Indian Pitta

It inhabits scrub jungle, deciduous and dense evergreen forest.

Nilgiri Flycatcher

An endemic resident in the Western Ghats of southern India.

Brown-winged Kingfisher

These kingfisher species excavate their nests in a river mud bank.

Tiger

Tales from the Land of Mowgli

Merlin

Feeds mostly on small birds, capturing them in mid-air in rapid pursuit.

Malabar Trogon

A resident of dense tropical forests.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

This species is omnivorous, taking fruit, fish and small mammals.

Crimson-backed Sunbird

Diet of sunbirds is based mostly on nectar

Golden-breasted Fulvetta

They prefer dense undergrowth, usually dominated by bamboo forest.

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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Birding in Namdapha National Park

A journey into Namdapha National Park had been on my mind for a while, actually ever since we first visited the eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh in the mid of 2017

As it's said, desire and forget and soon it shall get fulfilled. One fine morning got a message from Mr. Peter Lobo, asking if we would be interested in doing a trip to one of the richest national park in terms of variety in flora and fauna in the entire Indian Subcontinent. Obviously the answer was certainly yes.

The entire trip starting and ending at the base of snowcapped Dapha Bum, in the spectacular valley of the Noa-Dihing was to be done on foot. 

Dibrugarh being the closest airport to the region was the obvious choice to fly into from Mumbai. We on landing drove into a small town in Changlang district in Arunachal Pradesh, which was not too far from the Assam border called Miao. 

The inland passes to allow us cross the border were obtained prior to our travel from the online portal ( https://www.arunachalilp.com/index.jsp )

Miao, is where we stayed before reaching Deban the following morning and started the journey into Namdapha Tiger Reserve. Over the next five days, we were to trek through the forest's buffer area crossing small streams and vast grasslands. The core area is not accessible for general wildlife enthusiasts and needs much more time, planning and permissions.


The team comprised of (L~R) by Yash Kothiala, Rofikul Islam, Bhupesh Goyal, Aseem Kothiala (myself), Ashok Sanskrit, Peter Lobo, Marvelyn Dias, Natalie Tooley, Ravi Mekola and Japang Pansa.

Entire logistics for this "Adventure Namdapha" like arranging for porters, camping equipment, food supplies and most required leech socks for the trip was managed and provided by Peter Sir. 

DAY ONE: (9th Dec 2019)
It all started after having an excellent breakfast at the Deban Forest Guest House in the early hours of the day. After walking for few minutes, Noa-Dihing river (a tributary of Brahmaputra) arrived and we crossed it using a small boat and set towards the hilly regions through the trail into the forest.
Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus peregrinator) - Image by Aseem Kothiala
As we walked, the journey took us through the spectacular lofty forests which was dense, bamboo thickets, river and small streams, sometime over boulders and fallen trees upto Hornbill camp.

Bamboo forest - Image by Japang Pansa
The trek upto Hornbill (approx 9Kms), where our halt for the first night was planned wasn't too difficult.  It had slight uphill and downhill, enroute we stopped for packed lunch at Haldibari. 
Jerdon's baza (Aviceda jerdoni) - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Being in the lower Eastern Himalayan belt,  the national park provided a beautiful view of the nearby peaks in the start; it was surely perfect for someone who would like to do forest trekking. Though we were here looking for rarities and endemic birds. 

The habitat within the region changed as we kept trekking from knotted creepers and dense undergrowth followed with enormous Hollock, Mekai and Hollong plants. Due to the large canopy, sunlight at most places was less and the bird calls were coming from high and far.
Streaked Wren Babbler (Napothera brevicaudata) - Image by Aseem Kothiala

"Though its the third largest national park in the country, area-wise, Namdapha National Park surely was the Mother of all forest" said Ashok Sanskrit. Who was visiting the region for the third time!

