Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

North-East India Part 2: Sela Pass to Sangti Valley

Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler
As the sun rose early (4-4.30am) it became the habit on our trip to north-east India to rise at an ungodly hour each day, especially when we had to drive some distance to birding destinations. So it was for our visit to Sela Pass from the Himalayan hill town of Dirang (see following post). We were blessed with a bright sunny morning on this day as we had breakfast by the road a few hundred metres below the pass. Our driver flushed a male Himalayan Monal which offered dazzling views as it flew a short distance below us, calling loudly.

Below Sela Pass
Other birds about included Grey-sided Bush-Warbler, Indian  Blue Robin, Rufous-breasted Bush-Robin, Snow Pigeon, Speckled Wood-Pigeon, Dark-breasted and Himalayan White-browed Rosefinches, Himalayan Griffon and White-winged Grosbeak.

Himalayan Griffon
We were pleased to find a group of Crimson-browed Finches foraging in the small pine trees.

Crimson-browed Finch
We headed on up to the pass, where prayer flags and the physical features of local folk reminded us that we were not that far removed from the border with Chinese Tibet. This spot is a major site for Grandala and dipping this species was the major disappointment of our trip. Tony managed to glimpse a Snow Partridge.

Sela Pass
We checked out the western slopes on the other side of the pass but the presence of the Baisakhi Army Base limited birding opportunities.

Our guide, Abid, at Sela Pass
Nesting Rose Pipits were common along with White-collared Blackbird, Black-faced Laughingthrush and White-capped River-Chat, while Blood Pheasant was heard.

Rosy Pipit
We saw a Winter Wren of the distinctive regional race, Red-billed Chough, Plain Mountain-Finch and Rufous-breasted Accentor. The weather fogged up by late morning and we were forced to retreat lower down to the subalpine area where we had breakfast earlier. Here we had excellent views of a male Fire-tailed Myzornis - one of the major targets of the trip.

Fire-tailed Sunbird
Other birds here and lower down the road included Blue-fronted Redstart, Whistler's Warbler,  Brown-throated (Ludlow's) Fulvetta, and Rufous-vented, Green-backed and  Coal Tits - the latter of the distinctive regional race. The spectacular Fire-tailed Sunbird was common and a showy male Golden Bush-Robin was appreciated.

Golden Bush-Robin
By now we were beginning to become accustomed to the unnervingly steep slopes that dropped dramatically below most of the narrow roads we were to traverse in the Eastern Himalayas. We lunched on noodles in the roadside home of a local family and birded some bamboo lower down before returning to the hotel in Dirang, where a Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo called continually but refused to show. Like most meals on the trip, dinner was a combination of rice, dahl, and a couple of curries, usually including chicken and vegetables of some sort.

Spotted Laughingthrush
The next morning saw another early departure, this time for the Mandala Road. Birds in the forest at lower and middle elevations included some of those that we saw the day before such as Grey-winged Blackbird, Chesnut-tailed Minla, and Rufous-vented and Stripe-throated Yuhinas. The first of numerous Hill Partridges to be heard throughout the trip were calling.

Chesnut-tailed Minla
We headed up to the pass at 3300 metres, seeing Spotted Laughingthrush below it, while Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler and Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler showed nicely in bamboo clumps at the summit. Chesnut-capped Bush-Warbler was an unexpected find while Russet Bush-Warbler was more anticipated.

Mandala Road Locals
The first of many Gold-naped Finch and Green-tailed and Gould's Sunbirds to be encountered on the trip were seen. We saw our first Yellow-billed Blue-Magpie for the trip before having breakfast in another roadside home of a local family, where we were to return for lunch that included a serving of yak.  In the higher altitude forests, Skulking White-browed Shortwings, Chesnut-headed and Grey-bellied Tesias put in brief appearances, while Golden-breasted and Rufous-winged Fulvettas were more co-operative. Cuckoos were vocal throughout the trip in the mountains - with Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Himalayan Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo and Lesser Cuckoo all calling commonly. Spotted Nutcracker and White-throated Needletail showed near the summit, which was just 30 kilometres from the Bhutan border.

Darjeeling Woodpecker
We saw a Darjeeling Woodpecker and an unexpected Dusky Thrush at the summit. As we began our descent, a Bar-winged Wren-Babbler showed nicely while a skulking Blue-fronted Robin took more effort to see briefly but well.

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher
A pair of Ultramarine Flycatchers were seen along with Slaty-blue and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers. Black-throated and Yellow-cheeked Tits were added to the list and Grey-sided Laughing-thrushes were common.

Arunachal Macaque
We were happy to connect with a family of Arunachal Macaques - a scarce primate discovered relatively recently.

Marijuana - Sangti Valley
Our third morning in the Dirang area saw us in the Sangti Valley, where we looked unsuccessfully for Black-tailed Crake in a marshy area from the roadside, but saw a Slaty-breasted Rail, while a Long-billed Plover was found in fields nearby. We finally scored with the crake after moving to another site that Abid knew about, obtaining excellent views. Less expected in the area were extensive clumps of marijuana growing wild. We then moved on to Eaglehawk Wildlife Sanctuary.

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