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

Arunachal Pradesh for Birds!

As it so often happens, I got that phone call! That phone call that usually sets the ball rolling for my next trip into “Wild India”. This time, it was Pratap Singh. He was calling from the field somewhere in Meghalaya and wanted to know if I would like to join him for a few days in Arunachal Pradesh! I had heard and read a lot about the rich bird life of this border state. I did not hesitate to say “yes”! What followed was a very exciting two weeks …

Arunachal Pradesh, India.

Dhananjai Mohan, IFS and Pratap Singh, IFS both “Conservator of Forests” are currently Professors at the Wildlife Institute of India. Among other things they are working on a very interesting project –> “Bird Species – Number and Densities in the East and West Himalayas”. This project takes them to various parts of the Himalayas from time to time. I was very fortunate to be in the field with them for a few days as they went about their project.

Here is Dhananjai Mohan “on location” talking about the project sitting at “Mayodiya Pass”, Lower Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh ->

Dhananjai Mohan has a PhD Degree based on his research work on “Habitat selection in Birds” while Pratap Singh is working towards his PhD on “Altitudinal and geographical variation of warbler songs”. What better company can one ask for while wandering in the Himalayas?

Ranganath Badri, a keen nature lover, who lives in Dubai was only too happy to accept my invite and as usual was great company all along!

So we finalized the plan. Ranganath Badri would fly Dubai – Bangalore. The two of us would fly Bangalore – Jorhat (Assam) via Kolkata. Dhananjai Mohan and Pratap Singh would continue their journey via Meghalaya and arrive at Jorhat by road. The four of us would meet up at the “Rain Forest Research Institute” at Jorhat and then continue onwards to Arunachal Pradesh.

Day 1 - 24th April, 2009. Everything went according to plan. Mr. N. K. Vasu the Director of “Rain Forest Research Institute” played the perfect host and ensured that our brief (one night) stay at RFRI was comfortable. Mr Vasu an IFS officer had recently spent five years as the “Field Director” of the Kaziranga National Park, famous for its “Indian Rhinoceros”. It was apparent that he was very found of the park and had worked tirelessly towards its improvement. He would later help Badri and Myself make a quick trip to Kaziranga (on our return journey) to enjoy the presence of these magnificent beasts.

That night Mr. Vasu treated us to a delicious dinner at his “in campus” residence. The next day his friendly staff ensured that we reached the “ferry crossing” near Dhola (about 300 kms from Jhorat) in good time! Thank you very much Vasu Ji for all the help!! and many thanks to Dr. T. C. Bhuyan and Mr. Pratul Hazarika for making us feel at ease.

On the 25th April, 2009, early morning, we hit the road from Jhorat to Roing. The 300+ kms drive to Dhola (Jorhat -> Dibrugarh ->Tinsukia -.Makum -> Dumduma ->Dhola) was uneventful. The roads were good for the most part. En-route we stopped briefly for a wonderful brunch at DFO, Anurag Singh’s house at Dibrugarh.

After reaching Dhola we crossed the “Brahmaputra River” by boat and reached Sadiya and then entered Arunachal Pradesh (Note:"Entry Permits"required!) to reach Roing by Dusk. A full day on the road!

Here is a “video” I put together of this journey and more…

"Watch Video"

April 25th evening to the 30th morning we were wandering along a winding and climbing 50 kms stretch of the only available road. This 50 kms stretch started at Roing at a height of 400 mts and climbed to 2600 mts at Mayodiya Pass! This area is in the Lower Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh and forms part of the "Maheo Wildlife Sanctuary".

A hybrid of Gaur and domestic cattle the Mithun (Bos frontalis) is the state animal of Arunachal Pradesh!

While Ranganath Badri and Myself were on a “shoot at sight” mission of any bird we came across, Pratap Singh was into some serious research of warbler calls. Dhananjai Mohan, a walking, talking encyclopedia on Himalayan Birds was a great asset as we would get “on-the-spot” ID of any bird!

For someone who aspires to photograph birds, the task is quite indemonstrable! Birds are everywhere, they can fly, you cannot! The foliage is thick and green. The terrain is sloping and you mostly have to stick to the one road. As you travel along the road the altitude keeps changing from 400 mts to 6500 mts and so do the bird species! A fascinating plethora of colors and calls all the way! The weather keeps changing too, and soon you will feel like you are searching for a needle in a haystack by candlelight!

Rusty-fronted Barwing

I did the three things I thought was sensible and I was able to make some decent images of quite a few birds I had never seen before! One. Travel slowly along the road by vehicle and stop at regular intervals to scan for opportunities. Two. Walk on the road as much as you can without getting completely exhausted. Watch and Listen. Three. Wait at what your instinct says is a potential place for something to appear. Wait as long as your patience will allow!

A "Hoolock Gibbon" - The only Indian Ape! feeds on a tree off the road...

Here is a checklist of the 140+ species of birds we came across at Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary, Mishmi Hills, Lower Debang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, 25th to 30th April, 2009, kind courtesy, Dhananjai Mohan! (If only photography was as easy as seeing and hearing!)

