NORTHEAST INDIA: Assam Plains and the Eastern Himalayas
A 16-day birding tour across the Eastern Himalayas from the Brahmaputra basin through untouched montane rainforest, emerging beyond the treeline at over 4,000m.
Our tour of the western corner of the state of Assam and neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh take us to what is justifiably considered to the richest birding area in India. Here, the Eastern Himalayas climb steeply out of the Brahmaputra floodplain and distinct communities of species can be found within unusually close proximity of one another. We will explore a cross-section of elevations and habitats in this bird-rich environment, from swamp forests and wetlands at little over sea-level through dense montane rainforests to the arctic cold of Sela Pass, one of the highest motorable passes in the entire Himalayan chain. We will visit in spring, when temperatures are comfortable at all altitudes and many species in the hills associate in exhilarating mixed feeding flocks. We will be looking for Ward’s Trogon, Himalayan Cutia, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Himalayan Thrush, Grandala, Blood Pheasant, Swamp Francolin, White-winged Duck and Ibisbill among a fine selection of enigmatic specialities and regional endemics, accompanied by altitudinal migrants and visitors from the wider Palaearctic, and mammals including Indian Rhinoceros and Asian Elephant.
Over 400 species of birds; including the recently discovered Bugun Liocichla, stunning Fire-tailed Myzornis, the chance of both Temminck's and Blyth's Tragopans, up to 15 species of laughingthrush, seven wren-babblers and cupwings, three rubythroats, seven parrotbills, four hornbills, Ibisbill, Greater Adjutant and many others.
Several regional specialities of the Eastern Himalayas Endemic Bird Area, including Ward's Trogon, Beautiful Sibia and Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler.
Unequivocal montane birds at one of the highest accessible passes in the Himalayas, including Grandala, Blood Pheasant, Snow Partridge and Himalayan Monal.
Impressive mammal viewing with a good chance of Tiger, plus Indian Rhinoceros, Asian Elephant, Malayan Giant Squirrel and endemic primates including Arunachal Macaque.
Exciting jeep drives into Kaziranga National Park looking for Bengal Florican and Swamp Francolin, plus rafting along the Jia Bhoreli River in search of overwintering Ibisbill.
Unmatched access to Eastern Himalayan habitats, from near sea level to over 4,000m, with five nights spent amidst mid-elevation cloud forests at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary.
Superb mountain scenery, across the Himalayas towards Bhutan and Tibet.
Day 1: Guwahati to Nameri National Park
Arrivals into Assam’s Guwahati airport this morning. We halt briefly on the outskirts of the city for Greater Adjutant before spending the remainder of the day driving northeast to Nameri for a three-night stay, with time for some late afternoon birding around our lodge.
Day 2-3: Nameri National Park
Two full days exploring Nameri. In these incredible and largely undisturbed sub-Himalayan forests, which we will explore on foot, we will go in search of Pied Falconet, exceptional numbers of Wreathed and Great Pied Hornbills, White-browed Piculet, Abbott’s Babbler and the elusive White-winged Duck in secluded forest pools. We will also explore the Jia Bhorelli River by rubber dinghy in search of overwintering Ibisbill and hope to locate Oriental Scops-owl and Brown Hawk-owl around our lodge after dusk.
Day 4: Nameri to Dirang
An early start for the journey north into Arunachal Pradesh and the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, making our way to the small town of Dirang at 1495m, our base for a three-night stay. Birding en-route as we make the transition from the plains into the hills will provide a tantalising introduction to the diversity of this region. We will encounter a good selection of the Himalayan specialities, such as Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher, Bhutan and Grey-sided Laughingthrushes, Pale-billed Parrotbill and a variety of warblers, yuhinas, tits and sunbirds.
Day 5-6: Dirang
From our base at Dirang we will visit three sites at a range of elevations, including nearby Sangthi Valley where we hope to encounter Black-tailed Crake and overwintering Long-billed Plover. Further afield, we will spend a day along the Mandala Road which cuts through a succession of habitats from temperate broadleaf forests to rhododendron and birch scrub towards Mandala Pass (3200m). The list of potential species here is extensive, with many birds associating in waves that sweep through the forest. Key among these will be Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Bar-winged Wren-babbler, Golden Bush-robin, Brown-throated Fulvetta, White-collared Blackbird, Spotted Nutcracker, and a selection of finches and parrotbills. The highlight of our stay will be the morning spent at Se La. At 4176m the pass is one of the highest accessible parts of the Himalayas and hosts an array of unequivocal montane specialities in alpine meadows and barren scree slopes. We will search for some of the most enticing birds of the tour in this spectacular setting, including Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, Snow Partridge, Solitary Snipe, Snow Pigeon, Grandala, Spotted Laughingthrush, Himalayan Beautiful and Himalayan White-browed Rosefinches, Plain Mountain Finch and Alpine Accentor.
Day 7-11: Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary
Today, after a final few hours around Dirang, we make our way back south to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary for a five-night stay. At Eaglenest, a jeep track winds it ways through the primary forests of the sanctuary from Eaglenest Pass (2780m) down as far as 750m in the foothills. This allows unrivalled access to the entire range of elevations and our nights will be divided between two tented camps at 2350m and 1940m to enable a thorough exploration of both the coniferous forest and rhododendrons of higher elevations and subtropical broadleaf forest and bamboo of the foothills. Birding here is exceptional with an extensive list of potential species that includes some of the most sought-after Himalayan specialities, and birdlife will vary noticeably as we move between elevations. Among our key targets will be the recently (2006) discovered Bugun Liocichla, still known solely from this area. Possibilities include Temminck’s and Blyth’s Tragopans, Chestnut-breasted Hill-partridge, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Bay Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Ward’s and Red-headed Trogons, Beautiful Nuthatch, Himalayan Cutia, Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, Scaly Thrush, Himalayan Thrush, a host of bamboo specialists such as Pale-headed Woodpecker, and an impressive selection of laughingthrushes, wren-babblers and flycatchers.
Day 12: Eaglenest to Kaziranga National Park
We spend a final few hours in the outskirts of Eaglenest before driving back south into Assam and east into the alluvial plains of the Brahmaputra basin to Kaziranga National Park for a four-night stay.
Day 13-15: Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga is dominated by fertile grasslands and extensive wetlands known as beels. Birding from jeeps, we will go in search of grassland specialists including Bengal Florican, Striated Grassbird and Finn’s Weaver among numerous waders and waterfowl such as Greater Painted-snipe, Marsh Sandpiper, Grey-headed Lapwing, Bar-headed Goose and Ferruginous Duck, scanning in search of rarities such as Falcated Duck. These will be complemented by a selection of passerines in small patches of mature woodland, such as Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker and Himalayan Rubythroat, and a great diversity of birds of prey, with Eastern Imperial Eagle, Pied Harrier and both Black and Jerdon’s Bazas all possible here. Large mammals are abundant, most notably including Indian One-horned Rhinoceros and Asian Elephant, and with the chance of Tiger.
Day 16: Kaziranga to Guwahati, depart
Before leaving for Guwahati we will have time for some final birding in the tea estates adjacent to our lodge, where we will search for Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Common Green Magpie, Siberian Rubythroat and the elusive Blue-naped Pitta. Departures from Guwahati airport this afternoon.