ASSAM AND MEGALAYA JANUARY 2008

On a previous visit to Guwahati, in October 2007, I met Dr. Gopal Chetri who is the research officer in Assam’s forest department. He helped me with booking accommodation and renting a car. He is most useful if you want to visit less known sanctuaries with booking accommodation in a Forest Rest House (inspection bungalow).

Places visited
Guwahati , Orang NP., Nameri NP., Kaziranga NP., Gibbon Sanctuary, Shilong.

Itinerary
29 Dec. 2007 Evening flight Goa-Delhi
30 Dec.2007 Flight Delhi- Guwahati, short visit to Deepor beel
31 Dec 2007 Guwahati zoo
1-3 Jan. 2008 Orang NP.
3-5 Jan. 2008 Nameri NP.
6-11 Jan. 2008 Kaziranga NP.
11-13 Jan. 2008 Gibbon Sanctuary
14-15 Jan. 2008 Shilong
16 Jan. 2008 Flight Guwahati- Mumbai- Goa

On a previous visit to Guwahati, in October 2007, I met Dr. Gopal Chetri who is the research officer in Assam’s forest department. He helped me with booking accommodation and renting a car. He is most useful if you want to visit less known sanctuaries with booking accommodation in a Forest Rest House (inspection bungalow). He will be happy to help and can be reached on number 0091-9435042219.
We rented a jeep type vehicle, Tata sumo, a kind of car that is aloud inside parks and sanctuaries. Self drive cars are difficult to arrange and the car comes with a driver.
When planning this trip, I used the book “birdwatchers guide to India” by krys kazmierczak, various trip reports and articles from the magazine Sanctuary Asia.
I traveled together with my girlfriend Heleen.

Costs
1$US 40rp. 1 Pound UK 78rp. 1 Euro 55rp.
India has a very good network of domestic airlines. Booking is via internet and the prices change. To reach Guwahati from Goa you will need to take two flights (via Mumbai, Kolcuta or Delhi) and the cost is about 7000rp.
We paid for the car 1200rp. a day, extra 100 for the driver and the petrol was on our account.
For accommodation we paid between 300-1100rp.
Entry charges are the main expense for foreign tourists. Here is where India does not come cheep anymore. Entrance fee is 240rp. Elephant ride 800rp. Vehicle charge is 150rp. And guide is 100rp. Camera charge is 500rp. And a camera with lens or a video camera is 1000rp. For Indian nationals entrance fee is 25, elephant ride 300, camera 50 and camera with lens 100. In government hotels and forest rest house there is also foreigner price and sadly lately also in some private hotels.
As we are holding Indian resident permit, we are entitled for Indian prices. It is usually accepted, but it is up to the person in charge. We were fine everywhere except of Nameri where the Forest Range Officer did not see any reason to give us Indian price.
Mannas NP., is an exception. This park is now under the control of the Bodo tribe and they do not take orders from Guwahati. If you want to visit Mannas, expect to pay 50$ entrance fee and 80$ for accommodation.

Local guides
We used local guides in Nameri and Kaziranga. Without them we would not find the where about of White winged ducks and some grass birds. Usually local guides are very good; they know the sites and the call for many birds. However, do not automatically accept their identification. If you do, you will end up with a much longer list then you actually saw.

Guwahati
Guwahati is the capital of Assam and a place you have to go through when visiting the north east. From the air port we went with a taxi along the south side of Deepor beel and shortly after the watch tower I saw a light grey starling with a big white patch on the shoulder and light yellow cape, a White shouldered starling, vagrant in India. Scanning the lake from the watch tower with a scope did not reveal many birds.
In the evening we saw from the window of our hotel room the only greater adjutant of the trip.
The next morning we went to Guwahati zoo which has an excellent forest with bamboo on its hilly side. The zoo was disappointing and the only interested bird for us was a male Fire breasted flowerpecker. The zoo itself has many Indian animals as well as a young Giraffe and a family of Hippopotamuses.
In the afternoon we met Dr. Gopal Chetri to finalize our program. We decided not to go to Mannas and do Gibbon sanctuary and Shilong.

