This is a tour led by Nick Bray to NE India in 2010.

This was my 3rd tour to the seldom visited and near-mystical Mishmi Hills once again resulted in a number of Eastern Himalayan specialties being seen. It is a real privilege to go birding in such a remote place that few western birders have visited and the birds certainly did not disappoint, although it is one of those places where you have to persevere to reap the rewards. The weather was dry for most of the tour and the logistics organised by Peter Lobo were, as always, superb.

So we began our birding adventure shortly after arrival in Delhi with a few hours spent at Okhla Barrage producing a number of species not seen elsewhere on the tour including 70+ Greater Flamingo, 8+ Painted Storks, White-tailed Stonechat, Comb Duck, Hume’s Warbler, a flock of Indian Silverbills, Purple Sunbird, White-tailed Lapwing, Graceful Prinia, Siberian Chiffchaff and Red Avadavat. Huge rafts of wildfowl were loafing on the sluggish water and all were familiar to us and in amongst the regular gulls we picked out a few Steppe Gulls.

With Black Kites appearing over the rooftops and Rose- ringed Parakeets screeching past us, our dawn breakfast on the rooftop garden was certainly quite eventful. A Brown Rock-chat also put in an all too brief appearance, as did the warm toast! And soon after we were heading to the brand new Domestic Terminal and after a minor delay we touched down in Dibrugarh only 40 minutes later than scheduled. My good friend and our guide for the tour, Peter Lobo, had joined us on the same plane when we touched down in Guwahati en-route and after collecting our luggage we were quickly driving along the road to Tinsukia and our hotel for the night.

An early start was required in order to reach the ferry at Saikhowa Ghat this morning on our journey to the fabled and bird-rich Mishmi Hills in Arunachal Pradesh. It really is an amazing experience to watch the organisation of this delicate loading operation and with water levels so low it meant a very direct and quick crossing across the depleted Brahmaputra River. A few birds were noted here including Great Black- headed Gulls, Ruddy Shelducks, a Black Stork and a Merlin of the pallidus race before we headed off across the sandy and very bumpy track to a site Peter has found for Bengal Florican. At the appointed place our crew had already set up a sumptuous breakfast of omelettes and porridge which was consumed avidly by all. Then we walked across the grassland and within 5 minutes or so had unbelievably prolonged flight views of a florican slowly flying past us and into the tall grass. A few other species were present such as Lesser Coucal, Greater Painted-snipe and Pintail Snipe. Our raptor list was also doing well with Himalayan Griffon and White-rumped Vultures, Changeable Hawk-eagle and Short-toed Eagle being seen amongst some commoner species. A long and bumpy, pot-holed drive ensued to Roing, and a short while later we arrived at our secluded lodge and base for the next few nights. This area has proved very productive to us in the past and this afternoon was no exception with a good selection of typical Himalayan species on show and all readily visible in the garden. Of course Beautiful Sibia was the first bird but was quickly followed by Blue-throated Barbet, Fulvous-breasted and Grey-faced Woodpeckers, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, White-capped River-chat, Black-backed Forktail and a fine Black-throated Sunbird feeding in a Bombax tree. Down by the lake we had Silver-eared Mesia, female Red-headed Trogon, White-throated and Yellow-bellied Fantails and a mixed flock of Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes.

