In March 2008, I took part in a 10 days bird survey organized by Ramana Athreya to Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, north east India. The aim of the survey was to study more about the birdlife of this sanctuary as most birders visit as part of an organized tour and concentrate on locating the special target birds like bugum liocichla, wards trogon, satyrs tragopan and wedge billed wren babbler.

For those who want to see these birds, I would recommend going on a tour with a good guide and expect to spend many hours searching on the known sites.

The survey took place from 11th to 20th march. Other participants were Howie Nilsen and Tom Grey who work for WCS Cambodia, N. Chaturgi, P.Dasgupta and Suchitra Gosh from Calcutta and H.Poonawalla from Bangalore.

I left my home in Goa on 8th march on a morning flight to Mumbai and an onward flight to Guwahatti where I arrived at 2pm. A taxi from the airport to Nameri national park on the border of Assam with Arunachal Pradesh got me there on time for dinner and I met Howie and Tom. The next two days we birded Nameri. Nameri is hotter with fewer birds then in winter, but we still had 149 species between us with green cochoa as the best bird. We did not see White winged duck and were told that a pair was seen two days earlier.

Next morning we were collected by Dorji –one of the stuff members of Eaglenest sanctuary- who drove us to Tenga where we learned that Mr. Indi Glow who is the person in charge from the Bodo tribe on the sanctuary and the person who was in charge on this survey, had a motorbike accident and was rushed to hospital in Guwahatti. The original plan of the survey had to be changed and effectively there was nobody to give us any missions.
Tenga is the last town before Eaglenest. Originally probably a small village, but now a big military camp with no natural forest and only little plantations of pine. From Tenga the road climb for about 15km. to Lama Camp at 2350m.
Lama Camp is the entry to the sanctuary and the main accommodation for tourists. Here is where we met the Indian participants of the survey and where we stayed until 15th march. On first afternoon we birded around the camp. Beautiful sibia was the only common bird. The next morning we walked up the road towards Eaglenest pass about 16km. ahead at abut 2800m. Bird density was very low. Very few birds were seen or heard. We soon realized that finding any birds here is going to be a hard job. The few feeding parties were mainly of yellow throated, rufous winged, brown throated fulvetta, striped throated and black chinned yuhina. At some point we had a lift to the pass and on rout we saw plain backed thrush. On the pass we saw a spotted loughingthrush that the guide of a Czech birding group managed to call with a tape. From there we marched down to camp and on rout we saw another spotted L.T., crimson browed finch and a very nice flock of rufous fronted tit.
The next day was devoted fully for a search for bugum liocichla. Five pairs of this bird were identified between the lower parts of Lama Camp to a curve two km. down the road towards Tenga and this is the only known population of this bird. We found streaked, black faced and chestnut crowned loughingthrush and a rufous breasted bush robin, but no liocichla. We were told that it is usually found in mix flocks with L.T’s. All seven of us were birding the site for ten hours a day for the next three days and although the bird was seen by two other guided groups with the help of a tape, we did not manage to see it.
The following morning we met Ramana Athreya who was guiding a group of British birders. He explained to us the situation that followed the accident of Indi Glow. He gave us recording of long billed and wedge billed wren babblers and told us to try to find new sites for these birds and to explore as much as we can.
On the morning of 15th march I managed to see a pygmy wren babbler just before the car collected us on a 60km. journey to Sessni Camp at 1200m. on the other side of the sanctuary. The first 16km. up to the pass, the forest is degraded and at places where there were fires, there are big plantations of bamboo. After the pass, the core area of the sanctuary starts and the forest is almost untouched high cloud forest of eastern Himalaya. Towards Bompu Camp at about 1900m.,the forest changes into moist tropical evergreen with a lot of bamboo. We stopped at times and birded on foot, but bird density was still very low. The last five km. to camp Tom and I birded by foot and only below 1650m. we started to encounter some birds. We saw a few feeding parties moving very fast in the undergrowth with coral billed scimitar babbler, black throated and greater rufous headed parrotbill being the best.

Sessni Camp is in a valley surrounded by beautiful evergreen forest. Being lower then Lama Camp and not on a ridge, it is much wormer and without wind. Except of forest guards we did not meet any people and there are no villages along the rout thrghout all the sanctuary. Apart of little activity of tree falling near lama camp we found little disturbance of the forest. This is thanks to the activity of Raman Athreya on his efforts to preserve this place.
On our first day in Sessni we took a ride back up towards Bompu Camp and started to bird from 1820m. down to Sessni. The feeding parties were changing into being dominated by cutia, black headed shrike babbler, rusty fronted barwing, white napped and black chinned yuhina. Long tailed sibia replace the beautiful sibia of higher altitude.
As we did not have a car, the rest of the days we birded along the road from the camp. By this time my Ipod broke down, Tom’s and Howies Ipods were out of batteries and only the old tape-recorder of Suchitra was working. We surveyed an area of about 8km. along the road up and down from camp and found three calling long billed wren babbler but did not managed to see any. One wedge billed wren babbler (humei) responded to the tape and came out of the bush and presented itself very well for long time and was the bird of the trip.
Bird density was much better in Sessni then in Lama Camp, but it was still very hard to find birds. It took some time before we had clear view of rufous necked hornbill and beautiful nuthatch and I only briefly saw a bay woodpecker.
On the morning of the last day the car picked us up to take us back to Assam. We stopped for an hour birding along the way at altitude 900m. and saw grey peacock pheasant –a bird we only heard before-another plain backed thrush and red headed trogon. On the way to Assam we were informed that there is a bann (strike) and traffic is not aloud further down. We decided to do more birding and for 3 hours we walked down from altitude 550m. to 375m. where the first and only village in the area is. The lower part of the forest is not a protected area. It is very different forest then Sessni. It is more like the forests of Nameri national park. It deserves more protection and better study of its natural diversity.
The bann was lifted at 5pm. And we managed to get to Guwahatti just in time for the Indians to catch their train to Calcutta. Howie stayed in Eaglenest for further 10 days, Tom stayed in Assam and I took a flight via Calcutta back to goa.