Orang national park
This sanctuary is one of the oldest in the country. It is about 140km. from Guwahati on the road to Tezpur, on the north bank of the Brahmaputra river which form the south boundary of the reserve. Most of the park is covered with wet alluvial grasslands of the floodplains of the Brahmaputra river (like Kaziranga). The north part is forested mainly with planted trees with beels (water bodies) and swamps.
We stayed two nights in an old forest rest house on the edge of the forest watching over the grasslands. This kind of accommodation can only be booked via the forest department and you have to bring your own food. This was the best place we stayed during this trip. The view from the balcony is superb and many animals and birds, like swamp francolin and Indian rhinoceros can bee seen from there. Most of the birding was done around the FRH, in the forests around and the grasslands in front. We went on an Elephant ride and did a tour of the park by jeep. By the river we saw Gangetic dolphin and on the way back in the grassland just before dusk we saw four male Pied harriers coming to roost, the only Pied harriers of the trip.

Nameri national park
In northern Assam, 40km. from Tezpur near the border with Arunachal Pradesh and on the way to Eaglenest sanctuary. Most of the park is lowland moist evergreen forest with little grassland along the rivers and a few pools in the jungle which are home to White winged duck. The place to stay in Nameri is the Eco camp. It is a pleasant tented camp at the entrance to the Tiger reserve and about a km. walk from the river. The best birding is on the other side of the river. The best thing about Nameri is that it is possible to walk in the park. Next to the Eco camp is the office of the forest department where you can pay entrance fee and you will be accompanied with an armed guard. At the Eco camp we were joined by Bhaiko, the local guide. Bhaiko helped us to locate the pool where we found a pair of White winged wood ducks. In that pool within 30 minutes we found the first White browed piculet, Scaly thrush (imbricate), Small niltava, Black backed forktail and Sultan tit. Bhaiko also took us to a watch tower which is a site for Pied falconet and Jerdon baza. We waited there for three hours but without luck.
The next morning we went on a rafting trip down the river as we heard that this is the best way to see Ibisbill. This bird is very camouflage with the river stones and hard to find when it is not active. We located six birds after the first rapid. Later on we saw two pairs of Wreathed hornbills flying across the river.
The rafting took three hours and after we went again to the watchtower. This time after about half an hour we saw a Jordan baza flying low above the forest. I noticed strong barring on the entire wing and body. Only in the “pictorial guide” by Salim Ali and Dillon Ripley I found the picture of the bird we saw. Later on the way back we saw a Pied falconet on a top of a tree. Early in the morning I saw Oriental hobby on a tree at the parking place of the Eco camp. Later I found out from other birders that this bird is regular there.
Nameri was the best place we visited with 147 species in one and a half days. Many birds like Streak spiderhunter and Pin tailed green pigeon are common. It worth staying a few days more in Nameri and explore more of the forest and the river.

Kaziranga national park
This famous park is one of the best in India. It is the home of 2000 Indian rhinoceros and has the largest population of tigers per square kilometer. Kaziranga is on the south bank on the Brahmaputra river and the main road NH37 that connect Guwahati with eastern Assam is bordering the park from south. There is plenty of accommodation in kaziranga. We visited for six days and stayed first in Jungle camp and later in Wild grass resort.
First day we went on Elephant ride in the morning and saw male Bengal florican. Then we went with the jeep to the central range and located a pair of Flacated ducks.
In the afternoon I went to look for a good habitat along the nalla (river) behind the reception center in Kohima. The nalla goes into the hills of Karbi Anglong district. It was Sunday and it took time before I got away from hundreds of picnic makers. There are some good patches of forest and I saw the only White crested laughingthrush of the trip.
The second day we went on another Elephant ride and later went again to another place along the Kohima nalla and we saw the first Greater neclessesed lauthingthrushs. Later we checked into the Wild grass resort. This is the best place to stay in Kaziranga. The owner, Mr. Manju Barua is a great fund of Assamies culture and the old colonial dinning room has a special atmosphere. In the menu you can find Assamies special food. Soup and desert are on the house. They have guides that know what a birder wants. We spent the next four days with Polas, one of their guides. First we went on the afternoon to the central range and tried to tape lour some grass birds. We succeed with Chestnut caped babbler, Aberrant bush warbler and White bellied ruby throat. A bird that jumped out of the grass as we played the call of Rufous rumped grassbird was not seen good enough by me to be a sure identification. Many birds react to tape lour and they are not always the bird that their call was played.
Next morning we went to the eastern range. This area is more wooded and has less Rhinos and more Elephants. In the afternoon we went to the central range again to look for Jerdon and Slender billed babblers but without success. The last three days I spent with Polas in Panbari reserve forest. This forest is small and degraded but still holds a large amount of birds and animals. It is aloud to walk in the forest with an armed guard from the forest department. Polas arranged all the formalities. He knows a lot of the bird calls, but we missed Pale chinned flycatcher and Large scimitar babbler. We were luckier with Silver breasted broadbill and Lesser shortwing.

