Birds of India

Trip Reports

The Land of the Smiling Warriors
Birding in Nagaland
Text: Bikram Grewal
Images: Ramki Sreenivasan, Sumit Sen & Bano Haralu
5January - 12January,2010

It had been about a year since Sumit Sen, Ramki Sreenivasan and I had done a major birding trip and we were itching to go back to northeast India, but to an area which was still little known. None of us had seriously birded south of the Brahmaputra River, in the celebrated South Assam Hills, so that area was naturally very tempting. As Pam Rasmussen wrote in her path-breaking book Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide “The South Assam Hills host numerous avian specialties, usually distinct different races from their Himalayan counterparts, and often shared with contagious parts of Myanmar. Even within the South Assam Hills there has been considerable avian diversification, particularly notable in some laughingthrushes”

After several discussions over large beverages, followed by many emails and telephone calls, we settled on Nagaland, partly because it was little birded, but primarily because there were several species purported to be present in this small north-eastern state, which we had not seen before. Heading the list was the state bird - the enigmatic Blyth‘s Tragopan, for which we had searched earlier, unsuccessfully, in Arunachal Pradesh. But there were several others rarities as well, like the Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, not to mention the recently split Naga Wren Babbler.

Once we had finalised our destination, I contacted my good friend Bano Harulu, herself a true-blooded Naga from the Zeliang tribe. Bano, a TV journalist was so enthused about our trip that she swung into immediate action, calling the Chief Minister Shri. Neiphiu Rio, who agreed straightaway to sponsor our trip, and she further dug out several long-lost relatives from the bureaucratic world, all of who promised logistical and other help. She even agreed to join us on certain sections of the trip, which helped us a great deal, as her felicity with the local Nagamese language, smoothened our way through several thorny situations. If it had not been for her, our trip would not have been the huge triumph it turned out to be and to her, our collective thanks. The next move was to rope in the young Shashank Dalvi, the master of the birdcall and the most fervent birder I have ever met. Ramki and I had birded with him earlier in Eaglenest in Arunachal and were great admirers of his talents. Sumit, a doubting Thomas if ever there was one, a hard-nosed and successful banker all his life, works on the philosophy of not forming an opinion on just hearsay, but waits till the incumbent passes muster! He had not met Shashank before and I was a bit apprehensive about this, but am happy to report, posto facto, that they got along famously, with Sumit actually congratulating the young man on his birding abilities!

All that remained was to chart out a sensible itinerary. Khonoma, in southern Nagaland, selected itself, as it was the only major place in the state, that is habitually visited by Indian and global birders and is comparatively well-documented. Shashank had earlier made a quick trip here and seen some of its rarities, besides notching up the Gould’s Shortwing, a first for Nagaland. Other available trip reports too hailed its glory. The omniscient Bano then suggested the Benreu area, and an inspired choice it proved to be. Lastly, we settled on the Intangki (or Intanki) region to round-off our trip. We would use Dimapur and Kohima as transit points. Bano and our old allies Help Tourism, made the requisite arrangements and we were lucky to secure the services on the celebrated Angulie Meyase, Nagaland’s only birding guide!

Our Innerline permits secured, refreshments procured (Nagaland has prohibition), and our thermals packed, we congregated at Kolkata’s Netaji Subash Chandra Bose Airport to take the only fight to Dimapur, Nagaland’s sole airport. It was while checking in, that it suddenly struck me that, between the five team members, we represented all five regions of India – a truly ‘nationally integrated team!’ Uncharacteristically Air India delivered us on time, and we met up with Angulie and Shashank, who had taken the train from Guwahati in next-door Assam. Packing our bags into a Sumo jeep we set off along Nagaland’s main artery, National Highway No 39, which connects the two major cities of Dimapur and Kohima. Leaving town we soon started to climb and before we had covered a mere twenty kilometres, our car started spewing steam and came to a grinding halt. We were soon to discover the cause of our misfortune; our driver had decided, for reasons best known to him, to take off the fan-belt! Furthermore he had no tools to put it back again. Darkness had fallen by now and we were a little perturbed, as Nagaland has its fair share of political upheaval and by evensong most people are indoors with shutters secured. We made several urgent calls to Kohima for replacement vehicles, which providentially arrived after an hour and a half. Not quite a propitious start to our visit.

