Sunday, 15 April 2018

Day 16 – Tea Gardens then Guwahati

A quick trip around the Tea Plantation at 5.00am prior to heading to Guwahati for our plane to Delhi yielded two more ticks in the form of Greater necklaced Laughingthrush and Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher. Despite the presence of another local guide on the walk we again failed to connect with Blue-naped Pitta.

After breakfast we boarded our mini bus and headed for Guwahati for another finger chewing driving experience. Soon we stopped for lunch at Beeparbhal Lake where we added five more species bring the group total to 445 for the holiday, personally I managed to see 433 including 150 new species which is a phenomenal total for 16 days.

Apart from missing a few of the targets, the most painful of which for me was Himalayan Monal it was a tremendous trip. The company was good making new friends is aways a satisfying experience and as a group we gelled well with no problems. The accommodation was the best available and the camps, which we were all a little apprehensive about were above our low expectations whilst the food provided in them was better than the hotel at Dirang which remained a slight disappointment.

The two guides were excellent and India Nature were their usual well organised selves, leaving nothing to chance from start to finish. We had all the relevant information from the moment we arrived at the airport until we left all our needs were catered for, leaving us to concentrate on birding. I can heartily recommend them.

The food at times was a little bland but I didn’t go for the culinary experience. Also being a carnivore a little more choice would have been nice, especially in the hotels, but on the whole I was expecting to have vegetarian only meals in the camp so I was prepared for it. On the positive side I lost 8lb in weight which was a welcome bonus!

We had our last meal together in the hotel in Delhi before saying our goodbyes, we went a little earlier than we needed as we joined Nick and Raj in the minibus to the airport. We were that early that we couldn’t book in our baggage for a further hour. We then found Nick and Raj in the departure lounge to say our goodbyes.

Keith and I boarded our flight which was stopping at Amritsar, we had aisle seats with a gap between us which was taken by a Chinese lad with a face mask, he pushed past me sat down then went straight to sleep, he then lent on me and Keith and only woke twice, once to say he didn’t need breakfast and second to get off at Amritsar.

Sleeping Beauty.
On arrival at Birmingham Airport we had the usual wait for our baggage, this must be one of the countries worst! After waiting nearly 45 minutes our baggage trundled out and Joy was waiting to pick us up. The Captain had a quick cup of coffee then he left to complete his journey to sunny Scarborough! I see more of him abroad now than in this country!

Day 13 to 15 – Kaziranga – 6th to 9th April

Day 13 – Kaziranga – 6th April
am Kaziranga, Central Range – pm Kaziranga, Eastern Range

All the birding in Kaziranga was from the back of Jeeps or Gypses and the Indians call their models of Jeep! We had a good mornings birding but it wasn’t easy from the back of a Jeep. On entering the park we stopped to scan for birds when a thundering noise erupted from our left, we turned to see a large Bull Rhino being chased by an even larger Bull Rhino! Our driver got the Jeep moving pronto, with the two beasts crossing the road just about where we had originally stopped!

The rear of the hotel
Bird wise new species were starting to dry up with just Blossom-headed Parakeet and Striated Babbler added this morning. At lunch a group from Cardiff and Bristol took great delight in relaying tales of the three Tiger they had been watching all morning. On hearing this Leo changed our plans and we headed for the Eastern Ranges where the Tigers had made a kill.

Tiger

Bloody Large Spider, with nearly 10 days of veg only I didn’t know whether to run or barbecue it!

The numbers of birds was quite staggering and we recorded well in excess of 100 species during the course of the day. We added Slender-billed Vulture to my new species list, as it and several Himalayan Vultures sat in attendance of an unfortunately carcass that lay in an open area and was attracting a hoard of scavengers.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

Oriental Turtle Dove

Asian Barred Owlet

Blue-bearded Bee-eater

After an hour or so it was starting to get late, no-one had any idea of where the Tiger were, but a Rhino across the way from us stopped and sniffed the air, then a head popped up, then another and that was Tiger in the bag. The female then walked towards its kill, which was being snaffled by a Wild Boar who’s head was deep inside the carcass. The Tiger could not have been more than 100 yards from it when the Wild Boar, realising the danger he was in bolted! The Tiger didn’t seem bothered, walked up sniffed the carcass then moved off!