We awoke early the following morning to a perfect starlit sky and headed along the Roing-Hunli Road and after a quiet start found our first flock of Black-chinned Yuhinas. As we watched these little beauties, a group of Striated Yuhinas appeared and gave decent views, followed by Grey Treepie, Plain Flowerpecker, Orange-bellied Leafbird and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush. We drove up to a section of Bamboo and scored heavily with 3 Pale-headed Woodpeckers giving prolonged views. From here we drove to 1300m and had a tree full of Golden-throated Barbets and Striated Bulbuls before finding our first group of Cachar Wedge-billed Wren- babblers that were feeding on the floor around some cow dung! A Rufous-necked Hornbill called from the forest somewhere on the hill above us but remained out of view, whilst a flock of White-naped Yuhinas appeared beside the road. Shortly after, a Long-billed Wren-babbler gave a brief appearance and a Collared Owlet stared down at us with piercing eyes. One of the great things about this section of the tour is that you walk around a corner in the road and there is a table and chairs with our hot lunch waiting for us. Afterwards we continued walking along the road and found plenty of more regular species as well as lots of Olive-backed Pipits, Ashy- throated Warbler, a flock of 9 Coral-billed Scimitar- babblers, several groups of Rusty-fronted Barwings, another Long-billed Wren-babbler, our first Maroon-backed Accentor, Daurian Redstart, Golden Babbler and Nepal Fulvetta before returning to our lodge a little earlier than usual where the traditional Mishmi pakoras and flasks of tea were waiting for us.

After a night of heavy rain and thunder we awoke to clearing skies and were soon driving back along the road and up into the hills. This time we headed above Tewarigaon and were enjoying Slaty-backed and Spotted Forktails and flocks of Maroon- backed Accentors feeding beside the road. Parking up around the 2000m mark we began walking back down in the decidedly cool early morning air and were soon notching up Dark- rumped Rosefinch, the first of many Himalayan Red-flanked Bush-robins, an Orange-gorgeted Flycatcher and a tame Plain-backed Thrush that gave point-blank views as it fed in the leaf litter beside the road. Our first flock of the day held two Black-eared Shrike-babblers, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Yellow-browed and Black-spotted (Yellow-cheeked) Yellow Tit, Rufous-capped Babbler and several Rufous-winged Fulvettas. A group of demure Manipur Fulvettas also fed unobtrusively on the bank above us and belied their impressive reputation! We had a few more small flocks later on but found nothing new for a while apart from an impressive male Green- tailed Sunbird. So we continued walking down and had the first of 5 Rufous-breasted Bush-robins to be seen today, more bluetails, White-tailed Nuthatch, and a flock of Chestnut- tailed and Red-tailed Minlas. Peter picked up a male Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush way up in a tall tree on the hill above us and also a flock of Brown Bullfinches which we scoped. With the rain finally reaching us we drove down some way and were greeted by our ground crew who had erected a dining tent for us to shelter in and eat our excellent hot lunch. Flocks of Olive-backed Pipits flew by, with a male Blue- fronted Redstart sat on the wall below us. After we had finished a calling Sultan Tit led us to a massive mixed flock where we also saw lots of Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Grey- chinned Minivet, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, lots of Red- tailed Minlas, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, and a selection of common species. With the cloud descending we drove down to the Bamboo zone and found several obliging Yellow-bellied Warblers, Hodgson’s Redstart, a few White-crested Laughingthrushes, a flock of Black-chinned Yuhinas that gave very close views much to Roy’s delight, Asian Barred Owlet, a flock of Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes and a perched Mountain Imperial-pigeon spotted by Abid. 

Cachar Wedge-billed Wren-Babbler copyright Nick Bray

An extremely confiding Long-billed Wren-babbler got the ball rolling the next day and allowed us to study every feather detail as it picked its way across the bank above us. All 3 usual forktails were around this morning and as we watched a flock of Yellow-throated Fulvettas feeding, a Grey-cheeked Warbler also came in for a look. Around the next bend, what was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of the tour occurred when a group of amazingly confiding Cachar Wedge-billed Wren- babblers were seen (and heard) feeding a few metres below the road. They gave repeated and close views for half an hour and even followed us up and down the road quite a way! Shortly after a Mishmi Wren-babbler responded to the tape but only showed briefly although we were not too worried as it is relatively common here. So we drove up higher and found a fruiting tree full of Great Barbets, as well as a soaring Rufous-bellied Eagle, a skulking flock of Red-headed Laughingthrushes, another two Collared Owlets and three Alpine Accentors, as well as getting the views we wanted of Mishmi Wren-babbler. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking towards the lodge at Mayodia where we were going to spend the next few chilly nights and came across several feeding flocks with Stripe-throated and Rufous-vented Yuhinas, Streak-throated Barwing, Yellow-browed Tit, a fast moving bunch of Black-throated Parrotbills and finally a pair of stunning Yellow-billed Blue Magpies showed well. We ended the day with a bonfire on the terrace underneath a breathtaking starry sky.

