NORTHEAST INDIA: Nagaland's Amur Falcon Migration
A 10-day birding tour focusing on the breathtaking spectacle of Amur Falcon migration, while also exploring key birding localities in Nagaland and neighbouring Assam.
Our tour of Nagaland is centred around one of the most awe-inspiring natural phenomena on earth, the autumn migration of Amur Falcons and their congregation in clouds of tens to hundreds of thousands around the Doyang Reservoir where they feed up on termites before continuing their epic journey from NE Asia to southern Africa. This is one of India's conservation successes; locals have been exemplary in abandoning the hunting practices that would see over 12,000 birds captured in vast nets each day, encouraged by an initiative that champions tourism as a financial incentive. We'll also explore some of Nagaland's key birding localities in the South Assam and Naga hill ranges, part of an interesting and seldom-visited transition zone between South Asia and Indo-China, together with a patch of evergreen forest in the lowlands of neighbouring Assam. Besides Amur Falcon, we'll look for a selection of skulking restricted-range species such as Striped and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, Naga Wren-babbler, Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, Blyth's Tragopan, and a selection of primates including Western Hoolock Gibbon.
One of the most spectacular visible migrations on earth, with thousands of Amur Falcons gathering around the Doyang reservoir on their way towards southern Africa.
Several regional specialities restricted to Nagaland and adjacent hill ranges, including the highly localised Naga Wren-Babbler, Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, Striped and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, Grey Sibia and Dark-rumped Swift, with a realistic chance of the elusive Blyth's Tragopan in Khonoma's community-owned sanctuary.
An interesting selection of Indochinese species at the westernmost extension of their ranges, such as Spot-breasted Laughingthrush, Grey-headed Parakeet, Flavescent Bulbul, Crested Finchbill and Mountain Bamboo-Partridge.
A variety of forest birds in the foothill forests of Assam, including Red-headed Trogon, Pale-chinned Flycatcher, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler and the elusive Blue-naped Pitta.
A selection of primates in Assam, including Western Hoolock Gibbon, India's only ape.
A glimpse of Nagaland's unique culture, with immersion in remote village communities while staying in family-run homestays.
Day 1: Dimapur to Khonoma
Arrivals into Dimapur airport this morning. We set out on the slow drive east and up into rugged hills to Khonoma for a four-night stay at our simple village homestay, with the reminder of the afternoon and a further three full days to explore this southern part of Nagaland.
Day 2-4: Khonoma and surrounding areas
Khonoma is renowned for its efforts to conserve the biodiversity of the surrounding forests, with the local Angami community leading the decision to establish the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary, that encompasses 25 sq km between the village and nearby Dzuleke, together with a self-imposed ban in hunting in 1998. In the mid-elevation subtropical forests that flank the Dzukou River we will go in search of six near-endemics of these rainforests, Striped and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, Marsh Babbler, Naga and Tawny-breasted Wren-babblers, and Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, among a typically Himalayan avifauna with key species including Mountain Bamboo Partridge, Grey Sibia, Spot-breasted Laughingthrush, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, Dark-rumped Swift and the elusive Blyth’s Tragopan. Around nearby Benreu, broadleaf forests with an abundance of wild fruiting trees and shifting cultivation in various stages of regeneration host Spot-breasted and Grey-headed Parrotbills, Grey-headed Parakeet, Silver-eared Mesia, a selection of thrushes, and mixed feeding flocks comprising Flavescent Bulbul, various sunbirds, tits and yuhinas.
Day 5: Khonoma to Pangti
After a final morning around Khonoma we leave on the journey north into the Naga Hills to the village of Pangti, where we will spend three nights in a simple village homestay. We will arrive in time for our first glimpse of the spectacle, as the falcons return to their roosts around the Doyang Reservoir at dusk.
Day 6-7: Pangti and the Doyang Reservoir
A remote village in the Wokha district, Pangti received global attention in 2012 over the reported killing of thousands of Amur Falcons during their annual migration. This highlighted not only the tragedy, but also the mere presence of such incredible numbers of these birds, previously not widely known. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of local and national conservation organisations working together with local government and village councils the importance of conservation was instilled in Pangti, which declared itself a hunting-free zone, a major victory in a state still dominated by tribal communities where hunting is a traditional and fiercely-protected way of life. Today, Pangti is renowned for its ethos of community conservation, the Doyang Reservoir estimated to host up to a million falcons each year. We have two full days to enjoy the hordes of Amur Falcons as they come in to roost each evening and disperse at dawn. Walking the quiet roads of the area will take us through patches of shifting or ‘jhum’ cultivation in various stages of regeneration, and we can expect to see a selection of species such as Crested Finchbill, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Ultramarine and Verditer Flycatchers, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Spot-throated and Rufous-capped Babblers, Himalayan Buzzard and Oriental Scops-owl with the chance of finding a flock of the highly secretive restricted range Yellow-throated Laughingthrush.
Day 8-9: Pangti to Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary
An early start for the journey west, back down into the plains and crossing the state border as we head into neighbouring Assam, making our way to the small town of Jorhat and Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary. As a small fragment of the semi-evergreen forests once widespread where the plains of Assam merge into the Patkai Hills of Nagaland the sanctuary is an important repository of foothill species, this habitat lost elsewhere in the region to extensive tea plantations and growing villages. We have the remainder of the afternoon and following day to explore the rich forests, easily accessible on foot, and can expect to encounter a good selection of species associated with the lower elevation, key among which are Great Pied and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Large Niltava, Pale-chinned Flycatcher, Striped Tit-babbler, Abbott’s Babbler, Red-headed Trogon, Common Green Magpie and Green-billed Malkoha, with the chance of the elusive Blue-naped Pitta. Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary is also home to a small and isolated population of its namesake Western Hoolock Gibbon, India’s only ape, among a selection of primates which includes Stump-tailed, Northern Pig-tailed and Assam Macaques and Capped Langur.
Day 10: Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary to Jorhat, depart
Spend a final few hours within the sanctuary focusing on any species we may have missed. Departures from Jorhat airport this afternoon (this tour may be combined with India-northeast: Mishmi Hills and the Brahmaputra Valley, driving to the start point Dibrugarh/Tinsukia this afternoon).