lucky to be looking at the right spot when the bird popped up. Meanwhile I was trying to explain to the others where to look, but only Joseph got on to the bird before it disappeared, never to be seen again that afternoon. Of course that was not very encouraging for the mood of the other 2.
Day 10: Sunday April 26 Lama Camp – Eaglenest Pass
At dawn we were back at the same gully where we quickly located a Blue-winged Laughingthrush. However, it did not take long before we all had good views of a pair of responsive Bugun’s Liochichlas. We even saw another ♂ nearby. Apparently the species is rather vocal at theend of April.
To complete the successful early morning, a responsive Rufous-throated Wren-Babbler scrambled up the slope into the road verge and gave good views.
After a late breakfast we drove up to EaglenestPass (about 30 min. from Lama Camp alt. 2700 m) where we failed to attract Temminck’s Tragopan, but had some compensation in the form of 2 very tame Brown Parrotbills and a singing Hume’s Bush-Warbler.
We walked towards Lama Camp and found a Streak-throated Barwing.
But highlight of the afternoon was the ♂Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, which gave “the greatest performance of the trip”. At one time the bird almost hit Joseph when the bird flew in in response of playback of its call.
Other nice species we recorded were Darjeeling Woodpecker and 2 Scaly Laughingthrushes emerging from the thick vegetation.
It was a rather cold, starlit night and in the early morning a Himalayan Wood Owl was calling but nobody wanted to get up to try to tape it in.
Day 11: Monday April 27Lama Camp – Eaglenest Pass – Bhompu
After a bit of birding around Lama Camp where a couple of Brown Bullfinches were the highlight, we continued to EaglesnestPass. Again not a sniff of Temminck’s Tragopan at the pass, but a Spot-winged Grosbeak was some consolation.
Bhompu (1900 m) lies at a distance of 30 km from Lama Camp.
On the way to Bhompu Camp, at Sunderview, a circular walk through lots of flowering knotweed was good for a ridiculous amount of Green-tailed Sunbirds, but little else.
Continuing to Bhompu we recorded our first of many Yellow-throated Fulvettas and at about 2300 m we observed another Ward’s Trogon and again a female. A Ferruginous Flycatcher showed well on a log and then we all got very excited as we heard the long, low whistle of Purple Cochoa, a lifer for all of us. After some frenetic searching and after some near-misses and poor flight views we got our bird of the day: a ♂Purple Cochoa which showed well in the scope. It was Jan Hein’s first and my last Cochoa.
Day 12: Tuesday April 28 Bhompu – Sessni – Khellong – Doimara River
We slowly made our way down to the lowest point in Eaglenest that can be reached by road: the DoimaraRiver (27 km or 1.30 h from Bhompu at 700 m).
A scary landslide blocks the road here, right at an obvious viewpoint over the DoimaraRiver.
The drivers became quite excited when fresh elephant dung was found just below Bhompu Camp, and fire crackers and matches were laid out on the dashboards. We walked long stretches through beautiful forests and we stopped regularly at streams with tall herbs that looked perfect for wren-babblers. At one of this stream we taped in a Long-billed Wren-Babbler which sat motionless for at least a minute in full view.
But we failed to find Sikkim Wedge-billed Wren-Babbler.
We also had our first views of the impressive Rufous-necked Hornbill.
A surprise addition to the mammal list was a dhole in the middle of the track, of which I could take a record shot before it disappeared into the thick vegetation.
After earlier flight views, a Hodgson’s (Whistling) Hawk-Cuckoo feeding on a caterpillar, gave fantastic views (Peter’s best views ever).
We spent a few hours near the river, looking for the Blyth’s Kingfisher seen here earlier in the year but we had to settle for Crested Kingfisher and some other lowland species.
As evening fell, we headed back to a stake-out for Hodgson’s Frogmouth. After some playback a bird flew in on a bare branch. Sometimes it can be so easy...
Day 13: Wednesday April 29 Bhompu - Sessni
Early morning we tried again at one of the favourite gullies of the Wedge-billed W.B. This time we were successful and had good and lengthy views of one, singing its heart out, right in the open.
