Northeast India - Nagaland's Amur Falcon Migration
The rugged state of Nagaland, one of the most remote parts of India's northeast corner, plays an important part in one of the most spectacular migrations on earth. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Amur Falcons make the epic voyage from their breeding grounds in northeast Asia (mainly Mongolia and the Russian Far East) across the Indian Subcontinent to winter in southern Africa, and back again, a round-trip of more than 20,000km. This journey involves the longest overwater migration of any bird of prey, covering more than 4000km of the Arabian Sea between India’s west coast and east Africa, with satellite tagged falcons known to have flown non-stop for five days and ten hours while making this crossing.
With such a long journey, stopover sites are of vital importance. In Nagaland, the Amur Falcon’s autumn migration coincides with a seasonal eruption of termites, and in late October hundreds of thousands descend en masse on the Doyang reservoir to feast before moving on. With the relatively recent opening of Nagaland’s tribal territories to outsiders, it is only in recent years that the spectacular numbers of falcons here became known, at which time over 12,000 birds per day were being captured in vast nets to be sold as food among the surrounding communities. In an incredible conservation success, locals have been exemplary in giving up their hunting practices and the number of falcons captured in the district has been reduced to zero, allowing them to continue their migration undisturbed. There are few places where migration is so concentrated and conspicuous, and the clouds of falcons that darken the skies over Doyang must surely count among the most awe-inspiring natural phenomena on earth.
Our tour of Nagaland takes in this spectacle, while also exploring some more of the state’s key birding localities. At India’s eastern extremity and with a porous border with Myanmar, Nagaland offers interesting birding in a transition zone between South Asia and Indo-China. We begin in the state capital Dimapur from where we head into the South Assam Hills to the villages of Khonoma, Benreu and Dzuleke. Over the next three days we will explore the surrounding forests including those within the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary, established by the local tribal community as a haven for skulking range-restricted species. These include Striped and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, Long-tailed and Tawny-breasted Wren-babblers and Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, together with Blyth’s Tragopan and a wider selection of Eastern Himalayan specialities. From here we move north into the Naga Hills to the village of Pangti, enjoying the masses of Amur Falcons as they disperse from the Doyang Reservoir at dawn and return at dusk, and birding roadside habitats of the surrounding area. Finally, we make our way down to the plains of neighbouring Assam state to Hoollongapar-Gibbon Sanctuary, spending our final day in this protected fragment of evergreen forest at the foot of the Patkai mountain range, home to Red-headed Trogon, Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes and Large Niltava, accompanied by a selection of primates that includes India’s only ape, Western Hoolock Gibbon.
This tour provides an overview of the birds of Nagaland and neighbouring parts of Assam in India’s bird-rich northeast hills, combining the truly incredible Amur Falcon migration with more interesting birding in a little-visited region still dominated by fascinating tribal communities and customs.
*May be combined with NE India - Mishmi Hills and the Brahmaputra
27 October - 5 November 2019
25 October - 3 November 2020
(also available as a custom tour)
Ground price: £ 1750
Single room supplement: £ 345
Deposit: £ 500
The price includes: Accommodation, all meals, bottled drinking water, all ground transport, all birding/wildlife activities as described, 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: Simple village homestays with shared facilities in Nagaland; comfortable rooms with private facilities in a wildlife lodge at Hollongapar-Gibbon.
Tour grading: Easy to moderate. All birding will be on foot, mostly from quiet sanctuary or village roads; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field.
Key species: Amur Falcon, Blyth's Tragopan, Long-tailed and Tawny-breasted Wren-babblers, Striped, Brown-capped and Yellow-throated Laughingthrushes, Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, Crested Finchbill, Red-headed Trogon, Grey Sibia, Assam, Stump-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaques, Western Hoolock Gibbon.
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, Long-tailed (or 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, Buff-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.
Days 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 Assamese 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 (the October departure of this tour can be combined with Northeast India: Mishmi Hills & the Brahmaputra Valley, driving to the start point Dibrugarh/Tinsukia on day 11).