No. Common name, Scientific name

21 Hill Partridge, Arborophila torqueola
31 Blyth's Tragopan, Tragopan blythii
41 Grey Peacock-pheasant, Polyplectron bicalcaratum
183 Crested Serpent-eagle, Spilornis cheela
193 Crested Goshawk, Accipiter trivirgatus
206 Black Eagle, Ictinaetus malayensis
222 Common Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus
394 Speckled Wood-pigeon, Columba hodgsonii
397 Pale-capped Pigeon ?, Columba punicea
405 Barred Cuckoo-dove, Macropygia unchall
407 Common Emerald Dove, Chalcophaps indica
415 Pin-tailed Green-pigeon, Treron apicauda
447 Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Surniculus lugubris
449 Large Hawk-cuckoo, Cuculus sparverioides
451 Hodgson's Hawk-cuckoo, Cuculus fugax
453 Indian Cuckoo, Cuculus micropterus
454 Himalayan Cuckoo, Cuculus saturatus
480 Collared Owlet, Glaucidium brodiei
507 Himalayan Swiftlet, Aerodramus brevirostris
511 Silver-backed Needletail ?, Hirundapus cochinchinensis
521 Red-headed Trogon, Harpactes erythrocephalus
529 White-throated Kingfisher, Halcyon smyrnensis
536 Crested Kingfisher, Megaceryle lugubris
538 Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Nyctyornis athertoni
544 Eurasian Hoopoe, Upupa epops
551 Rufous-necked Hornbill, Aceros nipalensis
554 Great Barbet, Megalaima virens
559 Blue-throated Barbet, Megalaima asiatica
568 Golden-throated Barbet, Megalaima franklinii
571 Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos macei
576 Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos cathpharius
577 Darjeeling Woodpecker, Dendrocopos darjellensis
583 Lesser Yellownape, Picus chlorolophus
587 Grey-headed Woodpecker, Picus canus
594 Bay Woodpecker, Blythipicus pyrrhotis
613 Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Coracina melaschistos
621 Grey-chinned Minivet, Pericrocotus solaris
622 Long-tailed Minivet, Pericrocotus ethologus
625 Scarlet Minivet, Pericrocotus flammeus
634 Grey-backed Shrike, Lanius tephronotus
639 White-browed Shrike-babbler, Pteruthius flaviscapis
641 Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Pteruthius melanotis
648 Maroon Oriole, Oriolus traillii
650 Ashy Drongo, Dicrurus leucophaeus
653 Bronzed Drongo, Dicrurus aeneus
658 Yellow-bellied Fantail, Rhipidura hypoxantha
659 White-throated Fantail, Rhipidura albicollis
663 Asian Paradise-flycatcher ?, Terpsiphone paradisi
666 Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Urocissa flavirostris
668 Common Green Magpie, Cissa chinensis
670 Grey Treepie, Dendrocitta formosae
690 Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Culicicapa ceylonensis
700 Yellow-cheeked Tit, Parus spilonotus
702 Yellow-browed Tit, Sylviparus modestus
703 Sultan Tit, Melanochlora sultanea
728 Striated Bulbul, Pycnonotus striatus
734 Red-whiskered Bulbul, Pycnonotus jocosus
737 Red-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus cafer
741 White-throated Bulbul, Alophoixus flaveolus
765 Grey-bellied Tesia, Tesia cyaniventer
766 Chestnut-headed Tesia, Tesia castaneocoronata
769 Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Cettia fortipes
771 Aberrant Bush Warbler, Cettia flavolivacea
773 Grey-sided Bush Warbler, Cettia brunnifrons
776 Rufous-faced Warbler, Abroscopus albogularis
777 Black-faced Warbler, Abroscopus schisticeps
778 Yellow-bellied Warbler, Abroscopus superciliaris
781 Black-throated Bushtit, Aegithalos concinnus
794 Buff-barred Warbler, Phylloscopus pulcher
795 Ashy-throated Warbler, Phylloscopus maculipennis
806 Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Phylloscopus magnirostris
810 Blyth's Leaf Warbler, Phylloscopus reguloides
811 Yellow-vented Warbler, Phylloscopus cantator
812 Grey-hooded Warbler, Phylloscopus xanthoschistos
817 Grey-cheeked Warbler, Seicercus poliogenys
818 Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Seicercus castaniceps
848 Hill Prinia, Prinia atrogularis
858 Common Tailorbird, Orthotomus sutorius
863 Puff-throated Babbler, Pellorneum ruficeps
870 White-browed Scimitar-babbler, Pomatorhinus schisticeps
871 Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, Pomatorhinus ruficollis
874 Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Xiphirhynchus superciliaris
880 Pygmy Wren-babbler, Pnoepyga pusilla
882 Rusty-throated Wren-Babbler, Spelaeornis badeigularis
891 Rufous-fronted Babbler, Stachyris rufifrons
892 Rufous-capped Babbler, Stachyris ruficeps
894 Golden Babbler, Stachyris chrysaea
895 Grey-throated Babbler, Stachyris nigriceps
914 Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Garrulax pectoralis
915 Striated Laughingthrush, Garrulax striatus
924 Grey-sided Laughingthrush, Garrulax caerulatus
925 Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, Garrulax ruficollis
938 Black-faced Laughingthrush, Garrulax affinis
939 Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Garrulax erythrocephalus
943 Silver-eared Leiothrix, Leiothrix argentauris
947 Rusty-fronted Barwing, Actinodura egertoni
949 Streak-throated Barwing, Actinodura waldeni
950 Blue-winged Minla, Minla cyanouroptera
951 Chestnut-tailed Minla, Minla strigula
952 Red-tailed Minla Minla, ignotincta
953 Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Alcippe chrysotis
954 Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Alcippe cinerea
955 Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Alcippe castaneceps
957 Brown-throated Fulvetta, Alcippe ludlowi
958 Manipur Fulvetta, Alcippe manipurensis
962 Nepal Fulvetta, Alcippe nipalensis
966 Beautiful Sibia, Heterophasia pulchella
967 Long-tailed Sibia, Heterophasia picaoides
968 Striated Yuhina, Yuhina castaniceps
969 White-naped Yuhina, Yuhina bakeri
970 Whiskered Yuhina, Yuhina flavicollis
971 Stripe-throated Yuhina, Yuhina gularis
972 Rufous-vented Yuhina, Yuhina occipitalis
979 Black-throated Parrotbill, Paradoxornis nipalensis
993 Oriental White-eye, Zosterops palpebrosus
997 Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Sitta castanea
1001 White-tailed Nuthatch, Sitta himalayensis
1024 Chestnut-tailed Starling, Sturnus malabaricus
1031 Blue Whistling Thrush, Myophonus caeruleus
1061 White-browed Shortwing, Brachypteryx montana
1074 Oriental Magpie Robin, Copsychus saularis
1086 Blue-fronted Redstart, Phoenicurus frontalis
1088 Plumbeous Water Redstart, Rhyacornis fuliginosa
1089 White-capped Redstart, Chaimarrornis leucocephalus
1090 White-tailed Robin, Cinclidium leucurum
1117 Blue Rock-thrush, Monticola solitarius
1118 Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Monticola rufiventris
1129 Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Ficedula strophiata
1137 Sapphire Flycatcher, Ficedula sapphira
1139 Verditer Flycatcher, Eumyias thalassinus
1150 Rufous-bellied Niltava, Niltava sundara
1152 Large Niltava, Niltava grandis
1153 Small Niltava, Niltava macgrigoriae
1160 Orange-bellied Leafbird, Chloropsis hardwickii
1178 Gould's Sunbird, Aethopyga gouldiae
1179 Green-tailed Sunbird, Aethopyga nipalensis
1180 Black-throated Sunbird, Aethopyga saturata
1185 Streaked Spiderhunter, Arachnothera magna
1230 Rosy Pipit, Anthus roseatus
1258 Dark-rumped Rosefinch, Carpodacus edwardsii
1267 Scarlet Finch, Haematospiza sipahi
1279 Crested Bunting, Melophus lathami

