Thursday, March 31, 2016

Northeast India Trip - Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park.   I expected this to be the highlight location of our stay.   No pressure then....

From our porch at the back of our room we saw Yellow-footed Green Pigeon:

I think this may be a Capped Langur but not sure about primate species:

In the grounds of the Iora Resort a flowering Azalea had a Purple Sunbird:

We were really looking forward to entering the park and the first ride was scheduled for Saturday morning, as it opened at 7:30 am, so we left the hotel at 6:30 to be sure of being there as it opened.  An earlier start would have been appreciated but the gate wasn't going to be opened early.   We went for the central area first, the Eastern section that afternoon, the Western on Sunday morning and then back to the central section for our last trip on Sunday afternoon.

The sun hadn't got very far up when we headed out:

There are numerous areas of river within the park, which draws in a number of birds associated with water such as Black-headed Ibis and various species of Egret:

We were delighted to see a number of large birds of prey in the early morning light including this Grey-headed Fish Eagle:

As the sun got higher the light colour changed as you can see here from this Asian Pied Starling image:

 The reflection from the Black-necked Stork caught the eye:

A local speciality is the Blossom-headed Parakeet:

I have no idea how our driver saw this bird from the road but he did and we were grateful, a Brown Fish Owl was sheltering from the road and sun in a small wooden copse:

We couldn't hang around as this area had a number of armed patrols, apparently a poacher had been shot dead the previous evening but his two accomplices were unaccounted for.

Back on the road, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater:

Common Hoopoe:

Crested Serpent Eagle, getting warm:

Kaziranga is mostly grasslands with some fragments of forest.   The park has strictly defined tracks for the vehicles and really no other facilities.   What toilets that were there were more hazardous than all the wildlife put together!

It is a fantastic place to visit and indeed to be:

As well as the slave elephants (we saw then dragging and trying to chew through their heavy metal chains) there are wild Indian Elephants in the park too:

We felt so sorry for the captive animals and declined to ride one when it was suggested.  This is another free one:

We saw lots and lots of birds on our various visits to the park.   Often we were stopped to look at a bird and other cars would stop to try and see what we were seeing only to realise 'it was just a bird' and then head off again, covering us in clouds of dry river sand from the track as they did so.

A magnificent species, and probably my favourite of the whole trip is the Great Hornbill:

I hoped it was going to fly and I wasn't disappointed:

I had no idea but the yellow colouring in the plumage and on the head is a secretion from a gland that the bird uses to decorate itself (thanks to Celia for sharing this with us when we got home):

What a cracking bird.   They make a fabulous wooshing noise when they fly too :)

Another cracking species and finally seen clearly is the Green-billed Malkoha:

Another Grey-headed Fish Eagle: 

Grey-headed Lapwing

I snapped this Lesser Adjutant Stork eating prey:

A Red-wattled Lapwing:

A menagerie of waders:

 Indian Roller:

Jungle Myna:

 Long-tailed Minivet:

Oriental White-eye:

 Oriental Pied Hornbill:

Red-breasted Parakeet:

The park is famous for the single-horn Rhino, it holds the majority of the remnants of this species now:

We continued to encounter many species of bird as we drove around the various parts of the park including White-throated Kingfisher:

Striated Grassbird:

There are lots of varieties of wildlife in Kaziranga:

A small flock of Baya Weavers was moving through the long grasses:

A mother Rhino and baby as we headed for the exit:

A Swamp Francolin one of the target bird species and quite elusive.   They scuttle for cover at the first sign of human activity.   We heard them calling, parked-up quietly and watched them feeding in amongst a small herd of deer:

 A small deer browsed in the fading light:

Egrets settling to roost as the sun set:

Kaziranga met our expectations in terms of wildlife however the river sand roads combined with open vehicles made getting around it unpleasant, especially when it's busy.  Ideally avoid weekends and take a scarf or mask for when you get passed or stuck behind someone.  And expect to get totally covered in the stuff.   It's still worth the visit.

Northeast India Trip - Nagaland

The return trip to the river was uneventful apart from the fallen trees after the huge thunderstorms and the big detour we had to take around one road that was consequentially completely blocked.