Japang mentioned that the name of the park itself 'Namdapha' is a combination of two Singpho words which meant 'Forest Keeping' indicating that conservation of forests was the primary objective of the tribals as well as the locals of the area.
Snowy-browed Flycatcher (Ficedula hyperythra) - Image by Ashok Sanskrit
By 4PM we reached the Hornbill camp. The tents for all of us were already pitched and ready. The kitchen was ready too and dinner was being prepared by the team that had crossed us while we were having lunch. 

It was time for some hot snacks and hot beverage. Within few minutes it was dark. The sun rises and sets faster in the entire north-east compared to the other region of the country. As it got dark, we set out again on the trail and were lucky to sight a leopard cat. It kept waiting and moved around to settle down. It was only from one window in the thickets we could see it.
Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) - Image by Aseem Kothiala
The silence of the night increased we returned to our camp to have our dinner and as were thinking of retiring for the night, Japang informed he had heard and seen a flying squirrel. Expecting we would seen the Namdapha flying squirrel. However, it was later confirmed by my fellow birder its a sub species of Red Giant Flying squirrel called Grey-faced Flying Squirrel.

 Red Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista candidula) - Image  by Aseem Kothiala
Red Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista candidula) - Image  by Aseem Kothiala
We set into the cosy sleeping bags placed in our tents by 7.30PM itself. 

DAY 2: (10th Dec 2019)
The day started very early and started to trek towards the next destination Firmbase (14 kms) which is located on the Noa-Dihing river bank. The trail today got tougher and many places were so difficult, that had to use actually crawl up to negotiate the slopes.

We were lucky, the weather had been good and wasn't raining. As the rains would have not only made the trek difficult but also would have ensured the count of leeches to increase. The temperatures during the day was around 17~19 deg centigrade and nights were cooler at around 11~13 deg centigrade.  

Enroute, we could hear the calls of the skulker Snowy throated babbler, it indeed was one of the fastest disappearing birds that I had come across. Before one can watch through the viewfinder, they would call and fly off to another perch.
Snowy-throated Babbler (Stachyris oglei) - Image by Rofikul Islam
Peter sir has been coming to the region for almost two decades and along with Japang had seen many mammal species from the cat family. He said "its home to rare five species of hornbills" 

The whooshing sound of the flapping hornbills was heard often, though finding them in the canopies wasn't easy. 


Wreathed Hornbill. (Rhyticeros undulatus) - Image by Ravi Mekola
Soon we sighted a flock of Brown Hornbills, who kept circling, perching, calling and moving from one tree to the next tree in the canopy.

Austen's Brown Hornbill (Ptilolaemus austeni) - Image by Peter Lobo
As we shoulder our cameras, our porters were carrying our essential supplies for the day. Even with their heavier loads, they walked with much more easy and definitely faster, obviously they had built their stamina for the terrain. 

It was almost evening and we were still a couple of kms away from the camp (firmbase). There was a mixed flock of white-hooded babbler's and rufous headed parrotbill's, who kept my fellow birders busy.

White-hooded Babbler (Gampsorhynchus rufulus) - Image by Bhupesh Goyal
Could hear some shutter clicks after a long gap. Birding is good but photographing birds wasn't very easy. One of the main reason we were walking in a faster pace as the distance to be covered was more, second the birds perch too high in the canopies.

Day had ended and few of us had walked away and already reached the camp, as Japang and a couple of assistants had walked back towards us to assist us with our cameras and backpacks. The last leg after Ranijeel was too steep and we all finally managed to reach. 

It was a long day and quite tiring too, but no sooner we unwound around the campfire, got into a different mood, it was Assamese music and hilarious monologues by almost every participant.

DAY 3 (11th DEC 2019) 
Today we set out towards the grasslands and a trek along the bank of Noa-Dihing to look for the majestic bird that dwells in isolation, the White-bellied Heron. 

After searching for a couple hours realised its not gong to be easy. As we did see some locals fishing and the bird is very shy and must have moved downwards. Taking a quick poll, it was an unanimous decision to look for it, instead of going back to the camp for lunch. 

The porter and assistants split. One set continued the journey with us to look for the bird, while the other moved towards the camp to bring in the packed lunch.