Mr. Alok Kumar Singh the Range Forest Officer In-charge of the area offered us all possible support. Thank you very much Alok Kumar for all the help. I was very happy to meet Ipra Mekola and Ravi Meso who are ready to help nature lovers find their way in the area. (Ph: 9436226626 and 9402047473)

One of the major tribes of the Lower Debang Valley are the Idu Mishmi’s. We came across many of them. Most of them were traveling by two wheelers carrying guns and other weapons. Fearless people I thought. Pratap Singh had spent some of his initial years as a forest officer in Arunachal Pradesh. He would from time to time tell us many interesting facts about the people and the forests of Arunachal Pradesh. The more I see India, the more fascinated I am!

This man suddenly appeared from the undergrowth startling me!

On the 30th April morning the four of us flew out of Roing. We made good use of the “Arunachal Helicopter Service” and after a short flight landed safely at the Dibrugarh Airport. While Dhananjai Mohan went back to his home in Dehradun, the rest of us continued to Namdapha by road.

We reached "Namdapha National Park" by dusk. Dibrugarh -> Tinsukia -> Makum -> Digboi -> Margherita -> Jagun -> Miao -> Namdapha! (About 200 Kms).

We spent two nights at "Deban" where the Forest Department provides decent accommodation. Mr Yogesh, Field Director of Namdapha National Park was with us and offered us all possible support. Thank you very much Yogesh Ji for all the help!

On the 2nd May, 2009, Ranganath Badri and Myself dropped Pratap Singh at the Dibrugrah Airport and proceeded back to Johrat. Another full day on the road – about 300+ kms! This ended our Arunachal Pradesh trip! Yes, we had to worry a bit about the mosquitoes and leeches. But then what can you achieve sitting at home? (Thanks Dr. Prashanth N S for the tips about malaria prevention)

Tomorrow we will visit Kaziranga!

Very many thanks to Pratap Singh and Dhananjai Mohan for making this trip happen for me. See you soon on the next!

Vijay Cavale
May 2009