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North East India : Hot Spots

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Eagles Nest, Pakke, Dirang, Sela and TawangTawang Monastery. Photo by Peter Lobo

The districts of Tawang, East Kameng, and West Kameng, are located in Western Arunachal Pradesh and are the highest in elevation. Named after the Kameng river which drains the basin of Gori Chen and Kangto peaks, and the Buddhist Monastey of Tawang; this region is spread below the Himalayan watershed on the borders with Tibet in the North and Bhutan in the West.

The topography is truly amazing rising from the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam through tangled ridges at elevations of around 330 meters to a maximum of 7080 meters on the watershed of the Himalayas. This region is known the world over for its Buddhist Monastery at Tawang . What is not well known is that this region hosts one of the finest assemblages of birds in this region.


Map Western Arunachal and adjoing areas. Click to enlarge.The combined forests of Eagle’s Nest Wild Life Sanctuary, Pakke Tiger Reserve, Sessa Orchid Sanctuary and Nameri National Park (in Assam) along with surrounding reserved forests, comprising of over 2500 square Kilometers (sq kms) in area and reaching altitudes of more that 3000m, form one of the largest protected regions of North East India. These forest belts are adjacent to the over 4500m high forests and alpine meadows of the massive Sela Ridge and its spurs This region presents a fascinating birding opportunity - Imagine birding a range extending from the lush lowland evergreen forests, located in the foothills through the sub-tropical and temperate forests, to the high altitude alpine meadows of Sela ridge at 4500m – All these areas are approachable by jeeps with some walking.

So far explorations have revealed a bird list of 450+.

 

Several much sought after birds like ward’s trogon, wedge-billed and rufous-throated wren-babblers, rufous-necked, great and wreathed hornbills, black-necked crane,  beautiful nuthatch, emerald cuckoo are standard fare in this area. Other specialities which can be seen with some effort are three tragopans, blood pheasant, monal, ibisbill, purple cochoa, long-tailed and collared broadbills, blue-naped pitta, vivid niltava, long-billed plover and black-headed shrike-babbler, to name just a few.

Glimpses of Eagles Nest, Pakke, Dirang, Sela and Tawang AreaMixed forests. 2700m.Mixed forests, 1500m.Meadows & Forests.Treeline forests.Bush Rhododendrons.Alpine habitat, 4000m.Tree Rhododendrons.

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To explore the many birding hot spots in this region, the Gurudongma Team has designed jeep based birding tours, as also a birding trek; based on extensive knowledge of the terrain and environment. Inputs have been drawn from explorations by Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury, and Ramana Athreya (during the Eaglenest Biodiversity Project 2004, funded by the Rufford foundation, UK) .  The Gurudongma Team, has carried out extensive high altitude birding explorations in 2002 and 2004. These were arguably the first ever, birding reconnaissance, linking Dirang Valley with Tawang along the remote route; which was first explored by British surveyors lead by F.M. Bailey in 1913 - and came to be called the Bailey Trail”. 

The main hot spots in this region are -

Closed to visitors till recently, these areas have now been opened to tourists. However a route specific entry permit is still required. Foreign birders should bear in mind that they have to obtain a Restricted Area Permit, for Namdhapa, Eagles Nest, Pakke, and Dirang-Sela-Tawang. This permit costs USD 50 per person, it is valid for 10 days, and is granted to groups of a minimum of 04 persons. Additional permits are required to enter the various sanctuaries. Our assoviated in Arunachal Pradesh will obtain these permits for our clients.

The best time for birding in the North East is November to mid March. However in snow bound areas above 3000m, it is best to plan trips during Apr- June and Oct-Nov.

The duration of your trip can be as long as you like – provided you restrict yourself to 10 days in Arunachal Pradesh. For those desiring a longer birding trip, we will try and procure the permit from the Arunachal Pradesh government on a case-by-case basis.

You will find our suggestions of days required for each birding site. We have a few itineraries, for ready reference. These can be tailored to your requirements.

Eagles Nest Wild Life Sanctuary

The name: Eagle’s Nest, is a 2800m high, pass across the Chaku Ridge. The pass is named after the famed 4th Indian Army Division of World War fame – whose Divisional logo was the Eagle. The jeep track which cuts across this great ridge, was built as a military line of communications to support the operations of this Division against the Chinese invasion of 1962.