If surveys like this will take place in future I would suggest the following

1. a car should be attached to the survey group at all times. If we head a vehicle we could explore areas far from camp which are generally less studied. I believe that the participants would be willing to share costs of renting.
2. sound recording of target birds should be available.
3. some efforts should be taken to try to bird in areas away from the road.
4. areas around and down from Kelong should be better explored.

Weather condition can change very fast in Eaglenest. In Lama Camp temperature were between 9-14, and the strong wind made it feel much colder. We had very little rain, but a lot of the time we were in a cloud with little visibility. In Sessni it was warmer, no wind and the clouds never really disturbed, except when we saw raptors or geese on migration.

We were very well looked after by Dorji and the stuff. Food was good and on time. coffee and tea were ready before down, hot water was ready when needed and the camp was always caped clean.

Bird and mammal list

name Lama camp Sessni kellong
Red junglefowl *
Grey peacock peasant H *
Bar headed goose * *
Bay woodpecker
Grey capped pygmy woodpecker
Rufous bellied woodpecker
Crimson breasted woodpecker
Lesser yellownape
Great barbet
Golden throated barbet
Blue throated barbet
Great hornbill
Rufous necked hornbill
Red headed trogon
Large hawk cuckoo
Himalayan swiftlet
Fork tailed swift
Name Lama camp Sessni kellong
Mountain scops owl
Collard owlet
Mountain imperial pigeon
Emerald dove
Pin tailed green pigeon
Black eagle
Eurasian sparrowhawk
Mountain hawk eagle
Long tailed broadbill
Orange bellied leafbird
Yellow billed blue magpie
Common green magpie
Large billed crow
Spotted nutcracker
Maroon oriole
Black winged cuckooshrike
Grey chinned minivet
Scarlet minivet
Bar winged flycatcher shrike
Yellow bellied fantail
White throated fantail
Ashy drongo
Bronze drongo
Lesser racket tailed drongo
Black napped monarch
Large woodshrike
Brown dipper
Blue whistling thrush
Plain backed thrush
Rufous gorgeted flycatcher
Little pied flycatcher
Sapphire flycatcher
Verditer flycatcher
Small niltava
Grey headed canary flycatcher
Orange flanked bush robin
Golden bush robin
Rufous breasted bush robin
Daurian redstart
Blue fronted redstart
White capped water redstart
Plumbeous water redstart
Spotted forktail
Chestnut bellied nuthatch
Name Lama camp Sessni kellong
White tailed nuthatch
Beautiful nuthatch
Rusty flanked treecreeper
Coal tit
Green backed tit
Yellow browed tit
Sultan tit
black throated tit
Rufous fronted tit
Asian house martin
Striated bulbul
Red vented bulbul
Mountain bulbul
Black bulbul
Hill prinia
Chestnut headed tesia
Slaty bellied tesia
Brownish flanked bush robin
Buff barred warbler
Ashy throated warbler
Lemon rumped warbler
Golden spectacled warbler
White spectacled warbler
Grey hooded warbler
Yellow vented warbler
Grey cheeked warbler
Chestnut crowned warbler
Black faced warbler
Blyth’s leaf warbler
White crested loughingthrush
Greater necklaced loughingthrush
Spotted loughingthrush
Striated loughingthrush
White throated loughingthrush
Streaked loughingthrush (imbricatus)
Black faced loughingthrush
Chestnut crowned loughingthrush
Streaked breasted scimitar babbler
Coral billed scimitar babbler
Long billed wren babbler
Pygmy wren babbler
Rufous throated wren babbler
Wedge tailed wren babbler (humei)
Rufous capped babbler
Name Lama camp Sessni kellong
Golden babbler
Black headed shrike babbler
White browed shrike babbler
Green shrike babbler
Black eared shrike babbler
Rusty fronted barwing
Streaked throated barwing
Blue winged minla
Chestnut tailed minla
Red tailed minla
Golden breasted fulvetta
Yellow throated fulvetta
Rufous winged fulvetta
Brown throated fulvetta
White napped yuhina
Whiskered yuhina
Striped throated yuhina
Rufous vented yuhina
Black chinned yuhina
White bellied yuhina
Rufous backed sibia
Beautiful sibia
Long tailed sibia
Black throated parrotbill
Greater rufous headed parrotbill
Fire breasted flowerpecker
Mrs. Gould’s sunbird
Green tailed sunbird
Black throated sunbird
Crimson sunbird
Streaked spiderhunter
Grey wagtail
Olive backed pipit
Rufous breasted accentor
Blanford’s rosefinch
Dark breasted rosefinch
Crimson browed finch
Scarlet finch
Red headed bullfinch
Grey headed bullfinch

Name Lama camp Sessni Kellong
Hoary throated squirrel
Malayan three stripe palm squirrel
Cape langur
Yellow throated marten

© 2012 Filming Nature. All Rights Reserved.