Gibbon sanctuary
This 24sqkm sanctuary in Jorhat district about 100km. east of Kaziranga was created to protect the shrinking population of Hoolock gibbon. There are 22 families with 87 individual and the ratio is a female on three male. We spotted two families of Gibbons; one seems to pass by the rest house everyday at noon.
We stayed two nights in the FRH. This is a very dense tropical semi evergreen forest and birding is very difficult. The only way to success is to be familiar with the bird calls and to come in April when the birds are singing. Grey headed tesia and Buff breasted babbler seems to be common. We also saw a few Sultan tits.

Shilong
It was a long day drive from Gibbon sanctuary to Shilong, the capital of Megalaya.
I first visited Shilong in October 2007. I birded along the old Guwahati road for three hours until rain started. The rain never stopped and two days later I went back to Guwahati. I was still able to see few good birds like Long tailed broadbill and Rufous necked laughingthrush. This time I was expecting a lot more as the place was recommended. Apparently, although protected, hunting birds for the pot is still very popular. I confiscated a catapult from a poacher I met on the old Guwahati road. We spent two mornings on the old road with a total of 11 hours. Bird density was very low and the forest was silence. The quality however was good. Grey sibia seem to be the most common bird. We encountered a few groups of Silver eared mesia and a great luck with Thrushes with Chestnut bellied rock, Blue whistling, Scaly (imbricate), Long billed and Dusky. In the afternoon we spent two hours on Shilong ridge and saw 14 Crested finchbills feeding on a large tree. Shilong city is at altitude of 1500m. Early morning temperature was 7. However, it did not rain and birding was possible all day long. The where about of the birding sites are well described in k. kazmierczak’s book. Police bazaar is the city center and has plenty of hotels and good Chinese restaurants.
In the afternoon of the last day in Shilong we drove 110km. to Guwahati and the next morning bordered a flight to Mumbai via Calcutta. From Mumbai we caught the 2 o’clock flight to Goa and were at home before sunset.

