Northeast India: Assam and Eaglenest
Himalayan birding with a taste of adventure.
Some of the finest Himalayan birding has only recently come to the fore, with the emergence of Eaglenest and other sites in northeast India as top destinations. Towering icy peaks and swathes of pristine moss-covered forest are traversed by a spectacular track that snakes its way through these magical mountains. Much of the tour is spent in the varied topography and habitats of Eaglenest Sanctuary, with camps set at a variety of altitudes. The tour also takes in Dirang and the vastly different Nameri NP.
The list of incredible species to be seen here seems endless, and includes many of Asia’s top birds, including a trio of tragopans, Beautiful Nuthatch, glowing Grandala, Ward’s Trogon, and the immaculate Fire-tailed Myzornis. Other notable and exciting families include laughingthrushes, wren-babblers, tits, nuthatches, and sunbirds.
Day 1: Guwahati. After arrival we will enjoy some birding near the city, hopefully finding the endangered Greater Adjutant. We spend the night in Guwahati.
Day 2: Guwahati to Nameri NP. The open lowlands of Nameri offer an interesting mix of birds of the Indian Plains. Arriving at this varied park, which comprises woodland, forest, rivers, and open marshland, we shall keep our eyes peeled for the rare White-winged Duck, an unpredictable visitor to the reserve. We’ll spend two nights in the park.
Day 3: Nameri NP. Nameri is home to many interesting species including Blue-naped Pitta and the feisty Pied Falconet, among several lowland forest specialties such as Green-billed Malkoha and the robust Blue-bearded Bee-eater.
Day 4: Nameri to Dirang. Today we head up to the foothills of the eastern Himalayas. Here, in the shadow of massive peaks, we spend a three-night stay at Dirang.
Days 5-7: Dirang area. This area offers exploration into the Sangti Valley and the epic Mandala and Sela passes. Bird parties can hold varied surprises such as Fire-capped and Green-backed Tits, Rufous-gorgeted and Slaty-Blue Flycatchers, and Brown-throated Treecreeper. Rocky riverbeds nearby support the iconic Ibisbill and wintering specialties like Wallcreeper and Long-billed Plover. We shall explore one of the highest drivable Himalayan roads up to Sela Pass. Conifers, moss-covered Rhododendrons and steep scarp slopes greet us as we ascend. Here we seek out the hardy Snow Partridge, whirling flocks of Snow Pigeons and purple Grandalas. Our main quarry however is sure to be the so-called “bird-of-nine-colors”, Himalayan Monal. Fantastic surprises here could include Bar-winged Wren-Babbler or Rufous-breasted Bush-Robin. The Mandala road offers the local Ludlow’s Fulvetta and Bhutan Laughingthrush, White-collared Blackbird, and flocks full of yuhinas and tricky warblers. Skulkers include tesias and laughingthrushes. However at least three showstoppers are known from this area: the “vision in green” Fire-tailed Myzornis, immaculate Temminck’s Tragopan, and delicate Ward’s Trogon.
Day 8: Dirang to Eaglenest. We’ll travel to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, where we will spend the next seven nights in a well organized tent camp, enjoying the most spectacular wilderness areas in the eastern Himalayas.
Days 9-14: Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. This impressive conservation area allows access to a wide range of elevations, ranging from 1650 ft (500 m) foothills to 10500 ft (3200 m) high peaks. A decent road network and a handy range of conveniently located base camps make Eaglenest almost unbeatable as a single birding destination in the Himalayas. We will spend time at three different camps to give us a reasonable chance at a wide range of altitudinal species. Our most sought after quarry will be the smart Bugun Liocichla, the bird that brought Eaglenest to world attention after it was described in 2006. The area is thick with bird parties that strike in “waves”, and sifting carefully through these should reveal gaudy minivets, including the localized Short-billed, as well as Rusty-fronted, and Streak-throated Barwings, and Striated and Black-chinned Yuhinas. Babblers are frequent with Rufous-backed Sibia, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, White-naped Yuhina and shrike-babblers all present, and perhaps even the crippling Cutia. However, the strange Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler will steal the show whenever it chooses to grace us with its presence. The area also supports the scarce Beautiful Nuthatch, surely the most desirable trunk-gleaner in the world. Temminck’s and Blyth’s Tragopans, Kalij Pheasant, and Gray Peacock-Pheasant are all possible, but are very shy and tough to find. A loud honking overhead may reveal a Rufous-necked Hornbill, this being one of their main strongholds. We will have to tune our ears in for another group of birds that have their main stronghold in NE India, the wren-babblers. These dapper little skulkers creep around in bamboo and undergrowth, and we’ll be on the lookout for Long-billed, Rufous-throated, Spotted, and Blackish-breasted Wren-Babblers in the sanctuary. Other spectacular species include Scarlet and Golden-naped Finches, furtive Slaty-bellied and Gray-bellied Tesias, and a host of parrotbills.
Day 15: Eaglenest to Guwahati. We return to Guwahati where we overnight.
Day 16: Departure. We connect to our international flights from Guwahati or continue on the Kaziranga Extension.
Kaziranga NP extension (5 days)
The grasslands of Kaziranga teem with great birds, but the most sought after include the Bengal Florican with its extravagant dancing display, the strange Swamp Francolin, skulking Striated Grassbird, exquisite Chestnut-capped and Yellow-eyed Babblers, and localised Finn’s Weaver. Carcasses draw in the critically endangered White-rumped, Red-headed, and Slender-billed Vultures. The impressive swamp forests harbor Pallas’s and Gray-headed Fish-Eagles, while at night we may find Brown Fish-Owl. Loquacious Great Hornbills congregate on fruiting trees, while thickets hold Large Scimitar-Babbler and the vibrant Blue-naped Pitta.
The large pans and rivers are frequented by Bar-headed Goose, Lesser Whistling Duck, Indian Spot-billed Duck, and Cotton Pygmy-goose while flotillas of Spot-billed Pelicans fish in the shallows. Greater and Lesser Adjutants, Black-necked Stork, Watercock, and Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas patrol by the water’s edge. Kaziranga is also one of the best places in the world to view the endangered One-horned Asian Rhino. Large herds of Asian Elephants thrive here alongside Asian Water Buffalo, the endangered Swamp Deer, and a gamut of other ungulates including Barking, Sambar, and Hog-nosed Deer. A highlight for anyone interested in primates are the troops of Hoolock Gibbon present at Paamvari Forest, whose howling can be heard for miles.
Day 1: Guwahati – Kaziranga
Days 2 -4: Kazirhanga NP and surrounding forests
Day 5: Kaziranga – Guwahati
CLIMATE: The climate is mostly cool to cold in the highlands, with warm clothing required. Kaziranga is warm and slightly humid.
DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy to moderate. A few of the hikes are strenuous. Most of this tour ranges between 6600 ft. (2000 m.) and 9900 ft. (3000 m.).
ACCOMMODATION: Ranges from provisioned camps to good hotels. Seven nights will be spent in tented camps. These camps are expertly run by well-trained staff, and are actually quite comfortable.