Bugun Liocichla in Eaglenest – Winter in North-east India 2008

SonnenvogelIt is January. Winter in the Himalayas of India. We made our way from Bomdila back to Tenga. In between, I slept in the car despite the many abrupt stops because of land slides or upcoming cars. Finally we came to Tenga, where the intersection is scheduled to depart to our new location. The journey is abruptly replaced by a dirt track. Now we wind our way of about 1,500 m above sea level (asl) to an altitude of 2,400 m (asl). Everywhere we pass through 2nd Scrub in between small villages with mud huts. This is all the way up the whole slope. Not too long ago, there had been forest up here. The landscape was very different. Population pressure seems to be enormous. In the distance you can see the fire, which ensures not only to burn fields.

At 2:00 pm we arrive in the Lama Camp of Eaglenest in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, India. A pile of tented camps that have been located carelessly in an area surrounded by 2nd growth. The whole camp is shrouded in fog. Our first time lunch in Eaglenest is served. A very vocal Great Barbet (Megalaima virens) can be seen beautiful standing on an old overgrown jungle trees. Beautiful Sibia (Heterophasia pulchella) are numerous. In addition to the Beautiful Sibia Red-faced Liocichla (Liocichla phoenicea) and Whiskered Yuhina (Yuhina flavicollis)are plentiful.

Shortly after lunch we try our luck with the megabird: Bugun Liocichla! We drive 1.5 km down the road that and stop at the perfect Bugun Liocichla-habitat. This is, what our guide, Sudesh explains to us. Sudesh plays the tape many times. No response. We try several times, use one place to another. But the Bugun Liocichla simply does not respond to the tape calls. Then the main guide of the camp, Peter, approaches us and tells us exactly where and how the flock with the Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum) can be seen in morning from 6:30 am to 7:00 am and how to find the flock.

The Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum) is a passerine bird species from the Leiothrichidae family closely related to the Emei Shan liocichla.

Eaglenest is a wildlife sanctuary located in the remote province of Arunachal Pradesh. It is a hilly country, rising up to over 3000m at the highest, covered by well-preserved (at least in the Wildlife Sanctuary) monsoon forests, that extends between the plains of Assam and the eastern Himalayas. A road built by the military around 1960 cuts through the reserve and allows access to the full altitudinal range.

Eaglenest – or Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary with its full name – became famous among birdwatchers only 9 years ago when the stunning discovery of a fully new species, the Bugun Liocichla, was confirmed. Liocichla bugunorum was described from that site the first time. Since the original sighting, the species has also been sighted near Bomdila and since 2009, at least six breeding territories have been recorded in the small area of our Tented Camp, Lama Camp, in the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary.

At present, two “eco-camps” with basic facilities are run within the sanctuary : Lama Camp on the northern slope at 2350m asl and Sunderview on the southern slope at 2500m asl. We stayed 4 days in the area and tried to allocate our time between the 2 areas, also allowing for a day and a half at lower elevation around Bompu and Sessni at 1250m asl. In general, birding is done from the road, as only a couple of trails stray further into the forest. The road is spectacular, frighteningly steep at times, offer views toward ridges and deep forested gorges. It goes through patches of mature forest seemingly intact, but some places have been logged or cleared for small-scale farming. No more than 5 vehicles took the road inside the sanctuary during our stay. Thus, from this side, the level of disturbance is close to zero. Nevertheless the last day, we came across hunters on a motorcycle. Obviously on the hunt for Tragopans. Our guide and the local staff running the camp were reluctant to confront hunters. A pity! Generally spoken, monitoring activities inside the sanctuary seemed to be minimal.

Birding is the main reason for visitors to come to Eaglenest. The sanctuary bird list approaches 500 species, an amazing number for a mostly forested habitat. We did not come close to that number, reaching only 93 species. Maybe this is due to the fact, that some birds have their main habitat on lower altitudes, and/or hard to locate outside the breeding season. Among the notable birds we sighted were: Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis), Mountain Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus nipalensis), Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), Great Barbet (Megalaima virens), Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus), Sultan Tit (Melanochlora sultanea), Beautiful Nuthatch (Sitta formosa), Striated Bulbul (Pycnonotus striatus), Lemon-rumped Warbler (Phylloscopus chloronotus), Grey-hooded Warbler (Seicercus xanthoschistos), Red-faced Liocichla (Liocichla phoenicea), Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea), Golden-breasted Fulvetta (Alcippe chrysotis), Scarlet Finch (Haematospiza sipahi) and Hoary-throated Barwing (Actinodura nipalensis). But many sought-after birds eluded us especially the Tragopans (maybe not the right season in winter; better in spring)

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