Eagle’s Nest Panorama. Photo by Ramana Athreya, (the Eaglenest Biodiversity Project 2004, funded by the Rufford foundation, UK)

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The Sanctuary: The Eagles Nest Wild life Sanctuary is located about 350 Kms North West of Guwahati and covers an area of 218 sq Kms. The altitudinal range Is 500 to 3200 m. 

The sanctuary extends from Eagle’s Nest Pass to just North of Khellong (see map below)The entire stretch from Lama Camp on the northern slope, up across Eagle’s Nest Pass and down the southern slope to Khellong is prime birding area. A jeep trail runs from Tenga to Kamengbari through Eagle’s Nest Pass. This track enables jeep based birding trips. The sanctuary has a variety of vegetation ranging from lowland evergreen forest; broad-leaved forest, bamboo, conifers; roadside scrub and farmland - in both subtropical and temperate altitudes.

To get to Eagles Nest, you have to fly in from Delhi, Bagdogra or Kolkotta to Guwahati. You first drive 181 due West to Tezpur, for an overnight halt. The next day drive 165 Kms  (4-5 hrs) to Tenga, entering Western Arunachal Pradesh at Bhulukpong, via the Tezpur-Bomdila –Tawang Highway. From Tenga it takes 1.30 hrs to reach Eagles Nest pass by the  jeep trail.

Grey crested tit Rufous-bellied Niltava Mrs Gould Sunbird Yellow-throated Fulvetta Red-faced liocichla Slender-billed scimitar-babbler Birds of Eagles Nest Wild Life Sanctuary

The birds: Some of the specialty birds which can Bhareli river Valleybe seen are: rufous-bellied hawk-eagle, northern goshawk, pied falconet, common hill-partridge, temminck's tragopan, ashy wood-pigeon, tawny wood-owl, rufous-necked hornbill, ward's trogon, golden-throated barbet, crimson-breasted pied-woodpecker, bay woodpecker, pale-headed woodpecker, grey-chinned minivet, rufous-bellied bulbul, maroon-backed accentor, eye-browed thrush, fea's thrush, gould's shortwing, white-browed shortwing,  blue-fronted robin, little forkail, golden bush-robin, rufous-breasted bush-robin, puple cochoa, grey-sided laughing-thrush, scaly laughing-thrush, black-faced laughing-thrush,red-faced liocichla, coral-billed scimitar-babbler, slender-billed scimitar-babbler, Various  wren-babblers (wedge-billed, bar-winged, pygmy, spotted, rufous-throated and scaly-breasted), gold-headed babbler, cutia, rufous-bellied shrike-babbler, green shrike-babbler, white-hooded babbler, red-tailed minla, Various tit-babblers/fulvettas (golden-breasted, brown-throated, and yellow-throated), Three sibias ( beautiful, and rufous-backed), Various yuhinas (black-chinned, rufous-vented and white-naped),  fire-tailed myzornis, Six parrotbills (greater and lesser rufous-headed, brown, grey-headed and fulvous-fronted), mountain tailorbird, three tesias (chestnut-headed, grey-bellied and slaty-bellied), Various flycatcher-warblers (broad-billed, white-Eagles Nest WLS: Map by Dr Anwaruddin Choudhryspectacled, chestnut-crowned and black-faced), four niltavas (including vivid and large),  Thirteen flycatchers (including. white-gorgeted), rufous-bellied and grey-crested tits,  sultan tit, beautiful nuthatch, wallcreeper, brown-throated treecreeper, yellow-bellied flowerpecker, mrs gould's and fire-tailed sunbird, gold-naped black-finch, beavan's bullfinch, brown bullfinch 

Birding areas along main highway Bhalupong-Tenga

This highway which is the entry route to the sanctuary passes along the eastern borders of the Eagles Nest and provides an interesting birding transect from 300-1600m altitude. Tipi (46 Kms from Bhalupong)  offers birding along the road and on the banks of the Bhareli River.

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Tour options for non-birding spouse/friends: www.gurudongma.com.
 
 

Bird photographs by Yashodhan Bhatia,

Ronald Saldino,  Niels Poul Dryer, Ketil Knudsen
Kalypso Adventures & Gurudongma Team
.



 
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