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.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

North-East India Part 4: Karizanga to Tinsukia including the Mishmi Hills

Black-breasted Parrotbill
Following our visit to Eaglehawk Wildlife Sanctuary (see following post) we embarked on a long drive -  stopping for lunch at Nameri Eco Camp (our first stop for the trip - see here) - to Kaziranga National Park. The contrast between the cold uplands of Eaglehawk and the steamy lowlands was stark. From the roadside shortly after crossing the park boundary, we saw a total of 8 Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros over a stretch of 2 km in grassland to the north of the road; the animals were uncomfortably close to villagers who were tilling fields to the south of the road. Also in the grassland were large numbers of Hog Deer and smaller numbers of Swamp Deer and Asian Water Buffalo.

Indian One-horned Rhinoceros with Hog Deer
Our accommodation for two nights was the delightful Jupurighar Resort. The park is closed at this time of year so we birded second-growth scrub around the resort. Birds included Hair-crested Drongo, Large Cuckoo-shrike, Greater Necklaced Laughing-Thrush, Grey-headed Woodpecker and Striated Swallow. We searched unsuccessfully in the morning for Blue-naped Pitta - the star avian attraction for this site - only hearing it call. In the afternoon, after climbing a hill to an area of bamboo, we finally nailed a calling pitta.

Brahmaputra River Vehicular Ferry
The next day we embarked on another long drive, stopping en route for a couple of nesting Slender-billed Vultures, to Saikhowa Ghat - the crossing of the mighty Brahmaputra River. Birders regularly report great difficulty negotiating the crossing as watercourses and sand bars are constantly changing, making the river difficult to negotiate for the armada of small vehicular ferries.

Brahmaputra River Ferry
There was plenty of water in the river for our visit, however, so we had no such trouble, although driving on and off the ferries on planks of wood was.... interesting. The great expanse of river was criss-crossed by a colourful flotilla of ferries. We added Oriental Pratincole to the list on the way.

Mishmi Hills
We arrived in the town of Roing for an overnight stay in the basic but homely guesthouse. The next morning saw us heading into the Mishmi Hills, part of the Eastern Himalayas - and up there with the Eaglehawk Wildlife Sanctuary as a magnificant wilderness with a dazzling array of birdlife and spectacular montane scenery.

Pygmy Blue Flycatcher
As we entered the bamboo zone not far from Roing, we were surprised to encounter another Blue-naped Pitta, this one offering much better views roadside than the Kaziranga bird. Soon after, a feeding party included a pair of Pygmy Blue Flycatchers, which had been something of a bogey bird for me. Then we had a nice Chevron-breasted (Cachar Wedge-billed) Wren-Babbler by the road.

Oriental Honey-Buzzard
Oriental Honey-Buzzard perched nonchalantly during a roadside lunch while Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls and Thick-billed Green-Pigeon were added to the list. We were pleased to see a male Yellow-rumped Honeyguide guarding a bee nest on a small cliff face. High up the road we encountered our first Hume's Bush-Warbler of the trip.

Gaur-Cattle Crossbreeds
An interesting side attraction in the Mishmi Hills is the population of semi-domesticated crosses between gaur and cattle. These animals keep strictly to the roadside, unless anywhere else in India where cattle roam, rest or do whatever  they like on the roads.

Mayodia Guesthouse
We checked into the Mayodia Guesthouse - another basic but adequate lodge, at 2300 metres - for a two-night stay, before heading further up the road to Mayodia Pass(2650 metres).

Bar-winged Wren-Babbler
A Bar-winged Wren-Babbler performed nicely in a gully below the road - this one a different race with a distinctive call from the bird we saw earlier along the Mandala Road (see here).

Manipur Fulvetta
Another welcome addition to the list was Manpipur (Streak-throated) Fulvetta - quite common in the shrubbery and a specialty of the region.

Mishmi Hills Road (car circled top centre)
Once again, the road had been precariously built into extraordinary steep mountain slopes and nerves were slightly frayed as we negotiated our way back to the guesthouse. We noticed thrashing movements in bamboo by the road and a guide in our vehicle saw an animal briefly which almost certainly was a Himalayan Black Bear; so near yet so far.

