Nagaland Trip

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Trip Report symbol © Sumit Sen              Birding in Nagaland: Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary
Text: Harkirat Sangha, Manoj Sharma and Atul Jain
              Images: Harkirat Sangha and Manoj Sharma

              29 April - 07May, 2011


 Saramati Mountain Range


The plan to visit Pungro and Fakim WLS, Nagaland was hatched on “Emerald Blue”, the sailing boat which had taken us to Narcondam Island. The usual suspects, Harkirat Sangha, Manoj Sharma and I got together to organize a trip to this wonderful birding hot spot. The credit to unravel this scantly birded spot goes to Ramki and Shashank. Ramki’s cracking pictures of Yellow -throated Laughingthrush appeared as an apparition in my dreams and made me restless over a period of the last one year. Angulie, the only birding guide in Nagaland, was our trip organizer and took great care of all our logistics.

© Manoj Sharma
Yellow-throated Laughingthrush

We all landed at Kolkata a day before heading to Dimapur. Kolkata was explored to the fullest, more for its culinary delights than birding. However, Dr. Kshounish Ray was kind enough to take us to the famous Kalikapur reed-beds next morning and we were rewarded with good views of sulking Rusty-rumped Warblers.

© Manoj Sharma

Harkirat has more than a passing interest in war history and was very keen to explore the Kohima War Cemetery. And precisely for this reason, we made a dash to this memorial upon our arrival at Dimapur airport rather than lingering over a cup of tea. This is one of the most well kept war memorial in India and has a rich historical background of the Second World War, where the British and Indian forces thwarted the invasion of Japanese soldiers. The epitaphs on the graves gave a good insight of the brave soldiers and the sentiments of their loved ones.
We started early next day with our packed lunch. The distance from Kohima to Pungro is approx 290 Kms and can be covered in 9 hours. However, it is different for birders and much different for die hard birder like Manoj. He had taken a vow not to miss a single bird on the road and thus every myna and sparrow was scrutinized and identification was done down to the race. This also helped us pile up a few interesting lifers; Rufescent Prinia, Slaty-backed Flycatcher and Emerald Cuckoo. It was dark and 8 in the evening when we arrived at the rest house in Pungro. The rest house was new, clean and comfortable. It had all the modern amenities like double-beds, electricity and running water. The kitchen was non-functional and thus Angulie had to carry provisions and LPG gas from Kohima. He got down to work immediately and a simple but tasty meal was put on the table in no time.

© Manoj Sharma
White-browed Laughingthrush

The morning was misty and that made us start a bit late at 5.30 am. The moment we got out of Pungro village (on the way to Fakim), we encountered a flock of Amur Falcons (c25) on a Eucalyptus tree. Harkirat and Manoj were of the view that these falcons were on return passage. The spring/summer passage of these birds is still a mystery and there are very a few records during this period from South Asia. Taking this as good omen, we ventured further and decided to follow the leads given by Shashank. The forest is degraded and has sparse undergrowth. This does not deter the rarities to call it as home and soon we were gloating with sightings of Spot-breasted Parrotbills, Slender-billed Oriole, Rufous–capped Babbler, Green-backed Tit, Flavescent Bulbul , Long-tailed Minivet, Large Hawk Cuckoo and Yellow-breasted Greenfinch. A few raptors like Oriental Honey Buzzards and Amur Falcons made regular appearances and created much excitement within the group. However, the bird which stole the show was Yellow-throated Laughingthrush, which was sighted by Angulie among the trees next to the yellow colored mile stone. The flock was silent and appeared quite bold to us. The cameras went into a tizzy and the only sound I could hear was Wrrrr..! All 4 of us hugged and we could not believe that we got this bird so easily. This sighting galvanized us and soon we were gaping at another rarity; White-browed Laughingthrush. The birds were carrying nesting material and it was concluded that it is nesting time for this species. Later on we found out that this is a common bird and was easily visible in this area. The Moustached Laughingthrush was also not so shy and was sighted on a few occasions. We spent the whole day in this stretch of 200 mts and it gave us most of the birds we were looking for from this trip.

