Day 1 Arrival in Dibrugarh - Namdapha National Park - 6th January
Our NE India birding adventure begins upon arrival at Dibrugarh Airport in Assam. Once everyone is assembled we will drive to Deban Rest House, Namdapha where we will spend the first night of our tour.
Days 2 - 6 Namdaphha - Hornbill - Ranijheel - Firmbase - Hornbill
We have 5 full days to explore the pristine and extensive forests of Namdapha. This awesome National Park covers 1985 square kilometres of undisturbed forest and wild rivers. This is one of the most diverse eco-systems to be found on the Indian subcontiinent, ranging in altitude from 200m - 4500m, although the most easily followed trails that we will use are to be found at the lowest elevations! There are 3 large rivers present here, Noa-Dehing, Namdapha and Deban rivers where the much-wanted White-bellied Heron can be found, along with the always desirable Ibisbill and Long-billed Plover. This pristine habitat also uniquely holds Snow Leopard, Tiger, Asian Leopard and Clouded Leopard - and there's practically nowhere else in the world that occurs. However, we do not expect to see any of these prized mammals!
Every day we will explore secluded forest trails in search of some of the most wanted birds in Asia, whilst our ground crew will transport everything we will need at each of the 3 different camping locations including our tents, kitchen items & luggage. All we need to concentrate on will be birding and what a place to find oneself.
We will spend the first day walking to Hornbill and this track offers chances of seeing the very tricky White-cheeked Partridge, and other targets for today include Wreathed Hornbill, Rufous-throated Fulvetta, Rufous-headed and White-breasted Parrotbills, Rusty bellied Shortwing and Pygmy-blue Flycatcher. Other birds present include Blue-throated Barbet, Greater Yellownape, Greater Flameback, Bay Woodpecker, Long-tailed Broadbill, Scarlet Minivet, Maroon Oriole, Ashy and Bronzed Drongos, Yellow-bellied and White-throated Fantails, Sultan Tit, Mountain Tailorbird, Black-crested Bulbul, White-throated Bulbul, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Dusky Warbler, Grey-hooded, Rufous-faced and Yellow-bellied Warblers, Large Scimitar-Babbler, Pygmy and Streaked Wren-Babblers, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Silver-eared Mesia, Black-eared Shrike-Babbler, Blue-winged Minla, White-bellied Erpornis, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Hill Myna, Blue Whistling-Thrush, Daurian Redstart, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, White-capped Water-Redstart, Little and Slaty backed Forktails, Siberian Stonechat, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Large and Small Niltava, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Brown Dipper, Blue-winged Leafbird and Streaked Spiderhunter.
The following day will see us walk the short distance to Ranijheel, which offers further chances of White-cheeked Partridge, as well as Red-headed Trogon, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Green Cochoa, Eye-browed Wren-Babbler, Red-billed and Slender-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Indian White hooded Babbler, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Rufous-throated Fulvetta and Collared Treepie. More widespread species along this trail include Kalij Pheasant, Crested Honey-Buzzard, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Common Emerald Dove, Pin-tailed and Wedge-tailed Green-Pigeons, Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Great Hornbill, Great Barbet, Greater Yellownape, Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike, Maroon Oriole, Bronzed and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, Yellow- bellied Fantail, Common Green Magpie, Grey Treepie, Sultan Tit, White-throated, Ashy and Himalayan Black Bulbuls, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Rufous-faced Warbler, Grey-throated Babbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, Silver-eared Mesia, Striated Yuhina, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, White-crowned Forktail, Rufous-gorgeted, Snowy-browed and Sapphire Flycatchers, Large Niltava, Orange-bellied Leafbird and Black-throated Sunbird.
A few kilometres from Ranijheel is Firmbase and we will spend 2 nights at this camp as the birding can be outstanding. Situated on the banks of the Noa-Dehing River this is a wonderful place and is a good spot for Grey Peacock-Pheasant and White-bellied Heron, as well as Lesser Fish-Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Ibisbill, Long-billed Plover, Austen's Brown and Rufous-necked Hornbills, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Blyth's Kingfisher, Collared Treepie, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Chestnut-crowned Bush-Warbler, Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler and Spotted Elachura. More difficult species include Snowy-throated Babbler and both Spot-breasted & Rufous-vented Laughingthrushes, all of which are notoriously difficult to find anywhere within their ranges but this is one of the better areas anywhere to find them. Of course there will be many other species such as Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Brown Wood Owl, Collared and Asian Barred Owlets, Bay Woodpecker, Himalayan Swiftlet, Common Kingfisher and Crested Kingfishers, Wreathed Hornbill, Great and Blue-eared Barbets, Long-tailed Broadbill, Striated Bulbul, Common Green Magpie, Eastern Jungle Crow, Yellow-bellied Prinia, White-throated Bulbul, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Slaty bellied Tesia, Grey-hooded and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler, Golden Babbler, Pale-blue Flycatcher, White-crested Laughingthrush, White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Red-tailed Minla, Rufous-winged and Nepal Fulvettas, Rufous backed and Long-tailed Sibias, Black-chinned Yuhina, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Slaty-backed and Spotted Forktails, and both Large and Small Niltavas.