One of the near full grown cubs sat sunning itself in full view and as night time drew in we left them in peace.


Day 14 – 7th April
early am Tea Plantation – am Kaziranga, Central Range – pm Kaziranga, Western Range

There was a Tea Plantation within walking distance of the hotel so after a coffee we walked there and birded for an hour or so, the target was Blue-naped Pitta, but unfortunately we didn’t connect but I did add the new species: Indian Cuckoo, Tickell’s Leaf Warbler and Rufous-necked Laughingthrush plus in addition a couple more to the holiday total.

Then we headed to the Central Range at Kariranga for the rest of the morning where yet again the birding was good but no new species were seen.

This was a fruitless afternoon with the only species being added being Swamp Francolin which we saw first in flight before pinning two down at a distance of 200 yards. We searched for Finn’s Weaver and Himalayan Rubythroat without success. We devoted the rest of the day searching areas of grass for Pied Harrier and any other Harriers we could find, unfortunately we couldn’t find any.

Day 15 – 8th April
am Kaziranga, Easter Range – pm Kaziranga, Central Range

Our proposed visit to the Tea Plantation was abandoned when rain stopped play, we sat on the veranda as a group drinking coffee and having a good natter. After breakfast we tried another site for Blue-naped Pitta but all we got was bitten by Mosquito's.



In true Indian tradition, I give you a “Selfie”

The mighty Bhramapurta
Asian Elephant
  
One-horned Rhino

Green-billed Malkoha

The birding was very similar to the previous days and we were struggling to add new species with just Tytler’s Leaf Warbler being added. We paid a visit the might Brahmaputra River which was impressive, with the Bionic Swede picking a pod of Ganges River Dolphin.

We saw a Common Woodshrike feeding fledged young, it then became apparent why the birding had been difficult with few birds singing. Most birds had begun breeding a few weeks early this year, which accounted for the lack of activity and the muted response we were receiving when playing tapes.

Day 12 – Eaglenest to Kaziranga – 5th April

Day 12 – Eaglenest to Kaziranga

A 5.45am breakfast meeting again and after loading up and taking in the views for the last time we headed downhill to the site of the “Bugan” where we enjoyed a good hour of birding adding a couple of new species. Unfortunately the “Bugan” were not playing ball so the views from the other day would be our lot.

In an attempt to catch up with Ibisbill we took another route that took us west then south along the border with Bhutan. We searched, what looked like an ideal river for Ibisbill but it wasn’t to be. Driving in India is nerve racking experience at the best of times, but on these road perched above large drops it is especially scary. To make matter worse our driver missed the first bend, taking it way to fast, fortunately he just managed to keep it on the road. You would think he would have learnt his lesson, but no on the next bend he did exactly the same, only this time there was another car! Everyone let out a scream and through their arms into the air – quite how that would have helped I don’t know, but we all did it. Somehow, more through luck than judgement the cars didn’t collide – words were said!

The rest of the day was hard, the roads were good but it was hairpin bend after hairpin bend, as we descended out of the foothills onto the plains of Assam. We eventually stopped for lunch at @3.00pm, I for one was an emotional and physical wreck, lack of sleep and hard days in the field are not good preparations for meeting your maker!

We eventually got the the hotel in Kaziranga just as it was getting dark for a welcome coffee, then to our rooms where we all showered and shaved for the first time in six days. I had at this point a 7 day beard which looked better than I thought it would, I decided that I would only feel clean if it came off, part of me wishes I hadn’t.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Days 9 & 10 – Lama Camp via Eaglenest Pass to Bompu Camp – 2nd & 3rd April

Days 9 & 10 – Lama Camp via Eaglenest Pass to Bompu Camp – 2nd & 3rd April

We packed last night as we had a 5.30am start to drive over Eaglenest Pass to Bompu Camp on the other side. We birded all the way seeing new species all the time. The change in habitat was noticeable with the south side of the mountain obviously receiving more rain, it was much lusher and the cover was thicker. We caught up with a couple of Ward’s Trogon amongst others on the drive. Later in the afternoon we managed to get views of Long-billed Wren-babbler and Rufous-throated Wren-babbler both under the same bush.

