Northeast India - Assam Plains and the Eastern Himalaya
In India's remote northeastern corner, as the Eastern Himalayas climb steeply out of the Brahmaputra floodplain, distinct communities of species are found within unusually close proximity of one another, bestowing this region with a biodiversity that is unmatched anywhere in India. The western parts of the states of Assam and neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh present the remarkable opportunity to explore with relative ease a cross-section of this bird-rich environment, from the vast floodplain and steamy swamp forests of the Brahmaputra basin through forested hillslopes to the arctic cold of Sela Pass, one of the highest motorable passes in the entire Himalayan chain.
Our comprehensive birding tour begins at little over 100m in the hot and humid sub-montane forests of Nameri National Park, home to the secretive White-winged Duck, Ibisbill wintering along the Jia Bhorelli River, and a host of forest species including Wreathed Hornbill and Pied Falconet. We ascend into the Himalayas to the town of Dirang, our base for exploring the highest reaches. In some of the least-visited birding hotspots in the subcontinent, including Sela Pass and the ornithologically rich Mandala Road, we will come across numerous Himalayan specialities restricted to these elevations such as Fire-tailed Myzornis, Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant and the stunning Grandala among a tantalising selection of laughingthrushes, scimitar-babblers and wren-babblers. From here we make our way to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary whose dense montane rainforests merge into the extensive forests of Bhutan and host a rich avifauna comprising a number of enigmatic regional specialities, including Ward’s Trogon, Himalayan Cutia, Beautiful Nuthatch and the recently discovered Bugun Liocichla, with many more associating in fastmoving mixed species flocks which make for exhilarating birding. Finally, we descend to the heart of the floodplain of the Brahmaputra River to world-renowned Kaziranga National Park, where the exceptional birdlife, including the critically endangered Greater Adjutant and grassland specialities such as Bengal Florican and Swamp Francolin, is equalled by the incredible density of large mammals, dominated by Greater One-horned Rhinoceros and Asian Elephant.
This tour provides thorough coverage of over 4000m of altitude in the eastern Himalayan environment, the most bird-rich part of the entire Himalayan chain, as we explore some of the most exhilarating and productive birding destinations in the subcontinent. A fine selection of India's most sought-after regional specialities is accompanied throughout by more widespread residents, Palaearctic and altitudinal migrants, with excellent opportunities of some of Asia's most iconic large mammals.
7 March - 22 March 2020
11 April - 26 April 2020
(also available as a custom tour)
Ground price: £ 2490
Single room supplement: £ 340
Deposit: £ 500
The price includes: Accommodation, all meals, bottled drinking water, all ground transport, all birding/wildlife activities as described, state permit, entry fees, guiding, pre-tour information, species checklists.
The price excludes: Flights, visa fees, travel insurance, drinks other than water, tips and any other expenses of a personal nature.
Maximum group size: 8
Accommodation: Tented camps with shared facilities at Eaglenest; comfortable rooms with private facilities elsewhere.
Tour grading: Moderate. Most birding will be on foot, some from open jeeps; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field. Note we bird to 4176m where altitude makes walking more strenuous.
Key species: Bugun Liocichla, Himalayan Cutia, Beautiful Nuthatch, Ward's Trogon, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Grandala, Blood Pheasant, Ibisbill, Greater Adjutant, White-winged Duck, Greater One-horned Rhino.
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, Snow Pigeon, Grandala, Spotted Laughingthrush, Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch 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 Forest 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 and the elusive Blue-naped Pitta. Departures from Guwahati airport this afternoon.