Now relocated into our new cars (we took the precaution of ordering two vehicles this time to avoid a repeat performance) we drove along the highway before veering off the main road, short of Kohima, and limped into Khonoma and into the warm confines of “Baby’s Home Stay” run by the vivacious Vikedono, a wonderful lady of uncertain age known universally and simply as ‘Baby’. A hot cup of tea followed by several doses of Scotland’s finest invention did much to remove the chill that had sunk into our bones. Ramki, a high-class Brahmin from South India, is genetically conditioned to have a bath even in freezing temperatures, decided to proceed with his daily ritual, while I affirmed, that having studied in a military-type boarding school in the high Himalayas, would make do with the customary weekly bath. A hot dinner later we were ensconced in our beds to spend the first of several not-so-warm nights in Nagaland. It had been a long tiring day, but a quick sighting of the uncommon Leopard Cat, on the journey, augured well for the rest of the trip.

Khonoma, a historic Naga Angami village and the site of two legendry British-Angami siege battles in 1847 and 1879, is reminiscent of the Gaul village that resisted the Romans in the legendary Asterix comics. It came into distinction in the birding world as the local residents, who take an active part in preserving the habitat and its wildlife, declared the environs of Khonoma Village a reserve and banned hunting in 2000. The Khonoma villagers set up the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary in 1998. This safe haven, which covers an area of over 70 sq kms is privately owned and managed by the village community. This has resulted in birders and other tourists coming to this area and providing the inhabitants with alternative employment. Our amiable and efficient guide Angulie is a product of this experiment. A very laudable initiative, and which we sincerely hope is replicated in other parts of Nagaland.
The sun rises truly early in the east and we were out of bed at five and a few life-restoring gulps of tea later, piled into the cars to start our first true day of serious birding. We drove along for about thirty minutes before we arrived at a set of buildings, constructed for the benefit of tourists. These were rather basic and unoccupied, but had a parking lot where we disembarked to the call of the Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler, a recent split from its more westerly cousin the Rusty-cheeked. The sun hadn’t hit our turf yet and we peered into the undergrowth to seek this bird. We never saw it and despite hearing its distinctive call throughout our entire trip it never revealed itself well, and we only got fleeting views. The Streak-breasted did however give us reasonably good views.

We settled on walking further along the road where the sun had broken through, and soon I had the first of my several lifers - the Grey Sibia. We spread along the route but soon the sight of Shashank doing a sort of Michael Jackson break-dance had us soon scampering to his side. The object of his elation soon revealed itself to be an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, an unrecorded bird for this location but none-the-less a lifer for all of us. The walk produced Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Maroon Oriole, several Orange-flanked Bush Robins (sometimes called Himalayan Red-flanked Bush Robin or Red-flanked Bluetail), Ashy Drongos, Blue-fronted Redstarts, Grey Bushchats and Grey-hooded Warblers. All along the Great Barbet kept up its raucous song and the both the Hill and the Rufous-throated Partridges were heard intermittently. A pair of Mountain Hawk Eagles patrolled the skies.

Hunger struck and we decided to return to the cars for an eagerly awaited breakfast. A pair of Assam Laughingthrushes soon exposed themselves. We were pleased to see these recently split species and now understood the reason for their divorce from the Red-headed (or Chestnut-headed). Our excitement soon turned to exultation as we neared the cars, for a bunch of the very local Striped Laughingthrushes gave us exemplary views. To cap it all Sumit sighted a Crested Finchbill perched precariously atop a tall conifer. Had I known then that it would be the first of several hundred we would see, I might have been a little less ecstatic. A flock of Black-throated (Red-headed) Tits suddenly appeared to vanish soon after, as did a large flock of Grey-sided Laughingthrushes. Red-faced Liocichla were seen frequently and warblers were represented by the Ashy-throated. Little Buntings were exceedingly regular and incidentally were the only member of the ilk that we saw on the entire trip.

