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Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nagaland - Mixed bag! - May 2017

Here are the bird images I was able to make on this trip -> "Nagaland Bird Images" and here are the birds we came across during this trip -> "Trip List" Watch amateur video -> "glimpses".

The call came. It was Prathap Singh. Would you like to visit Nagaland? Please confirm by tomorrow! - Talk about short notice!

Nagaland

In my pursuit to photograph as many birds in India as possible, Nagaland was certainly on my wish-list. I took this opportunity and booked my flights to Dimapur and back. As compared to a decade ago, it is very easy now to travel in India. Booking tickets online took only ten minutes.

6th May, 2017 - Off to Kohima!

I took the 6.20am Indigo flight from Bengaluru and landed in Dimapur after a brief stop to change planes at Kolkata. It was almost 1pm, Prathap Singh who had already reached Dimapur the previous evening, picked me up from the airport and we drove up to Kohima the capital of Nagaland. My first visit to Nagaland! We had lunch on the way in a nice resort called “Niathu Resort” - good food! and drove on to Kohima which is about 70 kms from Dimapur and takes about 3hrs by car.

Enroute at one place people were selling birds on the road side! One boy had a bunch of dead green birds in his hand - for sale! We reached Kohima just as the sun was setting and checked into the “Nagaland Police Officers Mess” for one nights stay.

That evening we met “Vedpal Singh” an IFS officer of the 1993 batch who is currently CCF Dept. of EF & CC, Nagaland. It was on his invite that Prathap Singh and myself had landed in Nagaland. After a wonderful home made dinner at Vedpal Singh’s house and a “brief” discussion on our trip plan, we retired for the night.

7th May, 2017 - Long drive to Fakim


Many places had these kind of warnings...

Up early, we left on the long road journey to Fakim! I had no clue what to look forward to, though I had read a couple of trip reports put up on the net by kind birders and had a checklist of the birds of Nagaland with me. In fact we only had a sketchy plan to drive to Fakim and take things as they came…

While Vadpal Singh, Prathap Singh and myself were in Vadpal’s Scorpio vehicle, the DFO of the Kiphire area and his team accompanied us on the journey in another vehicle. Having left Kohima at about 7am, we finally reached Fakim at about 7 pm! We crossed hills, hills and more hills. One time we crossed a narrow, shaking bridge made of metal wires and wood! It was learning all the way for me. On the way we made several stops on sighting birds. Highlight was a “Slender-billed Oriole” whose call Prathap Singh was able to record! New addition to his vast collection of bird calls!

After we reached Fakim we were made aware that there was no power in the village! Using candle lights we had a wonderful hot meal and retired for the night.

Thus, it took me two full days to reach Fakim. Tomorrow, I hope to shoot birds - with my camera!

Sunrise happens at about 4.30 am in Nagaland. The birds start calling much earlier. Prathap Singh whose only aim is to record bird calls is always up early and gone before I could say “Tea”!

Fakim

7th May to 9th May - Fakim 

We spent three nights at Fakim. Dawn to dusk in pursuit of birds. Hills, hills and more hills! Fakim is one of the better places for birding in Nagaland. The local villagers do not seem to harm birds. I was able to photograph a few birds that I had not seen before!

Set up in 1983 and encompassing 642 hectares “Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary” is located in Nagaland’s Kiphire district close to the Indo Myanmar border. A steep climb from Fakim village you will reach the sanctuary and then the unending trail begins. You can walk into this dense forest as much as you like and who knows what you would chance upon!

Enroute to Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary!

For me not too much climbing! I just walked along the various trails around the Fakim village and came across plenty of birds. The very first bird that I was able to get a decent photograph was the tiny, restless, sulker - The “Naga Wren Babbler”! The “Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler” was another good catch for me!


We stayed in this building for three nights...
Thanamir

10th May and 11th May - Thanamir

From Fakim we drove up to a neighbouring village called Thanamir and spent two nights there. Most trekkers who wish to walk up to the famous “Saramati Peak” begin there trek here at Thanamir!

Path to Saramati Peak...
Mount Saramati - A fine destination for trekkers...

Here with some gentle nudges from Prathap Singh I was able to photograph the “Brown Bush Warbler”! Otherwise, though there were plenty of birds, I found bird photography very tough in this area as most birds stuck to the high canopy and were extremely shy!

All through the trip, we intensely birded all daylight hours, had an early dinner and off to bed before 8pm only to raise by 4am to begin another day of birding!

Prathap Singh and Vedpal Singh are pure vegetarians and teetotallers! Most Naga people have a meal before 8am and one at around 6pm. Two meals a day. Normally, Pork and Rice along with some boiled leaves collected from the forest and bamboo shoots too. They found it most amusing that we were consuming so much vegetarian food at varied times!

Vedpal Singh had a lot of good interaction with the local village councils. Both at Fakim and at Thanamir we had the pleasure of planting trees! Though Vedpal ( not really a birder ) did bird with us most of the time, on a couple of occasions he went on long treks by himself to enjoy the mountains! Both times he came back with some fascinating bird images taken from his “Point and Shoot” camera, that took us a long time to identify!

Tree Planting
We stayed here for two nights...

12th May 2017 - Long drive back to Kohnoma! 

So, five nights ran away! It was time for the long drive back! We left Thanamir at 7.15 am and reached Kohima by 6.30 pm. A lovely dinner at “Hotel Japfu” and it was time to bid Vedpal goodbye! We then drove off the “Khonoma”!