Up with the lark this morning or rather the hill-partridge and a decidedly chilly Mayodia Pass was our first port of call. A group of Brown-throated Fulvettas showed well straight away upon arrival and as we walked down the north side a flock of Grey-headed Bullfinches were seen feeding beside the road. A Dark-rumped Rosefinch, several Green-tailed Sunbirds literally glowed in the sunshine and a flock of Black-faced Laughingthrushes followed before we drove back up to the pass having located a few feeding parties of yuhinas but nothing else new. Walking down the road towards the lodge gave us an obliging Hume’s Bush-warbler and as we were watching this, Peter called us over and there feeding on the sunlit bank was a superb Bar-winged Wren-babbler. We then found a flock of stunning Golden-breasted Fulvettas and a Rufous-capped Babbler joined in the fun as well, whilst a Bay Woodpecker flew across the road a couple of times. Back at the lodge for lunch and we didn’t have long to rest as a random piece of tape playing resulted in a Spotted Laughingthrush calling back. As it became apparent that it would not show we had to make our way inside the bamboo where it showed really well. Following that a futile attempt for Blyth’s Tragopan was made before driving down the road only to be thwarted by the low cloud and some drizzle which meant that we dipped on a calling Himalayan Cutia. So we returned to Mayodia Lodge and found that we were above the clouds which enabled us to bird the immediate vicinity before dinner.

A couple of Grey-headed Bullfinches were a parting gift from Mayodia as we drove lower down in search of new birds the following morning. The early morning sunshine was enticing to several mixed feeding flocks although only a pair of Streak-breasted Scimitar-babblers was new to begin with, but a little later there was Ashy woodpigeon, Darjeeling Woodpecker, and at an area of bamboo a pair of Slender-billed Scimitar-babblers gave a superb prolonged show, a pair of Gold-naped Finches, and a nice little flock held Manipur and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Black-eared Shrike-babbler and Golden Babbler. We’d heard several Blyth’s Tragopans already this morning but when Peter spotted one on the slope above we thought our luck had changed so our crew made their way from the road above through the forest and managed to startle a tragopan and Common Hill-partridge into flight right over our heads and if only a pair of Black-headed Shrike- babblers hadn’t put in an appearance right at the crucial time, then the tragopan would have literally walked into us! As we left here and drove down to our lunch site we were treated to the amazing spectacle of a male Ward’s Trogon flying up from beside the road and landing onto everyone’s life lists. It was a privilege to be able to watch this much wanted Eastern Himalayan speciality perched above the road for a good 10 minutes, during which time it sallied forth and picked a few berries from a nearby bush. After lunch events became a little frustrating as we heardChestnut-breasted Hill-partridge, before spending a good hour trying to see a singing White-gorgeted Flycatcher with minimal success.

Our last full day began with a Grey Nightjar in the headlights before reaching the tragopan area where we spent an hour scanning the steep slopes for any movement. Most of the group walked down the road whilst John and I ventured into the Bamboo and had an extremely close encounter with a calling Blyth’s Tragopan without seeing the elusive and apparently not near-mythical creature. However, a pair of Common Hill-partridges did walk sedately past us just a few yards away. The walk down the road turned up trumps when a Yellow-rumped Honeyguide was scoped beside a bee’s nest on a small cliff-face, a Scaly Laughingthrush was perched on a rock beside the road, whilst the first of 2 pairs of the stunning Beautiful Nuthatches were found. In the evening the ground crew had prepared a bonfire and brought dinner to us in the hills and we enjoyed yet another amazingly fine meal listening to Mountain Scops-owl calling. At least 3 Hodgson’s Frogmouth called from the forest and eluded us this evening as we made our way back to the lodge. 