As you can see from the species mentioned above, the list of potential species is huge and whilst we won't connect with all of the rarer species, there's nowhere else in Asia that all of these species are present in the same park. And to search for them in such a pristine and magnificent environment will be an experience never to forget.
Day 7 Hornbill - Deban - Tinsukhia
We will have one final morning to search for any new species before driving to the town of Tinsukhia where we will enjoy the full amenities of a decent hotel. This is one of the largest cities in the region, and one that will provide us with hot running water and full time electricity after several days of bucket showers! Night at a Centre Point Hotel in Tinsukhia.
Day 8 Tinsukhia - Digboi - Roing, Mishmi Hills
Early this morning we will visit the special lowland forested area of Digboi, where we will search for the extremely localised Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush, as well as Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, and there's a chance of seeing the extremely shy White-winged Duck. Collared Treepie is also here but hopefully we will have already seen it at Namdapha. It will also be our first opportunity to look for Blue-naped Pitta, Blue-throated Flycatcher and Silver-breasted Broadbill as well. Besides the main target species we may also see Jerdon's Baza, Brown-backed Needletail, Grey-throated or White-hooded Babbler, or Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.
From here it's not too far until we reach the Maguri Grasslands on the Brahmaputra floodplain, where amidst the extensive stands of tall Elephant grass that stretch as far as the eye can see, scarce and local species such as Jerdon’s Babbler, the rare Marsh Babbler and even Blunt-winged Warbler reside. We would need a great deal of luck to locate the endemic Black-breasted Parrotbill but we will try. More widespread species occurring here include Black, Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, Watercock, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Bengal Bushlark, Chestnut-capped Babbler and perhaps Spotted Bush-Warbler amongst others. Somewhere along the river we should have seen the impressive Pallas's Gull, whilst Sand Lark is possible as well. Later in the day, and if we havent seen it already, we can try another grassland area for Bengal Florican. From here we will head to our lodging for the night close to the town of Roing at the base of the fabled Mishmi Hills, which acts as the gateway to Arunachel Pradesh. Night at Roing.
Days 9 - 11 Mishmi Hills
Our base for the next 3 nights will be a conveniently situated Forest Rest House located just a few kilometres below Mayodia Pass (2655m). So this morning we will drive from around 200m up to 2450m and such a diverse range in altitude inevitably means a wide selection of typical Himalayan specialities that include many species found only in Bhutan and Eaglenest to the west. As we have spent most of our time so far at low elevations, we will concentrate our efforts on the upper sections of the Mishmi Hills initially. The main objective of visiting this remote and unexplored area is to find the endemic Mishmi Wren-Babbler, which was only recently rediscovered after an absence of over 60 years! In fact since its initial discovery in 1947 it was not reliably seen until 2004 and needless to say we will spend plenty of time searching for this enigmatic species, which can be relatively common in certain areas. There are several other key species we will concentrate on finding here, namely Blyth's Tragopan, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Ward's Trogon, Beautiful Nuthatch, Cachar Wedge-billed, Bar-winged and Long-billed Wren-Babblers, Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, Himalayan Cutia, Manipur Fulvetta and even the much-wanted Fire-tailed Myzornis can be found around the pass if there's been heavy snowfall higher up in the mountains. Gould's Shortwing is also possible, and at this time of year they are present at lower elevations but we would need a huge slice of luck!
