Every year we embark on an epic wildlife tour of Assam, where the mighty Brahmaputra River nurtures a unique and diverse ecosystem. But this year was an especial species fest. Sourabha Rao reports on the specifics of the epicness starting with this first part which contains the story of Nameri.
After landing in Guwahati, the Skippers took the Tour participants to a dump site in the outskirts of Kaziranga, as is the somewhat quirky custom. This visit, which seemingly stinks of unpleasantness, is made with a very clear purpose: to photograph the rare greater adjutant stork.
Skippers Sachin Rai and Santosh Saligram were pleasantly surprised at how readily participants braved the malodour and the ubiquitousness of Guwahati’s refuse to step out and take a few valuable pictures of a flock of them adjutants perched on a mound.
The group then drove to reach Nameri in the evening, where the cosy, basic, tented camps at the Nameri Eco Camp were waiting to keep them warm and rested well.
Close to the banks of the river Jio Bhoroli, among the tall trees, the Skippers and participants heard the calls of the great Indian hornbill and spotted owlets on the property itself. In the nippy evening, participants introduced themselves to the group and had fun discussing the course of the Photo Tour and some photography concepts with the Skippers. Nameri Eco Camp is known for its great food, too, and after a delicious dinner, the group called it a night.
In the misty morning, the group walked up to the river and got into canoes that took them to the far bank. The mist fell on the water, obliterating their vision and leading them on a metaphorical journey into seeming oblivion, the two rowers reminding one of Hesse’s ferrymen, Siddhartha and Vasudeva. In the silence, a flock of cormorants flew by, surreally dotting the thick white fog.
On reaching the other side and disembarking the boats, although the place looked almost alien as the group walked on the dry but soft riverbed, it was welcoming.
A brisk five-minute walk brought them to a forest camp, where they paused briefly, before commencing the birding walk in right earnest.
The modus operandi was very much conventional, where you enjoy your presence in the wild, walk through little-trodden paths, and enjoy the sights in completely non-orchestrated conditions. And a few participants had signed up for the Tour for precisely this reason: for the privilege of walking inside virtually the only Indian tiger reserve that allows such a luxury.
Tens of bird species were met on the walk that started with a yellow-breasted bunting right near the camp. Blue-throated barbet, orange-bellied leafbird, spot-winged starling, brown-capped pygmy and lesser yellownape woodpeckers and red-breasted parakeet followed in quick succession.
At one place, the group had to walk on logs spread across water bodies, which added to the sense of adventure on the trek.
A black-crested bulbul perched on a shrub gave enough time for everyone to admire it and make some stunning images. The Skippers helped the participants to stalk it without disturbing it unduly.
When the group came to a stream, they saw a slaty-backed folktail taking off. They decided to breakfast at the watch tower from where the view is serene and where on a previous Tour elephants had been seen. When the forest guard checked and confirmed that it was safe, the group breakfasted and resumed the walk.
A yellow-footed green pigeon and even more excitingly, a wedge-tailed green pigeon showed up in due course. Then they walked into an open patch, populated only by grass, where a Hodgson’s bushchat regaled the thirsty eye. Walking past it after a common buzzard on a big tree in an open patch of the forest followed to enthral the participants. Having had a productive morning trek in the forest of Nameri, the group returned to the camp, only to see another avian wonder: the peregrine falcon perched on an old, leafless tree in the forest quarters. Because the weather was a challenging condition for photography, the Skippers helped the participants to make some high-key, graphic-like images of the majestic bird.
Later, walking back to the boat, the group saw the gorgeous ruddy shelduck and heard a white-cheeked partridge. On the way to the camp, they saw a brown shrike and at the camp, a beautiful pale-chinned flycatcher, a verditer flycatcher and an adorable hoary-bellied squirrel.
After lunch and rest, they drove 10 kilometres to reach the beginning point of a raft ride. With only two people to be embarked on each raft, there was ample space for the participants to make images while rafting.
The river, juxtaposed with tall red silk-cottons, was quite calm with not many rapids to be braved.
More Brahminy ducks embellished the calm river waters. A male and two female goosanders, the graceful ones, were spotted walking on the banks and later flying, and were photographed.
Soon to follow was the sighting of a river lapwing and an adorable common greenshank. You wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to disembark and beach the boat and walk barefoot on the cool waters and the cold rocks when you see ibisbills.
The group stalked three ibisbills until they got them in one spectacular frame and withdrew before disturbing them. They also saw two ospreys flying overhead, followed by flying mallard ducks. More ruddy shelducks and a white-capped water redstart were also spotted.
The group then climbed up to their cars at the end point of rafting to go back to their camp.
A little later in the evening, the Skippers got the resort to arrange for a lovely performance by the locals, which was very well received by the participants and added a lovely cultural flavour to the experience, while a big bonfire kept them warm.
The following morning, which was equally foggy as the previous one, a common stonechat was spotted, followed by the sighting of a black-headed oriole, whose vibrant yellow plumage broke the while monotony of the morning mist.
A small cat’s pugmarks were found while the group walked on the riverbed. Long-tailed minivet, both male and female, also offered some wonderful images to the participants. On the other side of the boat ride that morning, a large niltava, an orange-bellied leafbird, a lesser racket-tailed drongo (rarer than the greater racket-tailed drongo) were found.
In a wild, idyllic, sequestered place in the forest, the group longed to spot for the rare white-winged duck. But they couldn’t find one; it was a dream that had to wait for another Photo Tour.
They had breakfast at yet another scenic spot where there were many birds for company, including the great stone plover.
They later resumed walk and were greeted by a female large niltava, which offered them the opportunity to make portraits from a close distance.
When the participants joined the main path of the trek after making some beautiful bird images, they saw tiger pugmarks. Later, the quirky striated heron and a female blossom-headed parakeet were seen and photographed. Upon returning to the property, they saw another pale-chinned flycatcher and a verditer, which were soon joined by a grey-headed canary.
Later, as the group prepared to checkout of the property for the next phase of the Kaziranga Photo Tour, they enjoyed eating the delicious star fruit or the carambola as a Daurian redstart made a special appearance. They headed towards Kaziranga, with the warm memories of over a hundred species of birds they saw in Nameri alone.
To join our next Nameri-Kaziranga Photo Tour, click here.
Here’s a list of all the birds they saw in Nameri:
|Red jungle fowl
|Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker
|Oriental pied hornbill
|Indian roller (affinis)
|Vernal hanging parrot
|Asian barred owlet
|Blue rock pigeon
|Green imperial pigeon
|Wedge-tailed green pigeon
|Common ringed plover
|Pallas’s fish eagle
|Crested serpent eagle
|Lesser adjutant stork
|Greater adjutant stork
|Orange-bellied leaf bird
|Large billed crow
|Lesser racket-tailed drongo
|White-capped water redstart
|Plumbeous water redstart
|Asian fairy bluebird
|Greater yellow-nape woodpecker
|Greater racket-tailed drongo
|Blue whistling thrush
|Little pied flycatcher
|Grey-headed canary flycatcher
|Indian pond heron