At a bend of the river sighted a pair of Smooth coated Otter who were in a playful mood, on seeing us moved a few boulders away and kept a watch on us.

Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) - Image by Yash Kothiala
The terrain was amazing and could see some common species. 
Grasslands - Image by Yash Kothiala
The trek for the day was initially to be around 10Kms and now we were not sure, how much we would have to walk along the river bank.

It was well past 2PM and all of us felt drained and tired. Luckily, the weather was cloudy making it a lot easier.

Nao Dihing River - Image by Rofikul Islam
The last hope was to walk to a corner where its mostly seen. Great cormorants and a loner black stork was seen. 

By now packed lunch arrived, it was almost 3PM and we had to walk back and fast, a distance of about 10Kms to be done and it gets dark by 4.30 / 5 PM, started to trek back along the bank. 

Just a little ahead of the bamboo bridge made by the local tribe Marvelyn noticed and said in excitement there it is!
Bamboo Bridge - Image by Japang Pansa

White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) - image by Yash Kothiala
We had sighted the world's second largest heron which is presently critically endangered. 
White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) - Image by Yash Kothiala
The bird was very much in the open, just a couple of steps towards it and it took off. Thanks to the instinct of it being so shy, it is still surviving in the wild!

It was well past dark and Japang used his personal tracking skills to get back to the camp. today it was close to a 19 odd kms trek.

There were times, when my sole said enough but by soul said need to keep walking!

A day ended well, but we could not do any birding around Firmbase.

DAY 4 and Day 5 (12th DEC 2019 and 13th Dec 2019)
From today, we had to trek backwards towards Deban Forest Guest House via the same route, stopping overnight at Hornbill camp.

In the morning we heard the calls of the skulker Eyebrowed Wren Babbler, had to trek into the thickets.
Eyebrowed Wren Babbler (Napothera epilepidota) - Image by Yash Kothiala
Streaked Wren Babbler (Napothera brevicaudata) - Image by Ashok Sanskrit
Rufous-throated Fulvetta (Schoeniparus rufogularis) - image by Aseem Kothiala
Namdapha surely had a very healthy numbers of the Hoolock Gibbon, who would again call from the high canopies.
Hoolock gibbon - Image by Aseem Kothiala
The return journey seemed more easier enroute we sighted some more rarities.
Large Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus hypoleucos) - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Slaty-bellied Tesia (Tesia olivea) - Image by Rofikul Islam
Most of the locals carried a handy dao (machete) they can work with it many ways to create all sorts of baskets to pipes, and utensils in no time. In fact they gifted us with bamboo cups as gifts.

The moment we reached Deban Forest Guest House, were informed that there has been some unrest and Assam was almost closed and under curfew.

Our second leg which was into Nagaland via Assam had to be called off and we all rescheduled our journey back home.


This trip was one of the finest, special thanks to Mr. Peter Lobo for organising and inviting us over. These were five days of no network (mobile or wifi) and full of fun and adventure. Even getting power supply was not possible, so had carried 3 sets of extra batteries for the cameras.

Rofikul Islam and Ravi Mekola along with Japang Pansa were excellent hosts and we look forward to meeting them again and often. 

Thanking all my fellow birders, Ashok Sanskrit, Marvelyn Dias, Bhupesh Goyal ji and Natalie Tooley in being a part of the adventure and also contributing images for the blog.

Last but not least thanking Yash Kothiala, who has always been a part of my journey to look for birds. This trip could get another nine lifers taking by life list to 836 birds. The list of birds we sighted is listed below.



(BEHIND THE SCENES...)