The area around Mayodia Pass is excellent for other higher altitude species such as Himalayan Red-flanked and White-browed Bush-robins, Black-faced and Spotted Laughingthrushes, Fulvous Parrotbill, Rufous-vented and Rufous-fronted Tits, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Dark-rumped and Spot-winged Rosefinches, and both Crimson-browed and Gold-naped Finches. Sclater's Monal is also present above the tree line but access to this area is extremely difficult and requires a very tough hike, although on rare occasions it has been seen on the road. Just below the pass are some good patches of bamboo and scrub which are home to Common Hill-Partridge, Rufous-breasted Bush-Robins, Rusty-fronted and Streak-throated Barwings, Streak-breasted and Slender-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Brown-throated (Ludlow's) Fulvetta, Yellowish-bellied Bush-warbler, Fire-tailed and Mrs Gould's Sunbirds, Yellow-cheeked Tit and Yellow-billed Blue Magpie. We should also encounter many large mixed-species flocks that will certainly get our pulses racing and test our identification skills! This is without doubt one of the most exciting new ‘hot-spots' in India, and to be in such a remote area practically guarantees the odd surprise or three!
We will spend all of our time birding the lush primary forested hillsides from the little-used road and the forests here are home to a very interesting cross-selection of other Eastern Himalayan specialities and more widespread birds of the northern subcontinent such as Rufous-throated Hill-Partridge, Chestnut-breasted Partridge (rare), Bay, Darjeeling and Crimson-breasted Woodpeckers, Great and Golden-throated Barbets, Rufous-necked Hornbill, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Purple Cochoa, Sultan Tit, Chestnut, Long-tailed and Plain-backed Thrushes, Red-tailed Minla, Black-chinned, White-naped, Striated, Whiskered, Rufous-vented and Stripe-throated Yuhinas, Rufous-winged, Golden-breasted, Rufous-winged and Yellow-throated Fulvettas, Streak-throated Barwing, Striated, White-crested, Grey-sided, Scaly and Blue-winged Laughingthrushes, Coral-billed and Streak-breasted Scimitar-babblers, Spotted Elachura, Grey-winged Blackbird, Golden and Rufous-capped Babblers, Blue-winged and Red-tailed Minlas, Beautiful and Long-tailed Sibias, Ashy-throated and Buff-barred Leaf-warblers, Chestnut-crowned, Broad-billed, Black-faced and Grey-cheeked Warblers, Green-tailed and Black-throated Sunbirds, Eurasian Jay, Brown and Grey-headed Parrotbills, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Gold-naped Finch, Dark-breasted Rosefinch and Grey-heded Bullfinch. Nights at Mayodia Rest House.
Day 12 Mayodia - Tinsukhia
What we do today depends on species are still needed, but we may well spend our time at lower elevations searching the roadside forest and bamboo stands for a different range of species. During our previous visits we have found Pale-naped Pigeon, White-browed Piculet, Pale-headed, Bay and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Red-headed Trogon, Green Cochoa, Slaty-backed and Black-backed Forktails, Red-billed Scimitar-babbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Nepal Fulvetta, Blue-winged Minla, Striated and Black-chinned Yuhinas, Rufous-faced Warbler, Chestnut-headed, Grey-bellied and Slaty-bellied Tesias, Pygmy Wren-babbler, Lesser and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Indian White-hooded Babbler, White-breasted Parrotbill (formerly Greater Rufous-headed), Pale-billed Parrotbill (Lesser Rufous-headed), Streaked and Little Spiderhunters, Striped Tit-Babbler, Scarlet Finch and Collared Treepie amongst many other delightful species. In the afternoon we will drive back across the new bridge over the mighty Brahmaputra River and our nice hotel where we will spend the night. Night at Tinsukhia.
Day 13 Tinsukhia - Khonoma, Nagaland
Today is mainly a travel day as we venture into Nagaland and drive to our base for the next couple of nights at Khonoma village. Night at homestay.
Days 14 - 17 Khonoma - Chizami
The Indian state of Nagaland is another area that is relatively unexplored although our guide, Peter Lobo, has now made numerous visits and continues to find a number of incredibly rare and localised species on each trip. Nestled within the Japfu Mountains, the delightful Khonoma village will give us access to the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary. This is a safe haven for wildlife as traditional hunting has been banned since the year 2000 and thus has allowed bird populations to flourish. Our first full day will be spent focussing on the Indian endemic Naga Wren-Babbler, which will involve a relatively steep walk into the hills. The other key species here is Blyth's Tragopan, and if we didn't see it in the Mishmi Hills we will make a concerted effort to find this stunningly beautiful bird. Other birds present in this area include Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, Spot-breasted, Brown-capped and Assam Laughingthrushes. Moving on to Chizami, this 'recently discovered' hotspot has been productive for several notoriously, very tricky species and we will target the skulking Yellow-throated, Striped and Moustached Laughingthrushes, as well as Black-tailed Crake, Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Striated Prinia, White-browed Fulvetta (austeni), and there are further possibilities of Blue-naped Pitta as well.