As we washed down our boiled eggs with warm tea, the Long-tailed Shrike of the black- headed race (tricolor) hung around us and we saw even more Fire-tailed Sunbirds, the dominant sunbird of the trip. Behind where we had parked our cars was steep escarpment covered with thick forest and the young duo of Ramki and Shashank (along with the ever-willing Angulie) decided to clamber up the narrow path that led to it. The reason was simple, for on an earlier trip Shashank (with Sachin Rai) had found the Gould’s Shortwing there along with the Naga Wren Babbler
(images from earlier trip).

A quick review of the terrain made Sumit and me decline their kind offer to join them on this suicidal venture. I silently cursed the indolent life I had led, full of indulgence, and for which I would now miss a few lifers. I tried to take consolation by arguing I had passed on the baton to those with sturdier limbs. It didn’t work and I was green with envy. In the event they not only saw the Naga Wren Babbler, but to twist the knife even more arduously, they saw and photographed the Cachar Wren Babbler and probably most significantly captured on camera the Brown-capped Laughingthrush, a bird not reliably sighted in recent times. To top it all they also managed to see the Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler, not to mention Flavescent Bulbuls.

Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler
It might be worthwhile to tarry a while here to discuss the significance of these sightings. To start with the Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, which nomenclaturaly has had a chequered history, for it started life as the Wedge-billed Wren Sphenocichla humei with the sub-species, found south of the River Brahmaputra, being called S h roberti. It has also been called Wedge-billed Wren, Hume’s Wren Babbler and Wedge-billed Tree Babbler. It was Pam Rasmussen who gave it some sort of stability by splitting it into the Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler S roberti and Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler S humei, further claiming that they were not wren-babblers at all but babblers. To add to the confusion the Cachar is also known as the Chevron-breasted in some quarters! All this notwithstanding it is extremely elusive, very local and little known, and it is truly ironic that Ramki happens to be the proud owner of two exquisite lithographs of both the roberti and humei by John Gould painted in the 1830s. He is also perhaps the only Indian who has photographed both species!

The Naga Wren Babbler has had less of a torturous journey, simply being split from the Long-tailed Wren-babbler. A few pictures exist of this bird mostly from the Khonoma area, but by and large it too remains an under-studied bird with little understood about its habits, breeding and song.

Certainly the most significant find of the day was the Brown-capped Laughingthrush. According to one source, Dr S Dillon Ripley was the last to see it in Nagaland in 1952. No Photographs of this nominate species exist from India (nor does it turn up in the food markets in Nagaland) and our valiant heroic trio need to be congratulated for finding and photographing this truly enigmatic bird. Restricted to Nagaland and Manipur, it has never appeared in any trip report, though the sub-species victoriae is seen in neighbouring Myanmar and possibly the Lushai Hills in Mizoram

Brown-capped Laughingthrush
Sumit and I decided to walk slowly down, disturbing a large flock of Olive-backed Pipits. After a few hundred yards I decided to take a shortcut through an open patch while Sumit decided to follow the road. When we met up an hour later we both sported smug looks, as both of us had put up skulking coveys of the Mountain Bamboo Partridges, much sort-after lifers for us. Soon a large flock of Rusty-fronted Barwings appeared. They were much paler than the ones we had seen earlier in the Himalayas. Later consulting Pam’s book we learnt that the sub-species khasiana found here is indeed much lighter in colour. We looked hard for Rusty-capped Fulvettas, an esoteric species seldom seen elsewhere, but resident in this part of the world, and while we heard it a few times, it escaped our sight throughout the trip.