GALLIFORMES: Phasianidae
1
White-cheeked Hill Partridge
Arborophila atrogularis
Near-threatened
2
Grey Peacock Pheasant
Polyplectron bicalcaratum
(Heard)
3
Kalij Pheasant
Lophura leucomelanos
COLUMBIFORMES: Columbidae
4
Ashy-headed Green-Pigeon
Treron phayrei
5
Barred Cuckoo Dove
Macropygia unchall
6
Pin-tailed Green Pigeon
Treron apicauda
7
Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon
Treron sphenurus
8
Asian Emerald Dove
Chalcophaps indica
CAPRIMULGIFORMES: Apodidae
9
Himalayan Swiftlet
Aerodramus brevirostris
PELECANIFORMES: Ciconiidae
10
Black Stork
Ciconia nigra
PELECANIFORMES: Ardeidae
11
White-bellied Heron
Ardea insignis
Rare/Accidental Critically endangered
PELECANIFORMES: Phalacrocoracidae
12
Great Cormorant
Phalacrocorax carbo
CHARADRIIFORMES: Haematopodidae
13
Ibisbill
Ibidorhyncha struthersii
ACCIPITRIFORMES: Accipitridae
14
Jerdon's Baza
Aviceda jerdoni
15
Mountain Hawk Eagle
Nisaetus nipalensis
16
Shikra
Accipiter badius
STRIGIFORMES: Strigidae
17
Collared Owlet
Glaucidium brodiei
TROGONIFORMES: Trogonidae
18
Red-headed Trogon
Harpactes erythrocephalus
BUCEROTIFORMES: Bucerotidae
19
Great Hornbill
Buceros bicornis
Vulnerable
20
Godwin Austen's Brown Hornbill
Ptilolaemus austeni
Near-threatened
21
Wreathed Hornbill
Rhyticeros undulatus
Vulnerable
PICIFORMES: Picidae
22
White-browed Piculet
Sasia ochracea
23
Pale-headed Woodpecker
Gecinulus grantia
24
Bay Woodpecker
Blythipicus pyrrhotis
PICIFORMES: Ramphastidae
25
Great Barbet
Psilopogon virens
26
Blue-throated Barbet
Psilopogon asiaticus
CORACIIFORMES: Alcedinidae
27
Crested Kingfisher
Megaceryle lugubris
PASSERIFORMES: Eurylaimidae
28
Long-tailed Broadbill
Psarisomus dalhousiae
29
Silver-breasted Broadbill
Serilophus lunatus
PASSERIFORMES: Campephagidae
30
Scarlet Minivet
Pericrocotus flammeus
31
Black-winged Cuckooshrike
Lalage melaschistos
PASSERIFORMES: Vireonidae
32
Blyth's Shrike-babbler
Pteruthius aeralatus
33
White-bellied Erpornis
Erpornis zantholeuca
PASSERIFORMES: Oriolidae
34
Maroon Oriole
Oriolus traillii
PASSERIFORMES: Vangidae
35
Large Woodshrike
Tephrodornis virgatus
PASSERIFORMES: Dicruridae
36
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
Dicrurus remifer
37
Hair-crested Drongo
Dicrurus hottentottus
38
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Dicrurus paradiseus
PASSERIFORMES: Rhipiduridae
39
White-throated Fantail
Rhipidura albicollis
PASSERIFORMES: Corvidae
40
Grey Treepie
Dendrocitta formosae
41
Collared Treepie
Dendrocitta frontalis
PASSERIFORMES: Nectariniidae
42
Little Spiderhunter
Arachnothera longirostra
43
Streaked Spiderhunter
Arachnothera magna
44
Black-throated Sunbird
Aethopyga saturata
PASSERIFORMES: Irenidae
45
Asian Fairy-bluebird
Irena puella
46
Orange-bellied Leafbird
Chloropsis hardwickii
47
Blue-winged Leafbird
Chloropsis cochinchinensis
PASSERIFORMES: Motacillidae
48
Olive-backed Pipit
Anthus hodgsoni
49
Paddyfield Pipit
Anthus rufulus
50
White Wagtail
Motacilla alba
PASSERIFORMES: Stenostiridae
51
Yellow-bellied Fairy-fantail
Chelidorhynx hypoxanthus
52
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