Hoolock Gibbon
The next morning saw us below the lodge where we tried to see a Mishmi Wren-Babbler we had heard the day before; two of us saw the bird well and the others managed just glimpses. We heard a much sought after Purple Cochoa and pinpointed a vociferous male cochoa after some effort. We set about searching for Blyth's Tragopan, which we dipped on in Eaglenest, in the mid-elevation bamboo. After a good deal of effort, most of us were rewarded with awesome views of a male tragopan - a stunning species. We also obtained excellent views of a pair of Himalayan Cutias. A good day continued when we saw our second Spotted Elachura of the trip, with the bird singing loudly from its perch; a couple of others were heard elsewhere in the Mishmi Hills. Then we came upon a a group of Hoolock Gibbons (2 males, 1 female, 1 juvenile) a short distance down the road; this species is India's sole primate.

The First Bengal Florican Spotted
We left the cold climes of Mayodia to return for two more nights in Roing. As it was raining in the morning, we headed downhill, seeing small numbers of Rufous-necked Laughingthrush near the township. In the afternoon we visited an area of privately owned grassland, Ninizam Ghat, seeing a Hooded Pitta on the road in. In the grassland, Abid spotted a male Bengal Florican, another species high on our wish list. We eventually had excellent flight views of a total of 4 floricans - 3 males and 1 female. Other birds included Barred and Yellow-legged Buttonquail, Zitting and Golden-headed Cisticolas, Slaty-breasted Rail,and Blyth's and Paddyfield Pipits. Pale-headed Woodpecker was again seen, this time in bamboo on our way back to the lodge.

Bengal Florican
Thefollowing day was essentially rained out. We returned to higher elevations on the road, trying unsuccessfully both to connect with Rusty-bellied Shortwing and to score better views of the wren-babbler. Conditions were miserable. That evening we heard Hodgson's Frogmouth and Mountain Scops-Owl lower down the road but failed to see them.

Elephant at Work near Roing
Also near Roing we saw an elephant being used to haul logs during roadworks.

In the boat at Maguri Beel
Leaving Roing, we were off for another long drive and another precarious crossing of the Brahmaputra before arriving in the bustling town of Tinsukia, the nicely appointed Hotel Centre Point our base for the final two nights of the trip. That afternoon we were off to Maguri Beel, an area of wetlands and reedbeds adjoining the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. We sat on plastic chairs in a canoe as we were rowed to an area of reeds where we scored Jerdon's Babbler - one of the targets of these grasslands. In another area of reeds, some of us had brief views of a skulking Marsh Babbler - another target. Other birds included Cinnamon, Yellow and Black Bitterns; Indian Spot-billed Duck; calling Swamp Francolin; and Chesnut-capped Babbler. Also nice was a Gangetic River Dolphin surfacing near the boat. As were were rowing back to the shore in the early evening, a White-winged Duck flew overhead; this was a real surprise as we had looked hard (and successfully) for this rarity at Nameri.

Black-breasted Parrotbill
We returned to Maguri Beel the next morning, this time scoring much better views of the Marsh Babbler and unexpectedly seeing a Spotted Bush-Warbler. In another area of reeds, we tracked down one of the stars of the trip - a vocal and much wanted Black-breasted Parrotbill. It was pleasant birding as we rowed between the reedbeds; Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Watercock and the distinctive regional race of Cotton Pygmy-Goose were among the birds about.

Asian Water Buffalo
A wild male Asian Water Buffalo looked intimidating as it studied us from a small island when we rowed past. We wondered what might happen as we watched it swim towards the populated shoreline of the "mainland". We learned later that the animal wreaked havoc, charging people and vehicles before being chased back to the wetlands.

Chesnut-tailed Starling
The next morning saw another early start to drive to Digboi, an area of second-growth forest outside Tinsukia near an oil refinery. Commoner species included Ruby-cheekd Sunbird, Dark-necked Tailorbird and Chesnut-tailed Starling. Two of us had brief views of a pair of Chesnut-backed Laughingthrush and better views of a Collared Treepie. It was then time to begin the drive to Dibrugarh Airport and the long journey home.

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