As we descended towards Khonoma, we passed through an interesting-looking forest. The Naga’s coppice alder trees, which then sprout several straight vertical branches, which once they attain respectable size are harvested for firewood. Blue Whistling Thrushes lurked in these strange ‘Lord-of-the Rings’ type woods. So ended our day and we spent the evening discussing its events and it was indeed a happy horde that retired for the night.

Next morning, we woke to the call of the more-heard-than-seen Mountain Scops Owl, and an hour later drove back to the same prolific spot, encountering several Mountain Bamboo Partridges on the way, none of whom afforded us a chance to photograph them, much to the vexation of our two lensmen. Turning a corner we surprised a cryptic Eurasian Woodcock. This woodland bird is a nocturnal feeder and though not uncommon, is seldom seen by birders in India. It disappeared into the undergrowth and though we searched hard, it never reappeared. We parked our cars at the same place and started our trek up the road. We saw several of the species we had seen the previous day, but we all felt that the birding was much slower that morning, though Blue-fronted Redstarts, Crested Finchbills and Grey Sibias were abundant.

Crested Finchbill
In due course we added Rufous (Orange)-gorgeted Flycatcher, Striated Bulbuls, Hill Prinia, Rufous-capped Babblers and Pygmy Blue Flycatcher. Three Speckled Wood Pigeons swooped by before we could react and the skies held Crested Goshawks, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel and a single Black Eagle. The sunbirds list was augmented by a Green-tailed. But perhaps the most significant moment of all was a sighting of the undistinguished looking, but very local and rare Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, next to an old abandoned beehive.
Revived by a sumptuous breakfast of Pumpkin curry and pooris, cooked by Bano, the younger contingent started to scamper up the hill again in order to getter better pictures of the Brown-capped Laughingthrush (they succeeded!), while we, went down back to Khonoma to pack and proceed to Kohima for some well deserved R & R. The journey back was uneventful, other than for a Great Barbet and an abnormally bright Long-tailed Shrike.

On the short drive from Khonoma to Kohima we passed large timber camps with huge logs strewn along the roads, which sent a chill down our spines. Would Nagaland follow the example of neighbouring Assam, where large tracts of forests have been cleared? And we cursed the greed of men, who thought of nothing in clearing huge tracts of forests for filthy lucre.

We checked into the extremely pleasant ‘The Heritage’, once the famous District Commissioner’s residence, over whose tennis courts the famous battle of Kohima was fought. I half-seriously told Sumit that had the Indo-British troops lost the battle of Garrison Hill to the Japanese here, today he might well be called Sumit–san or even worse Sen-san! We met the extremely personable Theja Meru, a hard-rock aficionado, who now manages the resort and soon we were around a roaring log fire, exchanging notes on the happenings of the day. Bano had spent a part of her childhood growing up in this bungalow, when her father served as head honcho of the district and was delighted to be back. Later T. Angami, the famous forester of Nagaland, dropped in for dinner and gave us an insight to the situation of the forests and wildlife of Nagaland, and we discussed the contentious problem of hunting and of which more anon.

Next morning we visited the magnificent Kohima War Cemetery, which is without doubt the best-maintained monument I have ever visited. It is worth coming to Nagaland just to see what a wonderful job the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has done. We then went on to the famed Kohima food market, where we amazed at the variety of food on offer. We replenished our stocks and were soon on our way to Benreu. Kohima added Eurasian Tree Sparrows and a few Barn Swallows to our list.