After birding most of the day we arrived at Bompu Camp, at first glance it was similar to Lama, although in reality it was a little more down market, but the sleeping arrangements were similar as where the tents. The bed though was not comfortable, I likened it to sleeping on a Snooker Table, it was however, at a lower elevation and therefore not as cold at night, so I slept a lot better. The sky on the first night was amazing with the dark sky highlighting the stars on show, it took me back 40 years to when you could see them locally, with excessive light pollution nowadays star gazing is a thing of the past.

The next morning saw us head down to a much lower elevation and the birds were everywhere, with new species coming thick and fast. One of the highlights was Blyth’s Kingfisher on the river which we viewed from a very rickety bridge. We had breakfast served from the bonnet of the vehicles again, this time we had chairs. We saw Rufous-necked Hornbill, Black Eagle, Rufous-belled Eagle, Asian House Martin, Silver-backed Needletail and Lesser Racket-tailed Drone whilst trying to eat breakfast.

In the early afternoon another target species led us a merry dance with myself and the two Swedes being the only ones to connect, the bird in question was Beautiful Nuthatch, the views I got were poor as the bird was somewhat silhouetted against the sky.

By the end of the day we had seen an astounding number of birds in addition to the birds mentioned we also saw: Grey Peacock-pheasant, White-throated Needletail, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Bay Woodpecker, White-bellied Erpornis, Collared Treepie, Mountain Bulbul, Rufous-faced Warbler, White-spectacled Warbler, Silver-eared Media, Long-tailed Sibia, Striated Yuhina, Whte-naped Yuhina, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Pale Blue Flycatcher and Sapphire Flycatcher.

On day 10 we met at 5.00am for breakfast and headed back to try and connect with the Beautiful Nuthatch, this time we were eventually successful and everyone got good views. Keith and I were in the front vehicle for the first time and on the way down we saw a couple of Long-tailed Thrushes on the verge of the track. Other species seen included Spotted Elachura which I had missed twice already. Hoary-throated Barwing was also seen, after lunch we headed back over Eaglenest Pass to return to Lama Camp for another night. On the way we saw the endemic Broad-billed Warbler and a few of us saw a Fire-capped Tit. It was a rather uneventful last few hours as we searched in vain for species we had missed previously. Soon we were sat down to Rice and Veg again, then off to bed for another early start. I struggled to sleep as it was so cold but I lived to tell the tale.

Tent mark II

The Captain test driving the wife’s new mode of transport

The toilet facilities

Beautiful Nuthatch

Sultan Tit


Days 7 & 8 – Eaglenest, Lama Camp – 1st & 2nd April

After our arrival last night, we dropped the gear into the tents and headed uphill to the “Dining Area” for some Rice, Dall and mixed vegetables! In fact the food here was better than at the Hotel in Dirang. The altitude of the camp was 2,350m over 7,000ft and it was pleasant during the day, but it was cold at night! The views however were superb and I will never forget the memory of going to sleep with Grey Nightjars and Owls calling all night.

Eaglenest Dining Area

Our accommodation, ours is the fourth tent from the left

Tent entrance

The views from the tent “Balcony”

Sign at the pass
We met for coffee at 5.30am and headed downhill to an area that hold the rare Bugun Liocichla after half an hour and with the use of tapes one bird appeared which only a couple of the group saw well, 10 minutes later we all had rather silhouetted views as the birds moved through the trees with the sun behind them. Wasn’t happy with the views which left me with the dilemma of whether to count it or not, at that time I thought we might get onto the bird again – I thought wrong!

We then birded higher up on a forest trail which was enjoyable but again hard work, birds came thick and fast and included a Hill Partridge which we managed to pick up deep in the forest. We also caught up with Darjeeling Woodpecker a species that we had missed previously.

After lunch we birded downhill and Lakpa heard a Blyth’s Tragopan deep in the forest, he played the call and ten minutes later it called again, this time closer, eventually one of the group picked up the bird partially hidden at the bottom of the hill, then it came closer still and ran across on open area. Eventually Lakpa put the tape on the path a little up hill and as he was making his way back the bird burst from cover and disappeared, then eventually it flew across the track and melted away into the forest.

This was one of our target species and it was a good to get reasonable views. We birded the rest of the day seeing a good variety of species.