Culicicapa ceylonensis
PASSERIFORMES: Paridae
53
Sultan Tit
Melanochlora sultanea
PASSERIFORMES: Cisticolidae
54
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Prinia flaviventris
PASSERIFORMES: Pnoepygidae
55
Pygmy Wren Babbler 
Pnoepyga pusilla
PASSERIFORMES: Hirundinidae
56
Asian House Martin
Delichon dasypus
PASSERIFORMES: Pycnonotidae
57
White-throated Bulbul
Alophoixus flaveolus
58
Ashy Bulbul
Hemixos flavala
59
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Pycnonotus jocosus
60
Red-vented Bulbul
Pycnonotus cafer
PASSERIFORMES: Phylloscopidae
61
White-spectacled Warbler
Phylloscopus intermedius
PASSERIFORMES: Scotocercidae
62
Slaty-bellied Tesia
Tesia olivea
63
Rufous-faced Warbler
Abroscopus albogularis
PASSERIFORMES: Sylviidae
64
Rufous-headed Parrotbill
Psittiparus bakeri
65
Grey-headed Parrotbill
Psittiparus gularis
66
Pale-billed Parrotbill
Chleuasicus atrosuperciliaris
67
Striated Yuhina
Yuhina castaniceps
68
Black-chinned Yuhina
Yuhina nigrimenta
69
Rufous-vented Yuhina
Yuhina occipitalis
PASSERIFORMES: Timaliidae
70
Spotted Elachura
Elachura formosa
71
Red-billed Scimitar Babbler
Pomatorhinus ochraceiceps
72
Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler
Pomatorhinus superciliaris
73
Large Scimitar Babbler
Pomatorhinus hypoleucos
74
Snowy-throated Babbler
Stachyris oglei
Endemic (country/region) Vulnerable
75
Golden Babbler
Cyanoderma chrysaeum
PASSERIFORMES: Pellorneidae
76
White-hooded Babbler
Gampsorhynchus rufulus
77
Rufous-throated Fulvetta
Schoeniparus rufogularis
78
Rufous-winged Fulvetta
Schoeniparus castaneceps
79
Streaked Wren Babbler
Turdinus brevicaudatus
80
Eyebrowed Wren Babbler
Napothera epilepidota
PASSERIFORMES: Leiothrichidae
81
Lesser Necklaced Laughing-thrush
Garrulax monileger
82
Greater Necklaced Laughing-thrush
Garrulax pectoralis
83
Rufous-vented Laughing-thrush
Garrulax gularis
84
Long-tailed Sibia
Heterophasia picaoides
85
Silver-eared Mesia
Leiothrix argentauris
86
Rufous-backed Sibia
Leioptila annectens
87
Rusty-fronted Barwing
Actinodura egertoni
PASSERIFORMES: Sittidae
88
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch
Sitta castanea
89
Beautiful Nuthatch
Sitta formosa
Vulnerable
PASSERIFORMES: Sturnidae
90
Hill Myna
Gracula religiosa
PASSERIFORMES: Cinclidae
91
Brown Dipper
Cinclus pallasii
PASSERIFORMES: Muscicapidae
92
Pale Blue Flycatcher
Cyornis unicolor
93
Small Niltava
Niltava macgrigoriae
94
Lesser Shortwing
Brachypteryx leucophris
95
Blue Whistling Thrush
Myophonus caeruleus
96
White-tailed Robin
Myiomela leucura
97
Snowy-browed Flycatcher
Ficedula hyperythra
98
Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher
Ficedula strophiata
99
Slaty-blue Flycatcher
Ficedula tricolor
100
Pygmy Blue Flycatcher
Ficedula hodgsoni
101
Sapphire Flycatcher
Ficedula sapphira
102
Plumbeous Water Redstart
Rhyacornis fuliginosa
103
White-capped Water Redstart
Chaimarrornis leucocephalus
104
Daurian Redstart
Phoenicurus auroreus
105
Siberian Stonechat
Saxicola maurus
  
FALCONIFORMES: Falconidae
106
Peregrine Falcon
Falco peregrinus

 
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