We spent the rest of the day walking the road between Bhompu and Sessni, with birding quite slow at times.
Once we got the adrenaline running when Stijn discovered a Beautiful Nuthatch, a species which had eluded us sofar, but we failed to obtain satisfactory views of the bird.
At one time we located a franticly calling Chestnut-breasted Partridge in a small patch of scrub/forest between a hairpin and a landslide, but the bird refused to show. In a joint operation of drivers, guides and birders we all succeeded in seeing this rare endemic. At one time the bird passed me at a distance of 1 meter!!
As we continued along the road we finally located several Beautiful Nuthatches which were much more obliging and showing very well.
A mystery bird song kept us occupied for some time. We were convinced that it had to be a Laughingthrush but we could not identify the song at the time. Stijn made a recording and it turned out to be the song of Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush. Despite playback it never showed.
Day 14: Thursday April 30Bhompu - Sessni – Khellong – Doimara
We decided to drive straight down to the lower reaches of Eaglenestto catch up with a few species we had missed on the 28th. In a bamboo patch we finally caught up with White-hooded Babbler.
At about we arrived at the landslide (700 m) just above a nice viewpoint over the DoimaraRiver. Our plan was to walk down to the location we had occupied on the 28th to try again for the Blyth’s Kingfisher. This seemed a better idea than scanning the river from the viewpoint. However, a high-pitched call from the river below followed by : “Kingfisher!” led of course to a change of mind. We all rushed to the edge of the cliff and I saw a Blyth’s Kingfisher briefly perched on a rock in the middle of the river, just below us. The kingfisher than flew upriver, landing twice briefly – long enough for everyone to see it.
We later checked an area upstream and flushed a Blyth’s Kingfisher again which was only briefly seen by Stijn.
We slowly birded our way back up, where the find of a ♂White-bellied Redstart was a huge surprise. We also scored the more expected Rufous-faced Warbler and Yellow-vented Warbler. Both species are more easier to find from the end of April onwards than earlier in the season.
We heard Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler but this species would elude us.
Joseph had birded the area above Bhompu after seeing the Kingfisher, but although he encountered some impressive flocks, no sign of a tragopan.
With the chance of lifers now quite slim, we had decided to leave Eaglenest a day earlier than planned, so we would have an extra day in the Kaziranga area.
Day 15: Friday May 1 Bhompu – Lama Camp – Tenga - Kaziranga
Our decision to leave Eaglenest was a good one, as it was raining heavily when we left (at ), foggy and rainy on the way and still raining when we reached Kaziranga nine hours later. On the way, we said goodbye to Peter who had to leave to assist Birdseekers in seeking birds; our drivers left us in Kaziranga.
In the afternoon we made a game drive in Kaziranga NP (Western Range), luckily not in an open jeep, as it was still raining from time to time.
During our stay in Kaziranga we stayed at the pleasant Jupuri Ghar hotel.
Day 16: Saturday May 2Tea garden – Kaziranga (Central Range)
We started rather late this morning: 7 am. It was with great anticipation that we left for a nearby teagarden to look for Blue-naped Pitta. Besides Abid we were accompanied by another local guide, Rafik. We went straight for a bamboo-filled gully, where a few weeks earlier Chris Goodle (The birder who is on a year-long quest to score all the pittas of the world in just one year) saw one. It was warm and rather quiet birdwise and best species were some Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes. After a single response from our target (but no further sign) and some checking of other nearby gullies we decided to descend to the bottom of the gully where we had our first response and wait there. Motionless (as motionless as one can be with all the leeches present!) we waited, but nothing happened. When we discussed the best strategy and we were about to leave, Abid suddenly saw some movement and after some tantalising moments we had excellent views of a ♀Blue-naped Pitta and I also saw briefly a second bird, probably the ♂.
What a relief and especially for Joseph, who failed to find the species a few years earlier, despite the fact that he spent days at Namdapha and Kaziranga, looking for the Pitta (and hearing it daily).
