Less ramble, some birds

I have just returned to Itanagar from Jenging, Upper Siang dt. I camped here for 2 days and visited one of the sub-centres of the PHC at Jenging. Most of the journey by vehicle and on foot to the sub-centre were spent birding.

Heavy rains have already begun in Arunachal and the skies were overcast even as I drove through N Lakhimpur and Dhemaji dts of Assam. Meanwhile, the higher peaks have seen some good snowfall, and I am told that Tawang has recieved fair amounts of snow. The drive from Itanagar to Jenging was great. After leaving Arunachal at Bandardeo checkgate and a 100 km drive through Assam, I re-entered Arunachal at the Likhabali checkgate. The road passes through the district of West Siang and winds around the hills northwards to the district of Upper
Siang. The district HQ of West Siang is at Along. After the town of Boleng, which is one of the first towns of Upper Siang, the road for some distance passes alongside the Siang river, the largest of the 3 rivers that make up the Brahmaputra. For a long distance, the road zig-zags on the hills along the river offering some breathtaking views of the ‘turquoise’ waters of the river. At many places, there are hanging bridges across the river. The road then divides, one leading
to Jenging and the other leading to the district HQ of Yingkyong. Incidentally, Yingkyong was fully submerged by the Siang in 2000 when a mining related mishap on the banks of Siang upstream in China caused ‘welling up’ of water, which later burst to deluge some large towns downstream. The whole town was submerged then.

The drive thereafter offers wonderful views of the Mouling National Park. The hills here lack the classic ‘jhum’ facies of the other hills I have been seeing till now. Bird calls were heard more frequently, and number of bird sightings (not on heads, but in the air!) were more. Also, this being an area with a majority of Adi tribal population, the ‘hornbills on the heads’ was not a feature. Unfortunately, I did not see any in the air either!

The road has been taken up by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and is in all-weather condition. Moreover, Jenging being the constituency of the Chief Minister himself seems to be well-served. The town also enjoys 24 hr power from the hydel project nearby.

Weather conditions were more or less cloudy all through and bird sightings were a precious few. One of the subcentres, I visited is within the Mouling NP (28° 33′ N, 94° 46′ E). It was declared so in 1986 and covers nearly 500 sq. km. Most of the habitat was wet evergreen and semi-evergreen hill forests with many patches of secondary growth. Most of the hills were covered cloud covered, and fast flowing hill streams draining into the Siang were a common feature.

Missing conspicuosly from the list are waterbirds, raptors and gamebirds! Any reason I can give would be merely speculative but……hunting, cloudy weather, number of field hours, and closed

But, what I did see are as follows:

1) Mallard Anas platyrhynchos – plenty in waterbodies in Assam
2) Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis – after Boleng
3) Himalayan Swiftlet Collocalia brevirostris – common
4) Ashy Swallow-shrike Artamus fuscus
5) Lesser Racquet-tailed Drongo Dicrurus remifer – Jenging
6) Bronzed Drongo D. aeneus – I saw the largest number of these in
flight, numbering approx 100 crossing the Siang noisily
7) Greater Racquet-tailed Drongo D. paradiseus
8) Large Woodshirke Tephrodornis gularis – before Along
9) Rufous-backed Shrike (Black headed race) – Lanius schach tricolor –
10) Asian Pied Starling Sturnus contra and Jungle Myna Acridotheres
fuscus- Common in Assam plains
11) Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus
12) Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus in large flocks – Jenging
13) Black-eared Shrike Babbler Pteruthius melanotis- 65th mile on
Along-Jenging road. 3 individuals seen at eye level overlooking the valley
14) Long-tailed Sibia Heterophasia picaoides
15) Striated Yuhina Yuhina castaniceps
16) White-naped Yuhina Y. bakeri
17) Whiskered Yuhina Y. flavicollis – All Yuhinas seen in large flocks
quite common in the Jenging and Ramsingh area
18) Yellow-bellied Fantail Rhipidura hypoxantha
19) Black-backed Forktail Enicurus immaculatus
20) Spotted Forktail E. maculatus
21) Little Forktail scouleri – Was thrilled to see this bird.
Initially, I mistook it for a Magpie-Robin, but the stance and the
white tuft over the forehead forced a re-think. The bird flew into a
higher perch, when I disturbed it from the bottom of a small stream.
22) White-capped Water Redstart Chaimarrornis leucocephalus Common
23) Blue-capped Rock Thrush Monticola cinclorhynchus
24) Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush M. rufiventris Jenging
25) Blue Whistling Thrush Myophonus caeruleus
26) Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta castanea. I have been looking out
for the Beautiful Nuthatch Sitta formosa. No luck till now.
27) Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsonii yunnanensis Jenging
28) Large Pied Wagtail Motacilla maderaspatensis
29) Grey Wagtail M. cinerea
30) White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis & one of the grey-backed races (?
31) Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Very common