Birds and mammals list

Name Guwahati Orang Nameri Kaziranga Gibbon shilong
Swamp francolin
Red junglefowl
Kalij pheasant
Greylag goose
Bar headed goose
Lesser whistling duck
Ruddy shelduck
White winged duck
gadwall
Falcated duck
wigeon
mallard
Spot billed duck
Common teal
pintail
shoveler
Common pochard
Ferroginous pochard
Common merganser
Eurasian wryneck
Specklet piculet
White browed piculet
Rufous woodpecker
Grey capped pygmy woodpecker
Fulvous breasted woodpecker
Stripe breasted woodpecker
Lesser yellownape
Greater yellownape
Black rumped flameback
Greater flameback
Grey headed woodpecker
Great barbet
Lineated barbet
Golden throated barbet
Blue eared barbet
Oriental pied hornbill
Great hornbill
Wreathed hornbill
Indian roller
Common kingfisher
White throated kingfisher
Stork billed kingfisher
Crested kingfisher
Pied kingfisher
Blue bearded bee-eater
Green bee-eater
Large hawk cuckoo
Banded bay cuckoo
Drongo cuckoo
Greater coucal
Green billed malkoha
Vernal hanging parrot
Alexandrine parakeet
Rose ringed parakeet
Blossom headed parakeet
Red breasted parakeet
Palm swift
House swift
Oriental scopes owl
Collard scopes owl
Brown fish owl
Jungle owlet
Spotted owlet
Large tailed nightjar
Rock pigeon
Mountain imperial pigeon
Oriental turtle dove
Eurasian collard dove
Spotted dove
Pompadour green pigeon
Yellow footed green pigeon
Pin tailed green pigeon
Wedge tailed green pigeon
Bengal florican
White breasted watrhen
Brown crake
Purple swamphen
Common moorhen
Common snipe
Common redshank
Common greenshank
Green sandpiper
Common sandpiper
ibisbill
Black winged stilt
Bronze winged jacana
Great thick-knee
Small pratincole
Little ringed plover
Northern lapwing
Grey headed lapwing
Red wattled lapwing
Pallas’s gull
River tern
Whiskered tern
osprey
Jerdon’s baza
Black kite
Pallas’s fish eagle
Grey headed fish eagle
Long billed vulture
Short toed eagle
Crested serpent eagle
Pied harrier
Pallid harrier
shikra
Northern goshawk
Oriental honey buzzard
Lesser spotted eagle
Greater spotted eagle
Stape eagle
Booted eagle
Changeable hawk eagle
Pied falconet
Common kestrel
Eurasian hobby
Oriental hobby
Little grebe
Darter
Little cormorant
Great cormorant
Little egret
Great egret
Intermediate egret
Indian pond heron
Grey heron
Purple heron
Little heron
Black crowned night heron
Spot billed pelican
Open billed stork
Wooly necked stork
Black stork
Black necked stork
Lesser adjutant
Greater adjutant
Silver breasted broadbill
Asian fairy blue bird
Blue winged leafbird
Golden fronted leafbird
Orange bellied leafbird
Long tailed shrike
Grey backed shrike
Rufous treepie
Common green magpie
House crow
Long billed crow
Ashy woodswallow
Black headed oriole
Maroon oriole
Large cuckooshrike
black headed cuckooshrike
Long tailed minivet
Short billed minivet
Scarlet minivet
Bar winged flycatcher shrike
Yellow bellied fantail
Black drongo
Ashy drongo
Bronze drongo
Lesser racket tailed drongo
Spangled drongo
Greater racket taild drongo
Asian paradise flycatcher
Common iora
Large woodshrike
Common woodshrike
Chestnut bellied rock thrush
Blue whistling thrush
Scaly thrush
Long billed thrush
Grey winged blackbird
Dusky thrush
Lesser shortwing
Red throated flycatcher
Snowy browed flycatcher
Little pied flycatcher
Verditer flycatcher
Large niltava
Small niltava
Grey headed canary flycatcher
White tailed rubythroat
Oriental magpie robin
White rumped shama
Black redstart
White capped water redstart
Plumbeous water redstart
White tailed robin
Black backed forktail
Spotted forktail
Common stonechat
Spot winged starling
Chestnut tailed starling
White shouldered starling
Asian pied starling
Common myna
Jungle myna
White vented myna
Hill myna
Chestnut bellied nuthatch
Velvet fronted nuthatch
Great tit
Green backed tit
Yellow cheeked tit
Sultan tit
Sand martin
Plain martin
Barn swallow
Red rumped swallow
Crested finchbill
Black crested bulbul
Red whiskered bulbul
Red vented bulbul *
White throated bulbul
Black bulbul
Rufescent prinia
Plain prinia
Zitting cisticola
Grey bellied tesia
Oriental white-eye
Grey sided bush warbler
Aberrant bush warbler
Paddyfield warbler
Blyth’s reed warbler
Clamorous reed warbler
Thick billed warbler
Striated grassbird
Common tailorbird
Dark necked tailobird
Buff barred warbler
Greenish warbler
Blyth’s leaf warbler
Yellow vented warbler
Golden spectacled warbler
White spectacled warbler
Tickell’s leaf warbler
Ashy throated warbler
White crested laughingthrush
Great necklaced laughingthrush
Abbott’s babbler
Buff breasted babbler
Rufous capped babbler
Striped tit babbler
Chestnut capped babbler
Jungle babbler
Silver eared mesia
White browed shrike babbler
Blue winged minla
Nepal fulvetta
White bellied yuhina
Grey sibia
Bengal bushlark
Scarlet backed flowerpecker
Ruby cheeked sunbird
Crimson sunbird
Little spiderhunter
Streaked spiderhunter
House sparrow
Tree sparrow
White wagtail
Grey wagtail
Yellow wagtail
Paddyfield pipit
Olive backed pipit
Baya weaver
Scaly breasted munia

Smooth Indian otter
Indian rhinoceros
Swamp deer
Hog deer
Barking deer
Indian elephant
Wild buffalo
Wild boar
Hillock gibbon
Capped langur
Bonnet macaque
Assamies macaque
Gangetic dolphin

Heard only
Grey peacock pheasant, Red headed trogon, Pale chinned flycatcher, Large scimitar babbler.

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