Both birds had disappeared up the slope and Rafik decided to circle around and to try to push the birds back towards us. I was rather sceptical about this move but to my surprise at one time a pitta flew straight in and perched completely in the open on a horizontal bamboo stem at a distance of less than 8 meters. When I raised my binoculars I had exceptional views of a ♂Blue-naped Pitta. We all did and the bird even obliged more to turn around to show off its blue nape. We observed it for at least 30 seconds before it flew off again.Incredible. I never thought that we would be able to observe this species so well with a group.
After this great success we returned to our hotel and enjoyed the feeling of actually being on a holiday for a few hours.
After lunch we made another game drive in the Central Range of Kaziranga, where we made good use of the photographic opportunities in the park, also because of the excellent weather conditions. We checked many patches of reed, and eventually succeeded in finding a few Slender-billed Babblers, along with many of the more common resident marsh birds.
We failed to find Bengal Florican at a site where it had recently beenseen.
Day 17: Sunday May 3 Kaziranga (CentralRange)–drive to Tinsukia
We made another, not so early-morning visit, to the CentralRange.
The park only opens at 7.30 am, which is three hours after sunrise!!
We drove a “long route” which gave a chance of vultures, which we did not see.
The open forest we passed through held some nice birds like Blue-bearded Bee-eater, but the real surprise was a ♀Blue-naped Pitta, drinking or feeding at the edge of a puddle, right in the middle of the track. I even succeeded in taking some photographs of the bird before it hopped off into the adjoining scrub. Three different Blue-naped Pittas in 2 days!!
At about 11.00, we left for the long uneventful drive to Tinsukia with two new drivers, though a single Greater Adjutant was seen on the way.
In Tinsukia we stayed at a rather nondescript hotel in the center of town.
Day 18: Monday May 4 Tinsukia – Roing – Mishmi Hills
It had stormed a great deal of the night with heavy rainfall and lightning according to the others, but I had slept through it all without noticing.
We left before dawn for our trip to Mishmi Hills. The road ended close to the Brahmaputra, after which a myriad of muddy tracks led us to the bank from where the ferries depart. Our three cars were driven sideways onto a rather battered, old boat.
When Jan Hein descended the stairs into the hull of the boat, the stairs gave way beneath him and he was very lucky that he was not injured when he fell down!
Slowly the captain navigated along and between the sand banks to the other shore of the Brahmaputra. Getting ashore turned out to be a real problem because, as a result of the storm, the shore had been crumbled away, but eventually we were dropped a bit further upstream: the crossing had taken three hours!
Over a very bad, potholed road we continued to Roing, Arunachal Pradesh.
Beyond Roing, a few destroyed bridges marked the entrance to the Mishmi Hills, which rise to 3000 meters. A few hundred meters up, we stopped at a bamboo patch where we quickly found our target species: Collared Treepie. Instead of the hoped for Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler we observed a single Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler.
An interesting blue flycatcher which mostly looked like Hill Blue was observed but we had to leave the i.d. open.
Stijn and Jan Hein who were in the second car had excellent views of a male Western Hoolock Gibbon.
At about 1500 m, Abid heard a Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, and it did not take long for us to have good views of it.
We reached our “lodge” (2300m), which is roughly 2 km before the MayodiaPass, just before nightfall. In the garden we saw the captive Mishmi Takin, which is very rarely seen in the wild.
Day 19: May 5Mishmi Hills
At dawn we started at the area around the Mayodia Pass (2600 m), where we quickly found the local specialty, the rather unimpressive Manipur Fulvetta. We spent the morning beyond the pass and though the scenery was impressive the birding was slow.
After lunch, we drove back down to a bridge at 2000 m and from there walked further down. This area is known to hold Blyth’s Tragopan, but we had no sign whatsoever, despite three days of trying.
We kept on checking gullies, and on the edge of a large clearing we heard a Mishmi Wren-Babbler singing and 2 of us (not me) saw the bird briefly.
Luckily a little later a second bird showed much better and we all had good views. This species was rediscovered in November 2004 by Ben King and Jonathan Donahue, after it hadgone missing for more than 57 years.
Day 20: May 6Mishmi Hills
We spent most of the day walking down from the 2000 m bridge. Before we got there, we had already seen a flock of Speckled Wood-Pigeons.
