THE LAND OF THE SANGHAI
It takes a lot of heart to plan your first official birding trip to Manipur. But plan we did, thanks to the Centre for Conservation of Nature and Cultivation of Science (CCNCS), Manipur led by Mr. Birjit, IBCN State Co-ordinator who did a wonderful job planning the logistics in a place that is not completely geared to entertain tourists. This way Mrugaya’s first official birding tour and that we took the risk of planning a trip to Manipur was to some extent a result of the participants we had. Piran Elavia is no novice to the North-East, Delwyn Dsouza was up for the challenge of the unexpected, Satish did not mind any difficulties as long as he could see birds and Marvelyn, the only lady, is tougher than any of the males in the group and could smile through any difficult situation.
Our original itinerary went for a toss thanks to the Bandhs, rains and landslides that we encountered. So much so that one of the site, Dailong in Tamenglong district had to be completed skipped. But that is what NE is all about. Be prepared for the unexpected. The rains also disturbed our rythm and if rains did not the fog did. The weather Gods were surely not on our side but we made up for all these with the birds that we sighted. I can just imagine how it could have been if we had encountered clear weather.
The first two days were spent at the Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP) commonly referred to as the Loktak Lake. The Eurasian Cuckoo and the Common Hawk Cuckoo called from all directions. It is at Loktak that we had good sightings and photography opportunities of the Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, Slender-billed Babblers, Straited Grassbird, Yelllow Bittern, White-tailed Stonechat, Lesser Coucal, Burmese Shrike, Yellow-bellied Prinia and the Jerdon’s Bushchat.
From Loktak we travelled to Sirui. Roadside birding yielded the Black-Francolin, Crested Bunting, Scarlet Minivet, Chestnut Munia etc. Rains followed us wherever we went. But that did not damped our spirits though photography was huge challenge. We encountered some interesting species while birding around Sirui especially three species of Yuhinas (Straited, Whiskered & Stripe-throated), Yellow-bellied Fantail, Blue-winged Siva, Red-tailed Minla, Green-tailed Sunbird, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, Nepal Fulvetta, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler etc. Satish had his eyes on Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant and managed to persuade a local hunter to take us deeper into the forests in search of the illusive lady. While, Piran & Delwyn decided to trek up the Sirui hill to get a glimpse of the endemic Sirui Lily, the remaining three of us followed the newly established contact into the forests of Sirui. The thick canopy, uphill climbing made things difficult but we did manage to sight quite a few birds that included the Streaked Spiderhunter, Nepal Fulvetta, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Black-throated Tit etc. The highlight for me was the Little Pied Flycatcher that we managed to trace from its call. What a handsome fella!!
Since Dailong had to be cancelled, Birjit suggested we go further deeper into the forests to a village called Phuba. We agreed since there was no other option. The forest on the road to Phuba was a revelation. I had just heard, read and made a mental picture of evergreen forests with huge trees, their branches laden with moss, fog engulfing them and one hearing calls but seeing nothing. That day we experienced it and no words or a picture can do justice to the spectacle. Though as birders not getting to see the Pygmy Wren Babbler when it’s calling from the bushes nearby or seeing the Slaty-blue Flycatcher perched but not getting a decent picture due to the overcast conditions was a slight dampener. The Rufous-vented Laughingthrush too kept on calling from the undergrowth but refused to give us a glimpse. One day at Phuba was completely washed out due to heavy rains and the road that we travelled on needed a four-wheel drive to get us out. So much for an adventure. But the birds did not disappoint. Some of the highlights were the Golden Babbler, Grey Sibia, Slaty-backed Forktail, Crested Finchbill, Striated Bulbul, Flavescent Bulbul, Ashy Bulbul, Lemon-rumped Warbler, Grey-hooded Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Golden-throated Barbet, Blue-throated Barbet, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker etc. The highlight was the Mountain Tailorbird. This bird has a melodious song that had us intrigued for a long time until we had a good sighting of it. The White-throated Fantail too was nothing like we had seen before, with only a small collar instead of the complete white throat that we are used to seeing.
All in all a wonderful trip with 127 species sighted inspite of the inclement weather. The State Bird of Manipur though has eluded us and it will be the magnet that will attract us back to the forests of Manipur in the future.