Saturday, 21 January 2017

Trip report - Birding in Khonoma 08 Jan 2017

The New Year sneaked upon me as I was snoring away - dog tired from my daily chores of a job that can really tire you off when (when 😅) it strikes you. The only birding the first week was roaming around a camera around my neck and walking around in circles in the resort where I was holed up. I thought to myself - this is not what I signed up for when I came to this beautiful state of Nagaland. So the decision was made - come what may - I am off birding the first weekend that comes my way. The weekend ended up with twists and turns that are signature of Alfred Hitchcock's novels. One day I was free, next day some errands came my way and the errands had conditions of ifs and buts attached. As the weekend approached and I shoved the doubts and the errands out of my way and with only two days to go Cirrus clouds lined the sky. To me - who has lived the life of an aviator - the signs were not good. Cirrus is a sign of bad weather to come. The bad weather struck the next day - not bad in very bad sense but - bad enough to declare it a non-birding day had it persisted. Lucky for me the Saturday turned out to be bright and sunny raising the hopes sky high yet again. As I walked to the door and picked up the Newspaper - some faction opposing Municipality elections in Nagaland declared a Bandh (strike). Oh! as if that was bad enough, they had openly declared they will burn down the vehicles plying on the road and as if that was not bad enough - the police declared the district of Kohima 'sensitive'. Only silver lining - the Newspaper also declared that the Bandh was to be called off by 1530, leaving an hour of sunlight for our 2 and half an hour journey.
One of the most common companion of the trip and the bird that kept the distance - but I was able to shoot - Grey Sibia
All this aside - a birder has to do what he has to do - and that was to simply do what I had decided to do. Another good thing that came my way was that, son of a good friend of mine who was posted in Army in Dimapur decided to come along. He was there at sharp 1:30, we had our lunch and whiled away our time to let the clock strike 3:30. Dot, at the strike of the clock we were on out way. The road could neither be termed as good nor bad. The traffic was light considering the country now has run out of roads... The road was good in stretches with the next stretch with pot-holes to remind you that - don't take life so easy.

The total distance to Khonoma from the Niathu Resorts where I was holed up was 72 km. We took exactly two and half an hours travel with one hour before sunset and next half hour of receding light and finally an hour of darkness. We saw an odd car on the road to give us company but considering that we had been advised by so many people to be careful - that the last hour was discomforting. There were no sightings along the road of any kind of birds or bird sounds. Inspite of dropping temperatures we kept the car windows down - not to miss any bird sound that may give us clue of bird life.

There were two things that I am proud of having tied up before setting course to Khonoma, the first one being - contacted the only and the best bird guide possible. Mr Angulie Meyase is the only birdwatcher and a guide in the entire state. Second was that I booked the accommodation in only Hotel - the Dovopie Inn. All the details will figure out in the end of the write up.

During the drive there were turns in the road to Khonoma that - had I missed would have made our reaching the place a pain - but being constantly in touch with Mr Angulie helped and we reached the Inn, had ordered a cup of tea each and went on the small terrace they had to try our hands on the night photography in the crystal clear skies of the mountains. The skies were clear and the chill soon froze the tip of my fingers and I decided to head back in the room with a heater... The second reason was that I did not have a tripod and the effort was futile in any case. We had a light dinner and even if my buddy did not tell me - I am sure I was snoring in a few minutes.

We got up early and as we had breakfast - bread toasts, jam, butter and a cup of tea, Mr Angulie was there at the reception waiting for us. We packed up and set course under the guidance of our birder guide.

The experience was so pleasant that I personally was overwhelmed by the birds that were present all around us. The sounds were all around us and it just took me a few minutes to realise that the sounds were only the half truth of birdwatching in Khonoma. The birds - though omnipresent just did not like to show themselves. it was as if the fear of hunting in the rest of the state was ingrained in the DNA and man seemed the eternal devil here. We went to so many spots and places - basically all around the few valleys, climbed them and went around and the birds were as shy as expected to be. They hopped from bush to bush - and those who did not do so by their nature kept their distance from us - the men. The previous night when I had met our guide (now referred to as a friend 😀), I had given a list of birds that I had wished from Khonoma and one of the first one I had desired was the 'Bamboo Patridge' and we were taken through a path that generally produced the birds in the early morning and the evenings. We drove slowly and carefully trying peer at every movement, every sound, every bush. After fifteen - twenty odd minutes of the drive, the path was coming to the end and there were not partridges in sight. Finally as we were about to join the main road and we sighted them. The light was fairly poor and there were four of them. Though I just about got a single record shot - the sight was one to behold. The first lifer great and memorable sight - it was only a sighting for a few seconds and then they faded away as I stopped the car at an angle to get some shots.

See the birds in Khonoma are distributed at the various heights, and sweet spots, That included the blooming trees, streams, the bushes and likewise. Our bird guide knew all these places and we walked, drove and climbed and did what we could. There were birds that I saw, heard and glimpsed. I recorded and then there were birds that I did not record as I got neither a good sighting nor a record shot but they are there and I am going to get them in another few months to come. We drove, walked and climbed and went around in circles for a total of nine and a half hours. The distance I covered that day was roughly 10 km, 5 odd by car and rest by foot. The 5 odd km by foot seemed far more due to the undulating ground and steep climbs. We waited wherever we saw hunting parties and other interesting birds. All in all the record was 36 birds (add to it about 8 to 9 birds that I did not record due to unsatisfactory sightings and 2 unidentified birds) This number will change as I discover IDs of some birds in my Photo records. The list of birds is appended at the end of this report.
Bamboo Partridges - this is the only sighting of the birds that we got

Black-throated Thrush

Unidentified warbler

Fire-tailed Sunbird

Another unidentified Warbler...