Other species present in Nagaland include Mountain Bamboo-Partridge, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Grey-headed Parakeet, Speckled Woodpigeon, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Eye-browed, Black-breasted and Grey-sided Thrushes, Burmese Shrike, Slender-billed Oriole, Long-tailed Broadbill, Hodgson’s Redstart, Red-faced Liochichla, White-browed Laughingthrush, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Black Bulbul, Rusty-capped and Nepal Fulvettas, Silver-eared Mesia, Bar-throated Minla, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Crested Finchbill and Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker.
Day 18 Chizami - Kaziranga
We can spend the first couple of hours looking for any species still missing from our list before setting out on the long drive to Kaziranga National Park. Night at Bon Habi Resort.
Days 19 - 20 Kaziranga National Park
We will have the first of our 4 jeep safaris into the National Park this morning. The reserve lies on the southern banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River where the predominant vegetation is a mixture of tall grasslands and riverine forest interspersed with many marshes, streams and ox-bow lakes, whilst the nearby Mikir Hills rise to over 1,000 metres. This mosaic of habitats and its remote position ensure a haven for wildlife, including some of the most wanted mammals in the Indian Sub-continent. This is one of the few places still left to see Indian One-horned Rhinoceros, and there are also wild Water Buffalo, Indian Elephant and Swamp Deer. Other mammal species we should see include Rhesus Macaque, Common and Capped Langurs, Sambar, Barking Deer, Hog Deer, Wild Boar and Smooth-coated Otter. Tigers are also present but are difficult to see, as are Leopard and Sloth Bear, but their mere presence will have us search the park in open-topped jeeps. We can make regular stops at watch-towers and other vantage points that will provide us with panoramic views across this most picturesque of all India's national parks. The birds here are simply amazing and we are sure to be astonished by the sheer number and variety of water birds present such as Spot-billed Pelican, numerous herons and egrets, Black-necked and Woolly-necked Storks, Lesser Adjutant, Bar-headed Goose, Lesser Whistling-duck, Spot-billed Duck, Ferruginous Pochard and Bronze-winged Jacana, as well as a good variety of waders including Pied Avocet, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey-headed Lapwing, Spotted Redshank and Marsh Sandpiper. Stunning River and Black-bellied Terns patrol the watercourses constantly, whilst Himalayan Griffon and White-rumped Vultures, Pallas's and Grey-headed Fish-eagles, Pied Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle and Changeable Hawk-eagle are usually conspicuous. The forest, grasslands and surrounding areas are home to Dusky Eagle and Brown Fish-Owls, Kalij Pheasant, Red Junglefowl, Brown-backed Needletail, Blue-naped Pitta, Banded Bay and Drongo Cuckoos, Dollarbird, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Chestnut-headed and Blue-tailed Bee-Eaters, Great and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Streak-throated and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Himalayan Flameback, Oriental Turtle-Dove, Green-billed Coucal, Streak-throated Swallow, Black-backed Forktail, Ashy Minivet, Small and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, Grey Bushchat, White-crested and Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes, Slender-billed and Abbott's Babblers, Pale-footed Bush-Warbler, Whistler's, Thick-billed, Blyth's Reed and Paddyfield Warblers, Himalayan Rubythroat, White-rumped Shama, Siberian and Himalayan Rubythroats, Brown and Grey-backed Shrikes, Bengal Bushlark, Common Green Magpie, Yellow-breasted Bunting, White-vented Myna and Spot-winged Starling. Other scarce or special birds that can be found include Baer's Pochard, Falcated Duck, Greater Adjutant and Slender-billed Vultures, whilst Bengal Florican breeds amongst the tall grasslands and the localised Terai grassland specialist Swamp Francolin can often be easy to see here. Our previous visits have also turned up a few surprises such as Forest Eagle-owl, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Crow-billed Drongo and Finn's Weaver. This will be an incredibly rewarding and ultimately relaxing way in which to finish our incredible NE India adventure! Nights at Bon Habi Resort.
Days 21 Kaziranga - Guwahati Airport - 26th January
We will leave our lodge at Kaziranga in plenty of time to reach Guwahati Airport where the tour concludes later today.