Green Cochoa copyright Nick Bray

Whilst chasing a few trip ticks around the garden the next morning a Green Cochoa began calling from the road above and after a mad dash up the steps we were treated to great scope views of a pair sat out in the open. The gardens were as good as ever and we watched numerous typically Himalayan birds feeding in the flowering trees including Asian Fairy Bluebird and White-throated Bulbuls, whilst the surrounding area held White-capped River-chat, Black-backed Forktail and Lemon-rumped Warbler. Then we drove back down through the lowlands to the ferry and said our goodbyes to the wonderful ground crew who had looked after us so well this past week. A Great Black- headed Gull was seen on the river and dwarfed a pair of Ruddy Shelducks. Driving along the sandy shoreline we found a flock of Rosy Pipits and a single White-rumped Vulture. Later on we arrived at Dibru-Saikhowa where we had lunch and could scan the large marsh which was literally full of birds with pride of place going to the Lesser White- fronted Goose which was here for its second year and is an extremely rare bird in India. More expected fare was present such as Asian Openbill, Purple Swamphen, Grey-headed Lapwing, masses of common wildfowl, numerous Citrine Wagtails and a few Temminck’s Stints. We sailed along a shallow channel in two dugout canoes and got really close to both jacanas, Wood Sandpiper, Bar-headed Goose and Striated Grassbird. On landing an Oriental Honey Buzzard flew over and a Tawny Pipit was seen before we walked into the tall grass in search of Swamp Prinia without any luck. However, Jerdon’s and Chestnut-capped Babblers showed well before the return boat trip afforded decent views of Blyth’s Reed-warbler, Paddyfield and Smoky Warblers, and a Watercock was nearly as startled as were to see it! A final scan of the marsh produced Red- crested Pochard and Ferruginous Duck to add to our ever increasing lists.

After our abortive attempt to reach the parrotbill site at Dibru-Saikhowa in the early hours due to torrential rain we headed to Kaziranga earlier than expected which gave us plenty of time to explore the famous Tea Gardens. Unbelievably, we began with stunning views of a Blue- naped Pitta up a tree thanks to the hard work by Rafik and Abid. Birding was very enjoyable in the open habitat and we soon racked up a few good species such as Rufous-fronted Babbler, White-rumped Shama, Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Little Pied Flycatcher, Tickell’s Leaf- warbler, a flock of Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, and a few Oriental Turtle-doves.

Oriental Hobby copyright Nick Bray

We got our big day at Kaziranga, during which we saw 133 species, off to a good start with a Thick-billed Warbler beside the restaurant, as well as close views of several Grey-headed Starlings feeding in a small bush, a Grey-backed Shrike and several White-vented Mynas. A mass of birds were seen on Sohola Bheel in the Eastern Range and we had Spot-billed and Great White Pelicans, Cotton Pygmy-goose, several Black-necked Storks, Greater Adjutant and Pacific Golden Plover which were all new additions for the tour. Also present were Lesser Adjutant, Grey-headed Lapwing, Stork-billed Kingfisher, as well as loads of commoner birds. We drove along the edge of the forest and came across a Pallas’s Fish-eagle perched beside a huge nest, whilst a little later the smaller Grey-headed Fish-eagle put in several appearances. There followed Red Junglefowl, Great Pied Hornbill, nice close Woolly-necked Storks, Brown Shrike, with Common Hill-mynas and Spot-winged Starlings feeding in the huge, flowering Bombax trees. In the channel beside us we added a group of Smooth-coated Otters to our mammal list which now included Hog and Swamp Deer, Indian One-horned Rhinoceros and Asian Elephant. Continuing on we had Green Imperial-pigeonand Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker before returning along the same track. At Sohola Bheel a gathering of vultures now included Eurasian Griffon, White-rumped and Slender-billed adding to the Himalayan Griffon Vulture we had seen earlier and made for an impressive sight. Other raptors seen were Changeable Hawk-eagle, Steppe and Greater Spotted Eagles and Crested Serpent-eagle. In the afternoon we visited the Central Range and began with close Black-headed Ibis and an adult and 2 nearly fully-fledged Brown Fish-owls in a nest. Ian D found a pair of Kalij Pheasants which showed really well, and we followed this with Streak-throated Woodpecker, Indian Spotted Eagle, Eastern Baya Weaver, and one of the key species here, Swamp Francolin. At a large lake a new observation tower had been erected since my last visit and gave us a fine view of the surrounding area, albeit into the setting sun. But we had closer francolins, Spot-billed Pelican and loads of species seen earlier today. A male Pied Harrier quartering the grassland made for an exquisite sight in the late afternoon sunshine and rounded off a perfect day.