I think this is a Blue-winged Sibia

Black-chinned Yuhina

Black-faced Warbler


Friday, 13 April 2018

Day 7 – 31st March – Dirang to Eagles Nest

Day 7 – Dirang to Eaglenest – 31st March

We met for breakfast at 5.45am which consisted of omelette's that were probably cooked the previous day, they were rubbery and cold! But, on the plus side it was nearly a lie-in! Today we were travelling south towards Eaglenest a vast untouched area of forest rising to around 9,000ft with a variety of habitats and different altitude levels to explore.

We started off at the local river in Dirang where we found a couple of Brown Dipper and Crested Kingfisher, we followed the river for a while when the van in front stopped suddenly and the bionic Swede had done it again, this time Wallcreeper. Next we visited a flood plain alongside the river where we found Long-billed Plover, not the wader some of the group were after (whisper IBISBILL!!!)


Brown Dipper

Wallcreeper

Long-billed Plover

An interesting bridge over the river.


We then headed south after approximately an hour we rounded a corner to be faced with two Army tow trucks parked across the road blocking access in both directions. Apparently a petrol tanker had gone off the road and down the ravine killing the driver. For some reason they were trying to haul the vehicle out of the ravine. On closer inspection the truck was moving at about a foot a minute and with at least 150 metres to go it was going to take time. Plus if they eventually succeeded there was a vertical 10 metre wall to get over. It was clear to us it wasn’t going to happen, there just wasn’t any space available for the manoeuvre.

In addition the cables were either side of a tree which was about 50 metres down, so god only knows how they would have got past that! Anyway after about 10 minutes one of the cables snapped, what a noise it made, it was lucky no one was killed, ten minutes later another one went and the truck disappeared back down into the ravine. At this point the Army decided it wasn’t going to work and moved the trucks sideways on, clearing one lane. It was a relief to get moving, if the petrol tanker had gone up it would have caused carnage!

The army attempting to remove a Petrol Tanker from a rather deep ravine.

We were soon at the entrance to Eaglenest sanctuary up a dirt track which provided the only access. As we drove up it was just one vast area of forest, in the middle of which we could make out a couple of buildings and a few blue dots – that was our accommodation!


Eaglenest


India – Days 4 to 5 – 28th to 30th March – Dirang

Day 4 – Nameri to Dirang

We had a bit of a break from the early starts this morning as we were travelling to Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh a sensitive area that borders China. This would allow us access to the foothills of the Himalayas which was the highlight for me. The reason for the early start was that the road wasn’t due to open until 9.00am!

While we were still in Assam we stopped to scan an area of open country attracted by a perched Himalayan Buzzard in a nearby tree. Whilst there I had another tick with a Striated Grassbird which was singing about 50 yards away.

We arrived at the roadblock and whilst waiting we birded the ravine by the side of the road and a couple of other points on the journey adding the following species: Mountain Hawk-eagle, Blyth’s Swift, Short-billed Minivet, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Black-faced Warbler, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Ashy-throated Warbler,Yellow-vented Warbler, Golden Babbler, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Golden-breasted Fulvetta and the impressive Streaked Spiderhunter.

We arrived at the hotel just before dark, the room was comfortable, the shower didn’t work and the food was luke warm and to be honest crap! However, there as no time to worry about that as we had to be up at 2.45am to meet for coffee at 3.15am as we had a three hour drive to Sela Pass, which at 13,680ft would be the highest I have ever been.

Day 5 – Sela Pass

We loaded onto the vehicles and made our way deep into the Himalayas we arrived before the sun had risen and straight away we were onto one of our targets the Blood Pheasant which played a game of hide and seek with us, eventually we all got good views of this enigmatic species.

Sunrise over the Himalayas

Typical birding habitat with stunning views

Sela Pass, not what I expected – a little tacky

The group at the entrance to the pass.

A little further on we came across another group of birders who were watching a group of Snow Partridge and a mixed flock of Accentors, also at this point we picked up a White-winged Grosbeak. We also had a flyover flock of Granada and Plain Mountain Finch. We then carried on to Sela Pass where we saw the impressive Snow Pigeon. Birds at this altitude are few and far between, so we headed downhill to a small area of marshy ground where we saw a Solitary Snipe. Back to the pass we again tried to find the main target species – Himalayan Monal, much to everyone’s disappointment we were not to see this bird despite a lot of searching. We did see Alpine Thrush, Alpine Chough and a Himalayan Gryphon Vulture. As we returned from our latest search for the Monal, Keith shouted what is that, I got on the bird straight away and it perched up and showed itself as a Little Owl, one of the pale races. This was new for Leo (our guide) and a third record for India!