Ramblings from Arunachal

Arunachal Pradesh has been really exciting till now. I have got internet access after a long time, and decided to write about it. It seems to be one of the more peaceful of the states here in the
north-east. The transition from the plains of Assam to the hills of Arunachal is quite drastic if one travels on road. The demarcation between these two states is both physiographic and ethnic. While Assam suffers from very regular bandhs, strikes and ‘chakka jaams’, Arunachal is mostly peaceful. However, most of travel between towns in Arunachal happens through Assam and all strikes there have an effect on movement here. Most of the roads that have been constructed are of excellet quality, having been constructed by the Border Roads Organisation. Also, the districts on China border are being connected by good roads for strategic reasons.

People here strike one as very fiercely independent. Tribal identity is very strong, and people are proud of their tribe and community. The entry of outsiders is allowed only after obtaining at Inner line permit. This can be obtained at Guwahati and the document is to be produced while entering Arunachal. It feels almost like crossing a border. I guess Nepal must be easier to get into. However, this one concept has probably preserved the identity and culture and has limited interventions from outside. At the same time however, there is no private player in any sector – telecom, insurance, banking – and this slows down everything here.

But, what disturbs me most is the emptiness of the forests here. Thick verdant forests clothe the hills…..on entering them, one is hit by their emptiness. Also, most of what is seen outside of protected areas is secondary growth of bamboo and banana. Of course, there are still large stretches of ‘pristine’ jungle at many places. But, seeing jhum to such a large extent is definitely disturbing to an outsider.

Since reports from this part of the country are few, I thought I will share whatever little I have been seeing. I have tried to make up for the low number of bird sightings by sharing some info about the places!

I saw my first Upland Buzzard (Buteo hemidaisicus) Sangram in Kurung Kumey district. This district is a new one and gets its name from two large rivers, Kurung and Kumey. The district borders China, and one can reach the nearest Chinese village by 3 days walk from the district
HQ of Koloriang. The PHC at Sangram which I visited is located on the tip of a cliff overlooking the valley of the river Kurung. The Buzzard was gliding above the hills on the other side of the river, and ‘hovered’ for a few seconds, much like a Kestrel.

Grey-cheeked Warblers (Siecircus poliogenys) were quite a few around the PHC.

I have seen countless hornbills till now – on people’s heads!! The Nyishi tribal elders wear a hat which is decorated with the ‘casque’ of the hornbill. It even has a feather or two – either of hornbills or the racquets of the racquet tailed drongo. Almost all the tribals carry a ‘dao’. It is kept in a bamboo case, which is hung around the trunk in a belt made of bear hide. Youth carrying air guns for hunting were also frequently seen.

Forktails (Slaty backed and black backed) and Blue whistling thrushes were common near hill streams.

On the whole, I am travelling a lot. I have visited 2 districts. I am leaving for Jenging which is in Upper Siang district and within Mouling WLS and will proceed to Roing in Lower Dibang Valley district.

Hope I will be able to write from Roing……