An hour out of Kohima, we stopped in a small patch of Pine forest, where Angulie (who was proving to be indispensable), said he had seen the rare Chestnut-vented Nuthatch. Before long Shashank had managed to lure a pair right before our eyes and we spent an happy hour watching and photographing this obscure nuthatch, which carries the proud appellation S. nagaensis. Few, if any, photographs exist of this bird in India and it was a pleased Messrs Sen and Sreenivasan who finally packed their cameras away. A single Black-breasted Thrush crossed the road, giving us very poor and unsatisfactory views. The road to Benrue took us through the Dzulekie forest; some of the finest and wildest jungles we have been privileged to see. Dense and pristine, it overawed us with its mere presence. We stopped often just to savour the beauty of these antediluvian woods and on one occasion failed to positively identify a tiny but exceedingly swift raptor. A few Common Stonechats were seen along with the ubiquitous Crested Finchbills. A single Chestnut Thrush of, possibly, the gouldi ssp. fled at our approach as we closed in on our destination.

Situated in the district of Peren, the quaint little village of Benreu lies perched 1950 metres above sea level on the Barail range, and houses a unique community where the minority animist population dictates the customs and social rules to the majority Christians. Benreu is truly a living showcase of the endangered culture of these highlanders. We checked into the Mt. Pauna Tourist Village, where our rooms were sparse but adequate. Birding-wise we were in virgin territory, with earlier trips reports being non-existent, but as the environs looked exceedingly promising we awoke the next morning with a high sense of anticipation. Soon it was to be proved, that our excitement was not without foundation and despite the obvious signs of hunters and hunting, birds were plentiful.

Sumit and I started strolling ahead, while Ramki and Shashank gathered their various instruments and soon we came upon a flock of Chestnut Thrushes. As we peered at them © Sumit Senthrough the mist, we saw a single plain- coloured bird. Sumit quickly took a photograph and we were delighted to find that it was the globally threatened Grey-sided Thrush, seen scarcely in the South Assam Hills. We were delighted, but not so Shashank who was very keen to add this bird to his life-list. Though we assured him we would see it later, we did not find another that day. We walked on, seeing a Flavescent Bulbul. A Rufous-bellied Woodpecker was spotted busy tapping a tall tree, the only member of this family we saw in the hills, though we heard the Bay Woodpecker several times. Other birds seen included the Golden-fronted Barbet, Maroon Oriole, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Yellow-bellied Fantail and Green-backed Tits. As usual the Himalayan Black Bulbul of the nigrescens race were ever-present in large numbers. A pair of large birds deep in the leafy canopy had us completely foxed. I kept insisting that they were Purple Cochoa, but Sumit kept disagreeing claiming that they looked like Large Cuckooshrikes. I dismissed his claim, but later the photographs proved that he was correct and as Pam Rasmussen’s book confirmed, they are available up to 1800m in winter (in summer they can be found up to 2400m) and we were only a tad above this. They were probably of the siamensis race.

We breakfasted on a curve on the road in bright sunshine, and were interrupted by a pair of White-tailed Nuthatches who played chase-the-leader on a small tree next to us. A Crested Goshawk and a Black Eagle soared the thermals. Sumit and I decided to walk down the road leaving the trio to do their nosy-parker bit, running up and down several gullies like demented mountain goats. We met several hunters (some sporting camouflaged gear) on the road, and whose mere presence confirmed our suspicions that hunting was rife in this part as well.

A sudden flock of Blue-winged and Chestnut tailed Minlas kept Sumit occupied and from somewhere a fulvetta appeared and was caught by his ever-alert camera. This bird later caused some excitement to Shashank who felt that it was a bird of the austeni race of the White-browed Fulvetta. However, the photograph was not clear enough to provide conclusive evidence. A few Nepal Fulvettas were also seen, as were Black-throated (breasted) Sunbirds of the assamensis race.

While we were busy with the fulvettas, the adolescent threesome had climbed a promising looking gully and had played the recording of the Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, luring not one but five of them! When we regrouped for lunch, they declared that the said gully was an easy climb even for our carcasses. So off we went risking life and limb and precariously clambered up the slippery slopes and positioned ourselves. Quivering with anticipation, we heard the call being played by Shashank who was perched much higher than us. Almost instantly an individual reacted, but much to our disappointment, none revealed themselves and so yet another bird joined my long list of ‘so-close-yet-so-far’. A pair of fluffy Mountain Bulbuls and a Spotted Forktail repaired some of the frustration. A Buff-barred Warbler caused some confusion and a frosty Asian Barred Owlet sat unmoving on a pole, just outside the hotel.