By mid-morning we made our way downhill looking for a place to stop for our picnic as we were all starving, the food was laid out on the bonnet of one of the vehicles and we tucked into Rice and mixed Vegetables – again!!! At this point a steady drizzle started to fall but the birds kept coming and we added more new species.

We arrived back at the hotel elated but tired, it was soon time for dinner – Rice and Dall plus more mixed vegetables including a bowl of Cauliflower! I hate Cauliflower!!!!

Snow Partridge

Alpine Accentor

Snow Pigeon

Day 6 – Mandala Road

After yesterdays exertions we spent the day birding Mandala Road which was close to the hotel. It did rise to nearly 10,000ft but it was a good road, we had some good birds near the start of the road with Little Pied Flycatcher and Ultramarine Flycatcher plus Grey-headed Bullfinch. The village of Mandala was like going back in time 600 years with wooden shacks passing as houses and most of the surrounding trees being harvested, it must be a hard life!

The village of Mandala

Posing with the Himalayas in the distance.


To cut a long story short the birds were hard work and later we heard that one of the drivers had seen a Red Panda but his message was relayed wrongly and we were all gutted.

Towards the end of the day we visited a site for Black-necked Crake seeing two.

Little Pied Flycatcher

Grey Crested Tit

Rufous-tailed Nuthatch

Some local’s complete with Party dress

Fire-tailed Myzornis

Fire-tailed Myzornis

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher

Rufous-belled Woodpecker

India – Days 2 and 3 Nameri – 25-28 March

Day 2 – 26th March 2018

We had another early start with breakfast at 5.45am, then we drove to the Jia Bhorelli river to meet the boat that would transport us onto the Nameri Tiger Reserve. The boat was little more than a hollowed out tree but looked safe enough! We were to be accompanied by two armed guards on all our visits to Nameri, one out front and one at the back. The rifles they carried looked antiquated but no doubt worked, one of the guards was with us in the vehicle and he had his finger over the end of the barrel, which considering how bumpy the road was a folly of the highest order.

We saw a lot of species but the rare White-winged Duck eluded us, new species were as follows: Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Green-billed Malkoha, Pied Falconet, Maroon Oriole, Sultan Tit, Sand Lark, White-throated Bulbul, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, Pin-striped Tit-babbler, Pale-chinned Blue Flycatcher, Black-backed Forktail and Daurian Redstart.

Day 3 – 27th March 2018

After a really dramatic thunder storm last night we surprised to get up and see the rain had stopped, it had certainly freshened the air. We again met for breakfast at 5.45am and followed the same pattern as yesterday, with more emphasis on the White-winged Duck. However, the rain overnight had seen the water levels in the river rise.

We made for the last forest pool that we had visited yesterday where one of the group swore he saw a duck fly from the far end of the small forest pool. We made our way around and walked through the undergrowth for a further 200 yards, then on an even smaller pool there was the quarry, feeding quietly unbothered by our presence. We filled our boots for a while then moved on leaving the bird to feed on its own.

We picked up some other new species and the Swedes – Christian and Hans were proving to be very good birders with Christian having particularly sharp eyes with Hans ears equally as good! Unfortunately Joyce had started to go down with a cold that would persist for most of the holiday, but her and Terry kept up with what was to that point a gruelling schedule, which wasn’t about to ease!

After lunch we headed off in the vehicles for our raft trip which was intended to provide us with views of Ibisbill, unfortunately due to the rise in water levels, the birds preferred areas were underwater so we missed them. On our return we got packed for an early morning start to Dirang but we managed a couple of hours in the camp area with a bit of owl hunting after dinner. We heard a few species but the only one we got on was Collared Scops Owl. New species for the second day were: White-winged Duck, Barred Cuckoo-dove, Common Flameback, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Rosy Minivet, Ashy Minivet, Abbott’s Babbler, Hodgson’s Redstart and Yellow-vented Flowerpecker.

Returning to the boat from Nameri


Giant Hornbill

White-winged Duck

Abbott’s Babbler

Wreathed Hornbill

Blue-bearded Bee-eater