Saturday, 21 October 2017

Birding in Arunachal Pradesh...

To say that Arunachal Pradesh is a birding heaven is not telling any lies. Like the entire North-East India - it is a place to be if you want to bird. But like all true stories - birding heaven it is, but the birds are not easy to see and there are other problems also. Hunting is an area of concern and inspite of efforts of many - it goes on unabated. The need of the times is mass education, followed by very strict implementation of laws that already exist.
Common Green Magpie

Okay, I will get to the details of birding. Well - I am now stationed in Itanagar, Capital of Arunachal Pradesh. It was the greater part of the month that I am here and there are no birds around the place we have been staying. Uh - if you count 10 Eurasian tree sparrows, 2 white wagtails, one long-tailed Shrike and one Blue Rock-thrush as the place chirping with birds then you are mistaken. The only solution was to be outside in the forests and start searching. Forests of Arunachal are not what one would think - they are forests in the real sense - thick enough that no man walks through them till you slash your way through the underground. But even before that, I was to decide where I should start with. Well, eBird is my holy grail that I look up too to find my spots. Unfortunately, Arunachal as a birding destination has two valleys covered leaving a data deficit centre.

This is what I mean by data deficit, the east part of Arunachal is Mishmi hill where data is available. The Western region is the valley leading to Tawang. There are virtually no records of birds and birding in the centre.

Same data in a closeup of the state.
That being so - I decided that I will just take a vehicle and go on a road to Ziro. That I felt would give me a good starting point. And also lift my spirits a bit that was not so high learning of hunting in the state. So I planned the trip as shown on the map below, a total of 105 km that takes about 4 hours or so to cover due to the condition of the roads - I was told.

Planned birding route - roadside birding...
Well as the things happened - I explained my driver as to my intention to photograph bird and he declared that he used to hunt in the past and suggested that instead of taking the road to Ziro - we take an offshoot to a place called Sagalee. Having no better suggestion for him I said okay.

The birding trek...
I had just started walking from a place that I thought should be a good beginning, unfortunately, I had barely walked a few hundred yards when a group of hunters stopped and asked me what I was doing. A man like myself would and could have gone into depression straight away - I told them that I was with wildlife department and was photographing birds. The boy sitting on the rear of the bike had a No 2 airgun with five pellets in his hand. In all, I saw them going up and down three times - and could not gauge what they had bagged as there was a bag that I could not look into - but surely they were not on a birding trip at all especially with the pellets in his hand...

If anyone was to sweep this road of birds three times a day - I can only imagine the damage being done to the fauna...
My hopes were dashed to the ground seeing such a sight and total disregard to ban on hunting that is supposed to be there in the country. So as you can imagine the trip did not start on a good note. The density of bird that one would expect in such lush green forests was missing but birds were there. What saddened me was that there were no calls of hill partridge, and perhaps any birds more than a few grams - if one was to consider it that way. 

The first few birds that I saw make me forget this and I got onto the task at hand. My methodology was as expected of birding in the tropical forests - stick to the road. I told my driver to drive up by 2 odd km and wait. I walked the distance stopping enroute where-ever and whenever I heard or saw a movement. I birded a total distance of 8 odd km in 5 hours and 15 minutes and climbed from 860 feet to maximum of 1670 feet.

My first sightings were of Long-tailed Broadbill, unfortunately, the pictures were just recorded shots due to wrong settings on my camera that I had recently used for star trails. It was bad enough for me to drop the camera and enjoy the birds through a pair of binoculars. Inspite of a low density of birds - all those that presented themselves were stunners. However like I said earlier - take this with a pinch of salt - the birds are not easy to spot/and once spotted it takes a lot of patience and even then many a time it does not present itself.

A flock of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters flew from the road side - the birds were wrapped in prime breeding plumage - but only one sat long enough for me to photograph.

I could not Id these birds in the field as they were in a flock and sitting high in trees against sun. Only after I had shot off enough pictures and saw them on the computer the birds were recognisable. Straited Yuhina.

Came across two flocks with around 20 birds each.

A bird that is named a Common Green Magpie - but has nothing common about it. 

There was only one warbler that I came across during this session - the Yellow-bellied Warbler.

Again a bird that I could not identify in the field because the beak was not 'Fulvetta like' - Nepal Fulvetta

Same bird as above

Came across a lot of Streaked Spiderhunters. No worthwhile photo oppoertunity but great sightings neverthless.

Surprisingly a lone female Grey Bushchat.

Scimitar babblers were along with the mixed flocks of Laughingthrushes, White-browed Scimitar Babbler.

The best shot I could get of this skulking bird...

One of the beautiful birds of the trip - the Lesser Rufous Parrotbill.

The pictures are from a little distance and are fairly heavily cropped

I saw movement in the corner of my eye and I saw this bird - almost rejected as a Lesser Rufous Parrotbill. When finally I identified it and read the description in Book - it was exactly the words stolen from my mouth - one can mistake it as Lesser Rufous Parrotbill... Well - this is Juv White-hooded Babbler

Back to Parrobills...

Scarlet Minivet - another bird that took time to ID

Same bird as above

Male White-hooded Babbler

Laughingthrushes are a pain and this photograph justifies what I say - they will remain covered in thickest of the bush hopping on some plant only for a second or climbing up a tree to hop across an obstruction like a road.

Streaked Spiderhunter

Female Scarlet Minivet

For those interested in reading the entire list of birds spotted during the trip please go through my eBird log