Next morning, Shashank was ready to be the first to go out, so as not to miss the Grey-sided Thrush and sure enough, we chanced upon them almost immediately. As Ramki and Shashank had finished photographing a particular individual, one of India’s rarest birds fell dead at their feet, having being brought down by the unerring aim of a young boy’s catapult. Much shaken, we went on to see a flock of Eyebrowed along with Chestnut Thrushes. We walked on flushing a few Mountain Bamboo Partridges, notching up Blue Rock Thrush, Blue Whistling Thrush, Rufous-chinned Laughing thrush and a few Red-faced Liocichlas. Today was a good day for Greenish Warblers, Whiskered Yuhinas and Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers. A flock of rare-in-these parts Red-billed Leiothrix was the first (and only) of the trip and I saw a bright single Golden Bush Robin male. Soon I found a small flock of the high-ranging Wedge-tailed Green Pigeons, and called to Sumit who was busy photographing some other bird and wouldn’t respond. When we reviewed his pictures the reason for his non-compliance emerged - the seldom seen and nomadic Purple Cochoa! This unobtrusive bird is said to be a scarce summer visitor and its winter whereabouts is supposedly mysterious and so perhaps a clue here somewhere!

We returned to the hotel, breakfasted and packed and prepared to move onto our last birding area. The plan was to shimmy up the furrow again to give the Wedge-billed Babblers another go, but again the exercise proved to be futile. Frustrated we moved on, our next destination being the town of Jalukie, where we would be reinforced by local citizens, who would accompany us to the politically disturbed area of Intangki.

Ramki and Shasank were in the first car and Sumit and I stopped to see a huge flock of about eighty Red-tailed Minlas. When we caught up with them, we found that they had stopped by the side of a sharply inclined hill, covered with scrub and grass. Shashank had unpacked his sound equipment and was playing the call of the Spot-breasted Parrotbill. I whispered to Sumit that all of this was a complete waste of time, and that we should walk ahead. But suddenly the bird called back, sending us into frenetic activity. Positions were taken up along the road with cameras and binoculars poised, when suddenly the bird stopped calling, and the trio prepared to climb the steep slopes to meet the bird on its own turf. Mercifully it called again and this time Shashank swung into action and recorded its call. After that it was easy for him to bring the bird within forty feet of us. Cameras clicked and the birds did not seem perturbed, feeding on grass stalks, while Ramki and Sumit fired away. The Spot-breasted Parrotbill (image) superficially resembles the Black-breasted of the Brahmaputra floodplains, which we all had seen, with some difficulty on earlier trips, in Dibru-Saikowa. Never even in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would ever see this super-specialty. Shashank, alias Dalmore, now promoted to Lord Dalmore accepted our accolades with equanimity. This was a truly significant find, probably only the third sighting in the South Assam Hills in as many decades and the sole credit for locating the bird goes to him. His uncanny ability to match habitat with specific birds will stand him in good stead over the years.

Elated we drove into Jalukie town where Bano had organized a huge and delectable lunch. We met Devisier, Bano’s nephew and local hotshot and who had had brought with him a gentleman, instantly christened 'Blue-shirt', who was to be our minder during our foray into the Intangki area. This part of the world is highly volatile and several groups of insurgents have taken refuge in its verdant forests and we were warned of the existing risks. We would be staying in the Kuki tribal settlement of Llilen, about 15 kms from the border of the Intanki National Park. Our original plan was to stay inside the park, but we were dissuaded (correctly) against being foolhardy. The Gaon Bura or village headman had arranged for us to stay at the community longhouse. As we drove up to it, we started seeing birds of the plains like Red-headed Lapwings, Black Drongos and Cattle Egrets.

