Monday, January 28, 2019

Return to Namdapha National Park

After the first visit, I knew that I had to return to explore more of Namdapha National Park. It is a rare place with amazing primary forest, hundreds of birds and clean rivers, but best of all very few tourists. That means it is not an easy place to get to. There is one path through the forest and it takes one along a circuit of about 43.5 km and reaches a maximum elevation of 906m. We camped five nights and walked six days and crossed the river 11 times.
Start from Dibrugarh
It is a three to four hours drive to Maio from the Dibrugarh Airport. At the check post between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam one has to present their Inner line Permit. Vendors know this is a good spot to sell produce and quick food. One woman was from Ziro selling oranges. Note the mostly plastic-free packaging.
 Chickens for sale - fast food.
This woman was cooking fish and it looked delicious. 

We drove to Miao. The park and distant mountains show up on a clear day in the background. The surrounding fields were full of flowering buckwheat the previous month were now waiting for harvest.
One night is needed in either Miao at Namdapha Jungle Resort or Deban at the forest guest house. We stayed in Miao and passed through Deban. We stopped for tea and to meet our porters at the forest guest house. We were happy to pass through and not stay the night here.
A giant Malabar Squirrel was feeding on some leaves in the garden at the guest house. Previously, I had seen a flying squirrel but it was at night.
After heavy rains in mid-December, a flood removed the temporary bridge at Deban. It had been carried downstream and we had to cross by canoe. 

Pieces of the old bridge were being collected - they have to try and re-build it so people can cross the river.
Our first hornbill sighting was high in the sky as Wreathed Hornbills flew above us at Hornbill camp. 
We had a few good sightings the first day but it was late when we got to Hornbill camp. After breakfast the next morning we started out.
The forest is just amazing!
An Ashy Bulbul and a White Throated Bulbul are in the photos below.
We needed elephants for the five-day trek. All the bridges were taken by the flood and it was the only safe way to cross the rivers in the park. Our two elephants take a rest and enjoy chomping down on the jungle trees, ferns and vines - which they do all night long.
 Meanwhile the mahout has taken up bird watching. His name is Tarzan - really.
We had a prize early the first morning as we started for Firm-base camp - a pair of Rufous-necked Hornbills were calling. They are a globally threatened species. We had push through the bushes and trees to get a better sighting. They were in the tip top of a huge tree and difficult to photograph.
 A rufous colored male above and a black female below. The red sack on their neck puffs out when they call.
Our second prize of the day was Hoolock Gibbons calling or "hoolocking" back and forth between two groups - an amazing sound!
Then on a side path, Dave and Nawraj found a stream emitting sulphide gas. They discovered that they could set it on fire.
Our second day, December 23, was a longer one. We walked about 13km taking 7 hours in all for photos and all the other distractions. Pretty soon the elephants caught up at our lunch rest stop. Tarzan was looking very relaxed.
A rare sight was the White-hooded Babbler and below a commonly seen Bronzed Drongo.
Firm-base Camp is also a park ranger base. From there they try to monitor disturbances in the park and track big mammals like tigers and leopards. One tribal group called Lisu encroach on the park and live in the core area. Many Lisu are located across the border in Myanmar but a large number have come to settle in Arunachal. Unfortunately, they are hunters for the most part.
The park has a look-out structure or machan in front of the camp. It is a good place for bird watching. We had wonderful mountain views from there too.

A Streaked Spiderhunter hanging from a vine.
 Red Whiskered Bulbuls.
 Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker climbing up a tree.
Mountains! 
Our prize on Christmas Eve was sighting a critically endangered White-bellied Heron. Only one of 6 found in the area with maybe only 30 left in this region. During the day we spotted 4 Herons along the river.
At the same time a Black-Necked Stork flew over. It was a morning for giant birds.
We walked next to the river the whole day, until at one point we had to cross.

We had to cross the river not just once but in three places. At one place the elephants had to make a bridge. They followed commands and dropped large tree trunks at the spot where everyone had to cross.
We finally reached our camp site. There was a swimming hole just at the bend in the river, but burr it was way too cold for me. 
A close-up of the snow peaks, followed by a Christmas Eve sunset.
Our camp on the river with sunset behind.
 There was so much wood around we made a large fire to keep warm. We watched the sunset, then the full moon came up. It was lovely.
Christmas morning! We gave everyone lopsi sweets and nuts from Nepal, which they gobbled up immediately. Tarzan was feeling cold and dressed in his hat and long sleeves for the first time. He is a bit of a loner and tends to set up a small shelter for himself instead of sleeping with the rest of the guys.
Another day by the river, more birds, more sun and a beautiful day. 
We brought our new tent and were really happy with it - easy to put up and take down. This was early Christmas morning below.
Several eagles were flying by during the next day's walk. A Grey-headed Fish Eagle and a Crested Serpent Eagle.
It was fantastic weather in December. Our two guides Vicky, a private bird guide and Tawang, with the forestry department, were always there to help us.
The mahouts, Ganesh above and Tarzan below, were very kind to the elephants. They never hit them and made sure they were safe at night. Our cook staff enjoyed getting a ride too. We had a good group of support people with us. 
An Ibisbill was surprised by us and flew off.

Two young porters were crossing the same rivers we were but they had to go it without the elephants. It was dangerous for them and the water was icy cold.
Looking for bugs on the rocks is a Slaty-backed Forktail.
A cormorant flying low. There were many groups of cormorants sitting on the river stones as we walked by. 
I am not a huge fan of Macaque monkeys but the Assamese Macaques are rare and not pests like other races of Macaques.
A special bird - Golden-crested Myna on bottom left with a chick upper right.
I doubt Poo Bear would climb this tree but people go up to collect wild honey on the horizontal branches. If you look closely you can see the bamboo ladder attached to the trunk. 
 People were busy harvesting their buckwheat crops and cleaning the grains. 
A Chakma woman walks through the small lane beside the buckwheat fields to go home at sunset.
It was the end a fantastic trip and a wonderful Christmas holiday. We saw 104 bird species, three primates, 4 types of squirrels, butterflies and dragonflies. 
Bonelli's Eagle below.