The river was running faster and higher but we found a boat almost as soon as we arrived and were soon headed back across the Brahmaputra, enjoying more sights of the ferry crossing experience:

I took this picture through the front window before turning round, misjudging how low the beams on the boat were and hitting my head so hard I was close to knocking myself out:

As we neared the shore we saw these chaps prodding the remains of a boat that had gone down the previous day complete with a car on it:

It was a long old drive to the Gymkhana Bungalow in Golaghat, and we again arrived not knowing where to go, so having driven for nearly eleven hours, we stopped and asked people, most of whom had no idea.   Eventually through frustration I asked the guide where the bungalow was, he didn't know but he did know it was close to a hospital.   Why then was he not asking for directions to the hospital?  Once he started asking we started getting recognition and even directions.  He didn't trust them though so called the hotel, who were kind enough to send out someone on a motorbike to bring us in.   Another hour wasted at the end of a long day.  

Anyhow the hotel was a delight, a former tea bungalow, now surrounded by a town but retaining real character.   The service was exemplary, the food a delight, the room comfortable and spacious, we again thanked our booking agent for the choices they'd made on our behalf before settling down for a good night's sleep.

In the morning after breakfast I snapped the flower arrangement in the lobby:

We headed off on the second leg of our trip to Nagaland.  One thing you notice when transitioning from Assam to Nagaland is the silence.  No birds in the trees, no animals on the road, because anything that is alive gets killed and eaten, apart from the humans.   We did see people selling dead birds and squirrels by the roadside as we headed up towards the capital, Kohima.

We stopped for lunch at a pleasant bamboo themed restaurant where Helen unfortunately realised she was coming down with a migraine.   I hurried our team up (we'd picked up another guide, this one for the area, apparently now compulsory in India) and made haste to our hotel in Kohima to get Helen settled.

The hotel was very pleasant, the staff very helpful and we got Helen sorted with pain killers, a quiet, dark room and she got off to sleep.

The next morning she stayed in the hotel but we'd decided I should head out so at 5am I was collected from the hotel and off we went to Khonoma.  In the context of a birding holiday Khonoma is good because the village and a few others have preserved some original forest and do not allow hunting there, so there are birds including some specialist species.

In the context of history of course it's a scene of part of the battle at the very limit of Japan's incursion into India in the second World War and is close to the major battle of Imphal in Manipur, which was the turning point of the land war against Japan.

We were therefore visiting somewhere of both historic and current interest:

Once in Khonoma we picked up another guide, so now there were five of us in the car, with just me the client.... I never did work out what the first lady was for...

Anyway the birding on the first day in Khonoma involved walking up a road.   The road was in the process of being widened so what was once a narrow road through forest was now a wide road with steep sides and therefore the birding proved to be quite tough.

I did see Black-crested Bulbul:

Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush:

A Honeyguide:

guess what we found it close to?

Whoever came up with the BRO signs for the local area had excelled themselves:

A Mountain Hawk Eagle sailed by:

 We located Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babblers:

We took a break by a monument to the State Student Union movement, the village of Khonoma having hosted their annual conference a number of times now:

We worked our way further down the road to another village, this one obviously dry and waiting for the monsoon rains:

I didn't want to be out too long given Helen's health so we headed back in the early afternoon after a simple but delicious lunch at a homestay in the village.  On the way back we passed a new Mahindra vehicle that had obviously gone off the side of one of the roads.  The airbags had been deployed and part of the frame was crushed.   The driver confirmed with a local that everyone inside had been killed.

That evening we experienced another awesome thunder storm, so much so that the restaurant area of our hotel was flooded out in less than fifteen minutes.  Wow.  We also chatted with the hotel Manager who told us the story of her pet seven year old dog being dog-napped a few years previously by someone.   That's why the roads are clear, anything that moves gets taken, killed and eaten, even pet dogs.

The next morning Helen was feeling quite a lot better so we set out again, the weather however had turned and we were back to our mountain mists.   We did see again the vehicle that had gone over during the previous day.   Both times I decided against photographing it out of respect for the victims.

We started walking from the village itself this time, seeing a number of specialist birds in the very early morning, then a Small Niltava:

Striated Bulbul:

and one bird that I cannot now identify, doh!

The weather was poor though so we took another early lunch and then headed back for our last night in Nagaland.

In the morning we headed back out the way we had come in, I was able to show Helen the rock formations she'd missed on the way up and in:

Our next destination was Kaziranga, one I was properly excited about.  We headed back into Assam and to our hotel the Iora resort.  I can thoroughly recommend this hotel.  It is well built, well maintained, the staff are very helpful, the food is good and personalised and overall we really enjoyed our stay at the Iora.  So, time to head into Kaziranga National Park...