BIRDING IN MISHMI HILLS
Mishmi Hills was the place where Julian Donahue and Ben King had ‘re-found’ the enigmatic Rusty-throated Wren Babbler (now re-christened the Mishmi Wren Babbler) in 2004. This bird was known to the world from only a single skin of a female that landed in the mist-nets of Dr’s Salim Ali and Dillon Ripley during their survey of the area in the late forties. It lay hidden from the ornithologists’ eyes till the venerable duo lured it by playing the tape of similar species and managed to photograph it and also record its song. The bird lists from the area include birds like Purple and Green Cochoa, Violet and Emerald Cuckoos not to mention Satyr Tragopan and Blood Pheasant. Also Gould’s Shortwing, White-hooded Babbler, Pale-headed Woodpecker and Pale-capped Pigeons.
Day 1: Arrive at Dibrugarh in eastern Assam, the northeastern-most airport in India. Proceed to Saikhowa Ghat, where we need to ferry our jeep across the Lohit River. The journey will take you through splendid tea gardens. All along the wires you will find the affinis race of the Indian Roller. The crossing takes one hour. You are given packed lunch to eat while you scan the river for Ruddy Shelducks, Osprey and some waders.
Next you drive on to the small town of Roing, the district headquarters of the Lower Dibang Valley and which was once the entry point to what was earlier referred to as the North East Frontier Agency, popularly known as NEFA, passing the broken bridge on the Itapani River, we reach ‘Dibang Valley Jungle Camp’. This rustic camp consisted of a typical Mishmi ‘long-house’ built on stilts. Charmingly located overlooking the Lohit and Dibang Rivers systems, it sits on a forest clearing, now planted with nascent orange trees. Sitting in the covered portico, one can see Common Buzzards, Crested Goshawk, Common Kestrel, Grey Bushchats.
Day 2: The day starts with a 3.30 am wake-up call and you rise to the call of the Hoolock Gibbons. The in the area rises early and also sets early. We bird the main road to Hunli and beyond where the habitat is so pristine, and a forest so dense, and with the forest-edges and scrub limited. Here you could get the laughingthrush family, Yellow-browed Warbler, Grey-cheeked, Buff-barred, Ashy-throated, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, Long-tailed Sibia, Beautiful Sibia, White-throated Bulbuls, Grey-backed Shrikes, Short-billed Minivets, Hill Blue Flycatchers. Later we do the slow climb to Mayodia Pass. En route, you could see or rather hear the elusive Rufous-throated Wren Babbler, Also you can see Yellow-throated and Streak-throated Fulvettas, Sultan Tits, Streak-throated Barwings, Streaked Spiderhunter and Dark-throated Rosefinch, also found on this stretch is the very ‘tit’ like White-bellied “Yuhina”, which now rejoices under the new name of White-bellied Erpornis bestowed upon it by Pam Rasmussen. Striated Bulbuls, Black Bulbul of the Nigrescens race are in plenty. Flocks containing up to few hundreds birds are not uncommon and seen several times a day. By mid afternoon we will reach Mayodia where our accommodation consists of a so-called ‘coffee-house’. It’s actually a rest house with basic amenities, but there’s an interesting story why it’s called a ‘coffee-house’. It seems the local government did not have funds for a full-fledged rest house but had some money under the head ‘coffee-house’. So they built this structure and labeled it so. Different matter no one asked why a ‘coffee-house’ should be built in such a remote place where permanent population comprised just the chowkidar and his wife. We spend the rest of the day birding locally, looking for parrotbills in the extensive bamboo brakes, Hill Partridges, Mountain Hawk Eagle and Eurasian Sparrowhawks.
Day 3: We leave by dawn, cross the pass, and bird the valley. This is the place where one has seen the magnificent Sclater’s Monal in the past. Little is known about them other than they are high-altitude birds and Mayodia pass is perhaps the lowest point where you can see them in this area. In 1998, the veteran birder Pratap Singh and R. Suresh Kumar had discovered a new sub-species of Sclater’s Monal in Western Arunachal. It had an all-white tail and was subsequently named Arunachalensis. We continue birding down the road. You can expect Chestnut-capped and Black-faced Laughing Thrushes, Rufous-vented Yuhinas. Overnight at the “coffee-house’
Day 4: We drive down to Hunli birding along the way. You can expect Chestnut-tailed Minla, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Chestnut Thrush, Black-throated Sunbirds, Himalayan Griffons. The other raptors seen here are Eurasian Sparrowhawks and Black Eagles. Hunli is a small town with a pleasant circuit house which will be our accomodation for the next 2 nights. Birding in the garden could get you Common Green Magpies and Brownish-Flanked Bush Warbler.
Day 5: We drive towards the Ithun river bridge, where one can see Slaty-backed and Black-backed Forktails. We bird along the river where one can expect Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-headed Trogons, Greater Yellownapes, Blue-eared Barbet, Great Barbets are plenty and can be seen and heard all the time. At the river you can also expect Hodgson’s Redstart, Brown Dipper, Himalayan Swiftlets, Wreathed Hornbills, Grey-throated and Golden Babbler, Red-tailed Minlas, Red-faced Liochicla, Long-tailed Broadbills. The Grey-bellied Tesia can also be seen here. A fruiting tree could produce Golden-throated Barbets. Other birds seen on this stretch are Grey-sided Laughingthrushes, Barred Cuckoo Doves, Fairy Bluebird and Orange-bellied Leafbirds. Overnight at Hunli circuit house.
Day 6: Today we start our drive back to Roing, birding along the way. Overnight. Birding here could get us Pygmy Wren Babblers, both the Racquet-tailed drongos, White-browed Piculet, as well as the Speckled. Expect to see the Hoolock Gibbons hooting in the canopy. The Hoolocks are India’s only ape, restricted to the Northeast and are highly endangered. Overnight
Day 7: Bidding adieu to the Mishmi Hills we cross the Lohit again, to arrive at Dibrugarh to catch our flight.