© Manoj Sharma

We decided to head towards Fakim the next day. Fakim is a sleepy town and is at the foot of Saramati mountain range. It is approx 3 hours drive from Pungaro. It started drizzling in the morning when we had left and we reached Penkim around 6 a.m. The left turn towards this village passes through a good patch of forest and we spent few hours bird watching and having our breakfast. The Indian Blue Robin was common and so were Striped Laughingthrush, Streaked Spiderhunter, Slaty Blue Flycatcher, Jungle Crow and a lone sighting of Dark-breasted thrush. The real ordeal was in store for us a bit later, as our vehicle got stuck in slushy road just few kilometers short of Fakim. We tried all the tricks in our bag and managed to get the vehicle out with great difficulty. This incident unnerved our driver to the extent that he refused to take the risk of crossing a wooden bridge on a stream short of Fakim village. We decided to leave the vehicle on the road and covered the last mile on foot. A word of caution to the future travelers to this area.” Hire a 4X4 Mahindra Scorpio”. The village was almost empty as most of the folks had gone out for work in the fields. A quaint little church stood solid at the highest point of the village. We clicked a few pictures to announce to the world that we had been there and done that and then made our way to the Fakim WLS. Time was short but we could manage to bird for an hour in the sanctuary. We saw a Ferruginous Flycatcher on the nest and a few warblers like Rufous faced, Rufous-crowned and Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher flitting around in shrubs. The highlight of the trip was not a bird sighting but a pack of 6 wild dogs which gave us excellent views while trying to cross the road in front of us. The pack appeared to be scared as it was being chased by a local villager trying to hunt it down with a stone. All of us were gleeful that he was unsuccessful in his attempt.

Wild Dogs ( Dhole)

We birded in Pungro for a few hours in the morning before heading back to Khonoma. A Pale-footed Bush Warbler and flocks of Asian House Martins were the highlights on the return journey. I came back to Delhi next day and Harkirat and Manoj carried on with the remaining part of the trip to Khonoma.

A cyclonic storm on the evening of 3rd May had left 4 people dead & a few injured in the state. We were informed by Angulie that our home stay in Khonoma had received nature’s wrath and was not in shape to receive us. Nagaland Post of the 4th May had reported that 66 houses in Khonoma were damaged in the previous night’s storm. Had we been in Khonoma a day before, we would have experienced our roof being blown away from above our heads. Uncertain about our lodging arrangements, we arrived at Khonoma to discover that the birding was good & happening. We decided to spend the remaining nights at Kohima and manage a daily up and down to Khonoma . 

One of the first birds we came across was a Chestnut-vented Nuthatch. We had the company of three individuals & it was a pleasant surprise to watch one of the birds sitting in a tree fork, and going to sleep, while we were peeping through our binoculars. A rare ‘lifer’ gone to sleep in front of our popped-out eyes shall always remain fresh in our memories. The next to come was a bold Naga Wren Babbler that posed & offered photographic opportunities. This was followed by a not-so-obliging Rusty-capped Fulvetta.

Wren Babbler

For next three days, we went up & down the steep hillsides & nullahs of Khonoma and explored its beautiful valleys. Common Hill Partridge was heard calling every day. Angulie showed us scratched-up areas on ground, where the bird had been feeding a few moments before our arrival. The search for Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler took us up & down the steep & slippery ravines but to no avail. We were rewarded with stunning views of Dark-rumped Swift, Honeyguide & Slaty-blue Flycatcher (ssp. with rufous underparts). On one of the evenings, we were rewarded with great views of 2 male Kalij Pheasants. We saw some pigeons in distance that could have been Speckled Wood Pigeons. Striped & Assam
Laughingthrushes were responding to the call but never showed up and Grey-sided Laughingthrushes gave poor views. Crested Serpent Eagle & Mountain Hawk Eagle were the only raptors that staged single performances. A pair of Long-billed Thrushes was a pleasant surprise. Blue Whistling Thrush showed briefly

© Atul Jain, Manoj Sharma & Harkirat Sangha

Read another trip report to Fakim


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