We spent a cold night in the drafty longhouse and the morning came as a bit of relief. The plot was that the youth would walk towards Intangki, accompanied by Blue-shirt and a local tribal, to see if they could find hornbills, which are rumoured to still exist here, while Sumit, Bano and I would check out the environs. It was still dark when they set off and I was sure they would not be seen till dusk. We in the meanwhile walked around the surrounding forests, which despite the obvious signs of rampant hunting were still thick with birds. The first to be seen was a Greater Flameback, followed in quick succession by a White-rumped Shama, White-breasted Kingfishers, Indian Roller, Oriental Magpie Robin and a Red-breasted Flycatcher. A gigantic fruiting ficus played host to several Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Spangled (Hair-crested) Drongos, Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers and Black-crested Bulbuls. As we trudged back to camp we saw White-rumped Munias, Common Ioras and several Red-vented Bulbuls. A pair of Little Spiderhunters regularly visited a flowering palm. All the tailorbirds turned out to be Dark (Black)-necked, which caused a fair bit of excitement.

A set of large warblers had us baffled and we wondered if they were possibly Eastern Crowned Warblers, but since Pam reckons that they are hypothetical in the region and that previous specimens from the South Assam Hills turned out to be Blyth’s, we thought it prudent to send out our pictures to experts and we now await a final verdict.

In the nonce, things were not going well for our intrepid colleagues for Blue-shirt turned out to be a bit of a vicarious hunter and pointed out several birds, which the accompanying local brought down with his gun. The path, it seemed, was full of other hunters, using a combination of guns, traps and slingshots. They had obviously done well as their bulging bags revealed several dead and injured birds and this so appalled Ramki and Shashank that they ordered a retreat, much to the dismay of Blue-shirt. Despite this unsavoury experience they managed to see several Eyebrowed Thrushes, Dusky Warblers, Oriental Turtle Doves, Blossom (Rosy)-headed Parakeets, Rufescent Prinia, Little Pied Flycatcher, Black-hooded Orioles, Common Hill Mynas, Rufous-fronted Babblers and White-browed Scimitar Babblers. A hunter’s sack revealed a dead Black-headed Bulbul, the singular bird we had searched for so hard throughout our trip.

It was in a despondent state of mind that we left Llilen and drove to Dimapur, seeing Common Kestrel and a few White Wagtails of the alboides race. We checked into the exceedingly comfortable Aier’s Enclave and proceeded for lunch to the popular Plaza Restaurant, where we gorged on familiar food. The afternoon was spent in attending to our aching bodies, catching up on news of the outside world and finalizing our trip list.

Next morning Sumit and Shashank went off to see the Zoo, based in Rangapahar and located in a large forested area, which allowed good birding as well. They saw, inter alia, Coppersmith Barbet, Green-billed Malkoha, Himalayan Swiftlets, Spotted Doves, Grey-backed Shrikes, Chestnut-tailed Starlings, Barn Swallows and several Scaly-breasted Munias, possibly of ssp. topela which well might be interesting for India. Several commoner species were seen as well. Perhaps their most significant sighting was Spot-winged Starlings, a summer visitor to the Northern hills, an a bit of a mystery bird. All in all, a very satisfactory morning for them.

In the meanwhile Ramki and I decided to visit the food market in Dimapur. The startling sight we saw, of many rare species of birds and endangered mammals being openly sold, sharply brought in to focus the many contradictions of Nagaland.

A pristine terrain teeming with myriad birds and animals, but where traditional hunting vies with modern conservation. A land where every man and child smiles, but is tragically torn asunder by controversial politics. Where jean-clad young sit next to time-honoured warriors in complete harmony. Where traditional hornpipes compete with the modern guitar. Never have I seen such a glorious amalgamation, bringing to mind William Blake’s great line “
Great things are done where men and mountains meet

© Bikram Grewal 2010


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