The next day began with an Elephant ride across the grassland of the Central Range in Kaziranga National Park during which we got up close and personal with several more Rhinos, as well as herds of Swamp Deer and a few Wild Boars It certainly was a very enjoyable experience and we were grateful to have already seen the florican earlier in the tour as this species was conspicuous by its absence. As ever it doesn’t pay to switch off on this tour as a pair of Greater Flamebacks and a Blue-eared Barbet was scoped from the dining hall during breakfast. Afterwards we returned to the Central Range and whilst waiting for the gates to open, Roy found a Eurasian Hoopoe feeding in the grass nearby. Once inside the park we made our first stop at a large lake where a large and very old bull Elephant was quietly grazing with Rosy, Paddyfield and Richard’s Pipits doing their best not to get trampled beneath him! Our intention was to get to the far side of the range this morning and visit the lush riverine forest, but as usual we were delayed by the multitude of birds present along the way including Red- headed Vulture, Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Lineated Barbet, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and more Spot-winged Starlings. In the forest Rafik found a Blossom-headed Parakeet perched in the canopy, and there was also Blyth’s Leaf-warbler, a Slender-billed Vulture on a nest, Striped Tit-babbler, Small Niltava, and returning to the park gate a close Grey-headed Fish-eagle showed well beside the main lake. After lunch we visited the western Range and from the observation tower which overlooks an oxbow lake and grassland we counted an impressive total of 33 Rhino’s, as well as a Hen Harrier spotted by Mick, Black-necked Stork, Greater Adjutant, 40+ Temminck’s Stints, 4 Marsh Sandpipers, 20+ Pied Avocets, with a Green-billed Malkoha beside the parking area. Driving through the grassland gave us calling Himalayan Rubythroats, Blyth’s Reed-warbler, Yellow-eyed Babbler, and a couple of rare Finn’s Weavers in a large flock of Eastern Baya Weavers. A very close view of an Oriental Scops-owl after dinner ended another superb day’s birding.

A calling Banded Bay Cuckoo flew in and landed in one of the trees in the gardens this morning to get the ball rolling before we headed back to the tea gardens for a fine couple of hours birding in the relatively cool morning air. A couple of Buff-breasted Babblers came in to the tape quite easily and were a new species for this tour which really made my day! But plenty of other birds were present with a flock of Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes and several Black- winged Cuckooshrikes vying for our attention at the same time. Further on we saw a Grey-throated Babbler and a cooperative White-browed Scimitar-babbler before returning to the lodge where we had an hour to get packed before departing for Nameri. So we made the best of it and came up with a rather unexpected Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, male Small Niltava, Taiga Flycatcher and close flyover Oriental Honey-buzzard. Following the couple of hours drive to Nameri Eco-Camp we had lunch as well as fine scope views of Oriental Hobby. Then a walk along the track towards the river produced Daurian Redstart, several Barred Cuckoo-doves, Grey Bushchat and brief views of Siberian Rubythroat, although we heard at least 8 more. A Brown Hawk-owl posing nicely in the scope was the final bird of note for today.