Enroute from Thanamir to Kohima, Vedpal Singh put me on his colleague Siddramappa (DFO). With Siddramappa’s help we were able to finalise the next three days plan. A home stay at Khonoma. We made the logistics arrangement through “Alder Tours and Travels”. I wonder how life was when there were no cell phones!

12th to 15th May 2017. Khonoma!

View from my window!
We stayed in this "Home Stay" for three nights...

This village of about 3000 villagers of the Agami tribe is the best place to bird in Nagaland. Lot of history attached to this place! Very friendly and helpful folks. In the nineties the elders of this village got together and decided not to hunt birds or any other wildlife. God bless them.

We birded all over this area for two full days. Plenty of birds. We came across a large variety of birds relatively less afraid than other areas where they were hunted. I saw and was able to photograph the “Red Junglefowl”, Mountain Bamboo Partridge and Khalij Pheasent among other birds here at Khonoma!

This and That …

All along the drive and also in Fakim and Thanamir, I came across villagers harvesting trees. Vehicles carrying a load of freshly cut planks is a common sight in Nagaland.

Almost all houses in the villages are made of wood.

English is widely spoken and is the official language of Nagaland. Nagamese is also popular.

Close to 90% of people in Nagaland are Christians. Over 70% of people in this area make a living out of agriculture. Jhum cultivation, also known as the slash and burn agriculture is quite popular in Nagaland. This is a process of growing crops by first clearing the land of trees and vegetation and burning them thereafter. The burnt soil contains potash which increases the nutrient content of the soil.

Article 371 (A) is a special provision granted to the state of Nagaland.

I saw plenty of children and babies in Nagaland. Having three children is normal. One couple in Fakim had eleven children!

All villages have a huge herd of 500 to 1000 Mithuns. These are eaten during festivals or sold for profit. Flies that bite painfully and suck your blood are often found around the Mithuns, so beware!

Slash and Burn...
Huge Trees in Nagaland - Privately owned!
Almost all houses are made of wood and tin
Many houses are decorated with animal skulls
Carrying planks from the place where the tree is cut to the place where in can be transported by vehicle is hard work!


Plenty of happy children in Nagaland!
and happy mothres too!
Mithun

Bird Photography ….

For centuries birds have provided a source of protein to the people of this area a lot of who just live of the land. While many have stopped eating wild birds, some still do!  One person who had given up eating wild birds told me that they used to make a small pond of water and keep sticks smeared with a kind of gum they find in the forest. The birds come to drink water and get stuck on the sticks. Though we ate all kinds of birds, “Green-backed Tits” are very tasty he said! Another time a cook told me that they boil the small birds and make a chutney with chilly and salt. Yummy he says. I saw boys selling birds they had killed as food on the roadside. Men carrying shot guns is quite normal.

So, how come there are still so many birds in the area? It is the habitat I guess. Thick green cover everywhere with plenty of food and water!

Also, a slow change is taking place. Like in “Khonoma” no one hunts. How surprised I was when a “Red Junglefowl” appeared from the undergrowth! In many places in Nagaland there are large display boards highlighting that hunting is an offence and is liable for penalty! People are also understanding that eco-tourism can indeed become a good source of income for them!

Photographing birds in Nagaland is a huge challenge. Simply because all surviving birds over a long period have evolved a simple strategy, when you sense human presence, simply disappear!  Scoot at sight! If it were not for their calls, one would never be able to acknowledge the presence of so many birds here. Even when they call they seldom show themselves. A small shake of the stem is all you will see if you try to track the source of the call.

At altitudes averaging 2000mts above sea level, the weather was mostly cool. There was intermittent rains all through our trip. Also, the terrain is so varied that you have to be completely physically fit and mentally agile to get any kind of focus on birds. I had great fun trying to photography birds in Nagaland. The Nikon D5 with its high ISO ability was a great asset along with the 200-500 Nikkor Zoom lens! The flexibility that a hand-held set of equipment offers in these low light and challenging environment is priceless!

The reward was certainly worth the effort! I was able to add sixteen new species to my indiabirds collection!

Food
This young boy was carrying egg yolk carefully wrapped in leaves..

This "taxi" goes anywhere!
Careful where you step...
Plenty of "Butterflies" too!

Apart from birds one can enjoy Butterflies, Frogs, Snakes, Orchids, .. et al.

Acknowledgements :

Many thanks to “Prathap Singh, IFS” for inviting me on this trip and guiding me in the field. This trip would not have happened without the help of “Vedpal Singh, IFS”. Many thanks sir! My thanks to Siddaramappa, DFO for helping us make arrangement to visit Khonoma. Thanks Akam for driving us all the way to Fakim and back. Thanks Bahadur for the wonderful food!

Mr. Kejaroko Pieru (9402905046), Co-Partner, Alder Tours and Travels, many thanks, we had a good time at Khonoma. Thanks Mr Kose Secu (9436800102), our stay at your ”Hills View Cottage” home stay was very comfortable. Thanks Aselie (9856554323) for guiding us at Khonoma. Many Thanks Keza (9615445772), your taxi is wonderful for birding!

If you are planning your first trip to Nagaland, go ahead and contact Keja of Alder Tours. I am sure he will be able to take care of all your needs including the “Inner Line Permits” required for your visit.

Good Luck!

Vijay Cavale
Bengaluru,
May 2017.

The famous "Naga Mirch" - very hot!!

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