Right at the bridge we saw a Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler perched on a rock, just next to the road. Fast and silently we covered about 5 km in the hope to find a Blyth’s Tragopan along this stretch but to no avail.
At one time Jan Hein heard a Rusty-bellied Shortwing and after some playback we all had reasonable views of the bird.
Most of the birds we encountered today were familiar species from Eaglenest but it is no punishment to have again excellent views of a pair of Beautiful Nuthatches.
Day 21: May 7Mishmi Hills
Today we visited the lower reaches of the Mishmi Hills, which meant a few more foothill species for the trip list. The most interesting species we observed was that mystery blue flycatcher we saw and heard a few days earlier. We found two birds at 700 m which we thought most likely to be Chinese Blue Flycatcher( e.g. orange of breast not sharply demarcated from white of belly, bill not heavy) but it caused a lot of discussion.
Stijn made a recording of its song and afterwards he concluded that it was not Chinese Blue, not Hill Blue, but Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher!
On the way back, we entered thick fog at 2200 m but from the car I spotted a large Trogon, which was probably flushed by our passing car.
Just moments later we had very good and close views (despite the fog) of a ♂ and later also a ♀Ward’s Trogon. At the same site we also had incredible close views of a Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler.
Day 22: May 8 Mishmi Hills – drive to Tinsukia
We started the day with another good look at the pair of Ward’s Trogon but only heard Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler.
We also failed to find the local race of Bar-winged Wren-Babbler but a little raptor watching from the terrace of our lodge gave us some nice raptors, including a ♀Amur Falcon.
Then it was time to leave for our return trip to Tinsukia. The crossing of the Brahmaputra again was problematic, with one of our cars getting very stuck on a muddy track. And our car was not the only vehicle bogged down. Cars, trucks and busses ploughed through the muddy plain towards the shore of the river. This time we needed 3½ hours for the crossing.
On the sandbanks we observed Lesser Sand Plovers and a flock of Pacific Golden Plovers.
In Tinsukia, I said goodbye to Jan Hein and Joseph who would fly out tomorrow to New Delhi and on to London and LA.
Stijn and I would stay another day and bird Dibru-Saikhowa tomorrow.
Day 23: May 9Dibru-Saikhowa
At dawn we drove the short distance to Dibru-Saikhowa where we had breakfast at the shore of the Brahmaputra.
We spent all morning in the grassland areas of the park and scored all our targets: Jerdon’s Bushchat, Marsh Babbler, Jerdon’s Babbler and best of all Black-breasted Parrotbill. The latter proved to be rather elusive and it took some time before we had excellent views of one.
We also flushed a Barred Button-Quail twice.
On our way back I was the lucky one who saw a Ganges Dolphin surfacing close to the boat. We also had a flock of Slender-billed Vultures from the boat.
After lunch, where we met one of the local birders from Tinsukia we visited another area in search of Swamp Prinia. We unexpectedlybumped into some semi-domestic Buffaloes, which caused some havock and a hasty retreat. It turned out that the grassland area where the Prinia was observed earlier in the season, had been burnt and as a result we dipped.
We birded all afternoon at the reserve and really enjoyed it. We saw a ♂Watercock in flight, several Black Bitterns, Greater Painted Snipe and at least 2 Black-faced Buntings.
Later afternoon we returned to Tinsukia.
Day 24: May 10Digboi – Tinsukia – Dibrugarh – New Delhi
In the early morning we drove (45 min. drive) to Digboi where we had 2 hours to find our target: the scarce and local Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush.
First we heard the species but it did not really respond to the tape but finally after one hour we located a single bird which gave excellent views.
So satisfied we returned to our hotel to pack our stuff for our flight home.
At 11.00 am we left for the drive from Tinsukia to the airport of Dibrugarh. We said goodbye to Abid and at 14.05 I flew from Dibrugarh to Delhi, via Guwahati. Stijn changed flights in Guwahati for his flight to Calcutta and on to Bangkok.
Around 18.00 pm I landed in Delhi where I met Raj again. We had dinner together and at 00.50 am I flew from New Delhi to Amsterdam where I arrived at 6.00 am the next morning.
Day 25: May 11
Landed at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam at . Took the train home, where I arrived just before 9.00 am.