Rusty-fronted Barwing (Actinodura egertoni)

Black Bulbul

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker

Rusty-capped Fulvetta (Schoeniparus dubius)

Grey-cheeked Warbler (Seicercus poliogenys)

Grey-cheeked Warbler

Flavescent Bulbul - okay the bird was in the hiding and that is the best shot I got...

Long-tailed shrike (tricolor)

Bar-throated Siva (Siva strigula)

Rusty-capped Fulvetta (Schoeniparus dubius)
Crested Finchbill (Spizixos canifrons). A beautiful bird and thousands of them all around - unfortunately not ready to sit at eye level.

Stripe-throated Yuhina (Yuhina gularis)

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher (Ficedula stophiata) also called Orange-gorgeted Flycatcher

Mountain Hawk Eagle (juv) (Nisaetus nipalensis)

Golden-throated Barbet (Megalaima franklinii)

Another picture of the Bar-throated Siva now called Chestnut-tailed Minla (Siva strigula)

Admittedly one of my best birds during the trip - a flock of Chestnut-crowned Warbler (Seicercus castaniceps)

Orange-bellied Leafbird (f) (Chloropsis hardwickii)

Crimson-breasted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos cathpharius) I believe that this is the subspecies Pyrrhothorax

ID being attempted

Same bird as above...

This may be Black-throated Prinia - ID being verified

Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)
Self and Mr Angulie Meyase - as we called it a day after almost 9 and half an hour birding without a single bite...

Please pardon me - this is the best I could do to mark my approximate locations.

Now some useful information if you would like to plan a trip:-

  • Nearest Airport: Dimapur, two flights daily one Indigo and one Air India.
  • Distance from Dimapur: 75 odd km takes roughly 2:30 hours.
  • Taxi charges: roughly Rs 8,000/- one way.
  • Bird guide charges:  the guides are available starting Rs 800/-, Mr Angulie charges 3,500/- per day and he is worth every penny.
  • Dovopie Inn: 2,500/- in season and roughly 2,000/- during off season. Click me to check out Dovipie Inn
  • Mr Angulie's car for the day: Rs 4,000/- he has an old Maruti that he uses.
  • Best Season to bird: As per Mr Angulie March and April - the months I intend to return...
List of Birds Recorded

Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS)--Parking Lot, Kohima, Nagaland, IN
Jan 8, 2017 6:18 AM - 3:46 PM
Protocol: Traveling
10.0 kilometer(s)
36 species

Mountain Bamboo-Partridge (Bambusicola fytchii)  3
Mountain Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus nipalensis)  2
Oriental Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)  6
Great Barbet (Psilopogon virens)  10
Golden-throated Barbet (Psilopogon franklinii)  1
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos cathpharius)  1
Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)  1
Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus)  2
Hair-crested Drongo (Spangled Drongo) (Dicrurus hottentottus)  1
Yellow-bellied Fantail (Chelidorhynx hypoxantha)  1
Yellow-cheeked Tit (Machlolophus spilonotus)  3
Crested Finchbill (Spizixos canifrons)  X     Saw it commonly during the trip especially ahead of the village a little higher
Flavescent Bulbul (Pycnonotus flavescens)  2
Himalayan Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus)  25
Grey-cheeked Warbler (Seicercus poliogenys)  4
Chestnut-crowned Warbler (Seicercus castaniceps)  5
Black-throated Prinia (Prinia atrogularis)  2
Whiskered Yuhina (Yuhina flavicollis)  3
Stripe-throated Yuhina (Yuhina gularis)  4
Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus)  X     Saw many in flocks of 10 to 20
Rusty-capped Fulvetta (Schoeniparus dubius)  15
Striped Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron virgatum)  2
Grey Sibia (Heterophasia gracilis)  X
Chestnut-tailed Minla (Bar-throated Siva) (Actinodura strigula)  6
Blue Whistling-Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus)  2
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher (Ficedula strophiata)  1
Blue-fronted Redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis)  1
White-capped Redstart (Phoenicurus leucocephalus)  1
Grey Bushchat (Saxicola ferreus)  5
Black-throated Thrush (Turdus atrogularis)  4
Orange-bellied Leafbird (Orange-bellied Chloropsis) (Chloropsis hardwickii)  1
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum ignipectus)  3
Fire-tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga ignicauda)  10
Gould's Sunbird (Aethopyga gouldiae)  3
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)  6
Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni)  X     Common

5 comments:

aviceda said...

Preet, I think your leaf-warbler might be Buff-barred (Phylloscopus pulcher) they were quite common in Sichuan in May last year.

S S Cheema said...

Thank you very much for the ID - I too had shortlisted it as probable Buff-barred Warbler - but the bird seemed more greyish and the beak seemed very small and that is what was holding me back from naming the bird. Thank you once again. I too am trying hard to get it spot on for this warbler and will update as soon as possible with its name and the credits for helping me of course.

Karthik KN said...

My God! Buff barred :) anyways I wouldn't have got it!
There is a magic about the NE birds, their proportions and the mystery in their eyes !!
Nice reading your write up after a long days work!! Thanks for taking me to Niathu and also out of Niathu!!
I generally don't like entries made by pilots !! But you are an exception ;)
Looking forward for your next blog :)

S S Cheema said...

Thank you Karthik. Look forward to some birding with you some day...

somrima said...

Excellent write-up. Need some more info on Khonoma birding. Can you share your email ID, sir?