Ibisbill copyright Nick Bray

Nameri Tiger Reserve always plays host to a wealth of good birds and today proved no exception and was in all probability one of the best days of the entire tour. As we set off along the bumpy track down to the river a pair of Wreathed Hornbills flew into a nearby tree and we jumped out of the vehicles and had excellent views in the scope. At the river Dollarbird and Long-tailed Minivet were new for the tour, and we also had nice views of a pair of River Terns and a flyby Sand Lark. In fact, we had 27 new birds for the tour today, which was an excellent result considering we were fast approaching the end of the trip. So once we had crossed the river in the dugout canoes we walked towards the ranger station, seeing a Black-breasted Thrush along the way. The path bordered the river all the way and with low cloud cover and cool conditions bird activity was intense until lunchtime. A few Black-crested Bulbuls, Crimson Sunbird, Vernal Hanging-parrot and Dusky Warbler were all seen quite quickly. However, our observation of a Pied Falconet devouring a Red-vented Bulbul from a few metres away was a totally mind-blowing experience considering the usual view is of a bird at the top of the biggest tree imaginable and yet this individual was totally unconcerned by our presence, We watched it for 45 minutes before leaving it to its breakfast! More new birds followed in the form of River Lapwing, Crested Kingfisher, Wedge-tailed Green-pigeon and Slaty-bellied Tesia before taking a side trail to one of the currently dried up pools. No wood-ducks but we came across a great flock with Whistler’s, Yellow-vented, Blyth’s Leaf, Western Crowned and Yellow-browed Warblers, Plain Flowerpecker, with a cooperative White-tailed Robin present as well. Nearby we found Slaty-backed and Ultramarine Flycatchers, Large Niltava, with a Pale Blue Flycatcher showing well. Returning to the main trail we watched a group of Scarlet Minivets being followed by a Crow-billed Drongo. More feeding flocks followed before we returned to the Ranger Station where our lunch was waiting for us. Afterwards a few of the group went with Peter back to the camp whilst the rest of us went with Rafik through the forest and into the grassland. The main highlight was a pair of Rusty-bellied Shortwings skulking in a dense corner of the forest but with a little bit of perseverance was seen reasonably well. Later on, a Blue-eared Barbet was scoped in a tall tree, both Siberian and Himalayan Rubythroats showed well, a Barred Buttonquail was flushed from the grassland, and we also had a fine view of 6 Great Hornbills in a tree.

One of the highlights of Nameri is the rafting trip along the Jai-Bhorelli River and a very pleasant and fun morning was spent quietly sailing along in search of Ibisbill. Sure enough we quickly came across a single bird, followed by a group of 17 and later another lone bird. This is one of the star birds of any Himalayan tour and we had prolonged views of the group when we landed and walked across the river bank to get a little closer. There was also a large flock of Small Pratincoles, as well as all the usual birds. Back at camp and Roy discovered an Orange-headed Thrush feeding behind the tents which everyone saw well. After lunch we headed over to the forest once again and walked quickly down to the last pool where we found a Snowy-browed and Pygmy Blue Flycatchers sharing the same tall bush. A Rufous-bellied Niltava was also here as well, along with Grey-winged Blackbird and a brief Small-billed Scaly Thrush. There were plenty of previously seen birds around as well to make the afternoon very enjoyable. But eventually we had to leave the wonderful Nameri and return to Delhi where we had a final dinner together before making our way back home.

On behalf of Peter and myself, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in the group for making it such a pleasure to lead. This year’s tour produced a vast haul of 418 species seen, including many rare, local, endemic and Eastern Himalayan specialties, as well as a diverse range of experiences. From boat rides and rafting to jeep safaris and elephant rides this tour gave us the works and without Peter’s organisation all of this simply would not have been possible. As ever, I am in his debt for yet another superb tour to the Mishmi Hills.

Nick Bray.



This is a tour report authored by Nick Bray following a tour to NE India in 2010. At the time of writing Mr Bray was employed by Birdseekers (sole trader company) as a tour guide. Birdseekers declared bankruptcy in May 2010 and the copyright for this report has reverted back to the author Mr Bray by assignment.

 All photos are copyright Nick Bray.